Chosen by God: They began as a religious sect, following a warped version of Christianity. They ended as a murderous gang, responsible for at least eleven deaths.
Terror in Tenerife: Jennifer had retired to one of the most beautiful islands on earth. But danger lurks in paradise and it can strike when you least expect it.
Blowback: The package had been sitting on the table, unopened, for a week. Marcus’s first instinct was to throw it in the trash. He should have followed that hunch.
Hate Street: A street under siege by a gang of teenage thugs; an ordinary man who isn’t prepared to take it anymore; a tragedy about to unfold.
The Price: He was a reprobate who seduced and impregnated his own stepdaughter. Does it get any lower than that? In Simon Meecham’s case, yes.
Desperate Measures: A mother and son desperate for money; a husband and father they both wish was dead; a solution that kills two birds with one stone.
In the Dead of Night: A vacationing family stops for the night at a hotel. They’ve just put themselves in the path of a killer.
Murder Most Vile Volume 37
No Pain, No Gain
The storyline reads like the plot of a poorly conceived crime novel. And indeed, this tale of bumbling criminals and incompetent cops was made into a Hollywood blockbuster, albeit one that presented the horror of the grisly case as dark comedy. But there was nothing funny about the “Sun Gym murders.” This was savagery at its most extreme, murder at its most horrific. It happened in mid-90s Miami.
Jorge Delgado had met multi-millionaire businessman Marc Schiller through his wife, an employee at one of Schiller’s companies. The men had quickly become friends, with Delgado a regular guest at Schiller’s South Miami mansion. Jorge and Marc had even started a business together, investing in real estate.
Then, in 1994, Jorge Delgado struck up another friendship, with a man named Daniel Lugo, a personal trainer at the Sun Gym in Miami Lakes. He started to bring Lugo to Schiller’s house, something that quickly began to irritate Schiller. He didn’t like Lugo, didn’t like his shifty eyes or the way that he appraised everything in the house as though planning a burglary. Eventually, Schiller asked Delgado to stop bringing Lugo around. Then he issued an ultimatum. Either Delgado stopped hanging out with Lugo or their business dealings were over. Delgado refused and Schiller subsequently withdrew from the real estate business, leaving his partner deep in the hole.
This falling out between business associates would have far-reaching consequences. When Delgado complained to Lugo that Schiller had “cheated” him, Lugo suggested doing something to get even. He might just have been talking tough (something he was inclined to do) but Delgado immediately picked up on the idea. Soon the pair had concocted a plan, a plan that involved kidnapping Schiller and forcing him to sign over his assets, which they’d split between them.
This would require planning, of course. Lugo was going to need help in snatching Schiller. Fortunately, he had that covered. He had plenty of musclebound buddies hanging out at the gym. Then there was the issue of having the deed documents notarized. That would require a notary public and Lugo knew just the man for the job. John Mese was the owner of Sun Gym. He was also a certified accountant.
And so, the plan was set in motion. On November 15, 1994, Lugo, along with associates Noel Doorbal and Carl Weekes, snatched Schiller from the parking lot of Schlotzsky’s Deli, a business Schiller owned near Miami International Airport. Schiller was bundled into a van and taken to a warehouse that Delgado had rented for that purpose. There, he was tied to a chair and beaten, then shocked with a Taser. The gang demanded that he sign the documents that were put in front of him, documents that would transfer ownership of his house and other assets. But Schiller was tougher than they thought. Badly beaten, burned with cigarettes, soaked in his own urine when they refused to let him go to the bathroom, he steadfastly refused. It was only when they threatened to bring his wife and children to the warehouse and subject them to the same treatment that he eventually relented.
Lugo now had the deeds to Schiller’s house, the code to his safe, the passwords to his bank accounts. But before he could go about harvesting his ill-gotten gains, he needed to get Mrs. Schiller and the kids out of the way. He therefore told Schiller to call his wife and instruct her to leave the country immediately, taking the children with her. Mrs. Schiller, a Colombian national, asked few questions before complying.
Now Lugo had a clear run at Schiller’s assets. With the documents notarized by John Mese, he moved into Schiller’s mansion and started living the life, splurging his victim’s money on cars, clothes, jewelry, and partying. He told Schiller’s neighbors that he had bought the property at a “knock-down price” and hinted that he was a retired CIA agent. He said that he now made a living providing security for celebrities. In the meantime, Marc Schiller was still tied up in the warehouse, where he’d now been held for three weeks. The issue of what to do with him was becoming urgent.
Lugo would later claim that it was never his intention to kill Schiller, that he had always planned on letting him go, once he had control over his assets. It is difficult to see how that could have worked. In any case, by mid-December, the gang had decided that Schiller would have to die. On December 15, 1994, Schiller was forced to consume enough alcohol to make him pass out. He was then brought to a remote road in the gang’s van with one of the gang members following in Schiller’s vehicle. This was driven into a pole before Schiller was placed in the front seat. The car was then doused with gasoline and set alight. The idea was to make it look as though an inebriated Schiller had been involved in a car accident.
But Schiller would prove his resilience once again. As the gang was about to leave, he staggered from the burning vehicle. Lugo then floored the van, hitting Schiller at high speed and driving him under the wheels. He even threw the vehicle into reverse and drove over the unfortunate man again. The gang then left, confident that their victim was dead. He wasn’t. Schiller was found soon after and rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital. There, doctors performed emergency surgery to remove his ruptured spleen. When Schiller regained consciousness, he told hospital staff of his ordeal and asked them to call the police. Two detectives were sent to take his statement but if Schiller was expecting some kind of police response, he was to be sorely mistaken. Rather than taking his story seriously, the officers accused him of lying to avoid a DUI charge.
