O.J.-mania is once again gripping America this month thanks to The People vs. O.J. Simpson, a new FX series dramatizing the sordid trial that gripped the nation in the mid-'90s. But it was fifty years ago this year when Miami found itself in the center of one of America's most unbelievable criminal cases — one that created its own tabloid frenzy with an equally unbelievable ending.
The case featured a beautiful woman, a young lover, and allegations of incest and murder, all to get millions of dollars of inheritance. And it all played out in downtown Miami to thousands of popping flashbulbs.
In 1960s Miami, taking in a movie meant traveling downtown where many of the city's theaters were located. But 50 years ago, Miamians weren't lining up to see Dr. Zhivago or The Singing Nun at a Flagler Street movie house.
Starting on January 17, 1966, and for the next two and a half months, the hottest show in town was in courtroom 6-1 of the Dade County Courthouse. Miami residents by the hundreds made their way downtown for a show that was as lurid and lascivious as anything produced by Hollywood. It was standing room only.
The star of the show was Candace Weatherby Johnson Mossler, a semi-glamorous, stylishly dressed blond widow with a little-girl voice whom a reporter once described as "a woman of mystery [with a] background so indistinct that her age is uncertain."
Also on the bill with Mossler was her nephew, Melvin Lane Powers, a strapping lad of 25 with action-hero good looks and a football player's physique.
Candy and Mel — as headline writers dubbed them — were on trial for the brutal June 30, 1964, murder of Mossler's husband, millionaire banker Jacques Mossler.
A half-century later the trial is still considered to be the most sensational, highly publicized criminal trial in South Florida history.
The August 20, 1965, issue of Time magazine summarized the case, which was still five months off:
Candace Mossier is a lissome, lippy blonde of 46 who says that she took her children out for a drive in Key Biscayne, Fla., one night last June to mail some letters at the odd hour of 1 a.m. Instead of returning home, she says, she suffered a migraine headache and went to a hospital. During her absence, something even odder happened to her millionaire husband, Miami and Houston Financier Jacques Mossier, 69. He was bludgeoned and stabbed 39 times. The results were fatal. According to Miami police, Mossier left a note: "If Mel and Candace don't kill me first, I'll kill them." While Candace fled to the Mayo Clinic for more migraine therapy and treatment for what she calls "too many red corpuscles," the Miami cops extradited Melvin Powers, 23, Mossler's burly nephew. As police told it, Powers, who was Candace's longtime lover, jetted over from Houston the day before the murder, crushed his uncle's skull with a king-size Coke bottle and jetted home next morning.
So given that background, it didn't take investigators long to hone in on Mossler and her nephew as the prime suspects, especially after finding photographs of the couple and steamy love letters the two had exchanged.
Cops theorized that Mossler and Powers were carrying on an illicit affair and that they had conspired to remove Jacques from the picture. Divorce was out of the question since Candy stood to get just $200,000 if she divorced the wealthy banker. With him dead, she would get everything.
But Candy had a different theory: "I think it was one of those strange people he used to pick up on the street all the time. He would waltz into the house with strangers by the half-dozen. He would tell people that we were very wealthy and important and owned a chain of banks and then say, 'Come on over and have a drink anytime,'" TIME Magazine quoted her as saying.
After Candy and Mel were charged with Mossler's murder, they were jailed briefly in July of 1965, but a judge allowed each to go free on a bond of $50,000 until trial.
Once the trial got underway in January 1966, it was pretty much all Candy, all the time — and the public couldn't get enough.
A Houston Chronicle reporter wrote: "Woven through the fabric of the case are the threads of love, hate, greed, savage passion, intrigue, incest and perversion."
Because of that, Circuit Court Judge George Schulz barred anyone under the age of 21 from attending the trial. But hundreds of adults showed up every day for a chance to watch the drama firsthand. When the judge learned that some spectators were staying in their seats after he had recessed the court for lunch, he ordered the courtroom cleared and the doors locked.
Some began bringing their lunch and eating it as they stood in line waiting to attend the afternoon session.
In attendance along with the hundreds of residents was a large contingent of nationally known newspaper and magazine crime writers. The New York Daily News sent crime reporter Theo Wilson. The paper plastered their delivery trucks with large posters that read, "Candy Mossler Murder Trial - Follow Theo Wilson every day." The Chicago Tribune dispatched veteran legal reporter Paul Holmes. In 1955, Holmes had covered the Mississippi trial of white Southerners accused of killing Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black youth from Chicago.
