By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
It was such an innocent statement, with such a sinister meaning.
"The weather's good here," Fred said. "I'm telling you, the weather's very good here."
In the parlance of two men brought together by murder for hire, the phrase was a prearranged code, the signal that Fred had finally killed Glenn Sandler's wife. He had dumped her body and covered it with lime. The job was done. Betty's BMW had been left in a grocery store parking lot. Now Fred just had to hand over her belongings and get paid.
No day goes by without a domestic dispute in the news, but the Sandlers' is a particularly egregious tale of breakup woes and of the lengths a man will go to bring a nasty divorce to a sudden end. Glenn Sandler was an experienced pilot, a successful businessman, and owner of the popular Gourmet Deli House restaurant in Lake Worth. He was nothing if not persistent. The woman who knew his secrets and wanted his money had to be eliminated.
Acquaintances say Sandler, then 52, was a man of few words and fewer friends. As his marriage unspooled, he had become so isolated, angry, and desperate that he disregarded caution and put his fate in one man's hands. Now Fred, the man he'd come to know and trust, was about to turn on him.
Many details of Glenn Sandler's quest seem so bumbling, vicious, and melodramatic that they read more like fiction than true crime. Yet if they were made up, someone could have chosen a more picturesque meeting place than the parking lot of the Office Depot on Lake Worth Road. Sandler and Fred had met there before, to complain about the crack dealer who'd brought them together, to plan a drug run, and to determine how Fred would kill Betty. Today, they'd have their final encounter. It was 1:45 p.m. November 9, 2005. Sandler parked his silver Infiniti SUV and squeezed into Fred's car.
As a recording of their conversation would later reveal, they didn't discuss details such as how or where Fred had killed Betty. There had been only one special instruction: what Fred's last words to Betty should be.
"I told her the saying you wanted me to tell her," Fred reported. "I said, 'Is this enough?'?"
Sandler could only mumble: "Yeah?"
Fred dangled Betty's car keys. Did Sandler want them?
Her cell phone?
Yeah, to see who she'd been calling.
Fred handed it over, and then, in a brotherly tone, said, "Take the battery off the back and get in the ocean with it."
Sandler passed Fred a manila envelope containing $15,000 in 100s and 50s. Fred protested -- it was too much.
"No, no, no," Sandler said, satisfied that someone had finally finished the job. Twice before, he'd doled out $5,000 deposits for this, and twice before, he'd been burned. In fact, if Fred "wanted another five or whatever, I could -- "
No, it was settled. Fred accepted the money.
Now they'd have to get through the investigation that would surely come. Sandler felt a little shaken, but he knew what to expect: He'd receive a call from his two grown sons, Geoff ("just a total loser") and Greg (the one he'd "do anything for"), who would be looking for their missing mother. The police would come knocking soon after. But Sandler had an alibi: He'd been with a handyman all day at home.
They looked forward to making more drug-running trips together as soon as the heat was off from this little episode. "When do you think I'll hear from you again?" Sandler asked.
"You call me," Fred said. "I'd kind of want things to settle down with you a little bit. Become a nun, bro. Go to church Sunday!"
"I'm a preacher right now!" Sandler laughed. "Nice doing business with you," he said as he got out of the car.
"Let me adjust my mirrors," Fred said. "Jesus Christ..."
Ten SWAT team officers surrounded Sandler, placing him under arrest for solicitation to commit first-degree murder and for trafficking in cocaine. "Fred" identified himself as an undercover detective with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and read Sandler his rights.
The Gourmet Deli House makes a powerful corned beef sandwich -- "as big as a man's fist," says Rich Hardy, who managed the restaurant in the 1990s. Served hot, on freshly baked rye bread, "OUR FAMOUS HOT CORNED BEEF" screams from the menu in capital letters, the deli's signature item.
Glenn Sandler apparently bought the restaurant in 1986, when he was 33 years old. Hardy says he was "one of the sharpest, smartest businessmen I've ever met." Sandler, who had never run a restaurant before, worked from open to close, learning every part of the job, from cooking briskets to handling catering to using the slicing machine.
Glenn Dowler, who worked at the deli from 1984 until 2005, when he left to go into business with Hardy, says that Sandler kept good people employed by offering a decent wage. It was his management style that sucked. "Anytime one of our key people wanted a raise," Dowler says, "he'd call them in the office and try to scare them out of even asking." During salary discussions, he would snap pencils and throw ashtrays.
