Real Names: Unknown (at time of broadcast)
Aliases: None known
Wanted For: Extortion
Missing Since: November 1988
Details: On November 2, 1988, Eilene Maluccio found a strange letter in the morning mail. Among the normal bills and fliers was a simple sheet of computer paper, stapled together and rubber-stamped “Confidential”. It was an extortion letter, demanding that she send money to five local addresses. It asked her for $300,000 in denominations of tens and twenties. It said that one of the five people that she was to send the money to had a contract out on her life. It said that if she did not cooperate, they would kill her or members of her family.
Nearby, fence contractor Larry Purcell called the police after he received a similar letter also printed by computer. This time, the extortionist demanded $200,000. Because of the letter, Larry began to look over his shoulder constantly. He said that it was constantly on his mind. He also said that he took many precautions to keep himself safe.
Eilene and Larry live in Lancaster, California, a desert community of 75,000 people. They are only two of 263 prominent members of the community who received similar extortion letters. The members included doctors, dentists, lawyers, and other high-paid professionals. Each letter contained instructions for bundles of cash to be sent to other local individuals. They also threatened to poison and murder anyone who did not comply.
Since the letters were sent out, many people in Lancaster have been understandably gripped by fear. Several people were even hospitalized due to stress caused by the letters. Not only did the 263 letters contain death threats, but many of them contained highly personal information about the recipients’ private lives: their work, their friends, and their families. And each one contained this warning: “The police cannot protect you every minute of the day, month, and year. If you decide not to pay, we’ll blow your brains out.”
Eilene was startled by the detailed information about her husband Nick that was contained in the letter. He had died suddenly of a heart attack. The extortionist suggested that her husband may not have died of a heart attack, but instead was poisoned. She was very upset and disturbed by the letter. The letter also threatened to put toxic chemicals in her toothpaste, sprinkle mustard gas in her house, and kill her children. The extortionist also claimed that he was part of a local organization of 2,000 people.
Detective Tom Ewens was not sure if the extortionist just had a “very twisted” sense of humor and wanted to scare the community, or if he was doing it for financial gain. Six detectives and dozens of volunteers worked full-time on the case. To try and understand the complicated structure of the blackmail, the Sheriff’s Department constructed a flow chart. They substituted code letters for the people the extortionist instructed should receive the money.
For example, the extortionist demanded that one person should send money to five different people. Then, those five individuals should send their money to other people, almost like a chain letter. Eventually, some of the money was sent back to the first person on the list. It was a constant and complex loop of money changing hands. Detectives tried to determine if the extortionist was one of the people that was supposed to receive money. They also wanted to determine if the person was keeping the money or sending it off to someone else.
Detectives noted that the extortionist put a great deal of time and research into their plan. They did not simply pick names out of the phonebook; they apparently have driven by some of their victims’ houses and know their families. However, some of the information in the letters was out of date or inaccurate. Also, some letters were sent to the wrong addresses.
In all of the letters, the extortionist used language that was violent, vulgar, and sometimes racist. The grammar and spelling were inaccurate. The mailings were unsophisticated. The computer sheets were not inserted into an envelope; instead, they were simply stapled together and mailed with a twenty-five cent stamp. The letters were all postmarked Mojave, a town twenty-five miles from Lancaster, with the date November 1, 1988. They may have been mailed on Halloween night, suggesting that the scheme was a hoax. But the authorities and the recipients are taking the letters seriously.
Authorities do not believe that any recipients complied with the demands in the letters. It is also not believed that any of the threats have been carried out. However, Eilene, along with many other recipients, hope to see the extortionist arrested and prosecuted. Larry could not understand who would be responsible for the letters. He speculates that it may be someone he knows and interacts with regularly. The community of Lancaster is offering a $17,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the extortionist.
- The case first aired on the November 23, 1988 episode.
- At three weeks old, this was one of the newest cases featured on the show.
- It was excluded from Amazon Prime episodes.
- A similar case featured on the show was Circleville Writer.
