Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Tene-Bimbo “Gypsy Sweetheart Scam,” Husband-Killing Syndicate - 1995


It was known to many the “Gypsy Sweetheart Scam,” by its many victims, all defrauded, but not all murdered. But between 1983 and 1995, after a group of five deaths came to be linked to a Gypsy family’s murder-for-profit scheme San Francisco police gave the name “Foxglove” to the case – after the suspected death tool, digitalis, a heart medicine derived from the foxglove flower. Six elderly men were apparently murdered soon after being married much younger women, all members of the Tene-Bimbo Gypsy clan, based in San Francisco. It is suspected each was killed through poisoning with digitalis (heart medication).

Five victims were San Franciscans – Philip H. Steiner Jr., 93; Konstantin K. Liotweizen, 92; Nicholas C. Bufford, 87; and Stephen Storvick, 91; Harry Glover Hughes, 94 – a sixth was a New Yorker, Andrew Vlasto, 83. In the California cases, more than $1 million in cash, real estate, jewelry and automobiles was taken by the extended family, private investigators said. Suspects arrested in the scam were Angela Tene Bufford; her mother, Mary Tene Steiner; of San Francisco, and, in New York, Sylvia Mitchell. Daniel J. Castleman of the Manhattan district attorney's office said Mitchell was tied to the Tene-Bimbo group through her boyfriend, Ephrem Bimbo.

Police say the couple filled prescriptions of digitalis at a pharmacy across the street, poisoned food made at the deli owned by the Tene family, and delivered it to the homes of elderly targets. Investigative  journalist George Cothran reported in the SF Weekly that the case had been badly botched, perhaps deliberately, due to the association of a police officer with the suspects (“Poisoned Probe: How police bungled the exotic poison-for-profit case known as Foxglove,” SF Weekly, Dec. 3, 1997)

“The two original inspectors, Greg Ovanessian and Daniel Yawczak, were taken off the case in 1994 and now face internal police misconduct charges. They are accused of "engaging in conduct which subverts the good order, efficiency and discipline of the department" in connection with their handling of the early part of the investigation in 1993.” [Jim Herron Zamora, “8 accused of plotting poison murders,” San Francisco Examiner, Nov. 7, 1997]

Ultimately the three San Francisco women and their male associates were permitted to plead to fraud charges rather than homicide. “Mitchell was arrested in Las Vegas in June 1999, and pleaded guilty in June 2000 last month to manslaughter, admitting she stole $70,000 of Andrew Vlasto’s money – and drugged him to do it.” [Laura Italiano, “Death Was In The Cards – Schemer Married Old Man And Killed For $$,” New York Post (N.Y.), July 7, 2000]

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For more than two dozen similar cases, dating from 1658 to 2011, see the summary list with links see: The Husband-Killing Syndicates

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