Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Disappeared: Part One

from James

Two deaths dominated the news in Miami this week.

One was Ellis Rubin, a flambouyant and outspoken criminal defense lawyer whose autobiography was a direct quote from some of Miami's most high-profile criminal defendants: "Get Me Ellis Rubin!"

He was definitely creative. Rubin won the first case in Florida using the now-common battered-woman syndrome as a defense (literary/legal trivia: Phil Margolin was the first to succesfully use that defense in the state of Oregon). His creativity, however, was sometimes regarded as off the wall. When 15-year-old Ronny Zamora was accused of shooting to death an 83-year-old woman in Miami Beach in 1977, Rubin came up with the "television intoxication" defense--too much violence on television made his client prone to violence. That argument seems worn out now, but it was probably ahead of its time when Rubin made it. In another case that riveted Miami, husband and wife Jeff and Kathy Willets were accused of running a sex business out of their home. Rubin argued that the antidepressant Prozac turned Kathy Willets into a nymphomaniac. It didn't fly, but the subsequent tell-all book did.

The Miami legal community will be a strange place without Ellis Rubin. Rest in peace, Mr. Rubin.

This week's other front-page obit was Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator who died Sunday. Pinochet led the miltary coup that ousted Salvador Allende from power on September 11, 1973. (More literary trivia: President Allende was Isabel Allende's uncle). President Allende died in the bloody takeover, though some say it was from self-inflicted wounds.

Pinochet didn't live in Miami, but many who either loved or hated him do. Not much middle ground on Pinochet. He is credited with turning around the Chilean economy, but at the time of his death Pinochet was the target of some 300 prosecutions for human rights violations. The "official" count is 3,197 people who were executed or disappeared during Pinochet's 1973-90 government, and thousands more who were tortured. Families of "the disappeared" were still seeking justice at the time of Pinochet's death.

I did a lot of research on los desaparecidos--The Disappeard--for my upcoming novel, When Darkness Falls, due out January 2. I focused not on Chile, but on an even greater tragedy in Argentina. More about that next week. Stay tuned.

James Grippando


  1. Great post, James. Miami seems to specialize in flambouyant and outspoken citizens of all stripes. Why is that?

  2. from Jacqueline

    Thanks, James, for your post. The responses to Pinochet's death underline the fact that you never really know how a given culture responds to its leadership - there were those crying in the streets of Santiago at his passing, and those knocking back the hard stuff to celebrate. Doesn't matter how you look at it, the man was a bloody tyrant - and as you say, the issue of Argentina's missing really ratchets up the toll crimes against humanity.

  3. Jim,
    I knew Ellis Rubin a bit and portrayed him in a long ago skit at the annual Reporters' Ribs & Roast on Miami Beach. That was the year he defended the cop's wife, Kathy Willets, in a prostitution case. Legal defense was something along the lines of nymphomania. "She couldn't help it." Now, get this. Ellis and Kathy came to Ribs & Roast, and laughed louder than anyone else.

    And...what will happen in Mia-muh when Fidel goes to that big sugar cane field in the sky? Stay off the highways and watch out for revelers with guns.

  4. Can't wait to read the book, James. I learned about the Disappeared when I worked on a BBC documentary about them in the mid-90s. It was a sobering experience for me.

    I've been reading this bloggie because of Cornelia, but I was in an airport last week and saw a copy of "Got the Look," and I thought, "Wow, that dude blogs on Naked Authors." Then I turned around and saw one of Paul's novels. But I only had $10, so I bought yours!