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Rita GLUZMAN

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "The Jewish Lizzie Borden"
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Dismemberment (the body was chopped into more than 65 pieces with a hacksaw and scalpel)
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 6, 1996
Date of arrest: 6 days after
Date of birth: 1948
Victim profile: Yakov Gluzman, 48 (her husband)
Method of murder: Beating with an axe
Location: Pearl River, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole on April 30, 1997
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Rita Gluzman had worked very hard for her American dream. She and her husband had struggled to escape the Soviet Union, and they found a new beginning in the U.S. Her husband was a successful cancer researcher. Rita had her own company and a big house in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

But by 1995, Yakov was ready to start over... with another woman. He filed for divorce, leaving Rita fuming. The contentious divorce negotiations lasted more than a year and a half, but they came to an end on April 7, 1996.

A police officer caught a man dumping garbage bags into the Passaic River. The bags contained the severed pieces of Yakov Gluzman's body. The man was arrested and identified as Vladimir Zelenin, Rita's cousin.

He told police that Rita made him kill Yakov so she could retain control of their company, ECI Technologies. But police couldn't find any evidence to corroborate Vladimir's story, making a murder conviction unlikely.

Prosecutors turned to a new domestic violence statute, allowing them to charge Rita with crossing state lines to abuse her spouse. Vladimir's graphic testimony led to her conviction. She was sentenced to life in prison.

 
 

Woman Sentenced to Life For Ax Killing of Husband

Bu Joseph Berger - The New York Times

May 1, 1997

Quietly insisting ''I did not do that,'' Rita Gluzman was sentenced today to life in prison for killing her husband, Yakov, a prominent microbiologist, with an ax after he told her he was divorcing her for another woman.

Mrs. Gluzman, a Soviet emigre once so devoted to her husband that she went on an 18-day hunger strike to help him get out of the Soviet Union, was the first person sentenced for a killing under a 1994 Federal law that makes it a crime to cross state lines to injure a spouse or intimate partner.

Many in the Federal courtroom here were mindful of the oddity that the law, which is part of the Violence Against Women Act and is aimed principally at abusive husbands, claimed a woman as one of its first convicts. At least two men have also been sentenced under the law, but those cases did not involve homicide.

The sentence itself did not come as a surprise, because the sentencing guidelines mandate life imprisonment for harm resulting in death.

But the solemn half-hour sentencing was filled with drama. Mrs. Gluzman's 26-year-old son, Ilan, was in the courtroom and watched as his mother was dispatched to prison for life for conspiring to kill and dismember his father. He did not speak, but he had already sent a note to the judge asking for leniency.

Dr. Yakov Gluzman's parents, Chaim and Sophia Gluzman, remained in Israel to attend a niece's bat mitzvah, but their presence was felt in a letter to the judge read by a prosecutor, Cathy Seibel, in a courtroom filled with friends and colleagues of the victim.

''For 25 years she gradually demolished him emotionally and in the 26th year she dismembered him physically,'' the letter said. ''By her evil act Rita has ruined the life of her son, whom she left fatherless, and marked him with the stigma of a mother convicted for murder.

''After we raised Yakov to be a good man and a world-renowned scientist who devoted his life to research and to the benefit of humanity, she suddenly took him away from us,'' the letter went on.

Mrs. Gluzman, 48, who as an American had acquired a taste for minks and BMW's, sat tensely as the letter was read. When she spoke in her own behalf she was brief.

''Your honor, I did not do not do that and still say that in front of the world,'' she said.

But Judge Barrington D. Parker Jr. had already pronounced sentence and lectured Mrs. Gluzman.

''None of us can ever know what transpired between you and your husband,'' the judge said. ''The only thing we know is that nothing that occurred can possibly justify what you did to him. You are a woman of considerable courage, capacity and accomplishment. For whatever reason, you allowed yourself to disintegrate around the relationship and the pain that grew out of it.''

Mrs. Gluzman's one victory today was that Judge Parker recommended that she be sent to the medium-security women's prison in Danbury, Conn., rather than to a maximum-security prison farther away, as Ms. Seibel and her co-prosecutor, Deirdre M. Daly, had urged.

After the sentence, Mrs. Gluzman's sister, Marianna Rabinovitch, her mother, Pola Shapiro, and her son, Ilan, walked out of the courtroom with their arms locked. ''The family is behind her,'' Mrs. Rabinovitch said. ''We will be always. She did and built many things in her life that should not be forgotten.''

Mrs. Gluzman's lawyer, Lawrence Hochheiser, said she would challenge the constitutionality of the domestic violence law because it is premised on Federal authority over interstate commerce. Crossing state lines to commit a crime, he argued, has nothing to do with commerce.

Yakov Gluzman, 49, a Ukrainian native, was famed among cancer researchers for his work with viruses. At his death, he was director of microbiology at Lederle Laboratories in Pearl River, N.Y., and was planning to move to Israel to join a bacteriologist he was in love with.

At Mrs. Gluzman's trial, the chief witness was her cousin, Vladimir Zelenin, who was indebted to Mrs. Gluzman as a new emigre desperate for work and legal residency. He told how Mrs. Gluzman plotted the slaying, taking him to a store to buy an ax and to a market to buy garbage bags for disposing of the body.

He described how on April 6, 1996, he and Mrs. Gluzman, who lived in Upper Saddle River, N.J., ambushed Mr. Gluzman in his Pearl River apartment and repeatedly whacked him across the head with two axes. While she swabbed the floor of blood, he cut up the body in the bathtub.

The next morning, a police officer saw Mr. Zelenin disposing of the body in the Passaic River in East Rutherford, N.J. Mrs. Gluzman was caught six days later in a bungalow at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, where her husband had once worked. She had four stolen license plates and travel brochures.

The authorities brought Federal charges of domestic violence, rather than state charges of murder, because there was almost no physical evidence at the murder scene to corroborate Mr. Zelenin's account. Federal charges do not require corroboration. A jury found Mrs. Gluzman guilty on Jan. 30.

The crime has shattered many lives, most hauntingly that of the Gluzmans' son, Ilan. He has taken over his mother's electroplating business in East Rutherford, working with his aunt, Mrs. Rabinovitch.

