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Speedboat king's death still a puzzle

Robert S. Young, a self-described mercenary with a fondness for call girls, guns and mean dogs, is the hit man who gunned down Donald Aronow, the legendary speedboat demon, investigators suspect.

And Benjamin Barry Kramer, the world champion fast-boat millionaire, could have ordered the daytime ambush after he and Aronow squabbled over a shady business deal, some investigators surmise.

The murder of Aronow, shot to death three years ago, seems to be unraveling as one of the most sensational chapters in the nation's drug story.

A double-dealing mob tale, it might out-Godfather The Godfather -- if, of course, it's not fiction.

No one has been charged. Investigators don't have the proof. Maybe they never will. Conceivably, they could be wrong.

Publicly, the Metro-Dade Police Department, the Dade State Attorney's Office and the FBI refuse to comment on the Aronow investigation -- except to cite substantial progress.

"They've been following leads, " says Gary Rosenberg, assistant state attorney.

Even before police crack the case, though, mystery writers and prime-time TV producers have penned scripts for the gangland-style killing on Feb. 3, 1987.

The cast of characters -- two behind bars, one the victim of a mysterious bomb explosion, and one unaccounted for -- all have connections to a trans-Atlantic network of shell companies and secret bank accounts.

Even the Rev. Jesse Jackson has a bit part -- as the innocent humanitarian who got Young out of a Cuban prison in 1984.

Donald Aronow, a bored millionaire at 28 and a dead man 26 days before his 60th birthday, used to move briskly through Miami's shadowy world where dopers, government spies and mobsters commingle.

Aronow built the dead-end street where he died, known as Thunder Boat Row, and paid his well-tanned laborers for designing and manufacturing his sassy speedboats: Formula, Donzi, Magnum, Squadron XII and the needle-nosed Cigarette.

Along Thunder Boat Row, they called him the Old Man. He named a Donzi 007. He sold his pricey, high tech vessels to the political world: King Hussein of Jordan, the state of Israel, the Sultan of Oman, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier's Haiti -- and George Bush and the United States. Bush named a Cigarette Fidelity.

Aronow, afraid of nothing, also moved in corporate circles. He sold boats to Christina Onassis and Victor Posner and allegedly was a pal of Meyer Lansky, the financial brains of organized crime. At his boat shop, dopers occasionally visited him. He instructed his employees to accept collect calls from a con in a federal pen.

No buyer, pal or partner turned out to be quite so volatile as Benjamin Barry Kramer, 35, a brash, impatient boat racer who packed a .357 Magnum and ran a worldwide drug empire complete with a toll-free beeper number.

In 1985, Kramer and a car-racing pal paid $50,000 to have a 36-year-old Fort Lauderdale man killed, witnesses told federal agents.

Says Michael Aronow, the slain racer's son: "The way my father lived, it (the murder) could have been as casual as a handshake. . . . It could have been international. It could have had to do with the CIA."

Or it could have had something to do with Ben Kramer, he says.

A day or two after the murder, Kramer told police how troubled he was to lose his "friend" Aronow. Then he stopped talking upon the advice of his lawyer. Through the lawyer, Mary Catherine Bonner, Kramer denies involvement in the murder.

The racers, Aronow and Kramer, had much in common. Both were hot-tempered. Both liked money, winning, fast toys and the color white. Aronow drove a white Mercedes, Kramer a white Porsche. By the 1980s, the two men were in the boat business together.

Along Thunder Boat Row, people are reluctant to talk about the extent of the Aronow-Kramer relationship. "What they did personally amongst themselves, I have no idea, " says Robert Saccenti, a former pal of both men.

An Aronow family lawyer, Murray Weil, won't discuss the racers' financial dealings. But Aronow's son explains:

In 1984, his dad sold his USA Racing Team firm to Kramer's Apache company.

Kramer turned over land, assets and a Bell helicopter. And the street talk is that he also gave Aronow cash -- under the table.

"That's hearsay, " Michael Aronow says. "Unless you could hear that directly from Ben or Don, it's guessing."

