Murder in a college town
september 16, 1982
vol 76 no 18

alligator file

Howard Appledorf’s tragic death brings anger, pain, and some hard questions.

By Mike Szymanski
Alligator Staff Writer

The piano man stops in mid-song. Pause. He glances to his left at the empty chair.

Bobby Griffin flashes his contagious smile despite the chills zapping into him through the keyboard.

That soft cushy chair was warmed by his greatest fan just last week. Regulars still come to sit around the giant grand piano to hear his nostalgic crooning in the downstairs disco of the Hilton Inn.

It’s not the same. Doc’s not here tonight.

He’s here tonight, Bobby. I know it. He’s here,” a balding former high school teacher blurts out between songs. He chugs the last of the pitcher, shakes hands with the piano man and swaggers out down the steps. He usually doesn’t drink that much, but Doc’s not here to share the pitcher tonight.

The Song

“‘Doc” was UF nutrition Professor Howard Appledorf, who was mercilessly tortured and killed early Saturday morning, Sept. 4, Bobby and 41-year-old Appledorf were a singing team after

UF football games. It was tradition. Doc mysteriously missed the Gators victory against Miami. Bobby muddled through their favorite duet alone. Bobby knew something was wrong.

The next morning, Sept. 5, he learned Doc had been murdered in his condominium just down the block from the Hilton.

Bobby is collecting a signature book of Doc’s friends. They scrawled messages of memories. At the request of some, their duet, The Mailman Song, will be retired forever.

“It’s too hard for me to do,” Bobby said. “I try and I break down.”

The professor’s class, Man’s Food, attracted 750 students a semester. Over the years, he must have taught at least a quarter of the students who pass through UF. Many students spotted him at local bars where he whiled away at least four or five nights a week. He used to hop up on a piano stool and sing a crazy song to the tune of “Bye-Bye Blackbird.” By request only.

Gee I’m happy, Gee I’m gay,

‘Cause I come twice a day,

I’m your mailman.

Knock your knockers ring your bell

Gee I’m glad you think I’m swell

I’m your mailman.

I can come in any type of weather

That is why my bag is made of leather

Mailman comes the first of May

Policeman comes the next day

Nine months later there’s hell to pay Who’s to blame the blue or gray?

I’m your mailman.

The song once gained riotous applause, but it’s not funny anymore. Some feel it’s an omen. Others question whether it’s a glimpse of a clandestine past.

Rumors erupted when three baby-faced suspects were chased to Manhattan’s “meat rack’ male prostitution district and charged with Doc’s murder. Police won’t speculate about Doc’s sexual preference. Close friends say they know.

“You could take that song and make it sound like he was gay, but he wasn’t,” said a longtime friend, WKGR sportscaster Bob D’Alessio. He was called early Sunday morning to identify the body. “The song was just for fun. Doc was no faggot. He was an honest man.

An honest man who rarely talked about himself. Few close friends knew he was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Few knew of his bout with cancer. Few drinking buddies knew his mother lived near St. Petersburg.

But Bobby knew his favorite song.

“Honesty, it’s such a lonely word.”

Two of Appledorf’s lovers — a middle-aged woman and a local man — talked to an Alligator reporter. They describe a sensitive caring man who was more spiritual in relationships than sexual.

The Suspects

Doc died a horror movie death perhaps while his murderers were watching movies on his cable television during a bizarre death party. Friends can’t understand who would want to kill Doc.

He was internationally known as the Fast Food Professor touting “junk food” as good for you on talk shows with John Davidson, Phil Donahue and Dinah Shore. He dined with Angie Dickinson. He snacked with Colonel Sanders. He talked for months about meeting the San Diego Padres chicken.

He lectured many times in San Francisco, Calif. In late June, Appledorf may have met the man who is charged with ending his life. He met a young man preparing to enter UF. He met the man’s. 40-year-old uncle. They went to a restaurant and to a baseball game, friends remember Appledort saying.

