Unusual Suspects, Part I

A suburban couple dies mysteriously, but then a hot case gets cold

"I maybe hated what [Rick] represented," Bobby said in his 41-page sworn statement. "You work and everybody else works, and he'd share everything and just stay back and go in the pool all day and play tennis."

Bobby made clear that it wasn't the cash that bothered him; it was the principle. "I have money," he told detectives. "I have a huge net worth. I have millions and millions."

Barbara, meanwhile, discovered that Bobby was cheating on her and paying the women. She even found out that he had a relationship with a 16-year-old girl and her mother at the same time. Barbara says that in 1986, a frustrated and furious Bobby began to abuse her, hurting her on a fairly regular basis. When police asked her the nature of the violence, she said, "Bruises and knocking me around and trying to choke me and scare me and, you know, because he has a lot of bitterness inside of him about Rick and Jane."

Jane, Rick, and Barbara in better times
Barbara Gordon
Jane, Rick, and Barbara in better times

Rick played something of the role of her protector, though he and Bobby only rarely had shouting matches and never got into a physical fight. In January 1988, Rick demanded that Bobby stop abusing Barbara. Bobby later told police that he and Rick had threatened each others' lives during the argument. About the same time, Barbara demanded a separation. She wanted another house where she could live in peace with her adopted family. Bobby, hoping the new arrangement would somehow save their marriage, put down a deposit on a $300,000 house nearby. The four of them were supposed to move away from Bobby on April 1, 1988, but the deal fell through.

Barbara didn't know it then, but her best friends in the world had only one month to live.

The worst fight of all occurred on April 17, 1988, just two weeks before the deaths. Barbara accompanied Bobby, who still loved her dearly, to his business with his mother, Lillian, and sister, Carol, who were visiting from New York. They began to argue, and Bobby exploded. "He threw me and slammed me to the floor and [had his] hands around the throat, and he wrenched my back and my shoulders and [inflicted] big bruises all over the place," she explained to police.

Bobby admitted to detectives: "I just threw her on the ground. I scraped her elbow and stuff, and boy did I feel bad... I went nuts."

Lillian screamed at Bobby to get off of Barbara. Then Bobby demanded that his mother and sister leave the room. They refused, but he insisted that he wouldn't hurt his wife, that he just wanted to talk to her. "Barbara was yelling, 'Don't leave! Don't leave!'" Bobby told police. "I said, 'Please, Mom, I will not harm this girl. '"

Much to Barbara's horror, they left her alone in the room with Bobby.

"He told me he put a contract out on my life and Rick and Jane's, but he's got it on hold, and he's got connections, and he knows people, and if I go home and tell anybody about what happened, I'm gonna live to regret it," she explained to the cops.

Later that day, after Barbara had her injuries treated at a doctor's office, she informed Rick and Jane of the death threat. Rick told her not to worry, that Bobby was all bark and no bite. When Jane saw the bruises on her friend that night, she confronted Bobby. "She called me a pussy and stuff like that," Bobby said in his sworn statement. "I felt she was right to do that, and I walked out... I'm like a lamb; I'm so sorry I did that. It took me a while to heal my mind. It took Barbara a while to heal also."

Just two weeks later, on May 2, Barbara said good night to Rick and Jane about 11 p.m. The next morning, a Tuesday, Barbara was set to take Andy to school, as she did every Tuesday and Thursday. About 8:15 a.m., she went to the kitchen to make sure the boy was ready. Eating his cereal, the nine-year-old told her that his mom and dad hadn't answered their intercom and that their door was locked. She told him to let them sleep.

After Barbara dropped Andy off at Coral Springs Elementary School and returned home, she expected Jane, a fairly early riser, to be awake. When she wasn't, Barbara made some bacon, thinking the smell and sizzle of it would surely rouse her friend. Nothing. So Barbara went into her own bedroom and worked on an ongoing project for the Humane Society. About 11 a.m., she returned to the kitchen. Still, no one else was up.

For the first time, she thought something might be wrong. She called Rick and Jane on the intercom and got no response. She walked down the hall and tried to open the door, but it was still locked. She could see artificial light coming from under the door. She knocked loudly and looked for a note in the kitchen. Barbara walked to the patio and found that their sliding glass door was also locked. There was only one way in: through the fireplace in the living room that connected to their room. After opening the glass doors, she got down, pushed past a dark screen, and crawled through. While still on all fours, she saw Rick and Jane on their backs in bed. It looked like they were sleeping. The sight terrified her, though the truth didn't register until she felt their cold bodies and tried to wake them.

They were both dead.

Next week: the investigation

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