By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
By Frank Owen
By Allie Conti
A secret sexual relationship with his daughter was not enough.
There had to be a wedding.
So on a sunny June day two years ago, father and daughter exchanged rings at Westminster Abbey.
They couldn't follow convention by inviting friends or family, and they couldn't make an announcement they had eloped.
There was no white dress and no officiant.
It was their secret.
Except for a few traditional photographs, it was a wholly unconventional and unholy union.
Several shots show off their new Cartier Trinity rings hers diamond, his three shades of gold. In other frames, they look the happy couple cheek to cheek, faces glowing, and the Abbey's Little Cloister Garden a royal backdrop.
Afterward she flew home to her legal spouse in Mississippi, and he went home to his compound on Fisher Island, a ferry ride from Miami Beach.
From different states, they traded their wedding photos via e-mail.
He talked about touching up her redeye. She declared her favorite shot the one of their hands wearing their new rings, his hand on hers, which they had titled, "Says it ALL." Using codes, they addressed each other in the e-mails as husband and wife.
"They are great pictures," Bruce wrote in one of their daily exchanges. "But they tell a story, so pay attention to what happens to them."
With their secret still safe, Bruce filed to divorce his fifth wife, and Linda moved out of the home she shared with her husband.
Bruce began spending more time at the plush Fisher Island retreat he'd built for his hedge-fund clients. Linda moved into a nearby condo, leaving behind her career as a psychologist.
Linda enjoyed the trappings of life with one of America's richest money managers, racking up a $74,000 bill at Barney's New York.
He enjoyed lavishing her with jewels, a Bentley Continental GT, and a Versace Club membership.
He put her on his corporate payroll. They celebrated regularly with bottles of expensive Opus One wine.
But when Christmas 2004 came along, they resumed roles as father and daughter. They needed to keep up appearances, for the sake of their families and to protect their secret.
Family snapshots show their return to normal. She put her legal husband's rings back on her left hand and moved the Trinity ring to her right.
They didn't know it then, but their secret was safe for only a few more days. Bruce was right: The photos do tell quite a story.
What followed was a breakup on an even grander scale than their wedding and a legal battle every bit as obsessive as each has been about the other.
For more than a year, attorneys have been kept busy in Miami, New York, Mississippi, and San Diego with the fallout over the breakup of Bruce and Linda in five lawsuits involving not only father and daughter but also their legal spouses, as well as Linda's current boyfriend and father of her unborn child. Details of Bruce and Linda's extraordinary wedding at Westminster Abbey and their years as lovers come from court documents as well as Linda's videotaped deposition. CLICK HERE to see portions of her deposition.
In court papers, Bruce McMahan denies he ever had a sexual affair with his daughter. But he doesn't explain how his and Linda's DNA turned up on a vibrator that Linda's husband uncovered in her luggage. Bruce also hints that Linda might not be his biological daughter, despite a DNA test he paid for showing with 99.7 percent probability that he is her father.
When New Times began gathering court records and calling individuals involved in the lawsuits several weeks ago, Bruce McMahan declined to comment for this article. He hired a Los Angeles public relations firm to field New Times queries. He also made three requests to seal court documents in Miami and San Diego that three judges denied.
Then, on September 13, as this article was being prepared for print, all five lawsuits were settled on undisclosed terms. As part of the settlement, a federal judge in San Diego sealed the files of the California lawsuit and took the rare step of wiping out any record that the lawsuit had ever existed.
Through the L.A. public relations firm, the parties sent a statement to New Times, describing the matter as a mere "family dispute," and alluded to taking legal action if this newspaper published this article, which is drawn from the information in the court cases that McMahan has gone to such lengths to hide from public view.
Bruce McMahan began the seduction of his daughter one evening in the spring of 1998 by having her look over his business writings in the library of his lavish Pelham, New York estate.
Linda Schutt described the events of that evening in a deposition that was taken in Jackson, Mississippi, this past April 6. Bruce McMahan declined to comment when New Times reached him on the telephone, and he never testified in any of the litigation. But according to Linda's testimony, that night in 1998, Bruce's fourth wife, Cynthia, was at a spa, and a housekeeper was somewhere on the premises.
