Beliefnet
Excerpted from "The Rabbi and the Hit Man" by Arthur J. Magida. Published this month by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright (c) 2003 by Arthur J. Magida.

This excerpt is a scene from Rabbi Fred Neulander's 2001 trial for hiring two hit men to kill his wife, Carol, in 1994. At the time of this first trial, the hit men, Leonard Jenoff and Paul Michael Daniels, had already been convicted of manslaughter and were serving prison terms. Neulander was eventually convicted of murder in a retrial in 2002 and is now serving a life sentence.


The next witness wore a bright orange jumpsuit, courtesy of Camden County jail. Leonard Jenoff--oval shaped, peering out of oversized glasses, bewildered at how his life had turned out--would testify for the next three and a half days. Dennis Wixted [Neulander's defense attorney] would hammer away at Jenoff, trying to shred whatever self-respect still resided in the ex-alcoholic, chronically prevaricating, publicity-seeking confessed killer-for-hire. He wanted jurors to find Jenoff unbelievable, erratic, risible, lying as he'd always lied. [Prosecutor Jim] Lynch, on the other hand, was hoping jurors would distinguish between a lifetime of lies and Jenoff's insistence that he was now telling the truth. Given Jenoff's history, Wixted had the easiest job.

Jenoff detailed the past twelve years or so of his life: [a] fatal accident that wasn't his fault, his subsequent drinking, his divorce, meeting Neulander in his study at M'kor Shalom, and being "overwhelmed" by the rabbi's "graciousness." Neulander was "taking my shame away," helping him "feel like a worthy Jew," Jenoff told the courtroom. Seeking to impress the rabbi, Jenoff explained he had lied to him about being in the CIA and committing assassinations. In 1994, Neulander began asking Jenoff about killing--"Would you kill for Israel" "Would you fight against the enemies of the Jewish State?" Then he confided that an enemy of Israel lived in Cherry Hill who had to be killed. Jenoff told the court that he asked Neulander for more details before taking the job. "There's no need for details," Neulander reportedly said. "Either you're the man for the job or you are not the man for the job. This woman is evil." In midsummer, Jenoff testified, Neulander identified the "enemy" as his wife--a deviation from Jenoff's confession back at Weber's Diner, where he'd said that he didn't know the real identity of his victim until he turned on the radio the day after the murder.

Neulander didn't deny his affairs: "I betrayed my community, my synagogue, my family. I betrayed my profession ..."

Jenoff stated that he kept stalling, not wanting to go ahead with the murder, at one point telling Neulander he needed an accomplice. Fine, the rabbi had said, but the payment would remain as they'd agreed--not a dime more. Jenoff explained that he'd then hired Paul Michael Daniels. They had gone to the Neulanders' house twice. The first time, Jenoff chickened out, but at least he established himself with Carol as a friendly presence by saying he was delivering a letter for the rabbi; the second time, Carol had invited him inside. Jenoff told all this mater-of-factly--no drama, no histrionics, no great emotion. But everyone in the courtroom knew what was coming up--they'd read his confession in the papers the year before--and they braced themselves for it.

Jenoff continued with his testimony, Carol, he said, had led him into the living room, where "she turned and put her back to me.I put my left hand on her shoulder. I pulled out the lead pipe.and whacked her on the back of the head."

For almost a minute, Jenoff was too choked up to speak. Carol's children and siblings were sitting about twenty feet in front of him--kneading their hands together in anguish, breathing quickly, almost painfully. Then Jenoff pulled himself together and continued. After he struck Carol, he said, "she started to stumble. I heard the words, 'Why? Why?'" Ignoring the plea, he had left the house and waited outside while Daniels finished the job. "I heard thumps," Jenoff said. "It seemed like forever." Then Daniels came to the front door and surprised Jenoff by saying he had to make sure Carol was dead. Jenoff walked into the living room. Afraid to touch Carol, he bent over her and heard "a noise. It was like a gurgling, a regurgitation, a hissing." It was the sound of blood pouring out of Carol's head.

Jenoff said that on one condolence call that he made to the Neulanders, the rabbi slipped him a manila envelope stuffed with about $7,000 in cash. Later, they had agreed to launder the balance that was due to Jenoff by having him bill the rabbi's lawyers for phony investigative work. But Neulander's attorneys eventually fired Jenoff when they chose their own investigator. After that, he received two personal checks from Neulander totaling $935, and in 1997, the rabbi paid him another $200. According to Jenoff, Neulander still owed more than $12,000 for the contract hit.

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