In 1983, Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt allegedly offered a hit man $1 million to kill Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, Frank Sinatra, publisher Walter Annenberg and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, it was reported Wednesday.
The $1 million was never paid, however, and the purported hit man, Mitchell Werbell, died of a heart attack a short time later, KNBC-TV news reported.
“Larry Flynt one evening called an individual by the name of Werbell to his home and allegedly offered him $1 million if he would arrange for the death of these four individuals,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block told the television station.
Sheriff’s officials did not immediately release the names of all the individuals purportedly targeted in the alleged murder solicitation. But KNBC reported that they were Annenberg, Guccione and Sinatra. The station then displayed a photocopy of a $1-million check allegedly signed by Flynt and made out to Werbell.
“He did in fact give Werbell a $1-million check, which, immediately upon leaving, we were told, that Flynt’s business manager stopped payment on that check so it never was negotiated,” the sheriff said in the broadcast interview.
The alleged hit man, who reportedly described himself as a soldier of fortune and founder of a paramilitary organization, died a short time later, in December, 1983, at the UCLA Medical Center, KNBC said.
Block told KNBC that Flynt could possibly be prosecuted for soliciting a murder. However, no charges have been filed.
The sheriff said he considered the matter to be serious.
“I’ve been led to believe that Larry Flynt has a propensity to try to harm people he sees as his enemies, whether business arrangements or whatever,” he said.
Susan Reynolds, publicist for Sinatra, said the entertainer was en route to Reno, for performances at Ballys and she was not able to contact him.
A telephone call placed to Penthouse magazine headquarters in New York after hours was answered by a security guard, who said no one representing the magazine was available for comment.
A telephone call placed to Annenberg’s Palm Springs home was answered by a woman who said the publisher, who recently sold his interest in TV Guide magazine, was on the East Coast and was not immediately available for comment.
A receptionist at Flynt’s office did not know where the publisher was and said she was unaware of the report on the alleged murder plot.
Came to Light
Bill Farley, director of communications for Playboy, said the plot occurred in November, 1983, and came to light now in the course of an investigation into another matter. Farley said his information came from the Sheriff’s Department. He did not know what the other matter was.
Although the broadcast report suggested a publishing rivalry between the men’s magazine publishers, Farley said the other names suggested that was not the case and that the motivation is unknown.
“Why the authorities chose to (initially) release Hugh Hefner’s name and not anybody else’s is a mystery to me,” Farley said.