"He opened a bottle of wine. He poured me a glass of wine, and we drank together."
While they leafed over his writings, he began to tell her of his past sexual relationships with women. He preferred them slender with wide cheekbones. "He told me he liked to buy furs for women and have sex with women on mink coats."
Bruce McMahan, who was then around his 59th birthday, asked his daughter, age 29, to move to his bedroom and watch the first 30 minutes of the movie Braveheart. He wanted her to see the mystical love story that unfolds in the opening act of Mel Gibson's film because, Linda testified, it reminded him of his relationship with her.
Then Bruce really began to lay it on thick. Linda testified he told her he believed they had been married in a previous life. Earlier in the evening, she remembered, he had pointed out that her legs were a "very sexy version" of his own.
"He asked me what it would be like to kiss me."
Later that night, he found out.
On his bed, he kissed her and ran his hand over her body, on top of and inside her clothes, she testified. The petting session lasted two hours, she recalled. When Linda said she was tired, Bruce suggested they sleep in separate bedrooms. After Linda returned to California, her father asked if she was okay. She said she felt confused.
Their first episode of actual sexual intercourse wouldn't take place for several months. For that encounter Bruce arranged a fairly dramatic setting a hotel suite in London after a transatlantic flight.
But then, Bruce had the cash for that kind of extravagance. Born into a family of entrepreneurs, he set about building his own wealth early on. His father ran McMahan's Furniture, a well-known California retail chain, but Bruce's own ideas were less conventional. Six years after graduating from the University of Southern California in 1960, the young magnate set out with some friends to create their own country.
According to newspaper articles published at the time, the plan involved sinking a mothballed World War II ship 220 miles off the California shore and then piling on concrete, clay, and garbage. The resulting island would be in international waters and outside the jurisdiction of American law. McMahan's group planned to corner the market on abalone fishing.
The plan failed, and his business biographies today don't mention it.
Bruce then moved into the financial services market. After his first wife, Jill Harvick, died of cancer, he married Melinda Headley Ewell in 1969 and moved to Spain. After six years abroad, he relocated his family to New York and created the Institutional Options Department at PaineWebber Inc. He moved to Bear Stearns & Co. in 1977 and branched out on his own in 1980.
But Bruce McMahan has always been quiet about his money. Until their divorce, which ended in 1984 after three years of legal wrangling, Ewell tells New Times: "I didn't realize how much money he had.... We were young, raising children. Bruce was building his business."
Today Bruce has the reins on more money than some heads of state. On Wall Street he heads McMahan Securities, a convertible securities firm with a trading volume third only to UBS and Thomas Weisel Partners. Through other corporations, he also owns hedge funds that he invites people to invest in. He sits on the board of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, a private nonprofit with 750 members funded by government grants and corporate gifts.
His London-based Argent Financial Group Ltd. controls billions of investment dollars in the Middle East. According to Dr. Omar Bin Sulaiman, director general of the Dubai International Financial Centre, Argent Financial is the first group in the region licensed to manage wealth-building funds, estimated at a whopping $1.9 trillion.
Bruce McMahan spends part of the year at his estate on Fisher Island, an exclusive enclave reached from Miami Beach only by helicopter, boat, or a private ferry. The manmade island, once owned in part by Richard M. Nixon, has a population of about 500 and is in a zip code that the 2000 census found had the highest per capita income in the nation.
While his finances ballooned, McMahan's family also grew large. He'd had six children by three women and was married to his fourth wife when, in 1990, he learned he was the father of a grown child he didn't know existed.
Linda Marie Hodge, by all accounts, had a normal, Southern California upbringing with her adoptive parents, Laird and Mary Hodge. When she was five, the Hodges told her she was adopted. At eighteen, Linda employed a service to help her find her birth parents.
Three years later and only about 30 miles away, she found her biological mother in Escondido, California.
She wrote to Myra Westphall, telling her that she was healthy and wanted to find out about her heritage. Westphall eventually answered the letter with a phone call. "It was an emotional conversation that led to our meeting," Linda testified in her deposition.
Westphall told Linda that in 1968, she'd had a fling with Bruce McMahan while both were living in Southern California. When McMahan married second wife Melinda Ewell on January 3, 1969, Westphall was already pregnant. She gave birth to Linda five months later, on May 29, 1969.
