Rush to Justice
In the early-morning hours of June 7, 2005, all was quiet at the tidy orange house of William Fenzau.
Usually tan, Fenzau had a sculpted physique that could have landed him modeling work, or at least a place in a David Barton Gym ad. He was almost 40, but with his dyed blond hair, smooth skin, and chiseled cheekbones, he looked much younger. The fact was he had no trouble attracting men.
Most friends described him as a gentle soul. He doted on his 5-year-old niece, taking her on trips to the pet store to buy tropical fish for the ponds he had dug in front of his house, and when he wasn't with her, it seemed like he was at Home Depot or a plant nursery, buying orchids. He had turned his home on NE 62nd Street into a tranquil oasis: There were palm trees, pink flowers, and cacti throughout the garden. A wood deck, painted white and forest green, cut through the back yard.
Fenzau hardly seemed the sort who would attract trouble, or the type who would regularly deal meth to gay men from South Beach to Fort Lauderdale.
UberTAILGATE: Hard Rock Stadium Dolphins vs. Cardinals
TicketsSun., Dec. 11, 12:00pm
LUXURY SEATING: Miami Dolphins v Arizona Cardinals
TicketsSun., Dec. 11, 1:00pm
Miami Dolphins vs. Arizona Cardinals
TicketsSun., Dec. 11, 1:00pm
Fight Time PRO MMA
TicketsFri., Dec. 16, 8:00pm
Around 4 that June morning, a cab stopped in front of Fenzau's home. A man named Anthony Valeri stepped out. A friend of Fenzau's, he opened the front gate of the wrought-iron fence that surrounded the yard and walked to the front door.
He peered through the square stained glass on the door and then went around the side of the house to the back yard.
He crossed the wood deck, past the Jacuzzi, and turned the knob to the back door. It was unlocked. As he neared the entrance to Fenzau's bedroom, he noticed papers and shattered glass all over the floor. He took a few more steps and saw Fenzau on the ground. His head and body were soaked with blood.
Fenzau had been stabbed multiple times in the right side of his neck, chest, back, left forearm, and right hand. The attack was so brutal the medical examiner had to remove two kitchen knives embedded in Fenzau's body. One had been lodged four and a half inches into his neck. The other blade had been stuck six and a half inches into his abdomen.
For most of his life, William Fenzau had been the picture of responsibility and personal discipline. But in the past few years, he had been on a downward spiral, a chaotic jumble of reckless sex fueled by crystal meth binges that sometimes lasted for days.
His friends had changed too. Though he once socialized with college-educated types who worked white-collar jobs such as advertising, his inner circle now included a Brazilian stripper and a drug supplier who went by the street name of Mexican Ben.
But as much as his family worried about him, his murder still came as a shock.
It was a killing scripted for prime-time spectacle, which is why the Miami Police Department featured it as a case on The First 48, the popular cable television series that follows homicide investigators as they race against the clock to arrest a suspect within two days of the crime. At the end of the Fenzau episode, Miami homicide detectives zeroed in on ex-boyfriend Kevin Goode, who was formally charged with first-degree murder July 29, 2005.
The First 48 made it appear the cops had gotten their man. But even reality television can blur the fine line. One month after Goode's arrest, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, citing lack of evidence, declined to prosecute him. Four years later, Fenzau's murder remains unsolved.
Fenzau's sister, Lori Grande, blames the Miami Police Department for rushing through its investigation to look good on television. To her, the open case is a prime example of how the Miami Police's appearances on The First 48 can hamper criminal cases.
"I have a hard time dealing with the fact that the police don't tell me anything," she says. "They keep telling me it is confidential because the investigation is still open. Well, if it is confidential, then why did they let A&E film my brother's murder investigation?"
Lori Grande sits on a patio lounge chair near the front steps to her brother's house in Miami's Upper Eastside. It is a balmy afternoon, but she finds shade next to the bushes and trees her brother nurtured. At the top step, she has set up a small shrine that includes candles, flowers, and computer printouts of photographs of him playing with her daughter, Sophie. In one image, Fenzau cradles his newborn niece. In another, they play in the sand. "Will absolutely loved his niece," Grande recalls. "She could track mud inside his house and that was OK. Anyone else, he would throw a fit. He called her his 'little blondie.' "
Ever since she was a little girl, Grande idolized her older brother.
"William stood strong in who he was," she says. "If the world didn't like that he was queer, fuck the world."
The two grew up in suburban New Jersey but relocated to Biloxi, Mississippi when Fenzau was 10. Shortly after moving to Biloxi, Fenzau's mother, Susan Lake, divorced her husband, who she says was often cruel to her son.