Sandler could afford the raises, the two former employees say: The deli was clearing about $14,000 a day in season. Although it was a private, cash-based business and Sandler kept numbers close to his chest, Dowler says: "I knew how much we were spending in food. I knew how much we were spending in labor. It was pretty obvious the place was profiting."
As the business grew, Sandler became less visible. He'd pop in once a week to pay bills. Still, he seemed more suited for work than leisure. With the exception of flying his four-seat aircraft, "every hobby he had was given up within a few months because he has no friends," Dowler says. "He took my brother and I fishing, and the whole time, he just reminded us how much it cost. He bought a Harley, but you can only go riding by yourself for so long." Hardy recalled a golf outing where Sandler became furious and threw his clubs in the water. "Everything was all about winning."
Sandler had met Blanche "Betty" Schuessler in Miami. They married on October 3, 1981. While Glenn worked and tried to play, Betty settled into her role as the ultimate stay-at-home mom. Along with their two kids and two dogs, the couple lived in the Aero Club, a private community in Wellington, where they had a personal airplane hangar next to their two-car garage. Glenn took joyrides in his plane or went on vacation alone; Betty minded the house, covered PTA meetings, and went to the gym every day. The six-foot-two Glenn was a jeans-and-white-sneakers kind of guy who refused to dress up, even for weddings. Betty, a foot shorter, kept her brown hair nicely done. She appointed herself with gold jewelry and sported the same designer purse that everyone in Wellington had.
Dowler and Hardy believed their boss had lots of money even before he bought the deli. He'd been a regional manager for a chain of drugstores, he said, and he gave them the vague impression that he'd gotten rich by partnering with a chemist and helping to patent a drug. He didn't mention anything about trafficking in drugs.
Despite the Sandlers' affluence and all-American appearance, deli employees predicted they'd divorce as soon as their boys graduated from high school. Says Dowler: "There's no way a lady that nice could live with an asshole like that for that many years."
When the couple separated in July 2004, Sandler moved out. "He acted sad and hurt for a whole two days," Dowler says. Then the man who wasn't known as a drinker or a partier started making up for his married years. He got Lasik eye surgery and a nose job. He would come in to the deli with his hair messed up and make a point of showing off a new lady friend.
Betty, meanwhile, worried about hanging onto her lifestyle. Her 30-year-old cosmetology license was no longer of use, and she had no marketable skills. Divorce court would determine her financial future.
For Glenn, the breakup was a battle he had to win. Dowler remembers him keeping score during the proceedings. "He'd say, 'I'm up 2-1. I got the dog and the car; she's got the kids.'?" Hardy agrees: "Real vicious. Under any circumstances, he would not lose. If it cost him a million dollars to not lose, he'd pay it."
One day, Dowler recalls, Sandler came into work and warned, "?'Things are going to get real ugly -- bear with me.' He made a comment like, 'I'd be better off killing her.' Of course, I didn't take that as anything."
Chris Robinson says he met Glenn Sandler in the fall of 2005, through a prostitute. Soon, he said, Sandler was a regular visitor at Robinson's room at the Super 8 Motel on Hypoluxo Road. Sandler would buy a chunk of crack -- a "cookie" -- on a regular basis. The restaurateur would go through half an ounce a week, "a lot of crack," Robinson said.
Sandler would give him $800 for an ounce of coke, Robinson said. They'd drive to a dealer's house in Boynton Beach, where Robinson said his brothers lived. Sandler would wait outside in the truck while Robinson purchased half an ounce of crack for $350. He'd tell Sandler it was an ounce, he said, and pocket the difference, $450. Did he feel guilty? He did not. If people didn't know the market, he said, "they was ripping theyself off."
For his part, Sandler did not seem to have any reservations about hanging out at the Super 8 with a street-level criminal like Robinson, and he apparently never suspected that Robinson was ripping him off. He borrowed Robinson's room for a tryst with a hooker, Robinson said, and he lent Robinson his truck. He once even loaned Robinson $1,000 for no particular reason, Robinson said. "He was just throwing out money." Then, one day, Sandler told him "that he wanted a birthday party for his girl -- for his wife.
"And I basically asked him, 'Well, what do you mean?' And he was like, 'I want her out. I want her dead.'?"