Westphall, who tells New Times she's now in the publishing business, did not want to discuss her relationship with Bruce McMahan or her daughter. "I'm just the biological mother," she says. "She has a mother. I gave her up for adoption at birth."
In 1990, though, Westphall did help Linda locate her father. At the time, Linda was a 21-year-old sophomore psychology major at the University of San Diego. One day McMahan telephoned her. She assumed Westphall had given him the number.
In her deposition, Linda described this phone call as another emotional one. Bruce McMahan told his daughter what he did for a living and said he wanted to meet her. When they met, he also asked her to take a paternity test, saying his lawyers were insisting on it. He received the confirmation with 99.7 percent certainty he was seeking.
It was then that Bruce took Linda into the family fold. He helped pay her tuition, set up a trust fund for her, and began including her in family holiday celebrations. He added her name to his list of children in his professional biographies.
Eight years into their relationship, Linda was about to earn her PhD in psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego.
That's when Bruce had Linda over to his New York home and asked her to watch the first half-hour of Braveheart.
That same spring, in 1998, Linda began dating a man named Sargent Schutt whom she met at a party in San Diego. In only a few months, the relationship had become serious. But that summer she accepted her father's invitation to fly to London on a business trip.
They stayed at the Sheraton Belgravia for a week. In her April deposition, she described the trip. After their arrival, she testified, a discussion about how Linda could help him with business turned personal as the two sipped wine. He told her he was disappointed in her career choice in psychology.
"He offered me an opportunity for business that would incorporate my interest in brain studies with his interest in psychic phenomena," she testified.
They were still jet-lagged from their trip, so Bruce suggested they take a nap. When she woke up, "he was touching my leg and becoming physical with me." Later in the week, the two had sexual intercourse for the first time, she testified.
After the trip, according to e-mails submitted in court documents, they mailed each other vibrators. Referring to one he sent his daughter, Bruce e-mailed her on September 10, 1998: "I unpacked the toys and checked them out. The thing excites me just looking at it. I promise you have never seen anything like it. Interestingly öit' is actually smaller than I am! But what moves! I should have been so lucky. They are now packed into their own bag and I am going to make sure we have enough AA batteries to last for the duration."
At the same time Linda and her father swapped sex toys, her relationship with Schutt continued to deepen.
Bruce wasn't thrilled. "I know you like him. Even though I am truly jealous, I am hardly in position to interfere or even really want to interfere with that part of your life. Don't lock him out if he is important to you. Kisses everywhere," he wrote in an e-mail dated August 15, 1998.
That winter, Linda and Schutt became engaged. But the sexual relationship with her father didn't stop. She continued to sleep with her father through the end of summer 1999 and "up until" her October wedding to Schutt, she testified. Then, with the ceremony approaching, Linda ended the sex with her dad.
"I was in love with my fiancé.... I was deeply disturbed with the relationship with my father."
Bruce, she said, reacted with "anger, withdrawal, paranoia."
He asked her what she wanted, what her "perfect life" would be.
She testified that her father answered he could give her all of those things and financial security for life. But Schutt, he told her, probably couldn't provide that kind of life.
The argument didn't persuade her. Linda and Schutt married on October 2, 1999, in Sonoma. During the event, Bruce gave the couple a toast.
"He made an attempt to quote Winston Churchill.... He told all the guests during his toast at my wedding that, öThis is the beginning of the end. '"
Bruce was no doubt cribbing from Churchill's line from a speech he gave in 1942 at a turning point in World War II: "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
Linda said Bruce never explained what he meant by it.
Bruce moved on, beginning a new romance with a Ukrainian woman who eventually became his fifth wife. And he provided his daughter employment. He named Linda president and CEO of McMahan Center for Human Abilities, a nonprofit foundation he had created to extend the efforts of his primary charity, the National Cristina Foundation, which provides computers to disabled children. It is named after another of his daughters, who has cerebral palsy. Linda was being paid $10,000 a month to run the foundation in the spring of 2002 when family members gathered to have dinner in a Sonoma restaurant.