In 1983, Lake remarried and the family relocated again, this time to Sarasota. Fenzau, who was now a sophomore in high school, had a hard time making friends. "His classmates teased him a lot," Lake says. "They called him a fag. We had left a very liberal community for a very conservative area on the west coast of Florida. People were very prejudiced there."
One evening that year, Lake recalls, her 16-year-old son took her out to dinner and told her he was gay. Lake says she was "shocked" at the revelation but accepted her son's homosexuality. A year later, he tested positive for HIV.
"I used to lecture him all the time about safe sex," Lake says. "I don't think either one of us was too surprised. The only thing that bothered him was the stigma of having HIV. He often said he felt dirty and contaminated."
After high school, he moved to Washington, D.C., and in 1991, he earned a degree in psychology from George Washington University. The same year, he met Brian Linkous, an art director at a small D.C.-based advertising firm who was six years his senior. Their relationship would last a decade.
Whenever he and Linkous could take time off together, they would travel to Miami Beach, at a time the city was undergoing its transformation from sleepy retirement community to bustling sexopolis. Gay investors were snatching up beachfront properties and opening stores and boutiques at the then-dead Lincoln Road Mall. In the early '90s, a gay chamber of commerce set up shop in Miami Beach and Carl Zablotny launched Wire, a gay-oriented South Beach weekly.
In 2000, Fenzau and Linkous moved to Tampa, Florida, where Fenzau quit his career as a social worker and got a license as a massage therapist. Shortly after, he and Linkous moved to Miami, where they purchased a three-bedroom house at 85th Street and NE Tenth Avenue.
By this time, the HIV was taking its toll. Although Fenzau regularly lifted weights, he still had a gaunt look about him. "His brain and his thought processes were going," his sister remembers. "The medical cocktails he was taking were no longer working. He had dementia. He couldn't remember things."
To ease his fatigue, Grande continues, her brother began using crystal meth. "He was never into the club scene," she says. "He used meth to keep himself going."
Fenzau's mother says his personality darkened as a result. "It made him more angry, short-tempered, and impatient," Lake says. "He was paranoid and difficult to reason with." The meth was also killing Fenzau's relationship with Linkous. "We called them the bicksters because they bickered all the time," Lake notes. "Brian was very jealous. And rightly so. William was cheating on him."
Her son was never the same after breaking up with Linkous, Lake contends, adding it didn't help that the deadly disease was ravaging his memory and causing him mass confusion. "Even though they argued a lot, William really loved Brian," she says. "He got to the point that he didn't care anymore."
Shortly after their breakup, Fenzau began cruising Internet chat rooms, looking to hook up with other men. He frequented Manhunt.net, a website with the tag line "If he is out there, he is on here. We just make him easier to find." Fenzau's handle: Scorpio Rising. According to a 63-year-old flight attendant who asked to remain anonymous, he and Fenzau would often chat about the men they met online. "We would share our sexual experiences," the friend says. "He was more out there than I was. Certainly, more sexually active. I lived my life vicariously through Will."
One day in late 2003, from the comfort of his Upper Eastside home, Fenzau logged on to Manhunt. Within minutes, he chatted up a 31-year-old DJ named Kevin Cunard, who had moved from Boston to Miami. After a day and a half of messaging back and forth on Manhunt, Fenzau met Cunard at his South Beach apartment, where they snorted meth and had sex. Cunard tells New Times that getting crystal meth was easy through Manhunt and other "hook-up" sites. "The first thing anyone asks you is if you party," Cunard explains. "In the gay world, that means, 'Do you do meth?' If the answer is yes, well, then the person would pull out the pipe."
According to Cunard and another man Fenzau met online, Tom Edwards, Fenzau began selling crystal meth sometime in 2003 to supplement his massage therapy income. "He started off dealing to help pay for his mortgage," Edwards says. "And then he turned out to be a very good drug dealer." Fenzau started off slowly, buying an ounce of meth at a wholesale price of about $1,500. He would divide it into smaller portions and turn at least a $500 profit.
The anonymous flight attendant says he cautioned Fenzau on the perils of getting into the drug game. "If you go that route, it never lasts long, so be careful," he told Fenzau. "But he had a good network of customers. When I used to go to Fort Lauderdale, people knew about Will up there."
Over the course of several months in late 2003, Fenzau began meeting new friends who were also dealing in small quantities of meth and who provided him with connections to other wholesale suppliers. One of those individuals was Anthony Valeri, a slightly paunchy 32-year-old with thinning brown hair. By that summer, the two were hanging out regularly. Their only common interest: dealing, snorting, and smoking crank.
