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Hunt, Joe - "Billionaire Boys Club"

Joe Hunt: White Collar Psychopath

Joe Hunt

 

Anything for Money

By Katherine Ramsland

Five young men met in at the Villa Motel near Belmont, California, to carry out a desperate plan, which they referred to as "Project Sam." What started as an investment club had turned into a nightmare venture. Later a defense lawyer would say they were simply "immature," while others saw them as cold-blooded monsters.

According to the subsequent testimony of Dean Karny, under the guidance of Joe Hunt, Karny, Ben Dosti, and Jim Pittman were to kidnap Hedayat Eslaminia, a wealthy Iranian political exile, and force him to sign over his assets to his son, Reza. In fact, Reza was among the five. It's not clear whether Reza understood the entire plan - that once the transaction was done, the father would be killed - but he did want to take over his father's business, which he believed was worth about thirty million dollars. Reza would then invest in the club that had recently accepted him as a member and thereby get it out of the serious financial debt it had accumulated. Everyone was supposed to win...except Hedayat.

The club was the BBC Consolidated, Inc., set up in the early 1980s and known in jest as the Billionaire Boys Club. According to Randall Sullivan in The Price of Experience, it was partly an investing corporation and partly a private social club. But it wouldn't be much of anything at all in the days to come unless the members managed to get their hands on a massive amount of cash in a hurry. This plan had to work.

It was Reza who had suggested it, as those who were there later recalled, persuading club leader Joe Hunt that kidnapping his father wouldn't necessarily be traced to them. His father, who had been friends with the deposed Shah of Iran, had many enemies under the Ayatollah Khomeni's rule and Reza believed they could easily deflect the blame to some anonymous group.

It sounded good, and Joe Hunt was ready to take on anything in which he could expect to succeed and enrich himself. In fact, after they located a "safe house" in which to keep Reza's father, Joe expected to have to apply some torture and he dubbed himself "the torture master."He seemed to look forward to the role, at least, according to Dean Karny.

In her book,The Billionaire Boys Club, author Sue Horton describes the bungled kidnapping on the night of July 30, 1984. Her work later inspired a movie starring Judd Nelson as Joe Hunt, although some of the names were changed.

Make the Most of the Situation

Joe had brought club members Dean Karny and Ben Dosti, along with a former security guard, a powerful black man named Jim Pittman (aka Jim Graham). In the motel, Joe and Ben put on brown UPS uniforms while Dean wrapped brown paper around a blue steamer trunk large enough to fit a grown man inside. They placed it inside the camper truck that Joe had borrowed from his father, and drove to the home of Reza's father.

Joe had prepared chloroform to knock the man unconscious, and once their UPS uniforms got them inside, they used it on the unsuspecting man. The victim let out a few loud shrieks but within 10 minutes, they brought out the heavy trunk with Eslaminia whimpering inside. They soon transferred it to a U-Haul, and then drove in a convoy of three cars from the San Francisco area back to their base of operations in Los Angeles.

It was a hot night and the sounds coming from inside the trunk indicated that the captive was gasping for air. Using a screwdriver, Dean drilled a number of holes into the side of the trunk, but when Eslaminia yelled, he covered the holes again. He didn't want people in passing cars to hear.

Eventually they transferred the trunk back to the camper, and soon the man's gasping and shouting ceased. Dean opened the trunk to have a look and was hit by a blast of hot air and the stench of urine. He felt ill, so he turned away. When Joe insisted he check on their passenger's condition, he opened the trunk again. The man was drooling and his stomach was moving, so Dean closed the lid. When he checked again with a flashlight, Eslaminia appeared to be dead. He felt for pulse and found none.

"He's dead," Dean told Joe.

Joe seemed to take it in stride. Author Randall Sullivan indicates that Joe's sole concern was not to reveal this turn of events to Reza just yet. It hadn't been part of the plan, but Joe could figure out a way to make the most of the situation. He always did. That was his life philosophy. What he didn't realize is that by that time, some of the members of his club had already decided that they had had enough of Joe and the BBC. This had not been the first killing in which Joe had implicated them. They had already gone to the police.

