Unusual Suspects, Part 3
This is the last in a series. To read the other parts, visit our Special Report Unusual Suspects.
Not long before Rick Weed and Jane Gosnell were found dead in their bedroom, a man from their past named Roger Lee Sexton showed up at the Coral Springs estate they called home. Roger was an old friend who seemed intent on creating an aura of mystique and danger. He was a wannabe archaeologist in the vein of Indiana Jones, a drug dealer, a self-proclaimed mercenary, and a collector of photographs of murder victims, some of whom he boasted he had killed himself.
The truth was hard to know, for Roger was, above all, an unrepentant con man.
But for all his sociopathic tendencies, Roger could be quite jolly. Hailing from rural Kentucky, he possessed a Southern-fried charm and wit that put people at ease. As one friend puts it, he "hid the meanness in him very well."
Barbara Gordon believes the meanness came out of Roger in a horrible way during the May 1988 morning that Rick and Jane died. She has repeatedly told police that she believes Roger killed her friends in the house she shared with her millionaire husband, Bobby. She has no proof, though, just a burgeoning collection of circumstantial evidence that includes strange actions and statements, shifting loyalties, and two more extremely suspicious deaths in Kentucky.
The case she makes against Roger starts with a knock on her door.
Barbara and Rick knew Roger from their days back in Ohio in the early 1970s. The two men were never very close, but they shared a passion for drag-racing motorcycles and partying until the early-morning hours. After Rick moved to Florida in 1976, they had only sporadic contact, bumping into each other every five years or so.
During the 1980s, Roger's various exploits brought him enough wealth to buy a big house and several houseboats in Kentucky, where rumors circulated that he was a drug dealer. He also owned a place in Tampa and an airplane. He claimed to be an archaeologist and, in one of his more exotic scams, used false credentials to get his hands on rare artifacts. In February 1988, he went to Mexico on a dig and, after the trip, stopped by the Gordon home on March 1 to visit Rick. "I saw a mansion," Roger would later recall in a deposition. Rick, he claimed, "was kicked back, girls waiting on him hand and foot, had to be a million-plus home... And we just started like old times, you know, partying and enjoying talking about the past."
Roger stayed two days in the mansion and soon became aware that his kicked-back friend had drawn the ire of the homeowner, Bobby Gordon, who believed Rick was stealing Barbara's affections. At times, the two men traded death threats. Roger later claimed that Rick had invoked the fact that he was a mercenary to scare Bobby.
It was a complicated and dangerous situation, but that only seemed to attract Roger. He called Rick a week after leaving the house and told him he was returning to South Florida the next month to marry his Colombian girlfriend, Clarita. Roger arrived on April 12, four days before the wedding, and checked into the Howard Johnson's Hotel in Deerfield Beach. Barbara, Rick, and Jane spent a lot of time at the hotel with Roger, who Barbara claims offered them all cocaine. She says none of them accepted the powder. Barbara also later told police that Roger had tried to involve Rick in a $20,000 cocaine deal but that he'd rejected the proposition.
On April 23, a week after the wedding, Roger left town with a promise he would soon return. He called Rick on the afternoon of May 2, after lunching with Rick's mother, Opal Atchinson, in Ohio. The next morning, Barbara found 40-year-old Rick and 36-year-old Jane dead in their bed, surrounded by unexplained signs of a crime. Jane's face was battered, and her panties were cut. There was a bullet hole in their headboard, and Rick's gun had been stolen. Though Rick and Jane didn't normally use cocaine, there was enough of it in their stomachs and bloodstreams to kill them many times over. Their 9-year-old son, Andy, had slept in a room nearby, apparently undisturbed.
A devastated Barbara immediately suspected that Bobby, who hated Rick and claimed to have hired a hit man to kill him, was behind the untimely deaths. Within a week, Barbara began to suspect that the hit man was Roger. The day after the deaths, he committed what Barbara considers his first suspicious act: He called her at home, told her she wasn't safe, and asked for Bobby's phone number. He called Bobby that day, but what was said remains unknown to Barbara.