USA Racing Team's primary mission was its lucrative U.S. Customs contract -- to build "super" anti-smuggling catamarans called Blue Thunder.

But when the Feds found out they were buying the boats from Kramer, a drug suspect himself, they cringed. They threatened to cancel the Blue Thunder contract if Aronow didn't buy the company back.

"And Don did buy it back, " Michael Aronow says. "But Kramer took a big loss. He was bested businesswise very badly."

The street talk is a bit different: Aronow returned the land, the equipment and the chopper to Kramer -- and kept the under-the-table money.

"They didn't like each other in the end, " says Dr. Bob Magoon, an eye surgeon, racer and friend to both. "They were having trouble with a deal."

About 2 p.m. the day of the murder, Don Aronow arrived on Thunder Boat Row. He seemed "agitated, " says Jerry Engelman, Aronow's manager.

A tall stranger walked in, introducing himself as Jerry Jacoby. He announced that he worked for a rich man who wanted Aronow to build him a 60-foot boat. He refused to identify his employer.

Aronow knew a Jerry Jacoby, a racing champion and former partner. But this Jerry Jacoby wasn't that Jerry Jacoby.

"What do you do for your boss?" a perplexed Aronow asked.

"I'd do anything for him, " an Aronow employee, Patty Lezaca, quoted Jacoby. "I'd even kill for him."

Nobody thought much of the comment at the time. Jacoby never looked for a boat. Abruptly, he left the office, just as Aronow announced he had to be on his way.

Aronow drove his Mercedes less than a block, over to Bob Saccenti's boat place.

Saccenti says they didn't talk about Kramer or bad business blood. "He just stopped by to see how I was doing, to find out what was going on in the neighborhood, " he says.

Then Aronow left. He backed his Mercedes into the street. A Lincoln Continental with tinted windows was parked nearby, waiting. It pulled up to the Mercedes, driver's side to driver's side.

With a .45, the killer opened fire. He shot Aronow in the chest, blasting his way down to the groin. Someone swiped a gold Rolex watch from the dead man's wrist.

Detectives looked for the watch. They looked for the Lincoln. And they looked for Jerry Jacoby.

They found the Jerry Jacoby the murdered man knew. But he was the wrong one.

They never found the other one. He might or might not be the Jerry Jacoby who has a chauffeur's license from Seminole County. The chauffeur is 39 years old and 6 foot 2 -- about the same age and height of the stranger who walked into Aronow's office on the afternoon of the murder.

And he may or may not be the same Jerry Jacoby who once strayed into Cuban waters during a scuba-diving trip out of Miami. Cuban authorities said they found almost 300 pounds of marijuana aboard. They threw him in jail.

With him on the ill-fated scuba trip was Robert Young, also jailed.

Robert Samuel Young, 41, the suspected hit man, is a "soldier of fortune type, " says Fred Haddad, one of his multiple lawyers.

He boasted to a cop of running guns "south" and bumping off three Cuban military men. Not to worry, he explained. They were Communists.

Young liked guns -- rifles, shotguns, Rugers. Supposedly, he kept a squad of Rottweilers trained to attack on hand command. Once a Boca Raton officer stopped Young's Mercury Marquis and spotted one of the dogs in the back seat.

"To tell you the truth, " he told Officer Tim Frost, "I'm looking for a guy who's been selling crack to my niece and I'm going to kill him . . . .

"And I'll let the dog chew on him. You can arrest me now if you want to."

To another officer, Fort Lauderdale Organized Crime Detective Stephen Robitaille, Young said: "I'm a mercenary."

"Bobby is one of those guys you should be afraid of, " the detective says.

For years, Young used different dates and places of birth, different names and occupations. In the 1970s, police said, he ran a "floating prostitution" enterprise in St. Louis; Columbia, S.C.; Wheeling, W.Va.; and Las Vegas.

Call girls got him into Leavenworth. He got himself into Cuba -- for smuggling.

