Of Mad Men  and Madmen: the Murders of George and Ina Jo Beck

Posted: June 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

I don’t usually have the patience for non-documentary television,
but at the urging of a friend I attempted to binge watch Mad Men  over the Memorial Day holiday.
Unfortunately I’m in the wrong headspace to enjoy a show about the past—I couldn’t make it through more than a handful of episodes.
Perhaps I’ll give it another try when the political turmoil quiets down.

Luckily my dalliance with Mad Men  wasn’t a complete waste of time—the show’s swinging ’60s setting called to mind a crime which gets far too little attention:
the unsolved murders of Revlon vice-president George Washington Beck and his wife Ina Jo.
Known around the office as the “blonde Adonis,” George was a charismatic New York businessman in the Don Draper mold—and like the Mad Men  anti-hero George Beck had more than his share of secrets.

Cozy Cove Marina, date unknown

Cozy Cove Marina, Dania, Florida; February 4th, 1971. The swarthy stranger stared at the boat with a glower that caught marine mechanic Bobby Laborde’s eye.
The Bachaven—the name a contraction of “bachelor’s haven”—was a 57-foot twin-hulled craft worth $60K, approximately $385K in today’s currency.
After a few minutes the glaring stranger moved on, and Bobby Laborde gave the incident nary a second thought.
Until the next day, that is, when the bodies were found.

“We’ve never had any trouble here.” Cozy Cove owner Zell Skinner, Montgomery Advertiser, February 6th, 1971

Bachaven owner George Beck, age 51, and his wife Ina Jo, age 31, were newlyweds;
married a mere six weeks, the couple had spent every weekend of their brief union on the yacht,
usually flying down from New York in a private plane.
The morning after the stranger sighting marina carpenter Andy Bell boarded the Bachaven at 10am to install some previously ordered cabinetry;
unable to rouse anyone on deck Bell went below and found the stateroom unlocked. He swung open the door and beheld two nude figures on the bed.

“We get some weird people down here and my first thought was that they were sleeping it off after some wild party. Then I noticed the gash on the woman’s throat and ran to get help.” Carpenter Andy Bell, Los Angeles Times, February 7th, 1971

It was six weeks, but who’s counting?

The stateroom was awash in blood. George’s torso was on the bed but his legs dangled to the floor;
Ina Jo—Jo Jo to her friends—was curled face-up in a fetal position beside her husband.
George had received four crushing blows to the head and a total of seven stab wounds—five to the chest, one to the stomach and one to the back.
Ina Jo’s throat had been cut and she received four blows to the head and six stab wounds to the chest;
the killer had wielded the knife so forcefully it passed through her body pinning blood and bits of her flesh deep within the mattress.
Although the couple’s wounds were grisly they had not been fatal;
George and Ina Jo were still alive when the assailant finished the job by smothering them with separate pillows.

“This was done by an animal, an incredibly powerful and angry animal, possibly an insane animal.” Bob Danner, Chief of Detectives at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Myers News-Press, January 6th, 1980

Nothing of value had been stolen; Ina Jo’s two carat diamond wedding ring and three carat engagement ring were on a nightstand, and her $5K mink coat ($30K today) hung in a closet.
George’s wallet, with $65 and credit cards intact, was present at the scene and he still wore his gold wedding band.
The only item missing from the stateroom was a small curtain snatched off a porthole—detectives will later speculate it was used to clean the murder weapons, which have never been found.
Ina Jo had not been raped—despite the couple’s nudity there were no overt indications of sexual assault whatsoever.

“I don’t see there’s any possibility of a burglary gone wrong. They [the killer or killers] were aboard the boat too long and they took the time to wipe up bloodstains and possibly to clean blood off themselves as well.” Dania Police Chief Ed Baxter, Fort Lauderdale News, February 7th, 1971

Broward County medical examiner Dr. Jack Mickley performed the Becks’ autopsies.
Noting the killer had employed a blitzkrieg-style attack, he told a writer from the Tallahassee Democrat  the couple had been “pole-axed like an ox in a slaughterhouse.”
Dr. Mickley deduced the blunt object used in the crime had been a sharp-edged metal instrument similar to a tire iron,
lug wrench or hatchet.
The doctor estimated George and Ina Jo’s times of death as four or five hours before the discovery of their bodies, placing the attack sometime between 4 and 6am.
The couple had last been seen at approximately 9pm the previous evening when Ina Jo’s aunt and uncle disembarked from the Bachaven after a short visit.

