Fifteen Minutes of Infamy

Donato Dalrymple calls Elin his spiritual son but admits that his own home life is way too unstable for children
Bill Cooke

Donato Dalrymple calls Elián Gonzalez his "spiritual son," and he plans to play an ongoing role in the boy's life even if Elián is returned to Cuba. Dalrymple says he's entitled to it: He was, after all, chosen by God to be Elián's savior, to find the boy drifting at sea and bring him ashore.

"God led me to him. God helped me take him out of the water, and it was God that chose me to fight Fidel Castro for this little boy," Dalrymple says upon returning to his Lauderhill home after six days spent fueling the fire in Washington, D.C. "God has a plan for me, and I love the kid. I know he has a father, but that doesn't mean that he couldn't have somebody else. There is a bond between me and Elián that I think Juan Miguel will understand."

Dalrymple always refers to himself as Elián's "savior," never as his rescuer. Heroic is another word that he isn't shy about using when describing his actions, both when he plucked Elián from the sea on Thanksgiving morning and later, on the morning before Easter, when heavily armed federal agents finally plucked Elián from Dalrymple's arms.

"It's the photograph of the century," he proudly boasts of the famed picture of Elián and him in the closet as a combat-clad INS agent points an assault rifle at his chest. After the raid Dalrymple eagerly performed in the ensuing media circus, beginning with his tearful, overwrought scolding of the nation on live TV: "America, what did you do to this boy?"

Dalrymple's doings have been well-documented in the national media. (Most recently Dalrymple starred in cover stories in both Time and Newsweek.) Dalrymple has now become a minor figure in American history, the answer to a future trivia question, and certainly Broward's most famous resident of the moment. But even his family is wondering why he wedged himself so deeply in the Elián saga. His cousin and fellow rescuer, Sam Ciancio, has disowned Dalrymple for shamelessly promoting himself to the media. Dalrymple's own mother, who lives in Tamarac, says she felt Elián needed to be returned to his father and is convinced that her son jumped headlong into the fray for the "attention." Dalrymple's brother notes, without malice, that Donato, whom the family calls "Dee Dee," has always been "selfserving."

But what is most stunning about Dalrymple's new fame is that, before Elián, he went out of his way to avoid children for the most part. His own domestic life is marked by abuse and three failed marriages to women who were little more than strangers to him. He says he feels lucky that he's "escaped" having children, as his unruly life provides no place for them.

There was, however, another famous boy in Dalrymple's life: his nephew, David Waller. Rather than embrace David, Dalrymple ignored him, both in life and in death. But, then again, there was no gain to be had by making David his cause célèbre. Unlike Elián's survival story, David's life was marked by abuse and homicide. David's story, which is contained on microfilm at the Broward County Clerk of Courts archives, reveals a dark side of Donato Dalrymple and his family.

Even the healthy baby boy's birth, on August 13, 1977, was a shameful occasion for the Dalrymples. David's father was Lindford "Lindy" Dalrymple, Jr., Donato's brother, and David's mother was Lindy's paternal first cousin, 16-year-old Patricia Waller. The baby was conceived, Lindy says, during a family party celebrating Lindy's induction into the military.

It was natural that both Lindy and Donato would enter the military. Their father, Lindford Dalrymple, Sr., was an Army sergeant. Both brothers made a go at military life, and both bowed out before completing their service. Their father was a strict disciplinarian, but just how strict is a matter of contention. One relative, in a court deposition, said there was talk in the extended family of how "physical" both the father and mother, an Italian-American woman named Jennie, were with their children. Lindy Jr., who is two years older than Donato, tells New Times he was lashed with a leather belt. "My father would speak, and we would listen -- there was no other way," Donato says. "And that's what kids are missing today. When parents speak, the kids don't listen."

David apparently didn't listen to Lindy enough. When Lindy and Patricia Waller took custody of David from his maternal grandmother in 1981, family members and friends began noticing that David's buttocks and legs were often covered with dark bruises. Lindy admitted to whipping the child with a Tupperware spoon. Spoon beatings apparently were common in the Dalrymple family: Two of Lindy's sisters, Ruth Veach and Connie Dalrymple, later testified that they also used spoons on their children.  

Lindy, who was then 23 years old, also administered "hard slaps to David for his refusal to smile," slammed drawers on David's fingers, and punished David by forcing him to listen to extremely loud rock music on headphones, witnesses later told prosecutors.

On his last day alive, August 8, 1981, David's arms and legs were black and blue, there was a grotesque knot behind his ear, and his stomach was enlarged on one side due to internal injuries suffered at Lindy's hands, prosecutors alleged. David was throwing up his food, which witness Josephine LaFramboise said infuriated Lindy. "Lindy got mad and went in the bedroom and... picked up David by one arm and carried him upstairs, and I could hear him beating on the boy upstairs," LaFramboise said. "David never cried... all he was saying was, 'Mommy.'"

After David said he "forgot how to walk" and threw up bloody water, LaFramboise told Connie Dalrymple, who also lived in the house, that the boy needed to be taken to the hospital. Connie wouldn't hear of it, because she was worried doctors would find out about her brother Lindy's abuse, LaFramboise told prosecutors.

David was finally taken to the hospital later that evening and died there early the next morning.

