Authors: Edna Buchanan
Tags: #"BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY/Editors, Journalists, Publishers"
“I feel so sorry for her,” Miami Homicide Detective Andrew Sundberg told me. “She was looking for Mr. Right.”
At forty she was in a hurry.
Anita Babette lunched with her parents one Tuesday in August. She mentioned no date that night. In fact, she said she planned to work late in her darkroom to complete a major project. Among her commercial accounts were restaurant chains and shoe manufacturers.
Police believe that the next day, while an unidentified man drove her tan station wagon to drive-in tellers at three banks and cashed checks drawn against her business account, Anita Babette was bound and gagged, lying helpless in her home.
Unable to reach her by telephone Tuesday night, Wednesday or Thursday, her worried parents went to her house. They found it ransacked, pictures removed from the walls, even kitchen cabinets searched. If the killer was seeking something specific, it is unknown whether he found it. Expensive cameras, photographic equipment and other valuables remained. Some small cameras and a TV were missing, along with her handbag, wallet and credit cards.
Late that same day, at Yeehaw Junction in upstate Florida, a turnpike employee noticed what looked like a “bolt of multicolored cloth” thirty feet off the pavement. When it was still there the following day, he stopped to investigate and found the body of a barefoot woman clad in underwear and a striped bathrobe. The unidentified woman was five feet two inches tall and weighed ninety pounds. Deputies sifted through statewide missing-persons reports and stopped at one from Miami.
Anita Babette had been found.
Her station wagon was discovered back in Miami, clean and undamaged, abandoned just off the Palmetto Expressway. Police were puzzled. Why did the killer drive Anita Babette, bound and gagged, possibly still alive though probably already dead, nearly two hundred miles north to Yeehaw Junction? It would have been simpler and far safer to leave her in her house. If what the killer sought was a headstart on police, why then did he drive the dead woman's car back to Miami?
In her big houseâboth home and studioâdetectives found lists, the names of more than one hundred men referred to Anita Babette by half a dozen dating services.
“There are a lot of women like her in Dade County,” Homicide Sergeant Mike Gonzalez said. “They outnumber the men. They get lonely.” He hoped other lonely women would help him catch the killer.
“We believe that if he went so far as to keep her prisoner, take her car and cash her checks, that he has victimized other women. We want to talk to anybody who has ever had a problem with a computer date who tried to get money from them in any way.
“I think we have his name,” Gonzalez said of the killer, “but there are just too many to properly investigate each one.”
Many of the men declined to cooperate.
“They are all a little embarrassed,” Gonzalez said. “I don't think they want it known that they even used a dating service.”
Sundberg said many were “losers, introverts, quiet conservative guys. They resist coming in to talk to us.” The detectives found the typical man registered with the dating services to be a “middle-class, private person. They're average. They're not brain surgeons, they're not street sweepers either. Maybe they're a little shy. They're not your Dale Carnegie-type people.”
Anita Babette, highly regarded in the field of photography, had been eager to meet professional men of similar education, background and interests. She told friends she was disappointed. Many of the purported professionals referred by the dating services were not what she expected. Some even lacked high school diplomas. Several had criminal records. A few were married men.
Most said they had talked to Anita Babette on the telephone but had never met her. A few said they had dated her. A few submitted to voluntary fingerprinting.
Asked how potential dates were screened, a spokesman for one Miami firm said, “They're not, really.”
His firm had sent the names of many men to Anita Babette. “I know nothing about her. I'm not interested in discussing her or us,” the spokesman said, and cut me off.
Members of a singles boating group missed her, but to most she was just a name and a number. She was also remembered by the operators of an outing club. She took a bicycling trip and went sailing with them. The family man who had organized people who love the outdoors recalled her “as a cautious person. We were very sad when we heard about it. We'd like to see whoever it was get caught.”
During a long and intense investigation the detectives came to understand Anita Babette and other women like her.
“In her earlier life she traveled all over the world photographing everything,” Sundberg said. “It was always her career. Footloose and fancy free, a girl-and-her-camera type of thing. Then she was forty and thought, âI've got my career, but I've got nothing.' She wanted the right man.”
