Adam Zachs spent 22 years dodging the police who were trying to put him in prison for murder. But according to new documents released by West Hartford police, he made good use of the time, building a comfortable life for himself in Mexico.
On the run since 1989, by the time he was 47 he had built up a respectable computer repair business and had a 21-year-old wife and two children from a previous marriage.
His business -- Hospital de Computadoras “Accesa” -- was a success, bringing in $300,000 to $400,000 a year. He had big customers, such as the insurer MetLife, and was close to signing a contract with the local health department.
Then, just about a year ago this month, Zachs' comfortable world collapsed.
On Feb. 1, 2011, U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials arrested Zachs in Leon, Guanajuato, as he traveled between his home and business.
Nearly five months later, Zachs was extradited to Connecticut and immediately sent to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield to start serving his 60-year sentence.
With Zachs finally behind bars, West Hartford police released more than 400 pages of documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Courant regarding both the 1987 murder of West Hartford resident Peter Carone and the department's 22-year search for his killer.
The documents include police reports about conversations with Zachs' family and friends, as well as a summary of conversations between Zachs and West Hartford Det. Mark Puglielli during their flight from Mexico to the U.S.
Zachs, despite knowing he was heading to prison for what will probably be the rest of his life, was talkative during the flight, telling Puglielli a little about his life on the run and about how close he'd come to capture.
Zachs told Puglielli that he felt living a productive life in Mexico was, in his mind at least, a way he could honor Carone's memory. So much time had elapsed since his escape he felt he'd never be caught, despite a few close calls over the years.
For example, Zachs once did computer work for someone who had a friend visiting. The friend looked at Zachs, and told him he looked a lot like the person on a poster at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, where the visitor used to work.
Zachs just laughed off the comment.
Another time, an American man once approached Zachs after synagogue service in Mexico City and told him he looked like someone featured on “America's Most Wanted,” a television program that broadcast an episode about Zachs' disappearance four times.
Once again, Zachs simply dismissed the comments.
The closest call happened during a bus trip in Mexico that Zachs made with a friend. The bus was stopped at a roadblock by federal police, and officers instructed all the males to get off the bus and show their identification cards.
Zachs didn't have any identification, he told Puglielli. He saw that his friend was still sleeping, and he decided to pretend that he, too, was asleep. The police left him alone.
Zachs entered Mexico through Cancun in 1989, nearly two years after he fatally shot Carone during a petty disagreement at the Prospect Café in West Hartford. He was brought to trial and convicted of first-degree murder in 1988.
He was sentenced to 60 years in prison, but state law at the time allowed him to post bail while he waited for an appeal to be heard. He was released from jail after his aunt posted $250,000 bond. He fled with his girlfriend, thousands of dollars in cash and his brother's birth certificate.
He was driven to New York City by Moses Alphonse, an employee of C-Thru Ruler Co., a Bloomfield business owned by the Zachs family. After spending a night in a hotel, Zachs and his girlfriend, Carmen Mangual, boarded a plane at John F. Kennedy Airport bound for Cancun, Mexico.
Zachs told Puglielli that he chose to go to Mexico because it was a big country with a large population and he brought Mangual with him because she could speak Spanish.
LIFE IN MEXICO
Starting a new life, however, was nerve-wracking, he admitted to Puglielli last June as the two flew to the U.S. He learned Spanish, stayed out of the spotlight and established a new life.
Zachs assumed an alias, Mitchell Robertson. Later he changed it to Ruben Fridman. He polished his Spanish by watching English-language movies in Mexico City that were subtitled in Spanish.
He also got important help from his family and friends.
In a conversation with police, Mangual said Zachs spoke with his father, Frederick Zachs, every week when they first arrived in Mexico. The calls became less frequent over time.
Mangual said they were also helped by a rabbi in Mexico and that a Mexican lawyer helped them with immigration issues.
Mangual, now living in Hartford, stayed with Zachs until late 1990, when she went to Puerto Rico. She could not be reached for comment, but the documents said she started dating Zachs after the shooting.
Mangual told police Zachs was controlling, and wouldn't let her make phone calls unless he was present and wouldn't let her see her family. He hid money behind a heater, she said.
Depressed, Mangual wanted to leave Mexico. In December 1990, Zachs gave her money for a plane ticket, then packed his belongings and left.
Zachs moved often. During his first few years in Mexico, he relied on his parents.
Adam Zachs' brother, Neil, and his family traveled from New Jersey to visit him at least once, according to the police documents, and Alphonse and Isador Bendrihem of Brooklyn, N.Y., a former C-Thru Ruler Co. employee, helped funnel money to him.
The employees also helped get letters from Adam Zachs to his father and would talk to Adam on the phone to see if he was OK or needed money.