The medical examiner's office determined that David died of beatings that occurred over a six-week period. Lindy recalls that he initially told detectives, "My father used to hit me, but I would never hit David that way." He was booked and jailed on charges of manslaughter and aggravated child abuse, and soon the Dalrymple family was all over the news in South Florida, which at the time was also absorbed in the disappearance of Adam Walsh.

Unlike his recent media embrace, Donato Dalrymple steadfastly avoided reporters back then. He says he never really wanted to know what happened to David. By his own admission, he never cared much about the boy when he was alive and wouldn't know him "if he showed up on my porch." He says he saw David on occasion but never played with him or even touched him, for that matter.

Just as he seemed to have blindly leapt onto the side of Elián's Miami relatives, Donato unquestioningly supported Lindy. Ignoring the truth contained in the court file, Donato still proclaims Lindy's innocence, calling his brother "the most sensitive, humble, and kindest man I've ever been around."

"Me and my brother are very, very close," Donato says. "It broke my heart -- here was an innocent young guy who was going to have to go prison. He was set up. There had to be a scapegoat, and my brother was the guy."

While he was out of jail on bond, Lindy and his cousin were married. At the same time, their families, the Dalrymples and the Wallers, began a nasty feud over David's killing. The main cause of the fighting: Patricia Waller's mother was cooperating with detectives against Lindy. She swore in a deposition that Donato, with Lindy next to him, chased her in his car and tried to run her off the road. Donato says he doesn't remember the event but concedes things between the families got ugly.

Lindy was sentenced to 15 years in prison, 7 of which he served. Today Lindy and Patricia Dalrymple live in Sunrise. Lindy still doesn't admit to killing David, but he does allow that he was a terrible person back then and concedes that he abused David. "I thank God for what happened with David," says Lindy, who has a clean record since coming out of prison. "I wouldn't be the man I am today if it wouldn't have happened."

Lindford Dalrymple, Sr. died in 1984 of cancer, but family members, including Donato, say it was the stress of Lindy's trial that really killed him. Their sister Connie, meanwhile, became a drug addict and is now in prison after being arrested in 1997 for prostitution, dealing cocaine within 1000 feet of a middle school, and fraud charges. Donato attributes his sister's problems to having too many children (five, with three different men).

"Like me, she was always looking for love in all the wrong places, but she wasn't fortunate enough to escape the children part of it like I was," Donato says.

Donato Dalrymple has been married four times, twice to the same woman, and he's looked for love in some pretty exotic places. He brought his first wife to the United States from Hungary in 1991, and in the space of the next 30 months, he married and divorced her twice. He found his second wife, Liliana Sanchez, in Colombia, and their two-year marriage was stormy and involved two police-documented fights. Dalrymple was listed as both a suspect and a victim in a domestic dispute in 1995, which was closed with no charge filed, according to Lauderhill police records. The following year he was clearly the victim: The back of his head was split open when Sanchez hit him with the point of a high-heeled shoe, according to police. "It was a relationship that wasn't normal," he says. "I was being pushed around. Then one day -- boom! -- I got whacked in the head with a shoe, and that was it."  

Two years after divorcing Sanchez in 1997, he married Tetyana Polosina, whom he brought over from the Ukraine. He initially told New Times that he just happened to meet the woman he calls "Tanya" during a visit to Europe. But when told that his own mother said it was a marriage born of "correspondence," Dalrymple concedes he met her on the Internet, where the 26-year-old beauty (Dalrymple is 40) was advertising for an American husband. While the Ukraine has become a hub for the illegal sale of poverty-stricken women, Dalrymple says he didn't pay anything for his wife. He simply brought her to America. While his mother, Jennie Dalrymple, says Tanya has worked tirelessly to keep Dalrymple's cleaning business afloat while her husband has been busy with Elián, Dalrymple says Tanya only helps out occasionally and isn't his employee.

As for the rumors that he and Marisleysis Gonzalez, Elián's cousin, had an affair, he says they're not only untrue, they're ridiculous. "There's no comparing Tanya to Marisleysis -- Tanya's a good ten notches above that," he says. "She's got dark hair, and she's got that European look.... There is no need to go elsewhere."

Today he's back home at his Lauderhill apartment, cleaning houses and trying to pay his bills. But his life has changed. Dalrymple, a man who admits he's never voted in his entire life, says he will work on Cuban exile issues for the rest of his life. He says he considers politics inherently dirty but hasn't ruled out running for office. A former missionary, he says he's also planning on giving sermons at numerous churches in the wake of his Elián fame. And he continues to denounce both Bill Clinton and Janet Reno as tyrants and calls Cuba a "little, open sewer."

Hundreds of people, he says, have come to him to call him "the last American hero."

"I've been standing up against communism. Standing up for America, the land of the free, the home of the brave," he says.

And if Elián is returned to Cuba, Dalrymple will get a visa and go to the communist country to visit the second boy in his life to make the news and the only one he says he ever really cared about.

"I should be a part of the boy's life, only as one of the saviors, if nothing else," Dalrymple says. "I fell in love with this little boy. Putting the politics aside, I put it in my heart that I was going to see him. He was a miracle child for me."

Contact Bob Norman at his e-mail address:

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