Spank the Monkey

Children's TV pioneer Alan Shalleck had a secret that killed him

Jim Sirman shudders to think he might have been at Shalleck's house the night of the murder. Could he have prevented the crime? Or would he have been killed too? The diminutive 56-year-old already had a date on Super Bowl Sunday, so he had turned down Shalleck's invitation. Sirman made plans to meet on Monday night instead, but then he couldn't reach his play pal by phone. This was odd. Sirman says Shalleck was usually so eager before a play date that he would phone several times that day to confirm the encounter. It was a 50-mile drive to Boynton Beach from his home in Davie; Sirman decided not to make the trip.

Sirman rang Shalleck again on Tuesday, and a Boynton Beach homicide detective returned the call. "My heart sank," he recalls. "I knew it had to be about Alan."

The two men, both divorcees and fathers, met through a loose-knit South Florida spanking club of roughly 20 men. At first, Sirman says, he was turned off by Shalleck. He seemed pushy. Aggressive. Once, Sirman even saw him jump into an ongoing role-play game between two men at a spanking party; such uninvited interruptions are a big no-no in the fetish community.

Chad Crowe
In South Florida, Alan Shalleck turned himself into a children's book reader called "Gramps." By the end of storytime, the kids would often pile onto his lap.
Xin/Palm Beach Post/ZUMA Press
In South Florida, Alan Shalleck turned himself into a children's book reader called "Gramps." By the end of storytime, the kids would often pile onto his lap.

But a persistent Shalleck phoned him perhaps ten times until finally the younger man agreed to meet for a private, one-on-one session. Sirman inquired about health problems and established safe words: green for go, yellow to slow down, and red for stop. They got together perhaps three times before Shalleck was killed. Sirman says he gets off hearing older men moan, scream, and squirm under his flat hand or the swift swat of a paddle. And Shalleck liked to be dominated. The sessions would go on for hours. "He had one of the toughest bottoms I've ever seen," Sirman remembers. "It was like leather, his ass."

Members of the spanking club, spooked by the homicide, disbanded for a while. Beating one another relentlessly was suddenly unappealing after one of their brethren got pummeled and knifed to death. Those living in the closet were so terrified of being outed after police came knocking at their doors to ask about Shalleck that they never returned to the club.

Gossip began to circulate in Fort Lauderdale's large gay community about the two men who confessed to the murder, Rex Ditto and Vincent Puglisi. Some wondered whether the duo might have been responsible for unsolved murders in the area.

Vincent Puglisi, a 54-year-old fast-food cashier, and his unemployed 29-year-old lover, Rex Ditto, were about to be evicted from their Oakland Park home when they decided to visit Shalleck in early 2006. The men had been dating for only a month. Both had prison records, Puglisi for burglary and Ditto for assault and arson.

Combing through a list of recent incoming phone calls to Shalleck, Boynton police found that Puglisi had rung three times. Puglisi went in for questioning with cuts all over his hands. Ditto showed up wearing a Fossil wristwatch that belonged to Shalleck and sneakers with soles that matched a bloody print at the crime scene. By Wednesday evening, just 36 hours after the body was discovered, Puglisi and Ditto had confessed.

Puglisi told police he had met Shalleck a year before the murder after reading the "catchy" spanking advertisement in 411 magazine; Puglisi was "curious to see just how kinky he was," so he got together with Shalleck on a few occasions.

Puglisi says he and Ditto discussed robbing and killing Shalleck before they ever traveled north to Boynton Beach; Ditto insists the plan involved only spanking. Each blames the other for Shalleck's murder.

Both agree that upon arriving at the trailer, around 11 p.m., they watched a porn video. Ditto says it depicted older European men spanking white teenaged boys. At Shalleck's behest, Ditto stripped down to his white silk women's underwear and bent over his host's knee. Then, the man they knew as "Jay" slipped off Rex's underwear and began smacking him, first with his bare hand and then with a wooden paddle.

Ditto eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. Puglisi turned down a plea and is expected to stand trial in April, when Ditto has agreed to testify against him. Puglisi's attorney advised him against granting an interview to New Times. Meantime, Ditto agreed to discuss Shalleck's murder with New Times at Everglades Correctional Institution, which is nestled amid the sawgrass near the Miccosukee casino in Miami.

A burly inmate with tattooed arms and a female corrections officer stood watch as a wiry-built Ditto shuffled into a large meeting room wearing royal-blue canvas loafers, baby-blue scrubs, and a flimsy black yarmulke. The seductive face from the booking mug shot had gone gaunt and was partially obscured by a thin beard. His tousled locks had been shorn. Prison had erased Rex Ditto's good looks.

According to Ditto, after a few minutes under an oar-like paddle, he couldn't take any more corporal punishment. But when he asked for a timeout, Ditto says, Shalleck told him he'd have to withstand the thwacking "till the sun comes up." That's when Ditto, who says he's a diagnosed schizophrenic, claims to have heard voices. He's a nasty man, they said. Hit him in the head.

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