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- April 15, 1991
- Vol. 35
- No. 14
A Dangerous Passion
Young, Rich and Alluring, Carolyn Warmus Had Everything Except the Man of Her Dreams; Now She's on Trial for Murdering His Wife
Soon the eight women and four men sitting in judgment at her White Plains, N.Y., trial must decide whether the demurely dressed schoolteacher is in fact an obsessed mistress and ruthless killer. If found guilty of murder, Warmus—free on $250,000 bond posted by her multimillionaire, insurance-magnate father-could face 25 years to life in prison. But conviction is far from certain.
"I spent a lot of time with Carolyn Warmus," says private investigator James Russo, who once trailed a man for her. "I'm not saying she's the sweetheart of the world. But to pump nine shots into somebody and then go have sex? Nah."
As the trial began on Jan. 14, one day shy of the murder's second anniversary, prosecutor James A. McCarty recalled for the jury the brutal end of Betty Jeanne Solomon's life. Home alone on a Sunday evening in the Greenburgh, N.Y., condo she shared with her husband, she vainly screamed to a 911 operator for help before someone shot her nine times with a .25 cal. pistol. Four bullets were fired into her back as she lay on the floor. McCarty argued that Warmus had the means to kill—a .25 cal. Beretta supplied by a private investigator friend, Vincent Parco—the opportunity and the motive to murder the wife of the fellow teacher with whom she'd been carrying on an affair for more than a year. Warmus had "a consuming desire to possess Paul Solomon for herself," McCarty said. "Betty Jeanne Solomon stood squarely in the way."
Defense attorney David Lewis responded that Warmus, who would not testify, had been framed "to conceal a greater level of criminal acts." What those acts might have been, he did not immediately reveal, but he did name the "framer": Vinnie Parco, the private detective. Above all, Lewis cautioned, "We must be careful not to be swayed in our moral judgment by the sexual activity of a young girl in this day and age. Carolyn was in love with Paul Solomon. Carolyn at times hoped he would marry her." He added softly: "It's not such an odd dream for a young girl."
Odd or not, for Carolyn Warmus the dream was apparently a recurring one. Paul Solomon was not the first unavailable man on whom she had pinned her romantic hopes. "She was attracted to guys who were attached," recalls Shari Odenheimer, a sorority sister from Warmus's days at the University of Michigan. Even when a onetime beau got engaged, Warmus refused to admit defeat. "I guess as long as you keep letting him live in your apartment with you," she wrote to his fiancée, "he'll just continue to pretend to care about you." The couple finally obtained a court order to keep Warmus away from them. "She always was very persistent," a childhood friend remembers. "She was very nice, but she didn't take rejection well."
After college, Warmus's propensity for misplaced affection continued. Moving to Manhattan to earn a master's degree at Columbia University's Teachers College, she fell for a married bartender. Then she fixed on the idea of hiring an investigator to get pictures of him with some other woman, which Warmus planned to send to the bartender's wife in the hope of ending his marriage. She apparently found Vincent Parco and Associates ("Unusual and Difficult Investigations") in the yellow pages. Parco assigned James Russo to the case, but the surveillance came to nothing, and Warmus's relationship with the bartender didn't last. But her association with Parco did—and ultimately led to the courtroom in White Plains.
In the fall of 1987, Warmus landed a teaching job at the Greenville Elementary School in Greenburgh, an affluent Westchester County suburb about 20 miles north of New York City. Her computer class was diagonally across the hall from 38-year-old Paul Solomon's sixth grade. The more experienced teacher quickly became her mentor, and soon they were meeting at her duplex apartment above the Catch a Rising Star comedy club on Manhattan's East Side. That December, Solomon wrote her a card declaring he was "falling deeply in love." But when the school year ended, Solomon told Warmus he wanted to just be friends.
It was during that summer of 1988 that Warmus first asked about a gun, according to Parco. "She said there were a series of burglaries in her neighborhood, and she wanted a firearm for protection." In time, testified Parco, Warmus came up with new reasons for needing a gun, saying someone was out to harm her family: One of her father's jets had crashed in Michigan. (One actually had, but she added that a strange woman had been seen lurking near the hangar.) Then Warmus claimed her sister in Washington, D.C., had been struck by a hit-and-run driver—an attractive woman with dark hair, in her early 40s, possibly living in Westchester County. (Russo testified that Warmus said the menacing woman's name was "Jean or Betty Jean.") According to Parco, Warmus said this mystery woman was her father's former mistress.