A Psychopath

Joe Hunt, a.k.a. Joe Gamsky, was the second son of Kathy and Larry Gamsky. He was born on Halloween in 1959, and as he grew up, it was clear to his educators that he was academically gifted. Sullivan writes that one teacher said that he was not only the brightest student she had ever seen, but was mature and "preternaturally calm."Little did she know she was describing the essence of a psychopath.

The foremost expert on the condition known as psychopathy, Canadian researcher Dr. Robert Hare, says that psychopaths display certain obvious traits, notably a lack of attachment to others, impulsive decision-making, a lack of remorse, a tendency to rationalize what they do and to blame others, a charming and manipulative manner, and a lack of empathy. Joe Hunt would grow into all of these qualities, along with a verbal fluency that bordered on glibness. He was also arrogant and narcissistic, and he never failed to grab the opportunity to exploit others. Even without a formal diagnosis, descriptions of his words and behavior easily fit the prototype.

In fact, everyone noticed that young Joe was quite competitive, with a drive toward perfection. He had to create an impression on others and he had to win. Even worse, he cheated sometimes, and he lied. Or rather, he "rationalized" a sticky situation to make it look different to others than it really was. This strategy became his trademark, and when he set for himself the task of improving his vocabulary, he added another weapon: a wealth of words that mesmerized others. He became a talented and intimidating salesman.

The Club

Joe and his older brother were both admitted into a prestigious Los Angeles prep school, the Harvard Club, on a scholarship. Joe, 12, didn't fit in very well with the children of actors, moviemakers, and corporate businessmen. His principal liability was his family's lack of money, but at that point in his development, he was also socially awkward. He joined the forensic club, which gave him a modest social life, but when he falsified evidence during a debate, he was kicked off. He took it hard, but rebounded.

Joe's father, who insisted that his children call him Larry, viewed himself as Joe's teacher. He insisted, as Sue Horton put it, that his children become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. After Joe dropped out of the University of Southern California, Larry sent him to business school, where at the age of 19, he passed the examination for Certified Public Accountant. While he was the youngest person to have been successfully tutored for it by a specific firm, he bragged that he was the youngest person in the entire state of California to have passed the exam. (In the film based on Horton's book, he's presented as the youngest in the entire country.)

Joe managed to impress two other young men, Dean Karny and Ben Dosti, who had attended the Harvard School as well. He began to hang around with them and mentioned that he would like to start an investment club with members from well-to-do families who could make a good impression and help the club to succeed. He described some of his ideas for trading commodities at low risk, and the other boys were impressed. He also told them he wanted to create a corporation with a Utopian atmosphere based on the works of Ayn Rand, where each person would do what he was best qualified to do. However, he would need money to get started.

Then in 1980, Joe's father, divorced from Kathy, moved to Chicago. Joe went with him and learned his way around the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. He was a bold trader, impressing those around him, and he managed to do very well. He convinced Dean Karny's parents to invest money with him, and they gave him $150,000.

It was right around that time that Joe's father changed his name to Ryan Hunt, and Joe followed suite by accepting the new last name. The difference was that Larry changed his name through legal channels and Joe did not.

Then in short order, he lost 14 million dollars. His story was that he'd been squeezed out by people who were jealous of his success. In the movie, he named the Mafia and a Middle East conglomerate, but in Horton's book, he blamed a large brokerage house. When he returned to L.A. two years after he'd left, he had four dollars, but he assured those who had lost money with him that he had a surefire plan for making it back, and then some. For some reason, they believed him.

Sullivan sums it up: "You won power over a person through the knowledge of two things, Joe explained: One was what they wanted, the other was what they feared."

What the investors did not know was the Joe had actually taken their money but had failed to register it under the investors' names. He was investigated and then suspended from trading for 10 years.

However, that didn't stop Joe Hunt. He knew ways around the system, and he soon inspired Ben and Dean to help him gather people for a club, which he wanted to call the BBC, after the Bombay Bicycle Club in Chicago, where he used to play videogames.