Linda testified she was asked in front of the others when she and Schutt planned to have children. "Soon," she replied.
The next day, Bruce asked to meet her in the lobby of a hotel. When she arrived, carrying paperwork for the McMahan Center, she began to speak with him about ideas for the foundation. But he became enraged.
"His face became red. He clinched his fists, and he raised his voice.... He told me that having children was not part of the plan."
Bruce told her he was ending the foundation and no longer planned to pay her. (He did cut her off, but the foundation still exists.)
"He told me that I was not able to have children and be committed to the project," she testified.
She returned to her career in psychology and accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Mississippi. She and Schutt moved to suburban Jackson. She and Bruce didn't speak for months. Then, on May 25, 2003, Linda's adoptive father, Laird Hodge, a retired government contractor, died in San Diego. Linda and Schutt traveled to the funeral in La Mesa, California. Bruce sent flowers and e-mailed Linda his condolences, but they still didn't speak.
The stress of losing both fathers Hodge to death, Bruce to indifference weighed on Linda, she testified. It also wrecked her health. From Bruce she had inherited a genetic condition called Reiter's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the soft tissues and can affect the eyes and, more seriously, the heart. Linda had a bad flareup and developed cataracts in both eyes.
"I became very ill. I was experiencing heart problems, and the doctors at the University [of Mississippi] Medical Center indicated to me that I would need surgery on my heart," she testified.
Bruce sent one of his two private planes to ferry her from her home in Mississippi to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The treatments she received there helped, and she began to recover. Her father insisted she come to Fisher Island to recuperate so she would have access to a spa and to the Argent Center, a posh retreat McMahan had built to entertain his family and his billionaire clients. Bruce, she testified, didn't want her to go back to Mississippi or her marriage. He wanted her to leave behind the fellowship in clinical and rehabilitative neuropsychology, and he persuaded her to return to work for him.
"I told him that I had given up opportunities based on his promises to me in the past," she testified. "And I told him that he wasn't to abandon his promise to me and that it was to be a strictly normal father-and-daughter relationship."
She accepted a position as executive vice president of marketing for two of her father's financial firms, Argent Funds Group LLC and McMahan Securities. But things didn't stay normal for long.
"It changed from a loving, supportive father caring for an ill, vulnerable daughter to a manipulative, contingency-based rewards/punishment relationship that created my dependence on him and gave him control and dominance over me," Linda testified. According to Linda's court complaint, Bruce again initiated an incestuous sexual relationship in April 2004 that lasted for more than a year.
In June the couple flew to London with a twisted plan: to get married where the kings and queens of England are crowned.
"We traveled to London for some business, and during that trip Bruce took me to the Westminster Abbey and we exchanged vows," Linda testified in her deposition.
Besides her testimony, there are the cheek-to-cheek photographs documenting this unusual ceremony.
There is little description in court records of how the couple made the ceremony happen in the very public church on June 23, 2004. Photographs inside the sanctuary are prohibited, so only the two of them would know if there was anything more to it than two well-dressed tourists walking up and performing a little ritual during visiting hours.
They took their photos with the Little Cloister Garden as a backdrop. One picture shows them sharing a chaste kiss.
According to several people close to the litigation, a ceremony at Westminster Abbey made sense because Bruce is an Anglophile who counts among his heroes Adm. Lord Nelson, the British naval hero who died in the Battle of Trafalgar. Also, Bruce is said to believe his genes are exemplary and saw in Linda the best match for his own superiority.
Four days after the ceremony, Linda wrote in an e-mail: "You asked me afterwards if I felt different. Near, I don't, but at a distance, I do. I am glad about this and feel the insecurities slipping away."
In other e-mails, they began to sign off as "H" and "W," references to husband and wife. In one e-mail, dated June 29, 2004, Bruce wrote: "Miss you W. Think nasty things about you all the time." Linda answered a couple of hours later: "Mmm yeah, nasty is so good. You must have read my mind. What else can we say, we're H & W that's the beauty."
"It is an attraction that's like no other," says Joe Soll, a New York psychologist and the only expert in the field he pioneered genetic attraction.