Marc Schiller had been kidnapped, tortured, robbed of everything he owned. His abductors had forced him to send his family away and had tried to burn him alive. And yet, the Miami police were refusing to do anything about it. Desperate, Schiller contacted private investigator Ed Du Bois, a former Miami-Dade detective. Du Bois listened to Schiller’s story and asked him to put everything in writing. Then he started looking into Schiller’s claims and discovered to his amazement that the fantastical story was true.
In early February 1995, Du Bois set up a meeting with Sun Gym owner John Mese and confronted him with the documents he’d notarized. Mese admitted that both parties had not been present at the time of signing, an irregularity that could land him in hot water. He denied knowing anything about kidnapping and torture but agreed to set up a meeting between Du Bois and the main players, Lugo and Delgado. When that meeting took place, on February 13, Lugo failed to show. Delgado, meanwhile, was insisting that the whole thing had been a legitimate business deal. Asked about Schiller’s accusations of kidnapping and torture, Delgado responded with a terse “no comment.” He was clearly rattled though. The meeting ended without a resolution although Delgado promised to meet with Du Bois again, once he’d “spoken to his partners.”
That meeting would be held a week later, with Delgado putting an offer on the table. He would return Schiller’s money and property. In return, Schiller was to sign a legal document, pledging never to tell anyone what had happened to him, especially not the police. Du Bois said that he would put it to his client.
Shiller, quite unsurprisingly, was none too keen on the terms. Of course, he wanted his money back but the idea that his torturers would get off scot-free was irksome to him. However, after talking with his lawyer and learning that such an agreement would not be legally enforceable, that it would, in fact, amount to a confession, he agreed.
Over the next few days, drafts of the document passed back and forth between the parties. In the meanwhile, the Sun Gym gang vacated Schiller’s property, taking everything of value with them. This was in direct contradiction to the agreement, and it was also becoming clear to Du Bois that Delgado was not going to comply with his side of the bargain. It was time to call his bluff. In late February 1995, Du Bois contacted the Metro-Dade police. He expected an emphatic response to allegations of kidnapping, attempted murder, and wholesale fraud. What he got instead were allegations that his client was making the whole thing up.
It is easy to see why the Sun Gym gang might have been emboldened by this lack of police response. Their grand plan had been a horribly botched job but to them, it must have seemed like pure genius. They had, after all, gotten away with it. In any case, they decided to do another one. Their target, this time, was a Hungarian immigrant named Frank Griga, who had made his fortune running a phone sex business. On May 25, 1995, Griga was invited to a meeting at Noel Doorbal’s house, ostensibly to discuss an investment opportunity. The plan was to subdue him, to drag him off to the warehouse and torture him into signing over his assets. A carbon copy, in other words, of the Schiller abduction. Unfortunately for the gang, Griga complicated things by bringing his girlfriend, Krisztina Furton, along.
Lugo and Doorbal could have abandoned their plan at this point, or at least delayed it. Instead, they plowed right ahead. Doorbal tried to subdue Griga who fought back, triggering a vicious fistfight. Furton then started screaming at which point Lugo grabbed her and injected her with Rompun, a horse tranquilizer. Meanwhile, Doorbal had gained the upper hand and had Griga in a headlock. He kept applying pressure, maintaining his grip until Griga passed out. Doorbal thought that he had rendered Griga unconscious. In fact, he had cut off his victim’s oxygen long enough to kill him. Lugo, too, had been overzealous in his attempt to silence Krisztina Furton. He’d overdosed her with the tranquilizer, causing her breath to become erratic. Still he pressed her for the access codes to the couple’s luxury Intracoastal property, jotting down her barely coherent words with a pencil. Soon she stopped talking. Then she stopped breathing.
The Sun Gym gang had launched their latest escapade with dreams of cash and property. All they had to show for it was two corpses that they needed to dispose of. The bodies were loaded into their van and taken to the warehouse, where Lugo and Doorbal performed the grisly task of dissection, using hatchets and a chainsaw. The body parts were later packed into steel drums which were welded shut and then dumped in a drainage ditch in a remote area of Dade County. Another drum containing the heads, hands, and feet of the victims, was deposited in the Everglades.
On May 27, Lugo flew to the Bahamas, where he tried to access Frank Griga’s bank account, using the information he’d gained in Krisztina Furton’s dying moments. However, the information proved to be inaccurate, and Lugo returned empty-handed to Miami. His gang had similarly been unable to get inside the couple’s home. All that the double homicide had gained them was Griga’s Lamborghini, which Lugo foolishly insisted on driving around town, thus drawing attention to himself. It resulted in his arrest on June 3, 1995, a week after the murders. Also taken into custody were Noel Doorbal, John Mese, and another gang member, John Raimondo. Warrants would soon follow for Jorge Delgado, Carl Weekes, and Stevenson Pierre.
Brought to trial in July 1998, Lugo and Doorbal pleaded not guilty but were undone by the testimony of their co-accused, Jorge Delgado, who’d turned state’s evidence in exchange for a 13-year prison term. Lugo and Doorbal were both convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. They currently await execution. As for their co-conspirators, John Mese was convicted on extortion and racketeering charges and was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. He died behind bars in 2004. The other members of the bumbling crew received terms ranging from ten to seven years. All have since been released.
There was one more twist to the case, one that added insult to injury for the unfortunate Marc Schiller. Directly after testifying against his abductors and torturers, Schiller was leaving the courthouse when he was arrested by federal agents. He was accused of Medicare fraud and was subsequently sentenced to 46 months in prison. Released in 2001, Schiller claimed that he was innocent of the charge but had pleaded guilty simply because he had “no more fight left in him.”
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