Robinson said he was "just playing" when he said his brothers could get rid of Betty Sandler, but Glenn was serious enough that he set a price, $25,000, and warned Robinson that he'd tried to have Betty killed and been burned before.
On September 30, his birthday, Robinson splurged and got a room for the night at the Hilton. Sandler came by with a $5,000 deposit in small bills, and even brought a gift: a Sirius satellite radio. They talked about how Robinson and his brothers would kill Betty the following Thursday, by slamming into her car at an intersection.
No one will ever know whether Robinson would have done anything to Betty, because before that Thursday came, police showed up at the Super 8 on Hypoluxo Road and picked Robinson up on an outstanding, unrelated warrant. A few days later, from his jail cell, Robinson summoned a detective and said Betty Sandler's life was in danger.
Fred knew he had to act quickly. Glenn Sandler could be seeking Robinson's replacement. It had to be him. "The most important thing about a murder for hire is getting hired," he said later. So he led Robinson to a phone at the jail's intake area.
"Listen," Robinson said when he had Sandler on the line. "The people that are going to throw this party, they want to go ahead and get this done."
The Fifth Amendment states that no individual "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." It doesn't protect people from statements they make against themselves while they're surreptitiously recorded, as Glenn Sandler was on the day he met "Fred."
An undercover officer from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office who is also assigned to an FBI task force, "Fred" agreed to talk to New Times on the condition that the paper not use his real name and other identifying details. He was already thinking ahead when he pulled into the Office Depot parking lot for his first meeting with Glenn Sandler, on October 12, 2005. He would let Glenn build his own trap. He merely brought two tools to help: a microphone and mad improvisational skills.
As the meeting began, Fred eyed Glenn suspiciously. "This is awkward for me, brother," he said, "I don't usually meet people."
"I don't either," Glenn shot back.
Glenn had already tried to have his wife killed a few months earlier. He'd hired a hit man who took a $5,000 deposit and disappeared. Betty was alive and well. Then he hired Chris Robinson and shelled out another $5,000 -- and then Robinson got tossed in jail. And Betty was still walking around, feeling fine.
Then Robinson called and said he'd arranged to have his boss and supplier finish the job.
Fred was obligated to take over the job and assume Robinson's debt, he told Glenn. He'd whack Betty for $25,000, minus the $5,000 Glenn had paid Robinson.
"Chris has become a real fuck-up for me lately," Fred lamented. "And I don't know what to do about it."
Those words landed on sympathetic ears. Glenn was tired of Robinson too! "Every time I turn around, he's costing me money," Glenn said. Even after pocketing the five grand, Robinson had had the gall to ask Glenn for money to hire an attorney. And Betty! "She's trying to fucking extort me."
"Fuck, they all do, bro," Fred said casually. "She's got a vagina -- what do you expect?"
This guy understood. So Glenn fired up his machismo: In the early '80s, he bragged, he moved drugs in and out of Miami with speedboats. One time, he said, he'd faced 30 years in prison but got off by bribing the judge for $12,000. "I have my own fucking airplane. I do domestic fucking flights. I used to do overseas. I've been flying for 20 years." He made trips to grass landing strips all over the country, he said. "That's what I fucking do. Aside from all the legit shit."
"I understand," Fred said. Glenn was making a business offer.
If Fred chose to collaborate and help him get back in the game, "things could turn out well for everybody," Glenn said. But he had to get rid of "this fucking cunt" who knew he had more money than he could explain to the IRS. "She's blackmailing the shit out of me. I can't fucking deal with her at all. She wants so much fucking money -- money I don't even have, you know?"
Fred took control. First things first: "The way this party is supposed to happen is bullshit." Robinson's plan had been to take two stolen cars, smash into Betty at an intersection, and flee. She wouldn't even necessarily die. "Six feet and 12 bags of lime is how this happens, period."
Calcium oxide, or lime, is a key ingredient in composting. It can be found at any garden store. Used sparingly in thin layers, it hastens the release of nutrients in bones as they decompose. Stick some seeds in there and you could have a 14-inch string bean. Pile enough lime on a corpse and even the teeth will dissolve.
Glenn wasn't concerned with such details. "I just want her fucking gone," he said.
"There's two things that have to happen," Fred said. "Number one is, she has to be snatched with nobody seeing her." Number two: She must not reappear. "Never."
