"Ocean racing superstar Don Aronow loved it when writers called him a living legend. His life of adventure is well known. It is his death that baffles police.
"He was afraid of nothing, no one. In his final hour, when a stranger spoke to him in riddles and talked about killing, Aronow laughed. He felt no fear, until he lowered the window of his white Mercedes and looked death in the face. And then it was too late."
-- Edna Buchanan, in The Miami Herald
Bordering a canal leading to Biscayne Bay, a short dead-end stretch of Northeast 188th Street in Miami was the crossroad of the Americas in the mid-1980s for the biggest drug smugglers into the U.S.; the guys who ripped off the drug smugglers; the biggest South American drug suppliers; competing federal agencies investigating major drug trafficking and money laundering; the CIA, covertly advancing the Contra war against Central American land reform (which they called Cuban-sponsored communism); some of the highest national politicians in the country-and what attracted them all there, the most famous fast-boat companies in the world.
On that splashy boulevard of (wet) dreams factories built marine magazine-ad ultra-sleek gleaming speedboats ostensibly for racers, royalty to show off on the Côte d'Azur, and wealthy divorced or divorcing middle-age overweight men to pick up South Florida's sun-soaked hot chicks in string bikinis (while the rest of us unwashed wondered how they did it), but the boat builders' real business was fueling an arms race between smugglers, who purchased them for cash, and Drug War feds to catch smugglers.
The storied creator of the quantum-leap faster Cigarette boat, against which all other "penis" boats were measured, as well as a two-time powerboat racing world champion and the personification of a sport in which people crazily risked their lives and bodies to win-not to mention a wicked ladies' man to boot, Don Aronow was shot and killed in broad daylight in front of his factory in 1987. Police found they didn't just have a murder mystery-they had Murder on the Orient Express.
FEBRUARY 3, 1987
USA Racing Team, Miami, Florida
Someone entered the front door and walked in front of salesman Jerry Engleman's desk. He asked to speak with Don Aronow, then looked right at him without recognizing him.
"What do you want?" Aronow said.
"I've been trying to get ahold of you," the man said. He said he worked for a very rich man, with an Italian surname, who wanted to make an appointment to buy a boat.
"I never heard of him," Aronow answered.
Engelman could tell something else was happening, and he thought Aronow was trying to find out what.
Then the conversation got weird. He was proud of his boss, he said. "He picked me up off the street when I was sixteen and took care of me. I'd even kill for my boss."
For the moment, none of the observers thought anything more of it. Minutes later, Aronow drove his new 1987 white Mercedes 560 sports coupe across the street, found Mike Britton, a marine supplier, and asked if he could help him at his new house.
Driving out of his parking space forward, with Aronow behind him, Britton saw a dark Lincoln Town Car with tinted windows, about ten yards away, facing east as Britton was about to head west. The driver's window was down, and Britton could see the driver looking at him.
At their closest, when they passed, they were just a few feet apart, keeping eye contact the entire time. Then Britton drove on, about fifty yards.
Then he heard gunshots.
Britton finished parking his truck, then raced back toward Aronow. In a hurry, the Lincoln passed him, going west. It had turned around.
By the time Britton got to the car, he found Aronow's driver's side window down, the automatic transmission in neutral, and Aronow's foot pressed against the accelerator like a rock, forcing the engine to rev at its most shrill. Apparently, Aronow had stopped to kibitz with his killer.