In the Dead of Night
Indeed, police say, she was. Not only that, prosecutors say that Landry, a longtime State Department employee, was in thrall to and acting at the behest of the kids' mother and Slobodow's estranged wife, Elsa Newman. Newman, 49, an unemployed lawyer, and Slobodow, a video producer, had been locked in a bitter custody dispute since late 1999. Now Landry stands charged with attempted murder and Newman with conspiracy to commit murder (both have denied the charges). And Herbie and 5-year-old Lars, who had crawled into his father's bed hours before the shooting to ward off bad dreams, are left with memories that will be difficult to shake. "The boy was having trouble sleeping," says Montgomery County prosecutor Douglas Gansler. "Can you imagine how difficult it's going to be for him to sleep now?"
Few nightmares could match the reality of what police and Slobodow say the boys witnessed at 4 that morning. After struggling with Landry over her 9mm Smith & Wesson, which fell to the floor, Slobodow says he grabbed a telephone, but she seized it and started beating him on the head with the receiver. When Herbie walked in and demanded, "Why are you fighting with Auntie Margie?" Slobodow shouted to his son to call the police, warning that he might bleed to death. "I was thinking that this could be the end," says Slobodow. When he finally wrested the phone from her in the kitchen and managed to dial 911, Landry fled. According to Slobodow, the shooting was his wife's last rash attempt to gain custody at any cost. "Winning," he says, "was the only thing that mattered."
Even before he married Elsa Newman, Slobodow now acknowledges, he had seen signs of trouble. "She would be argumentative," he says. "And there was always somebody that was in the doghouse." What became even more troubling was her controlling, domineering relationship with her friend Landry, who sought out Newman's approval for everything from career decisions to her love life. "Margie worships Elsa," says Slobodow.
That pattern apparently dated back to the early 1970s, when the women were roommates at Baltimore's Goucher College. Newman had grown up in the comfortable Philadelphia suburb of Dresher, Pa., the third of three children (a brother died before her birth) of the owner of a successful men's clothing store and his homemaker wife. At the all-female Goucher, Newman and Landry (then Margery Lemb), the older of two daughters of an engineer father married to a teacher in Montoursville, Pa., were virtually inseparable. "Margery seemed insecure, and Elsa needed someone to dominate," a college friend says of the pair. "In Margery she found someone she could control."
Landry went on to work for Maryland's state government and in 1980 joined the U.S. State Department, serving as a junior officer and eventually specializing in international parent-child abductions. Meanwhile, Newman graduated from the University of Maryland law school and settled in Harrisburg, Pa., marrying Scott Silverstine, a salesman, in 1979. The marriage lasted less than two years. "There was no disagreeing with her—it was like living in a cage," says Silverstine, 50. And Margery Landry was a constant presence, says Silverstine: "She was closer to Margery than she was to me."
After that marriage broke up, Newman relocated to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Federal Labor Relations Authority until 1988. Later that year she met Slobodow, whose company produces videos, mostly for nonprofit concerns, while both were playing on the same Jewish Community Center softball team. "I thought she was attractive, and we could converse easily," says Slobodow, who shared her passion for classical music and travel.
Marrying in 1990, they transmitted those same passions to their sons—Herbie, born in 1993, and Lars, born in 1996—paying for Herbie's violin lessons and sending the boys to the pricey, exclusive British School of Washington. Meanwhile, Margery had returned to the Washington area in 1990 after being posted for years in Thailand, and the women's lives again became intertwined. Even after Margery married John Landry, a civilian Army employee, in 1999, says Slobodow, Newman "would have Margie at the house all the time."
Slobodow's marriage to Newman grew so strained that the couple separated in December 1999 and began fighting over custody. Newman rarely allowed Slobodow to see the boys until a Montgomery County court in June 2000 recommended she do so. After she began alleging sexual abuse, investigators found no evidence, and a court-ordered psychologist concluded that Newman had characteristics of borderline personality disorder, including trouble distinguishing reality. A Montgomery County court gave Slobodow temporary custody, and a few weeks later a D.C. court restricted Newman to supervised visits at social-service offices. "She was very insistent, very obsessive, just very bizarre," D.C. detective Q. Edwina Wallace said at a Montgomery County custody hearing in December 2001. "If she couldn't have the children totally, solely, then what was the next step to be?...I didn't want it to come to that."
Also, last September Newman's Greenbelt, Md., lawyer Stephen Friedman told a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge that Newman had told him that if she lost custody, she would hire someone to kill her ex-husband. She denied the charge in open court. In October Landry, who had moved with her husband into a house around the corner from Newman, reported a gun stolen in a burglary, a weapon matching the description of the one used Jan. 7 to shoot Slobodow.
With their mother and Landry in jail facing possible life sentences, the two boys are back with their father, whose divorce from Newman was finalized Jan. 28. Doctors repaired Slobodow's shattered femur with a steel rod, and he is learning to walk again, but he's still traumatized. "I'm an adult, I can take whatever they throw at me, short of murder," says Slobodow. "The worst thing is the ordeal my kids are going through."
Rose Ellen O'Connor and Carolyn Ruff Spellman in Washington, D.C.