Fred wondered aloud about how many 50-pound bags of lime he'd really need to get rid of a 120-pound woman. He noted it hadn't been raining lately, which was good. The lower the water table, the sooner Betty would be unrecognizable.
"So if they would find her, it'd look like she got raped or beat," Sandler mused.
"They wouldn't find her," Fred said. "The lime takes bone and all. That's why we use lime. Lime's a motherfucker, bro." Still, Fred said, if Glenn changed his mind and wanted to back out at any time, "Bah -- not a problem."
But Glenn just pined for his toys: "I want my house and my plane and my hangar back," he said.
Fred promised he'd get them.
Around 7 each morning, Aero Club residents rev their engines, back out of their driveways, and head for work -- in the air. Their streets are named for aviation legends -- Lindbergh Lane, Cessna Way. Homes cost $900,000 to $3 million.
The Sandlers had lived by the cul-de-sac on Boeing Court. Glenn used to keep his precious, single-engine Mooney in a personal hangar out back. He moved it to the Lantana airport after the separation. Betty stayed in the house. Glenn had barely seen her, but he imagined that her newly single status made her "the new playgirl in Wellington."
Betty walked her dog up her street, unaware that Fred was watching her from an unmarked car. He had a photo of her that Glenn had provided. He watched the neighborhood and studied her habits. Her hair was longer now, he told Glenn the next time they spoke.
"She was a honey," Glenn said wistfully. "She was a honey."
"I didn't think you were going to marry a dog, bro!"
"But they turn into a weasel, you know?"
Fred said he'd been thinking about their plan. He had another idea. "Sometimes burying them and digging them back up... She'd be scared like a motherfucker." Seriously: Put four inches of dirt on her head, have her inhale some earthworms, then set her free. She'd know what was coming if she didn't drop her demands.
"She'd be scared," Glenn said, "but she's the most vindictive, unreasonable -- and you know... it's 50/50. She could go either way."
"Well, what kind of money does that bitch want?"
"She wants me basically paying her the rest of my life."
"That's why you divorce her and you won't be around her the rest of your life."
"Not the money she's talking about. And my business doesn't throw it off."
"But I'm saying, we could make some money, and you could just pay the bitch."
"You can't pay her enough." He'd already offered her $2.5 million. "And she just -- 'It's not enough! I want more! I know there's more! It's not enough! I want more!' That's all she ever says. 'Nope, not enough -- I want more.'?"
All right, then. Fred made a vow: "I promise you the last thing you ever said to her is going to be, 'Is this enough?'?"
"Yeah. 'You want more?'?"
First, though, Glenn and Fred would do a job together. Glenn could help Fred move up a few links on the drug chain by flying a few kilos of coke. If Fred could show his higher-ups that he had a partner with a plane, he could get more product to move, and he could move it more quickly, which meant way more profit. It would be so much easier than the way he usually made drug runs, he said -- sending his guys from Boynton Beach onto Route 27, in their '66 Impalas with 27-inch rims. In return, Fred would shave another $5,000 off the price for killing Betty, bringing it down to $15,000. And if all went well, they could make more trips together.
Glenn ran into a few snags. First, he had to get his plane through its annual inspection, which he couldn't rush, he said, because his safety was at stake. Then there was Hurricane Wilma. Finally, he called Fred and said they were ready to roll.
"Oh, I'm gonna kiss you on the forehead when I see you," Fred said. "I'm gonna bring a stepladder, you big, tall son of a bitch."
The next day, the two men met at the Lantana airport, where Wilma had run a few planes through the shredder. Workers used bulldozers to clear broken wings and smashed cabins. The Mooney had made it through the storm just fine, though, color screens intact, stereo ready to crank, Jimmy Buffett tunes on the iPod. The plane could cruise at 220 miles per hour and land on a tight runway, Glenn bragged. It had two seats in front, two seats in back, and a roomy cargo area. Perfect.
Glenn lectured Fred: He didn't want to make this run only to get stiffed again. "I don't want you stringing me on here."
"I can't believe you'd think I'd leave you hanging!" Fred said. "You're nothing but a gentleman, bro."
"No, but it behooves me to just put it out there -- that, you know, I'm putting my trust in you. And that, you know, I've looked you in the eye and I see straight talk."