Alphonse went to visit Zachs in 1999 with his wife and a friend, Belizean taxi driver Collet Maskall, at the request of Zachs' father. They brought Zachs money and stayed at his home, according to the documents. Alphonse also recalled using Western Union to send Zachs cash.
Flying back to the States, Zachs told Puglielli that extreme caution was part of his success in eluding police. For instance, he said he never searched his name on the Internet because he knew his IP address -- the actual location of his computer -- could be discovered that way. And he never returned to the U.S. -- not even for his mother's funeral.
But he said he made a mistake by moving to Leon, which, at 1.4 million people, was much smaller than Mexico City, which has a population of 8.84 million.
“Everyone always thought we could catch him,” Puglielli said.
As the years went by, authorities slowly circled in on Adam Zachs.
They talked to Zachs' family and friends. They also photocopied envelopes addressed to the Zachs family, sending them to the state Department of Public Safety's forensic lab. Forensic experts, however, could never say with certainty that it was Adam Zachs' handwriting.
The flow of tips accelerated after an “America's Most Wanted” episode aired, and West Hartford police heard from tipsters in California, North Carolina and even Hawaii. Police followed up, but Zachs, an avid watcher of the crime show, continued to elude them.
By 2006, though, West Hartford police had received fresh information, from the phone conversations they recorded, that Zachs was in Mexico City.
The FBI had been involved in the search for Zachs, but hadn't had any luck until after the September 2001 attacks turned more focus onto terrorism, said former West Hartford Police Chief James Strillacci.
In January 2006, Strillacci sent a letter to U.S. Marshals offices in both Connecticut and Washington, D.C., requesting that the agency take a lead role in finding and arresting Zachs. The marshals agreed, and the partnership allowed investigators to try new ways to get information.
In December 2010, marshals and Puglielli went to Mexico to look for Zachs.
They arranged for Maskall, the Belizean taxi driver who had visited Zachs years earlier, to meet them there. Authorities wanted Maskall to show them where he stayed on his visit, but Maskall was unable to do so. While the December trip failed to produce additional information about Zachs' location, law enforcement officials continued to pursue the case.
Investigators worked with Bendrihem and Alphonse, fitting them with wires to send audio during their meetings with Adam Zachs' father, Frederick.
When Alphonse told Frederick Zachs about law enforcement officials' renewed interest in the case, the elder Zachs said multiple times that he thought his son had died. A few months later, Frederick Zachs told Bendrihem about how he had paid for his grandchildren to meet him in Arizona. Frederick Zachs also said he used to talk to Adam in Mexico by pay phone.
While the help of Alphonse and Bendrihem was important, Strillacci said the key to the investigation's success was that it focused on a particular area -- Mexico. Tracking the movement of money from Frederick Zachs to his employees and then to Adam Zachs proved critical, he said.
“It was kind of a follow-the-money thing,” Strillacci said.
On Feb. 1, 2011, Adam Zachs was arrested by U.S. and Mexican authorities at approximately 3:50 p.m. as he walked between his home and his business. He refused to provide his date of birth, but admitted his true identity and asked to speak to an attorney.
Puglielli got the phone call about Zachs' arrest at home. The next day, Puglielli and two other officers visited the home of Addie Carone, Peter Carone's mother. They told her about Zachs' capture just hours before a press conference was held at the police department.
Puglielli, who had worked on the case for six years, said he was happy to see it end. He was one of a long line of local and federal officers who worked on the investigation.
After he was arrested, months went by as authorities pressed to extradite Zachs. Hoping to speed up the process, Connecticut's congressional delegation wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the matter. It is unknown whether Clinton interceded.
On June 29, 2011, Zachs boarded Aeromexico Flight 404 with Puglielli and Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Novak. The jet landed at JFK Airport in New York City.
West Hartford Det. Dane Semper joined Puglielli and drove Zachs from the airport to lockup at Superior Court in Hartford. After briefly appearing before a judge, Zachs was sent directly to MacDougall-Walker Correctional Facility, where he remains.
Less than two months later, Frederick Zachs, then 78, was sentenced to six months in prison for helping his son elude the law. After years of denying that he had any knowledge of his son's disappearance or whereabouts, Frederick Zachs admitted that he helped Adam Zachs flee to Mexico and sent him money through his employees.
He is serving his sentence at Fort Dix Federal Corrections Institution in New Jersey.
Police say no one else will be charged in the case, including Alphonse and Bendrihem, because of the statute of limitations.
“Closed -- no further investigation,” Puglielli wrote in the case file.
On Oct. 5, 2011, Addie Carone filed a civil lawsuit against Frederick Zachs, saying his complicity in allowing his son to escape justice caused her mental anguish and emotional and psychological distress. The suit is pending.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times