The young man could have been Gary Allen Bown, also known as Gary Owstrowski, Gary Brown and Mark Hamlin, depending on to whom he was speaking and what identification he felt like showing.

He was cooperative with police and helped lead them to the other two suspects, New York Officer Joseph McConville said.

“He just said that he refuses to give out his real name,” McConville said.

Bown, 5-feet, 7-inches tall, 140 pounds, used to be a janitor at a New York Burger King. Police believe he came with two friends from the Manhattan hustling district — Shane Kennedy and Paul Everson — to visit Appledorf.

Kennedy is 15 years old, from Woodbury, Conn., a bedroom community, north of New York City. With penetrating green eyes and light blond hair flowing to his shoulders, Kennedy easily passed as a woman in Westside bars in New York, officer Frank Ferreyra said.

Kennedy ran away from home in April after going on a spending spree with his father’s credit cards, police said. His parents came to see him at the Midtown South precinct station after he and the other men were charged with murder Sept. 8.

After Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Helen Freedman informed them of the pending murder charges against them, Kennedy’s father was heard to say in a desperate tone: “You raise a kid. You give him a good home. For what?” Paul Everson is 19 years old, taller and thinner than his friends, with a three-inch scar on his elbow. Known to neighbors as a clown, Everson is the second of three children.

He has a younger brother just entering high school.

The Everson family’s neighbors in Roslindale, Mass., a Boston suburb, recalled that the older two boys were on their own when the Eversons moved into a rundown house.

William Everson, the father, restored the home with his sons’ help.

The father is a retired construction worker. He and the boys would work all week on the house and then they’d go down to Cape Cod to spend the weekend,” said a neighbor.

William Everson knew his son had social adjustment problems when the boy was 6 years old, just entering grade school. Psychologists told him the boy was fine. But he thought his son had two sides to his personality — one controllable, the other apparently not.

The Everson family sawPaul in Manhattan in late spring of this year. They never told friends about meeting their son’s companions, Bown and Kennedy.

The Chase

The three cruised East 53rd Street as high-priced male prostitutes. Older men bought Bown V.O. and orange juice, or an occasional rum and Coke, as he puffed Marlboro 100s.

Pock marks on his arm indicate heavy use of heroin. Bown also told arresting officer R.E. Albritton that he sometimes snorted cocaine and used mescaline. Bar managers remember that the three sold their bodies to older men.

They were fairly quiet guys. We kicked them out of our place a lot because they were just hanging out and not buying anything, said an assistant manager of Dallas Disco, the gay bar on East 53rd Street where Everson and Kennedy were nabbed.

“I’d see the young one on the streets a lot, too,” he added.

The tall one, well, he was no good at all. He was a transvestite.

Everson covered his poor complexion with gobs of makeup.

He smoked Newport cigarettes like a woman, and ordered Seagrams 7 or vodka, said a manger of The Haymarket, another hustler hangout.

There was something bad about him. He seemed to have been known by a lot of people. He got around a lot,” the manager said.

Everson told police he used pot, cocaine, and heroin regularly. He and his friends knew many ruthless, rough people.

“There’s talk that their friends may retaliate against the gays who turned them in,” the Dallas employee said Wednesday.

“They’re not smart kids, but they’ll get even.”

Six blocks away at The Haymarket, a homosexual couple on Sept. 7 overheard the three bragging about “killing a professor in Florida,” New York Lt. Joe Pirello said. They reported a car with Florida tags in the parking lot. Police spotted Bown. He led them on a 10-minute rip-roaring chase through Harlem and midtown Manhattan in Appledorf’s midnight blue Firebird.

Gainesville police traced the 1981 car to New York easily through a paper trail of credit card use, said Gairiesville State Attorney Eugene Whitworth.

A maid at a Days Inn in the sleepy town of Lumberton, N.C. on Sunday morning discovered Room 114 in a wreck. At about the same time, police found an apartment in Gainesville topsy-turvy with a body on the couch.

