Florida lawyer and team of investigative sleuths lead police to solve a 55-year-old murder case
Florida lawyer Paul Novack has dedicated much of his public life to his hometown of Surfside. Reelected six times from 1992-2004, Novack stands as the longest-serving mayor of the sleepy oceanside villa just outside of Miami Beach.
While in office, Novack balanced Surfside’s budget every year and never increased taxes. Novack can stack up his resume against anyone, but even he will tell you that his finest achievement as a citizen of Surfside was bringing closure to the disappearance of Surfside resident Danny Goldman who Novack lived nearby growing up.
Novack led a group of cold case investigators which included Joe and Danny Graubart to help the Miami-Dade police department close the cold case into the disappearance of Danny Goldman. The Graubart brothers were good friends with Danny growing up and held a very personal stake in ensuring their friend received justice. Goldman was abducted from his family home on March 28, 1966, just a day shy of his 18th birthday. A robber slipped in through the unlocked back door and took him while his mother and father slept.
Before the robber departed with Danny, he verbally demanded the Goldmans pay $10,000. Danny’s father, Aaron Goldman, a director of Five Points National Bank of Miami, held a press conference shortly thereafter and pleaded with the kidnappers that they had raised the money to assure their child’s safe return.
The kidnappers never contacted the Goldmans again and Danny’s body was never recovered. While the mayor of Surfside, Novack had seen enough corruption investigations to think that the mafia could have had a hand in Danny’s disappearance.
“I’ve been involved in corruption investigations back to the time I was mayor of Surfside,” Novack said. “There was nothing that directly associated the mafia with Danny’s kidnapping. However, now we know that much of the local investigation was derailed because it was directed by two people associated with law enforcement who had direct ties to the mob.”
In 2012, seven years after Novack left office, Danny’s friend Joe Garubert showed up on Novack’s doorstep armed with information Danny’s family had kept throughout the investigation. That’s when the case of Danny’s disappearance took a giant leap forward.
Garubert, a former Surfside city commissioner, came to Novack with a package of papers he received from Danny’s mother, Sally, before she passed away. Included in these papers was an open letter she wrote two years after Danny’s disappearance in 1968.
“The letter speaks off the page to you,” Novack said. “She said she hoped that he [Danny] won’t be forgotten. He was an only child with no one now to speak for him.”
Reading that letter sparked Novack’s interest in the case once again.
“Danny was not listed in any cold case database,” Novack said. “This cannot stand. It wasn’t listed anywhere, and it was sort of offensive. There’s no excuse for the system to reflect that.”
So Novack started combing through the evidence. He created a website with documents and original videos. And he recruited about a dozen others to help, including ex-cops and friends.
In 2013, the Miami-Dade Police Department reopened the case based on the work Novack and his team uncovered.
As it turns out, a federal grand jury had received enough evidence to charge members of Five Points Bank, the same bank where Danny’s father Aaron worked, with racketeering and conspiracy on March 24, 1966. Danny was abducted four days later. Five Points Bank was a subsidiary of Miami National Bank who was laundering money for a pension fund at the request of notorious gangster Meyer Lansky.
Novack’s research determined that Danny’s father had provided federal investigators with information on the money laundering scheme conducted by his employees. Now armed with the information that Danny’s abduction was likely mob-related, Novack’s investigation centered on two notorious burglars who shared the same description and drove the same car as the unidentified suspects back in 1966.
“We developed two primary suspects, and we knew they were linked to Santo,” Novack said.
The Santo Novack referred to was none other than infamous gangster Santo Trafficante, Jr., a member of New York’s original five families that ran criminal operations in New York and Florida. Trafficante’s associates, George Defeis and Joe Cacciatore, shared the same general description, the same car, and the same job.
In 2013, Miami-Dade police forensic examiners determined that Defeis left his fingerprint on Goldman’s rear sliding glass door based on pictures presented by Novack’s team. The police later concluded that Defeis took Danny out of the house, while Cacciatore, who was Trafficante’s first cousin, also played a role.
Identifying those two suspects as the abductors in the Goldman case opened the floodgates to other cold cases.
“Through that process, we identified other crimes that were linked to the same people in different ways,” Novack said. “We’ve since identified 30 homicide cases that involve the same original investigators and the same suspects. Two of those cases are currently very active and I’m confident they will be solved.”
Novack said these cases included the murder of a Miami public works inspector and a state and circuit court judge.
In the closing days of 2021, the Miami-Dade Police Department verified the findings of Novack’s team, and officially determined that George Defeis was the kidnapper. The motive and the details of the crime were also officially confirmed, and the case was officially closed on December 28, 2021.
Since helping to solve Danny’s murder, Novack and his volunteer group of cold case investigators have been featured for their work in many major news sources including People, The Miami Herald, Oxygen Network, and NBC Miami.
Since that time, Novack and his team have charged deeper ahead into local cold case files. Novack says that his team is currently working on 36 cases that have mob connections.
“Had those crimes been solved early on, there would be a whole lot of people that would be alive today that aren’t,” Novack said.
Regarding the Goldman case, Defeis passed away in a North Miami nursing home in 1980 following complications from diabetes. That leaves no one alive today who can be charged with Danny’s murder. Novack says that the death of suspects isn’t a reason to stop investigating cold case crimes.
“If we don’t understand what happened, then it really does create our ignorance of the truth and opens the door for these types of things to happen in the future. Systems need to be strengthened even today. Some of the problems were so deep that the mob controlled not just the criminal side, but the legal side as well,” Novack said.