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Secrets haunt wife in murder conspiracy

DAYTONA BEACH - Konstantinos Fotopoulos had a beautiful wife, a booming business and a shiny black BMW. What more could he want? A secret life as a Casanova, conspirator and contract killer, police say.

Fotopoulos' secrets began unraveling early one morning last fall when police were called to investigate a shooting at his family's big white house on the Halifax River.

Inside, Fotopoulos' wife, Lisa, lay near death with a bullet buried in her brain. On the floor lay the body of Bryan L. Chase, the man who broke into the house and tried to kill her as she slept.

Fotopoulos told police he awoke to gunfire and saw a burglar standing over his wife. He reached under the bed for his gun, firing at Chase again and again.

The story made front-page news the next day. Mrs. Fotopoulos was the daughter of a prominent Greek family and heiress to a modest fortune. Her husband, by his own account, was a man who had acted to save his wife's life and was now praying for her recovery.

Fotopoulos didn't call himself a hero, but who would doubt it?

A week later, Fotopoulos was under arrest, charged with masterminding his wife's shooting Nov. 4. He denied guilt.

In the months since his arrest, Fotopoulos' alleged accomplices and other tipsters have told investigators that Fotopoulos also had his hand in a variety of other crimes. Police and prosecutors say that he was a conniving - but clumsy - criminal:

By the time Mrs. Fotopoulos was shot, her husband and his mistress had bungled five other attempts at her murder, police said. In the process, they made their plot common knowledge among some drifters - who then promptly tipped off police.

A month before the shooting, Fotopoulos allegedly helped his mistress tie a man to a tree and shoot him. But instead of destroying the evidence, Fotopoulos recorded the murder on videotape and left the tape in a bag at his home.

Although no other bodies have been found, police are investigating whether Fotopoulos killed eight other people and masterminded an international counterfeiting ring. Among the reasons for their interest: Fotopoulos boasted about such crimes to the youths he recruited as accomplices.

Today, Mrs. Fotopoulos has recovered her health, filed for divorce, cut Fotopoulos out of her $450,000 life insurance policy. She has also begun the trickier task of trying to make some sense of it all.

"It was horrible. It was unbelievable," she told an interviewer. "You live with him for four years and then they tell you he tried to have you killed."

'So handsome'

They married four years ago, under the painted gold stars of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church. Afterward, there was dancing to Greek music, filet mignon steaks served to 250 guests, a honeymoon at Lake Tahoe.

Fotopoulos, a recent immigrant from Greece, turned heads with his dark eyes and imposing figure, 220 pounds stretched over a 6-foot-2 frame. Known as "Kosta" to friends and family, he could often be seen cruising around in a glossy black BMW.

His bride was the daughter of a prominent businessman, a petite accountant with brown hair and a sunny smile. After graduating with honors in 1982 from the University of South Florida, she returned to Daytona Beach to help run her family's business.

The Joyland Amusement Center sits at the north end of the Daytona Beach boardwalk. People strolling by Joyland hear the cosmic blasts of video games, the scrape of skeeballs, the sizzle of burgers on the grill.

And often they could look inside and see Fotopoulos, who helped run Joyland after his marriage, kissing his wife. At a dance a week before the shooting, people had remarked on what a lovely couple they made.

"Everybody say, 'So handsome was Kosta and Lisa,"' recalls one Greek woman working at Joyland.

But last fall, there was trouble at Joyland. One day while Fotopoulos was away from the office, a man tried to shove his wife inside a windowless room and shoot her. But the petite woman darted through her assailant's legs and fled.

Frances Stith, a clerk at the Joyland gift shop, recalls asking Fotopoulos if he knew who had attacked his wife:

"He said, 'No; if I did, he'd be dead."' The dark side

Down the boardwalk from Joyland, the sidewalk is sticky with soda and spit. Teen-agers huddle on the steps, talking in shrill voices. One boy with dirty blond hair and a jaunty walk wears a T-shirt that boasts: "Youth Gone Bad."

The south end of the boardwalk acts as a magnet for runaways, hoods and drifters. It was here, police say, that Fotopoulos showed his dark side.