''His life is devastated,'' said his lawyer, Robert L. Ellis.

 
 

Onetime refusenik imprisoned for ax slaying of her husband

Eric J. Greenberg - N.Y. Jewish Week

May 3, 1996

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Rita Gluzman sits in a Rockland County jail cell, charged by federal authorities with the gory murder of her husband, who was axed to death and chopped into pieces.

Now being called a Jewish Lizzie Borden by the New York tabloids, Rita Gluzman made very different headlines in America 25 years ago.

In 1971, as a 23-year-old mother of an infant son, she succeeded in getting time with world leaders such as then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations George Bush and U.N. Secretary-General U Thant to plead for the release of her husband, Yakov Gluzman.

The Soviet Union had not allowed him to emigrate with her to Israel.

The cream of New York's activist organizations stood by her side. She spoke at meetings of the United Jewish Appeal and the American Conference for Soviet Jews. Gluzman's visa to the United States was sponsored by former Rep. Jack Kemp.

Most people who were involved in the Soviet Jewry issue in the 1970s say they do not remember the woman who has been charged with the brutal killing.

But one longtime New York area activist recalled Gluzman:

"When I saw the articles in the press [about her arrest], I thought the name rang a bell, but it was totally out of context," said Irving Silverman of Roslyn, N.Y., one of the founders of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry. "Now that you mention it, the whole thing comes together with clarity."

The 75-year-old Silverman remembers introducing Rita Gluzman at a demonstration rally Oct. 10, 1971, at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Glen Cove, N.Y.

"I remember when she came to the committee and she said she would like to participate in this rally," Silverman said. "I cautioned her at the time that she's taking a considerable risk in making herself public."

He said everything the committee did was quickly communicated to the Russian government within hours, including names and photographs.

But Rita Gluzman was not dissuaded.

Silverman said she was "a very, very assured person who knew her way around. She was a very determined person. What she wanted, she got."

"She said, `No, no, I want to do it because I want to get my husband out,'" Silverman said. "She wanted to make a public campaign."

The demonstration later moved to the Soviet Mission in Glen Cove, where Gluzman told supporters who gathered in the rain that she was being discriminated against by the Soviet government because she was Jewish.

She explained that her family had tried to immigrate to Israel for 15 years without success, even though numerous letters on the issue were sent at the time to President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexander Kosygin.

But she said that one month after marrying her childhood friend Yakov Gluzman, a biology student at Moscow University, the Soviet government suddenly relented and let her, her son Elan and her parents leave.

"But they have consistently refused to let my husband accompany us," she said then.

A few weeks later, Gluzman spoke before 125 delegates at the Atlanta Jewish Welfare Federation Leadership Forum. She was brought to the attention of then-Atlanta Alderman Wyche Fowler Jr., who later became a congressman and U.S. senator.

When Fowler visited the Soviet Union later that year, he brought up the Gluzman case to Communist leaders in Ukraine, on the mistaken assumption that Rita Gluzman was one of his constituents.

Within weeks, Yakov Gluzman's visa was approved.

"It was exactly like a dream," Rita Gluzman said upon her husband's arrival in Israel. "A man and a woman separated and finally somehow finding each other again."

Twenty-four years later, the dream had shattered.

Yakov Gluzman, a leading cancer researcher, had filed for divorce, claiming that his wife was abusive and spent too much money. He was the senior director of molecular biology for Lederle Laboratories in Pearl River, Rockland County.

Rita Gluzman, who had moved to Upper Saddle River, N.J., countered in court papers that her husband was having an affair with a woman in Israel.

Police believe that Yakov Gluzman was killed April 6 at his home. They said he was bludgeoned with an ax and knifed before his body was chopped into more than 65 pieces with a hacksaw and scalpel.

Vladimir Zelenin, 40, of Fair Lawn, N.J., who is Rita Gluzman's cousin and works for her electronics firm, ECI Technologies, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder after police found him covered in blood and preparing to dump 10 garbage bags of body parts into the Passaic River.

Rita Gluzman was missing for several days until police found and arrested her April 12 in Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island.

She was discovered in a guest cabin at the laboratory company where her husband worked from 1977 to 1990.

Several days later, Rita Gluzman was charged by federal prosecutors with the murder of her husband. The charge is contained in a new federal statute enacted in 1994 that deals with domestic violence.

In effect Rita Gluzman has become the first woman in the United States to be charged with violating the Violence Against Women Act.

Silverman of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry says he has had no contact with her since that rainy afternoon 25 years ago.

But, he said, "I would not think she would be anybody who would be capable of a violent crime of that nature. That didn't come through as her persona at all."

 
 

Police Seek Widow In Mutilation Death

Rita Gluzman Has Not Been Seen Since Her Estranged Husband's Body Was Found In Trash Bags On Easter

By Nancy Phillips - Philly.com

April 11, 1996

Yakov Gluzman, the noted cancer researcher who was found slain and dismembered over the weekend, was embroiled in bitter divorce proceedings at the time of his death, and authorities are seeking to question his widow, who has been missing since the killing.

Gluzman's estranged wife, Rita, has not been seen since her husband's mutilated body - divided among 10 plastic trash bags - was dumped at the edge of the Passaic River on Easter Sunday. Law enforcement officials declined to say yesterday whether Rita Gluzman was a suspect in her husband's death, but they said she was wanted for questioning.

Authorities in New Jersey and New York were searching for Rita Gluzman yesterday, and police departments across the country have been asked to be on the lookout for her.

Earlier this week, East Rutherford police arrested Vladimir Zelenin, a Russian immigrant who was caught trying to dump body parts into the river. The remains - cut into at least 65 pieces - were positively identified yesterday as those of Yakov Gluzman, 48, of Pearl River, N.Y. An autopsy showed that he died of sharp blows to the head and torso.

Zelenin has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and is being held on $1 million bond. Through his lawyer, Brian Plunkett, he has declined to comment.

Police said they believe Zelenin had at least one accomplice. The car he was driving before his arrest belonged to ECI Technology, a manufacturing company run by Rita Gluzman and co-owned by her husband.

