And now we're going to take him at his word?

June 06, 2000|By Michael Olesker

Leonard Jenoff says he is telling the truth this time, but who knows? Years ago, he said he was telling the truth when he denied some dirty work he did for the Baltimore police intelligence unit. It turned out he was lying - just as he lied about his CIA connections, and his service in Vietnam, and his friendship with Ronald Reagan. This time around, in a Camden, N.J., courtroom, he swears to God he's telling the truth. But only God and Jenoff's rabbi know if he's lying. This time, Jenoff says he killed the rabbi's wife.

The story has been all over the newspaper front pages in Jersey and nearby Philadelphia - including Jenoff's courtroom admission last week that he killed Carol Neulander nearly six years ago because her husband, Rabbi Fred J. Neulander, asked Jenoff to do it because - according to Jenoff - the rabbi called his wife "an enemy of Israel" and said that killing her could be forgiven because it was for a good cause.

Also, for whatever it's worth, Jenoff says Neulander offered him $30,000 for the hit, and said he would try to get him a job with the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency - and neglected to mention to Jenoff that a deceased wife would allow the rabbi to avoid a messy divorce and let him pursue a romance with a Philadelphia radio host named Elaine Soncini.

Poor Carol Neulander. She was 52, the mother of three and the owner of two popular bakeries, until bludgeoned to death one night with a lead pipe and left in a pool of blood in her living room.

And poor, deluded Jenoff, 54, who always had trouble with a rich fantasy life, dating back to his days doing undercover work for the Baltimore police department's intelligence unit. Back then, in the mid-1970s, The Sun's Joe Nawrozki and I were reporters at the News American. We wrote several articles about Jenoff's spying, and some questionable practices, which resulted in two things: He sued the newspaper. And, the stories led us to write a long series of articles about unethical practices by the department's intelligence unit, the Inspectional Services Division.

Thus, several weeks ago, I got two telephone calls: one from Marty Devlin, a homicide detective with the Camden County police, and the other from Nancy Phillips of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Devlin was the investigator in the murder of Carol Neulander. Phillips was the reporter who'd worked the story for several years. Each wanted to know what I remembered about Jenoff. I said he was a James Bond wannabe with a rich fantasy life.

Last month, Jenoff finally broke down and admitted the truth to Devlin - that he and another fellow, Paul Michael Daniels, had killed the rabbi's wife. Phillips took Jenoff to the authorities. Jenoff said he needed to confess because his conscience had finally gotten the best of him.

Last week, in court, Jenoff was asked, "Did you ever work for the CIA?"

"No, sir," he replied.

"But you told people that lie many times, didn't you?"


"Why would you tell people something like that?"

"I never had a life," Jenoff said. "And I created this whole, like, new life. Like a new identity for myself."

"A fantasy identity?"

"A fantasy identity. And I was pretty good at that. I knew the right buzz words."

"Did you do any real investigative work where you were paid for it?" Jenoff was asked.

"I had been a paid informant previous to that."

"By who?"

"The Baltimore city police."

"And you got money for this?"


Twenty years later, it is worth relating this dialogue because it is the precise opposite of what Jenoff testified 20 years ago, when he sued the News American, claiming that he hadn't worked for the police, and won a judgment of about $30,000.

Who knows when to believe Jenoff? For years, he dropped hints to reporter Nancy Phillips that he knew something about the Neulander murder case.

"I ask God every night to forgive me," he told Phillips. But he wouldn't quite tell her what he meant. Then, when he told her the truth - or, that moment's version of the truth - he told Phillips, "I never would have done it if I knew it was his wife. You have to believe me. I loved this man. I was a poor Jew with no one to love me ... I was trying to get a job with the Mossad. I was trying to prove myself to him so he would help me with the Israelis to get a job working for Israel."

But even that story has changed. First, Jenoff said his friend Daniel did the killing while Jenoff merely arranged it. First, he said he didn't know that Neulander was the rabbi's wife. In court, he said he and Daniel went to the Neulander home, each armed with lead pipes, and beat her until they crushed her skull.

Rabbi Neulander, charged with murder and conspiracy, has pleaded not guilty and denied any role in the crime. His attorney, Jeffrey Zucker, suggested that Jenoff had made up the entire story to get media attention.

"He admitted that his life has been a fantasy," said Zucker.

Such as tales of serving in Vietnam. He never did. And showing off a photograph in his wallet of Ronald Reagan, signed, "To Len Jenoff, a loyal friend and comrade in arms." It's Jenoff's handwriting.

Not to mention his undercover work years ago for Baltimore police. He denied it then and admits it now. He is a pathetic man with a desire to be James Bond. And it looks as though a rabbi's wife paid the price for it.

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