The Imperfect Murder

Stanley Cohen's wife went to prison for arranging to have him killed. Years later a Miami journalist reveals a secret. Now the entire case may be unraveling.

At Miami police headquarters, where she'd gone voluntarily the morning of Cohen's murder, Detective Spear asked Joyce when she'd last had sex with her husband (he considered sex a relationship's barometer), and Joyce exploded as she realized she was under suspicion. She refused to allow officers to search her house and left police headquarters to meet with attorney Ross, according to Cope's book. The detectives back on the scene had no recourse but to leave and prepare a search warrant for a judge to sign. A coroner had not yet arrived to examine the body, and the delay of some six hours made it difficult to determine the time of death. Later that day Joyce returned voluntarily to the station for questioning, and this time Ross was with her.

While officers waited outside the residence for the search warrant, however, they found a .38-caliber pistol in a fern on the ground below an upstairs bedroom window. The gun was clean of fingerprints; two bits of Kleenex stuck in the hammer suggested it had been wiped down. Lab tests later proved it to be the murder weapon. And the gun belonged not to any alleged hit man, but to Stanley Cohen.

It was four days later that Frank Zuccarello was arrested in Hallandale in connection with an unrelated home-invasion robbery. Zuccarello was then 21 years old and lived with his grandparents in Hollywood. He was handsome, with carefully styled jet-black hair and a trim mustache. His manner was pleasant, not the usual demeanor of a thug. He did, however, have three previous adult arrests and a running feud with the Hallandale Police Department. Afraid because he now faced serious prison time, Zuccarello knew he could get his best deal on the pending charges if he cooperated with the police, so he gushed. He admitted he was part of a gang that had committed dozens of violent crimes (though he said he himself had never used violence), especially home-invasion robberies, in Dade and Broward. The gang targeted drug dealers for drugs, cash, and cars.

Robbery cops from both Dade and Broward began to queue up at the Broward County Jail, hoping the young man would provide information about their unsolved cases. Three weeks later, on April 4, Metro-Dade Police robbery unit Det. Joe Gross listened as Zuccarello listed 29 robberies and five murders he knew about. And, he said, he knew something about Joyce Cohen: He, Tommy Joslin, and Anthony Caracciolo had gone to Coconut Grove in January 1986 to meet a woman who was setting up a robbery in an expensive house near Coconut Grove. She had often called Caracciolo's apartment in Hallandale; Zuccarello had answered the phone on five separate occasions, and the woman identified herself as Mrs. Cohen. Though he hadn't met her, he identified a photo of her for Gross and said she was the same woman he'd seen conversing with Caracciolo in the Grove.

That the wife of a prominent developer was helping thugs stage robberies sounded peculiar. Gross's superior, Sgt. James Wander, later testified during a pretrial deposition that Gross told him that day: "You won't believe it. He says he knows something about the Cohen murder." Wander had replied, "Sure, what next?"

Zuccarello so far had only acknowledged that he knew about the Cohen murder. But he told Gross he had information about another victim who had been slain in a car in the parking lot of a club in the south Broward city of Pembroke Park. Police matched that information to the murder of Charles Hodek. Zuccarello didn't know who pulled the trigger, he said, but ten days later he gave a recorded statement to the Broward Sheriff's Office, naming Tommy Joslin's father, a reputed mob figure, as the killer.

Tommy Joslin had fled the state and wasn't arrested until 1987. Once in custody, however, he told Broward Sheriff's Office Det. Tony Fantigrassi that someone else had shot Hodek and named the killer. When the detective returned to question Zuccarello, he admitted he had lied. Joslin's statement was correct, he now said. (Both men became state's witnesses before the Hodek murder grand jury in 1996.)

Within two weeks of Zuccarello's about-face, Dade prosecutors summoned Fantigrassi to meet with them. Cohen co-prosecutor John Kastrenakes was there, Fantigrassi says. (Kastrenakes denies such a meeting occurred, but Fantigrassi has the prosecutor's business card stapled to his notes of the meeting.) The Dade officials suggested that Fantigrassi had misunderstood Zuccarello's statement, Fantigrassi recalls; in turn, he threatened to testify at Joyce Cohen's trial that Dade County's star witness had a credibility problem in Broward. But prosecutors never called Fantigrassi to the stand, nor did they mention to Joyce Cohen's attorney a word about Zuccarello's inconsistent statements. Only in 1996, after Broward finally indicted the man Joslin had named in Hodek's murder, and the police reports became public record, did Alan Ross read them.

According to City of Miami police reports, Anthony Caracciolo was arrested in Hallandale on April 24, 1986, and eventually charged with four home-invasion robberies, based on information provided by Zuccarello. Caracciolo immediately admitted to the charges (and within nine months pleaded guilty to them). During questioning, however, he denied he knew Joyce Cohen or had planned a home invasion with her or was involved in her husband's murder. Sgt. James Wander, who conducted that interrogation, believed him. The following day Wander told prosecutor David Waksman that Zuccarello was "possibly embellishing" anything he might claim to know about Cohen's murder.

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