House of Pain
It was a crime that shocked the tony community, given that Susann was the wife of Geoffrey Wyler, 60, a highly-successful attorney. With no sign of a break-in or a burglary, investigators concluded that Susann in all likelihood knew her attacker. "This was not random," says Emily LaGrassa, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex County district attorney. Although a team of Massachusetts state and local police are actively investigating, authorities have declined to say if they have any suspects in the case.
But ever since the murder a steady stream of disclosures has laid bare the Wyler family's privileged but also deeply dysfunctional life, including the ugly divorce proceedings that were unfolding between Geoffrey and Susann, a onetime schoolteacher who was known as a doting mother and caring friend. "If you ask anyone about Susann," says Jim Rappaport, a friend of Greg's who rushed to the murder scene to offer comfort, "they'll say three things: She was sweet, gentle and kind."
According to friends, she was also heartbroken over the way the family had been torn apart by infighting, mainly between her husband and their two high-achieving sons Geoffrey II, 36, a flight engineer for Boeing in Seattle, and Greg, a lawyer and engineer who lives near Boston. On several occasions over the years Susann or the boys had summoned police to the Winchester house to quell domestic disputes. One time in 1989 cops arrived to find father Geoffrey with a loaded gun in his pocket, a weapon the family said he had used to threaten them. At that point authorities revoked Geoffrey's gun permit, compelling him to turn in several handguns.
More recently the disputes had come to a boil over business deals gone sour. In 1989 Geoffrey offered to incorporate a company, Airnew, that Geoffrey II had founded to specialize in assembling small aircraft. That triggered a disagreement over money and, finally, ownership of the firm. In January 1998, according to an affidavit later supplied by Geoffrey II, the older Geoffrey had his son barred from the company's premises and announced that he now controlled all the stock. That episode seemed part of a pattern that Susann later described. "My husband frequently accused me and the boys of being ungrateful for all he was doing for us," she said in an affidavit from November 2001, "and developed a great deal of resentment."
If anything, the older Geoffrey's battles with Greg were even more bitter. Greg, also an entrepreneur, had come up with a design for a desktop computer that did not require a fan and was thus virtually noise-free. He sold his company, Silent Systems, in 1998 and stood to reap approximately $11 million in profits from his patented invention. But around that time, according to an affidavit supplied by Susann, Greg accused his father of trying to swindle him out of shares in the company. (Geoffrey acknowledges that he had signed an agreement renouncing any claims on Silent Systems, but says he was coerced into doing so.) In July 2001 Geoffrey filed a civil suit against Greg for what he said was his share of the profits from Silent Systems. As part of the suit, which asked for millions of dollars, he accused Greg of physically abusing him.
But as an outraged Susann saw it, Geoffrey was just trying to ruin their sons' lives. She later stated in a court document that he had threatened Gregory and Geoffrey II "with criminal prosecution for alleged thefts and other matters that were not true. I know my husband's claims to be false." Nor was she the only one to see Geoffrey's actions as a means of tormenting his sons. "His father couldn't handle Greg's success," says one family friend. "What kind of man sues his child?"
According to legal papers later filed by Susann, Geoffrey did everything he could to manipulate her and their sons—to whom she was by all accounts devoted—even at one time forbidding her to speak with them. In response Geoffrey claimed that his wife always sided with the children against him. A family friend says that two years ago, when Greg was getting married, Susann had to hide the dresses she had bought for the various festivities because she was afraid Geoffrey would erupt. She attended the wedding; he did not. It was his decision to sue Greg, she said, that prompted her to file for divorce in September 2001.
On Christmas Eve, 2001, her husband filed a court motion to sell the family residence, a large colonial in Winchester, which would have meant turning Susann out of the home she had lived in for 30 years. (The motion was denied.) Meanwhile, Susann had installed a new security system in the home and had the police remove some remaining firearms and ammunition, claiming that she feared her husband would use them against her. Last January she got an order of protection from him. Indeed earlier this year Susann's divorce lawyer maintained that the older Geoffrey had repeatedly made specific death threats against his wife and her mother. "If I don't do it," the lawyer, Patrice Morse, said he vowed, "I'll hire someone to do it." All the same, later that month he filed for a restraining order against Susann, maintaining that she was trying to ruin his reputation. A family court judge concluded that the two combatants were both so volatile that they represented a threat to each other—and granted a protection order to both.
The older Geoffrey is known to be extremely secretive—when police asked for the address of his primary residence he would give them only the address of his office. "He's a very private person," says his attorney Steven Ladoulis, explaining why his client has withheld information. "This has made him public, which is something he doesn't enjoy." So it is likely that Geoffrey, who is widely regarded as one of the top insurance litigators at the Massachusetts bar, hasn't been happy with some other personal details that have come to light. Such as the disclosure that by last July Geoffrey, who was paying his wife $3,200 a week in support, was in arrears of $25,000, according to Susann's lawyers, and that in June he had petitioned the court to have his support payments reduced.
His attorney Ladoulis says that Geoffrey has been "crushed" by his wife's murder. While acknowledging that the couple had serious problems, Ladoulis insists that Geoffrey still loved Susann dearly. As Geoffrey reportedly told his attorney, "Even when I get angry with her, she's been a delight."
Anne Driscoll in Winchester