A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels and murder

"48 Hours" investigates two unsolved Hollywood murders and the trail that leads through the Playboy Mansion and Wall Street

Just like in the Good Book, all roads in this case seem to lead to the Garden of Eden... nightclub. Almost all the players in this mystery met and partied there: Mark Yagalla, Hef and the Bentley Twins.

"It catered to celebrities and big money people in Los Angeles," says L.A. Times crime reporter Andrew Blankstein.

The nightclub was where Michael Tardio, working the door, became involved with Sandy Bentley.

"Michael Tardio and Sandy Bentley's relationship? Were they lovers?" Van Sant asks Det. Bill Cox.

"It looked like Sandy was the smitten one here much more so than Michael," he replies.

Sandy Bentley may have played the gold digger in her past affairs, but Cox says this relationship seemed different.

"Sandy did care a lot about Michael Tardio," he says. "She really did."

Michael and Sandy became a hot item, in the hottest club in Hollywood.

"You're really rubbing elbows with creme de la creme, and you're in the fast lane," says Blankstein.

And along with all of the glamour and celebrity, a seedier element was also drawn to the Garden. Detectives started focusing on that as they investigated deeper into Michael Tardio's life.

"You believe this is the club where Michael Tardio met the people ultimately responsible for his murder?" asks Van Sant asks Cox as they talk near the club.

"Yes," Cox replies. "We just don't know who that person is."

On the detective's short list of suspects is Sandy Bentley's former lover, Mark Yagalla.

"You don't rule out anyone," Cox says. "No one had ever talked to Mark Yagalla."

When they tracked him down, Yagalla had an ironclad alibi. He was in prison after pleading guilty to charges related to his massive Ponzi scheme.

"Mark took in money, handed out false statements and spent it on leggy blondes," says

Attorney Eugene Licker, who was responsible for finding out where Yagalla squandered his victims' millions so they could get some money back. A major target: the gifts Yagalla lavished on Sandy Bentley.

"The judge ordered Sandy Bentley to hand over the house, the jewelry, the cars," says Licker.

Faced with losing everything, a desperate Sandy Bentley went to her new boyfriend, Michael Tardio, for help.

"So, Sandy literally had nothing now. They were kicking her out of her house," Cox explains. "So, at this point, Michael says to her, 'Well, why don't you just take a little bit of the jewelry. Could sell it.'"

And that's just what happened according to surveillance video a private investigator shot at Sandy Bentley's Las Vegas mansion the week those two allegedly took those jewels.

"Sandy lets him in and says, 'Here's the stuff.' And then Michael looks at it and says, 'No, no, no. That's not enough. You know, take more,'" says Cox.

It's estimated that Michael Tardio and Sandy Bentley made off with nearly $1 million in jewels and furs.

"He was doing it for his girlfriend," Blankstein says. "He wanted to sell the stuff off, give her money, and obviously satisfy her."

"Now, Sandy Bentley claims this was Tardio's idea... but Tardio, of course, is dead," notes Van Sant. "Do we really know the ultimate truth there?"

"No, we don't know the ultimate truth," says Cox.

Eugene Licker was videotaped taking inventory of the jewels that were left behind after Sandy was evicted.

"The 'Pretty Woman' necklace wasn't there. It was definitely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars," Licker says. The Canary diamond ring wasn't there and I know [it] was at least invoiced at a half a million dollars."

While watching that video, Yagalla comments, "Empty."

"All cleaned out," Van Sant remarks.

"Yeah... You see, there's only three bracelets there. I bought her all - a lot of bracelets. That was empty."

Fearful that she would be prosecuted for the missing jewels, Sandy Bentley told Eugene Licker the jewels were lost, or stolen by someone else.

Photos: A Playmate, a Ponzi scheme, jewels & murder

"Sandy Bentley not only lied to us about what had happened to the so called missing jewelry, but she took it. She stole it," he says.

Stole it and then tried to fence it through her boyfriend, Michael Tardio, back at the Garden of Eden. His price for the treasure: $1 million in cash.

Who had that kind of money? That's where this strange story gets even more bizarre. Meet Linda Kim, a woman who also knows scandal.

"Now, you're very famous in South Korea, is that right?" Van Sant asks.

"I got in one big trouble with Korean government, you know," Kim replies.

An international weapons broker, in 2000, Kim was the central figure in a sex and bribery scandal that nearly toppled the South Korean government.

Two years after that scandal, Michael Tardio came to her at the hotel she owned in L.A. with what seemed like a deal of a lifetime.

"I was so surprised... very special jewelry," she says. "Very high-quality jewelry."

But the deal seemed fishy and Kim sent Tardio on his way.

By this time, too many people knew about the jewelry - including a lot of the wrong people, leaving a lot of questions about who murdered Michael Tardio and Christopher Monson.