A Season of Scandal Takes Its Final Toll on Mysterious Lobbyist Craig Spence

updated 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/27/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Craig Spence lived by the maxim that image is everything. Arriving in Washington, D.C., in the late '70s, he presented a rather mysterious figure. Though he had worked on the staff of a Massachusetts state legislator and had served briefly as an ABC correspondent in Vietnam, he appeared to have few important Capitol connections. Yet he swiftly transformed himself into a flamboyant man-about-town, working as a high-powered consultant for Asian businessmen by day and throwing parties in his elegant town house by night for such luminaries as newscaster Ted Koppel and former CIA director William Casey.

Then in June his career suddenly came crashing down amid allegations that his business practices included hiring male prostitutes for clients and himself. Disgraced and distraught, he registered on Nov. 4 at the venerable Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Boston. Six days later, maids could, not get into Spence's room and maintenance workers had to saw through the door. Inside, police found Spence lying on the bed in a tuxedo with a telephone cradled to his ear, dead from a presumed drug overdose.

To close friends, Spence's apparent suicide at 49 had a sad inevitability about it. In July he was arrested in New York City for possession of cocaine and an illegal handgun. He told people that he had AIDS and spread the fanciful story that he was working for the CIA. He apparently traveled to Massachusetts to see old friends one last time before ending his life. "He showed me a vial of sleeping pills," says a friend who saw Spence the night before he left for Boston. "I knew he'd do it. It was only a matter of time."

The irony is that some of the most sensational accusations printed in the Washington Times—that Spence had served drugs to friends, bugged for blackmail and taken a midnight White House tour with some call boys—may never be officially resolved. According to a recent account in the Washington Post, Spence's attorney said the government had withdrawn a subpoena on Spence. But the damage was done. Spence apparently left no suicide note, just a message scrawled in black marker on a hotel mirror: "Consider this my resignation, effective immediately."

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