Truth is Stranger than Fiction. I blogged about the murder of a meeting planner last week and how it mirrored the Murder on the Menu event that I had just written for a Friday night mystery event. It was positively eerie. The Murder on the Menu event was a FAM tour for Meeting Planners. The beautiful Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey, CA was the setting, and one fictitious meeting planner "Oscar Otter" was bludgeoned and found on a service cart.
The real meeting planner who was killed last week was Ben Novack of Convention Concepts at an Amway Global International convention of 1200 Spanish speaking delegates. He was found in his hotel room, bludgeoned to death.
The FAM tour that Murder on the Menu did was light-hearted and showcased the hotel: its restaurants, its meeting space its hotel rooms, spa, pool and other outdoor areas. Teams of meeting planners were given lots of clues, reports and information while touring the Portola Hotel & Spa. The teams worked on solving the mystery, although it was no mystery that the Portola Hotel & Spa is the perfect place for a meeting, event, conference or convention. Unlike the real mystery of Ben Novack's death which is still unsolved, the teams of meeting planners after much deliberation, solved the mystery. It was Miss Scarlett with a bottle of wine from the private event dining space/wine storage room. To keep their sleuthing skills honed, everyone on the winning team was rewarded with a mystery novel.
But back to the 'real' case of the murdered meeting planner. It was not Miss Scarlet. No suspects have been named according to an article in today's Corporate Meetings & Incentives. Police have said that the attack on Novack was not a random event, no valuables were missing, and no witnesses reported any sounds coming from the room.
Chief of Police Gregory Austin also said Rye Brook police were in the process of “interviewing witnesses … people at the convention, people staying on the same floor of the hotel” but Novack but had yet to identify any suspects.
In a statement last Thursday, according to the Lower Hudson Journal News, Austin said that police had not ruled out anyone as a potential suspect, adding that anyone in the hotel around the time Novack was killed “is being considered a person of interest.” Cast your net wide!
Novack had a long history with the hospitality industry. His father, Ben Novack, Sr., operated the famous Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach from its opening in 1954 until he lost it to bankruptcy in 1977. Ben Novack, Jr., launched his company, Convention Concepts Unlimited, in 1978. According to its Web site, the company organizes 60 major conventions a year, worth approximately $50 million in revenue, with Amway Global one of its major clients.
According to Hilton Hotels spokesperson Mark Ricci, the Amway Global convention, which had over 1,000 attendees, was brought to completion, despite Novack’s death. Is this a case of the show must go on?
Not content to accept these statements and being a mystery person, I investigated further, especially into the background of Ben Novack, Jr. Let's start with the facts. Novak was found by his wife on her return from breakfast. In the mysteries I read and write, one always looks to the spouse, at least as the primary suspect. According to Miami News, Novak had a very odd marriage. Sex games, fake breasts and death threats were ingredients in his wild marriage.
In a 2002 Ft. Lauderdale police report details of the troubled union of Ben Novack, Jr and his wife Narcy after a bizarre home invasion apparently planned by Narcy over 7 years ago. Novack Jr. was found on June 10, 2002, gagged and tied to a leather chair, claiming a group of men robbed him of over $1 million worth of money and belongings. Read the whole story here in the Miami Herald. His wife confessed two days later to planning the robbery. Her excuse for tying him up? It was all part of a sex game, and Nancy decided to take advantage of the situation and rob him while he was incapacitated. You can read more of this yourself. It's pretty weird.
The Sun Sentinal reported that in a divorce petition filed 16 days after the incident, Novack said he feared for his life because his wife, Narcia "Narcy" Cira Veliz Pacheco, had 'falsely imprisoned' him. According to the petition she later threatened, "If I can't have you, no one will," and warned him: "The Men that helped me remove the property from the house will come back and finish the job." The divorce petition was later dropped!
Oddly, the Rye Brook police say that Narcy Novack is not a suspect in her husband's death. ''Just because of the home invasion doesn't mean she's a suspect,'' the Police Chief said. "The home invasion may open up something that will change that, and we agree it is an important part of the case.'' Duh!
O.k. the facts, ma'am just the facts. Sources say that Narcy Novack's hotel key card was the only one swiped to enter the couple's suite and that no one used a key card to access the room while she was at breakfast.
Rye Brook detectives arrived in South Florida to question family members, lawyers, business associates and friends of Novack's.
Lest you think Novack Jr. was an angel: O.K. you knew he wasn't
According to the NYT, April 7, 1985, a week before his father Ben Novack, Sr. (78), died of heart and lung failure at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, his son asked a Miami judge to find his father mentally incompetent to handle his finances and to appoint a legal guardian, but Juana M. Rodrigues who lived with Mr. Novack, Sr, for 5 years, objected to his son's move, saying he had improperly obtained a power of attorney from his father. Miss Rodrigues, a 30 year old former Miss Uruguay, said the younger Mr. Novack had kept his father oversedated and denied him access to his friends. He did inherit the bulk of his father's fortune.
In addition to his father's fortune, Novack was set to receive and inheritance from his mother Bernice who died in April leaving most of her estate to her only son. Bernice Novack's estate is still in probate. She left everything to her son, except for about $65000 to divide between her sister and two nieces.
The plot thickens: Maxine Fiel, Bernice Novack's sister, said her nephew was very conscientious about his business. ''His habit was to get up early. It makes no sense that he would still be in his room at that hour of the morning,'' she said. Because he grew up at the Fontainebleau resort, he would likely have ordered room service early and been out well before 7 a.m. to get to work with his clients, she said.
She recalled that during his younger years, he lived in the Fontainebleau's penthouse and was often called the ''Prince of the Fontainebleau.'' He got just about everything he ever wanted, she said. Fiel said she was still grieving the loss of her sister when she learned about her nephew's violent death.
She has questions about her sister's April death, which the Broward Medical Examiner ruled was caused by a fall. ''Bernice was not a person to fall, or a tripper. She was not overweight; she worked out and took vitamins,'' Fiel said. She was unable to attend her sister's memorial service, she said, because she was not told when and where it was happening.
She said Novack meant everything to her sister. ''It would have devastated her,'' Fiel said. "She didn't interfere with his marriage. She just didn't want to interfere even when they bickered.''
Ben Novack told police that a week prior to his mother's death, she had taken a bad spill on a concrete sidewalk. She was treated and released the same day, but had not felt well since. Her son found her on April 5, face down in a pool of blood in her utility room. She had suffered a fractured skull, a broken jaw and broken teeth. An autopsy showed she died from blunt trauma to the head. Blood was spattered throughout several rooms of the house and inside her car.
The autopsy report is not yet complete, according to the medical examiner's office. Hmmm.