Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Millionaire's Wife

by Cathy Scott

On a rainy morning in the fall of 1990, a gunman, in broad daylight, caught up with George Kogan as George walked home from a Manhattan Upper East Side market. The shooter pumped three slugs into his back. Seven hours later, George was dead.

From the start, the prime suspect was the estranged wife of George Kogan, because, in part, George had $4 million worth of insurance on his life, and Barbara was the beneficiary. Yet, it would take nearly two decades to solve the murder. George, who had turned 49 the month before the killing, was gunned down as he approached the lobby doors of his East 69th Street apartment building, where he lived with his young girlfriend.

Manuel Martinez, an attorney with a small law practice who mostly handled eviction cases, once represented Barbara and eventually was charged and convicted of hiring a hit man to kill Barbara’s husband. It 's a love triangle and a hit-for-hire, and the story fascinated me.

It's also a sad story, because, in the end, everyone lost, including George's two sons, who were in college at the time of the murder, and who lost their father to murder and, ultimately, their mother to prison.

Nineteen years long years after the death of her husband, Barbara Susan Kogan was indicted for the murder of her husband, but not until she had spent every penny of the insurance payout, the last of which went toward her defense.

I’ve spent the last year piecing together this book. It’s titled THE MILLIONAIRE'S WIFE: The True Story of a Real Estate Tycoon, his Beautiful Young Mistress, and a Marriage that Ended in Murder. And while it is my eighth book, it is one of the toughest I’ve ever written.

True crime books, my friend and colleague Kathryn Casey recently reminded me, are not easy to write. As a journalist, I’ve been trained to chase the story, go to the scene, find sources, get documents, land interviews--anything and everything to flesh out the story. True crime books take real perseverance, especially in cases that are about to go to trial and when those on either side of the case are skittish about talking.

I was scheduled to interview Barbara, with her attorney, before her arrest. But, soon after, a warrant for her arrest was issued and her attorney instead arranged for her surrender. It was disappointing, and, while difficult, I love a challenge, plus I was lucky.

After I went on a radio show and talked about the case and after posting or two an article updating the case on Women in Crime Ink, family members on both sides of the case contacted me. I also was able to speak several times with the deputy district attorney as well as three defense attorneys. And a generous reporter who had covered the crime 19 years early shared with me what he recalled. And a doorman at George’s building, where George had been killed nearly two decades earlier, was particularly helpful and walked me through the crime scene. Several people at the courthouse were helpful as well, as were a couple of NYPD police officers. And E.W. Count, a crime writer in New York City, on two occasions became my eyes and ears in a Manhattan courtroom.

For the research part of books, I approach them in the same way I do news stories--digging for clues, links, and, especially, documentation and confirmations via paperwork and those I interview. For every book, I invariably contact mortuary personnel and verify college degrees with universities; this case was no different. Thank goodness the records were fairly easy to find, despite the passage of time. Fact-checking our own stories is part of the deal.

For newspaper and magazine articles, I got into Lexis-Nexis to pull up the original articles and, at the same time, stumbled on some relevant federal court documents. Early on, writer/author Sue Russell
pulled a couple of articles from Lexis-Nexis for me. After that, I did pay-as-you-go searches (a great service for research). The one thing, however, I could not find was George Kogan’s obituary. I knew there had to be one, and, ultimately, getting creative with search words (“slaying” instead of “murder” worked in this case), I found it. It was a real prize, because it was loaded with the detail I had been looking for--when and where George was buried, who officiated, who attended, and who did not.

When it came to police and court records, that got tricky. As soon as Barbara appeared in court, I filed a Freedom of Information Act form; it was ignored. So, with the help of attorneys, a defendant’s family members and a journalism student working on a class paper (and whose professor was friends with the defense), I was able to get the complete court files, trial transcripts, copies of depositions, a transcript of a surveillance telephone conversation, statements from witnesses from the scene of the crime, a list of witnesses and evidence, and a roster of jurors.

Then, the reading began. I pored through documents. It became a matter of learning who the characters and players were--and there were lots. Because two defendants were charged three years apart, it made the story more complicated. So I tried to boil it down and tell the story chronologically, as it had unfolded.

Deciding where to start a book is always a challenge. With The Murder of Biggie Smalls (a k a Notorious B.I.G., I began with Biggie, at age 15, sitting in a Brooklyn police precinct, crying for his mother after an officer detained Biggie and a friend for questioning to see if they were witnesses to a murder in a Bed-Stuy neighborhood. To me, that scene at the precinct spoke volumes about Biggie, whose real name was Christopher Wallace. He was not the street thug, like Tupac Shakur, who came of age on the mean streets of the Jungle housing project in Oakland, Californai. Biggie, conversely, was a mama’s boy, and his mother was a school teacher who sent Biggie to Jamaica every year to spend the summer with his grandfather, an ocean away from Brooklyn.

In Murder of a Mafia Daughter, after I went to victim Susan Berman’s Beverly Hills home, in Benedict Canyon, and met a neighbor who’d been the one to alert police that something was awry next door, I began the book with the neighbor awakening to Susan’s dogs running loose, on Christmas Eve morning, in his front yard.

With the Kogan case,  after traveling to New York City several times, the way the killer stalked George as he made his way home from a neighborhood market became a vivid picture to me, and I began the book with the morning he died.

I love the cover of this book, because it captures the feel of that fateful morning. So, it is with pride and pleasure that I give you, the reader, a sneak peek at the cover of The Millionaire’s Wife, released here, on Women in Crime Ink. When the book comes out later this year, I’ll give you a heads up.


Rachel Davis said...

Great post Cathy. I never really realized just how much goes into writing true crime!

Kathryn Casey said...

Congratulations, Cathy. Love the new cover.

Cathy Scott said...

Thanks, Rachel and Kathryn. Appreciate it.

DrGina said...

Fascinating post Cathy. The cover really conveys what you intended. I look forward to reading it!

Cathy Scott said...

Thanks, Gina. I think they did a nice job with the cover too. Very pleased.