In January 1976, the doorbell rings at the Palm Beach home of a man and his wife who have just returned from a dinner party. He answers and is mortally wounded by a shotgun blast.
Rodger Kriger was a prominent citizen, and pressure grows on law enforcement to solve the crime. Police settle on a charismatic karate instructor named Mitt Hecher—well-known to police for beating people up for money and sport—and then begin to question his guilt.
But Assistant State Attorney John Scraponia despises Hecher and charges him with murder. A jury finds him guilty, and a judge sentences him to a minimum of 25 years in prison.
Did Hecher kill Kriger? Some people, including a few attorneys and private investigators, have their doubts. A number of scenarios cast suspicion on other possible perpetrators. Did the sons of a wealthy Cuban do it? Was a love triangle the basis for the shooting? Was a prominent politician behind it?
MURDER IN PALM BEACH is the saga of a battle between a man whose swagger has sent him spiraling to the bottom and powerful, sinister forces determined to keep him there. It is a story of redemption wrapped in a mystery tale reeking with power, sex, violence, and romance.
Legendary journalist Bob Brink has written for numerous publications over the past 35 years, including Herald-News in Joliet, Ill.; Associated Press in Chicago; Milwaukee Journal (now Journal-Sentinel); Tampa Tribune; Palm Beach Post; and Palm Beach Media Group, which publishes magazines on affluent living. He’s the ghost writer of a memoir titled A Tale of Two Continents: Jetting Across the Globe to Have a Baby, and he’s written a coming of age novel, Breaking Out. Bob recently sat down with Book Club Babble to discuss his current novel, MURDER IN PALM BEACH: The Homicide That Never Died.
Kate Newton: Thanks for meeting with us, Bob. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea to write MURDER IN PALM BEACH?
Bob Brink: In 2002, Palm Beach Illustrated was celebrating its 50th anniversary, and the editor needed stories. I recalled the sensational 1976 murder of a prominent citizen by a shotgun blast into the Palm Beach home of him and his large family. After perusing nearly 150 newspaper clips and interviewing a number of persons connected to the event, I spoke with a former colleague at the Palm Beach Post. He dropped a bombshell. He’d discovered who the real murderer was, and much more significant, the very important national politician behind it, though he didn’t give me the names.
KN: This doesn’t quite sound like the type of story that would appear in Palm Beach Illustrated.
BB: Right. Because the story conflicted with the magazine’s luxury lifestyle format, it never ran. A few years later, I inadvertently came across my former colleague’s chief source, who supplied the names as we began collaborating on a factual book. But he was afraid to disclose certain other names, and I had to abandon the project. Instead, I wrote a novel, closely hewing to the real event and the persons involved.
KN:This book, if the story is true, makes some pretty serious allegations about a high-ranking politician. Have you been concerned about the ramifications of such an accusation?
BB: Yes, it certainly does. I have felt mildly uneasy at times about the possibility of the perpetrator seeking vengeance, or simply wanting to hush me up in the unlikely event that my book would prompt a reinvestigation of the case. And then there is the possibility of being sued, though I doubt that anyone other than family members of the victim would want to shed light on the nefarious deed and its aftermath by pressing a lawsuit. The victim’s family members, as far as I can tell, are well thought of. And so are family members of the person allegedly behind the murder.
KN: Have any of the original players made contact with you?
BB: I’ve spoken or communicated via email a number of times with the man convicted of the murder, seeking information before the book was published and exchanging observations afterward, as well as alerting him to the deaths of a couple of the key persons. I’ve also spoken with two other principals in the case: the newspaper reporter who solved the mystery and another person whose name I promised not to reveal.
KN: That’s understandable. Aside from writing, what do you do in your spare time?
BB: What about Bob? I am a healthy specimen who runs sprints, does 110 pushups at a pop, and takes a ton of supplements daily to augment a disciplined diet, all of which energize me for the prolific writing I do. Besides attending to a horde of emails, many engendered by Twitter followers, I write a blog on three subjects: sociopolitics, alternative health care, and grammar. On New Year’s Eve, after hearing an outstanding vocal and instrumental ensemble perform at a Unity Church, I took my clarinet, which I’d played in a symphonic band for many years, out of retirement and worked out a few tunes while watching the New York Philharmonic on the tube.
KN: You do a lot to keep yourself busy! Do you have any plans for a sequel to MURDER IN PALM BEACH?
BB: I don’t foresee a sequel unless the case is reopened. However, I am working on another novel, about which I’m pretty excited. As with MURDER IN PALM BEACH, it deals with injustice while combining elements from two of my favorite movies, My Cousin Vinnie and Gran Torino.
KN: That sounds very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to meet with us, and we’ll keep an eye out for your next project.