At Rick's funeral in Ohio, Roger again told Barbara that her life was in danger, that Bobby was behind the deaths of Rick and Jane, and that, to be safe, she needed to live on one of his houseboats in Kentucky. Barbara was dead-set against the idea. "I didn't see anything sinister in it at the time," she recalls. "I just thought he was trying to be kind. And then he just became so insistent about it, like I had to go to Kentucky, that I became suspicious."
Roger also insisted on retrieving Rick's possessions from the house, claiming that Rick's mother, Opal, had asked him to do it. But Opal later informed Barbara that it was Roger who had suggested the idea. Opal, who died three years ago, would become one of Barbara's most steadfast allies in her struggle to find the killers.
After Rick's funeral, Kathy Strode, a close friend, also shared some stories about Roger with Barbara. She recounted having lunch with a mutual friend, Jeannine Turner, the day after the deaths. "Did you ever think that Roger Sexton might have anything to do with this?" Kathy recalls Jeannine asking her.
"No," Kathy answered. "Why do you think that?"
Jeannine never responded. Instead, she clammed up.
Kathy also remembered that during the funeral, Roger had said the couple had died from poisoned cocaine. That was strange, because at the time, police hadn't released any information about the deaths. Even Barbara, who found the bodies, was clueless about the cause or causes of death.
Barbara and Kathy both reported their suspicions about Roger to the Coral Springs police, who nevertheless seemed satisfied that the couple had died from simultaneous recreational cocaine overdoses.
So Barbara hired a private investigator, Robert Stotler. Just one month after the deaths, the P.I. went to Kentucky and interviewed two of Roger's close associates, a former employee named Lonnie Pierce and Gary Elmore, a caretaker for Roger's houseboats. Neither gave the investigator any explosive information, but when Roger heard about it, he was furious. He called Barbara on June 2, and she tape-recorded the call.
"Hold your seat," Roger told her. "They said they were trying to tie me in with the murder of Rick Weed and Jane."
Barbara knew this wasn't true -- Stotler had told her that he never mentioned the word murder and didn't ask direct questions about the Coral Springs deaths. Of the private investigator, Roger said, "I was looking for him, because I was going to kick his ass, and I will the minute I see him. I don't give a fuck if it's in a courtroom or in a police station; I am going to attack this motherfucker, and I'm going to fuck him up before anybody stops me or can get me off of him."
Roger also vowed to exact revenge on the cops if they arrested him for the couple's murder. "When they come after me, I'm going to take a few of them with me," he said on the phone. "I'm telling you, I will take a bunch of motherfuckers with me, and they will all be those low-life fucking nigger cops."
It was Elmore, however, who really felt Roger's wrath. Within days of his interview with Stotler, the caretaker told the Kentucky State Police that he feared Roger was going to murder him and make it look like a suicide. He further informed the cops that his boss liked to torture people before killing them. Elmore was so frightened that he began sleeping in a tree outside his home and talked of moving away.
His fears appear to have been terribly well-founded. On June 12, just three days after he called police, Elmore's body was discovered on the banks of the Cumberland River in a remote area several miles from his car. He'd been shot in the heart with a 22-caliber pistol. The spent cartridge was never found. Though several relatives told local authorities that Elmore feared Roger was going to kill him, they ruled it a suicide. The same week, Pierce also turned up dead -- he was killed while allegedly racing a motorcycle in his Corvette.
Richard Barton, a detective with the Kentucky State Police, had been looking into drug rumors about Roger for several months and believed that Roger had killed Elmore. When he learned of Barbara's suspicions that his suspect had been involved in other deaths, the detective intensified his investigation. "Barbara Gordon helped me," says Barton, who is now director of the Tennessee Drug Task Force. "I was kind of grasping at straws on Sexton, and then she came along and helped put some of this together."
In July 1988, Barton flew to Broward County, hoping to share information on the deaths with police and the medical examiner. He says they basically ignored him because they were convinced Rick and Jane had overdosed while partying. "I kind of felt shocked that they wouldn't cooperate more with me," Barton recalls. "They might have thought I was just a hillbilly cop. I didn't believe [the deaths of Rick and Jane] were overdoses when I went down there, and I still don't. Too many coincidences."
