CHAPTER 1: APRIL FOOLS
“I think they found his body.”
I am 32 weeks pregnant, sitting uncomfortably on the bathroom floor, bathing my three year old daughter and two year old son just before bedtime. The cordless phone is perched between my ear and shoulder, while my soapy hands are in the water scrubbing my kid’s slippery bodies. I’m 29 years old, married 5 years to a wonderful man named Jonathan and living in a nice brick house on a quiet suburban street in Woodmere, NY, a vibrant upper middle class Jewish community where a 4 bedroom house on a 60 by 100 lot can run you almost 1 million dollars. It’s Sunday, April 3rd, 2005 and at that moment, as I am bathing my kids, it sounds like my mother is playing a sick belated April fools prank.
“Ema” I say, using the Hebrew word for mother. “This must be a mistake.” With my heart pounding faster and faster, I continue washing and rinsing my children as my mother describes in detail what transpired just a few hours earlier.
“I came home and found these two FBI agents waiting for me in my lobby.” She begins. My mother was living in the Upper West Side, on 103rd and Central Park West. It was her first time living in the city after moving nearly 5 times from borough to borough since my Father disappeared in 1986. Her building had no doorman and was pretty run down, although the view from her window of Central Park was priceless. Her apartment was tiny, even by city standards, and cluttered with too-large worn out furniture that she continued to hold onto, from our old house in Far Rockaway.
“I let these agents into my apartment, thinking they were finally responding to my letter.” She continues. That letter was her latest attempt to get access to my father’s FBI files. Throughout the years we tried to get the FBI to release those files. My Father was supposedly cooperating with the FEDS on an investigation just before he went missing in early 1986, and we always felt those files held at least some answers to the mystery of what had happened to him. Even though it was the FBI who was supposedly investigating his disappearance, their response to our request always stated that we either obtain a written authorization from my father or a death certificate, none of which we had. After I got married, my husband and I decided it was high time to get a death certificate. We hired the best Madison Avenue lawyers in town and three years and 15 thousand dollars later, we were able to obtain the second best thing, a presumption of death certificate. My Mother hoped that this certificate would finally allow for the release of my fathers files.
“The agents must have thought I was crazy, since I acted like I was expecting them.” My Mother says in her heavily accented Israeli English. “I offered them coffee, but they didn’t want any. They told me they were there to share some very important news. That’s when they told me they found Abba’s body.” My mother than takes a deep breath and lowers her voice. “They said something about this being connected to a big story and that I may be approached by the media, but they refused to give me any more information.” She then pauses, as if trying to remember something. “There was something…something in the news the other day…”
“What? What?! Try and remember…” I press as my kids start splashing and pushing each other, shouting at the top of their small lungs. Trying to stop them from hurting each other while balancing the phone, I push her to think hard about what she had heard. I was of no use to her in recalling the news since at that point in my life, I had little interest in watching, reading or listening to the news. It was too depressing to hear about the latest murders, rapes and robberies. Besides, I was too busy with my new graphic design business and my babies who were trying to drown each other at that very moment.
“Yes!” She suddenly shouts. “I think I heard something about a search for the body of a missing hassidic jeweler in a Brooklyn garage…but because they said ‘hasidic’ I didn’t even think it could be Abba.” My father may have been orthodox, even considered ultra-orthodox to some, since he wore a black hat to synagogue on the Sabbath and was devoted to religion, but he was not even close to ‘hasidic’ which describes a certain sect of the Jewish community who follow certain Rabbi’s exclusively and usually tend to be very strict with religious laws. Hasidim, often follow a certain dress code, to differentiate them from other fractions of Judaism and other Hasidic sects. Many men grow beards and long side curls. Some married men wear fur hats called streimels with long black coats. They send their kids to Hasidic schools and live in communities with like minded people. There are many different Hasidic sects and therefore many different customs. I suppose to an outsider anyone wearing a skullcap looks like a Hassid.
“I gotta go. I’ll call you back.” I abruptly hang up. I knew what I had to do in order to find out if there was any truth to this tale. The first order of business was to take care of my kids, since my husband was out playing tennis and I was home alone. After dressing them and putting them to bed, I calmly make my way down the stairs to my office.
This must be a mistake, I think to myself. How can a body murdered 20 years ago be found? And how can they be certain it’s really him? I sit down in front of my computer and type “google” into my browser. Let’s see, What should I look for?… “missing diamond dealer body found…searching for missing jeweler…” I settle for “missing jeweler body brooklyn.”
