Donato's Closet

Donato Dalrymple calls Elian Gonzalez his spiritual son. The Lauderhill man plans to play an ongoing role in the six year-old's life, even if the boy is returned to Cuba. After all, Dalrymple says, God selected him as a savior.

"God led me to him. God helped me take him out of the water, and it was God that chose me to fight Fidel Castro for this little boy," Dalrymple said recently, upon returning to his home after six days in Washington, D.C. "God has a plan for me and I love the kid. I know he has a father, but that doesn't mean that he can't have somebody else. There is a bond between me and Elian that I think Juan Miguel will understand."

Dalrymple regularly refers to himself as Elian's savior, rarely his rescuer. Heroic is another word he uses when describing how he plucked the boy from the sea on Thanksgiving morning and attempted to protect him from heavily armed federal agents the morning before Easter.

"It's the photograph of the century," he proudly boasts of the famed Associated Press picture of the INS agent threatening Dalrymple and Elian with an assault rifle. After the raid Dalrymple performed in the media circus, beginning with a tearful scolding of the nation on live TV: "America, what did you do to this boy?"

Dalrymple's activities have been well documented in the national media. (Most recently he starred in cover stories in both Time and Newsweek.) El Pescador (the fisherman, as he is often called in the Spanish-language press) has now become a minor figure in American history, the answer to a future trivia question. But even his family wonders why he wedged himself so deeply into the Elian saga. His cousin and fellow rescuer, Sam Ciancio, has disowned Dalrymple for shamelessly promoting himself. Dalrymple's mother Jennie, who lives in Tamarac, says she felt Elian needed to be returned to his father and is convinced her son jumped headlong into the fray for the "attention." Dalrymple's brother Lindford "Lindy" Dalrymple, Jr. notes, without malice, that Donato, whom the family calls Dee Dee, has always been self-serving.

In fact Dalrymple has long avoided children for the most part. His own domestic life has not exactly been a model of stability: three failed marriages to women who were little more than strangers. He says he feels lucky that he's "escaped" having children, as his life provides no place for them.

There was, however, another famous boy in Dalrymple's life: his nephew David Waller. Rather than embrace David, Dalrymple mostly ignored him. David's life was marked by abuse and ended violently. David's story, which is contained on microfilm at the Broward County clerk of courts' archives, reveals a little-known side of Dalrymple and his family.

Even when David Waller was born on August 13, 1977, it was a shameful occasion for the Dalrymples, not far removed from incest. David's father was Lindy, Donato's brother. The newborn's mother was Lindy's first cousin, sixteen-year-old Patricia Waller. The baby was conceived, Lindy says, during a family party celebrating his induction into the military.

It was natural that both Lindy and Donato would become soldiers. Their father, Lindford Dalrymple, Sr., was an army sergeant. Both brothers made a go of it and both bowed out before completing their service. Their father was a strict disciplinarian, but how strict is a matter of contention. One relative, in a court deposition, said there was talk in the extended family of how "physical" both Lindford and Jennie were with their children. Lindy Jr., who is two years older than Donato, contends he was lashed with a leather belt.

"My father would speak, and we would listen -- there was no other way," Donato says. "And that's what kids are missing today. When parents speak, the kids don't listen."

Perhaps that strong sense of parental discipline was carried from generation to generation. When Lindy and Patricia Waller took custody of David from his maternal grandmother in 1981, family members and friends began noticing that David's buttocks and legs were often covered with dark bruises. Lindy admitted to whipping the child with a Tupperware spoon. Spoon beatings apparently were common in the Dalrymple family: Two of Lindy's sisters, Ruth Veach and Connie Dalrymple, later testified that they also used spoons on their children.

Lindy, who was then 23 years old, also administered "hard slaps to David for his refusal to smile," slammed drawers on the child's fingers, and punished him by forcing him to listen to extremely loud rock music on headphones, witnesses told prosecutors.

On his last day alive, August 8, 1981, David's arms and legs were black and blue, there was a grotesque knot behind his ear, and his stomach was enlarged on one side as a result of internal injuries that prosecutors alleged were caused by Lindy. David was vomiting his food, which witness Josephine LaFramboise said infuriated Lindy. "Lindy got mad and went in the bedroom and ... picked up David by one arm and carried him upstairs, and I could hear him beating on the boy upstairs," LaFramboise said. "David never cried ... all he was saying was 'mommy.'"

After David said he "forgot how to walk" and threw up bloody water, LaFramboise told Connie Dalrymple, who also lived in the house, the boy needed to be taken to the hospital. Connie wouldn't hear of it; she was worried doctors would find out about her brother Lindy's abuse, LaFramboise told prosecutors.

That evening David was finally taken to a hospital, where his life ended early the next morning.

