Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder in Miami: Stan and Joyce Cohen


In the movies, life is a three-act play.

The happy-ending narrative couldn't be simpler: You're up, you're down, and then you're up again. Think "Rocky" or "It's a Wonderful Life."

But Joyce Cohen was born down. Stan Cohen's wealth brought her up. Inevitably, the third act of her life would find her hellbound.

There could be no happy ending.

Their story was as old as infidelity itself.

First the couple's sex life went south. Then Joyce learned that Stanley had rekindled an affair with an old flame. They argued frequently, and each threatened to leave the other.

But Stan warned Joyce that she would leave the marriage the same way she entered itwith nothing.

Joyce could not fathom the idea of returning to her former life. After a decade of living in high style, she was mortified at the thought of having to worry about such financial minutiae as car payments, appliance purchases and clothing boutique tabs.

Joyce mused to a friend that she wished Stanley were dead. She made an oblique reference to finding a hit man to solve her problem. They both laughed, and the friend assumed she was kidding.

Maybe, maybe not.

Meanwhile, South Florida in the early '80s was in its "Miami Vice" phase. Reckless cocaine cowboys were turning the city into one of the country's murder capitals.

Nearly every adult with a spare Ben Franklin in his billfold was dabbling in the drug, and that certainly included the Cohens and their clique.

Stanley was said to be a regular tooterthree or four times a week. There even were whispers that he and his jet were involved in cocaine smuggling.

Joyce, for her part, went around with a permanent cocaine-powder mustache.

She tooted up with her friends in the Rocky Mountains, including Tanya Tucker, as the singer later would acknowledge to police. When she was in Miami, Joyce often tucked Stanley into bed early, then went out on late-night excursions to her club of choice, the Champagne Room, a disco where cocaine was as easy to find as a swizzle stick.

Her son Shawn, whom Cohen had adopted, developed a drug problem of his own and was packed away to a military-style boarding school in Colorado that specialized in instilling a sense of self-control in youngsters.

Joyce could have used a semester or two there. Clearly, she was careering out of control.

Dominic Dunne's Power, Priviledge and Justice