Death Imitates Art as Police Charge Teacher Carolyn Warmus with a Fatal Attraction Killing
It was on the night of Jan. 15, 1989, that sixth-grade schoolteacher Paul Solomon, now 40, returned home to his third-floor apartment and found his wife, Betty Jeanne, sprawled dead on the living room floor, nine bullets in her body. Police at first suspected Solomon himself, but after a yearlong inquiry, they turned their attention to insurance heiress Carolyn Warmus, 26, Solomon's colleague and onetime lover. Warmus's romantic obsession with Solomon, police claim, led her to kill Betty Jeanne half an hour before meeting the dead woman's husband for an evening of drinks and sex. Arrested on Feb. 5, and charged with second-degree murder, Warmus was freed on $250,000 bond put up by her multimillionaire father, Thomas A. Warmus, owner of the American Way Life Insurance Co., based in Southfield, Mich. She has denied the charges against her, and her attorney, Charles Fiore, says she passed a lie detector test taken at the suggestion of her family lawyer five days after the murder. Though neighbors and co-workers were shocked by her arrest and described her as bright, attractive and pleasant, old friends of Carolyn Warmus remember a darker side. They describe her as frequently depressed and desperate for the affection of unattainable men. "This 'fatal attraction' stuff doesn't surprise me," says Shari Odenheimer, a former sorority sister at the University of Michigan. "She has always been going out with someone who's attached."
Perhaps, for Warmus, the most unattainable man was her father. According to one childhood friend, none of the Warmus children—Carolyn, her younger sister, Tracey, and her younger brother, Tommy—ever had a good relationship with the elder Warmus. Says a woman who knew the Warmuses socially: "Tom's kids were brought along in this whole arena of wealth, money and cars and lots of corporate entertainment. What was missing was any kind of deep human feeling." The problem may have been compounded in 1972, when Thomas Warmus, who had risen from poverty to build a $107 million life-insurance company, divorced his children's mother, Elizabeth, to marry his secretary, Nancy. "A lot of people made fun of Nancy," says the family friend. "She'd dress Hollywood style, with floor-length mink coats and her bosom sticking out of strapless sequined dresses." Although Nancy tried to befriend her stepchildren, a neighbor says they rejected her. Still, when their mother remarried and moved East, the three young Warmuses moved in with their father and his bride in the million-dollar hilltop home he had built for her in the horsey Detroit suburb of Franklin Village. (Thomas Warmus did not respond to PEOPLE'S request for an interview.)
Always in search of popularity, Carolyn Warmus was hungry for affection, say her former peers at Birmingham Seaholm High School, so she tried to buy friends with lavish parties and trips to her family's house in Lighthouse Point, Fla. "She was kind of bizarre around guys," says a classmate. "She even paid someone $100 to set up a date for her in high school." The $100 date confirms that he became "involved with" Warmus for several months during their senior year, but their relationship ended before they both went on to the University of Michigan. "I was glad to get her out of my life," he says. "She was a very, very unhappy person. She told me she had no father, no love, no affection." Occasionally she even talked about suicide, he says.
Warmus's emotional difficulties seemed to deepen in college. Although not Jewish herself, she seemed obsessed with Jewish men; after she met Michigan teaching assistant Paul Laven in 1983, she began studying to convert to Judaism. When Laven broke up with her and later announced his engagement to another student, Wendy Siegel, Warmus began following the couple and harassing them with phone calls and letters. Laven charged in a complaint that Warmus wrote him a note falsely claiming to be pregnant by him. In another, to Siegel, she wrote, "With a body like mine, I'm sure you realized what tough competition you were up against.... I guess as long as you keep letting him live in your apartment with you, he'll just continue to pretend to care about you." Finally, concerned that Warmus would disrupt their wedding, Laven and Siegel obtained a court order to keep her away.
Warmus allegedly repeated this pattern of compulsive pursuit after graduation, when she took a waitressing job at a bar near her Michigan home and reportedly began an affair with Brian "Buddy" Fetter, who was also Jewish. Without Fetter's knowledge, Warmus completed five months of study with a rabbi and converted to Judaism. When Fetter broke off their relationship, Warmus constantly filled his message tape with phone calls.
After that affair, Warmus moved to Manhattan, where she earned a master's degree at Columbia University's Teachers College in 1987. At about the same time, she reportedly had at least two affairs with married men. One of them was Paul Solomon, whom she met in September 1987, when she began teaching sixth grade at the Greenville School in Green-burgh, N.Y., where Solomon also taught. At least once, he brought Warmus home for dinner with his wife. At around that time, Warmus phoned her old college friend Odenheimer. "[She said] she was dating some guy who was married and was going to leave his wife for her," Odenheimer says.
A few days before the murder, according to police, Warmus bought a .25 caliber Beretta pistol, a custom-made silencer and ammunition from Vincent Parco, a Manhattan private investigator with whom she had developed "a relationship." Warmus had originally hired him to investigate a married bartender with whom she had had an affair. According to a former employee of Parco, Warmus offered a variety of explanations for needing the weapons. Once, she claimed she needed to protect herself from people who had supposedly sabotaged one of her father's planes; another time, she said she was in danger from someone who had run her sister off the road. "I knew she was going to kill someone," says the employee, who claims he warned New York City police about Warmus but was told they could not investigate without additional evidence. Greenburgh police say ballistics evidence indicates the Parco gun was the weapon used in the murder of Betty Jeanne Solomon. Parco, who has not been charged with providing the silencer—a felony in New York State—declines to comment. "I can't say anything that might hurt the prosecution," he says.
Warmus was interviewed by police the day after the murder. According to investigation records, she said she had arranged to meet Paul Solomon at a Yonkers, N.Y., Holiday Inn bar at 7:30 on the evening in question. Just a few minutes earlier, say police, Betty Jeanne Solomon—whose daughter, Kristan, then 14, was away on a ski trip—was interrupted during a phone call by a knock at the door. Moments later she lay dead on the floor.
At 7:30, Warmus met Solomon as scheduled at the Treetops Lounge in the motel, where, according to a manager, the two seemed to be arguing. Warmus later told police that after a few drinks, she and Solomon went to her car and "had sexual activity" in the back seat until 11:30 P.M.
After his wife's death, Solomon broke off his affair with Warmus, and police say he is no longer a suspect in the murder. At the Continental Credit Corporation in Harrison, N.Y., where Betty Jeanne Solomon worked as an account executive, there is mourning for a lost colleague and little sympathy for her husband. "She was a great person," says an angry co-worker. "He was a slime ball, and because of him, she is dead." Says Solomon: "It's a terrible, terrible tragedy. I just hope the system of justice works it through."
—Montgomery Brower, Julie Greenwalt and Ami Walsh in Detroit, Mary Huzinec and Sam Mead in Westchester, Toby Kahn and Gavin Moses in New York City