The company and its finances were a source of discord for the Gluzmans, who had quarreled angrily about money in recent months. In divorce papers filed in December, Yakov Gluzman said his wife was a profligate spender who squandered his earnings and repeatedly borrowed money from him to keep ECI afloat.

She, in turn, said he was an unfaithful husband who diverted money from their joint accounts as their marriage faltered. Rita Gluzman accused her husband of having an affair with an Israeli woman before the couple separated and he moved out of their home in Upper Saddle River last year.

Yakov Gluzman acknowledged the relationship, but said it did not begin until after he left his wife. He did not identify the woman. Court documents filed by Rita Gluzman cite a letter her husband wrote to U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley in February 1995, asking him to find out why Raisa Koren-blit, an Israeli, had been denied a U.S. visa. The letter does not describe the woman's relationship to Gluzman.

Court documents put the Gluzmans' net worth at $1.3 million, including a home in Upper Saddle River purchased for $540,000 in 1989 and a two-family house on Long Island.

The papers list Yakov Gluzman's annual salary as a biologist at Wyeth-Ayerst Research at about $180,000. In 1994, he was paid an extra $360,000 when Wyeth-Ayerst bought out Lederle Laboratories, where he worked as senior director of molecular biology.

It was unclear what Rita Gluzman earned at ECI, which manufactures circuit boards for the computer and electronics industries.

In court documents, Yakov Gluzman suggested that the company was financialy troubled. He said he loaned his wife in excess of $300,000 for the business.

Additionally, he said he gave his wife $90,000 when he moved to New York last year. He accused her of wasting that money. Throughout their marriage, Yakov Gluzman said, his wife had complained that their lifestyle was not sufficiently lavish.

''Her condescending attitude was repulsive,'' he said in court documents.

In seeking a financial settlement from her husband, Rita Gluzman listed monthly expenses of $6,212 a month, including $1,000 for clothing, $860 for domestic help and $225 for pet care.

According to court papers, Yakov Gluzman had insurance policies with a value of more than $455,000. It could not be learned yesterday who was listed as the beneficiary.

Family members said the Gluzmans had been having marital difficulties for more than a year. Yakov Gluzman's father, Chaim, who lives in Hadera, Israel, said his son was planning to move to Israel to be near his family and his girlfriend. He had talked about starting a small pharmaceutical company there, his father said.

The bitterness that resonates in the divorce papers seemed an unbefitting end for a couple whose early years were marked by a determined struggle to be together and live in freedom. Yakov and Rita Gluzman married in Russia in 1969 and fought to immigrate to Israel. Rita Gluzman was allowed to leave the country first, in 1970. She campaigned vigorously for her husband's release, both in Israel and in the United States, and became an articulate advocate for Jews seeking to flee the religious oppression of the Soviet regime in those years.

The Gluzmans lived in Israel until 1977, when they moved to the United States. The couple has one son, Ilan, 25, who could not be reached yesterday.

 
 

A woman scorned: The Rita Gluzman story

By Seamus McGraw

Police Officer Richard Freeman slipped his coffee mug into the cup-holder, adjusted the sun visor on his patrol car and eased his cruiser into the phalanx of warehouses and office buildings clumped along the banks of the Passaic River. It was Easter morning, April 7, 1996.

The sun was bright, the sky was as blue as it gets in the northern part of New Jersey and the day was comfortably warm, pleasant enough for shirt sleeves but not so warm that it would stir up the stink of rotting leaves and oily garbage buried in the river mud.

Halfway through his shift, Freeman was starting to feel like he had made the right call, agreeing to work on Easter. To cops like Freeman, Easter is almost like a day off with pay. It's a day when everybody in the world, it seems, is either in church or at a home with family. Even the lowest of the lowlifes seem to get religion on Easter. The way most cops figure it, the most stressful situation they can usually expect to face is a fender-bender in a church parking lot, and even when that happens on an Easter morning, the people involved tend to be more forgiving and serene than they might otherwise be.

Freeman turned the cruiser onto Madison Street, fully expecting his routine swing through the industrial neighborhood at the edge of East Rutherford to be one of the quietest parts of the quietest days a cop could possibly work.

Then something caught his attention. Right at the river's edge, at the far end of the parking lot behind the offices of ECI Technology company, Freeman spotted two cars both with their trunks open. He pulled to a stop, and watched as a lanky man in a T-shirt, with what appeared from a distance to be a single glove on his right hand, hefted a large black trash bag from the trunk of one of the cars. Then he grabbed another. He made his way to the river's edge and tossed in one of the bags.

It was slowly dawning on Freeman that the day was not going to go as seamlessly as he had hoped.

"This guy just looks like he's up to no good," Freeman said as he grabbed his baton, slipped into his belt ring and stepped out of his cruiser, assuming that he was soon going to find himself wasting a beautiful Easter morning writing out a ticket book full of citations for illegal dumping.

As Freeman eased closer the man froze. Freeman could tell by the expression on the man's face -- a storm front of fear and perhaps even revulsion -- that he had just stumbled onto more than a run-of-the-mill littering case.

The cop studied the silent man for a moment. He was alone, and yet there were two cars there. For the first time, he noticed splotches of brownish red on the man's pants and shoes. The glove Freeman had spotted from a few yards away -- a surgical glove -- was also splattered with what appeared to be blood. Then Freeman noticed the sickly sweet stench, a smell he recognized as drying blood. He looked down at the bag that remained on the ground between the late-model Ford Taurus and the Nissan Maxima.

Inspection of the bag turned up a set of bloody tools; a hacksaw, a pair of axes, knives and a scalpel. In the other bag were clothes, all of them drenched in blood. But that wasn't the worst of it.

In the trunk of the two cars, there were eight other bags. One contained blood-soaked clothing. The others contained the earthly remains of Yakov Gluzman, a 48-year-old millionaire scientist who had spent most of his life trying to find a cure for cancer. His body had been hacked to pieces -- 65 pieces to be precise. In fact, he had been dismembered so thoroughly that even his nose and his lips had been removed.