According to friends, Valeri introduced Fenzau to a woman who would become part of their drug distribution ring: a 28-year-old stripper named Michelle Berry. According to the flight attendant, who has been in Miami's gay community for 17 years, Berry was the "Madonna of the gay drug-dealing world" in Miami. He adds, "She was very powerful. She knew a lot of people dealing meth in large quantities."
By 2004, Fenzau had gone from selling a few ounces of meth a week to a pound a month — which nets about $20,000 to $70,000 on the street. "I remember Will telling me once that he had $50,000 in cash," Edwards says.
Early that year, during one of his online encounters on Manhunt, Fenzau met a man named Kevin Goode. A handsome, muscular 47-year-old with short red hair and a trimmed goatee, Goode also enjoyed working on improving his home and partying with crystal meth. And like Linkous, Fenzau's previous partner, he had money. He owned a two-story five-bedroom house on North Bay Road in Miami Beach that was worth nearly $500,000 and drove a silver BMW Z3 convertible.
By 2005, Fenzau's meth use and dealing had gotten out of hand. "I fully expected Will to get busted," Edwards says. "One time, he ran a red light on South Beach and a cop pulled him over. He was holding a shoebox full of meth under the passenger-side seat."
During this period, Fenzau's friends say, he would make four, five, or sometimes more deliveries to customers in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale on a daily basis.
Fenzau's mom was becoming increasingly worried. She says her son went from using meth "just a little bit here and there" in 2002 to "being on it almost all the time" in 2005, the year he died. The lean muscle he had sculpted in D.C. turned flabby. His eyes and cheeks were sunken. He was often irritable from lack of sleep.
Things began unraveling when Fenzau's dealer friend Valeri, whom Fenzau supplied, was popped March 3, 2005, by DEA agents. According to Valeri's arrest affidavit, a confidential informant set up Valeri by calling him to order two ounces of meth. Valeri told the CI to meet him at a RaceTrac gas station on State Road 84. Fort Lauderdale Police detectives and DEA agents confronted Valeri, who was still inside his 1999 green BMW sedan. Cops found approximately 66 grams of meth inside a yellow Banana Republic cardboard perfume box under the passenger seat. According to Valeri's criminal case file, Fenzau posted his bail and got his BMW out of the impound.
Two weeks later, Fenzau's sister came down to visit her brother for Memorial Day weekend. She says Fenzau told her he wanted to quit using and selling meth. He had grown tired of dealing with shady characters and was worried someone would turn him in to the feds. He also suspected Goode was cheating on him and planned to break up.
He wanted to take Cunard to Key West in early June. Says Cunard: "Our plan was to spend a week there drying out."
Episode 39 of The First 48, titled "Pack of Lies," opens with Miami Police homicide Det. Leo Tapanes taking his new ride, a jet-black Porsche Boxster with a tan leather interior, for a wash. The veteran investigator cuts a dashing profile, wearing a crisp white guayabera, black slacks, and designer shoes. His bald head shines with authority.
As the Porsche emerges from the rinse cycle, Tapanes gets a call on his cell phone. The camera cuts to uniformed police officers putting up yellow tape in front Fenzau's house.
When cops enter, the camera documents a grizzly scene. Blood is spattered all over the floor and furniture and is smeared across a door.
Investigators find a broken handle to a steak knife blade. Knowing three knives were found lodged in Fenzau's body, Sgt. Altaar Williams looks at the camera: "With the three knives, I wouldn't be surprised if there is more than one attacker."
It didn't take long for cops to develop a theory as to what happened. In the days leading up to the murder, Fenzau had broken up with Goode and told Berry, one of the biggest meth dealers in Miami, he was no longer going to sell meth. On June 6, 2005, Fenzau went to Valeri's apartment in an attempt to reclaim nearly $20,000 he had used to get Valeri out of jail, according to a sworn statement by Karen Carvalho, a friend of Fenzau's who says she was there. Carvalho told the veteran investigator that Valeri gave Fenzau $6,000 in cash and about half a pound of meth before they left the apartment.
Meanwhile, around the same time, Berry paid a visit to her friend Javier Rosario at his apartment at 2001 N. Biscayne Blvd. According to a sworn statement Rosario gave Tapanes, Berry was "hysterical... like a little bit out of control." She accused Fenzau of being a snitch and said she wanted to kill him, Rosario claimed. "She wanted to cut him," Rosario said. "She was like, 'I'm gonna cut him up.'" Rosario said he told her he was not going to help her hurt Fenzau, which caused the stripper to fly into a rage.
Before storming out of his pad, Rosario alleged, Berry said she already had recruited someone to confront Fenzau. Rosario identified the cohort as Vito Abbate, a 66-year-old who worked as a doorman at several South Beach nightclubs hosting gay parties.
