Courts

Witness offers details in 1994 murder case of missing Hallandale woman

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

For nearly two decades, Alan M. Gold closely guarded the secret of what happened to Lynne Friend, the Hallandale mother who mysteriously vanished, leaving behind a 5-year-old son.

But it was not until a few weeks ago that Gold finally confirmed what investigators had suspected all along: Friend’s angry ex-husband, Clifford, murdered her after a bitter custody dispute, then dumped her body off a boat into the ocean.

Gold, who admitted helping dispose of the body, had long refused to cooperate against his pal, Clifford Friend — whom prosecutors indicted last year on a first-degree murder charge in his ex-wife’s disappearance.

Friend, 57, a pawn shop owner who lived in North Miami Beach and now resides in Lighthouse Point, is out on bond while awaiting trial.

After receiving immunity from prosecution, Gold gave a sworn statement at the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, detailing blow-by-blow how he helped dispose of the corpse and almost got caught by U.S. Customs agents looking for drug smugglers.

Despite several searches on the ocean floor, Lynne Friend’s body has never been found.

Gold’s decision to cooperate dramatically changes a circumstantial murder case that riveted South Florida 19 years ago and has given prosecutors more ammunition to add to what they say was already a solid case.

‘strong case’

“At the time we decided to indict this case, we had hope that Mr. Gold would come forward,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “Now he has. Mr. Gold’s testimony fortifies an already strong case and answers the question that has lingered since Lynne Friend disappeared in 1994.”

Friend’s attorney, Peter Heller, has declined to comment on Gold’s change of heart.

Details of Gold’s sworn statement lay out his version of events:

Friend and Gold had known each other for about a decade. They’d already gone through one legal drama together.

Friend had been a witness for Gold in 1991 when he was arrested for a shooting outside his North Miami Beach tanning salon; the case was dropped because Gold had acted in self-defense.

And Friend often vented to his buddy about Lynne’s plans to remarry and take their son to Tennessee.

The night of Aug. 28, 1994, Gold said he was home in bed recovering from the flu when the phone rang. It was Friend.

“He said that he had a serious problem and could I come help him,” Gold remembered.

Reluctantly, Gold said he drove from his Miami Beach condo to Friend’s North Miami Beach home. He saw Friend’s SUV there. He also saw an “older sedan” — Lynne Friend’s blue 1989 Mercury Grand Marquis.

“After being in the house for a moment or two, I noticed a large equipment bag in the living room, dining room area,” Gold said.

“He said that Lynne had come over to get money,” Gold told prosecutors during a May 21 interview.

“They were arguing over the child and visiting and vacation times. He said he basically lost it; he grabbed her from the back, knocked her to the ground and choked her.”

“And by choked her, you mean he strangled her to death?” asked prosecutor Michael Von Zamft.

“Yes,” Gold replied.

Friend told Gold he had stuffed Lynne in the bag. Gold agreed to help him dispose of the body. Clifford drove off in Lynne’s car, with Gold following.

On West Dixie Highway in North Miami-Dade, Friend stopped the car.

“I got out of my car, took some type of a cutting tool out of my toolbox and cut one of the tires,” Gold said.

The two ditched the Mercury, the right tire slashed, next to a field off Northeast 26th Avenue and 207th Street.

A witness later told investigators he saw a man parking what turned out to be Lynne Friend’s car in the area. The witness said the unidentified man hopped into a waiting black sports utility vehicle, similar to one owned by Clifford Friend, and the vehicle screeched off.

Gold said he and Clifford returned to the North Miami Beach home.

“I helped him pick up the equipment bag and put it in the SUV.”

The bag was heavy, weighted down. The two drove the SUV to Gold’s Miami Beach condo, at 5600 Collins Ave., where they kept a boat they co-owned, a 30-foot, Villain-model Chaparral.

The men placed the bag and two cinderblocks from the garage into the vessel. They placed Lynne’s body inside another equipment bag, adding the boat’s anchor for extra weight.

They cruised down the Indian Creek Canal, through Government Cut and east, then raced out to sea, some seven miles off shore.

“Did something occur that made you or Clifford nervous so that you had to dump the body quicker?” Von Zamft asked.

“I turned around and looked out the stern and saw two or three wakes following us,” Gold said. “It made us believe we were getting hijacked.”

A U.S. Customs vessel had spotted Friend and Gold and was following, with lights out.

Clifford blurted out: “Dump the bag immediately.”

Gold said he struggled to lift the bag but couldn’t manage. Friend ran over and the two took each end and heaved it into the water.

The customs agents turned on their search lights, witnessed the pair heave something over the side of the boat, then speed away, leading them on a one-mile chase.

Agents caught up with Friend and Gold, detaining them. They reported finding light-gauge rope and two cinder blocks aboard.

“Somebody came on a speaker and said ‘This is so-and-so, pull over,’ ” Gold remembered.

Nothing to say

Both men clammed up, refusing to talk about why they were out on the water and what they had tossed overboard.

Investigators seized the boat, which they noted was missing the anchor.

Suspicious investigators quickly began to look into Friend and Gold’s backgrounds and discovered that 35-year-old Lynne Friend was missing.

Lynne’s relatives have long said she was not the type to run away. She was excited about recent changes in her life. She had just won sole custody of her 5-year-old son, Christian. And she was getting ready to move to Tennessee to marry her new fiancé.

The night she disappeared, she was on the phone, talking to her fiancé, when another call clicked in. She told her fiancé that it was her ex-husband who wanted her to drive to his North Miami Beach home to pick up a child support check.

Officers and agents from Hallandale, North Miami Beach, Miami-Dade, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement joined in the massive police investigation. Her vanishing drew extensive media coverage.

The U.S. Navy, the Coast Guard and oceanographers at the University of Miami also assisted for weeks in trying to find a body at the bottom of the swift moving Gulf Stream.

Friend went into seclusion in the months following his ex-wife’s disappearance. He got custody of his son and remarried a year later.

But Gold still tried to get Clifford to pay his share of the forfeited boat. A couple of years later, Gold told prosecutors, he approached Friend.

‘i get heat’

“I talked to my attorney and my attorney says that I shouldn’t give you anymore money,” Gold recalled Friend telling him. “It looks bad and that we shouldn’t get together to talk because every time we get together, I get heat on me.”

Prosecutors finally indicted Friend in March 2012.

This year, Gold received a promise of immunity for talking to prosecutors, although he could face a charge of perjury if he is found to have lied about his involvement. He could have faced prosecution for accessory to murder after the fact — but the statute of limitations ran out long ago on that crime.

Gold’s attorney declined comment.

Von Zamft, the prosecutor, said he has concerns about Gold’s safety as Friend’s trial date approaches.

“We are taking precautions,” Von Zamft said.

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