Soll, who has no attachment to the McMahan litigation, has treated a half-dozen patients who had sexual intercourse with a close blood relative who had been separated early in life. An adoptee himself, Soll mediates group therapy sessions where hundreds of participants have talked openly about their physical desires for relatives they've recently reunited with.
"The dad is supposed to be the adult," Soll says. "He should have been responsible enough to say, well, wait. She got taken by something she had no awareness of."
Bruce seemed to be aware of the severity of their transgression.
"Such passions lead men straight to Hell," he wrote in an e-mail to Linda titled "Midnight Musings" that he sent just after midnight August 15, 1998.
Despite its dramatic location, however, Bruce and Linda's "wedding" in London wasn't legal. Each was married to another person at the time.
Linda's court filings claim that after the ceremony, Bruce wanted Sargent Schutt to play a diminished role in her life. He told Linda he'd start paying her "the big bucks" only if she could convince Schutt to sign a postnuptial agreement, which he did reluctantly.
"May you have all the money in the entire world to yourself," Schutt penned in a handwritten note he attached to the document. "Too bad love is earned, not bought."
Bruce was thrilled.
"Good girl!" he wrote to Linda in an e-mail dated June 29, 2004, which was read into the record at Linda's deposition. "This will change how your life can be lived; thank God. Someday you will understand how truly important that document is to you.
"Lots of Opus needed," he added.
By her own admission in one of several sworn statements she filed during the litigation, Linda's job as vice president of marketing entailed little more than being a companion to her father.
"My fancy title with Argent is not an accurate representation of my employment," she testified. "My salary was only $12,000 per year, whereas most of my resources were in the form of personal gifts from my father."
The chief accounting officer for McMahan Securities and Argent Funds Group, Joseph C. Dwyer, sent Linda tax statements detailing her father's largess. From 2004 to 2005, Bruce spent $649,290.55 on gifts for Linda, including $228,727.23 on cars, $25,209.31 in cash wire transfers, and $37,000 in legal bills.
When she and Bruce went out in public, the people around them determined the pair's behavior. To some, they were father and daughter; to others, they were a married couple.
One friend, Palm Beach interior designer Hilda Flack, knew them in both capacities, according to court filings. Flack designed the interior at McMahan's Argent Center and was planning a business with Linda the McMahan-Flack Design Center. But Flack, reached at her Palm Beach Gardens design center, denies she knew of an illicit relationship between Bruce and Linda.
"She was there when we were decorating with her father," Flack says. "She was his daughter, obviously. Mr. McMahan was a gentleman and treated everyone accordingly."
In an affidavit, Linda said Flack was in the room at the Argent Center when Bruce smashed several computer hard drives containing evidence of their incestuous relationship and their Westminster Abbey wedding.
Flack dismisses Linda's claims.
"I never heard of such a preposterous thing," Flack says of the wedding.
Before he flew to London in 2004 to marry his daughter, Bruce had separated from his fifth wife, Elena. Later that year, he filed for divorce.
In January 2005, Elena filed an affidavit in the divorce case reportedly accusing Bruce of having an incestuous relationship with Linda (the affidavit is under seal but referred to in other court papers). Linda alleged in court records that Elena learned of the affair when she hacked into Linda's Yahoo e-mail account and retrieved the Westminster Abbey photos.
In court papers, Linda says Bruce showed her Elena's affidavit and asked her to make a sworn statement of her own, denying their incestuous relationship. When she refused, their relationship began to deteriorate.
"This was a difficult if not unbearable time of my life as I continued to be abused and subservient to Bruce's sexual demands while at the same time knowing that I had lost any semblance of my marriage with Sargent," Linda said in a sworn statement this past August.
In July 2005, Linda refused to continue sleeping with Bruce. In her August sworn statement, Linda says Bruce responded to the breakup by saying on the telephone: "I am going to preemptively destroy you. If you want to know how I am going to do it, meet me for lunch."
Two months later, a legal conflagration was sparked that spread like wildfire: Bruce sued Linda through one of his firms, claiming she had stolen company computers and trade secrets. Linda then sued her father for the income she would have made as his employee. Her estranged husband, Schutt, sued Bruce in Mississippi, where it's still legal for one man to sue another for ruining his marriage. McMahan then filed another suit against the two of them, as well as Schutt's father, accusing them all of conspiring to extort $10 million from him.