Makeup powder, eyeliner and hair dye were flung throughout the hotel room. A property release form from the Alachua County jail sat on a mirrored dresser. Suitcases inscribed with Appledorf’s name lay underneath bedsheets.

Appledorf’s credit cards were used in local stores to buy hundreds of dollars of jewelry, clogs, a large cassette player and a hair dryer, police said.

The Gainesville Connection

Together as a team, the trio appeared cocky and self-assured. They paraded for photographers in Manhattan: They stuck out their tongues. They giggled and laughed in the courtroom.

Bown once mouthed in his low-pitched, semi-audible voice, behind the back of his public defense lawyer: You fat pig, fuck you.”

They came to Gainesville in a more mellow mood. A sobering sight of about 50 reporters and 100 spectators came to gape. They hung their heads. Bown, in a sun visor, wore revealing, high-cut shorts. The other two wore skin-tight jeans, and Everson wore an earring and a T-shirt reading: “Tuff enough to overstuff.” They all had painted their pinkies red.

After being ushered to the sheriff’s van, McNichol and Kennedy looked out the back window. Detective Dennis Stinson said they were glad to get out of Riker’s Island Prison, because they said they were required to perform oral sex before taking a shower. Jail officials said the allegations are false. Yet, when they came to Gainesville they looked scared.

Store clerks were scared too, when the trio rampaged through Gainsville stores.

Two store clerks said three men who looked like the suspects were kissing mannequins in Belk Lindsey at the Oaks Mall during the last week of August. The store security guard escorted them out, but operations manager Dan Mixson refused to discuss it.

A young clerk in the Avanti women’s boutique next door to Belk Lindsey recalls their visit. She said they came in and talked for more than 90 minutes.

They told me they were going to kill someone,” the woman said. “I’m scared. I don’t want to get involved.”

They seemed like nice guys, troublemakers, but nice guys, said James Strickland, a Lil’ Champ store manager. At least a dozen times last month, Strickland said he sold them cigarettes, soda, and candy. Each paid for his own. Everson bothered Strickland.

“He used to talk rude to me and stick his tongue out,” Strickland said.

The other two were gentle, quiet, well-dressed and friendly guys. I can’t believe they are suspects for a murder.

Strickland’s store is next door to the Great American Bank of Gainesville, 1116 W. University Ave., where Everson attempted to cash one of Appledorf’s checks Aug. 23. He presented a check written to Walter Lutz for $900 and a Connecticut driver’s license that had been obviously tampered with a pen.

Everson gave the bank teller a phone number where he said Appledorf could be reached to verify the check. At the other end of the line was a man identifying himself as Appledorf, the manager of the Hilton Inn. That story didn’t wash with the bank.

Everson acted “juvenile” and “silly” said a vice president of the bank who didn’t want to be named because he feared for his family — the suspects “are not normal people,” he said.

We stalled them more than an hour before we check it out, called Doctor Appledorf and found out these guys were not legitimate,” the bank official said.

“I went to the Hilton Inn (where Bown was calling from a lobby pay phone) and phoned the number again,” Gainesville officer R.M. Davis said. “He picked up the phone, and I identified myself as a police officer, and advised him he was under arrest. He said they spent the night with Howard Appledorf, and that he took one blank check and signed it payable to Walter Lutz.

Police also found a car stolen from Budget Rental in the Fort Lauderdale area. The company refused to press charges although the 1981 Oldsmobile was returned slightly dam-aged.

Police are investigating the possibility of another blackmail scam the trio might have tried in the homosexual strip of Fort Lauderdale.

McNichol called from Orlando, friends of Appledorf recall.

“Then this punk stands at the doorway with his two friends in the middle of the night,” he continued. What is Doc going to say? He’s not the kind of guy who would say go away. He lets them in. They all get drunk together and then Doc passes out. They rip him off.’

Police say the men stayed two nights at Appledorf’s Biven’s South condominium.

