Death of Bride of 9 Days a Bizarre End to an Unusual Courtship

Times Staff Writers

They arose early and got themselves all decked out: she in a midcalf dress of some soft beige, he in a jacket and tie--the first tie Scott Roston's roommate had ever seen him wear.

Scott Roston and Karen Waltz raced to Las Vegas on Feb. 4 in his leased red Toyota two-seater and were wed in a $25 civil ceremony in a marriage commissioner's office enlivened by some blue and white artificial flowers.

Then they raced back to Santa Monica. On their wedding night, when the roommate, Damone Schraier, came home to the condominium about 9:30 p.m., they were still dressed up. "You kids look like you've been to a wedding," he teased. Karen kissed Scott, and Scott laughed and flashed his wedding ring and said, "Don't tell anybody." Then Karen went back to "puttering" in the kitchen, and Scott sat watching "Star Trek," Schraier remembers.

Nine days later and 30 miles out to sea, Karen Waltz Roston, 26, the bride who had polished her body with years of dance and exercise and even gentle self-defense training, fell or was pushed overboard from her honeymoon cruise ship, the Stardancer.

Found embedded in the rubberized jogging track on the deck were strands of her blonde hair and a single earring, one of the pair she was wearing in a photograph of a happy shipboard dinner. A dozen hours later, her body was pulled from the ocean, still clad in jogging clothes, a victim of strangulation associated with drowning, the San Diego County coroner found.

And her new husband, Scott Robin Roston, 36--a fitness buff, a chiropractor and a man convinced that his life is in jeopardy because of his vanity book about his "torture" by Israeli agents--was soon under arrest on a federal murder charge.

Wrote Statement in Cell

At first, according to an FBI affidavit, he said his bride had been blown over the ship's 4-foot railing by the wind, and he had scratched his face in lunging to save her.

Then, from his cell, he wrote out a statement that his lawyer read to reporters three days later at Roston's instruction. Israeli agents killed his "beloved wife," he wrote, "because I published an expose last year of the countless crimes of that (Israeli) government," a charge that Israeli consular officials deny.

Roston, in three phone calls to The Times, denied any role in her death and said he was unconscious--"drugged" by the same agents--while she was attacked. His tale of her being blown overboard was a product of the drug: "I was not able to control my reasoning.

"I didn't kill her," he said in a choked voice, "but I know the people that did." He said Israeli agents had ambushed him last year outside a Florida shopping mall, but he fired at them with the gun he kept in his car and escaped.

It was a bizarre end to an unusual long-distance courtship.

From her Florida home, Karen Waltz Roston's mother, Roberta, said she had worried about her "sweet" younger daughter's six-months' cross-country relationship--so much so that she had the "pretty little" pear-shaped diamond engagement ring appraised; "I wondered if he'd given her a cubic zirconia.

"I'd give anything if she hadn't met Scott," she said tearfully.

Roston says Karen Waltz proposed to him three times and "was anxious to get married."

But Karen, although she seemed smitten, "had her reservations about Scott," Roberta Waltz said, and wanted to put off the wedding for six months. She recalled that he told Karen: " 'I want to marry you the minute you get out here.' Karen said, 'I need to get to know you better.' " A family friend said Karen had confided: " 'Well, you can always give back an engagement ring.' "

The night before the wedding, her mother telephoned the condo. "I said, 'Scott, she's going to be yours now, and please take care of her for me.' And he said, 'I'm taking care of her right now, and I'll take care of her for you, Robbie.' Then Karen got on the phone and said, 'Mom it's OK, I've made up my mind now; I'll be happy' . . . and that's the last I heard."

They met in a Florida country club in June. Karen Waltz, a state-licensed massage therapist since December, 1986, gave Roston a massage when, according to her mother, his usual masseuse "was not available."

They had a lot in common, it seemed, including just coming off other relationships--Karen's of several years' duration. But, most of all, was their devotion to fitness.

Years of devotion to ballet, modern dance, tai chi and other forms of physical discipline had left the 5-foot-3 woman strong and agile. She was a strong swimmer, said Waltz, and walked 10 miles a day. Friends like Karen Johnson Zysk, who graduated with Karen from the Academy of Healing Arts in Lake Worth, Fla., said she was "very quiet, very gentle."

"She wasn't an aggressive person," said Zysk. "I can't see her going up to someone and proposing . . . or being attacked by Israeli agents. Love is blind, right?"

Roston, a Bronx native, had, like his father, earned a chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic College in Marietta, Ga. The younger Roston was not licensed to practice in Florida or California. He was a U. S. Navy Hospital Corps veteran, he said. He played golf and skied, and kept up a membership at health clubs. "They both were physical fitness nuts," said Waltz.

Hometown Girl

But their pasts diverged startlingly.

Karen, whose family boasts Thomas Jefferson as an ancestor, was a hometown girl. Her parents went through what her father, Richard Randolph Waltz, describes as a "very bad divorce," in part because his 28-year Air Force pilot career moved him around.

She went to a Lutheran elementary school; Friday, she was memorialized at a local Lutheran church, where her former boyfriend--"the boy we wanted her to marry," her mother said--spoke her eulogy.

The Rostons are "Jewish through and through," said Roston. In 1978, he and his parents immigrated to Israel. Although chiropractic was not then officially recognized, they spent 14 months there and opened a clinic. But, in late 1979, Roston spent more than two months in jail and in a mental hospital, where, he wrote, he was drugged and brutalized.

