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Infamous Fort Lauderdale hitman dies in federal prison

February 15, 2013
By Larry Barszewski, Sun Sentinel

Bernard "Barry the Bear" Hunwick, an infamous 1980s hitman and one notoriously bad dude on the rough beach bar scene in Fort Lauderdale during the 1970s, has died in North Carolina while serving a life sentence. He was 67.

Mr. Hunwick died Jan. 2 at the Butner Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. He had been at the medical facility for federal prisoners since October 2009, officials said. No cause of death was released.

Mr. Hunwick received two life sentences in 1999 after being convicted in federal court in a murder-for-hire sting, then pleading no contest in state court to a 1982 murder.

Mr. Hunwick's tough-guy reputation at beach hangouts was sealed in 1982 when police fingered him as the leader of a six-man hit squad responsible for as many as 300 murders across the country.

Prosecutors were able to pin only one death – 17 years later – on Mr. Hunwick, when he pleaded no contest to the murder of convicted cocaine smuggler and bail bondsman Richard Diego Messina. Messina's throat-slashed body was found stuffed in the trunk of a stolen car in Wilton Manors.

In the federal sting using an accomplice-turned-informant, Mr. Hunwick was nabbed as he planned to murder an undercover FBI agent who posed as a drug dealer from Pittsburgh.

"He was one of those guys that was a stone-cold killer," said Pete Magrino, formerly a Broward assistant state attorney who prosecuted the Messina case.

Tim Schiavone, owner of the World Famous Parrot, worked with Mr. Hunwick in the 1970s at the then Parrot Lounge. He described the good-looking 6-foot-2, 220-pound bouncer and bartender as "a folklore legend in the bad-ass community," unbeatable at arm-wrestling or in a fight.

Schiavone said he saw Mr. Hunwick methodically beat up guys to within an inch of their lives, then go about what he was doing as if nothing had happened.

"I've seen a lot of tough guys, I've never seen anybody as tough or mean as Barry Hunwick," Schiavone said. "He was good to me, but I was always a little bit scared of him, because I knew what he was capable of doing."

Police arrested Mr. Hunwick in 1982 when Allen Chafin survived a hit and pointed out Mr. Hunwick as one of two men who tried to kill him, shooting him and leaving him for dead near a canal along State Road 84. The arrest created an international stir when investigators said Hunwick had possibly committed more than 100 murders.

But Mr. Hunwick was acquitted. Several Broward Sheriff Office deputies were later demoted for lying at trial when they said they had obtained a search warrant before finding silencers, brass knuckles and an explosive device linked to Mr. Hunwick inside a locker.

More than 15 years later, the other hitman identified by Chafin, Reid Robert Hawley, became an informant for local and federal authorities in the murder-for-hire sting. Mr. Hunwick was arrested with a rare .22-caliber pistol with silencer designed to shoot underwater.

The evidence collected in the process turned up much more, including Mr. Hunwick implicating himself in the Messina murder.

Tapes showed Mr. Hunwick wearing his wife's colorful oven mitts to keep his fingerprints off a gun he was carrying as he walked around the house.

On tape, Mr. Hunwick bragged about having a man who owed money for drugs put broken pieces of glass in his mouth before Mr. Hunwick started punching him in the face.

"He's the type of guy they make movies about, that stare down the barrel of a gun and don't break a sweat," Schiavone said.

Mr. Hunwick had spent other time in prison, including for carrying a weapon while being a convicted felon and for possession of cocaine.

During the 1980s, Mr. Hunwick developed a flamboyant reputation, wearing lots of bling, driving around in a Jaguar and marrying a former Playboy bunny.

Despite his reputation, his last wife before entering prison said that wasn't the Barry Hunwick she knew. Lori Wheaton was married to him for about five years, divorcing him shortly after his 1999 convictions.

"I never saw the other side," said Wheaton, who worked for one of Mr. Hunwick's former attorneys. She would talk to him on the phone while he was in prison on earlier charges and read the mystery novel manuscripts he wrote from prison and sent to the attorney.

