Thirty-nine years to the day that Coral Gables nurse Debbie Clark was viciously beaten and shot to death, her former lover is under arrest and charged with murder.
Investigators on Thursday arrested retired real estate agent Allen Bregman of Boca Raton, the longtime suspect who once filed an insurance claim on the slain woman’s life.
The new evidence: fingerprints and a DNA sample from a hair discovered on Clark’s body, according to an arrest warrant obtained by the Miami Herald.
“It’s been a long time. He’s got to live his whole life, but now it’s about accountability,” said Clark’s brother, Brian Pantola, of Clayville, New York. “We’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for justice, never believing this day would come. This is surreal.”
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Bregman, 75, a longtime Boca resident, was taken into custody in Macon County, North Carolina. He had moved there in recent weeks. Bregman will eventually be brought to Miami-Dade to stand trial.
His lawyer, Barry Wax, has long insisted that detectives — then, and now — have no evidence to convict Bregman.
“Allen was not involved in this young woman’s death,” Wax said Thursday. “It’s no surprise that Allen’s DNA was found in the apartment, which he owned and visited regularly.”
Clark’s mysterious murder in August 1977 had been largely forgotten until the Miami Herald published a story in February detailing a renewed investigation by Miami-Dade police.
A native of upstate New York, Clark worked as a nurse at Coral Gables hospital and planned to enroll in law school. She began dating Bregman, who was married at the time and was the son of a wealthy Miami property owner.
According to a search warrant filed in Miami-Dade circuit court, he bought the unit at the Oasis townhomes, located at 4710 SW 67th Ave., that she lived in. He rented it to her and sometimes lived there, too, according to her friends. Police said he kept a closet of clothes and belongings there.
“It was later learned that Allen Bregman would tell his wife he was going away on work trips so that he was able to spend time with the victim at the apartment,” according to a search warrant.
Clark’s bloodied body was found on her bed inside the townhouse after fellow nurses grew worried when she never showed for her night shift.
According to the search warrant, the town home was not ransacked and showed no signs of forced entry. And Bregman’s clothes and other personal effects that friends had seen in the apartment were gone.
Detectives also believed that in the days before the murder, Bregman was in New York for a U.S. Coast Guard training when a friend called to say that his wife, Florence, had learned about his affair and planned to file for divorce.
On Aug. 4, 1977, Bregman flew from New York to Miami, arriving just before the nurse vanished. Clark’s decomposing body was discovered Saturday, two days later. The following Monday, court records show, Florence Bregman filed for divorce. The next day, Bregman filed a $148,000 life insurance claim with Allstate Insurance, a claim that was contested in court. A 1978 docket shows that Bregman invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during court proceedings.
The case was re-opened in May 2014. Earlier this year, Miami-Dade homicide detectives David Denmark and Jonathan Grossman took DNA and fingerprint samples from Bregman.
According to the warrant, Bregman’s fingerprints matched ones found on an ashtray near Clark’s bed, and on a sliding glass door in the townhouse. The ashtray may have been used to beat Clark to death, police said.
Miami-Dade’s crime lab also analyzed the hair found on Clark’s arm and found it “was consistent” with a DNA sample provided by Bregman. Analysists concluded that “99.934 percent of the population would be excluded as contributors of the profile from the hair,” according to the warrant.