"Jimmy laughed at him and said, 'She ain't dead. She's got 18 stitches in her head,' " Manley testified. When Liberto told Cohen to try again, Manley said, Cohen contacted him. Now that Marie had seen Cohen, he needed someone to help. He gave Manley a $2,500 cash advance. That was in May 1987. Manley said that he and Cohen drove down to Florida to kill Marie Luskin. To hear Manley tell it, the second attempt was even lamer than the first. Manley went to a mall and bought black pants, black shoes, a black shirt, a toy whistle and a toy silver badge with an eagle on it so he could pose as a security officer. Manley's uniform was nothing like the Emerald Hills security patrol's, but this didn't stop him. He slipped into the neighborhood alone one night and sat under a tree behind Marie's house with a handgun, drinking one quart bottle and six 12-ounce cans of beer, waiting for Marie to come home. She didn't. End of murder attempt. The two men returned to Baltimore the next day.
Manley said they were back two months later, in late July, for a third try. He said Cohen told him there would be a $25,000 bonus if they murdered Marie by July 30.
"I knew that the divorce was getting very imminent, and the woman had to be killed," Manley said. But once again, the hit attempt described by Manley was less than professional. Marie was to attend a dinner at Bennigan's restaurant near her house. Manley said they had been fed that information by her husband, through the Libertos. Manley and Cohen rode Amtrak to Fort Lauderdale, rented a Dodge Aries on Jimmy Liberto's borrowed credit card account, then went to the restaurant parking lot to wait for Marie. This time their firepower was more impressive -- an AR-15 rifle with a scope and a laser.
Marie arrived on schedule at 7 p.m., but she was surrounded by people from the moment she got out of her car until she entered the restaurant. Manley couldn't get a clear shot. When she left, he had the same problem. The two would-be assassins followed Marie's green Mercedes in their rental car as she left the parking lot, hoping to shoot her as she sat at the wheel of her car. But when they realized the Mercedes had dark tinted windows, Manley testified, he turned to Cohen, who was driving, and said, "That's it. We might as well go out and get drunk."
The next morning the pair departed by train, and were arrested on the drug and weapons charges 24 hours later in Baltimore.
MONEY CAN'T BUY YOU LOVE
When federal officials started looking at Paul Luskin after hearing Manley's story, the motive for murder that had been suggested by Marie -- a messy divorce -- took on a new dimension. This divorce was to messy what Freddy Krueger is to a neighborhood bully.
Marie and Paul met at the University of Miami in 1969 when both were undergraduates there. Paul had grown up in a prominent Baltimore family -- his uncle and his father had made millions selling discount electronics under the slogan "Jack and Joe will save you dough." But the brothers had a falling-out, and Joe started over in North Miami Beach in 1968. Paul, then 20 and a student at the University of Maryland, gladly transferred to Miami. He says of his attraction to Marie: "She was pretty, she was smart and she was independent. And she wasn't from Baltimore." Actually, she was from Wilmington, Del., but that was exotic enough for Paul.
When things got serious, Paul returned to Baltimore to talk to his high-school sweetheart, a pretty blonde named Susan Pruce. Should he marry Marie? Susan was not an objective observer. "At 14," she said, "I knew who I wanted to marry. He looked like a nerd, but I didn't think so at the time. He was neat, had a great sense of fun and made everything seem special." At 20, she still carried a torch for him. She had no problem giving him advice on the subject of Marie. "Don't marry her," she said. "If you have to ask me, you shouldn't do it."
He did anyway. They were married in Miami Beach in June 1971. Paul returned to Baltimore to finish law school at the University of Baltimore, then in 1975, moved back to South Florida, where he went to work in the family retail business. Within 10 years, he expanded the chain from two outlets to 13, making it a high-profile mainstay of South Florida's booming electronics market. Luskin's Hi-Fi peaked at a $37 million gross in 1985.
At first Paul and Marie lived modestly in a $50,000 house in North Miami Beach, with a Chevy in the driveway. Later they bought a $143,000 house not far away. But in 1983 Paul and Marie picked out a $600,000 showcase, the biggest house in Emerald Hills. It had nine bedrooms (for a family with two kids), an elevator, a walk-in safe concealed behind a bookcase, a grand staircase like the one on the TV show "Dallas" and a mirrored dressing room in the master suite. The back yard was on the Emerald Hills Country Club golf course.