It wasn't difficult for three young men, dressed well and with the gift of the gab, to interest other young men in their ideas. After all, image was everything, and they looked pretty good. Ben and Dean believed in Joe, and Joe knew how to talk a good talk. In short order, the club was up and rolling, fed by naive and gullible investors.

Sullivan quotes one man who had just met Joe as walking away with the feeling that there was hope for future generations after all.

Paradox Philosophy

Joe liked to persuade people that life was best lived and business best done according to what he called "paradox" philosophy. It was a combination of situation and utilitarian ethics: the ends justified the means, and one should do whatever had to be done to benefit oneself. From different perspectives, the same item or situation can have contradictory qualities: White is black and black is white. Everything depends on how you look at it. As long as there was a payoff, one could reconcile oneself to doing anything.Anything.

The core group of "boys," as they called themselves, prepared a presentation in 1983 to give to 30 prospective members, in which Joe outlined how the club would be formed. Sue Horton points out that he took his central tenets from science fiction: People would operate in "cells" comprised of a small number of members, and a "nexus" for communication. They would propose "shapes," or monetary projects, for approval by the whole club, and the shape would have an "output."

The club itself was to be run by specific levels of personnel, and the three founders were to be called "Shadings."A Shading someone who operated in a shaded realm between black and white was eligible for leadership because he was the one who best understood paradox philosophy and who was committed to protecting it by doing whatever needed to be done. Shadings would be judges in the Paradox Court, and they would resolve all internal disputes.

As Joe put together his company and brought in more members always young men from families of wealth or breeding he gave them a test, which was later described in court as the following:

"Would you murder someone, if you knew you could get away with it, for a million dollars?"

"No."

"Would you do it if it were a matter of saving your life?"

"No."

"Would you murder someone if you had to do it to save your mother?"

"Well...yes."

"Then you can't claim that you have a line you won't cross."

If there were no moral absolutes, as Joe contended, then it was just a matter of believing sufficiently in the situation to take the necessary action.

Joe was always angling for psychological leverage, no matter what the gain: one-upsmanship with a wine connoisseur, deceiving an investor about where his funds were going, or manipulating his partners to do whatever he asked.

In fact, they did not even get salaries. Most had allowances from their parents, so Joe would buy them things, pick up dinner tabs, and sometimes offer them rolls of cash from out of his pockets. He kept pretty strict control over them. He was the benevolent father.

"He mesmerized us," one of the members later admitted. Joe had a charismatic manner and an ability to tell convincing stories about his success, as well as to lay out clearly what had to be done to continue to have that success. The others all bought into his schemes and became emotionally dependent. Joe's method was to instill in them an all-encompassing desire for flashy cars, beautiful girls, and classy living so that they'd go along with anything he did, including murder.

Con vs. Con

While his ultimate dream was to house all his boys together in a huge condominium as a single social and business unit, Joe knew that would take a lot of money. He looked around for investments and decided to get the BBC into the energy arena, so he persuaded Gene Browning, a bio-scientist, to sell him rights to an attrition machine he called a Cyclotron. They would give him a salary, a house, and a car in return for the rights to develop and market the machine. Browning agreed.

Now they needed even more money, so they looked around for people interested in investing in the development of more prototypes of this machine, under the auspices of a company called Microgenesis.

To make a better impression, Joe rented an expensive office suite, told investors he was making money hand over fist, and built the BBC into a company that looked prosperous and busy. In reality, the boys didn't have a lot to do. Nor was Joe investing money. Instead, he was using whatever he brought in to pay the rent, throw lavish parties, and build up his fleet of cars.

He needed big money and he needed it fast. Enter, Ron Levin.

Levin had a reputation for running a lot of sideline businesses at once, but he was also a con man who'd served time in prison. Joe figured that he and Levin would have a meeting of the minds and that he, Joe, would emerge the winner. Levin agreed to meet him and hear him out, but failed to offer him any money. Joe kept badgering him, and eventually told him that he'd gotten a large investment from someone else. He even showed him the check. Levin just laughed at the other investor's gullibility.

