The Bad Bet

It turns out murdered gambling boss Gus Boulis had plenty to hide

But in 1977, nine years after stowing away on a ship to Canada, Boulis began to see his business sour.

"The relationship with the partners wasn't that good, because he had to do all the work and they were blocking him in so many ways to expand," Frances said in court. Boulis sold his assets in the company to his partners, claiming in later years that he received $30 million to $40 million in the sale. However, according to a 1988 FDLE report, an attorney close to Boulis told law enforcement agents that the businessman actually received far less: only about $300,000 to $400,000, plus the titles to several properties on which Mr. Submarine restaurants operated. Despite divesting himself from the company, Boulis continued to receive rent from Mr. Submarine.

Throughout Boulis' life, business problems seemed to parallel personal ones. As he was leaving his company, Boulis also ended his romantic relationship with Frances.

Boulis' estranged wife, Efronsini "Frances" Boulis, never stopped loving him
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Boulis' estranged wife, Efronsini "Frances" Boulis, never stopped loving him

According to statements he would later give in court, Boulis felt that his wife held him back, comparing his career to that of a Hollywood actor.

"I couldn't be a movie star and a husband to Frances," he testified. "I had a problem, OK? I didn't want — I had a problem. You know, I met her very young."

He added callously: "It wasn't in my heart. I couldn't fit with her... I met her for my immigration papers. I did my immigration papers, and we weren't for each other."

But Boulis was a man steeped in the Old World. Divorce wasn't an option, and he'd never abandon his children. He sent Frances and his two boys to Greece, where he believed they would have a better childhood, and sent them $16,000 per month. In Greece, Frances became, as she called it, "Mrs. Boulis" — the wealthy woman of Kavala who made sure that her family was always comfortable.

"It doesn't feel good to me if I'm Mrs. Boulis and my sister works in a factory," she testified.

For his part, Boulis headed south to the Florida Keys. The arrangement he'd forced on his wife afforded him freedom despite matrimonial bonds. "I could have a girlfriend if I want," he said in court. "She could have a boyfriend if she wants."

And as business and personal problems paralleled in Boulis' life, so did triumphs.

In 1980, at 31 years of age, Boulis moved to Key West and met an 18-year-old waitress from Minnesota named Margaret Hren. She was pretty, hard-working, and intelligent. Boulis had no way of divining then that Hren was the female partner he needed to become that "movie star."

Hren had just taken a job at Perry's Seafood when she met Boulis. They clicked immediately, and Boulis invited Hren on a vacation. She quit her job after only five days and headed north with her new Greek boyfriend. "We drove up the East Coast and to Canada," Hren recalled in a court deposition.

They discussed not only their personal future but their business one as well. Boulis, as always, had a grand plan: buy Perry's Seafood, then build a chain of restaurants and hotels throughout the Keys. He wanted Hren to be a part of that plan.

"What's mine is yours from this point forward," Hren recalled in court testimony that Boulis told her. "I want you to feel very comfortable. We will live very frugally. We will... keep our expenses to minimum, and we [will] reinvest all the profits back into growing a business."

She added: "The business plan at that time... was that we would run that restaurant, that we would do whatever it took to make that restaurant successful, and from the profits we would reinvest them in other businesses. That was our business plan at the time."

It worked. Over the next decade, Boulis and Hren lived as if they were married and built a small empire in the Keys. They were both hard-working, and in Hren, Boulis found a woman who could match his intellect and drive. She was willing to do anything — perform any job, no matter how menial — to succeed.

Sandra Thompson Lewis, a waitress at one of the restaurants Boulis and Hren owned in Key West, admired Hren's dirt-under-the-nails dedication in a deposition: "She would wait tables. She would bartend. She would make the specials. She made our schedule. She was a hostess. She did the cash. She checked our tickets for accuracy. She met with the vendors that came in. She placed food and beverage orders... I saw her bus tables. I saw her pick up trash. I saw her do everything that it took to run a restaurant."

For vacations, Boulis and Hren traveled to Greece every year to visit his children. Sometimes, though, Frances and the kids came to the Keys. It was awkward, since Boulis hid his relationship with Hren from the children.

Yet Frances never gave up on a future with her husband. Late one night, she confronted him in the parking lot of the Quay, a restaurant Boulis and Hren operated in Key Largo.

"Can we move here?" Boulis remembered Frances asking, referring to herself and the children. "What is it — why do you live with Margaret?"

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