Barton returned to Kentucky and arranged for a confidential informant to buy cocaine from Roger, who threatened to kill the informant during wiretapped conversations and boasted that he had murdered people. Subsequent searches of Roger's homes and boats turned up machine guns, illegal silencers, pictures of corpses, and even a fake Ohio University diploma. Barton arrested Roger on cocaine trafficking and weapons charges and put him behind bars. "He was an idiot to have pictures of murder victims with him, but we couldn't find out where they were taken," Barton says. "He had a picture of himself standing over a dead person. It was supposed to be in some foreign country. It might have been trick photography. He's a good con man."
Even though Broward authorities weren't taking her investigation seriously, every new fact about Roger deepened Barbara's suspicion. The cocaine, the silencers, the Kentucky deaths, the fact that he boasted that he was a hired killer -- it all seemed to fit. The only thing missing was a proven link between Roger and Rick's true enemy, Bobby Gordon.
Like Roger Sexton, Bobby had lived a life full of deception and secrets. Gordon, for instance, wasn't even his given name. He changed it from Kerner after he was busted for selling stolen seafood in his native Long Island in 1966. The outcome of that case isn't known -- Bobby had it expunged from the public record.
With a new identity in Florida, Bobby went from one venture to another before creating a plastic card company that made him a very rich man. Bobby built his vast wealth with the help of an odd business strategy: He never paid federal income taxes. For years, he failed to file returns on millions of dollars in income. Neither did his 120 employees.
With so much money at his disposal, he spent great sums on his favorite pastime, womanizing. Though he was extremely jealous of Barbara and threatened to kill for her, Bobby was a serial cheater, even dating a teenaged girl named Mindy Lynn. In November 1988, a few months after Barbara moved out of his house, he threw a party on a yacht for blond-haired Mindy's 17th birthday. A videotape of the party shows Bobby, then 48 years old, making out with the girl on the dance floor while relatives and friends, including her mother, watch. As one of two male strippers Bobby had hired for the party shakes his bare buttocks in Mindy's face, Bobby goads her, "It's your birthday -- you can do anything you want."
One woman who began to play an increasing role in Bobby's affairs was Jeannine Turner, the Ohio woman who had raised the specter of Roger's being a suspect. After the deaths, Jeannine spurned Barbara while remaining close to Roger and aligning herself with Bobby. On September 30, 1989, Jeannine accompanied Bobby to an unlikely place: a Kentucky state prison, where the millionaire visited Roger Sexton. The conversation between the two men was taped by Roger's attorney, who hoped that Bobby would help his client beat the cocaine and weapons charges. It remains one of the most intriguing -- and perplexing -- pieces of evidence in Barbara's case file.
"I've never met this man," Bobby says of Roger when he sees him.
"I know I've never met him," Roger interjects, prompting both men to laugh.
Within a couple of minutes, Bobby is talking about his hatred of Rick. "Every time I would say, 'I'm gonna kill you,' Ricky would say, 'I'm gonna get Roger to kill you,' " Bobby tells the inmate.
It becomes apparent that Roger too despises Rick, even though he cozied up to him before the deaths. He calls Rick, whom he oddly refers to in the present tense, a spoiled brat.
"He's a habitual liar and a hustler, has been all his life," Roger tells Bobby. "Rick's the type of guy that, if you can help me, I'll pat you on the back, but if you can't help me, fuck you, go on!"
The two men agree to help each other with their respective legal problems. Bobby says he will do what he can to help Roger beat the cocaine and weapons raps. Roger agrees to testify in Bobby's divorce case against Barbara.
"She's so evil inside; she's such an evil person," Bobby says of Barbara.
"She's Rick!" exclaims Roger.
"She is -- she is Rick!"
Bobby speaks frankly about why he believes she is evil.
"She said, 'I'm not gonna stop until I find who murdered Rick and Jane,' " Bobby complains to Roger. "To this day, she won't stop. She's evil as can be."
Bobby further complains that Barbara has spent his money on the private investigator. "I wrote those checks, and Barbara used them against me..." he says. "I don't talk out of school. I don't talk out of school!"