However, he agreed to let Joe prove himself. He set up a credit line of five million dollars with a certain investment firm, and Joe could use that to show his mettle. While Joe initially lost four million, he got a few tips from another commodities broker and within seven weeks, he had driven Levin's five million up to fourteen million. Then Levin closed the account. Joe had been promised half the profit for the BBC, so they fully expected a check to be sent to them for over four million dollars.

They started the celebration early by leasing condos in a ritzy neighborhood overlooking Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Joe described his vision of them all living and working together in the same place, one big family. He was ebullient that night as he talked about the luxury cars they would buy to share.

However, even in the midst of all this revelry, one of the members, Dave May, began to have reservations. He didn't just buy into Joe's ideas, although his twin brother, Tom, obviously did. He decided to wait and watch.

Description: the may twins in high school yearbook

The May twins in high school yearbook

It wasn't long before Joe began to wonder why the check wasn't arriving. Levin avoided his calls, so he called the broker and learned that the entire operation had been on paper only. There never had been any money. It was all a game.

In fact, in the days to come, Joe discovered it was even worse than that: Levin had used him to con someone else. He'd taken the statements from Joe's paper trading to show to another investment firm as a way to get a sizable loan. The con had conned the con.

Then Levin said he'd used the money to buy a shopping center in Chicago, and he would give the BBC a share. They thought they were again on the rise, but soon discovered there was no shopping center.

Yet Joe wasn't about to just accept defeat. Now he was in deep financial trouble, as well as having a bruised ego. He had to face his boys and tell them the truth, but according to statements some of them later made, he added that one day he would kill Ron Levin.

The List

Dean introduced Joe to a security guard who called himself Jim Graham, although in reality his name was Jim Pittman. He was a muscled black man who claimed to have once played pro football and to have won weight-lifting contests. He had fled Delaware to escape felony charges. Yet because he knew things about guns and explosives, he was allowed into the inner sanctum. He became the BBC's head of security.

Around this time, one of the boys figured out that the group was spending around $70,000 a month, but he didn't see that same amount coming back as income. He realized that Joe was spending money entrusted to him by investors. Clearly, things were deteriorating.

Joe decided it was time to pressure Levin to pay them at least something. He decided that he would have to force Levin to sign over some assets and then kill him. He would leave a contract for Microgenesis in Levin's home so that it would be easy to explain why he had a signed check, and he created a paper trail by writing a series of letters back and forth about the deal. These, too, would be planted in Levin's house. Being the organized person that he was, one day Joe made a seven-page list of things that had to be done, that included some of the following:

Jim digs pit.
Joe arrives at 9:00. Lets Jim in.
Execution of agreements.
Close blinds
Tape mouth
Handcuff
Kill dog.

The plan was to take some dinners over to Ron as a friendly gesture so they could have a meeting. Then Jim would arrive with a gun and demand money that Joe supposedly owed him. Joe would tell Levin that Jim was a Mafia enforcer and that he will kill them both if Levin doesn't sign over a sizable check. Once they had the check, they would pack Levin's bags, since he was scheduled to go to New York the following day, and "send" him out of town. Then Jim would go to New York and use Levin's credit cards in the hotels to make it look as if he had actually gone there.

On Wednesday, June 6, 1984, Joe and Jim carried out this plan. They got Levin to sign over a check from a Swiss bank account for $1,500,000. Then they handcuffed him and took him into the bedroom, where they made him lie face down on the white comforter of his bed. One of the two men shot Levin it was never clear who and then they wrapped him in the comforter and hauled him outside to stuff into the trunk of a BMW.

It was Joe's idea to take him to Soledad Canyon, about an hour from Los Angeles. He often went hunting there, and he had noticed that it would be a great dumping ground: anything or anyone left there would never be found.

Dean Karny later testified that Joe had described what they had done at the canyon as an added touch: They shot Levin's corpse numerous times to make him unrecognizable. During this grisly session, Levin's brain had popped out of his skull and landed on his chestan image that Karny was never to forget. What made it worse was the way Joe told the tale, as if he though it had been kind of neat to watch.

