Crazy Love

A brat, a Batman collector, filthy rich and dead. Who killed Miami hotel heir Benji Novack?

A brat, a Batman collector, filthy rich and dead. Who killed Miami hotel heir Benji Novack? Troy Roberts reports.

Produced by Chuck Stevenson and Dena Goldstein
[This story first aired on Jan. 26, 2013. It was updated on July 13.]

Detective Sergeant Terry Wilson of the Rye Brook, New York, Police Department and Detective Alison Carpentier of Westchester County, had never witnessed a crime scene this gruesome.

"My God, I can't believe this. It was horrific," Det. Wilson said as he showed "48 Hours" correspondent Troy Roberts photos of the crime scene. "He's on the ground. He's basically hogtied."

"It was a brutal scene. His eyes had both been cut out," said Det. Carpentier.

The victim, 53-year-old Benji Novack, was a multimillionaire Florida businessman. His mutilated body was discovered in the early morning hours of July 12, 2009, in a hotel room in Rye Brook, a suburb 40 minutes north of New York City.

"Duct tape like this was placed on his legs, his arms and around his mouth...when they put it, they did it -- really tight," Det. Wilson continued.

Police believed there was more than one killer.

"Was there any sign of a struggle?" Roberts asked Det. Wilson.

"He was in the bed, they came up on him," he replied. "They hit him multiple times, maybe a dozen times or so."

Police learned from Benji's wife, Narcy Novack, that she and her husband were from South Florida. They were at the Rye Brook, N.Y. hotel all weekend, running a large Amway convention.

As police in New York began their investigation, they soon learned their victim came from a fascinating background: Benji Novack's parents once owned the famous Fontainebleau Hotel, once the hottest spot on Miami Beach in the swinging '60s.

"It was absolutely magnificent ... the glamour, the people that were there from all over the world... it was just incredible," said Michael Aller, a director of tourism for Miami Beach who knows everybody. "I lived at the Fontainebleau hotel ... It was just the place to be and to be seen."

The Fontainebleau was the creation of Benji's parents, Bernice and Ben Novack. They were Miami Beach royalty and everybody from John F. Kennedy to Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack stayed at their hotel.

"It was like Vegas, really. You'd rub shoulders with everybody there," said Benji's aunt, Maxine Fiel.

Fiel spent a lot of time at the hotel with her sister, Bernice.

"It was amazing. They had this stairway to nowhere, which was like some kind of thing for the brides, that would walk down -- it would look like it was just coming out of the clouds," she told Roberts.

"Everybody wanted to see what Mrs. Novack was wearing! She always had to go down and look absolutely better than anyone else. Ben wanted that, she was part of the Fontainebleau."

But Ben and Bernice's son, Benji, was not as charming as his famous parents.

"He was a loner ... He was a little prince," Fiel recalled. "Ben was very secretive in many ways. He was not at ease with people ... he would go trick or treating with the chauffeur and no kids went with him."

"I knew the Novacks, I knew Benji," Aller said. "Benji was not a nice man. He was a tough 'I want it now' type of guy. He was not pleasant to deal with. ... I was the only one who could really confront him and say that, because I'd known him from when he was this big," he continued, showing a photo of Benji as a boy.

Joe Matthews, a former Miami Beach homicide detective, also knew Benji.

"Everybody, as a young boy, were intimidated by him because he would fire housemaids or valet people or whatever he wanted to. He had complete control over the hotel," said Matthews.

"Sounds like a tyrant," Roberts remarked.

"He was. And he wasn't -- he wasn't really an easy guy to like," Matthews said. "He was attracted to all the cops; he spent all his time at the police station."

Asked if Benji aspired to be a police officer, Matthews replied, "For all intents and purposes, he thought he was a police officer."

While the prince of the Fontainebleau played cop, his father's empire started collapsing. He lost the hotel to bankruptcy in 1977. Benji was so distraught he refused to ever drive past the landmark again. His father's failures, though, fueled his ambition and at 22, Benji started his own empire.

Charlie Serayder is another former police officer and one Benji's best friends. He watched Benji become a millionaire several times over with his convention staging business.

"He was an ambitious man?" Roberts asked.

"Extremely ambitious," Serayder replied.

Benji became a wealthy man at a very young age.

"I'm not surprised at that and I'm sure a big chunk of it was cash that he kept," said Matthews.

"Why cash?" Roberts asked.

"I know he always had a lot of cash. He kept a lot of cash in the house," Matthews replied. "And he spent it on himself quite freely."

In 1991, Benji began sharing his good fortune with Narcy Veliz, a young, single mother from Ecuador -- a former exotic dancer with a young child, May Abad. The two married, and eventually, Narcy helped Benji run the business, as did May.

In fact, both women were with Benji at the convention the weekend he was murdered. It was attended by more than 1,000 people and that made the investigation tricky.

"You had a hotel full of possible suspects?" Roberts asked Det. Carpentier.

"Right, right ... and we didn't know which way to go," she replied. "Is this a robbery, is it a domestic gone wrong, is it isolated, is he a target?"

Police soon established a timeline from phone records. Benji was alive at 6.54 a.m.

"We know Ben was alive," Det. Carpentier explained, "because he receives a phone call from a worker in the hotel saying there was a problem, there was overcrowding for breakfast."

Narcy left their room to sort out the seating problem in the dining room. She can be seen on video down there at around 7:17 a.m.

Thirty minutes later she told police she returned to the room and discovered Ben's body.

Asked to describe Narcy's demeanor, Det. Carpentier told Roberts, "I think the first thing she said to me [was], 'Did Ben have a heart attack?' Meanwhile, she had seen him. There was blood everywhere in this room. I mean, it was a bloody mess. ... I kept saying to her, 'Narcy, you saw Ben tied up. You know, what do you mean 'did he have a heart attack?'"