The search yields several results. I begin by reading the New York Times article titled “Police Dig for Man’s Body in Brooklyn”, my heart pounding faster with every word. “…tore up floor of a Brooklyn garage…body of a diamond dealer killed two decades ago…two retired city detectives accused of working for the mob…Hasidic man” This must have been the story my mother heard on the news. The only thing that didn’t match was the description of my father as Hasidic. Other then that small discrepancy, it all made complete sense and supported all the theories we believed to be true all these years about what had happened to my father. It just made perfect sense.
I dial my mother.
“Ema…it’s true….it’s all true!” I shout into the phone. “…and they say he was killed by cops working for the mob. Maybe that’s why no one seemed to want to solve this case.” The idea that it was NYPD cops who could have done it took my breath away. All these years it seemed that no matter how much information my mother had gathered to help solve this case, and no matter how many suspects she pointed to, nothing was done by the investigators. It was as if my father literally disappeared into thin air with no explanation. It was a true nightmare scenario, filled with years of pushing and fighting to get answers from those we thought were helping us, but getting nowhere. It made sense that cops did it because it would be easier for them to cover this up and interfere in an investigation.
“Can you imagine being able to bury him?…having a grave?!” I say as everything began to sink in. The thought of having a funeral and grave were both exhilarating and frightening to me. Ever since my father disappeared when I was ten years old, I dreamed of his return, then after accepting the fact that he will never return, I dreamed of having a grave to visit. I envied everyone else who had a grave. Although I knew that I could talk to my Father’s soul anywhere and he would hear me, I wanted that symbol, that special place, and now there was a chance I may just have it. But at the same time I began to think about the funeral. Who would come after all these years? What would people think? What would the press say about my father? How are we going to be able to have our side heard? Will this bring embarrassment to the family? Here I am, finally settled in life. I am married to an incredible, “normal” man and have two beautiful kids with one on the way. Few people are aware of my history and this could potentially bring it all out in the open. That thought truly scared me.
I hear my husband’s car door slam. “Jonathan just got home.” I quickly say. “We’ll talk later…call Yaelli and tell her everything.” Yaelli, my younger sister, was also married with two young girls and a baby boy and living in Brooklyn. Ever since our family began falling apart after my father disappeared, our relationship began its sad decline. Sadly, even as adults, we barely kept in touch. I wonder how she’d react to the news.
Speaking of news…how do I even begin to tell Jonathan? He knew my story. That was one of the first things I told him in the beginning of our relationship. It was incredibly hard for me since I didn’t know how he would take it. His family was so normal and happy that I didn’t want to scare him away with my crazy history. Fortunately, he accepted me even with my mysterious past, unaware that the skeletons in my closet literally was about to be revealed. As soon as he walked in, I sit him down and begin to tell him everything, starting with my mother’s phone call and ending with the article, which I hand over to him. While he reads the article, letting it all digest, a new thought enters my mind and I begin to pace.
If this really is connected to a big story than that means there will be press…lot’s of press. And my Mother will be hounded by the press. She won’t know what to say…she could say all the wrong things. Oh, this could be so bad! None of us have any experience with the press. She could potentially put herself in serious danger if she says the wrong things…and my whole life I never was able to control my mother who always did what she wanted, no matter the consequences. This could potentially be a total public relations disaster not to mention a dangerous situation.
“We need a representative!” I say out loud.
“What? Why?” My husband says, confused and still not getting it.
“Jonathan.” I say as calmly as I can, with a hint of panic slowly revealing itself as I talk. “You have to understand…this is huge! Cops being accused of working for the mob…a body found 19 years later…and God knows how the media will portray my father! We need advice. We need guidance. Someone who knows the media, knows the law and knows the mafia world…someone like….” I take a deep breath as it hits me. “That’s it! Ben Brafman. We need to contact Ben Brafman. He’s perfect. He would know exactly how to handle this. We must call him now!”
Brafman, a top notch famous criminal lawyer known for representing celebrities like Sean Puffy Combs as well as a few big mafia figures, seemed like the perfect person to seek advice from. The man knows the media and is extremely connected. Even better, he happened to be good friends with Jonathan’s parents. Although in California on business, we were able to reach him within the hour on his cell phone.
“So my question is…” I say after filling him in on the entire story. “Do you think we need a representative?”
Without even a hint of hesitation, in his trademark authoritative voice he replies. “Absolutely! Tell your mother not to say a word to the press until she meets with me and have the media contact my office.”
And that was how my past resurfaced, 19 years and 2 months after that chilly day in February 1986 when my father gave me a hug, left the house to go to work, never to return.