Sleuthing South Florida attorney cracks six decades-old cold case
While his solo practice of law focuses on personal injury, Florida attorney Paul Novack has turned into quite the cold case sleuth outside the office.
Last November, the News told the story of how Novack led a group of cold case investigators to help the Miami-Dade Police Department crack the case into the disappearance of 17-year-old Danny Goldman who was abducted from his family home on March 28, 1966.
Ever since the Goldman case was solved, Novack, who’s become South Florida’s version of Sherlock Holmes, has been working on an encore. On May 9, the Miami-Dade Police Department announced the closure of the high-profile killing of wealthy produce merchant Joseph DiMare on March 24, 1961.
With help from Novack and his cold case team, Miami-Dade homicide detectives now confirm that Joseph’s wife, Frances DiMare, pulled the trigger, solving one of the oldest cold cases in Florida history.
Novack says he started working on the DiMare case simultaneously as the Goldman case progressed.
“I started investigating the kidnapping [of Goldman] and within a year I was also on the DiMare case,” Novack said. “In 2015, Richard DiMare, the youngest son of the victim, reached out to me because he had heard about my work on the Goldman case and asked if I could look at this case.”
Novack said the killing of Joseph DiMare was already on his radar based on how he investigates old cases by widening his focus.
“What I do is investigate all major crimes within that era and all the criminals and everybody involved,” Novack said. “All the players and all the people that surround the cold case. In that wide net, I came up with the case of Joseph DiMare, which occurred five years before the Goldman kidnapping.”
The murder of DiMare happened just a few miles away from the Goldman house in the Keystone Point neighborhood.
Richard always believed that Frances DiMare, his father’s second wife, had something to do with his father’s killing.
Frances was driving the couple’s Cadillac Fleetwood on the night of the murder when she says two men jumped into the sedan. Frances said she was pistol-whipped and when she came to, found Joseph slumped against a car door.
The details of the DiMare case could be chalked up to a lover’s quarrel, but Novack’s investigation showed the crime lifts the veil on the underbelly of organized crime in South Florida in the latter half of the 20th century. More importantly, he feels the DiMare murder, and the Goldman kidnapping are related.
“I believe that organized crime was behind the curtain,” Novack said. “All these cases have various ties and connections to each other.”
Following the death of her husband, Frances DiMare met Palm Beach attorney William Chester who represented her in the probate case over Joseph’s estate. Novack said Frances sought all or half of the estate and only ended up with a quarter in a settlement.
Frances DiMare married third husband William Chester when the probate battle concluded and moved with him to Palm Beach. Chester would go on to become a major developer in the county where, according to Novack, some of that development was financed through union pension funds.
The same pension fund stands at the heart of the Goldman case. Danny’s father, Aaron Goldman, was a director of Five Points National Bank of Miami.
A federal grand jury had received enough evidence to charge members of Five Points Bank with racketeering and conspiracy on March 24, 1966. Danny was abducted four days later. Five Points Bank was a subsidiary of Miami National Bank that was laundering money for a pension fund at the request of notorious gangster Meyer Lansky.
“I knew of Chester from the Goldman case,” Novack said. “I have to trace everybody from birth to death in terms of any connection.”
Novack had made the connection to organized crime, but it took him years to get there from a simple would-be ‘robbery’ gone wrong on a Keystone Point Street.
Novack says Joe DiMare had been married and living with his children in Miami Beach. His first wife passed away of cancer and subsequently, DiMare meets Frances — a previously divorced bank teller at his bank. He is in his 50s and she is in her 30s.
Novack said he learned “a lot of things in her life seem to be motivated by money without regard to ethics or morality.”
Marital strife set in after two and a half years, before Frances leaves Miami three times to return to her Ohio home. During that time, Joseph began thinking of changing his will. DiMare’s new will gave half to his children and half to Frances, so long as she resided in the home with him as his wife at the time of his death.
Frances is told about this and returns from Ohio to North Miami. Around that same time, Joe goes to Boston and meets with his brothers. His brothers were concerned about the situation, and they didn’t want the company entangled in any kind of claim.
“You can imagine that the rights of a wife are not what they are today,” Novack said. “I’m sure Joe was confident that he would pay whatever is required and Frances was concerned that she would be frozen out of the money that she married into and felt she deserved.”
Once he returned from Boston, Joe DiMare called his children and told them not to come by the house that evening. Novack says he was planning to have a conversation with Frances that he was divorcing her. That’s when Frances took matters into her own hands.
Novack says the gun that killed Joe DiMare was a .25 caliber Sata, an Italian auto pistol. It was owned by and registered to Frances DiMare and purchased by Joe himself.
“This crime should have and could have been solved that night,” Novack said.
The Miami Herald reported the story that Frances was the victim using her account of the events. The Herald said when Frances disobeyed an order not to turn around, one of the bandits in the back seat hit her with his pistol and knocked her out. When she came to several minutes later, she said the attackers had fled and her husband was slumped against the car door, blood flowing from his head. In a moment of panic, she said she raced through the brambles, bushes, and over sharp rocks to a nearby Phillips 66 service station.
However, Novack says the physical evidence of the crime doesn’t match Frances’ story.
“The marks on his face from the alleged ‘robbery’ matched the butt of a .25 caliber pistol exactly,” Novack said.
Novack said the kill shots were two .25 caliber rounds to the ear. While Frances claims she was pistol-whipped, at the hospital they find she has no injuries. Novack said all the physical evidence was consistent with a shot from the front seat where Frances was sitting.
