Authors: Edna Buchanan
Tags: #"BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY/Editors, Journalists, Publishers"
Lance reached into the backseat for the derringer. He knew his wife was home. Perhaps he feared something had happened to her. Lance drove through the gate, into the driveway, onto the lawn, “and angled around the bush where the guy should have been lying. But he wasn't there,” Armstrong said.
“Lance put it in park and we were about ready to get out to look for him, when he came walking around the bush.”
The man wore a burgundy-colored jogging suit and a ski mask. “His left hand was on the mask. I think he just pulled it down,” Armstrong said. The eye holes had been enlarged. “He was holding a blue steel revolver in his right hand.”
Three feet from the car the gunman opened fire. A bullet shattered a bone in Lance's upper left arm.
“Oh, dear God!” Lance said, and shot back. They were his last words. The gunman kept coming.
He was about a foot from the side window when he shot Lance twice in the face. Armstrong saw part of Lance's jaw disintegrate. Another bullet struck Lance under the eye, snapping his head back.
Then the gunman, “who never uttered a word, swung the gun in my direction,” Armstrong said. A bullet grazed Armstrong's shoulder.
He bailed out. “I knew Lance was dead. I wasn't thinking about anything at the moment but saving my own skin.”
Three more shots thudded into the ground behind him as he scaled a fence and scrambled into the room where he had been staying. Panting, he pawed in his suitcase for his own gun, then sat, terrified in the dark, waiting. The motor of Lance's car had been racing. He heard someone switch it off. No footsteps approached on the gravel, so he sprinted out the door, hurdling three fences in headlong flight. Spattered with Lance's blood, stained by his own, his clothing and flesh torn from the fences he'd leaped, he pounded on a neighbor's door for help, still clutching his own gun.
The frightened family refused to open the door, but called the police.
The gunshots had routed neighbor John Kates from his bed. He heard sirens and saw police cars skidding into his neighbor's drive. He and his wife hurried to the Anderson home.
Lance sat dead at the wheel of his Mercedes, the tiny two-shot derringer still clutched in his right hand. The bullet fired into his face at close range had left powder burns on his forehead. Kathi never stepped outside to see what had happened. She was not alone. Her daughter was asleep, and fifteen minutes before the ambush, another of Lance's business associates, Thomas Sloat, had arrived at the house from the boat show.
Sloat heard the shots, found the body, turned off the engine, and told Kathi to call police.
They found the murder weapon, Lance's missing Arminius Titan revolver, near the fence. The silvery box-shaped object also lay in the yard: a homemade silencer, fashioned from a section of air-conditioning duct, altered and taped.
Six minutes after the shooting, Jerry Russell's telephone-equipped pickup truck smashed into a pole eight blocks from the crime scene. He was slumped unconscious over the steering wheel, bleeding from a bullet wound. The single high-velocity .22-Magnum bullet Lance had managed to squeeze off from the derringer moments before his death had caught Jerry square in the chest.
A ski mask lay on the seat beside him. On the floorboard, a set of Smith and Wesson handcuffs and empty bank money wrappers in one-thousand- and five-thousand-dollar denominations. Detectives speculated that Russell intended to make the murder look like a drug killing. In the back of the pickup was a bloodied blue ten-speed bicycle, owned by his teenage daughter. Critically wounded, Russell told police he had been shot while taking a walk.
Police asked Kathi if she knew Russell. She said she did. The Kateses drove her that night to make a formal statement at Metro police headquarters.
“I know who killed Lance,” she told the couple. “It was Jerry Russell.”
She told police she had met Russell on a flight three years earlier. A parttime contractor, he soon began to build a house across the street. She invited him over. She admitted an affair while separated from her husband, but swore that since the reconciliation her relationship with Russell had continued “on a friendship basis only.”
“How did Jerry Russell feel about you?” a detective asked.
“He loves me. My friends and his friends tell me, âHe is absolutely crazy about you. And this is just killing him. It's absolutely destroying him.'” She repeated their conversation over lunch after he fixed her friend's telephone.
RUSSELL: Well, what are your plans for a divorce?
KATHI: No plans. I have no plans for a divorce.