While the three were in the Alachua County jail, an unidentified male called the professor regularly and threatened that if he did not post their bond, the man would go to local media and expose Appledorf as a homosexual. “He was threatened twice, he told me,” said retired school teacher Peter Fresneda, a friend for six years.

Appledorf agreed to drop the charges against the trio if they would leave town and not return. The State Attorney’s Office also deferred prosecution. They were released Thursday afternoon Sept. 2, by which time Appledorf was on his way to a speaking engagement in New York City.

“He was a frightened man,” Fresneda said. “He wanted to change his locks on the house, but he was too late.” he told investigators.

Capt. Richard Ward turned 40 on Sept. 5. His family planned an afternoon party. A cake was already baking. Steaks were defrosting.

Ward was pulled out of North Central Baptist Church Sunday morning. Gotta come, captain. Murder, captain.

In minutes, he headed to the scene. He wouldn’t see his family until 2:30 Monday morning. He wouldn’t eat his birthday cake until Thursday.

Detective Dennis Stinson packed the family in his car, slapped some sandwiches together and was pulling out the driveway to Crescent Beach when he was called. The plans were aborted. The next day Stinson would be chasing suspects to New York.

Police investigator Set. Steve Sober was painting his house over Labor Day weekend. His beeper went off. The paint on the walls and on the brush dried up long before he returned.

Gainesville police had a dozen men work 254.5 hours of overtime on the Appledorf case. In 24 hours they had three arrest warrants out. In 64 hours, all three suspects were arrested.

National and international press called Ward all week about the murder. Before Sunday, Ward only knew Appledorf’s international nutrition reputation. By Sunday night, he practically knew Doc’s whole life.

The Murder

Hightailing it out of the area after dropping charges against the three men, Appledorf flew to New York. He spoke at the Good Housekeeping Institute and returned late Friday night Sept. 3.

The plane got in late – 10:30 p.m. Appledorf drove his Firebird home, but stopped in with friends first at the Red Lion. Bar owner Charles Gordon said he looked good that night, quite dapper in a beige suit.

Richard Darr, 20, a UF sophomore, pulled Doc’s personal pewter mug No. 7 from the rack and poured him a Budweiser.

Darr poured Doc’s first and last beer.

That night he walked in the door and was met with a blow to the right side of his face, crushing his nose. He was found suffocated and wrapped in a sheepskin rug on his couch. He was blindfolded and gagged with his tie. His feet were bound by his belt.

His head was stuffed into a canvas travel bag filled with ice that was tied around his neck.

A cigarette was doused on his stomach.

D’Alessio was called to identity the body. He related the experience to The Alligator, the first time he had done so to the press.

“When they first called and said he was dead I thought maybe he fell or had a heart attack,” D’Alessio said. “I never thought this. I walked into the apartment and it was so cold.” The apartment thermostat had been lowered to 50 degrees,” Ward said.

His face was swollen — because of the ice, I think, oh God.

His nose had blood underneath. There was a mark on his head. It looked like he was bald. His hair was pulled back. He didn’t look the same.”

The body lay next to a tiny table bearing a picture of Doc when he was 7 years old.

The place was in shambles. It was sick, just sick,” he said.

Clothes and trash were strewn throughout the living room.

Food caked the walls. But even more macabre were the messages.

“Howard. Too bad you weren’t here.” The note was scrawled on a card and set near a place setting on the floor near the wrapped body. Around that, three paper plates were neatly lined up with silverware, cans of Bud, glasses of red wine and half-eaten submarine sandwiches.

“We believe the murderers sat there and ate white he was on the couch dying,” said Det. Stinson.

Other cryptic messages among splotches of mustard, barbecue sauce, and peanut butter: “We are criminally insane,” and “Hope you catch us.”

Ward said Doc suffered a “slow and painful death.”

Murder and Redrum – murder backwards – were scribbled on the walls in crayon and red felt tip marker. The words and the icy death connect the murder to the horror movie The Shining, where a child recites the word “Redrum” and the main character dies in the cold.