“I have no doubt they [the Becks] were attacked while they slept. It was a butcher shop murder—they were hit on the head and stabbed—and when they didn’t die quick enough they were suffocated with pillows over their faces.” Dr. Jack Mickley, Broward County Medical Examiner, Fort Lauderdale News, February 7th, 1971

With rape and theft eliminated as motives detectives began to investigate the couple’s backgrounds.
A native New Yorker and decorated Navy flyer,
George Beck had been with the Revlon Corporation for fifteen years.
Originally hired as the company pilot,
his charm vaulted him effortlessly up the corporate ladder—many sources describe him as “like a son” to company founder Charles Revson.
Making the princely sum of $50K per year ($325K today),
George’s life looked enviable from a distance but the façade masked a morass of marital and monetary issues—the Fort Myers News-Press  will later call his finances “tangled as the strings of a drunken puppeteer.”
Adding to his financial woes, George Beck was the marrying kind—Ina Jo was his fifth wife.

“George was a swinger among swingers. He was married five times. Indeed, he was married to his second and third wives contemporaneously. One lived in Long Island, the other in town, and neither knew about the other for nearly eight years. (There may even have been another wife at this time also—no one knows for sure.) Beck divorced his third wife and then his second, in that order, to marry his fourth, who thought she was only his second.” Andrew Tobias, Fire and Ice: The Story of Charles Revson— the Man Who Built the Revlon Empire, 1976

George had several children—three or five, depending on the source.
Not unsurprisingly, his alimony payments were staggering; 20K per year ($128K today), nearly half his income.
George lived in a deluxe co-op at 303 East 57th Street and drove a late-model blue Jaguar but he owned neither;
in fact, he owned virtually nothing.
His private plane belonged to Revlon and his equity in the Bachaven,
which he purchased in conjunction with a New York business associate, was less than $500.

“[Ina Jo] was one of the sweetest girls I have ever known. She was the type of person who would do anything for you. I just can’t believe anyone would do anything like this to Ina Jo and her husband.” Johnson family spokesperson, Cullman Times Democrat,
February 7th, 1971

Ina Jo Johnson came from the most humble origins imaginable.
A sharecropper’s daughter,
she toiled in the Alabama cotton fields and plucked chickens in a poultry factory before parlaying her statuesque good-looks into a modeling career.
She had so impressed Revlon executives during an ad campaign she’d been hired as the brand’s national representative,
headquartered at their production facility in Alabama.
Ina Jo and George met at a company event in Birmingham,
where they were later wed;
one local newspaper described their Christmas Eve nuptials as the “most exciting wedding” in the city’s recent social annals.

“Nine years ago Christmas Eve a Cinderella from Alabama’s cotton fields married the Prince Charming of America’s lipstick industry. The storybook romance was destined to last exactly forty days and four hours.” From a nine-year retrospective on the murders, Fort Meyers News-Press, January 6th, 1980

Although not as matrimonially ambitious as George, Ina Jo did have one previous husband—a man named Cleo Umphrey, who currently resided in Alabama.
Erroneously informed her divorce had been granted only weeks before her marriage to George Beck,
detectives raced north to question Umphrey;
subsequent investigation, however, dampened their enthusiasm.
Ina Jo’s stint as Mrs. Umphrey had been brief, detectives learned,
and her divorce had actually been finalized five years prior—rumors of a recent divorce were in error.
When Umphrey provided an alibi placing him in another state at the time of the crime he was eliminated as a person of interest, and detectives cast their attention elsewhere.

With Cleo Umphrey’s elimination as a suspect the investigation faltered. Though law enforcement received several leads all eventually fizzled:

• A month after the murders the Dania Police Department received a letter postmarked Pasadena, California: “I know who made the hit on Georgie Beck; for a price I’ll let you in on the secret.” The note was signed “Ralph Leffler,” but detectives could find no one in Pasadena by that name and the writer never again contacted authorities.
• A few months after the murders investigators received a tip Ina Jo had once been seen arguing with a bellboy at a local hotel; by the time detectives learned of the incident the bellboy had quit, however, and authorities were never able to locate him.
• Despite extensive publicity the swarthy stranger spotted the night before the murders by marine mechanic Bobby Laborde has never been identified; his connection to the crime, if any, remains unknown.

“What made this case so difficult was we never got a single break, not one.” Dania Police Sergeant Ted Grandis, Fort Lauderdale News, December 8th, 1975

Fear not—despite the lack of progress the investigation into the Beck murders had not run permanently aground.
Six months after the slayings a clairvoyant named George Hardy contacted Dania Police Chief Ed Baxter
with a vision to share.
According to Hardy, the killer—a man with a square face and huge, hunched shoulders—felt sexually rebuffed by Mrs. Beck during an earlier, random encounter.
Per Hardy’s vision, detectives should search for an older woman on a nearby boat who witnessed the crime;
the murder weapons, he claimed, would be found buried in the slayer’s back yard.
The Becks’ permanent residence may have been in New York but the investigation into their murders had just gone full Florida.

