Unusual Suspects, Part I | Bob Norman | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Unusual Suspects, Part I

She writes on a computer at her sprawling, million-dollar home in northwest Broward horse country. The office walls are covered with University of Miami sports memorabilia. That's her husband's stuff. Behind a steel cabinet is a loaded, pistol-handled, black, 12-gauge shotgun. That's definitely hers.

Barbara Gordon knows how to handle guns, which are strategically located in most rooms of her 4,500 square-foot home in Country Acres, north of Coral Springs. She's admittedly paranoid, which also helps to explain all the surveillance cameras and the two large Dobermans, Ikeman and Liberty, in the room. They don't play with strangers.

Yes, the former secretary is well-protected as she types up her story, which in many ways is a typical South Florida potboiler. The book's seminal action -- the murder of a couple in a million-dollar Coral Springs home -- is steeped in cocaine. Everybody in it is from somewhere else, and it's filled with big money, beautiful women, kinky sex, and a passel of inept, possibly corrupt cops.

But this story isn't fiction. The deaths of Barbara's two best friends and housemates, Rick Weed and Jane Gosnell, made headlines 16 years ago. She discovered their naked bodies on May 2, 1988, shortly after taking Jane's 9-year-old son, Andy, to school. On the bed where they apparently died was a bullet hole in the headboard. The copper projectile was still lodged in the wall when police showed up. But they weren't shot. There was, as one toxicologist put it, a "shitload" of cocaine in their bodies, enough to kill them 18 times over. But there was no trace of the drug in the room or on their bodies. If that wasn't strange enough, Jane had a cut on the bridge of her nose, another on her chin, and her panties had been cut off her body.

The Coral Springs Police Department, protective of the town's safe suburban image and unaccustomed to tough homicide cases, conducted only a scant -- and very flawed -- investigation. They determined that Rick and Jane had died of simultaneous recreational cocaine overdoses, a highly unlikely occurrence that had never before happened in Broward County. Even then-Medical Examiner Ronald Wright admitted it was a rather implausible ruling, though he agreed with it. The cut panties and lack of cocaine in the room have never been explained. And the fact that Rick and Jane, who were engaged, didn't use cocaine seemed to be lost on the detectives, as was the fact that they had one dire enemy at the time: multimillionaire Bobby Gordon, Barbara's husband.

Barbara knows in her gut that someone other than the couple must have been involved, and she points to Bobby, with whom she's been involved in a contentious divorce ever since. He still owes her $3 million in alimony and interest but professes near poverty. This week, the now happily remarried Barbara will try to persuade Broward County Circuit Court Judge Linda Vitale to put her ex-husband in jail for contempt.

Her book, however, isn't about the divorce. It's about the case she's spent years and nearly a quarter of a million dollars trying to solve. It begins some 27 years ago at a Miami boat show, but the ending has yet to come.

When Bobby Gordon first laid his eyes on Barbara, he was already a millionaire. And at age 37, the short, bearded, New York native was just getting started. Bobby was a classic workaholic, a man who routinely drove to his business in the middle of the night, usually about 3 a.m., and didn't make it home until dinnertime. He made credit cards for banks, and his corporation, the Continental Plastic Card Co., was about to take off. Soon, he'd have his own building in Coral Springs and some 120 employees. Bobby, who started the business in 1972 in his home, basically made enough money to do anything he wanted. And on one sunny day in 1977, he decided to attend a boat show. That's where he saw her.

The reason for Bobby's relentless attraction to Barbara isn't one of this story's many mysteries. She was a pretty and petite 22-year-old blond with a bombshell body. And her future husband saw plenty of it at the show: She was modeling and wearing a revealing bikini to help attract attention. Bobby, 15 years Barbara's senior and married at the time, asked her out immediately. She was used to the advances of men during modeling jobs, but he was particularly persistent. "Bobby had a thing for blonds," she recalls. "A lot of men did, but this one wouldn't leave."

He asked her out to a bar. She told him she didn't drink, so he proposed a coffee shop. They met the next day. "I got to know him, and I thought he was a nice guy," she says. "He seemed really down to earth. Then I found out he was married, so I backed off a bit. But he would keep in touch, and then he offered me a job."

She jumped at the chance for a steady paycheck. Since moving to Florida in 1976 from her native Columbus, Ohio, she'd been a secretary and a model, and neither line of work seemed particularly dependable or lucrative. Then, in 1980, Bobby's wife, his second, divorced him. Bobby, who didn't return phone calls from New Times, explained the reason for the divorce during a telling interview with Coral Springs police on the day Rick and Jane died. "I got caught cheating," he said, laughing.