Then Jim went off to New York, while Joe tried to cash the check. He'd left the contract and correspondence in Levin's house, so he felt perfectly safe, but what he'd forgotten in all the haste to get rid of the body was the "to do" list. That, too, was back at the house.

The Cover Up

Jim Graham got himself into trouble when Levin's credit cards proved to be over-extended. He tried to flee from the luxury hotel off Central Park where he'd been staying, but he was caught and arrested. Joe flew east to bail him out. Then he found out even worse news: Levin's check had been refused.

He knew it was time for another meeting. Referring to the Levin matter as "Mac," he talked things over with Dean Karny, who was stunned by what had taken place but who did nothing to encourage Joe to turn himself in.

They handpicked the members they felt they could trust and divulged to eight more people the facts about Levin's murder. Joe Hunt told them it was "the perfect crime."

At least, it was perfect within his narcissistic delusions. Little did he know what was forming around him among those who thought he was dangerous.

The boys to whom Joe confessed all seemed to go along with it, but some were secretly getting cold feet. Dave May, who was not at the meeting, nevertheless heard about what had taken place. He went to his father to admit how wrong he'd been about Joe Hunt and to ask for help. His father brought in an attorney.

The attorney pointed out the difficulties: There were no witnesses, no body, no proof, no missing-person report, and Hunt was known as a liar. They would have to get some hard evidence, possibly in the form of documents. The boys should just return to work as if nothing had happened, so as to avoid making Hunt suspicious.

To raise morale, Joe threw another expensive party and used $20,000 to purchase 10 matching motorcycles. The boys were impressed. Looking at those bikes, it was easy to forget that they had some real problems.

In the meantime, Ron Levin's father asked the police to check into his son's disappearance. They found a thick file on him for fraud, theft, and other scams. Because it was no surprise that a con man might turn up missing, they shrugged it off.

Then the BBC found another target.

 

 

The Next Scheme

Less than two weeks after Levin's murder, Reza Eslaminia got to know the boys. They invited him to a party, which impressed him and made him want to become part of the BBC. By some accounts, he talked up his father's wealth from the opium trade. It was but a short step from there to "Project Sam," the kidnapping scheme. Since Hedayat was about to leave for a European trip, the boys had to hurry. As they had done with Ron Levin, they could use the fact that he was already scheduled to be out of town as a way to throw suspicion for his disappearance onto someone else.

However, on July 30, when they grabbed the Iranian, they screwed up and he died. Joe, Dean, and Ben took the trunk to the safe house they'd rented, ate dinner next to it, and talked about what to do next. They removed the body from the trunk, wrapped it in a tarp, and then deposited the body in Soledad Canyon. Dean Karny recalled watching it tumble down the hill. He felt sick that he'd participated in this night's work.

Joe believed that the unexpected death could still work in their favor. They could forge Hedayat's signature and get into some of his accounts. However, it turned out that Reza had exaggerated his father's holdings. Most of the bank accounts they found were low on funds or empty.

Ben and Reza prepared to go to Switzerland with a forged document granting the assets to Reza. As they left, things were heating up for Joe at home. Tom had joined forces with his brother, Dave, and along with a few of the others, had grabbed some incriminating documents.

The investigators who were working with the boys still did not feel they had enough to make a case. Detective Les Zoeller decided to search Levin's home to see if they could find the document that Joe supposedly left there. Levin's father let them in. Eventually they did find the contract, but even more interesting was something that Levin's father handed over. He'd found seven pages from a yellow legal pad filled with odd handwriting a list of some kind-and he did not know what to make of it.

But Zoeller did. It was clearly a murder list. Now they had a piece of important evidence, if only they could link the handwriting to Hunt or one of his guys.

Zoeller left a message on Tom May's answering machine for him to call. A suspicious Joe Hunt, searching May's apartment for the missing documents, listened to it. He realized that he had traitors in the ranks. To him, that meant war.