Results: Unresolved. On the day after the broadcast, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and Las Vegas police arrested two men believed to be responsible for the Lancaster letter extortion scheme: twenty-seven-year-old Roman Stephan Makuch and twenty-six-year-old Richard Mathew Faroni. They had lived in Lancaster until a week before the letters were mailed. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department received calls from Lancaster residents, saying they suspected Makuch and Faroni. One tipster claimed that the men had bragged about sending the letters. It was discovered that the men had access to a computer, as well as records containing the personal details mentioned in some of the letters.
L.A. county sheriffs traced the men to Las Vegas through a driver's license application. They were arrested at their apartment on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1988. Detectives found more incriminating evidence in their apartment and former Lancaster home, including: computer equipment; a printer; papers with the names of some of the victims; walkie-talkies (which the extortionist had instructed some victims to use to communicate with him); and a story written by Makuch which had a writing style similar to that in some of the letters. An extradition hearing was held on December 1, 1988. They waived extradition and were returned to Lancaster to face twenty-one felony counts, including conspiracy to commit extortion and mailing threatening letters.
Detectives discovered that Makuch and Faroni knew some of the victims, including real estate agent Patrick Hunt. A former neighbor reported that the men had conducted "regular nocturnal excursions" with electronic surveillance equipment in the months before the letters were mailed. The neighbor also said that in October 1988, Makuch had pointed a gun at him and refused to let him in his home. The neighbor looked inside, spotting a computer printer and boxes of computer paper. He also noticed a smell that occurs after extended computer use. The men also reportedly talked about wanting to commit the "perfect crime". Faroni had once told a co-worker about a way to "get even" with an enemy through the mail. Also, it was noted that some of the victims were told to travel to Las Vegas to deliver the money (which is where they moved to).
The men denied any involvement in the extortion. They claimed that they were in Connecticut visiting Faroni's parents at the time the letters were mailed. They claimed that they moved to Las Vegas for tax reasons. Faroni also claimed that the real extortionist was a Los Angeles businessman who was upset with them after a disagreement over a land deal. According to Faroni, the businessman framed them with the help of their former neighor, who did not get along with them.
Prosecutors later claimed that Makuch and Faroni were the masterminds behind the letters, and that an unknown accomplice mailed the letters. It was alleged that they went to Connecticut to construct an alibi for the letter mailings. Their apparent motive was that they were angry that local leaders had failed to support the Antelope Valley Film Commission, where they volunteered. The men were known to tell exaggerated or false stories and liked to play pranks on people, which may have been another motive for them.
In January 1990, Makuch and Faroni were convicted of extortion, conspiracy, and other charges. They were sentenced to four years in prison. In April 1991, they were released on parole after serving three years. Their alleged accomplice was never identified.
- Extortion letters - November 4, 1988
- Newspaper offers extortion reward - November 5, 1988
- Mass mailing of death-threat letters baffles officials - November 8, 1988
- Detectives trying to learn source of community's extortion threats - November 8, 1988
- Two Men Arrested In Extortion Letter Scheme - November 28, 1988
- 2 Arrested in Extortion Threats - November 28, 1988
- 2 Suspects in Mass Mailing of Extortion Threats Are Seized - November 29, 1988
- Two face charges of extortion - December 1, 1988
- Charges filed in mass extortion scheme - December 8, 1988
- 2 Charged in Death Threats - December 10, 1988
- Employees plead innocent in extortion case - December 13, 1988
- Two held for trial in extortion case - March 23, 1989
- D.A. Sifts Evidence in Poison-Pen Case (Page 1) (Page 2) - July 9, 1989
- Trial Opens in Extortion Mail Scheme - December 5, 1989
- Extortion Trial Defendants Used "Big Ears," Witness Says - December 7, 1989
- Judge refuses to drop charges in "Pay or Die" extortion case - December 28, 1989
- Defendant Denies Mailing Letters in "Pay or Die" Scheme - January 10, 1990
- Questioning Grows Heated in Extortion Trial - January 11, 1990
- 2 Men Convicted in "Pay or Die" Letters - January 30, 1990
- Two sentenced in extortion try - March 17, 1990
- Pair sentenced - March 17, 1990
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Lancaster Extortion Case (includes articles)