Against his wife's wishes, he opened a pool hall called Top Shots.

On the wall, he hung a painting of mermaids holding a pool table aloft in the waves. He read Soldier of Fortune magazine and comic books flooded with gore.

Police say that Fotopoulos also began romancing Deidre Michelle Hunt, a 20-year-old bartender with tawny hair and tough ways.

Ms. Hunt, known as "Dee" or "Cherri" on the boardwalk, had been in trouble before moving to Daytona Beach. Police say that in 1988, she pleaded guilty to being an accomplice in a New Hampshire armed robbery.

But she would later tell police and a newspaper that Fotopoulos showed her a new brand of violence.

Ms. Hunt told police that Fotopoulos said he was a professional assassin who had killed eight people, said Sgt. John Power of the Daytona Beach Police Department. In an interview with the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Hunt said that Fotopoulos showed her a homemade torture video and boasted of performing secret missions for the CIA, keeping secret Swiss bank accounts and having a hidden cache of $100,000 in counterfeit money.

One night in October, Fotopoulos and Hunt did more than talk.

Hunt would later tell police that she and Fotopoulos took Mark Kevin Ramsey, an 18-year-old bartender at Top Shots, to the woods west of town. Telling him that this was part of an initiation into Fotopoulos' ring of assassins, they tied him to a tree and told him to hold still while they shot at his feet, Hunt later told investigators.

Hunt picked up a gun, and Fotopoulos picked up a video camera.

The 57-second videotape he made is described in chilling detail in a court affidavit. The tape begins by showing Hunt and then panning to Ramsey.

"Ready?" asks Ms. Hunt.

"Okay," says a thickly accented male voice, identified as Fotopoulos'.

"With that," the affidavit says, "Deidre draws the gun from her right side, aims at the chest of Kevin Ramsey and fires three time into the chest. Kevin grunts with pain and says, 'God.' He then says,'Ahhhh,' and lifts his left leg in pain. With that Deidre walks to him, grabs his hair, raises his head up and puts the gun to his left temple area and fires once more. Kevin falls forward and is silent."

Before Hunt told police of the killing, Ramsey's body had rotted in the woods for nearly three weeks, still tied to the tree.

Police have voiced two theories about why Fotopoulos wanted to film the killing: Theory No. 1: Fotopoulos wanted evidence on Ms. Hunt to keep her quiet about criminal activities.

Theory No. 2: Fotopoulos wanted to boost business for his professional assassin's operation with a "video resume."

Tragedy of errors

The call for help came at 4:54 a.m. Police cars swarmed to the Fotopoulos' home, their lights turning the pre-dawn darkness into an eerie kaleidoscope of blue and red.

Publicly, police echoed Fotopoulos' account of his wife's shooting.

But privately, they doubted him from the start. In low voices, they asked the questions:

How did the intruder know to break through one of the few windows

not hooked to the home's alarm system? If he was a burglar, why did he leave expensive stereo equipment and silver untouched? Why did he shoot the woman first instead of neutralizing her much larger husband?

Acting on tips, investigators called in Deidre Hunt on Nov. 7.

Based on what she told them, police arrested her, Fotopoulos and two other boardwalk regulars and charged them with plotting Mrs. Fotopoulos' murder. They also charged Fotopoulos and Hunt with killing Ramsey.

Fotopoulos and his alleged accomplices have pleaded innocent to killing Ramsey and plotting to kill Mrs. Fotopoulos. Aside from Hunt's comments to the media, the defendants and their lawyers have declined to publicly give their side of the story. And a gag order imposed by a judge in December has recently prevented anyone associated with the case from talking about it.

But before the gag order, police and prosecutors spread out their case in detailed statements and court filings. They say that while Fotopoulos carried out Ramsey's murder without a hitch, he presided over a tragedy of errors leading up to his wife's shooting.

According to officials, it went like this:

On Oct. 30, Hunt invited a friend of hers from the boardwalk, 20-year-old Teja James, to her apartment. Fotopoulos asked James if he would kill Mrs. Fotopoulos for $10,000 and James agreed.