RUSSELL: Well, is money that important to you?
KATHI: I'm not so sure that money is the issue.
RUSSELL: Money has to be the issue. You can't, the way you're talkingâthe way you felt about him when you were separated, you just can't â¦ A person doesn't change their feelingsâ¦
KATHI: Well, he's my husband and, yes, I can change my feelings.
RUSSELL: I still find it very hard to believe the two of you can make anything out of your life. I fully believe money is the only thing keeping you there.
She said they talked by telephone again that night around 9:15 or 9:30. Two hours later Russell was lurking in the shadows outside the house. Kathi denied knowing her husband was about to be murdered. Calm and cool, according to police, she said she and Sloat, her husband's associate, watched the eleven o'clock news on the giant-screen television Lance had bought her for Christmas. They saw the headlights from Lance's new Mercedes station wagonâthen they heard the gunfire.
Harold Russell was asleep at his daughter's Cape Cod home when the telephone rang at 1:18
. His son, on his way to surgery, said, “I've been shot.” Before boarding the next flight to Miami, his father and sister learned the shooting involved a man named Anderson.
During the flight it occurred to the father that Anderson was the name of the woman he had met at Thanksgiving. “It's so insane and unbelievable,” he said later. “So many crazy things are happening. I hate guns. I've always hated guns.”
Lance's mother was bitter. “When I heard those three terrible words, âLance is dead,' I could not accept it,” Erika Anderson said. “It is too horrible. I would have preferred that Lance be killed in a plane crash.”
Homicide detectives with a search warrant took 78 spent cartridges, more than ISO rounds of ammunition, scissors, fibers, thread, two rolls of duct tape and photographs from Jerry Russell's home. They also found papers in a white envelope marked KATHI and a Valentine's Day card.
Russell, shackled to a hospital bed, was charged with first-degree murder.
Lawyers estimated the net worth of Lance's estate at $1 million. He was insured for more than $200,000. His widow was the beneficiary.
Kathi hired a lawyer and declined to take a polygraph test. “She is not a suspect in anything,” her lawyer explained.
Prosecutor Roy Kahn agreed. “The poor woman,” he said, “has suffered enough.”
Kathi later changed her mind and, without telling police, submitted to a private polygraph test. “She felt there were certain implications and innuendos,” her lawyer said. “She passed with flying colors.” He did not know the precise questions, but said, “Whatever you think is relevant, she passed.”
The top-flight Miami criminal defense attorney hired by Russell's father was not impressed. “I've seen people pass polygraph examinations they should have flunked,” said Joel Hirschhorn, “and I've seen other people fail tests they should have passed. The results are not acceptable in court because too much depends on nonscientific matters.” He questioned whether the state's initial investigation was “as thorough as it should have been.”
But prosecutor Kahn pronounced the case solved.
Executrix of Lance's estate, Kathi collected his $201,485 life insurance and sued her former sweetheart for shooting her spouse. She asked for damages, citing funeral expenses, mental anguish and the loss of Lance's support.
Jerry Russell's ex-wife sued also, asking to have his assets frozen to assure her $600-a-month child support. Eastern fired him for shooting a “fellow pilot” and creating “unfavorable publicity” that reflected on the airline's reputation.
Russell disputed his dismissal, on grounds that his “alleged misconduct” occurred “off duty” and not on Eastern property. Kathi, president of a flight attendants' organization, was not fired.
Eastern officials remained tight-lipped. “We never comment on the personal lives of employees,” a spokesman said. Russell added to the airline's grief by pleading insanity. Pilot of a jumbo jet just three days before ambushing Lance Anderson, Russell's defense was that he was such a severe alcoholic that his brain was addled. Hirschhorn said his client had been drinking and could not remember why he was outside the Anderson home that night. He said Russell was hopelessly addicted to both alcohol and Kathi, who had shared a carafe of wine with him at lunch on the day of the crime.
One of Russell's friends, top aide to an assistant Miami police chief, had tried to talk Russell out of his dead-end romance with a married woman. Russell refused to listen. “He was absolutely infatuated, enthralled,” Donald Warshaw said. “It reached the point at which I think he was somewhat embarrassed about the fact. He would lie to his friends and say he was staying homeâwhen he was really seeing her.”