Fenzau's friends theorize that sometime between the late hours of June 6 and the early morning of June 7, Goode and Valeri allowed Berry and Abbate inside Fenzau's house. When Fenzau realized his so-called friends were there to rob him, he stood his ground. At some point, the confrontation turned violent. "I heard these people were cleaning out Will's house as he lay there dying," Edwards says. "They even stuffed CDs and clothes into duffle bags."
In a 2007 Miami Herald article about the murder, Detective Tapanes said he believed Goode and Abbate killed Fenzau and that Valeri was involved. He did not mention Berry.
Certainly on The First 48, all signs pointed to Goode and Abbate as the killers and Berry and Valeri as accomplices. In one scene from the show, Goode sits inside a conference room answering Det. Roly Garcia's questions. Dressed in a blue long-sleeve button-down shirt, basketball shorts, and flip-flops, Goode doesn't appear distraught, despite the fact that his boyfriend was just brutally murdered. When Garcia briefs Tapanes, he immediately identifies Goode as a suspect. "He has a cut on his right index finger and scratches on his left forearm consistent with a struggle," Garcia says. What's more, Goode picked up Fenzau's mom and took her to her son's home before anyone called police. To Garcia, this is another indication of guilt: "You want someone there with you when you discover the body."
During a second interview, Goode tells cops he cut his finger with garden clippers while he was landscaping his house. Yet after Dr. Emma Law of the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office studies Goode's fingers, she informs Tapanes the "cuts didn't come from yard work."
Realizing he is getting himself into more trouble, Goode tells cops he lied. It was his friend Valeri who first found the body, he says. Goode then says he took a bag of crystal meth from Fenzau's house that the cops later find inside his car. To keep Goode detained, Tapanes charges him with tampering with evidence.
The day following Fenzau's murder, Valeri shows up at the crime scene, where he is greeted by homicide detectives. The next scene shows a sobbing Valeri answering questions at Miami PD headquarters. According to his sworn statement, Valeri admits to being the first person to discover Fenzau but that he left the house because he was afraid of going back to jail since he was not supposed to be associating with known drug dealers as a condition of his bond. He didn't call 911, he says, because he knew Fenzau had drugs inside his house, so he walked over to the Chevron station on Biscayne Boulevard at 61st Street, where he called Goode, who rushed right over. Valeri tells investigators that after they both went back into the house, Goode confirmed Fenzau was dead.
As "Pack of Lies" progresses, homicide investigators interview Rosario, who points the cops to Berry. She voluntarily meets with Tapanes, who uses a tried and true TV homicide detective technique on her. The camera captures Tapanes and Berry inside the interrogation room. She denies threatening to "cut" Fenzau and denies being with Abbate. A frustrated Tapanes slams one of Fenzau's autopsy photos in front of Berry. The horrific image jolts her out of her seat. She sobs uncontrollably and tells Tapanes it was the bouncer Abbate who killed Fenzau. "He has cuts on his forearm," she says, "and another one on the finger and one on his hand."
The detectives shifted their attention to Abbate, whom they bring in for questioning. When they pick up the doorman at his apartment, the detectives find a nearly empty pack of Newport Mediums with blood specks on it. At the crime scene, they had found a Newport Medium cigarette butt. When questioned, Abbate tells investigators he had cut his finger helping a neighbor move a rug.
Two weeks after Fenzau's murder, Abbate swallowed a bunch of pills and committed suicide. He left behind a note that read, "I'm tired of the drama. I did not hurt anyone." No DNA from Abbate was found at the scene, but blood from Goode and Fenzau was found on the bedroom door handle. Saliva on the Newport cigarette butt also matched Goode.
On July 29, 2005, Tapanes charged Fenzau's former lover with murder. In the arrest report, Tapanes noted Goode killed Fenzau because his ex-boyfriend "was no longer going to provide Goode with crystal methamphetamine."
But once the cameras were gone, the case was hardly as open-and-shut as investigators had made it seem. On August 8, 2005, Goode got off on a technicality. His defense attorney, Jordan Lewin, filed a motion that his client's statements weren't admissible because police didn't read his Miranda rights until just prior to his arrest for tampering with evidence. He also argued there were other people with motive to kill Fenzau. That and the possibility of additional suspects prompted Assistant State Attorney Gary Winston to drop the charges against Goode.
Financially, things did not improve for Goode following Fenzau's death. He filed for bankruptcy. He claimed assets worth between $1 million and $10 million but said he had $500,000 in outstanding debt. Last year, the IRS placed a lien on Goode's property because he owes the government $9,755 in unpaid income taxes for 2002. He also lost the North Bay Road house to foreclosure. Property records show the home was sold in December last year for $1 million.