The Shining was playing on The Movie Channel the week before the murder.

Also written on the wall: “Howard, We Love You, signed the Sleaze Sisters.” The characters are from a movie about two streetwise tough sisters from Manhattan in the movie Times Square.

The movie was playing at 11:30 on cable television the night of the murder. Police say the suspects might have been watching the movie before Appledorf arrived.

To top off the bizarre setting, a brass nameplate peeled off one of his many awards lay on his forehead, a sort of tombstone.

The horror of the nameplate shocked his mother. She decided to forego a traditional Jewish funeral and have her son’s body cremated. His ashes would be thrown on the lake behind his home.

“She would always remember the warped minds of those who placed a marker on his forehead,” said St. Petersburg Rabbi David Susskind, who officiated at a private ceremony of 60 friends and relatives.

Doc’s mother in Gulfport, Mae Malin, said she was heartbroken by the tragedy. “I can’t talk about it. Have a heart, let my son rest in peace,” she told The Alligator.

The Question

Let it be. The mourners at Doc’s memorial service pleaded with the press. Let it be.

What difference does it make if he was gay? What matter is it that he drank a bit too much? Let it be. The man is dead.

That was the emotional speech Michael Fallon gave to friends at Friday’s memorial service. A drinking buddy at the Buzz Stop, Fallon says Doc was unlucky with women, unlucky in love.

He was hurt once by someone he really cared about, someone he really loved,” Fallon surmised. “He just was waiting for the right one to come along. He became gun shy.”

Looking into the sky and throwing his hands up, Fallon said: “Doc, you should have written your memoirs, then all this stuff would never have happened.”

Because of the overt homosexuality of the suspects, Appledorf has been labeled gay.

That is false “guilt by association,” Ward said. The UF Lesbian and Gay Society issued a statement that Doc never frequented the two predominantly gay Gainesville bars.

But gay rights advocate Bob Kunst said he knows a UF employee and another local man who knew of Appledorf’s homosexual en-counters. A local waiter who worked at a bar where Appledorf attended said he had an “affair” with Appledorf more than a decade ago when he first came to UF.

“I would say Howard was more bisexual,” said the waiter, who was also contacted by The Miami Herald. “He was a sensitive person who would not talk about himself. Not many people knew about him. He was an egotist so that would prevent him from talking about it.

After a nine-month relationship, they separated but remained peripheral friends.

This really does not need to come out” the man said.

“More has been said than necessary about the man. Whoopee, so he had another side. The only thing is that that side got him in trouble.

An out-of-town visitor for the memorial service admitted to The Alligator that she was a former lover of Appledorf. The U.S. government employee said their relationship ended when she left Gainesville.

“He was not into the casual relationships. In fact, he was sometimes too stifling. I don’t think I’m the woman who broke his heart. I hope I’m not. He was always a die-hard bachelor.”

Friends of Appledorf confirmed that the man and woman who spoke with The Alligator were indeed past lovers of the dead professor.

“He had a lot of women friends,” Fresneda said. “I always saw him at the theater with them, or I’d call and friends would be over.” Students loved him. He told them that it was okay to pig out on french fries, pizza and hamburgers. His class of 600 met for the first time without him this week. Students walked out, giving the replacement a lukewarm welcome. He was not the man who used Garfield and Shoe characters in his lesson.

The air of Howard Appledorf is gone,” anthropology senior Eileen Weisman: said.

“The man was just alive telling us to have a good weekend.”

But his students still have questions about his personal life.

“Is he a faggot?” student John Custer asked. “We all hate faggots.”

“Why does it matter?” D’Alessio asked.

“Isn’t it enough that some lower-than-life assholes had to horribly murder him? Isn’t it enough that the man is gone? He was a good friend. He was a good teacher. Everyone loved him. He was a saint.

“Who cares what else he did? Let him be.”


Murder in a college town