Gluzman, a Russian-born microbiologist, who, along with his wife, Rita, had once made international headlines for his principled defiance of -- and his bid to escape from -- the hard-line regime in the former Soviet Union, was about to make headlines again. This time as the victim of murder. The strange and sordid case with its tales of love and betrayal, of phenomenal courage and undisguised greed-- would test the mettle of investigators in two states. Ultimately it would break new ground in federal law, and test the limits of the federal courts to enforce that law.

But all of that was still to come.

At that moment, as Freeman waited with the sullen, silent Russian man with the bloodstained pants, the only thing the cop knew for certain was that his Easter shift had suddenly become a lot less peaceful.

The Refusenik

His name was Vladimir Zelenin, and he was a 40-year-old Russian émigré. From what authorities in Bergen County could glean in their initial interview, he had been in the country less than a year, living in a low-rent section of Fair Lawn, a working-class community located in the low-rent side of Bergen County. It seemed that he had some difficulties with the law back in his native Russia, though neither the Bergen County police, nor the homicide investigators for the Bergen County prosecutor's office, could get a clear picture of exactly what that problem might have been. Apparently, his wife had been murdered and though he was never a suspect in the slaying, the tragedy prompted him to leave his native land and strike out for America.

It wasn't that Zelenin didn't want to talk. In fact, as he sat there, playing with the bandage on his right hand, he seemed almost eager to help the authorities who had taken him in for questioning. It was just that the computer technician -- employed, authorities had quickly learned, by Yakov and Rita Gluzman's electronics firm, ECI Technology was barely able to cooperate. He spoke very little English.

The fact that he was, at that moment, the only suspect in a brutal murder and dismemberment case, was not lost on Zelinin. Nor was the fact that he was now surrounded by cops and detectives, guys who were obviously none too pleased that they had been yanked from their Easter lunches to investigate the murder and dismemberment. That made Zelenin more nervous still. As a result, what little command of the English language he might have had deserted him almost entirely. But even as the investigators waited for a Russian translator to be located Zelenin did manage to convey a few key ideas.

The victim, he explained in halting English, was in fact, Yakov Gluzman. He also managed to explain that Rita Gluzman was his cousin and that she had been instrumental in helping him immigrate to the United States 11 months earlier.

The cops, of course, had never heard of Gluzman or his wife, Rita.

But in some circles, the Gluzmans were celebrities of a sort. They were among the first of the so-called Refuseniks, Jews from the Soviet Union who had been caught in a trap between the communist government's refusal to allow them to openly study or practice their religion, and that same government's refusal to allow them to emigrate to the United States or Israel or anywhere else where they could openly worship.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Gluzman family was catapulted into the international spotlight and their cause became one of the sparks of the nascent movement to "Free Soviet Jewry," a movement that ultimately forced the Soviet government to rewrite its immigration policies for Soviet Jews. Some believe the campaign was responsible for one of the first significant cracks in the seemingly impenetrable foundation of the Soviet state, a regime that collapsed two decades later.

It was a forum in which Rita Gluzman excelled. Bright and articulate, and above all, beautiful, newspaper and television reporters gravitated to the stunning young chemical engineer. Her photograph was everywhere and she was one of the most sought-after speakers on the circuit of synagogues and Jewish community centers, where the campaign for Soviet Jews was becoming a major cause.

By 1971, the Soviets had been persuaded to allow Rita to emigrate, and she used her freedom to push, on the streets and synagogues, and even in testimony before Congress, for her husband's release. Two years later, the family was reunited. They lived for a time in Israel, and then moved to the United States. As often happens, the Gluzmans became less and less involved in the campaign to free their co-religionists in the USSR  Rita Gluzman had removed herself from the limelight, while Yakov Gluzman turned his attention back to his first real love, the arcane and mystifying world of microbiology.

Those first years in the United States were, by all accounts a happy time for the Gluzman family. Yakov had found what was, for a microbiologist, a dream job. He was hired by the prestigious laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island where he worked as senior scientist on a research team headed by Dr. James D. Watson, the Nobel-prize winning biologist who, together with Francis Crick, discovered the molecular structure of DNA.

In many respects, Yakov and Rita Gluzman and their infant son, Illan, lived a comparatively sheltered life in a small but comfortable bungalow on the sprawling campus of the laboratory. They spent their days and their evenings together, chatting about children and the mysteries of the microscopic world with other scientists and their families. Later, much later, Rita Gluzman would recall the days at Cold Spring Harbor as among the happiest in her life. In fact, later, much later, she would secretly return there, perhaps to hide, or perhaps, it was said, in a desperate effort to draw some solace from the place.

While working at the lab, Yakov Gluzman developed a technique: a method of doing research that later became standard practice for cancer researchers around the world. It was the sort of highly technical and obscure accomplishment that means nothing to the average person, but among fellow scientists, it brought Yakov Gluzman a measure of notoriety. It also put the young Russian immigrant on the road to the American Dream.

By 1989, Gluzman was, by every standard measure, a success. He had left the lab at Cold Spring Harbor for a better-paying job at Lederle Labs in suburban Rockland County, N.Y., and with the new $180,000-a-year job and the wealth he acquired while on Long Island, he could afford to buy a sprawling brick manse worth half-a-million dollars in the exclusive North Jersey community of Upper Saddle River. He and Rita had enough cash left over to invest in a small electronics business, ECI Technologies, which Rita headed. They estimated their net worth at $1.3 million, a staggering amount for a couple that only a few years earlier had lived a life of Soviet deprivation.

But success may have been a mixed blessing for the Gluzman family.

Yakov, a taciturn and generally modest man with tastes to match, was beginning to suspect that his wife was infected with that uniquely American virus: rampant consumerism. She spent thousands each month, he would later say, on cosmetics and to groom her small dog, and according to Gluzman, she wanted to spend even more.

Within a few months after they moved into the Upper Saddle River house, Rita Gluzman began to make it clear that she was not satisfied. Because he "refused to spend more lavishly," Gluzman would later say, Rita became condescending and abusive. She referred to their hilltop dream house on Peachtree Drive as a "shack."