Efforts to locate and interview Goode for this story were unsuccessful. "The police did have the wrong man behind bars," says Goode's lawyer, Lewin. "Kevin is innocent and the government's dismissal affirms it."
Berry, the so-called Madonna of Miami's underground gay drug culture, currently lives in an apartment at 11855 NE 19th Dr. in North Miami. New Times twice visited Berry's home and left a business card with a note requesting an interview about her relationship with Fenzau. She has not responded.
Lori Grande walks on the winding wood deck her brother built in his back yard. She kneels down and points at pieces of concrete that act as a barrier between the deck and the plants and bushes her brother planted. "I helped my brother put these in," she says. "And I helped him plant the bougainvillea trees, which you see are draping over the garden now. He had this amazing ability to instill confidence in people."
For the past four years, Grande has been badgering the Miami Police Department and the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office to file new charges against Goode and to arrest Valeri and Berry as accomplices. She has expressed her frustration in multiple letters to Chief John Timoney. Each time, she has been told police cannot discuss specifics about the investigation because it remains open.
The Miami Police Department declined several interview requests from New Times. Department spokeswoman Kenia Alfonso says homicide detectives do not want to talk about the case because it is still open.
When Fenzau's sister found out Valeri became a government informant three days after her brother's death, she began writing letters to South Florida's U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, demanding Valeri be held accountable for his alleged role in Fenzau's murder. She believes Valeri has been given protection from prosecution because of his informant status. In response, Acosta's office has told her that because the murder is a state case, the feds have no jurisdiction to investigate it.
A year after the killing, Grande hired Miami private investigator Steve Sessler to review the case. A former Miami-Dade Police homicide investigator, Sessler faults the Miami Police Department for allowing the taping of The First 48 to interfere with the investigation. "Too much information comes out on the show," he says. "If there was no First 48, you can't help but wonder if the Miami Police detectives would have rushed to charge Goode. There are times you are sure who did it, but it can take you weeks to build a case."
Sessler specifically criticizes the "Pack of Lies" episode for revealing the fact that there were multiple suspects in Fenzau's murder. "A good criminal defense lawyer would use that footage against the prosecution. The fact is that you just can't close some cases in 48 hours." Indeed, the popular television series has come under fire in other jurisdictions where producers follow homicide investigators. Last year in Birmingham, Alabama, Jefferson County's top prosecutor, David Barber, publicly expressed his concern that the show might deter potential witnesses from coming forward and that defendants could argue that destroyed footage might prove their innocence. Barber told the Birmingham News: "It puts us in the position of having to prove a negative." In Memphis, the city's police director opted not to renew the contract with A&E, citing pretrial and trial issues. The Miami Police Department, on the other hand, has continued to cooperate with the show. Some within the department see it as a recruitment tool at a time when major police departments across the nation are struggling to fill positions.
William Moreno, a Miami Police spokesman, says the department is very careful to guard investigations that end up on The First 48. "The producers pick which ones to air," Moreno says. "But we always review them first to make sure it doesn't interfere with an investigation."
In the meantime, Assistant State Attorney Gary Winston insists bringing Fenzau's killers to justice remains a top priority. "It is still an open investigation and every effort is being made," he says. "But there has been no progress, regrettably."
The state prosecutor says he needs more evidence to refile murder charges against Goode and any co-conspirators. He says the existing evidence, including Goode's blood that was mixed in with Fenzau's blood found on the door handle, could not be used because police did not read Goode his Miranda rights while he was being questioned prior to being charged with tampering.
Asked if The First 48 had a negative effect on the investigation, Winston replies, "I don't know. There were a lot of things that had an impact on this investigation. Some of it was good. Some of it was bad. But in those instances when there could be more than a single killer, the effort to catch one often leads to the others being forgotten about."
He declines to discuss the theory that Fenzau was betrayed by Berry, Goode, and Valeri, whom Winston believes is getting some sort of protection from the feds. "I share a great deal of sentiment with [Fenzau's sister] about Mr. Valeri," he says.
But for Grande, there's no doubt The First 48 might have resulted in her brother's killers getting away with murder. "It's just so frustrating," she says. "I just want to rule people out as suspects and get some justice for my brother." As she speaks, she grips a silver pendant around her neck. She reveals that her mother, stepfather, and daughter have the same pendant, which all contain some of Fenzau's ashes.
"His last wish was to have his ashes spread into the ocean," she says. "And we will. We're just not ready yet."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Miami, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.