Warmus's parents had divorced when she was 8. Her father, Thomas A. Warmus, owner of the American Way Group of Companies in Detroit, then married his secretary, Nancy, a younger woman who favored low-cut, sequined dresses. Little Carolyn never warmed up to her stepmother. For the next six years, the child remained in the custody of her mother. Elizabeth. When her mother also remarried and then moved away, Carolyn, an ungainly 14-year-old, went to live behind the electronic gates of her father's million-dollar home with her glamorous stepmother, whom she may well have seen as a rival for her father's affections. A dozen years later. Warmus was once again locked in competition for a man's love. Warmus phoned an old college buddy, Ryan Attenson, around Thanksgiving 1988 to talk about her affair with Solomon, which had resumed when school reopened. "She said she would take it upon herself to make sure she ended up with this gentleman," Attenson testified. "She would then end up with the family that she wanted and live happily ever after."
By this time Parco, himself a married man, was seeing Warmus two or three times a week, in a relationship he characterized as "social, bordering on dating." It was around the beginning of January 1989, Parco testified, that he finally sold Warmus, for $2,500 in cash, a Beretta pistol, along with a silencer so she could target shoot unobtrusively.
On the morning of Sunday, Jan. 15, Paul Solomon and his wife of 19 years made love. Later, he recalled, they watched old movies on TV and looked over brochures for retirement communities. Their 15-year-old daughter, Kristan, was away skiing. Around 1:30 P.M., Paul received a call from Warmus. It was a long call—"Most of Carolyn's calls were," he testified—and by the end of it he had agreed to celebrate her birthday, belatedly, at the Treetops restaurant at a nearby Holiday Inn at 7:30 that night.
At about 6:30, Solomon kissed Betty Jeanne goodbye. "I'll see you later," he said. He told her he was going bowling and in fact drove first to the Brunswick Lanes in Yonkers. Friends who spoke to him there, and a waitress at Treetops, where he arrived at about 7:25, later accounted for his whereabouts.
At about 7:15, a woman dialed 911 from the Solomon home and screamed, "He is trying to kill me!" or "She is trying to kill me!"—the operator couldn't make out which. Then the line went dead. Police, looking up the originating phone number in an outdated directory, went to the wrong address and found nothing amiss.
At about 7:45, Solomon testified, Warmus walked into Treetops, which is a 10-or 15-minute drive from his apartment. Paul drank vodka Collinses; she ordered champagne. They ate oysters and talked about their future. According to his testimony, he told her, "I'd be so happy to dance at your wedding and see you happy." And she replied, "What about your happiness, Paul? Don't you deserve to be happy?" He answered, "If anything happens to Betty Jeanne and me, I'd never get married anyway." Then they went to her car in the parking lot, where, after asking his permission, she performed oral sex.
Solomon arrived home at 11:40 P.M. and found the TV blaring and his wife lying in darkness on the living room floor, cold and stiff and covered with blood. He frantically called the police. When the cops later asked him where he'd spent the evening, he said he'd been bowling.
Ryan Attenson heard from Warmus again in the late summer of 1989. According to his testimony, she said that "Mr. Solomon and her were going to end up together now. This woman had been taken care of and was no longer an obstacle."
But Paul Solomon did not fall into the consoling arms of Carolyn Warmus, who had taken a teaching post in a nearby town. On the contrary, he told Warmus to stop calling him, though he said she could write. A stream of letters followed. In one, recounting a visit to a friend hospitalized with cancer, Warmus wrote, "It made me realize how precious each day is. You never know what may happen to you. I hope you're going to allow yourself some happiness and spend some time with me."
Solomon did not answer that or any of the other letters and instead began spending time with another teacher, Barbara Ballor, then 28. But one night in July 1989, when Ballor was out of town, Solomon dropped in on Warmus. They had drinks. He asked her if she had anything to do with the death of his wife. " 'Paul, I'm so glad you feel comfortable enough to ask me that,' " he said she replied. "No, I would never do anything to hurt you or Kristan." Asked if he made love to Warmus that night, Solomon answered, "I don't remember that at all."
A few weeks later, Solomon vacationed with Ballor in Puerto Rico. Warmus followed them and had a note delivered to Solomon announcing her arrival. Thoroughly spooked, he fled the island with Ballor and reported Warmus to the Greenburgh police.