After he "refused to be bribed" into marrying a neighbor's niece and was entrapped by a blackmail threat against his parents, he says, he was "framed" and arrested on a phony charge by the "Israeli Mafia," accused of beating up and robbing the neighbor's relative.

Angry, First-Person Book

He was allowed to return to the United States after he feigned a mental breakdown, acting like an 8-year-old "so they couldn't take me to trial." Embittered, he wrote "Nightmare in Israel," accusing "corrupt" Israeli bureaucrats of ruining the country. In early 1987, he paid Vantage Press to publish about 1,000 copies of the angry, first-person, 184-page book.

"When the government of Israel learns of this book," he predicted, "realizing that I outwitted them, they'll probably try to deny the whole affair. They'll also probably try to retaliate against me. . . ."

Last March, about the time the book was published, Palm Beach County sheriffs received a report from Roston's parents about a kidnaping attempt against their son outside a shopping mall. It was "pretty fantastic . . . even for south Florida," said Sheriff's Sgt. Thomas Neighbors.

Two Israelis in a white van grabbed him and threatened in Hebrew, "Israel wants you," Roston told The Times. "I had a gun in my car. Since I wrote the book, a lot of people told me, 'Carry one.' " Roston said he broke free and shot one man before speeding away in his Toyota Supra. Although a description of the van was apparently broadcast, "nothing much ever came of that case," said Neighbors.

The Palm Beach Post reported last week that Roston phoned the newspaper shortly after the alleged attack, saying he was hiding in a Washington-area hotel. He likened himself to Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear technician abducted after he revealed atomic bomb secrets. "Israel took its best shot," Roston told the Post, "and they blew it."

A few months later, he met Karen and "she said she fell in love with me partly because of my book," he said. "I've waited all my life for someone like her."

Brought Roses

A Florida hair stylist who knew Roston and had met his earlier girlfriend said he never mentioned Karen. She said when she saw Karen's photo, she thought "I just expected someone more flamboyant."

The first time Roston visited Karen's mother, "he brought me roses from his garden," Roberta Waltz said. ". . . He sat here in our house telling us how much he loved Karen."

But, she added, "we thought he is too perfect, not a hair out of place, perfect physique, looked as if he had a lot of money, which now I know he doesn't."

Roston says he got $65,000 in 1986--a settlement from his 1982 fall on a rotten banana at a New Jersey shopping mall--and was on disability in Florida. He came to California in August, 1987, planning to work with an attorney to help people out of foreclosures.

He paid his rent promptly. "I don't know what he did for money," said roommate Schraier, who said the ocean-view condo had two phone lines. A recorded answering message on one told callers that they had reached "Roston and Associates."

'Wasn't Extravagant'

"He always seemed to have the necessities of life covered . . . always seemed to have money, wasn't extravagant, but wasn't frugal," said Schraier, who met him through a Santa Monica health club. Of the murder charge, he said: "He was on deck--I wasn't and you weren't."

Throughout 1987, Roston had called Karen, but not often enough to please her mother. "I said to Karen, 'You'd think he'd call more than once a week.' She just made some excuse: 'Well, Scott doesn't like to talk on the phone.' "

On Karen's second visit to California, at Thanksgiving, they became engaged. On her first visit, in September, said Waltz, the couple drove to Santa Cruz to visit a friend of Karen's, and "he just left her there." Karen borrowed money to return, her mother said.

In January, Karen decided to try life with Roston. She brought about $1,100 with her, her mother said.

Two days after their wedding, the Stardancer set sail. They dined and jogged together. Roston said one passenger called them "the all-American couple." "They seemed to be enjoying each other," said another passenger, a lawman from Cook County, Ill., who later found the strands of her hair on deck.

On Feb. 13, after midnight, the couple were on the jogging deck when Karen went overboard.

'Heard Her Screaming'

"I was on the other side of the deck and I heard her screaming my name and I went running," Roston told The Times, "and I saw her trying to climb back up on the rail, reaching up. I tried to reach for her; I was not successful. Before I could reach her, I lost consciousness. Before I regained it, she was gone."

Roston made his way to the bridge, where, according to Scott Douglas, an attorney representing Admiral Cruise Lines, which operates the Stardancer, "the first thing he did when he went to the staff captain was ask to use the restroom. He didn't use the toilet; he washed his face. He was concerned about washing his face."

Through the open bathroom door, Douglas said, the staff captain, Thomas Wildung, could see him "examining his face and washing it off." The FBI noted three gouges on his cheek and a 6-inch scratch, which Roston says he suffered when he hit a foot-square metal compass box as he dived for his wife.

Coast Guard searchers who found Karen's body at 12:55 p.m. noted a "goose-egg type bump on her forehead," marks on her neck and a minute puncture below her left breast.

Roston was arrested the same day, when the ship docked. Three days later, he blamed Israeli agents for her murder.

Karen's father, who lives in North Carolina, said that his daughter had not been in touch with him for several years and that he did not know of her engagement. But "I spent 28 years in the military," he said, "and if they (agents) want to get you, they don't do it that way . . . they would be much more selective than something like this. I think this is poppycock."

From his cell on Terminal Island, Scott Roston is obdurate. "I guess they wanted to frame me because of my book . . . you can send a message to the people who murdered her that her death is not going to be in vain."

For the Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday February 23, 1988 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 5 National Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction A photo caption in Monday's Times incorrectly reported that a book by Scott Roston, a suspect in the death of his wife of nine days, was published in 1978. The book was published in 1987.
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