"Herattitude was repulsive," Gluzman would later complain.

By 1994, things between Yakov and Rita Gluzman had deteriorated beyond repair. The couple,who in their Refusenik days had seemed to represent the power of love to overcome even the harshness of a totalitarian regime now bickered constantly.

What's more, they seemed to be on different trajectories. Professionally, Gluzman was continuing to climb the ladder of success. In the middle of 1994, he received a $360,000 windfall when American Home Products bought American Cyanamid,   the parent company of Lederle Laboratories.

Rita, on the other hand, seemed to be on a downward spiral. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the declining fortunes of ECI Technology. Despite repeated infusions of cash, the company was faltering, and Yakov believed that Rita Gluzman's poor money management skills were the cause. Rita Gluzman's "technical skills are not matched by her business acumen," he was quoted as saying.

By the fall of 1994, Yakov Gluzman had made up his mind. In a telephone conversation with his father, who was by then living in Hadera, Israel, Gluzman confessed that his 25-year marriage to Rita was on the rocks. He said he was considering moving to Israel, in part to be near his family, but more to be near Raisa Korenblit, a young woman he had met during one of his frequent trips abroad. He was, he had told friends, in love with Korenblit.

A short time later, Yakov told Rita that he wanted a divorce.

She was, in her own words, "devastated."

"I tried valiantly to save my marriage," she would later say. But the efforts came to naught. For several painful months, Yakov and Rita Gluzman remained under the same roof. By February 1995, the anguished arrangement was more than Yakov Gluzman could bear. He moved out, taking a small, one-bedroom flat in a garden apartment complex just across the New York border in Pearl River, not far from Lederle Labs.

Ten months later, he filed for divorce, charging his wife with mental cruelty.

Broken Promise

By late winter, Rita Gluzman was becoming desperate, and some say her behavior had become erratic. She had burned through $90,000 that Yakov Gluzman had given her when he had moved out a year earlier, and yet she had found it impossible to control her cravings for luxuries, large and small. It was a measure of just how desperate she had become, when in January, she was arrested after pocketing some small items at a North Jersey pharmacy and was charged with shoplifting.

Her business was continuing to suffer. The divorce -- bitter to begin with -- was becoming even more acrimonious as the couple traded escalating charges and counter-charges. It's not clear exactly when Rita Gluzman hit on the plan. But by early March, she had apparently made up her mind and was ready to enlist her cousin Zelenin.

If Zelenin was shocked by Rita's plan to do away with her husband, he didn't mention it, certainly not to investigators, and as far as anyone knew, not to Rita Gluzman either. His only stated reservations, according to the confession he gave to authorities, seemed to involve his job. He fretted about what might happen to ECI Technology if its vice president and occasional benefactor Yakov Gluzman suddenly vanished.

But Rita Gluzman had an answer for that. She put it this way, Zelenin told his interrogators: "There would be no company and nobody would have work," once Yakov and Rita Gluzman's divorce was final.

Her plan was as simple as it was brutal.

In the months leading up to Easter, Rita Gluzman managed to get a key to her estranged husband's apartment. She had persuaded him to give it to her during one of those lulls in combat and had copied it. She knew her ex-husband's schedule, and knew that he often spent Saturday evening at the lab, and generally got home at about 11:30 p.m.

Zelenin, she knew, had an axe that he kept in his home. She managed to get her hands on one too, and packed the other tools they'd need: a hacksaw, a scalpel, a knife, and lots and lots of cleaning products.

On the night of April 6, 1994, a few hours before Yakov Gluzman was scheduled to return home, Rita Gluzman and Zelenin drove north from Bergen County in a late-model Ford Taurus that had been registered to ECI Technology. There wasn't much chatter as they drove across the New York state line, headed down the Palisades Parkway and pulled off onto the Pearl River exit.

They parked in a shadowy spot some distance from the front door of Yakov Gluzman's apartment, and as Zelenin toted the tools, Rita fumbled with the key. They stood in silence in the living room, and they waited.

Yakov Gluzman was nothing if not punctual. And, right on schedule, at 11:30 p.m. he eased his Nissan Maxima into his parking spot, turned off the engine and bounded up the brick steps to his apartment.

Zelinin struck the first blow, he told the investigators. In the darkness he couldn't tell precisely where he hit Gluzman, but the 48-year-old scientist crumpled to the floor. Then Rita Gluzman swung into action, hacking the groaning man with such pent-up rage and vicious force that at one point her axe slipped and struck Zelenin on the right hand. It wasn't a serious wound, but it bled, and bled profusely. Still, Rita Gluzman insisted that they had no time to spare and would deal with Zelenin's wound later.

Taking the knife from the bag, she plunged it into her ex-husband's chest, just to make sure. Then Zelenin told investigators, they dragged his bloody corpse into the bathroom, where they hacked the body to bits. Rita, Zelenin told authorities, was so adamant that there be no piece of the man large enough to be identified, that they cut off his fingertips to prevent fingerprint identification and even removed his nose and lips so no one who might find the body would ever recognize it.

As Zelenin continued the ghoulish task of butchering the body, Rita Gluzman went into a cleaning frenzy, trying to make sure that there would be no evidence of the crime. In a measure of how manic she was, Zelenin made the mistake of lighting a cigarette, and the instant that Rita Gluzman caught a whiff of the smoke, she flew into a rage. "No smoking in here!" she hissed. The irony of that was not lost on the detectives who listened to Zelenin's tale. Murder and dismemberment were acceptable, but not smoking.

It's hard to imagine that such violence could go on within the paper-thin walls of a garden apartment without the neighbors noticing. But as detectives from the Rockland County District Attorney's Office would soon learn, that was precisely the case. Only one neighbor, Kathy Armstrong who lived a floor below Gluzman heard anything at all, some thumping and banging at about 3 a.m. on Easter, and she thought nothing of it. "I thought they were moving furniture," she told investigators.

