19 days later, crime writer's death eludes ruling Was it suicide or murder of Chicago author?

December 27, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

CHICAGO -- For a crime writer who dispensed death to his characters with clinical street realism, Guy Izzi died against type.

His body was found on a cold Chicago morning, dangling from the window ledge of his 14th-floor office. A noose around his neck was lashed to a desk inside, and the wood-slab office door was locked -- immediate signs of suicide to Chicago police homicide detectives.

But the dead man wore a bullet-resistant vest, and his face and body bore bruises -- contrary, baffling hints of foul play.

"People don't kill themselves that way," said Barbara D'Amato, a Chicago crime author and one among many Izzi friends who suspect murder.

Nineteen days have passed without a ruling by police investigators on the death of Eugene "Guy" Izzi. But the official verdict -- expected to be suicide -- is unlikely to silence the speculation that pulsed through Chicago's burgeoning community of mystery writers, then leaped to the city's book-buying public and, over computers, to the nation's.

Suicide or murder, Izzi's death has dwarfed his own "oeuvre," a posthumous dose of the celebrity that had long eluded a writer who -- say some who knew him -- thirsted for fame more than anything else.

"He seemed to live, eat and breathe to be a popular, respected novelist," said Stuart Applebaum, an executive at Bantam Books, the company that sold Izzi's first novels about life and death in Chicago's poor neighborhoods, then took them out of print when they failed to sell.

Even with all his books out of print, he had plenty of reasons to live. His marriage, friends say, was flourishing after early rough passages. His two sons were approaching college age. And his writing career, at low ebb in recent years, was on the verge of reawakening. A 432-page novel on racial tension and vengeance in Chicago is due out in the spring -- the first in a three-book contract.

Izzi "was in fabulous spirits," said Avon Books editor Lou Aronica, when the two men discussed the book's galleys the week before the writer's death.

Police officials said they have no time frame for ruling on Izzi's death. But department sources said detectives have leaned toward suicide almost from the moment they were summoned to Izzi's rented office in a yellow-brick building in the Chicago Loop shortly before noon Dec. 7.

Izzi, 43, died of asphyxiation, sources said, a death that did not come with the neck-breaking violence consistent with being pushed from an office window. And coroner's examiners have concluded that the bruises on his face and hands came from natural scuffs that occurred after death.

Detectives have held off making an official finding while they check reports that Izzi had received threats from militant extremist groups he claimed to have infiltrated while researching a book.

When police pulled in Izzi's body, they found a pair of brass knuckles and a can of repellent spray. And one friend, a former Chicago police detective, forwarded information to investigators that the author had taped a death threat from an Indiana-based militia group.

"The militia lead is why they're still up in the air," said an official familiar with the investigation. New York lawyer Andrew Vachss, a crime writer who refers to Izzi as "my brother," said the dead man's family needs "to have some reason why there could be a suicide. No one has come forward with any evidence why this man would have killed himself."

"We all know combustible people," Applebaum said. "Does that mean they're either suicide-prone or likely to be knocked off? I don't know. Was Guy combustible? Sure. Was he emotional and intense? Sure. So are 90 percent of the people who write fiction for a living. But they don't die the way Guy did. That's what makes it such a sad mystery."

Pub Date: 12/27/96

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