The two men seem almost eerily in agreement on every topic. Both, for instance, say they believe that Rick and Jane were murdered, mainly because they truly didn't use cocaine. And, most strangely, they suggest the same man as the culprit, Chris Bell, who was Rick's best friend in Florida.
Just before the conversation concludes, the two men have this exchange:
"I wish you came to me four years ago when [Bobby's feud with Rick] first started," Roger says.
"He may still be alive today," Bobby opines.
"I never wished the guy dead -- I was happy he was dead..." Bobby says. "I wouldn't admit it to Barbara, but I am happy that he's dead."
Spurred by comments like that, Barbara contends their mutual theory that Chris Bell committed the murders is ludicrous. Indeed, he had no plausible motive, and nothing points to him as the perpetrator. Barbara sees it as further collusion between Roger and Bobby. Barbara, however, may not be able to speak impartially about Bell: She married him in 1996.
Bobby also remarried -- to young Mindy, just two weeks after his January 1990 divorce from Barbara. At the time, the IRS was investigating him, and he changed his name again, this time to Robert Newman. Bobby sold his business for $8 million and bought a house in Hawaii, where he also brought Jeannine. There, he began hiding his considerable assets. But he couldn't escape the IRS. He cut a deal with federal agents to testify against his employees, including a former mother-in-law. He pleaded guilty to "money structuring" in 1992 and wound up doing just ten months in prison. Some of his employees did more time.
"They gave the deal to the whale and went after the minnows," says Rory McMahon, a veteran private investigator and former federal probation officer hired by some of the employees. "Where is the justice in that? Bobby Gordon is the biggest piece of shit I have ever come into contact with, either personally or professionally."
Roger also cut a deal with the feds, pleading guilty to the gun and weapons charges in exchange for a ten-year prison sentence. He was released in 1998, and his whereabouts today are unknown.
Barbara has no proof that Bobby or Roger killed her friends, but she believes that a thorough police investigation -- which has never been done -- could provide the answers. The Coral Springs force, however, sticks by the almost impossible idea that Rick and Jane died of simultaneous cocaine overdoses. An obviously incomplete 1991 probe by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement backed up the department. To this day, neither agency can explain the signs of foul play found in the room.
The only law enforcement official who ever took Barbara's extensive work seriously was Barton, the former Kentucky detective. And he believes that Broward authorities made their faulty ruling because the victims were involved in sadomasochistic sex and could easily be written off. "I think there was an oversight by the Coral Springs police from the very beginning, and I think it had to do with [the victims'] lifestyle," he says. "Their lifestyles throw everything off kilter. I think when they seen the homemade videos of what you could call deviant sex, they just said they would call it a cocaine overdose. I've seen it happen before in law enforcement. It's not right, but it happens."
Barbara doesn't claim that she or her friends were without sin. She admits that she did, for a time prior to her marriage to Bobby, work as a paid escort for men. She concedes that she was arrested for prostitution in Pompano Beach in 1977 but adds that the charges were quickly dropped and insists she has never been paid to have sex with anyone. She denies that Rick was some kind of a Charlie Manson-type, a theory touted by Roger and Bobby and apparently shared by police. "If they feel that they have to drag me down, then drag me down -- but while I'm down there, look at the facts and look at the case," she says. "That's all I want."
Barbara and Bobby are still involved in a bitter divorce dispute, and at times, she's used the legal proceedings to help her investigate the deaths. She obtained telling depositions from Roger, Jeannine, and Bobby in 1994. The latter still owes Barbara more than $3 million for the divorce, and he has pleaded poverty to avoid paying it. Yet he runs an apparently successful business in Brooksville, Florida. He claims that the firm, called Bar Codes Talk, is owned solely by Mary Davis, his current girlfriend. So far, Broward Circuit Court Judge Linda Vitale has apparently believed Bobby's protestations of penury. The most recent hearing occurred on February 2 and was attended by Bobby and his Fort Lauderdale attorney, James Pedley. Vitale made no decision on the case.
After the hearing, Bobby was asked if he had anything to do with the deaths of Rick and Jane. He's denied involvement in the past, but this time, he simply greeted the question with stony silence, stepped on an elevator, and waited for the doors to close behind him.
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