Palm Beach is an enclave for the wealthy and notable; a place of private clubs, ritzy parties, and fundraisers, safely ensconsed behind gates and walls. Crime is not common in Palm Beach, and murder even less so.
That’s what made the events on the evening of January 16, 1976 so shocking to many in the city. Oil executive and Town Council candidate Richard Kreusler, and his wife Jane, had just returned home to their six children after attending a political fundraiser.
Just after 10:00 p.m., the front doorbell rang. As he opens the door, Kreusler is shot twice, and then again through a side window. As he lies on the floor he calls out to his wife, who calls police. Kreusler is transported to Good Samaritan Hospital in nearby West Palm Beach, where doctors worked on him for more than six hours.
At the Kreusler home, police badly mismanage the crime scene. A police officer rang the bell, destroying evidence of the shooter’s fingerprints. They also allow neighbors and curious onlookers to walk all over the yard, contaminating the scene. The only substantial evidence found was two 12-gauge shotgun shells. After 13 days in the hospital, Kreusler succumbs to his injuries and dies of an infection.
In an article about the case, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, quoted Dr. McKinley Cheshire, “psychiatrist to the rich and not-so-rich in Palm Beach County.” He said, “It was Camelot. Then the man was murdered, and the general level of anxiety increased almost daily. People were frightened, insecure.”
There were theories about what happened. Some alleged it was a mob hit due to business dealings in which Kreusler was involved. Others suspected it was a revenge murder perpetrated by the jealous boyfriend of a stripper with whom Kreusler was alleged to have had an affair.
Despite the theories, the case remain unsolved until the following year, when police received a big break. An inmate provided a confession letter he said was written by Mark Herman, a local karate instructor who had recently been convicted of an unrelated crime. In all, four inmates testified that Herman had confessed to the murder and agreed to testify in exchange for a reduction in their sentences.
Prosecutors claimed it was a case of mistaken identity, and that Herman intended to kill a man visiting his parents next door over a failed drug deal, but shot Kreusler instead. Despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime, Herman was convicted. The prisoners who testified against him split a reward posted for the successful prosecution of Kreusler’s killer.
Herman maintained his innocence, and it did not take long for doubts to rise about the veracity of the conviction. Eventually his sentence was commuted to time served by then-Florida governor Lawton Chiles. Herman served 15 years for a murder he maintains he did not commit and is trying to have his name cleared. Even Kreusler’s children are convinced of his innocence and are supporting his effort.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The Kreusler home is located at 272 Via Marla, Palm Beach, Florida.