“I told the Chief the killer lived off Griffin Road. I said the guy would drive a bright yellow car. He also had a blue van. I knew he would be limping on his left leg and live in a house that was all dark. The Chief looked surprised and said, ‘I know who you are talking about.’” George Hardy, Broward Sun-Sentinel, February 10th, 1986

And the kooky image wins.

Although Chief Baxter will later dispute this version of events,
Hardy claimed the Chief then revealed the name of the local resident fitting the (alleged) killer’s description: a man named Charles B. Stackhouse, who resided three miles from Cozy Cove.
After a few days passed without an arrest Hardy decided the Dania Police Department was dragging its heels;
to get things rolling he contacted the Fort Lauderdale News  and divulged the details of his meeting with Chief Baxter and the (alleged) killer’s identity.
The newspaper, in turn, dispatched a reporter to Stackhouse’s home to inform him he’d been implicated in a gruesome double murder.
The visit went about as well as one would expect.

“Oh my dear god, if my mother hears about this it will kill her.” Charles B. Stackhouse, Fort Lauderdale News, September 22nd, 1971

Stackhouse, age 55, was a building inspector in the nearby town of Hollywood;
he had no known connection to the Becks and no criminal record.
Upon learning of Hardy’s allegations Stackhouse immediately scheduled an interview with the Dania Police:
the Becks’ killer had left behind physical evidence—a hair retrieved from one of Ina Jo’s stab wounds and three bloody fingerprints on stateroom furniture.
Neither the hair nor the prints matched Stackhouse and he was soon cleared of suspicion.
The damage, however, had been done.

As it turns out, being accused of murder wasn’t the only millstone around Stackhouse’s neck at the time.
The building department where he worked was under investigation,
and apparently the stress became too much to bear—shortly after being cleared by Chief Baxter he ran an exhaust hose into his car window and expired in a cloud of carbon monoxide.
Although the full text has never been released, his suicide note reportedly mentioned the building inspectors’ investigation and “pressure from city hall.”
After Stackhouse’s demise Captain Carl Carruthers of the Broward County Sheriff`s Office told the Fort Lauderdale News  he personally “dug up every inch of that guy’s lawn.”
He found nothing.

[Unsolved Mysteries  fans may be reminded of the Sherry Eyerly case, wherein an innocent man is driven to suicide after a psychic publically accuses him of murder; years later the actual slayer—serial killer William Scott Smith-—finally confessed to the crime.]

Short answer: no.

Four years after the Beck murders Dania Police Chief Ed Baxter was replaced by Chief Fred Willis.
Harshly critical of the original investigation, Chief Willis immediately reopened the Beck case.
His low opinion of the initial investigation was shared by employees of the Broward County Sherriff’s Office, who had assisted with evidence collection at the crime scene.
“When we got there it looked like a herd of elephants had come through,” Detective Bob Danner told a reporter from the Fort Meyers News-Press. “They [Dania PD] tromped all over the place.”
Despite Chief Willis’ best intentions no new leads were forthcoming and the Beck murders remained cold.
The current status of the investigation and forensic evidence in the case is unknown.

“We still check things periodically but nothing has been fruitful. We really have nowhere to go.” Captain Elihu Phares of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, Fort Lauderdale News, December 7th, 1975

Oddly, the piece of evidence in the Beck case I find most fascinating received almost no press coverage;
the item is mentioned in only two newspaper articles,
once in the Anniston Star  in 1971 and once in the Fort Lauderdale News  in 1982—a stethoscope was left behind by the killer.
In my opinion, an assailant who comes equipped with his own stethoscope is one who wants to be certain his victims are dead—no one brings a stethoscope to a crime of rage, even in Florida.

“In fact, the more I look at this the more I’m convinced that it looks like a contract job.” Dania Police Chief Ed Baxter before veering wildly off course, Fort Lauderdale News, February 9th 1971

I’m aware jurisdictional issues may have come into play, but the Dania Police Department’s failure to thoroughly investigate George Beck’s business and social circles in NYC is baffling.
Random crimes by maniacs certainly have a higher statistical probability in Florida,
but even in the Sunshine State homicide victims are overwhelmingly killed by someone they know.
And I can’t help but suspect George Beck’s financial and matrimonial misadventures garnered some enemies,
his famous charm notwithstanding.

The world may have changed since the testosterone-heavy era of Mad Men, but some things will always remain the same. Only marry one spouse at a time.
Stay the hell out of Florida.
And regardless of whether you’re in a sharecropper’s shack or a fancy yacht, always lock your doors.

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