Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Heidi Fleiss: The Million Dollar Madam


Wendy Tarr, victim
Wendy Tarr, victim

Eighteen-year-old Wendy Tarr moved from her hometown of Collinsville, Illinois, to Los Angeles, hoping to make it big as a model or actress. In 1989, Heidi befriended Wendy and the two spent a great deal of time together. That October, Wendy began a new job renting out apartments in a crime-infested neighborhood in central Los Angeles.

On October 2, a man entered the rental office where Wendy was working, allegedly looking to rent property. The man filled out a rental application and then left the office. According to Heidi's book, he returned to the office a short time later with a .38-caliber pistol and tried to rape Wendy. In the struggle, the man's gun went off, shooting her in the face at close range.

When Wendy's body was discovered she was immediately taken to County USC Medical Center. Surgeons worked for hours to try to save the young woman's life. However, Wendy remained in a comatose state and would never awaken.

James Edward Noel, mugshot
James Edward Noel, mugshot

At the hospital, Heidi loyally waited by Wendy's side for three days hoping her friend would pull through. On October 5, Wendy succumbed to her wounds. Heidi was determined to bring the killer to justice.

Heidi claimed that the police were aware of the killer's identity. The man, identified as James Edward Noel, 43, had been tied to many other rape cases before Wendy's death.

Taking matters into her own hands, Heidi wrote a letter to the popular television program America's Most Wanted. She appealed to them to air a segment about Wendy's case, hoping that it would prompt the police to arrest Noel. They accepted, and it aired on February 5, 1990.

John Walsh
John Walsh

Heidi's plan was a success. The day after the segment aired on television Noel turned himself in to authorities. He confessed to the first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole.    

Heidi and Wendy's family were relieved that Noel was locked away for good. Moreover, Wendy's parents were grateful that Heidi went to such lengths to rekindle the investigation. If not for Heidi's diligence, it is very likely that Noel would have committed more crimes. Unfortunately, her contribution to Wendy's case would be overshadowed by Heidi's illegal activities, which later caught national headlines.

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