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Maryland Bail Bondsman Lands Behind Bars For Life For Sinister Plot to Kill His Wife
Dean "Dino" Pantazes and his wife Clara appeared to have the perfect marriage, but Dino was leading a secret double life that he'd stop at nothing to protect.
Dean “Dino” Pantazes spent his career tracking down those who violated the law as a respected bail bondsman in the Washington, D.C. area, but his own cold-blooded crime would eventually land him behind bars for life.
After two decades of marriage, Dino plotted to kill his wife Clara Pantazes, who helped run the bail bonds business, to cover up a shocking secret life on the verge of exposure, according to Oxygen’s Killer Relationship with Faith Jenkins.
From the outside, Dino and Clara appeared to be the epitome of a happy couple. With two children and strong Greek roots, the Pantazes were often seen holding hands and enjoying the success of their multiple businesses.
According to her younger sister Demetria Demoleas, Dino had been Clara’s “knight in shining armor” after a painful divorce in her early 20s. “She was so sad from her divorce and Clara was a smart, beautiful, bright, educated woman who had so many ideas she wanted to do and she needed her partner,” Demoleas said.
Dino was also smitten and told his future sister-in-law he knew he was going to marry Clara after spotting her from across the room at a wedding.
“I liked him a lot,” family friend Voula Repousis recalled. “Dino was good looking, not too loud, a very easy going man.”
In 1979, Dino proposed to Clara on the beach after hiring a skywriting plane to make his profession of love.
“Everybody was clapping and yelling and hollering and she said yes, of course,” Demoleas said.
They married the next year and soon welcomed their son. A few years later, they added a daughter to the mix.
"They were happy, they were just very happy,” her sister recalled. “It was a love that she needed. He was calming, he was secure. They had a house, they had a future, they were going to build a success together.”
They did just that after opening their own bail bonds business. While Clara served as the “brains” behind the operation, working in the office, Dino served as the “brawn.”
“When there was people that jumped bail, he had to go find them and he carried a gun. Sometimes it wasn’t safe,” Demoleas said. “Clara didn’t do that. Clara didn’t go out on those, but the bail bonding business can be very dangerous because you’re not dealing with good people all the time.”
Despite the danger, the business was a success and the family of four soon moved to an upscale home in Maryland’s Upper Marlboro.
“Money was not a problem in that family,” family friend Kiki Repousis said. “She had the most expensive cars at the time, they went to Greece, the whole family, they went to Hawaii.”
But the seemingly idyllic life came to a crashing halt on March 30, 2000 when Clara was found shot to death in the garage of the family’s home.
“My wife is dead! My wife! She’s been shot,” a hysterical Dino sobbed to the 911 dispatcher after coming home to discover the body.
While there were no signs of a break in or burglary inside the home, Clara’s purse, cell phone, and Jeep were missing.
“They had lovely furniture and electronics. There were some guns that were in the home. There were numerous things and none of these things were taken from this crime,” prosecutor John Maloney told the show.
The 46-year-old mother of two had been shot three times, once through her right bicep, once through the cheek, and a final shot to her temple.
“It doesn’t look like there was any bruising, cutting, scratches, or no type of fight ahead of time,” Maloney said. “It looked like it was direct shots from somebody standing a few feet away from Clare Pantazes.”
But who could have surprised Clara that morning as she was leaving the house to meet a friend? Investigators considered the possibility that the couple’s bail bonds business had put them in danger.
“The bail bonds business is a shady business, I mean is this a person that’s upset with him or pissed off with him for something that happened in one of their transactions of being bailed out or not being bailed out?” said Christopher E. Smith, a detective for Prince George’s County Police Department.
Dino insisted to detectives that his marriage to Clara had been a “very happy” one.
“My wife and I are Greek. Greeks probably got the lowest divorce rate than any other nationality,” he told detectives at the station after the murder. “We had a few tiffs, but our tiffs would always end a few hours later. And, look, we were very happy. We’d hold hands walking down the street.”
Detectives noticed, however, that before her death, Clara had been packing a suitcase, even though her friends and family were unaware of her planning to take a trip.
An off-duty officer spotted Clara’s car in Washington, D.C. and pulled the vehicle over, but the six females inside insisted they were only going for a joyride after finding the car abandoned with the keys left inside at a 7-11 in the city.
The discovery of the vehicle failed to give authorities the break they needed, but after the news of the murder hit the local media authorities got a call from someone named “Mimi” that broke the case wide open.
“Mimi,” whose real name was Kevin Young, was a sex worker who told investigators that she knew the killer as one of her regular clients.
"Mimi told us that a guy by the name of Steve wanted his wife killed and was going to pay $10,000 to have it done and initially Mimi agreed that she would do it, but she never did,” Smith said.
When she was brought in for questioning, Mimi picked Dino’s photo out of a photo lineup, identifying him as the man she knew as “Steve.” She also described his green Suburban and provided a yellow piece of paper that had directions to his home and the garage code neatly typed on it.
The connection between the two was confirmed when a phone bill found during a search of the family’s house showed Dino had called Mimi repeatedly.
Detectives tried to set up a sting and arranged for Mimi to call Dino and schedule a meeting. Dino, however, claimed not to know Mimi. Although he did show up at the meeting and passed Mimi $1,300 so he could “have a friend on the street,” he never made any direct comments that could link him to the murder.
Further analysis of the phone bill showed that Dino had also regularly called another number that detectives eventually linked to heroin addict and sex worker Jermel Chambers.
"One thing it showed to us was he was possibly hiring prostitutes for sex and murder,” Smith said.
Investigators hunch was correct. After tracking Chambers down in another jail, where she had been arrested for a minor burglary, she confessed to killing Clara at the behest of Dino, who she’d known as “Steve.”
The morning of the murder, she said Dino picked her up and drove her to the house, where she waited alone in the garage until Clara came out and the two had a confrontation. When Clara threatened to call the police, Chambers told investigators she opened fire, killing the Maryland mom.
Detectives believe Clara had discovered her husband’s infidelities and was packing her suitcase to leave before she was killed.
"I believe divorce would have shattered Dino Pantazes,” Maloney said. “He’s a person who greatly valued money and he greatly valued his reputation and a divorce would have crushed both of those things.”
After the killing, Chambers told detectives she sold the gun to a man on the street. They were able to track the weapon down and match it to the crime scene, further strengthening the case.
Just weeks after his wife was killed, Dino was taken into custody for the murder, rocking the Upper Marlboro community.
“The entire Upper Marlboro community was just in shock at his arrest,” Maloney said. “There hadn’t been any information released about what was going on with the investigation and nobody could believe this upstanding successful businessman would be involved with the killing of his wife.”
When a jury heard the evidence against him, Dino was convicted of felony murder, first-degree murder and conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder. The verdict was later overturned, but a second jury reached the same conclusion, once again convicting the formerly beloved businessman. He was sentenced to life behind bars.
“Dino ruined our family. He ruined what my grandparents came here for. He ruined all of our lives. He ruined everything,” Demoleas said.
Chambers also received a life sentence for her role in the murder.