Focusing their attention on Carolyn, the cops soon found their way to Parco. He tenaciously feigned ignorance—Gun? What gun?—but then the machinist who had fashioned the silencer talked to police. Later, microscopic comparison of a shell casing recovered in the machinist's shop with those found at the crime scene indicated that the Beretta killed Betty Jeanne Solomon. (The gun itself has never been found.) When lawmen told Parco they'd linked him to a murder weapon, he saw with sudden clarity the virtue of cooperating with the prosecution. In February 1990, Warmus was indicted for murder.
Though the bailiff called to order People of the State of New York v. Carolyn Warmus, before long it was Parco and Solomon who seemed to be on trial. Lewis depicted Solomon as a weirdo (he hadn't moved out of the apartment where Betty Jeanne was shot), a creep (he sold HBO the movie rights to his wife's murder for as much as $175,000) and a cheat. Over and over he asked the beleaguered Solomon, whether he had "lied to his wife's face" about his extramarital affairs. Repeatedly, Solomon admitted that he had—though the wrath Lewis was seeking to stir in the jury may have dissipated somewhat when it was revealed that Betty Jeanne herself had carried on a nine-year affair with her married former boss at the bank where she'd been a branch manager.
Having established that Solomon, in order to hide his affair, had lied to his colleagues, his friends, his wife and the police, Lewis set his sights on Parco. "Only the testimony of Vincent Parco places the gun in the hands of Carolyn Warmus," he argued, "and Vincent Parco cannot be believed." Yet attacking Parco's credibility proved an odd sort of challenge, since Parco cheerfully acknowledged that he lied for a living and sounded practically honest as he forthrightly admitted his deceptions.
"You can look someone in the eye and tell them you're someone you're not?" Lewis asked.
"Yes," said Parco. Lewis proceeded to lead him through lengthy explanations of what private detectives call "gags"—misrepresentations of who they are and what they want—to gain access to people's bank accounts, medical records and phone bills. (Parco's testimony may have been bolstered when a school nurse came forward late in the trial to say that Warmus had told her she had bought a gun from a private detective. The nurse hadn't bothered to tell the police, she said, because she'd thought it was "common knowledge" that Warmus had the gun.)
By the end of Lewis's dizzyingly wide-ranging 10 days of cross-examination of Solomon and Parco, the jurors must have been hard-pressed to remember that there had been a murder, much less what evidence might prove who committed it.
But the prosecution rallied, introducing computer records from MCI communications showing a call at 3:02 P.M. on the day of the murder from Warmus's home to Ray's Sport Shop in North Plainfield, N.J. Later that day a woman presenting as identification the driver's license of one Liisa Kittah purchased 50 rounds of .25 cal. ammunition there. Kittah swore that she had never been to Ray's and that her license had disappeared in August 1988, when she had been working next to Warmus in a telecommunications office.
Then Lewis rose, brandishing the little piece of white paper on which the verdict may well turn: Here, he proclaimed, was Carolyn Warmus's MCI bill, and it showed no call to Ray's Sport Shop on Jan. 15, 1989; but it did show a call, not in MCI's computer records, at 6:44 P.M. to Warmus's mother—a call that Warmus could not have placed and made it to Greenburgh in time for the killing.
Either the prosecution's computer record or the defense's paper invoice had to be fake. But which? Lewis had tried to show that Parco had a knack for fishing through computer files and thus might have tampered with MCI's records to frame Warmus. But in the opinion of MCI executives, it was the defense's bill that was bogus. One swore that all the company's invoices in January 1989 bore a certain slogan, and Warmus's purported bill did not. The absence of the phrase "Communications for the Next 100 Years" could send Warmus away for the next 25. But, said the executive, he could not say that the invoice was phony "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Indeed, in the view of many observers, reasonable doubt suffused the courtroom like a fog when the prosecution finally rested after 11 weeks of exertions. There was no witness to the shooting, no murder weapon in evidence, no fingerprint or hair or fiber or drop of blood linking the young schoolteacher at the defense table to the crime. If the defense had failed to provide a plausible explanation of why anyone else would want to kill Betty Jeanne Solomon or go to the trouble of framing Carolyn Warmus—that was not the defense's job. The burden of proof was on the prosecution. And if they had failed to carry it, then justice would require that Carolyn Warmus be permitted to walk away, never to face these charges again.
Maria Eftimiades in White Plains and Julie Greenwalt in Detroit
- Maria Eftimiades,
- Julie Greenwalt.
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