Beach Beat

When Chris Caulfield got stomped near South Florida's most notorious nightclub, he didn't roll over

Now he will go after a few of his own.

Chris Caulfield's earliest memories make little sense to him. They come in bits and pieces: a motel room where his family seemed always to be watching television; guns everywhere -- behind the toilet, on the kitchen table, lying on his parents' bed and nightstand; running down the street with his sister from men she believed wanted to hurt them; faceless fear and the shadowy threat that someone out there wanted to kill him.

Chris recuperates at the hospital after the beating. Those boots were hard.
Max Caulfield
Chris recuperates at the hospital after the beating. Those boots were hard.
The police mug shot of Curtis Peele. Is the at large accused really Chris's attacker? A detective says he wants to find out.
Broward Sheriff’s Office
The police mug shot of Curtis Peele. Is the at large accused really Chris's attacker? A detective says he wants to find out.

Chris didn't know it until recently, but those memories stem from a family odyssey that began when his father, Max Caulfield, took a job managing a Mafia-owned Chicago porn shop in 1980. (See "Stepping from the Shadows," June 8, 1998.) Max worked at the store until 1982, the year Chris was born. Then Max, who wasn't accused of any crime, agreed to cooperate with the FBI and help prosecute Mob figures. Special Agent Ivan Harris, who heads the FBI's organized-crime unit in Chicago, still considers Max a hero.

Max's cooperation also led the family to enter the isolated, paranoid life of the witness-protection program. While awaiting the Mafia trial, which wouldn't be held until 1989, the family was shuttled by U.S. Marshals from motel room to motel room. After stints in Delaware and Virginia, they relocated to Washington state. There, in 1986, Max was booted out of the program for breaching security by trying to obtain a gun permit. Max remains deeply embittered about his ouster, which meant that government assistance and protection were cut off. He lived in great fear of Mafia retribution and spent weeks waiting in trees outside the family home, armed with a rifle and night-vision goggles, planning to shoot the men he was certain were coming to slaughter his family. Chris had no idea why his father was up in a tree. "I was just confused," he says.

While Max sank deeper into paranoia, Chris's mother entered psychiatric care and became addicted to pills and alcohol. Chris remembers his mom lying in bed for weeks at a time. Max, meanwhile, trained in martial arts, firearms, and surveillance and took a job as a store detective. He also met his second wife-to-be and future partner, Christine, who worked as a private investigator.

Then Chris's mother snapped. She aimed a gun at Max and held him hostage in a trailer -- both Chris and his sister were present. "She had a gun on him for five hours," Chris says. "Dad had a gun with him; he could have pulled it out and shot her on the spot. But he didn't do it, because we were there and he didn't want us to see that."

His mother eventually surrendered; soon she and Max divorced. While Chris's home life was in disarray, he couldn't settle in school. "One year I went to nine or ten schools," he recalls. "Dad moved a lot. He wanted to feel safe, so he'd move. It wasn't fun always being the new kid, always being the one to be picked on."

Chris and his older sister stayed with Max and Christine, and Christine began working with a Seattle PI named Rob Suggs. Suggs was the first person Max ever allowed to baby-sit Chris and his sister. "He was a nice guy," Chris recalls. "He bought us McDonald's all the time. He was a smiling guy. I never met anybody who was always nice like he was."

Suggs adored Chris and his sister. One Christmas the investigator spent two weeks making them a model racetrack with electronic cars. Chris also remembers once helping Suggs and Suggs's girlfriend, Susan Calkins, pack their stuff for a move to Hollywood for a movie career. Chris hugged them and their German shepherd good-bye.

Not long after that, Chris heard the terrible news: Suggs, Calkins, and the dog had disappeared. Police suspected Suggs in the murder of a crooked Hollywood producer named Roland John Emr and Emr's father. Chris saw his former baby sitter's photograph on America's Most Wanted and Larry King Live. Max and Christine, meanwhile, went in search of Suggs, whose body was eventually found in the Mojave Desert; he'd shot himself. In a shallow grave nearby was Calkins, whom Suggs had apparently strangled with a belt. Suggs hadn't spared the dog, which was buried next to Calkins. He'd also gunned down Emr and Emr's father because the producer had conned him.

When he learned of his baby sitter's rampage, Chris, who was nine years old at the time, broke the racetrack into little pieces. The killing spree reinforced what he'd been told since he was a toddler. "My parents basically taught me to lie to everybody and how to be sneaky," he says. "They taught us not to trust anybody."

Max says that was the simple reality of life in the program. "I never made any excuses for any of this," Max says. "I did what I had to do. I was put in a position where I only had one path out, and I took it."

During the past eight years, Chris has been shuttled between the homes of his mother, who still lives in Washington, and the ever-transient Max and Christine. In 1994 the couple moved to Broward County to open their own private detective agency. Chris came along and now calls South Florida home.

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