DNA privacy keeps Aventura cops from solving the city's only murder

Lea la versión española en Miami New Times.com

Beverly Sicherer lay facedown on the cold floor of the hallway outside her father's Aventura apartment. Enraged, she beat it with her fist and then her forearm. She did it again and again until thousands of tiny blood vessels burst. But Beverly didn't feel the pain.

Just seconds before, she had turned keys in two locks and found her 76-year-old father Al's corpse. His skull was caved in. His neck was broken. Blood was spattered in both bedrooms and on the carpet, tile, walls, and furniture of his tidy 16th-floor apartment. And the murderer had vanished.

"Horrible," she says. "Really horrible. I grabbed the phone, walked into the hallway, and called 911. I was numb. Whoever did this was a monster."

That was July 25, 2001. Ever since, clues have teased Beverly. A bloody footprint, a fingerprint on the fridge, and a fugitive's capture all seemed likely to lead police to Al Sicherer's killer. None did. Now cops have something that might finally solve the case: a strand of DNA from an inmate who may be the murderer's brother.

Problem is, authorities in Michigan, where the sibling might be jailed, won't cough up the witness's name. DNA has to be a perfect match, the state insists.

Privacy, it seems, trumps justice. It's an issue that plagues law enforcement across the country.

And it stinks.

"I worked that DNA for 15 months to get an answer," says Aventura Police Det. James Cumbie, who has led the investigation into the only unsolved murder in this affluent city's history. "It was an endless circle. [Sicherer's] family deserves better."

Irving "Al" Sicherer was born in Brooklyn and worked as a caterer at fine hotels such as the Belmont Plaza. He married his sweetheart, Lil, who was a widow, in 1955 and adopted her son, Robert. Beverly was born three years later. The small family summered in the Catskills and wintered on Miami Beach, where they moved full-time in 1967. Al became a maitre d' at the swanky Tides Hotel.

The Beach took a turn for the worse in the early '70s, and Al knew he had to find a new place for his family. "There were a lot of riots," Beverly recalls. "They moved pretty much for me." Al found a place for his family in Hollywood's pricey Emerald Hills.

Beverly was exceedingly close to her parents. She lived with them until age 30. Even after moving out, she phoned home several times a day. Son Robert, though, never adjusted to South Florida and moved back North.

When Lil, who was diabetic, died after a heart attack in 1995, Al Sicherer's secret began to creep out. He was gay. He had a penchant for young Hispanic men. He had hidden it from his family.

"He was a good father, and he loved my mother," recalls Beverly, now a doctor who lives in Palm Beach Gardens with a bevy of dogs. "He compromised most of his life, but after my mom died, he tried to make up for 25 years of a life that he hadn't been allowed to live."

Al began prowling the beach in Hollywood and a notorious Sunny Isles Beach club called The Boardwalk. Though he'd had a heart attack that required angioplasty — or perhaps because of it — he lived recklessly, staying out late and pretending he was wealthy beyond his means. In January 1999, a police bicycle patrol arrested Al for performing a lewd act in public. The court file has been destroyed, so it's unclear what transpired that day, but charges were later dropped.

Then came that awful July day. Beverly had tried to phone her dad for two days, but there was no answer. Finally, accompanied by a friend, Lorraine Schlom, she headed over to his place on East Country Club Drive. "He was there in a pool of blood," she says. "I remember standing there and screaming. I leaned down by my father. I wanted to hold him. But I didn't. I couldn't close my eyes for a year without seeing it."

The crime scene was rich fodder for the CSI guys. There were fingerprints all over the place. The killer had left behind a partially smoked cigarette and a half-empty Heineken bottle. A bloody footprint in the kitchen revealed the tread of the killer's shoe and gave an idea of his weight. A knife, a blood-spattered bronze statue, and a heavy rock crystal, which had all been used to bludgeon and stab Al to death, were scattered about.

"The killer had obviously ransacked the place but couldn't find anything," Beverly says. "He was upset, so he went after my father again and again."

Detective Cumbie and others gathered lots of information. "We spent all day and all night at that apartment," Cumbie recalls. "We took fingerprints from all over the place." The cops rolled footprints from Al's shoes, which didn't match the ones left in blood.

Then police discovered two videos. One, taken at a nearby Publix, showed Al buying Heineken with a young man, who police believed was the murderer. His face was clear. He had a tattoo or birth mark on his right arm above the elbow, dark hair, and a dark complexion. In a second video, taken in the apartment's hallway, he walked with a strange gait.

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