"He was always very nice, very kind, very talented," Wheaton recalled.

What would he tell her about his reputation?

"He would just kind of laugh it off," she said.


Drugs and the mob on Las Olas!

Which Las Olas business was owned by a hitman? Or rather, owned by his wife. By the way that was a serious question – I haven’t been able to figure out the answer and hope that you might.

Handsome Hunwick

It seems that the chap’s name was Bernard Hunwick. In June 1982, it was reported that he had been arrested. He was allegedly working with another [unnamed] man who was part of the mob in Chicago. It seems that the pair aimed to hit organized crime figures here in Fort Lauderdale. One man had already been hit – he’d been found in the trunk of his car just a month before the report. Mind you, some officers estimated that Hunwick had been responsible for over three hundred gangland killings.

When Hunwick was arrested, they took from his home a hit list, seven guns, handcuffs, three bombs and $12,000 in cash.

But the part of the report that really got my attention was that Hunwick worked in his wife’s business. Patti Hunwick was a former Playboy bunny and had a business on Las Olas Boulevard. Any ideas????

Patti Becker Hunwick’s business was apparently a fashion boutique. She was twenty six

The glamorous Mrs Hunwick

and had two children. Some months later, she was arrested herself and charged with the possession seventeen bales of marijuana, conspiracy to commit a felony and possession of a firearm. She was arrested along with two Fort Lauderdale men after a 27 mile sea chase involving cop boats and helicopters.

Bernard had been cleared of all charges during the hitman trial (hmm …) but by the time his wife was arrested he was in custody awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of possessing a firearm…

When Bernard Hunwick had been arrested, an officer had noted that they lived in a luxury waterfront home with a $7,000 boat moored outside. (Remember that’s thirty years ago). He owned four Rolex watches each worth $5,000. He had several expensive cars. He and his wife were thirty seven and twenty six respectively so can’t have owned the Las Olas business for very long. But yet it seems that they were very wealthy.

The young, glamorous, ‘innocent’ couple maintained that their wealth came from the boutique. They made SO much money selling frocks on Las Olas? I think today’s business owners would definitely have something to say about that!

Do you remember the story of Bernard Hunwick? Here’s an update. You’ll remember that in the 1980s he was accused of several murders but never convicted. But by 1997, Fort Lauderdale police started to re-investigate and of course, Hunwick was a major suspect.

If you recall, a the body of a Wilton Manors bondsman had been found in the trunk of a car and a palm print had been found on the vehicle. Police now offered the man whose print it was – an associate of Hunwick’s named Robert Hawley – a choice. They could either prosecute him for the murder or he could cooperate. Well, it was no contest really, was it?

Police wired Hawley up and the two met in May 1998 at H20, the restaurant on the beach. Without any prompting, Hunwick began to talk of the ‘good old days’. This provided wonderful tape recordings for the police to use against him, of course. He also spoke about a major cocaine deal he was planning. Hawley set him up. He told him that he was dealing with a cocaine baron who needed bumping off. Hunwick agreed that he was the man for the job. When Hunwick went to perform the deed, he walked right into the trap and was met by an undercover FBI agent…

He had bought the gun he intended to use from the owner of the old Yellow Strawberry salon on Las Olas – Jesse Briggs. Evidently he was Hunwick’s hairdresser. Briggs was found guilty of ‘conspiracy to transmit a firearm to a felon.’

Before he was hauled off to jail, Bernard Hunwick blew a kiss at his wife Lori. Yes, not Patti Lynn, his wife in the previous story – they had been divorced. Patti was the owner of a boutique on Las Olas Boulevard during their marriage.

I so wonder which one! In 1980 a local corporation – which is no longer active – was set up called Patti Bernard. The only officer on record was Patti Lynn Hunwick.

Where on Las Olas was her boutique? Someone must know…