After the divorce, he immediately asked Barbara to marry him. Barbara entertained the idea but told him she was close to two friends from Columbus, Rick Weed and Jane Gosnell, who had both made the sojourn to South Florida. In a foreshadowing of the unconventional and rather complicated living arrangement to come, Barbara, Rick, Jane, and Andy, who was then a baby, lived in the same house in Margate. Rick's mother had put up the down payment on the house, and he and Barbara mutually owned it.

Jane, a tall, thin brunet, and Rick had struck up a relationship after she divorced Andy's father. This seemed a happy accident to Barbara; her best friends were in love.

"When I wanted to get involved with Barbara," Bobby told police, "I had to accept that Richard and Jane are part of her life... which I did, with no problem."

Rick, a bushy-haired and bearded man, was in many ways the anti-Bobby. Where Bobby was hard-driving, Rick seemed to perpetually take it easy. Where Bobby liked to take a drink, Rick preferred a toke. Where Bobby achieved incredible financial success, Rick relied mostly on the kindness of his mother. He had only one dream: to become a chess champion. Rick, who was by all accounts an extremely intelligent and thoughtful man, worked chess problems and played the game almost constantly on computers. He competed in chess tournaments and was ranked by the United States Chess Federation.

Bobby didn't play the game. The only thing that Bobby and Rick seemed to have in common was their penchant for women, which the former lured with money and the latter with charm. And both loved Barbara, though apparently in different ways.

After marrying in June 1981, Barbara and Bobby lived alone in a 7,500-square-foot home in Coral Springs that came with a tennis court and large pool. Bobby had a special, 2,000-square-foot bedroom built for them, complete with a remote-controlled skylight. He bought a Corvette for Barbara and gave her plenty of money to spend on anything she wanted.

Yet, amid the trappings of extravagant wealth, Barbara wasn't happy. "It got boring very quickly," she remembers. "I just sat in this big house all day. I needed something to do, so I hung out with Jane a lot."

Bobby, however, was more concerned about Rick, who he was convinced was having sex with his wife. Barbara insists to this day that she didn't, though she admits that, back in Columbus when she was 19, Rick took nude "cheesecake" photos of her. But that was just for fun. "Rick loved women," explains Barbara, who was six years younger than her friend. "And women were attracted to him. But there was nothing between us. It was like brother and sister."

She missed her friends so much that she decided to have them move into the marital home. Surprisingly, Bobby didn't resist. She now suspects he allowed it so he could keep a closer watch on Rick and have some control over him.

The new couple paid rent and stayed in the home's original master bedroom -- which was located on the opposite end of the house from Bobby and Barbara. Andy also had his own room, where he slept in a sleek, red, racing-car bed. All of them adored the boy, including Bobby, who put up a basketball hoop on the tennis court. Rick was like a father to Andy, coaching his basketball team and teaching him to read and write. Jane was also a loving mother, and Barbara served as a kind of second mom, a role she relished. Andy was, by all accounts, a happy, smart, and well-adjusted child.

The extended family often went to a large ranch that Bobby owned near Orlando and would have a wonderful time. Still, there was some jealousy on Bobby's part. In an ill-fated attempt to ease the tension, they decided to swap partners in a sexual foursome. Barbara says the group experiment was a failure: Jane wasn't attracted to Bobby, and she and Rick felt so wrong that it didn't work. She says they tried it only once, but Bobby told police they may have done it two or three times.

By the end of 1985, things were deteriorating rapidly. Bobby continued to work extreme hours, and Barbara practically lived on Rick and Jane's side of the house. The husband, understandably, felt increasingly unliked and alienated. Though he accepted that Rick and his wife weren't lovers, he felt Barbara was giving him all her love. "As a male, I was a little jealous of Richard, you know, just receiving everything and getting everything by just being there all the time," he told police.

On top of it all, Bobby was financing his perceived tormentor and, as he told police, the "whole town" knew it. Bobby said he gave his wife a $3,000-a-week allowance (she claims it was half that) and suspected that Barbara doled out about $1,000 of it to Rick. He also hated the way his wife would lavish Rick with gifts, especially chess-related merchandise, on holidays.

Suspicious, Bobby marked the hundred-dollar bills that he gave Barbara, and sure enough, Rick would give them back to him as his rent payment. Barbara denies she ever gave Rick cash, though she admits to giving him plenty of gifts.

