It was shortly after 6 p.m., a grey Monday in New York City. Leaving work, the three middle-aged employees of CBS Television walked along West 57th Street, turned south on 12th Avenue and, as was their custom, climbed the ramp to their rooftop parking garage at Hudson River Pier 92. Then, as they moved toward their cars, they saw a man in a ski mask loading a woman’s body into a white Volkswagen van. Perhaps they saw more. Police believe that the three good Samaritans tried to rescue the woman from her abductor. The consequences were swift and fatal. What the three technicians had haplessly stumbled upon was a professional hit man in mid-execution. Without deliberation, the assassin turned on his luckless witnesses. He shot two of them on the spot and chased the third 150 m before killing him as well.
All three died from a single .22-calibre bullet wound to the head. The next
day, an early-morning dog walker in the lower Broadway district discovered the inert form of Margaret Barbera, 38, the murderer’s original target. Her body, too, bore the signature of a practised killer: one bullet in the back of the head.
Last week’s WEST SIDE SLAUGHTER, as the New York Post emblazoned it, was connected to a continuing U.S. justice department probe of a multimilliondollar diamond fraud. Until last summer, Barbera had been the $70,000-ayear controller of the now-defunct Candor Diamond Corp., a Manhattan firm owned by Irwin Margolies and his wife, Madeleine. Only last month, Barbera had pleaded guilty to having assisted Margolies in a 1981 fraud by generating an estimated $6 million in phoney accounts receivable, later used to secure advance payments on the bills from a financing house, John P. Maguire and Co. Margolies, it is thought, also put up his firm’s gemstone assets as collateral for other loans from Maguire, then allegedly sold the jewels in a 1981 world
trip that included a stop in Toronto. Money from the sales, on deposit in a Swiss bank, may later have been used to retire Madeleine Margolies’ $180,000 loan from a Scarsdale, N.Y., bank.
As part of her guilty plea, however, Barbera agreed to co-operate with the federal investigation. She had planned to meet soon with a grand jury deciding possible indictments, and a session with assistant U.S. attorney Stephen Schlessinger, who is heading the probe, had been scheduled for last week. According to transcripts of Barbera’s March 25 conspiracy hearing, Margolies had complained of temporary financial problems and sought her help in doctoring fraudulent invoices. Margolies has not yet been questioned by the police, and his current whereabouts are unknown.
But documents filed during Candor’s bankruptcy proceedings allege that Barbera herself may have been an active and adroit embezzler. In depositions, Margolies claimed that Barbera regularly issued cheques in her own name for $12,500 and smaller sums to her longtime friend and coworker Jenny Soo Chin, 46. A part-time bookkeeper at Candor, Chin was kidnapped from outside Barbera’s Queens residence last January. Her car, with a .22-calibre shell casing on the front seat, was found weeks later, and she is presumed dead. “I am aware of those depositions,” Barbera’s lawyer James Coley told Maclean’s last week, “and I believe they were Margolies’ attempt to put the problem off on someone else. There is no truth in them at all.”
Whoever the real or greater villain,
Barbera had clearly come to believe she was a marked woman. On one occasion, she tracked Coley down during a Florida business trip, called him late at night and “was hysterical because she thought she was being watched.” Coley advised her to move in with friends; and she did. Three or four times, according to Coley, Barbera sought federal protection—a claim justice officials vigorously deny. Barbera also changed the locks on her apartment doors, barred her windows, started karate lessons and installed a burglar alarm in her car.
Police now theorize that the hired killer parked his van beside Barbera’s car on the rooftop garage, killed her and was preparing to dispose of her body when confronted by the CBS employees. They are also putting a long-shot bet on photographs taken by departing passengers on the S.S. Rotterdam, docked during the afternoon at Pier 90, only 50 m from the parking lot. The ship left about an hour before the assassin struck, bound for San Juan. Bon voyage photographs could unwittingly provide clues to the murder.
Ironically, however, these may come too late. “Mob hits are supposed to be done anonymously,” says Sgt. Joe Coffey of the organized crime task force of the New York city police. “They don’t like fanfare. The hit man will probably be dead by the end of the week.” ;ÿ>
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