Man Acquitted of Murder in Family’s Disappearance : Courts: Verdict follows two mistrials. No concrete evidence was ever produced linking Briton to crime.
After two mistrials in a case that has drawn international attention over the last 10 years, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury acquitted a 49-year-old British national Wednesday on charges of murdering four members of a Northridge family who disappeared without a trace in 1982.
Harvey Rader, a former Reseda auto shop owner, collapsed and sobbed quietly in his chair as the not guilty verdicts were delivered on charges that he murdered former Israeli soldier Sol Salomon, Salomon’s wife, Elaine, their son, Mitchell, 9, and Elaine Salomon’s daughter, Michalle, 15.
The jury reached a verdict in less than two days after a two-month trial, the third time Rader has been tried on charges stemming from the disappearance. The first trial in 1989 ended in a mistrial when the jurors deadlocked 11 to 1 for conviction. In 1990, a mistrial was declared in the second trial when it was discovered that the public defender was representing a prosecution witness as well as Rader.
The case has been considered one of the most unusual in the history of the Los Angeles criminal justice system because there was no concrete evidence--no bodies, no witnesses and no weapons--linking Rader, who has maintained his innocence, to the missing family.
“When all is said and done it was clear that the jury had reasonable doubt,” defense attorney Joel R. Isaacson said. “There is no concrete evidence that the family was even killed. There were no bodies and no motive for Rader to do something like this. Some of the jury members said they even had doubts in their minds as to whether these people are even dead.”
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lonnie A. Felker, who described the case as being “pieces of a jigsaw puzzle” of circumstantial evidence, argued that the killings were the result of a soured business relationship.
Prosecutors contended that Rader killed Salomon after Salomon asked him to repay a $20,000 investment in a failed car dealership, Mr. Motors.
Salomon, 35, who owned a fire extinguisher maintenance firm, was last seen leaving for a car auction with Rader on Oct. 12, 1982. His wife and the children disappeared that night from their Northridge home.
In his court arguments, Felker theorized that Rader shot Salomon, stuffed his body into the trunk of a Rolls-Royce and drove to the Salomon home to kill his family because they knew Rader was the last person to see Salomon alive. Investigators believe Elaine Salomon and Mitchell were beaten to death, and that Michalle was strangled. No murder weapon was ever found.
The prosecution’s case was based in large part on circumstantial evidence, including scratches on Rader’s forearms and the fact that Rader was seen with a car belonging to Salomon’s wife. Also, a friend of Elaine Salomon testified that when the two ended a telephone conversation on the night the family disappeared, Salomon said she had to hang up because Rader was at the door.
After the verdict Wednesday, Felker questioned jurors about their decision.
“They said the evidence was not there to convince them beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said, adding that his office had no plans to pursue the case further.
The verdict drew cries of anger from the Salomon’s relatives who were in the courtroom.
“He is a killer. What kind of system of justice is this?” shouted Marge Malarowitz, Elaine Salomon’s mother. “Where is the justice in the world? They make criminals of victims and victims of criminals.”
Malarowitz said she has been tormented since the disappearance.
“I haven’t been able to hold a memorial service for my babies because I’m Jewish and you can’t do that unless you have the bodies,” she said.
Joseph Sampson, a private investigator hired by Malarowitz, theorized that Rader was found not guilty of the crime because his cousin, Ashley Paulle, refused to return from Europe to testify at Rader’s third trial. In a statement to police, Paulle, a London cabdriver, confessed to helping Rader bury the Salomons in the desert near Acton.
The district attorney’s office gave Paulle immunity in return for his testimony against Rader, but later revoked it and tried to prosecute Paulle. The case against Paulle was eventually thrown out by a Los Angeles court, which ruled that the immunity was improperly revoked. Paulle fled to England and never testified against his cousin at any of the three trials.
Sampson said he located Paulle in Spain and attempted to persuade him to testify.
“Many attempts were made to get him to return,” he said. “He absolutely refused.
Sampson said Paulle’s lawyer advised him not to return to the United States.
“Things may have gone differently if there hadn’t been an obstruction of justice,” he added.
But Isaacson said Paulle’s testimony would have been discredited. “He failed a polygraph test and even though he said he helped bury the bodies, he couldn’t tell anyone where the bodies were buried,” he said. “It was quite clear he didn’t know what he was talking about.”
Jurors were not told about the confession and Isaacson said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper told them not to be concerned with what they might hear about alleged confessions.
While acknowledging the allegations, Cooper told jurors that she would have acquitted Rader based on the evidence presented, Isaacson said.
Isaacson said the jury began to have doubts after he brought in three witnesses--a gas station attendant, a civilian employee of the Carpinteria Police Department and a pharmacist--to testify that they had seen Salomon days after he had been reported missing. Juror Anthony Castaneda, a 43-year-old Southern California Edison Employee from San Gabriel, said the jurors had considerable doubts.
“With the evidence we had, not guilty was the only conclusion we could come to,” Castaneda said. “There might have been a crime committed, but there was no evidence.
When he entered the United States in 1978, Rader told officials he had no criminal record. Officials later learned he had 13 convictions in England. He had been sent to prison nine times for crimes including housebreaking, attempted forgery, theft, unlawful possession of a firearm and robbery.
Rader is expected to be released from County Jail, but he may be immediately arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service because he is in the country illegally.
Times staff writer Mayrene Barker contributed to this story.