Howard Jacobson; Noted Horse Trainer Imprisoned for Murder

Times Staff Writer

Howard (Buddy) Jacobson, once the most successful horse trainer in the United States but whose attraction for beautiful young women led to his being convicted of murder in a lurid New York City trial, died Tuesday.

A state prison official said Jacobson was 58 and died at the Erie County (N.Y.) Medical Center where he had been under treatment for cancer since 1987.

State Department of Correctional Services spokesman James Flateau said Jacobson had been serving a 25-year-to-life sentence at a maximum security state prison at Attica, 25 miles east of Buffalo.


He died still protesting his innocence in the killing of John Tupper, who was involved with Jacobson’s former lover, model Melanie Cain.

Tupper, 33, was shot six times, stabbed and beaten. His body was found in a dump in the Bronx. A witness placed Jacobson at the dump.

Cain, who appeared on the covers of several national magazines including Cosmopolitan and Redbook, had lived with Jacobson for four years but the relationship ended 22 days before Tupper’s death in 1978.

“Buddy doesn’t care about the (bone) cancer,” his sister Rita Costello said in connection with a lengthy prison interview with Jacobson published in The Times last year. “All he cares about is clearing himself.”

Jacobson repeatedly maintained that he did not kill Tupper. He claimed that Tupper was murdered not because of any jealousy factor but because he was a drug dealer.

He was convicted after a lengthy trial that featured nine straight days of Cain’s testimony for the prosecution. The jury that convicted him had reported itself “hopelessly deadlocked” only three days before it reached a verdict.

In May, 1980, before he could be sentenced, he escaped from a Brooklyn jail by changing clothes with a friend and posing as a lawyer. Waiting for him was Audrey Barrett, a 22-year-old model.

He was not free long. With the involvement of his then-estranged son, he was captured 40 days later in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Jacobson was born into a family of horse trainers and when he was only 11 began working for his uncle, Eugene Jacobs, at Jacobs’ barn. He took out his first trainer’s license at the age of 21 and became an overnight sensation both for his wins and his attitude.

He decried the importance of jockeys in winning races and dealt with so many claiming-race horses that even their owners could not keep up with him.

He became the top horse trainer in the United States in 1963 and was the leading trainer at New York state tracks five times. But in 1969 he led a strike for better working conditions and pension benefits that closed racing at Aqueduct race track for nine days. Later that year, Jacobson, charged with fraud by an owner, was suspended for 45 days, and for nearly five years after that could not get a stall for his horses at any New York track.

By the time he was again admitted to the tracks he had found renewed interests, accumulating a fortune in a modeling agency and real estate ventures.