What they were actually moving was what remained of Gluzman. His body parts and bloody clothing had been stuffed into nine black plastic garbage bags. The tools they had used to dismember him were stuffed into another. Then the bags were loaded into the trunks of the two cars. According to the plan, they would drive the 30 miles to ECI's East Rutherford office in the two cars, Zelenin in the Taurus, Rita in the Maxima. Then Zelenin would drive Rita Gluzman back home in her dead husband's Nissan, leaving the Taurus in the parking lot of ECI where it belonged. He would then return to East Rutherford, dump Gluzman's remains in the Passaic River and then dispose of the car before sunrise.

But now there was a hitch. They were off schedule.

While loading one of the cars, Zelenin, it seemed, had accidentally triggered its theft alarm. It was only a brief wail in the night and if anyone in the apartment complex heard the alarm, they didn't bother to investigate. All the same, Rita Gluzman panicked, hopped into the Taurus and ordered Zelenin to speed away. He cruised the neighborhood for some time before they ventured back to the apartment complex, realized the coast was clear and resumed their grim work. What's more, it had taken longer to dismember Yakov Gluzman and to clean his apartment than Rita Gluzman had originally estimated. The schedule was also thrown off by the fact that they had to do something about the wound on Zelenin's hand. As they made their way south, Zelenin and the widow Gluzman stopped at a CVS pharmacy in the town of Fair Lawn and, as a surveillance camera recorded the moment, she bought $32.02 worth of bandages.

The sun was already up and people were rousing themselves for Easter services when Gluzman finally reached her Peachtree Street home. And by the time Zelenin made it to the riverfront parking lot at ECI Technology, Officer Richard Freeman was well into his Easter morning shift, a shift that up until the moment Freeman pulled onto Madison Street had been delightfully quiet.

Like a Refugee

By the time authorities in Bergen County reached Gluzman's palatial home the next day, she was already gone. So was her passport, sparking fears among prosecutors that perhaps she had fled overseas, maybe to Israel, or Switzerland or England, all countries where she had friends. Perhaps, the cops fretted, she had gone back to Russia, which would, for them, create a bureaucratic nightmare if they tried to extradite her. Authorities sent an alert to airports -- there are several international terminals within easy driving distance of Bergen County -- but came up empty.

Perhaps, authorities would later speculate, Rita Gluzman had planned to flee the country, but decided to lie low for a while until investigators let down their guard. Perhaps, as her lawyer would later put it, she simply wanted to flee to a place where she had once felt safe, a place where she had spent some of the happiest days of her life.

Whatever the reason, as Zelenin was being held in Bergen County, Rita Gluzman was driving east in her car, heading across the George Washington Bridge, bound for Long Island.

It was clear that she expected authorities to be looking for her. Along the way, she stopped briefly in Amityville and stole a set of New York license plates from a parked car so that her car with its New Jersey tags wouldn't be so obvious.

Though it had been more than five years since she had last set foot on the grounds of  the laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor, Rita Gluzman still felt comfortable with the place and she knew her way around. Without anyone catching sight of her, she found her way to a small bungalow, just like the one she had once lived in with her husband. She popped out a screen in one of the windows and struggled to get inside. Then, she just hunkered down while authorities in Rockland County, N.Y., and Bergen County, N.J., launched a dragnet for her. She pondered her next move.

Although investigators in both jurisdictions had not yet publicly declared Rita Gluzman a suspect in the death of her husband, there no one doubted she had planned the slaying, participated in it, and was now fleeing from police. They issued a public alert for her, saying they just wanted to talk with her.

But what might have seemed like an open-and-shut murder case was far from it.

Investigators who had combed through Gluzman's Pearl River apartment had found a few odd traces of forensic evidence, but it had not yet been tested, and even once it was, there was no guarantee that the evidence would incriminate Rita Gluzman. After all, it had been Zelenin who had been wounded in the attack. There was a good chance that when the tests were completed, the only thing they'd be able to prove was that Zelenin had been present at the apartment during the murder.

Even if they could find a stray fingerprint from Rita Gluzman, the cops knew that a smart defense attorney could explain it away, saying it could have been left there during one of the periodic thaws in the chilly relationship between the couple.

And the lawyer Gluzman's family had retained -- Michael Rosen -- was one of the smartest defense attorneys around. A suave, white-haired man with a smooth manner and a chilling smile he reminded many who saw him of movie star Richard Widmark -- Rosen has made his name defending reputed mobsters.

Of course, there was Zelenin's confession. But even that was problematic for prosecutors in Rockland County. Under New York state law, a murder case cannot be based on the testimony of an accomplice unless there are other witnesses or other compelling evidence. There were no other witnesses, Rockland County authorities knew, and at that moment, there really wasn't any other compelling evidence.

Even if they could build a circumstantial case to support Zelenin's testimony, a monumental task, under New York state law they could have only charged her with second-degree murder. If she were convicted, the most severe sentence they could expect was 15 years.

New Jersey authorities complained that they too were hamstrung. Because the murder had been committed in New York, the best Bergen County authorities would be able to do would be to charge her, as they had charged Zelenin, with conspiracy to commit murder.  In all likelihood, they feared, the best they'd be able to prove was that, by buying the bandages for Zelenin, Rita Gluzman was an accessory after the fact.

To cops on both sides of the border, it was starting to look as if Rita Gluzman was likely to get away with murder even if they could find her.

Running Down the Clock

At least, some authorities would later say wryly, she wasn't going to get away with burglary or trespassing.

It was Friday, April 12, just a few minutes before noon, and Rita Gluzman was holed up in the tiny bungalow when a cleaning woman, making her routine rounds, surprised her. Once again, Rita Gluzman tried to flee, scrambling out a back window and onto the grounds of the sprawling laboratory, leaving behind her passport, and several travel brochures, including some for Switzerland.

The cleaning woman notified security guards, who trailed her to Blackford Hall, a dining facility that was crammed with visiting scientists on their lunch break.

She tried to blend into the crowd, sitting alone at one of the few empty tables on the sun-dappled patio, but, with her hair freshly dyed an electric auburn and her loud sports clothes, she failed miserably. Richard Burgess, a visiting researcher from Madison, Wis., picked her out immediately as an interloper, and was just about to point her out to his lunch companions when the security guards approached her.