The Broward medical examiner's office determined that David died of beatings which occurred over a six-week period. Lindy recalls that he initially told detectives, "My father used to hit me, but I would never hit David that way." He was jailed on charges of manslaughter and aggravated child abuse. Soon the Dalrymple family was all over the news in South Florida, which at the time was absorbed in the disappearance of another well-known little boy: Adam Walsh.

Donato steadfastly avoided reporters back then. He says he never really wanted to know what happened to David. He never cared much about the boy when he was alive and wouldn't have known him "if he showed up on my porch." He says he saw David on occasion but never played with him or touched him.

Just as he seemed to blindly leap to the side of Elian's Miami relatives, Donato unquestioningly supported Lindy. Ignoring the information in the court file, Donato still proclaims Lindy's innocence, calling his brother "the most sensitive, humble, and kindest man I've ever been around."

"Me and my brother are very, very close," Donato says. "It broke my heart -- here was an innocent young guy who was going to have to go prison. He was set up. There had to be a scapegoat, and my brother was the guy."

While he was out of jail on bond, Lindy and his cousin were married. At the same time their families, the Dalrymples and the Wallers, began a nasty feud over David's death. The main cause of the dispute: Patricia Waller's mother was cooperating with detectives against Lindy. She swore in a deposition that Donato, with Lindy sitting next to him, chased her in his car and tried to run her off the road. Donato doesn't remember the event but says things between the families got ugly.

Lindy was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, seven of which he served. Today Lindy and Patricia Dalrymple live in Sunrise. Lindy still doesn't admit to killing David, but he does allow that he was a terrible person back then and concedes he abused David. "I thank God for what happened with David," says Lindy, who has a clean record since leaving prison. "I wouldn't be the man I am today if it wouldn't have happened."

Lindford Dalrymple, Sr., died in 1984 of cancer, but family members, including Donato, say it was the stress of Lindy's trial that really killed him. Their sister Connie, meanwhile, became a drug addict and is now in prison after a 1997 arrest for prostitution, dealing cocaine within 1000 feet of a school, and fraud charges. Donato attributes his sister's problems to having too many children (five, with three different men).

"Like me, she was always looking for love in all the wrong places, but she wasn't fortunate enough to escape the children part of it like I was," Donato says.

Donato has been married four times, twice to the same woman, and he's looked for love in some pretty exotic places. He brought his first wife to the United States from Hungary in 1991, and during the next 30 months he married and divorced her twice. He found his second wife, Liliana Sanchez, in Colombia. Their two-year marriage was stormy and involved two police-documented fights. Dalrymple was listed as both a suspect and a victim in a domestic dispute in 1995, which was closed with no charges filed, according to Lauderhill police records. The following year he was clearly the victim: Sanchez split open the back of his head by hitting him with the point of a high-heeled shoe, according to police. "It was a relationship that wasn't normal," he says. "I was being pushed around. Then one day -- boom! -- I got whacked in the head with a shoe, and that was it."

Two years after divorcing Sanchez in 1997 he married Tanya Polosina, whom he brought over from the Ukraine. He initially told New Times he met Polosina during a European sojourn. But when confronted with his mother Jennie's statement it was a marriage born of "correspondence," Dalrymple conceded he met her on the Internet, where the 26-year-old beauty (Dalrymple is 40) was advertising for an American husband. Dalrymple says he didn't pay for his wife; he simply invited her to America. While Jennie Dalrymple says Tanya has worked tirelessly to keep Dalrymple's cleaning business afloat while her husband has been busy with Elian, Dalrymple says Tanya only helps out occasionally and isn't his employee.

Comparing his wife to Marisleysis Gonzalez, Elian's cousin, Donato has this to say: "There's no comparing Tanya to Marisleysis -- Tanya's a good ten notches above that. She's got dark hair, and she's got that European look.... There is no need to go elsewhere."

Today Dalyrymple works cleaning houses and trying to pay his bills. But his life has changed. A man who admits he's never voted, he says he will work on Cuban-exile issues for the rest of his life. He considers politics inherently dirty but hasn't ruled out running for office. Formerly a missionary, he says he's also planning on giving sermons at churches. He denounces both President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno as tyrants and calls Cuba a "little, open sewer."

Hundreds of people, he says, have come to him to call him "the last American hero."

"I've been standing up against communism. Standing up for America, the land of the free, the home of the brave," he says.

And if Elian is returned to Cuba, Dalrymple will get a visa and go to the communist country to visit the second boy in his life to make the news and the only one he says he ever really cared about.

"I should be a part of the boy's life, only as one of the saviors, if nothing else," Dalrymple says. "I fell in love with this little boy. Putting the politics aside, I put it in my heart that I was going to see him. He was a miracle child for me."

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman