The Puppet Master

A Woman Is Targeted For Execution. Who Pulled The Strings?

This story originally aired April 14, 2007.

The first report on an October day in 1997 was that a woman had been killed in a drive-by shooting. As correspondent Troy Roberts reports, the bullet that struck then 31-year-old Heather Grossman ripped a fist-sized hole in her neck, severing her spinal cord.

Heather and her husband John had been married for just four months. The bullet that struck John, then 47, only grazed him, but Heather's life was forever changed.

"They explained what had happened and that I was going to be paralyzed from the neck and I was going to be a quadriplegic," Heather remembers.

Ron Samuels rushed to the scene. He was Heather's first husband, and father of their three children. "I was under the impression that these people were shot and killed," Samuels says. "It was that time of day when my three kids could've been with them."

The welfare of the children had always been a contentious issue in a messy custody battle, a far cry from the happier times the couple enjoyed when they met a decade earlier.

Heather was working as a flight attendant; Samuels, a 40-year-old entrepreneur, fell hard for the former high school cheerleader from Minnesota.

"I was the only first class passenger on the way back from Oregon," he remembers of their first encounter. "And I said to her you either come home with me now or I'll see you in the movies."

"He was very persistent," Heather recalls.

Soon after that flight, they moved in together. They lived in Pensacola, Fla., where Samuels owned a successful car dealership. At the top of his career, Samuels says his net worth was in excess of $30 million and Heather says he was very generous, taking her on lavish trips.

After living together for several years, in Dec. 1988, Heather and Ron married; their son Ronnie was born shortly afterwards. Two years later, they had twins, Lauren and Joe.

"She was an excellent mother. She was always with the children," says Ben Bentfeld, who with his wife Helen, was a good friend.

But if it all seemed perfect behind the scenes, the marriage was beginning to crumble. "He became controlling and rude and scary and intimidating," Heather says.

"I expected her to understand that to live the lifestyle that she wanted that somebody had to pay the bill," Ron explains.

Asked if their arguments turned violent, Heather tells Roberts, "Yes, they became violent…. When I wanted to leave him he held a gun to my head."

But Ron says he never put a gun at his ex-wife's head.

Heather fled with the children to her parent's home in Minnesota and filed for divorce. "When I left him and divorced him, he said, 'You know, you will pay. You're gonna pay for leaving me,'" Heather says.

Asked if he told Heather she was "gonna pay" if she left, Ron says, "Not that I recall ever saying that."

Heather moved on and began dating John Grossman, the son of a business tycoon who was part-owner of the Minnesota Vikings football team.

"I had a wonderful relationship with John Grossman. And we were in love and everything was really pretty much perfect," she remembers. "We were happy. We were starting on our lives, despite all the torture in the background of Ron Samuels."

Samuels hired a succession of lawyers to fight Heather over custody of the children and child support payments. The court ordered Ron to pay $3,000 in child support to Heather, which he refused to pay. He says he spent $665,000 in legal fees to fight the child support and custody orders.

"He didn't want shared custody. He wanted custody of the children full time, all the time without me having any contact with them," Heather says.