"I maybe hated what [Rick] represented," Bobby said in his 41-page sworn statement. "You work and everybody else works, and he'd share everything and just stay back and go in the pool all day and play tennis."

Bobby made clear that it wasn't the cash that bothered him; it was the principle. "I have money," he told detectives. "I have a huge net worth. I have millions and millions."

Barbara, meanwhile, discovered that Bobby was cheating on her and paying the women. She even found out that he had a relationship with a 16-year-old girl and her mother at the same time. Barbara says that in 1986, a frustrated and furious Bobby began to abuse her, hurting her on a fairly regular basis. When police asked her the nature of the violence, she said, "Bruises and knocking me around and trying to choke me and scare me and, you know, because he has a lot of bitterness inside of him about Rick and Jane."

Rick played something of the role of her protector, though he and Bobby only rarely had shouting matches and never got into a physical fight. In January 1988, Rick demanded that Bobby stop abusing Barbara. Bobby later told police that he and Rick had threatened each others' lives during the argument. About the same time, Barbara demanded a separation. She wanted another house where she could live in peace with her adopted family. Bobby, hoping the new arrangement would somehow save their marriage, put down a deposit on a $300,000 house nearby. The four of them were supposed to move away from Bobby on April 1, 1988, but the deal fell through.

Barbara didn't know it then, but her best friends in the world had only one month to live.

The worst fight of all occurred on April 17, 1988, just two weeks before the deaths. Barbara accompanied Bobby, who still loved her dearly, to his business with his mother, Lillian, and sister, Carol, who were visiting from New York. They began to argue, and Bobby exploded. "He threw me and slammed me to the floor and [had his] hands around the throat, and he wrenched my back and my shoulders and [inflicted] big bruises all over the place," she explained to police.

Bobby admitted to detectives: "I just threw her on the ground. I scraped her elbow and stuff, and boy did I feel bad... I went nuts."

Lillian screamed at Bobby to get off of Barbara. Then Bobby demanded that his mother and sister leave the room. They refused, but he insisted that he wouldn't hurt his wife, that he just wanted to talk to her. "Barbara was yelling, 'Don't leave! Don't leave!'" Bobby told police. "I said, 'Please, Mom, I will not harm this girl. '"

Much to Barbara's horror, they left her alone in the room with Bobby.

"He told me he put a contract out on my life and Rick and Jane's, but he's got it on hold, and he's got connections, and he knows people, and if I go home and tell anybody about what happened, I'm gonna live to regret it," she explained to the cops.

Later that day, after Barbara had her injuries treated at a doctor's office, she informed Rick and Jane of the death threat. Rick told her not to worry, that Bobby was all bark and no bite. When Jane saw the bruises on her friend that night, she confronted Bobby. "She called me a pussy and stuff like that," Bobby said in his sworn statement. "I felt she was right to do that, and I walked out... I'm like a lamb; I'm so sorry I did that. It took me a while to heal my mind. It took Barbara a while to heal also."

Just two weeks later, on May 2, Barbara said good night to Rick and Jane about 11 p.m. The next morning, a Tuesday, Barbara was set to take Andy to school, as she did every Tuesday and Thursday. About 8:15 a.m., she went to the kitchen to make sure the boy was ready. Eating his cereal, the nine-year-old told her that his mom and dad hadn't answered their intercom and that their door was locked. She told him to let them sleep.

After Barbara dropped Andy off at Coral Springs Elementary School and returned home, she expected Jane, a fairly early riser, to be awake. When she wasn't, Barbara made some bacon, thinking the smell and sizzle of it would surely rouse her friend. Nothing. So Barbara went into her own bedroom and worked on an ongoing project for the Humane Society. About 11 a.m., she returned to the kitchen. Still, no one else was up.

For the first time, she thought something might be wrong. She called Rick and Jane on the intercom and got no response. She walked down the hall and tried to open the door, but it was still locked. She could see artificial light coming from under the door. She knocked loudly and looked for a note in the kitchen. Barbara walked to the patio and found that their sliding glass door was also locked. There was only one way in: through the fireplace in the living room that connected to their room. After opening the glass doors, she got down, pushed past a dark screen, and crawled through. While still on all fours, she saw Rick and Jane on their backs in bed. It looked like they were sleeping. The sight terrified her, though the truth didn't register until she felt their cold bodies and tried to wake them.

They were both dead.

Next week: the investigation

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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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