Friday, April 27, 2007

What do you want on your tombstone?


Investigation paints a local businessman as a convicted felon who faked his death, changed his name several times and burned a body as part of an elaborate insurance fraud scheme.



By Paul Blake


Flames leapt from a crashed vehicle at the bottom of a ravine on a lonely stretch of Mexican highway somewhere outside Monterey on the night of July 11, 1998. When authorities investigated the scene, they found charred human remains on the car's floorboard. Initial reports indicated the remains belonged to the man who now operates Pop's N.Y. Pizza in Five Points.


But dead men can't sling pepperoni slices.


The Five Points village just became more interesting. A City Paper investigation revealed the incredible past of the man who works at Pop's, the newest eatery on Harden Street. He now calls himself "Bey Rutherford," but he is in fact the same "Madison" Rutherford who served five years in a Connecticut prison for fraud after withdrawing his neighbors' life savings and staging his death as part of an elaborate insurance scheme.


Rutherford is trying to start fresh in Columbia, where his parents also live, with the opening of Pop's N.Y. Pizza and The Precinct bar. Rutherford recently discovered his high-profile case followed him when a City Paper reporter approached him last Wednesday.


History of Deceit


Born John Patrick Sankey, Rutherford changed his name to Madison Rutherford in late 1986. His estranged wife Rhynie Jefferson, a fortuneteller, was previously known as Rennie Ottinger.


Rutherford worked at a company called TRW in the 1980s as an assistant comptroller and investigators believe this was where he obtained the knowledge to commit identity theft and obtain Social Security numbers.


According to documents obtained by City Paper, Rutherford has a history of financial problems. In the late '80s, he filed bankruptcy, indicating a total of $450,000 in debt. Those debts were discharged in May 1994.


Additional documents show Rutherford had two misdemeanor warrant convictions in winter 1993. He cashed approximately $750 worth of fraudulent checks at a Stop & Shop and served six months in prison. Another police report in Connecticut indicates he shot a neighbor's dog after it killed one of his chickens.


But by the mid-1990s, things were improving for Rutherford. He worked as financial advisor in Connecticut managing clients' investments. He also managed accounts for his close friend and neighbor, Brigitte Beck. Beck says she signed over power of attorney to Rutherford because she had no family in the country and trusted him to manage her finances. Unfortunately for Beck, in May 1996, Rutherford took out a $332,000 mortgage on her home without her knowledge. Rutherford eventually withdrew her life savings, leaving her with $500, records show.


When City Paper interviewed Beck, who is now renting a one-bedroom apartment in Connecticut, she said: "I lost my ten-room home, which was paid for, and he knew darn well."


Madison Rutherford's Fiery Demise


On July 11, 1998, Mexican authorities found Rutherford's rental car in a ravine outside of Monterrey. All that was in the car were the remains of a burned body, a medic alert pendant, and a wristwatch with the inscription: "To Madison, love Rhynie."


Rutherford had life insurance policies totaling $7 million. and his wife Rhynie offered Madison's — or the burned body's — teeth to insurance companies for DNA matching.


The scam began to unravel when one of the insurance companies sent a tooth to Dr. William Bass, a leading forensic anthropologist who found the tooth could not be the remains of Rutherford but instead the remains of a 50- to 60-year-old Mexican peasant.


Bass became more suspicious when Rutherford's parents did not volunteer DNA samples to help confirm that the dead individual was indeed their son. In fact, the case was so suspicious, Bass wrote about it in his book Death's Acre.


"The lack of DNA comparison samples was yet another red flag," Bass wrote. "By now, this case was raising more red flags than a Chinese military parade."


The investigation then focused on finding Madison Rutherford.


Michael Garrigan, a private investigator in Boston, to investigate Thomas Bey Hamilton, a name Rutherford was operating under and an identity he had taken in Boston while working for a Fortune 500 company.