“I think most people who have been in love understand the power of that emotion,” attorney Hirschhorn said. “It all really goes back to when Eve offered Adam that first apple.”
The dead man's mother stopped speaking to her daughter-in-law, who had refused to pay the $5,418 owed for Lance's funeral. The mother wrote to then-Eastern chairman Frank Borman: “Your employees are liable for our losing Lance. He left your employ unwillingly, as he left his life.”
Borman did not reply.
To Dade State Attorney Janet Reno, she wrote: “My fine young eagle should still be flying.”
Reno did not reply.
Erika Anderson wanted a first-degree murder conviction and the death penaltyânothing less. “Can Lance be allowed to be second-degree dead? Like only on weekends?” she asked. “He is one hundred percent dead.”
The week-long trial on the fourth floor of the Justice Building played like a hit show to a packed house. A sign outside the courtroom announced
NO SEATS AVAILABLE
. Crowds waited to be first in line after luncheon recesses.
Circuit Judge Joseph R Farina, a boyish workaholic, urged jurors to bring sweaters because of the building's runaway air conditioner, to stand and stretch often, called them “folks” and worked them hard. Marched off to a nearby hospital cafeteria for suppers, they labored through ten-, twelve- and thirteen-hour days.
Prosecutor Kahn waived the death penalty. Defense attorney Hirschhorn, almost breaking into song, warned prospective jurors that the case dealt with “hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate.” Anyone involved in a love triangle, he said, might find the testimony “too uncomfortable.” He suggested they speak up before being chosen.
Russell, pale and thin, listened intently, occasionally jotting in red ink on a yellow legal pad. His sister, stepmother, sixteen-year-old daughter Wendy, and his father were all present in court. The elder Russell, heartsick, said that the murder pained him more than the loss of his hands in World War II.
“As one who has been flying for forty years,” he questioned, “just how much psychiatric testing is done by the airlines to ensure that the men who fly these planes carrying millions of passengers have the mental and physical capacity to do so?”
The grim parents and brother of Lance Anderson were also present. The mother, a stately blonde, wore black every day.
“Was this murder one of premeditation, first-degree murder?” asked prosecutor Kahn. He said it was, that Russell was neither crazy nor alcoholic, but was cold-blooded. “This man was prepared to kill. He had the intent.”
Hirschhorn said that Kathi Anderson, a “woman loved by two dashing airline pilots, wanted the best of two worlds. She had a husband who was a superlative provider and a lover who could satisfy her sexual needs.” While her husband bought her a new Mercedes and planned their future, she continued seeing Russell, who wanted to marry her. “Like a carrot before a rabbit, she dangled her personality and her body before Jerry Russell.”
Driven mad by jealousy and frustration and manipulated by the woman he loved, his client, he said, arrived at the murder scene drunk, pedaling a bicycle and toting a bulky air-conditioning duct that police identified as a crude silencer.
Kathi testified for the prosecution. Wearing a modest highnecked white blouse, her blond hair in a prim Dutch-boy cut, she admitted lying to police and to the prosecutor. In earlier statements she had told them she met Russell in 1979. During questions from Hirschhorn she conceded that she had comforted her lover the day his mother diedâin 1978. Both were married when they met. Earlier she said she began the affair with Russell while she and her husband were apart and ended it when they reconciled. Now she acknowledged that their intimacy began long before the separation and continued afterward.
“Why didn't you terminate your relationship with Russell when your husband moved back into the house?” Hirschhorn asked.
“I didn't want to,” the widow coolly replied. Unruffled after grueling hours of cross-examination, she gazed dry-eyed at her former lover, who stared back.
Russell was the friend her husband was not, she said, but lacked ambition. She had no idea, she said, that he would kill Lance.
“You saw nothing wrong in living with your husband and having Valentine's Day dinner with Russell?” asked Hirschhorn.
“What's wrong with that?”
She admitted dining with him at nearly twenty fine restaurants and accompanying him on trips to Boston, Cape Cod and Toronto. Her daughter, Lisa, she said, “liked Jerry very much, he made her mother happy, and she had seen her mother unhappy.”