Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder in Miami: Stan and Joyce Cohen

Waiting for a Call

Joyce, with her lawyer, Alan Ross
Joyce, with her lawyer, Alan Ross

Joyce Cohen hired Alan Ross, a marquee name among Florida defense attorneys. He immediately arranged for his client to take a lie detector test. The first was inconclusive. But a second indicated that she was not lying when she said she was not involved in her husband's murder.

Police shrugged off the results.

"We're not baffled," one deadpan police official told reporters.

Neither were Stanley Cohen's children from his first marriage, Gary Cohen, a lawyer, and Gerri Helfman, a TV reporter who would go on to become a widely recognized news anchor in South Florida.

Five days after the murder, they filed a $5 million wrongful death lawsuit against Joyce. The stepchildren also began legal maneuvers to block her from getting any part of Stanley's estate, which would prove to be worth just $2 million due to a heavy personal and business debt load.

Joyce responded with an $11 million slander suit against them.

But the investigation seemed to grind to a halt. Days, weeks and months passed without criminal charges being filed against Joyce or anyone else.

Every so often, impatient reporters would demand to know why police were unable to pin the crime on the prime suspect.

Detective Jon Spear
Detective Jon Spear

Jon Spear, the lead detective, firmly believed that Joyce was responsible. But neither he nor prosecutors wanted to risk losing the case to a jury by rushing forward with charges that were not provable.

They waited for the usual break: a silver-bullet phone call.

It finally came from Frank Zuccarello, a member of a busy home-invasion gang that worked mansions in the Sunshine State.

Frank Zuccarello
Frank Zuccarello

Zuccarello had been arrested for robbery just four days after the Cohen murder. He was facing a long prison stretch, and that was motivation enough for him to step forward.

He told police that Cohen had hired him and two others from his robbery gang, Thomas Joslin and Anthony Caracciolo, to kill her husband.

Anthony Caracciolo
Anthony Caracciolo

She provided the gun and a sketch of the house to guide the killers to Stanley's bed. On the night of the murder, she turned off the alarm system, locked up the pet Doberman and left a sliding door open to allow them access, Zuccarello said.

He added the killers were paid with $100,000 worth of cocaine.

For a month, authorities worked on Joslin and Caracciolo, trying to get them to implicate Cohen. They refused to talk and were eventually charged with murder in September 1988.

Dominic Dunne's Power, Priviledge and Justice

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