The local police, of course, had no idea who Gluzman was. They had not received any of the alerts that had been issued in New Jersey and Rockland County. They might simply have charged her with burglary or perhaps just cited her for trespassing and escorted her off the campus, if Art Bings, the laboratory's head of security, hadn't spotted her. Bings, who had worked at the lab for years, had known Rita Gluzman and her husband, though only slightly during their days at Cold Spring Harbor. He had also been following the news reports of her husband's slaying, and he made it clear to the police that they had more than just a routine burglary on their hands.

To the authorities in Rockland and Bergen counties, the news that Rita Gluzman was in custody was welcome, but they also knew that the victory could be short-lived. Zelenin's case had been formally transferred two days earlier from Bergen County in New Jersey to Rockland County in New York and authorities there had formally charged him with second-degree murder. And though he had clearly implicated Rita Gluzman, and had promised to spill all the grisly details of their conspiracy and the murder in open court, investigators still had no independent evidence to back up his assertions. Without it, they could not charge Rita Gluzman with her husband's murder.

And now the clock was ticking. Unless they could come up with something, and soon, it was almost certain that Rita Gluzman was going to be released on bail. After all, she was only charged with burglary and trespassing. And now that they had tipped their hands, making it clear that she was a potential suspect, investigators seriously doubted that she'd wait around for them to finish their work.

The district attorney's office in Long Island's Nassau County, where Rita Gluzman was being held, did its best to help. The day after her arrest, and again a few days later, prosecutors successfully fended off attorney Michael Rosen's efforts to win bail for his client. "We both know this is not just a normal burglary," Nassau County Judge Claire Weinberg had told Rosen. "The possibility of murder charges is in the background."

As far as Rosen was concerned, time was on his side. Under New York state law, Weinberg's decision to reject bail had cleared the way for Rosen to file what is known as a felony examination. The move gave prosecutors 48 hours to provide the court with evidence that Rita Gluzman was dangerous enough, that her crime had been serious enough, and that she was enough of a risk of flight to justify being held without bail. It was evidence that the prosecutors didn't have.

In essence, Rosen had called the prosecutors' bluff.

Two days later, after posting a bond to cover her $250,000 bail, Rita Gluzman walked out of the Nassau County Jail with Rosen at her side.

"Make a U-Turn"

Rosen was ecstatic. Sure, there was still a good chance that Rita Gluzman would face state charges in connection with her husband's death. But it would probably only be a charge of accessory to murder. For a guy like Rosen, who had made his name representing accused mobsters, that was hardly a daunting challenge. There were many ways he could deal with that when the time came.

For now, however, Rosen wanted to relish his victory.

"I'll never forget this is as long as I live," Rosen recalled in a recent interview. "I was on the FDR Drive, coming home, flushed with victory after having gotten her bail. I'm expecting her to be in the arms of her family."

Just then, he said, his cell phone rang. It was George Gabriel, a special agent for the FBI whom Rosen knew pretty well, having dealt with him in a half-dozen or so organized crime cases over the years.

"Mike," he said. "I hate to do this you, but you'd better make a U-turn."

It was like a bullet between the eyes, Rosen would later say. The FBI agent had instructed Rosen to bring his client to the U.S. Federal Court Building in White Plains, N.Y.  On the 40-minute ride north to White Plains, Rosen tried to figure out what was happening. The feds couldn't be planning to charge her with murder, he thought. That's a state crime. The federal government had no jurisdiction. It would certainly be too much of a stretch, even for ambitious federal prosecutors, to think that they could twist the federal racketeering statutes to cover the case. What did they have up their sleeves? Rosen wondered.

When he reached the modern steel and marble federal courthouse in downtown White Plains, he found out.

While he had been busy fighting to win bail for Gluzman, local authorities had been huddling with federal prosecutors and had come up with a unique way to prosecute her for her role in her husband's death.

In a four-page complaint, federal prosecutors charged her under the 1994 Domestic Violence Statute, a law popularly known as the Violence Against Women Act. It was a daring maneuver. The law, which allows the federal government to get involved when a person crosses state lines to commit an act of domestic violence, had been used only a few times before, and never against a woman.

But it provided the authorities with the clout they needed to prosecute Rita Gluzman. Specifically, it gave authorities the right to use Zelenin's testimony freely. They had already worked out a deal with the 40-year-old Russian immigrant in exchange for a lenient sentence and a pledge that his two teenage sons, both Russian-born, would be allowed to remain in the country while he was in jail.

It also provided a sentence that local and federal prosecutors could live with. Instead of facing a maximum of 15 years in prison, the best state prosecutors could have hoped for if they had been able to build a case, the federal domestic violence statute sets a penalty of life without parole when domestic violence turns deadly.

The Irony of Life

On April 30, 1997, a little more than a year after the Yakov Gluzman slaying, Rita Gluzman stood before U.S. District Court Judge Barrington D. Parker.

"I did not do it, and I still say that in front of the world," Rita Gluzman stated.

But Parker was unmoved. A jury, convinced by Zelenin's testimony, had found that Rita Gluzman and her cousin had ambushed her husband as he walked into his Pearl River apartment, that they had hacked his body into 65 pieces, and that they planned to dump his body in the Passaic River so he would vanish completely.

"You were a woman of considerable courage and capacity," Judge Parker began, as he looked down from the bench at the weeping defendant. "For whatever reasons, you allowed yourself to disintegrate around the relationship and the pain that grew out of that relationship."

"None of us can really know what happened between you and your husband," he said. "The only thing we can know with any certainty is that nothing can justify what you did to him."

With that, Parker handed down his sentence. The woman, who, a generation earlier, had been the poster child for the campaign to bring freedom to an entire class of people in the Soviet Union, would spend the rest of her life behind bars in her adopted homeland.

Even now, years later, Rosen gets agitated when he talks about the federal government's last-minute intervention in the Rita Gluzman case. "I've debated this in law schools ever since," he says. "If this case didn't have that Violence Against Women Act, it would never have been tried. There was no physical evidence tying her to this crime. There wasn't one bit of forensics. The only evidence against Rita was her cousin's testimony and because he was an accomplice, his testimony alone would not enable state prosecutors in Rockland County to even indict her."