Candy played to the crowd. Hardly a day passed without an interruption because of one of Candy's medical episodes that included bouts of nausea, fainting spells, migraine headaches, and the occasional upset stomach. Once she showed up for the day's proceedings wearing a neck brace.
One day in February, Judge Schulz warned Mossler's attorneys, "Mrs. Mossler will have to sit up. She just can't lie across two chairs."
Candy and Mel were represented by a battery of six top-shelf defense attorneys.
Heading the pack of high-priced legal talent was 64-year-old Houston attorney Percy Foreman, a six-foot four-inch, 230-pound bear of a man. Life magazine said Foreman wore suits that looked like "freshly-laundered potato sacks." Time magazine called him "the biggest, brashest, brightest criminal lawyer in the U.S." At the time of the Mossler trial he had already represented more than 700 clients on homicide charges, "and lost only one to the electric chair," Life reported.
Said Life: "His record is all the more remarkable when measured against the fact that in Texas — where most of his practice is — most people believe, 'If you hire Percy, you're guilty as hell.'"
Foreman's courtroom strategy was simple: Put everyone except the accused on trial — the district attorney, the police, the witnesses — and, of course, the deceased.
Early on in the Mossler trial, Foreman suggested that "hundreds of persons might have had motive to kill Mossler, including disgruntled employees, victims of automobile repossessions by Mossler's finance companies, and independent automobile dealers who he said blamed Mossler for financial ruin," reported the Chicago Tribune's Paul Holmes.
Heading up the prosecution was Dade State Attorney Richard Gerstein, a six-foot five-inch former Air Force bomber navigator who lost his right eye when enemy flak hit his plane during a bombing run over Germany in WWII.
Gerstein had subpoenaed some 224 witnesses. But except for the cops, it seemed to some observers that most of those called to testify against Candy and Mel were an unreliable clutch of criminals, drug addicts, and nitwits. Gerstein's case was also hampered by the lack of physical evidence tying the two accused to the crime.
Finally, on March 3, after 33 days of trial, closing arguments began. Gerstein took just 62 minutes to summarize his case. And then it was Foreman's turn.
Rising from his seat and looking at the 12-man jury, he began, "I will now make a few brief remarks." He then proceeded to speak for four hours and 54 minutes, the second longest closing argument of his career.
The state's case, he said "smells to the high heavens. They seined the cesspools of the penitentiaries and insane asylums for anybody who would testify. And they didn't come up with an edible fish."
At one point Foreman compared police and prosecutors with the buzzards that circle the county courthouse in the winter and painted Mossler as "a ruthless financier hated by thousands and a sexual deviate who slept with an ax at his bedside to protect him from his enemies,'' according to a 2006 Miami Herald retelling of the trial.
On Sunday, March 6, 1966, after 16 hours and 33 minutes and almost four days of deliberations, the jury reached a verdict: not guilty.
Tribune reporter Paul Holmes described the scene outside the courtroom: "[Powers] took his aunt Candace in both arms while her arms encircled his neck. They kissed on the lips while a few lucky cameramen snapped pictures. Others begged in vain for a repeat performance as Mrs. Mossler turned to receive embraces from her son and son-in-law..."
A crowd of several hundred followed Candy and Mel down to Flagler Street where they were met by hundreds more well-wishers. Foreman had missed the reading of the verdict. "He ... had taken his wife and daughter to the airport, and in a cab on the way back to his hotel, he passed the courthouse and saw the commotion and guessed what had happened..." reported the AP.
Candy and Mel, along with several of their attorneys, piled into a gold Cadillac convertible and drove off as Candy waved and blew kisses to passersby.
That night, Powers threw a victory party that Foreman declined to attend. "I may represent these people but I don't have to associate with them," Foreman said. The day after the verdict, the Chicago Tribune's Paul Holmes was putting the finishing touches on a paperback book about the trial, The Candy Murder Case. The book hit bookstores on March 10... just four days after the not guilty verdict.
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Candy inherited her late husband's fortune and moved back to Houston where she and Mel lived together for a few years before splitting up. In 1976, during a trip to South Florida, Candy died in her sleep at the Fontainebleau hotel. She was 62.
News reports say she was dressed in a pink nightgown and was "found face down in one of five plush pillows spread about her bed."
According to a 1995 Sun-Sentinel story, an autopsy showed that "Candy Mossler was a drug abuser of long standing," wrote the then-chief deputy medical examiner of Dade County, Ronald Wright. She had "thousands and thousands" of needle pricks in her buttocks from years of drug injections.
She's buried in Arlington National Cemetery beside the grave of Jacques Mossler, the man she was accused of killing.