Hotel Heir's Murder Sparks Miami Feud

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Seamy Side: The brutal killing of Ben Novack Jr., whose father owned Miami Beach’s famed Fontainebleau resort, has led to a nasty family feud over his fortune. His ex-stripper widow is accused of setting up the murder.
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Seamy Side: The brutal killing of Ben Novack Jr., whose father owned Miami Beach’s famed Fontainebleau resort, has led to a nasty family feud over his fortune. His ex-stripper widow is accused of setting up the murder.

By Mary Jane Fine

Published March 19, 2012, issue of March 23, 2012.
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George Venizelos of the FBI’s New York field office said: “The killing of Ben Novack was not a spur of the moment crime of passion. It was the end game of considerable planning.”

Andrea Wynn
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Andrea Wynn

The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The day after Novack Jr.’s body was found, investigators questioned Narcy Novack extensively. They got an earful, including accounts of sex games between the two, a sometimes volatile marriage, and her late husband’s obsession with Batman, and with pornography involving amputees. They considered the possibility of sex games that turned brutal having caused his death, but ultimately they concluded that Narcy Novack had conspired to set up the slaying. Three months earlier, Bernice Novack had been killed in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a death initially attributed to a series of accidental falls. But last year a federal indictment charged Narcy Novack with arranging that murder, as well.

Ben Novack Jr. reportedly met his wife when she was an exotic dancer performing under the stage name Sylvia in a now-defunct strip club in Hialeah, Fla. He had grown up in and around the glamour of his father’s world-renowned hotel. The creative crown of American architect Morris Lapidus’s career, the Fountainbleau is, even today, a palatial icon of Miami Beach high life. It has been the site for everything from films starring Frank Sinatra (“A Hole in the Head,” 1959), Jerry Lewis (“The Bellboy,” 1960) and Al Pacino (“Scarface,” 1983) to the real-life headquarters of the Black Tuna Gang, a notorious marijuana-smuggling ring busted by the FBI in the late 1970s. In Woody Allen’s 1971 movie “Bananas,” when an ousted Latin Ameri can dictator flees his country aboard a plane, he calls the Fontainebleau en route to reserve a room.

But for the Novack family, the dream ended when Ben Novack Sr. lost the Fontainebleau to bankruptcy in 1977. His son established and operated Convention Concepts Unlimited, a multimillion-dollar venture that organized and oversaw business conventions. The Novacks’ 2009 trip to New York from their home in Fort Lauderdale was, in fact, a business trip: an Amway convention.

Narcy Novack told detectives that her husband had been awake when she left their room, shortly after 7 a.m., but upon returning, less than an hour later, she tripped over his body.

Videotape obtained by Miami’s CBS affiliate and carried on its Web site shows Narcy Novack answering investigators’ questions. “I walk in and I trip on something, and I realize he’s on the floor,” she tells them on the tape. She also talks about the couple’s sex lives: “He likes rough stuff,” she says. But Novack Jr.’s spouse steadfastly denies culpability, telling her questioners, “I have nothing to do with my husband’s death.” Investigators theorized that she conspired with her husband’s killers, allowing them entrance into the room.

Multiple calls seeking comment from Narcy Novack’s attorney, Howard E. Tanner, went unreturned.

Novack Jr.’s 35-page will leaves the majority of his estate, with the possibility of more in offshore accounts, to his wife and a smaller amount to her daughter, May Abad, and two teenage grandsons; it also leaves “all tangible properties” — household effects, jewelry, furniture, automobiles and collections — to his wife or, had she died first, to his mother. Novack Jr.’s tangible assets reportedly include an original Batmobile.

A sizable portion of Novack Jr.’s holdings has been sold or auctioned off, with the money held in trust, according to Hanson.

In a final bit of irony, Novack Jr.’s will also leaves explicit burial instructions, directing that the “casketed remains” of Narcy Novack and Novack Jr. be interred “side by side” at the family mausoleum at Mount Lebanon Cemetery, in the Glendale section of Queens.

Contact Mary Jane Fine at feedback@forward.com


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