Questions After a Fall
10/04/1993 at 01:00 AM EDT
ONLY ONE THING WAS FINAL: THE body that lay covered by a sheet on a walkway outside the luxury apartment house on Westwood's Wilshire Boulevard on Saturday, Sept. 18, was broken, bloodied, dead. Police arrived shortly alter 7 a.m. and within half an hour had connected the corpse—later identified as Mark Alan Schwartz, 25—to apartment 807. With guns drawn, 10 cops burst into the apartment—and found actor James Caan, 53, sound asleep. "It was certainly a rude awakening," Caan said later.
But Caan's day was just beginning. Although he was never a suspect, the LAPD look him in for questioning. Whose apartment was he sleeping in? Why wasn't he at the Bel Air home he occupies with his wife. Ingrid, and their 2-year-old son, Alexander, just a few miles away? And how, precisely, was he connected to Schwartz, a handsome 6' 3" L.A. resident who had been seen coming and going from the apartment house frequently? After several hours the police released Caan, who said the whole thing was "ludicrous." "It was like a Columbo script," he said. "You don't kill someone and go back to sleep."
Professionally, the actor, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as the hot-tempered mobster Sonny Corleone in 1972's The Godfather and is currently playing a hardfisted football coach in The Program, is known as one of Hollywood's premier tough guys. But the Bronx-born butchers son has also hobnobbed with real-life hoods. In 1985 at the trial of convicted racketeer Carmine the "Snake" Persico he showed his loyalty by kissing him on the cheek. And last year he testified as a character witness at the trial of his "best friend," Malibu restaurateur Ronald Lorenzo, eventually convicted on drug conspiracy charges.
By the week's start, though, the police declared that Caan had nothing to do with Schwartz death. "It was an accidental death," says LAPI) Detective Richard Henry, "confirmed through physical evidence and witness statements." According to Schwartz father, Arnold, 48, who lives in Northern California, Mark was looking to make his way Hollywood—"like a thousand other kids who want to do well in the industry." Mark, a high school dropout, had met Caan through his friend—and Caan's supposed godson—Kaled Youssef, 26, who maintains the $l,135-a-month apartment where Caan had been sleeping. Neighbors say Caan was a frequent visitor to Youssef's place. Caan reportedly told police that he "used the apartment for peace and quiet"—a place to read scripts. Schwartz says that on Friday, Caan wanted to stay at Youssef's and offered to put up Youssef and Mark, who often staved over at his friend's—in a suite at West Hollywood 's Le Fare Hotel.
At 7 that evening, says Schwartz, the actor—who had also loaned Mark and Youssef his car—called and asked Mark to bring over a pizza. Schwartz made his delivery, then, according to his lather, went back to the hotel where he stayed up late chinking with Youssef and Youssef's girlfriend. At about 4 a.m., for reasons that arc still uncertain. Mark left the hotel, hailed a cab and returned to Youssef's apartment. Once he arrived, though, he found he had no money the fare. Recognizing Schwartz, the doorman allowed him upstairs. Schwartz's father says police believe that his son pounded on Caan's door, but that Caan didn't hear him. Mark returned to tell the cab driver that he couldn't get into his room and was last seen by the doorman reentering the lobby elevator. Minutes later, say police, the doorman heard a loud thump but thought nothing of it. Three hours later, building employees discovered Schwartz's body by the side of the building.
According to Schwartz, police said fingerprints show that Mark tried to climb from a fire escape to the balcony of apartment 807—nearly a 15-fool stretch—via a vent in between. "Obviously, Mark had some reason to get into that apartment." says his father. "What that was. I don I know. It's a question I don't think I'll ever have answered." Said Caan: "I feel sorry the kid and his folks. Everybody suffers when something like this happens."
LYNDON STAMBLER in Los Angeles