We hoped another lonely woman somewhere in the city might supply an answer, but none did.
The ultimate Mr. Wrong, the man who killed Anita Babette is still out there.
Another innocent who died for love was a Miamian, kidnapped, robbed and brutally murdered as he moonlighted to buy a birthday present for his wife. As the killers tried to bury the corpse in a backyard, neighbors called police. A year later, five days before the first anniversary of her husband's deathâ and her twenty-sixth birthdayâthe widow swung her son, age two and named after his father, over the edge of the roof at the federal courthouse. Then she let go.
Even puppy love will sometimes go horribly awry. Two high school sweethearts told friends they could not face a summer apart. The girl was being sent to Italy. The boy was to start summer school. Both were sixteen. The Italian trip was designed in part to separate the pair, in love for three years. They had asked permission to marry, but were told they were too young. They wanted to become engaged, but were told they were too young. They were also too young to die, but when the girl said, “I'd rather be dead than in Italy,” the boy believed her. He took a gun from a house where she babysat and shot her five times. Then he shot himself.
“They were such sweet little children, childhood sweethearts,” a shocked neighbor told me.
Love makes some people crazy.
The death of Lance Christian Anderson is a perfect example. An airline pilot, as handsome as a movie star, he wheeled his brand new champagne-colored Mercedes Benz into his circular driveway, where a ski-masked killer waited in shadowy ambush.
This is a story of a love triangle and sudden death. The scenario is pure Hollywood, the stuff movies are made of. Beautiful people, illicit romance, money and murderâeven, indirectly, an Academy Award winner. The assassin was an Eastern Airlines pilot. So was Lance Christian Anderson. Both loved the same woman. She was an Eastern Airlines stewardess, married to the victim.
The murdered pilot, forty-two, was stalked and killed with his own gun.
The victim and his killer scarcely knew one another, yet they had a great deal in common. Both were New Englanders, both had resettled in Miami, both loved to fly, and both wanted the same thirty-nine-year-old flight attendant, Kathleen K. Anderson.
Her husband, Lance, born on the Fourth of July, was well on his way to becoming a millionaire. A whiz at business, he owned boat, marine-supply and seaplane firms. A natural athlete, a crack shot and an expert sailor, he was at home on the water and in the sky.
“There was no facade about Lance,” said Jeane Kates, who lived with her husband, Jack, next door to the Andersons' ranch-style home on two and a half acres. “He was what he appeared to be.” Lance thought it “terrible” to keep a bird in a tiny cage. He once drove his parents' new puppy all the way from Miami to their Bradenton home rather than see it endure an airline flight.
“He was a classy sort of person, always thinking of ways to improve things,” said retired Commander Richard Jaffee, Lance's superior in the Coast Guard Reserve. “He was such a good-looking guy, he could have been a movie star.”
Lance was twice invited to escort Miss USA contestants at the pageant in Miami Beach. That was before he marriedâand before another man fell in love with his wife.
The man in love with Lance's wife, Kathi, was Gerald John Russell, thirty-nine, a boyish former Air Force captain who had won two commendations for bravery in Vietnam, one of them for landing a burning aircraft. He had a degree in psychology from the University of New Hampshire and moonlighted as a home contractor. He is the son of a famous man, the only actor to ever win two Oscars for the same role.
His father, Harold Russell, seventy-seven, a handless World War II veteran, won the awards for his classic 1946 performance in
The Best Years of Our Lives
. He went on to become a successful executive and chairman of the President's Commission on Employment of the Handicapped.
He once confided to Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons that he had adopted his wife's tiny son by a prior marriage. “He's ours now,” he told Louella proudly.
Lance and Kathi married in June 1966. Their only child, Lisa, was seven at the time of his murder. Shortly before his death, Lance bought a matched pair of Mercedes; his a station wagon, hers a four-door sedan with a KATHI-K personalized license tag.