Joe attempted to get Dave and Tom to meet him out at the warehouse where the Cyclotron machine had been built. He wanted to talk. Wary of him now, they refused. He kicked them out of the BBC and confiscated the pink slip to Tom's car. That wasn't sufficient to get Tom to cooperate. He'd rather lose the car than his life.

Back with the boys he still trusted, Joe made plans to commit more crimes including the murder of a girland to use them to frame the defectors. That way, they would be discredited as well as arrested. Then he detailed a plan to use a truck to run the May twins off the road. His enemies had to be eliminated.

The remaining BBC boys were beginning to wonder about Joe. He was sounding crazy.

Building A Case

Finally, Joe had to face investors. Some of them wanted to take their money out of their accounts. He called a general meeting and told more than 70 startled people that he did not have their money. Then he had the nerve to tell them that in many ways they were to blame for this financial fiasco. He had no legal obligation to pay anyone back, but if they would sign an agreement not to sue, he would sign statements to each of them that provided a repayment schedule. It was another scheme, but most of them were too afraid of this devastating loss to do anything but what he asked. They still believed they could recoup at least some of their investment.

Description: the to do list, trial evidence

The "To Do" list, trial evidence

Yet he never did have to pay, because on September 28, Joe was arrested. While Zoeller questioned him, he remained completely calm and in control. He was fingerprinted, and as he sat there, his prints were compared to those lifted from the "to do" list. They had a match.

Yet Zoeller gave nothing away. Joe insisted that he and Levin had been very good friends, and that Levin had bought him an expensive watch. He flashed it at Zoeller. Joe was just beginning to feel cocky, believing that the police had nothing on him when Zoeller showed him his missing listthe seven pages found in Levin's home. Joe missed a beat, but then asked for his attorney. He said the pages meant nothing to him, but Zoeller could see that he was sweating.

They let Joe go, which reaffirmed his feeling they really couldn't get him on anything, and he rallied his core group. He told Dean to prepare an alibi for him for the night of Levin's death, and rehearsed his girlfriend as well. Dean agreed, but grew increasingly more nervous. He was afraid he might be arrested, too.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, a hasty court order from the U.S. barred Reza from claiming any of his father's funds. He and Ben came back to the U.S., but Ben's mother told them not to come home. The police were looking for them. They acquired the birth certificates of dead children and tried to keep a low profile.

Karny finally confessed everything to his parents. They got him a lawyer who managed to work out a deal: immunity from prosecution for a full confession that implicated all the other players in two murders. Karny would also show them where Eslaminia's body was. Although all they could find were bones, it was sufficient to identify the remains as those of the missing Iranian.

Joe Hunt was arrested again, but got out on bail. He lived with his girlfriend's parents, and they helped him with many of his expenses. Since Joe claimed to be indigent, the court hired Arthur Barens to represent him. There were to be two separate trials, so with the help of assistant Richard Chier, Barens prepared his first case, the murder of Ron Levin. Basically, he would say, there was no body, there were no witnesses, and there was even a woman who claimed that she'd seen Ron Levin alive. That had to be sufficient for reasonable doubt. Or so he thought.

The deputy district attorney, Fred Wapner (son of the People's Court judge), knew he'd have a tough case, but he had a number of hefty weapons: the seven pages that were an obvious murder list, a witness who had been the number two man in the BBC and to whom Joe had confessed the murder, and evidence of Joe's lack of character through all his scams. Wapner's trump card was the fact that Joe had never tried to find Levin or get him to come forward to say he was still alive. If a man's life were dependent on the appearance of another man, wouldn't the first man go all out to find the other?Joe had done nothing.

The Trial

The jury selection began on November 13, 1986, thanks to numerous delays that Joe's attorneys used to try to buy more time.

There had even been a bizarre incident that appeared to involve Karny. A dead man named Richard Mayer had been found in a motel, with a credit card slip signed by Karny. It bore all the marks of one of Joe's schemes: he'd described something very similar to try to discredit another member, but nothing could be proven and it failed to work. Karny had an alibi.

Yet there was another man dead, and that murder was never solved (although Joe would work hard in years to come to prove Karny was the killer).

