TC "The Price of Experience, Power, Money, Image and Murder in Los Angeles," by Randall Sullivan. Atlantic Monthly Press 705 pages. $27.50 Even the most avid true crime connoisseur is bound to be overwhelmed by the size, complexity and quality of this exhaustive account about the Billionaire Boys Club, the life, times and crimes of Joe Hunt and his elite cohorts.
Books in the genre often profess to be describing the "crime of the century" or to be the best since "In Cold Blood." This book does indeed cover in grand style as good a case as is likely to have arisen this close to the year 2000, starring one of the most brilliantly twisted psychopaths ever to be exposed to a criminal courtroom. The Billionaire Boys could only have come out of California in a line followed by such as the Menendez brothers and O.J. A mesmeric leader dispatching his followers to the corporate board room instead of the desert, Hunt is aptly described as "the Manson of the eighties."
Joe Hunt (nee Gamsky) graduated in the late 1970s from Los Angeles' exclusive Harvard School. Others to become the nucleus of the BBC included Dean Karny, Ben Dosti, Evan Dicker and the May twins, Tom and Dave, whose rich, greedy and gullible contacts fueled Hunt's depredations into the arena of high finance.
Schemes and scams abounded. Millions won, more millions lost. Desperate to finance lavish living and a huge deficit, Hunt selected the first murder victim: Ron Levin, a conman. Jim Pittman, an atypical BBC member recruited for hit man capacity, did the shooting, while Hunt extracted a $1,500,000 check. Levin's check bounced. Hunt then met Reza Eslaminia, whose father, Hedayat, purportedly fled to the United States sheltering $30 million from or for the Ayatola. Hunt, with friends and Reza's cooperation kidnapped Hedayat who, without giving up a sou, suffocated in the box transporting him.
The ship sinking, Karny went to the police. Just to compromise Karny's credibility, Hunt staged the murder of a derelict, planting clues to implicate Karny as the killer.
Karny's testimony held up on the Levin murder. Hunt is convicted and sentenced to life. Though, Hunt is acquitted of killing the senior Eslaminia.
The story may need more chapters. Hunt has won a hearing that could well result in a new trial of the Levin case. Admitted co-conspirators Karny and Dicker have been admitted to the California bar! Pittman is on the street. Only Reza Eslaminia and Dosti sit quietly behind bars.
Sullivan is a facile raconteur who cannot resist using all good material no matter how remotely connected to the subject at hand. Yet, with all the minutiae of descriptive words, there are, alas, no pictures. To be sure, this book is not a read for those titillated by photos in the National Enquirer or satisfied with paperbacks published while the jury is out; but judicious pruning and discreet photography could perfect a work which is well worth the price of experience.
Elsbeth L. Bothe recently retired from 18 years on the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, where she presided over numerous murder trials. The Baltimore homicide detectives awarded her a plaque designating her a "Homicide Hero." Before rising to the bench, Judge Bothe defended many murderers.