Miami — Initially, the brutal killing of Ben Novack Jr., heir to the founder of Miami Beach’s famed Fontainebleau Hotel, looked like the sordid story of a wealthy couple’s sexually charged marriage gone very wrong. A year later, the alleged murder of Novack Jr.’s mother was thrown into the mix. Then, in late February, the bizarrely tangled case escalated into a full-scale family feud involving the respective extended families of both husband and wife.
At issue: whether former stripper Narcisa Novack orchestrated her own widowhood and, if so, whether the Novack family fortune of some $6 to $10 million can be kept from benefiting her and her daughter and grandsons by way of a previous relationship.
“We are trying to have Narcy Novack declared ineligible to collect on her husband’s estate, the theory being that you can’t collect if you’re responsible for the death,” said attorney Mark Hanson, who filed a Petition to Determine Heirs in a Florida probate court on behalf of Novack Jr.’s aunt and three Novack cousins.
Should Narcy Novack, who faces trial in April for her husband’s murder, be found guilty, the disposition of the Novack estate could depend on a court’s interpretation of Florida’s so-called slayer rule, which says a killer “forfeits all benefits…. with respect to the decedent’s estate.”
In Florida, it has never been decided whether the family of a person found guilty of murder can benefit, Hanson said. But even if Narcy Novack is acquitted, Hanson told the Forward, he will pursue a civil route to deny benefits. Civil cases utilize a lesser standard of evidence than criminal cases to determine guilt. Hanson cited the O.J. Simpson case, in which Simpson was acquitted in the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend Ronald Goldman, but a civil trial jury found him liable for the wrongful death of Goldman and awarded the Goldman family $33 million.
It was Harvey Morse, a Florida-based private investigator and international genealogist, who first got Hanson involved in the Novack case. Morse, who did not know the Novack family but learned about Ben Jr.’s murder through the media, recalled discussing the case with friends over lunch and saying to himself, “I’m gonna go find the relatives.”
Morse soon found four family blood relatives who might legitimately be heirs to both Novack’s estate and that of his mother, Bernice Novack: Maxine Fiel, who is Bernice Novack’s sister, and Novack Jr.’s first cousins —Andrea Danenza Wynn, Joseph Danenza and Gerald P. Brezner. Wynn is married to Las Vegas hotel and casino magnate Steve Wynn.
“I got hold of Maxine and I started to feel bad, being Jewish myself, and knowing what she’s gone through,” Morse said. He will also get paid a percentage in the event that any of these heirs inherit money from the estate.
At issue, Morse says, is the possibility that Narcy Novack’s daughter or grandsons could inherit Novack’s estate and use the money to benefit Narcy Novack. “She sits in jail,” he explained during a phone conversation, spinning out a possible scenario. “They get the money. She calls and asks for a loan to hire a defense attorney.”
Among the key assets of the estate is Novack Jr.’s famed collection of Batman memorabilia, valued at some $2 million.
The whole squalid business began on July 12, 2009, when Novack Jr.’s body was discovered, bound and bludgeoned, his eyes slit by a knife, in Room 453 of the Hilton Westchester in Rye Brook, N.Y. Four days short of the one-year anniversary of Novack’s death, Preet Bharara, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the indictments of Narcy Novack, then 53; her brother, Cristobal Veliz, and two other men on charges of interstate domestic violence and stalking. “As described in the indictment,” Bharara said, “the plot that led to the brutal death of Ben Novack was a family affair.”