When the trial began, Barens promised the jury they would hear from Joe Hunt himself; he would explain everything. This added suspense to the proceedings, especially as the members watched Joe scribble notes to his attorneys throughout the trial. When Karny took the stand, Joe stared at him coldly and then looked away. Despite the attempt at intimidation, Dean Karny turned out to be an effective witness. Horton describes him as drained and haunted, and clearly distraught over his involvement with Joe Hunt, but he told his story with great articulation. The defense had a difficult time trying to discredit him, although it was hard for some to believe that bright rich boys could be so dazzled that they would go along with murder.

On the other hand, Joe acted in a cavalier manner, which won him no allies.

The primary issue was whether Levin was dead or alive. There was plenty of evidence to indicate that he had expected to continue doing business from his home and had paid many recent bills. His mother claimed that he always called her, no matter where he was, but since June 6, 1984, she'd not heard from him.

Yet he was also a con man facing charges, and there was reason to believe he might have taken the opportunity to disappear.

When the prosecution rested, they weren't sure whether the jury was siding with them. They awaited the moment when Joe Hunt would take the stand in his own defense. His girlfriend Brooke Roberts, well-bred and credible, had told a story that had turned around everything said by Dean Karny, so now there was some doubt. What would Hunt add toor take away fromhis situation?

To everyone's surprise, the defense rested without putting Hunt on the stand and without explaining why.

The jury retired to deliberate, and it did not take them long. After two and a half days, they reached a verdict on April 22, 1987.

At the age of 26, Joe Hunt listened as the jury forewomen said that they had found him guilty of first-degree murder. They had also found special circumstances, which in California made him eligible for the death penalty.

Joe looked back at Brooke and her family and shrugged. He showed no other emotion. After the trial, he made several statements. One was that the whole thing was a "tragedy."He said that Ron Levin was alive and would one day be found. The verdict was "one of those unfortunate circumstances of compound error."What he would do now was what he did best: "keep my chin up."

After the sentencing phase of the trial, Joe got life in prison without parole. He immediately set about learning all he could for his appeal. He went on {Sixty Minutes} with Ed Bradley and had a convoluted explanation for everything, including the seven-page list. None of it pointed to murder, he said, and he was confident that he would eventually be free.

Hunt's Fatal Legacy

Joe Hunt had tried to stop NBC from airing a miniseries based on his trial, citing the fact that, while he'd already been convicted in the murder of Ron Levin, that conviction was being appealed. Airing the movie also harmed his chances, as well as prejudicing a jury in the upcoming trial for the death of Hedayat Eslaminia. Nevertheless, the courts allowed NBC to go forward late in 1987, little realizing that this telling of the tale of Joe Hunt and his club would one day inspire yet another brutal double homicide. While Sullivan explains how NBC tried to pass the movie off as a series of fictional scenes that got at "essential truth," they did indicate that it was based on a true story and they used several actual names, including that of Joe Hunt. Several of the boys from the BBC were paid as technical advisors.

In July 1989 in Los Angeles,Erik and Lyle Menendez, 18 and 21, watched a re-airing of "The Billionaire Boys Club."Eric was excited by it, imagining what they would do if only they could get their hands on their parents' money. He seemed to have missed the point that Joe Hunt swindled his investors and did not make the kind of profits about which he openly bragged. The Menendez boys devised a plan to slaughter Jose and Kitty Menendez, based on Hunt's scheme to make it look like terrorists had abducted and killed Eslaminia. They figured their father probably had enemies from his dealings back east and they could always blame the Mafia. How could the police investigate that?

One evening, they came home with two 12-gauge shotguns. As Kitty and Jose dozed in the den of their Beverly Hills mansion, Lyle took the first shot straight at the back of his father's head. Erik was assigned to shoot his mother, but when she started to move away, Lyle shot her and hit her in the leg. She fell between the couch and coffee table, but she was still alive, so he went out to the car to reload. Erik, too, had shot his mother several times in the arm and breast, blowing pieces of her around the room, yet she continued to try to crawl away. Finally several shots to her head finished her off. When it was over, Jose had taken six bullets and Kitty ten.

