Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Glamorous Life and Grisly Death of Ben Novack Jr.

An Accidental Fall—Or Murder?

During her years at the Fontainebleau, Bernice Novack was a frequent presence at the famed hotel. In a way, she was the frontwoman of the hotel, a sort of First Lady for the rich and famous. She was always immaculately dressed, and she remained a well-kept and beautiful woman well into her old age. In the full bloom of her youth she had been a fashion model for Salvador Dali.

Bernice Novack
Bernice Novack

She was 87 when, on April 6, 2009, she was found dead covered in blood with facial and head injuries. Originally, it was thought that these injuries had been the result of a series of falls. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that she had had a history of falls in the few months leading up to her death; and, though some of her injuries seemed curious along with the blood smeared along the walls in her home, her death didn't raise widespread suspicion until much later, after her son was killed.

Though her sister, Maxine Fiel, had urged the police to look more closely in the matter, the county coroner, Joshua Perper, who was widely respected and had handled the high-profile Anna Nicole Smith case, initially ruled it an accidental death. Because the case was originally not considered a likely homicide, police hadn't scoured the scene for DNA or done much evidence gathering. Rather, they got a break in the case, just a few days after the arrest and indictment for Ben Jr.'s murder.


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