The marriage survived a separation in 1980. At about the same time, Jerry Russell and his wife, his next-door childhood sweetheart, were divorced. His famous actor father flew to Miami half a dozen times to persuade the couple to stay together. “It was one of the failures of my life,” the father said.
The romance between Jerry Russell and Kathi Anderson began in 1978 and continued after her husband moved back into the house. Although Kathi lived with Lance, she and Jerry attended concerts and plays and dined at fine restaurants. On Valentine's Day, Jerry sent Kathi and her daughter roses and took them to dinner. The child signed Kathi's valentine card to Russell. While Lance piloted an Eastern flight on Thanksgiving, Jerry cooked a turkey for Kathi and her daughter.
Russell's father met Kathi at that family dinner. “She seemed like an airline stewardess, a girl in a uniform who serves the drinks and is nice and polite.” At his son's request, he autographed for Kathi a copy of his latest book,
The Best Years of My Life
Jerry's friends knew about his obsession with Kathi. Perhaps her husband also knew. Relatives said that for a time, Lance had a private detective “monitor” his wife's relationship with Jerry.
Though his marriage was troubled, Lance's businesses flourished. His brother Erik, forty-seven, had sold his Alamonte Springs funeral home and intended to move to Miami to be a partner. Erik admired his brother's cool-headed style. In January they were aloft in a small plane when the single engine quit. Lance smoothly glided the aircraft into a pasture, repaired a clogged fuel line and off they soared again.
After delivery of his new Mercedes on February 16, Lance decided to put a gun in the car for protection. He discovered his .357 Magnum missing from his study, an employee said. “He thought maybe Kathi had borrowed it, or he may have mislaid it.”
The weapon was the third of Lance's guns to apparently go astray in recent weeks. The first, a .38 Arminius Titan revolver he had owned for years, seemed to have disappeared from his car, parked in the Eastern employees' lot. The second was a derringer. He did not report the guns stolen, believing they were just misplaced. He took another two-shot derringer, which he had bought for Kathi, and placed it in his briefcase.
On Wednesday, February 24, 1982, the day of the killing, a friend of Kathi's skirmished with her husband, a Delta Airlines pilot. He ripped the phone out of the wall and left for work. So after a dental appointment, Kathi drove her new Mercedes Benz to Jerry Russell's townhouse, and together they went to the Delta pilot's home. Jerry repaired the phone, then took Kathi to lunch. Lance was at work, exhibiting marine supplies at a boat show in Miami Beach.
From seven to nine
., Jerry played tennis with the usual Wednesday-night crowd at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. In a foursome with insurance agent Alex Soto, a real estate agent and a travel agent, Jerry played his usual game.
“He's a hacker,” said Soto, thirty-three, “but he played a pretty good game, for him.” Jerry appeared to have been drinking, but not enough to affect his game. “He was kidding around, very calm, relaxed, a typical, average, laid back, normal individual. He was not plotting or planning a murder that nightâor I know nothing about human nature.”
After the boat show, Lance picked up Frank Armstrong, twenty-one. Armstrong had recently moved to Miami from Bradenton to work for Lance. He was staying in an office-study in a barn behind Lance's house. They headed home. “We were joking and talking and having a good old time,” Armstrong said. “Lance was telling me how well the boat show went for him.”
Earlier that night Jerry was at his own home with his sixteen-year-old daughter, Wendy. She heard her father take a telephone call in his room with the door closed. Then Jerry Russell went out. His TV was left on. So was the garden hose, which would run all night, flooding the lush green lawn he prized so highly. “Not like a precise pilot accustomed to checklists,” his bewildered father would say later.
. Lance and his passenger were almost home. A ranch-style wooden fence stretches 166 feet across the front of the property. Lance spotted something unusual out of the corner of his eye as they passed. A blue bicycle leaned against the east end of the fence. Lance stopped the Mercedes on the roadway and backed up at an angle, lighting up the bicycle and his front lawn.
“That's when we saw the guy in the yard,” Armstrong said. Someone was lying in the shadows, next to a large bush. Something silvery and box-shaped lay next to him. “Maybe it's a bicyclist who's just going to sleep there for the night,” Armstrong suggested.