But the final word on the subject appears to have come from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999, when it refused to hear Rita Gluzman's appeal.

CrimeLibrary.com

 
 

154 F.3d 49

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,
v.
Rita GLUZMAN, Defendant-Appellant.

Docket No. 97-1281.

United States Court of Appeals,
Second Circuit.

Argued Aug. 12, 1998.
Decided Aug. 25, 1998.

Judd Burstein, Burstein & Fass, New York, NY, for Defendant-Appellant.

Cathy Seibel, Assistant United States Attorney, Southern District of New York, for Appellee.

Before: CALABRESI, CABRANES, and STRAUB, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM:

Appellant Rita Gluzman appeals her conviction entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Barrington Parker, Jr., Judge ) on April 30, 1997. Appellant was convicted under the Violence Against Women Act ("VAWA"), 18 U.S.C. § 2261(a) (1994), for the murder of her husband. We affirm.

On April 6, 1996, Appellant and her co-conspirator, Vladimir Zelenin, drove from New Jersey to the New York apartment of her estranged husband, Yakov Gluzman. They entered the empty apartment and awaited Yakov Gluzman's arrival. When he came home late that night, Appellant and Zelenin murdered Yakov Gluzman with axes, then proceeded to dismember his body with the intent of hiding their crime. Zelenin was discovered by a police officer the next day attempting to dump plastic bags filled with Yakov Gluzman's remains into the Passaic River. Following his arrest, Zelenin confessed to his role in the murder and testified against Gluzman during her trial.

18 U.S.C. § 2261 provides, in pertinent part:

A person who travels across a State line ... with the intent to injure, harass, or intimidate that person's spouse or intimate partner, and who, in the course of or as a result of such travel, intentionally commits a crime of violence and thereby causes bodily injury to such spouse or intimate partner, shall be punished....

18 U.S.C. § 2261(a)(1) (1994). Appellant's main argument is that this statute "targets" non-commercial activity in a manner unlike any previous federal criminal statute upheld under the Commerce Clause. We have recently upheld a similar challenge to 18 U.S.C. § 2262 (1994)--a parallel provision in the VAWA--which makes it a federal crime to cross a state line with the intent of violating a protective order. See United States v. Von Foelkel, 136 F.3d 339, 341 (2d Cir.1998) (per curiam). There is no reason to view Appellant's claim any differently. We therefore adopt the holding and analysis set forth in the admirable opinion of the district court below, finding § 2261 to be a constitutional exercise of Congress's commerce power. See United States v. Gluzman, 953 F.Supp. 84 (S.D.N.Y.1997).

Next, Appellant claims that the jury selection system for the White Plains courthouse in the Southern District violates the Jury Selection and Service Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1869(e). In her jury selection argument, Appellant questions the manner in which jurors are allocated to the White Plains courthouse where her trial was held. White Plains is supplied with jurors from the six suburban counties of Sullivan, Dutchess, Orange, Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam. Although the Bronx is adjacent to Westchester County, in which is located the City of White Plains, no jurors from the Bronx go to White Plains. Appellant argues that this organization of the jury wheel has the unintended consequence of limiting minority representation in the White Plains venire and violates the requirement that jurors must be chosen from "counties ... surrounding the places where court is held as the district court plan shall determine." See 28 U.S.C. § 1869(e) (1994).

We reject Appellant's suggestion that § 1869(e) must be read literally to require that jurors be drawn only from geographically adjacent counties. It is well-settled that:

[T]he district and circuit courts have had power since the first Judiciary Act of 1789 to divide a district territorially in the interest of an impartial trial, of economy, and of lessening the burden of attendance.... There are probably no districts in the Union, which can be divided without disclosing in the sections different racial, religious, political, social or economic percentages. To demand that they shall not, would be a fantastic pedantry which would serve no purpose and would put an end to the statute.

United States v. Gottfried, 165 F.2d 360, 364 (2d Cir.1948). The disproportionate need for jurors in the Manhattan courthouse readily explains the current administrative boundaries, and there is no merit in Appellant's challenge to them. See United States v. Yonkers Contracting Co., 682 F.Supp. 757, 768 (S.D.N.Y.1988) (rejecting an identical argument).

Appellant contends that because the cited cases involve jury selections from different judicial districts, they are not determinative of this case. She points out that the Bronx and White Plains are in the same judicial district, and the White Plains courthouse is only a separate division of that district. We do not believe that the previous cases turned on the distinction between districts and divisions, and therefore reject Appellant's contention.

Finally, Appellant also raises a variety of other unavailing claims of prejudicial error. First, she argues that she was entitled to the government's material on Vladimir Zelenin prior to her opening statement. This assertion has no legal basis. The government is only required to provide such materials before cross-examination, not in advance of opening statements. See 18 U.S.C. § 3500(b). Next, Appellant contends that the government improperly rehabilitated Zelenin through its use of prior consistent statements made by him after his arrest. Appellant cites the decision in United States v. Tome, 513 U.S. 150, 115 S.Ct. 696, 130 L.Ed.2d 574 (1995), which barred the admission of prior consistent statements under Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(1)(B) when the statement was made after a witness had a motive to fabricate. Zelenin's testimony does not come under 801(d)(1)(B), but Appellant argues that Tome should be read to cover prior consistent statements introduced for rehabilitation outside of 801(d)(1)(B). But Tome explicitly limited its holding "to the requirements for admission under Rule 801(d)(1)(B)," see Tome, 513 U.S. at 167, 115 S.Ct. 696, and we have rejected the reading of Tome Appellant posits. See Phoenix Assoc. III v. Stone, 60 F.3d 95, 103 (2d Cir.1995). Finally, Appellant argues that she was prejudiced by the district court's failure to give the jury a perjury instruction concerning Zelenin.1 But the charge she proposed was misleading and we conclude that there was no error in omitting the instruction.

The judgment of the district court is affirmed.

1

The general credibility instruction given by the district court stated: "Did the witness make false statements under oath? If you find that occurred, you might decide to view that witness' later testimony with care or caution."

 

 

 
 
 
 
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