"I got no reason to be any different," Fred said.
T-Bone arrived. He dropped a black duffle bag on the floor and went to the restroom. Fred unzipped the bag and showed Glenn the coke: five kilos, real nice flake.
After lunch, the three men climbed into the Mooney. T-Bone seemed reluctant.
"You're fucking nervous, aren't you?" Fred said. "Dude, he said not to puke in his plane!"
They dropped off T-Bone with his bag at the North County airport, in Palm Beach Gardens. "G-Money will meet you and take you back to the house," Fred told him.
What Sandler didn't know was that T-Bone was another undercover cop. He had a pilot's license. He was not at all scared of flying. "G-Money" was Fred's fun little code name for the Palm Beach Sheriff's officers who accepted the coke at the North County airport and returned it to the evidence lab in West Palm Beach. Now they had Glenn on a drug-trafficking charge.
"It's a perfect plane, isn't it?" Glenn said as he and Fred flew back to Lantana. "Very inconspicuous and shit." Still, he wished he had his house, where he could taxi right into the driveway.
Betty would be gone within 24 hours, Fred assured him. When the job was done, he'd call Glenn and say the weather was good. "You're gonna get that house, bro."
"I'll get the house."
"She's gonna be fucking fertilizer tomorrow."
On the morning of November 9, 2005, Betty Sandler tooled around Wellington in her blue BMW with no idea that she was supposed to be converted into plant food. She was pulled over by a uniformed cop; then Fred approached her car and flashed his badge. He told her that her husband was trying to have her killed.
"I'm not surprised," she said.
Betty lent Fred her car keys and cell phone. She left her car in a Publix lot, as he requested. Then Fred called Glenn and delivered his weather report.
By 2 p.m., police officers were swarming around Glenn at the Office Depot. He went quietly.
"At that point, he's listening, he's looking to help himself," Fred later recalled. Fred said he appealed to Glenn's values to obtain the keys to the Mooney. "He understood that if we seized the airplane, we'd have to pop the locks and be ripping things out."
Glenn was taken to the Palm Beach County main detention center. It was the same facility that housed Chris Robinson, who had helped set the murder-for-hire plot in motion.
Six weeks later, Palm Beach officers received a letter from yet another inmate, this one a violent offender who was serving 30 years in prison. He was writing to say that Glenn Sandler was still looking for a hit man to kill Betty. It would have marked his fourth attempt on his wife's life.
The State Attorney's Office did not bring more charges against Glenn Sandler based on that allegation, but it was introduced at Sandler's bond hearing, where he was deemed too great a risk to be released on bail.
If convicted on the drug-trafficking and murder-solicitation charges, Sandler would have faced up to 60 years in prison. His attorney started building an insanity defense. But on June 11 of this year, before his case could go to trial, Sandler accepted a plea deal: 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He would also give up his airplane and motorcycle.
"Fred" chose a new alias and moved on to another criminal. Christopher Robinson completed his sentence and became a free man. Betty Sandler, thanks to those two, did not end up entombed in lime beneath somebody's birdbath.
Just before he was arrested, Glenn Sandler revealed the name of the first would-be hit man he'd tried to hire. If his complaint is to be believed, a guy named "Meats," a member of the Outlaw motorcycle gang, is out there somewhere spending $5,000 he didn't earn.
For Sandler, the bad news didn't end when the jail door clinked behind him. Shortly after he was jailed, his father died, and his son Geoff, the "loser," was killed in a motorcycle accident at age 22.
As part of the Sandlers' divorce proceedings, their income and expenses were assessed. Records show Glenn's salary as $94,243. The inventory of the Deli House, which was accounted for right down to its last bagel slicer, was worth $18,885.47. Betty listed no income and needed to cover her monthly bills -- $150 a month for cigarettes, $500 for clothes, and $750 for grooming. Geoff Sandler's funeral cost $11,043.36.
The divorce became final on February 6, 2007. Betty was granted the home in the Aero Club, while Glenn kept some land in South Carolina. They split their stocks and retirement funds. Betty got "all household goods, furniture, furnishings, and personal jewelry."
Glenn got the restaurant. Betty got the golf cart.
Financial support was decided as well: "The Husband shall remain obligated to pay permanent alimony to the Wife in the amount of $100 per year."
Nothing in the record indicated whether Betty Sandler thought that was enough.