Bruce McMahan has a long history of litigating his breakups, both personal and financial. In his divorce from Melinda Ewell, for example, he took the case to New York's appellate court, challenging an order compelling him to turn over tapes and files that investigators had made while he had her under surveillance.
Ewell describes him as an egomaniac who lives his life in a series of ongoing sagas. The drama he creates feeds his ego and shapes the story of his life, she says.
"When you live with someone like that, it's not fun when you challenge them," she said.
"[Bruce McMahan is] basically a very wealthy stalker," Shani Robins tells New Times. Robins had been McMahan's latest target in court and is Linda's new boyfriend. He says McMahan is a bruiser in court "because he has the resources to do it."
In May, Bruce McMahan sued Robins in Superior Court in Connecticut, alleging wrongdoing when Robins accepted some donations Linda made from McMahan's National Cristina Foundation. (That lawsuit was also dropped as part of the September 13 settlement.)
Consistent with his litigious past, McMahan fought his daughter and son-in-law's lawsuits aggressively. But they fought back with what appeared to be solid evidence.
Court records show, for example, that in Sargent Schutt's lawsuit against McMahan, his attorney had a "rabbit" vibrator Schutt found in Linda's luggage tested for DNA. According to the results, skin cells from Linda and sperm cells from her father were found on the device and its black cover. Five other vibrators were also sent to labs for testing.
Through a spokesman, Bruce responded that he believed the evidence was "fabricated" but didn't elaborate.
Also, after spending more than a decade integrating her into the family, Bruce has now questioned in court records whether he is Linda's father.
Ex-wife Melinda Ewell tells New Times that McMahan never had any doubt Linda is his daughter. "There was never a question," she says. "She looks like some of the other kids. He had no qualms."
Some of McMahan's extended family did have their doubts. His eldest daughter, Alison McMahan, says she never trusted Linda. "All I can tell you is that nothing Linda will tell you can be believed," she writes New Timesin an e-mail. "She is an unreal person who does not even know herself."
Ewell can't quite believe the man slept with his own daughter.
"How much of this is reality, I don't know," Ewell says. "There is a far greater chance that this is in her head. Way, way back when, I noticed she was very possessive of him. At my son's wedding eight to ten years ago, she really hung around him, and if anyone else was trying to talk to Bruce, she would try and get his attention. She would move in. From what I have observed, money appears to be the motivator."
Bruce makes that allegation in his lawsuit against Linda and Schutt, claiming he was the victim of an extortion scheme. But he apparently never made a formal complaint to law enforcement about the conspiracy against him. One of his attorneys, Angela Agrusa, said a San Diego prosecutor considered the extortion allegations while investigating charges that Schutt had hit Linda during a July 2005 argument over who owned the computers containing the e-mails and photos detailing Linda and McMahan's love affair.
But the case was dropped, Agrusa said, because Linda decided not to testify against Schutt.
Sargent Schutt filed to divorce Linda in July 2005, and the proceedings are pending. She is now dating Robins, also a psychology PhD, and the couple is expecting its first child, a son, in January.
Bruce has reconciled with his fifth wife, Elena.
Three days after New Times called Bruce McMahan for comment on August 28, he hired Sitrick and Company, a public relations firm whose logo states, "If you don't tell your story, someone else will tell it for you." In another public response, Bruce launched www.wspdfm.com, a now-defunct Website asserting that Schutt and Linda had invented their allegations in an effort to extort money from him.
On September 13, after the five court cases were settled, Sitrick and Company e-mailed New Times this statement:
"The parties to this litigation, Dr. Bruce McMahan, Linda Marie Schutt, Sargent Schutt, Major Schutt, and Shani Robins, have resolved the differences among them and agreed to dismiss all pending legal actions. This was a family dispute and, as is the case with many family disputes, charges were made in the heat of the moment with little thought given to the pain they might unfairly or unjustly inflict. All of the parties involved and their counsel sincerely hope that there will be no further media coverage of this family matter and have agreed to make no additional comment about the resolution of their differences."
In other words, Bruce and Linda want their trips to London to be their secret again.