Novack said Frances was great at playing the victim.
“I gathered every statement and every word and was able to show that all her statements were false and inconsistent and sometimes kind of ridiculous,” Novack said.
Novack continued digging and found a police report from the first officer on the scene at the North Miami PD before homicide or the coroner arrived.
“He saw Frances take both hands and rub them down to scratch her face,” Novack said. “This is evidence that Frances put self-inflicted marks on her face to buttress her story — and an officer saw it.”
The next day, Richard DiMare returned to his father’s home and learned just what an awful person his stepmother Frances was.
“He was a 19-year-old college student at the University of Miami and when he came to the house the next day, she told him to gather his stuff and get out,” Novack said. “It’s her house now. He was very concerned.”
While Richard moved out, he took with him a key piece to the future murder investigation. Novack said that a year before the murder Richard was toying around with the gun his father bought for his stepmother Frances.
“Richard was home alone and went out back to the pool and fired a round into the pool. Richard went into the pool, kept the projectile, and kept the casing,” Novack said. “After the murder, he gave them to the police.”
Police had found a box of ammunition in the glove compartment of Frances DiMare’s Cadillac, which was the same kind used to kill her husband.
“The projectile and the casing matched the casing and projectile in the car,” Novack said.
With the physical evidence clearly showing Frances DiMare to be the killer, why did it take more than 60 years to crack the case?
As Novack explains that answer lies with Frances’ third husband William Chester and his ties to organized crime, and the 1955 disappearance and presumed murder of Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Curtis Chillingworth and his wife, Marjorie.
“William Chester represented a guy named Bobby Lincoln in a criminal case who was one of the guys who killed the judge and his wife,” Novack said.
Novack claimed that Chester’s law partner was a municipal judge named Joseph Peel who continued to represent clients.
According to the New York Times, in June of 1955, Judge Chillingworth discovered that while on the bench Peel took payoffs and sold protection to local moonshiners and numbers figures as a part of a hoodlum’s scheme to make him governor. Chillingworth vowed to have Peel disbarred.
Peel hired Lincoln and Lucky Holzapfel to murder the judge and his wife and was found guilty of accessory to murder on March 30, 1961, a mere six days following DiMare’s killing.
“At that time, Chester now knows Frances,” Novack says. “Chester has criminal ties, ethical problems and then financing later.”
Prior to the murder of Joseph DiMare, Novack said Frances initiated a meeting with John Cook who was a known associate of the Chicago crime syndicate.
“He [Cook] lived in nearby Miami Shores and she asked if he would take a contract to kill Joseph,” Novack said. “That was declined.”
While the mountain of physical evidence seems insurmountable, Novack said Frances DiMare’s innocence was defended with misdirection and a dedicated PR campaign.
“Over the years Frances was portrayed as the victim,” Novack said. “A poor, young widow involved in a probate fight. She was a murderer, and it could have been recognized but there were all these conflicting currents and pressure to leave her alone.”
Novack said Chester would continue to call members of the press and claim, “There’s no evidence that Frances had anything to do with this, you all should leave her alone.”
Furthermore, Chester used his political clout to steer the police in another direction by enlisting the help of his associate, former Florida Governor Fuller Warren.
“Warren came down and would visit Frances at the house,” Novack said. “He would claim to be a family friend. He was pushing the police to leave Frances alone.”
Warren was investigated by the U.S. Senate, which brought to light the involvement of Florida public officials in gambling-related corruption involving numbers games and bolita, and the Senate alleged Warren’s 1948 gubernatorial campaign was funded by organized crime.
The gambling scheme Warren was accused of was the same that led to the demise of Joseph Peel and the murder of Judge Chillingworth and his wife.
“That’s why the judge in Palm Beach was killed,” Novack said. “They needed to get him out of the way. He was the red light stopping them from rolling through and they needed to eliminate that light.”
While Frances passed away in 2006 at the age of 82, many hands played a role in her presumed innocence until the day she died and beyond.
“In the aftermath of the murder one of the lead detectives had an affair with Frances,” Novack said. “If you try to draw a picture of it, I could say that there were various hands reaching out to that steering wheel to keep it off track and prevent the case from moving forward.”
That’s the part that frustrated Joe’s son, Richard DiMare, the most. For over six decades he wrote letters to the police and officials and politicians to demand justice. He thought Frances was behind the murder but did not realize that Frances was the actual shooter.
“Richard had become a thorn in the system’s side. He wrote many letters that were harsh and accusatory,” Novack said. “Some people in the system began to see him as a problem and were not inclined to try to get to the bottom of this.”
While investigating his father’s death, Novack said he first had to bridge that wide gap between the family and the police because there becomes a lot of animosity. Novack agreed that Richard, now 81, has solid cause to be upset but he can’t take it personally.
“I had to make Richard understand that you cannot focus your ire on today’s detectives for what happened 62 years ago,” Novack said. “The detectives that got involved in the case were not even born when this happened. Ease up on the criticism of the police today and let’s give them an opportunity to get them to wrap it up.”
While Chester and Warren claimed for years there was no evidence linking Frances, Novack said that’s not the case.
“No evidence? We disagree,” Novack said. “There was a mountain of evidence. In June of last year, I put everything together in writing and put it into a memo for the police and explained everything.”
Novack says Richard and his family are content knowing exactly what happened to their father, which is backed up by law enforcement.
“He is saying he has closure but on the other side of the coin, the pain would never go away,” Novack said.
Novack closed by saying this case is “much crazier than any kind of fiction that anybody could make up and yet it’s factual in real life.”