The brothers then made a call to 911 to report that intruders had murdered their parents. To the police, they suggested the Mafia. Then they made a major miscalculation. They went on a spending spree, running up a tab of over one million dollars by the end of the year, which invited the attention of the investigators. Proof was found that they had purchased two shotguns just two nights before the murder, using fake IDs. Police eventually confiscated audiotapes of therapy sessions between Erik and his therapist in which he confessed to the killings. At trial, the therapist testified that the brothers had been inspired by the movie.

Their first set of trials resulted in hung juries over the question of whether or not they had been abused. Juror Hazel Thornton wrote in {Hung Jury} that much was made during the discussions of the inspiration of the Billionaire Boys Club. Their second trials, however, turned out quite differently. In 1995, the brothers were convicted of two counts each of first-degree murder, which got them both sentenced to life in prison.

Just like Joe Hunt, their feeling of entitlement and their arrogant narcissism gave them away. What they expected to gain from the murders was far different from what they got.

Final Complications

Reza and Ben were both caught, based on Reza's falsified identifications. They were tried in the kidnapping and murder of Reza's father, based primarily on the testimony of Dean Karny. Ben claimed that he hadn't been part of the actual venture, as Joe Hunt had said he wasn't needed. Reza said he'd known nothing about the plan at all.

Both were found guilty of the charges, except that Reza was not found guilty of knowing about his father's murder in advance. A note he'd made in his planner indicated that he certainly had known about the plan to kidnap.

Both young men were sentenced to life without parole, and they filed appeals immediately.

Jim Pittman (aka Graham) went through two trials for the murder of Ron Levin. Both resulted in hung juries, and by Horton's account, the prosecutor accepted a plea bargain of being an accessory after the fact to murder and carrying an illegal weapon.

A 1992 trial brought Joe Hunt back to the courtroom to answer for his part in the kidnapping death of Eslaminia. His numerous petitions to the court for delays and documents had cost the taxpayers an estimated two million dollars. Joe claimed that he had spent 9,000 hours preparing himself. He petitioned the court for a look at documents that the CIA had removed from the home of Eslaminia, because he felt sure there might be evidence of others who wanted the Iranian man dead, but the court upheld the CIA's right to nondisclosure of sensitive material. Nevertheless, Joe ably defended himself, throwing all the blame on the conniving Dean Karny, and charmed the jury. They deadlocked, so charges were eventually dropped, since Joe was already in prison for life for the murder of Levin, whose remains were never found. He vowed to keep going until he was free.

Charges in the Eslaminia case were also dismissed against Jim Pittman.

In 1998, the U. S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reduced the convictions of both Reza and Ben, who were cellmates in Folsom State Penitentiary. Based on an error during the trial, the case had to be reviewed. In August, Ben pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and kidnapping, and he was sentenced to time already served. So in 1998, after only a decade in prison, he was a free man.

Reza had appealed his conviction as well, and when Dean Karny's testimony was barred in 2000, due to his participation in the Federal Witness Protection Program, the prosecution felt it would not have sufficient evidence to go forward with the case. The case was thrown out.

Reza was elated. He insisted he was innocent and this just proved it. Nevertheless, the judge encouraged the attorney to appeal his decision, as he was not infallible. It seems unlikely that he will proceed. In August 2001, Reza sued Ben Dosti and 20 other individuals for the murder of his father. It remains to be seen how Ben will react, given what he may have over Reza.

Dean Karny was given a new identity. As stipulated in his agreement, the prosecutors helped him to pursue a legal career, and he passed the California Bar examination.

The other members of the BBC went on to repair their lives and some of them became quite successful. One even became a collector of BBC memorabilia. It's unlikely, however, that any of them ever will forget their encounter with a man who, by many accounts, might be a psychopathic genius. In any event, his unrelenting drive to keep attention to his case will involve them. He claims, according to Sullivan, to be a real life character "trapped in a work of fiction."He wants the world to see who the real Joe Hunt is.

 

http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/young/joe_hunt/1.html