Garrigan found Hamilton and thought it was odd for a 35-year-old male to have no history prior to those two years. Hamilton's Vermont license plate number came back to a post office box registered to Rynie Jefferson's name attached to it. Garrigan researched Rynie Jefferson and discovered she registered an address at a home she and Madison shared.


Garrigan then called Jack Luty, a Connecticut private investigator who worked with him on a previous case. According to Garrigan, he asked the private investigator to take a photograph of the house. Luty replied: "Are you pulling my leg?" Luty had already been conducting surveillance at the Connecticut home to locate Rutherford for an insurance firm.


Garrigan's next call came from FBI agent Joe Magnan.


"That's how I connected with the FBI agent Joe Mangan out of Connecticut, who filed criminal charges against him once we realized we were dealing with the same character," Garrigan said.


At the home in Boston, several books and documents were found about how to change identities. Also there was a list of goals for 1999-2000. Among the goals: "7 million dollars."


Investigators thought was a decent clue.


Where Did the Body Come From?


According to investigators, Rutherford had the help of his wife Rynie and a retired Connecticut state trooper who accompanied him to Mexico. The trooper was never charged because of his cooperation with authorities and because there was no evidence linking him to the crime scene.


In a report about Rutherford that aired on the Court TV program Forensic Files, the program suggested Rutherford dug up a body from a gravesite in Mexico in order to stage his death.


Yet this is contrary to Bass' findings that the body was "fresh," and to this day, investigators have never concluded whose body was burned in the car and the condition of that body prior to incineration.


An investigator close to the case says Rutherford rented a car and obtained a hunting license in Brownsville, Texas, the day before he staged his death. In Texas, he allegedly spent a night at the estate of a Tyrone Faust in Humble, Texas, who did not return calls from City Paper. There, it is believed by the F.B.I. he delivered Faust a dog, and then Rutherford rented a second vehicle that was burned with the body of unknown origin.


Mangan, the FBI agent, told City Paper: "Rutherford got with his lawyer, and they were able to convince us that we didn't need that information (regarding the origin of the body) to prosecute the fraud case and the government didn't pursue it."


Aftermath


Court testimony indicates Rutherford's parents claim they were also deceived about his death so they were never charged with accessory. Investigators say Rutherford asked his parents to clean the apartment in Boston after the arrest, and they allegedly removed documents and an unregistered handgun from the apartment.


Prior to his arrest in Boston, Rutherford had returned to the home of Brigitte Beck. Once she recovered from the shock of seeing her friend and neighbor back from the dead, Rutherford persuaded her that it was the FBI who staged his death and that he was running from the Mafia.


The reason Beck was not able to get restitution in federal courts is because she had knowledge of the insurance scam during the investigative process. "I am a law-abiding citizen, and the FBI knocked on my door," Beck laments. "I almost was arrested. How do you think that makes me feel?"


Good Moral Character?


While Beck struggles to make it month to month back in Connecticut, Rutherford has purchased a second business here in Five Points called The Precinct. The establishment was formally known as Gracie's. The previous owners will not comment about the sale. A source that asked his identity not be revealed said Bey Rutherford handles the general operations and his father signs the paperwork.


For his part, Rutherford says he doesn't own either of the businesses. "My father owns both… I am not the owner of either one. I am strictly an employee."


When questioned about the high-profile case, Rutherford said: "Yeah, this happened. We are in the middle of a deal right now with an A-list Hollywood guy movie star writing a book. The attorney up in Boston has my life rights."


When asked about the money, he told us that he never took any money from Beck. "Sixty percent is out there," he says. "Forty percent of the story is not known by the media because we have never given an interview."


Unfortunately for Rutherford, being only an "employee" seems to make the liquor license he helped obtain from the state of South Carolina illegal, according to state law, which requires: "The applicant, all employees, and all principals must be of good moral character."


Mangan told City Paper, "He did the time for that crime and it's over, but he is not someone I would call of high moral character."


"I don't hate him," Beck says. "This is something he has to deal with eventually. If he has any amount of decency left, he should pay me a little bit of money."