The next day, James went to a local nightclub where Mrs. Fotopoulos was attending a Halloween party. James saw her, dressed as a cowgirl in blue jeans and a checkered shirt. He thought of the detailed instructions Fotopoulos had given him: Wait until she goes to the bathroom and stab her in the back. Then

pull the knife out and stab her again in the ribs to keep her from

screaming. Then sit her down in a chair to make it look like she is

drunk.

But Mrs. Fotopoulos was surrounded by a crowd, and James got scared. Fotopoulos met him in the bathroom and told him not to worry.

He had another plan:

Wait outside Joyland until she is alone in her office. Knock on the door and ask for me. When she answers, push her inside and shoot her in the head three times. Before you leave, pull out the drawers. Make it look like a robbery.

The next day, Nov. 1, James tried to carry out the plan but Mrs. Fotopoulos got away. After hearing of the failure, Fotopoulos had Hunt offer another of her boardwalk friends $5,000 to commit the murder.

Bryan L. Chase agreed.

First, Fotopoulos told Chase to ram Mrs. Fotopoulos' car, get out to apologize and then shoot her in the head. But Chase's car developed mechanical problems.

Then, Chase was supposed to break into the couple's home and shoot Mrs. Fotopoulos while she slept. But he couldn't break through the tough plastic windows, despite two tries.

Hunt relayed news of these failures to Fotopoulos, who exploded in anger. According to a police report, "Fotopoulos told Ms. Hunt that he heard Chase trying to get in and that if his mother-in-law hadn't been home he would have kicked the window out himself."

Exasperated, Fotopoulos gave Chase a knife to cut through the window and a small flashlight. Early on the morning of Nov. 4, Chase finally made it into the bedroom and shot Mrs. Fotopoulos in the head.

Her husband then shot him dead. Chase had not yet been paid.

Greed and lust

Mrs. Fotopoulos is better now. Her brother, Dino Paspalakis, said the bullet entered her skull, passed through the sectors controlling personality and memory, and came to a stop. Except for occasional headaches, he said, it seems to have done no damage.

"She's 100 percent recovered," he said.

After the shooting, police found that Fotopoulos had assembled a veritable criminal cornucopia. The stockpile included the video of Ramsey's murder, an AK-47 assault rifle, a pistol with a silencer, 750 rounds of ammunition, thousands of dollars in fake $100 bills and nude photographs of his mistress.

In a telephone interview, Mrs. Fotopoulos said that she didn't have any idea of her husband's secret life before he tried to have her killed. But there had been hints of trouble.

Two years before the shooting, Fotopoulos was detained by police and questioned about a counterfeit $100 bill he spent at a jai alai match. But Fotopoulos shrugged it off, telling his family and police that one of the arcade customers might have given it to him.

Last summer, Fotopoulos opened the pool hall against his wife's wishes. She wonders if he might have felt like a second wheel at her family's enterprise and wanted to branch out on his own. At first things went well, she said, but after a while "more and more riffraff was going in."

Riffraff, she said, like Deidre Hunt.

Mrs. Fotopoulos declined to talk about her husband's relationship with Ms. Hunt, but State Attorney John Tanner said in November that Mrs. Fotopoulos suspected her husband's affair with Ms. Hunt before the shooting. Fotopoulos hired the hit man before his wife had a chance to cut him out of her $450,000 life insurance policy.

"The motives appear to have been the age-old greed and lust," Tanner said. "He intended to cash in on the insurance and get rid of his wife in one stroke."

Mrs. Fotopoulos, trying to build a new life, has refused to see her husband since the shooting. But sometimes her mind drifts back to happier times. She recalled the day nearly five years ago when a friend introduced her to a tall Greek man who had come to the United States to study airline management.

Fotopoulos was handsome, well-educated, ambitious. They went out to dinner. They talked for hours. After three weeks, they were engaged.

"Lucky me, right?" she said.

- Information from the Orlando Sentinel and Daytona Beach News-Journal was used in this article.

Up next:Correction

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