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Fort Lauderdale Police on Novack Death: Nothing to See Here

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department seems pretty sure about its strange ruling in the bloody death of former Miami socialite Bernice Novack in today's Miami Herald.

​On one of the most perplexing mysteries this town has ever seen, FLPD spokesman Francis Sousa gave us a rendition of, "Move along, nothing to see here."

Bull. There's plenty to look at -- and none of it is pretty.

Novack, the former grande dame of the glamorous Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, was found dead in her blood-smeared Fort Lauderdale home a year ago in a "nightgown drenched with blood" and with "massive skull injuries, broken teeth, a fractured finger and broken jaw."

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department determined that the 87-year-old Novack died after a "series of falls."

A whole lot of people aren't buying that explanation. In fact, her Batmobile-collecting son, Ben Novack Jr., reportedly had doubts about the police ruling before he himself was beaten to death in a New York hotel room three months after his mother's demise.

Then there were the bizarre goings-on at Ben Jr.'s house on Delmar Place years before mother and son met their brutal ends. Back in 2002, Ben Jr. claimed his wife, Narcy, a former stripper from Ecuador, bound and gagged him in his house in a murder plot. But there were never any charges and Narcy claimed it was all part of a sex game gone awry. Ben Jr. -- whose father was the founder of the Fontainebleau -- dropped his divorce filing when the couple reconciled and got back together.    

After Ben Jr.'s mother was found dead in her home, an anonymous note to police claimed that both Novacks had been killed in an attempt to snare their multimillion-dollar fortune. The letter pointed at Narcy, who police call a "person of interest" in her husband's death.

Adding to the intrigue, men had been seen hiding in Bernice Novack's bushes not long before her death and someone had thrown a ceramic garden object through her window. Throw in financial shenanigans and allegations that Narcy allegedly looted safe deposit boxes owned by Ben Jr. and Bernice at Bank of America after their deaths and you have one of the most sordid and complicated mysteries this town has ever seen.

Not so, says Sousa, the FLPD mouthpiece. From the Herald story:

"That letter doesn't prove anything,'' said police spokesman Frank Sousa. He said police chose not to pursue the claims because the letter wasn't signed. Detectives say it could be a red herring meant to cast suspicion on Narcy, who stands to inherit her late husband's wealth -- unless implicated in his death.

``At this point, there is nothing to indicate anything different from our [initial] finding,'' said Sousa. ``We've looked at this case on several levels, several times and came to the same finding.''

Medical Examiner Joshua Perper is also sticking by his guns that Bernice Novack fell over and over again to her bloody and brutal death.

I suppose it's possible that the police are right, though it may seem implausible. But Sousa's heel-digging doesn't reflect well on the department, which certainly seems recalcitrant if not outright idiotic. We can all see that this is a complicated situation; you don't have to be in the Fraternal Order of Police to realize that. 

And in fact it doesn't look like it was much of an investigation. From the Herald:

Other than from the wine glass, no fingerprints were lifted inside the house or inside Bernice's car, Sousa said. The only prints on the glass were Bernice's. No DNA samples were collected and there is no photograph on file of the wine glass, he said.

Sousa added that three neighbors -- whom he declined to identify -- were interviewed, but there is no record of those interviews. Greene, the next-door neighbor, said she had only a brief discussion with a patrolman, not a detective.

Police did not interview Bernice Novack's handyman, with whom she had spent part of the day before her death, Sousa said.

They did consider Bernice's claim, contained in a 2002 police report, that Narcy tried to poison her. Bernice made the allegation after finding Ben Jr. handcuffed and duct-taped for 24 hours in his Fort Lauderdale home. Ben Jr. said his wife stole money from his safe as several men threatened to kill him. He later declined to prosecute, and police found no evidence to support Bernice's claim.

It seems a pretty sparse investigation -- and makes Sousa's blunt and stubborn words only more dubious. The FLPD needs to understand that credibility -- already frazzled after the Scott Rothstein scandal -- comes not only from being right but also from acknowledging that it could be wrong.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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