Jesse Jackson, running for president, engineered the release of Young and 21 other Americans, as well as 26 Cuban political prisoners, in June 1984.

Not six months later, Young plotted a drug deal with John "Big Red" Panzavecchia, 39, a member of the "Dixie Mafia." Panzavecchia ran guns. He kept newspaper clippings about unsolved murders in his house. At least one he had committed.

The drug deal went bad. Panzavecchia took a shot at Young's car.

The next day, Young, using the name Bobby Scott, took some shots at Panzavecchia -- four .25-caliber bullets through the skull. A fisherman found his body in a canal in Broward County.

Panzavecchia still had on his underwear with the words "Be My Baby, " and his gold panther ring. But his gold Rolex was missing from his wrist.

In the summer of 1987, Fort Lauderdale police arrested Young after he twice shot an Army vet, Craig Marshall. Marshall lived. This time the dispute was over a 40-foot custom-made sailboat, Cat Dancer, named for Young's green-eyed girlfriend, a one-time topless dancer. Young skipped out on his $120,000 bond.

On April 19, 1988, a federal grand jury in Oklahoma City indicted Young and three other men in a Colombia-to-U.S. drug pipeline.

On May 17, 1988, Miami Detective Nelson Andreu, investigating the Panzavecchia murder, got a telephone call from Metro-Dade Detective Mike DeCora, investigating the Aronow murder.

Andreu wrote a report: DeCora "stated he had information from a source who was in federal custody in Oklahoma and provided them the name of Robert Young as the shooter in their investigation of millionaire boat builder Aronau, " spelling the name wrong.

The locals also found out that the FBI was interested in "a case of murder on the high seas involving the killing and discarding of a body from Robert Young's boat."

About two weeks later, Palm Beach SWAT officers coaxed Young out of a five-acre estate. He was holed up with his green- eyed companion, three Rottweilers and a .22-caliber semi- automatic rifle.

Although cons have implicated Young in the Aronow murder, some investigators speculate that more than one man pulled off the crime. Some think two cars might have been involved.

What's more, Young's description -- blue eyes, dark-blond hair -- does not match a composite drawing of the Lincoln's driver made from eyewitness accounts: a white man with a tanned complexion, a day or two's growth of whiskers and wavy brown hair.

Young, already serving time for the "Dixie Mafia" murder, didn't respond to a telegrammed request for an interview. He is in jail in Oklahoma City, awaiting sentencing on the federal drug charge.

Young's latest lawyer, Virgil C. Black, says his client is simply a convenient police target. Young's old lawyer, Melvyn Kessler, doesn't represent him anymore because of his own criminal problems.

A couple of weeks ago, a federal jury found Kessler guilty of a drug conspiracy charge. His co-defendant: Ben Kramer, the racer-turned-drug lord, also guilty. Prosecutors said the lawyer helped cycle Kramer's dirty profits through secret bank accounts and phony companies stretching from Colombia and Los Angeles to Miami, London and Lichtenstein.

Another lawyer, now disbarred, could be a player in the Aronow investigation, too. He is Paul K. Silverman, also convicted on a drug charge, also serving time in Oklahoma. He didn't want to talk to The Miami Herald. According to the Nashville newspapers, Silverman is a federal informant.

Someone put a small pipe bomb underneath the seat of his maroon Jeep last September. It exploded, injuring his legs.

Another possible government witness is William George Walton, also serving time. He and two pals agreed to cooperate and testified against Young in the federal drug case, according to attorney Anita Sanders in Oklahoma City.

"I can't confirm or deny anything that's not public record, " says Walton's lawyer, Paul A. Lacy.

Ben Kramer, the fast-life desperado, is also adjusting to life in prison.

It hasn't been easy. Just last Friday, he was sentenced in a daredevil escape from Metropolitan Correctional Center April 17, 1989.

An old Bell chopper plucked him from the prison's athletic field -- only to snag on a barbed wire fence and crash.

U.S. District Judge James Kehoe gave him 10 years, on top of life. Still recovering from the failed breakout, Kramer limped out of court on a wooden crutch.

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