Criminal court

Witness tells jury about dumping murdered South Florida woman’s body off boat in 1994

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Twenty years ago, Alan Gold and Cliff Friend were pals, co-owners of a speedy 30-foot Chaparral boat, model-name “Villain.”

Gold even gave Friend a key to his Miami Beach condo marina.

“Wouldn’t have done that with too many guys,” Gold said Wednesday as he sat on the witness stand in a Miami courtroom, staring at Friend at the defendant’s table.

And there was something else Gold swore he was willing to do — cover up the murder of his old buddy’s ex-wife.

In blunt and haughty testimony, Gold told jurors how he helped Friend load the corpse of Lynne Friend, strangled and stuffed into a duffel bag, onto their boat and dump it into the dark Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Miami on an August night in 1994.

At the time, Gold said, Friend admitted he had suddenly “choked out” his ex as they argued over her plan to move their 5-year-old son out of town.

“I didn’t want to see the kid fatherless. Then, I figured it was the lesser of two evils,” Gold told jurors. “I figured it was a tragic accident. Why make it worse?”

Gold insisted he was only testifying at Friend’s trial for first-degree murder because prosecutors — unable to charge him with accessory after the fact — threatened to arrest him for obstruction of justice or perjury.

“I made a commitment to the guy 20 years ago, I didn’t see any reason to break it,” Gold told prosecutor Michael Von Zamft. “I broke it only because you put me in a box and I don’t have a choice.”

Gold is the star witness in the prosecution against Friend, 58, a Lighthouse Point pawn shop owner accused in a case that first riveted South Florida two decades ago. Despite a massive search aided by the U.S. Navy, Friend’s body has never been found.

In exchange for his testimony, Gold received immunity on an accessory-after-the-fact charge, though the statute of limitations long ago ran out.

Friend was not indicted for murder until March 2012, and Gold agreed to cooperate against his former pal a year later.

Gold’s testimony Wednesday was his first time publicly speaking about the night Lynne Friend disappeared. The former tanning salon owner was every bit as colorful as he was two decades ago.

Tall and dressed in a charcoal suit, Gold sported a Crocodile Dundee-style wide-brimmed hat, an American flag lapel pin and bracelets of heavy gold chain. He answered brusquely, at times turning sarcastic.

When shown a photo of himself back in 1994, Gold marveled at his ponytail. “Long hair — and a lot more of it,” Gold quipped.

When asked if prosecutors promised him anything else besides immunity for his testimony, Gold replied: “Water, coffee, candy, mango muffins — and a bullet proof vest.”

The description of the night Lynne Friend disappeared was anything but funny.

Prosecutors say Lynne Friend had just won approval from a judge to take their son to Tennessee, where she planned to re-marry. The decision enraged Friend, and just before his ex-was to move, he called her over to his house to pick up a child-support check.

That night, Gold had been at home nursing the flu when Friend called, sounding “distraught.” Knowing Friend had been reeling from his divorce with his wife, Gold drove to his pal’s North Miami Beach home.

When he arrived, Friend admitted that during an argument with Lynne Friend, “he basically said the next thing he knew, it was over. He had lost it. He knocked her down and choked her out.”

In the dining room area, Gold saw the large bag containing Lynne Friend’s body. He admitted he never opened the bag to see the remains.

“She was in the bag. She wasn’t coming back. That was the end of Lynne,” Gold said.

The two dumped Lynne’s sedan in an empty lot in North Miami-Dade, then loaded the body into Friend’s sports utility vehicle. They drove to Gold’s Miami Beach condo, where the boat was kept.

Gold reluctantly agreed to help him on the boat trip. They cruised — not too fast to not attract attention — down the Intracoastal Waterway and then seven miles east of Government Cut.

In the dark, when Gold noticed a wake behind them, he hollered that someone was following. The men dumped the body right before patrolling U.S. Customs agents stopped him.

“I saw a white light and a bunch of guys pointing M16s at me,” Gold testified.

They demanded to know what the men had dumped.

“I told them a towel went overboard,” Gold said, adding: “I don’t really want to tell anybody I just dumped a body overboard into the Atlantic.”

Ultimately, custom agents let both of them go without any charges — though they confiscated the boat.

During cross examination, Gold sparred with defense attorney Peter Heller, at one point bellowing in laughter at the lawyer’s quibbling over how much they paid for the boat, which had been used for drug smuggling by its previous owner.

Gold admitted he had “facilitated” some drug deals over the years — but never with Friend. In a heated exchange, Heller insisted Gold paged Friend that night to arrange a drug run, not to dump a body.

“Bullsh**t,” Gold said sternly, to the mild gasp of the courtroom crowd. “I don’t really remember 20 years ago why I beeped him. OK, Peter?”

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