Image: Ben Novack Jr.
AP
Ben Novack Jr. was found beaten to death in July 2009 in a suburban New York Hotel room. A bitter family feud has erupted in Florida over the estate of the slain son of the founder of the lavish Fontainebleau Hotel.
updated 10/8/2009 6:54:17 PM ET 2009-10-08T22:54:17

The mysterious death of a Fontainebleau Hotel heir has triggered a family feud over his multimillion-dollar estate, with relatives accusing his wife of murder even though no one has been charged.

Ben Novack Jr., whose father founded the lavish Miami Beach landmark frequented by President John F. Kennedy and Frank Sinatra, was found beaten to death in a suburban New York hotel in July. His wife Narcy Novack is a person of interest in the killing, and relatives claim she deserves nothing from the estate, which includes a vast collection of Batman memorabilia.

Novack Jr., 53, was found in a Rye Brook, N.Y., hotel room covered in blood. His face, hands and legs were bound with duct tape.

Novack's daughter, 33-year-old May Abad, claims in court documents in the estate case that Narcy Novack "unlawfully and intentionally killed or participated in the procuring of the death." Abad wants a judge to invoke Florida's "killer" statute, which can bar someone responsible for a person's death from collecting an inheritance. She's joined in a similar motion by Novack's elderly aunt.

Neither Narcy Novack nor her attorney returned repeated calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Tempestuous relationship?
Police documents said Narcy Novack was "deceptive" regarding her knowledge of the killing during a polygraph test, an investigative tool not usually admissible in court.

Other court documents showed a tempestuous relationship between the couple that included bondage sex games and bouts of violence. In 2002, Novack claimed his wife orchestrated a home invasion robbery that left him tied to a chair for 24 hours, then decided not to prosecute when she told police it was an episode in their unusual sex life. Narcy Novack also claimed her husband once broke her nose.

Then there's Novack's Batman collection, which lawyers in the case said was among the world's largest and includes a replica of the Batmobile featured in the 1960s TV show. Some of the items — figurines, comic books, costumes and the like — may have been removed from the four warehouses where the collection is housed. Estate attorney Douglas Hoffman said the collection was being inventoried by experts.

Rye Brook Police Chief Gregory Austin said Narcy Novack and everyone at the hotel the day of the killing was considered a "person of interest." Austin said detectives were reviewing hotel surveillance video, and police collected five rolls of duct tape, computers, videotapes and paperwork from the Novacks' $3 million waterfront Florida home.

"The case is active and continues to move forward," Austin said in an e-mail.

Novack Jr. grew up in the swanky confines of the Fontainebleau, whose frequent visitors in its 1950s heyday included the famous — Jerry Lewis, Harry Truman, Irving Berlin — and the infamous, such as mobsters Meyer Lansky and Sam Giancana. The massive hotel, with its signature curved exterior, was the setting for the James Bond movie "Goldfinger."

Left a sizable estate to his son, widow
The founder, Ben Novack Sr., was often photographed with celebrities along with his wife Bernice, a striking redheaded ex-model. Although Novack lost the hotel after a 1977 bankruptcy, he left a sizable estate to his son and widow.

Bernice Novack, 86, died in April from what was classified by the medical examiner as an "unwitnessed fall" at her Fort Lauderdale home. She suffered a broken jaw and police found blood smeared on her car and on walls in the house, but they concluded no crime was committed.

Ben Novack Jr. eventually built his own multimillion-dollar convention planning business, which brought the Novacks and Abad to the Hilton Rye Town in New York for an Amway convention July 12.

Stayed up all night working
Narcy Novack told investigators that her husband had stayed up all night working, finally going to bed about 6:30 a.m. She said she went downstairs for breakfast and returned about 7:40 a.m. to find her husband beaten.

She later told police her husband had a "tendency to make people angry" and that he had "been hanging out and doing business with weird people."

For example, she said he had recently gotten into a dispute at their home with another collector over a Batman comic book he had agreed to buy for $43,000. Eventually, the collector left with a paper bag containing the cash.

Police said expensive jewelry, like a Rolex watch, was left undisturbed in the room. No electronic card keys were used during the 70 minutes his wife was gone.

Wife stands to inherit fortune
Under her husband's will, Narcy Novack stands to inherit his entire fortune, which is at least $6 million. That figure was expected to increase after all assets are inventoried.

But if she were to lose the estate, most of it would go instead to Abad and trusts for her two teenage sons.

Abad and Maxine Fiel — sister of Ben Novack's Jr.'s mother — claim in court challenges that Narcy Novack deserves nothing, even if she is not charged or convicted in her husband's death. Under state law, even if a person is not convicted of murder, a judge can still prevent them from gaining an inheritance if there is substantial proof "of an unlawful and intentional killing."

Narcy Novack has been summoned to give an Oct. 20 deposition in the estate case. Among the questions a subpoena wants her to answer: What happened to some of the Batman memorabilia and what documents or items she might have taken from Bernice Novak's safe deposit box after her death.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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