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Crime News Dateline

Florida Hotel Heir Found with His Eyes Gouged Out in New York Hotel Suite

Ben Novack Jr.'s brutal death would reveal a heartbreaking betrayal and uncover another calculated murder once thought to be an accident.

By Jill Sederstrom
A police handout of Narcy Novack

Ben Novack Jr. had a lonely childhood living in Miami Beach’s lavish hotel The Fontainebleau, while his parents wined and dined the hotel’s famous guests. 

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More than five decades later, the hotel heir was savagely murdered inside another hotel room, more than a thousand miles away in Rye Brook, New York.

The investigation into the gruesome murder would reveal a chilling betrayal, tear apart a mother and daughter, and expose another hidden murder, according to Oxygen’s Dateline: Unforgettable

Who was Ben Novack Jr.? 

Ben Novack Jr. was the only son of a former Coca Cola model, Bernice, and a hotel magnate, Ben Novack Sr. The Novacks’ Miami Beach hotel, Fontainebleau, became a celebrity hotspot in the 1950s. 

“It became a destination for the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra. The stars were appearing at The Fontainebleau and lots of movies were shot there as well,” explained Steven Gaines, author of the novel Fools Paradise.

The family lived in a penthouse suite inside the hotel and although it may have been a glamorous dream come true for Ben Sr. and Bernice, for Ben Jr., it was a painfully lonely childhood. 

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“He was a spoiled kid. He was a brat,” Gaines said.

His birthdays were celebrated with cakes from room service and kids who just happened to be staying at the hotel. For comfort, Ben developed a love of Batman and would collect memorabilia connected to the superhero throughout his life. 

But by the late 1970s, the hotel was no longer the hotspot it had once been and went into bankruptcy.

When the family’s tie to The Fontainebleau was severed, Ben Jr., found his own profitable career path in the hospitality industry. He founded a company that organized large conventions at hotels across the country, at one point taking in $50 million a year as business boomed.

Who is Narcy Novack?

A police handout of Narcy Novack

He found love after meeting a stripper named Narcy at a Miami club. Narcy was a single mom to daughter May Abad, who was quickly shipped off to boarding school as soon as Narcy and Ben Jr. got married. 

May had her own rough childhood, but by the time she reached adulthood—and was a mother to two young boys herself— she formed a tight bond with Ben Jr. and began working for his company alongside Narcy and Bernice. 

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“He saw me as his daughter and I did see him as my father, and he had no children of his own,” she said. 

May had even mended her relationship with her mother. 

“She may have been a horrible mother, but she was the best grandmother,” May said. “She did everything with them.” 

How did Ben Novack Jr. Die? 

The unconventional family had finally found their own rhythm, but on the morning of July 12, 2009, Ben was found savagely bludgeoned to death inside his hotel suite in Rye Brook, New York, where his company was holding its latest convention.

He had been bound and his eyes were gouged out in the heinous killing. 

“I couldn’t believe what I saw. I went in the room and there was the victim hog tied and on the floor, and it was a bloody mess,” Terry Wilson, then a sergeant with the local police, told Dateline correspondent Dennis Murphy. 

Narcy told investigators that Ben Jr. had stayed up most of the night finalizing convention details before going to bed around 6:30 a.m. She claimed he was sleeping when she left the hotel room around 7 a.m. to go down to help with the convention breakfast.

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Surveillance footage confirmed her account and key card data showed her returning to the room around 7:40 a.m. to discover the body. 

Strangely, however, there had been no key card activity between midnight and 7:40 a.m., suggesting to investigators that whoever killed Ben had been let into the hotel room. 

Who killed Ben Novack Jr.? 

Investigators first considered whether the brutal murder had been part of a botched robbery. Ben’s company was known to operate in cash and often kept large sums of money hidden in the hotel rooms of his staff. 

The weekend of his death, the company had taken in $110,000, but none of the money was missing. 

Ben Jr. had also made his fair share of enemies in business over the years.

“There were a lot of people that didn’t like him,” Wilson said. 

But suspicion soon fell much closer to home. When May and Narcy went to the medical examiner’s  office to identify the body, May was struck by her mom’s seemingly emotionless response. 

“I’m throwing up in a garbage can, you know detectives are like right there and everything else and we turn around and she is just staring at him,” May recalled. “There was no emotion at all from her.” 

During an interrogation, Narcy insisted she didn’t harm her husband. 

“I should have been there and I wish I got killed with him,” she said.

The mother and daughter both agreed to take lie detector tests, but Narcy overwhelmingly failed her test. Convinced her mother may have had something to do with the murder, May agreed to help police. 

When the family got back to Florida, she went into her stepfather’s home office and was looking for evidence when her mother attacked her with a crowbar, leaving her arm swollen and bruised. 

“She was calling me a traitor,” May said.

Yet, even as the tension between mother and daughter continued to build, investigators did not have enough evidence to tie anyone to the crime. 

Investigators finally got the break they needed in the case after a Miami Springs Police officer received an anonymous letter written in Spanish laying out the murder plot. The unknown tipster claimed that Narcy’s brother Cristobal Veliz had hired two hitmen to kill Ben Jr., so that Narcy would inherit her husband’s estimated $10 million estate. 

Detectives went to speak with Veliz and found receipts for wire transfers to a Miami man named Alejandro Garcia, who investigators later learned had a distinctive damaged eye and often wore sunglasses to protect it. 

When reviewing surveillance footage captured from the hotel, investigators spotted Garcia and another man, later identified as Joel Gonzalez, coming into the hotel that morning. When they left, Garcia was noticeably not wearing his sunglasses, which explained the piece of sunglasses discovered near Ben’s body.

“Apparently as the victim reacts to the assault, he hits Alejandro in the face, breaking the glasses, the glasses fall onto the bed,” Wilson explained.

In exchange for a deal with federal prosecutors, the hitmen agreed to testify against Veliz and Narcy, who were both arrested for racketeering and conspiracy. 

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According to Garcia, Narcy had let them into the hotel room to carry out the killing and stayed in the suite as her husband was bludgeoned to death. Garcia said Narcy — who continues to maintain her innocence — instructed them to gouge out his eyes after she discovered he had been having an affair with another woman.

Hitmen Reveal Second Murder Conneted to Ben Novack 

Garcia also made another chilling confession. Ben’s murder wasn’t the only murder he committed. He also admitted killing Ben’s 87-year-old mom, Bernice, three months earlier. 

Authorities initially thought she died after a bad slip and fall in her garage, but Garcia admitted to beating her in the head with a monkey wrench. According to authorities, Narcy had wanted her mother-in-law out of the way because she was slated to inherit Ben’s fortune as long as she was still alive, ahead of Narcy.

Garcia also told investigators he had even been hired to carry out a third murder: Narcy’s daughter May. Fortunately, the plot was exposed before May came to any harm. 

Veliz and Narcy were both convicted of racketeering and conspiracy for Ben and Bernice’s murders and were sentenced to life in prison. 

As for May, she still agonizes over the choice her mom made. 

“She didn’t see what she had in front of her. She had her daughter, she had two grandkids that totally loved her, and now she has nothing,” she said. 

May also continues to honor her father-figure Ben, and even named her third son in his honor.