In Los Angeles, it’s a story that caused bewilderment disbelief and has now inspired a new movie, “Alpha Dog.” It has provocative new roles for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars like Justin Timberlake and Sharon Stone.
In fact, it’s a story set not far from Hollywood itself.
In the West Hills section, there are million dollar homes. But amidst the swimming pools and tidy lawns of this well-kept neighborhood, a devoted mother got the worst possible news.
Susan Markowitz, Nick Markowitz’s mother: When I was paging him, and he wasn’t answering I knew something was definitely wrong.
Like the stream of expensive cars cruising down the Boulevard, a dark undercurrent had been flowing beneath West Hills’ glossy views. A group of seemingly nice kids had become caught up in a lifestyle where life itself was cheap. An entire city was shocked when these same kids stood accused of an unspeakable crime.
But the accused ring leader got away for six years. But Susan Markowitz never gave up on bringing him to justice.
Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: This has, in many ways, been a mother’s quest. Susan Markowitz: Right. Hansen: Is the quest over now? Susan Markowitz: It’ll never be over.
Her quest for justice began in West Hills. But eventually, authorities came to the hills of Brazil, half a world away. There are latest twists and turns in this story of a fugitive’s odyssey—including the birth of a child, and the release of a controversial new film based on the case. The fugitive himself even sounds like he was created by a screenwriter: His name is “Jesse James Hollywood.”
Jesse Katz, Los Angeles Magazine senior writer: This is like one of those bad true crime tales come to life.
Los Angeles Magazine senior writer Jesse Katz wrote an in-depth cover story about the tragedy that began here amidst the expensive homes.
Katz: It would be almost comical, or absurd, if it wasn’t so tragic. It’s a story about a very well-to-do part of Los Angeles that lost its way.
Susan and Jeff Markowitz’s lives will never be the same. They have since moved, but back in the 1990s they were living the good life. Jeff’s family company produced aviation components. Susan was a homemaker. West Hills was a great place to bring up their kids— a daughter and son from Jeff’s former marriage, and their own 15-year-old son Nick.
Hansen: How would you describe Nick to someone who never met him? Susan Markowitz: The funniest person on earth. He just had so much energy. I don’t know what was going on in his head but he would do anything to make us laugh.
His parents say Nick, who liked sports and theatre, was a typical, fun-loving 15-year-old. But that wasn’t the case with his older half-brother, Ben.
Hansen: Ben was a troublemaker.Jeff Markowitz: No, not really a troublemaker; but he was always there when there was trouble. And, the things escalated from there a lot of times. Hansen: Was he a tough kid to have around?Susan Markowitz: Definitely—and I think, as a parent, I made some very poor choices.
The Markowitzes say they tried everything to help Ben. Ben worked with his dad for a time, but he continued to get into trouble at home and into scrapes with the law. Susan was frightened that Nick, who idolized his older half-brother, would soon be led into trouble too.
Hansen: And how difficult was it for you to try to insulate Nick from all of this?Susan Markowitz: It was doing double time.
Jeff eventually gave Ben an ultimatum: obey the rules or move out. It’s a decision he regrets to this day.
Jeff Markowitz: If I would have held onto Ben and kept him in my household, he wouldn’t have been on the street. He wouldn’t have been involved in, maybe, some of the other things that he got involved in.
Hansen: Perhaps wouldn’t have met Jesse James Hollywood?Jeff Markowitz: He probably wouldn’t have met Jesse James Hollywood.
Jesse James Hollywood: It’s his real name listed on his birth certificate. Hollywood lived a few blocks away from the Markowitz family, and soon Ben and Jesse became friends.
Years earlier, Jesse James Hollywood and his friends seemed like all American kids. They grew up playing Little League together, coached by Jesse’s dad, Jack Hollywood, on the ball fields of West Hills.
Katz: Jack was savvy enough that he knew how to blend into the L.A. suburbia. He was a Little League coach, he was well-spoken, he took care of his family, he wasn’t a flashy guy calling attention to himself.Hansen: But he was long suspected of being a major marijuana dealer. Katz: He was.
No matter what his father did, as a kid, Jesse James Hollywood did not seem destined for trouble. He was a good athlete, and attended El Camino Real High School, considered one of California’s best public schools.
But by 10th grade, Hollywood was expelled. He transferred to a nearby school two years later and graduated. But a young life that seemed so full of promise had begun to take a very different path.
Unlike so many of his classmates, Jesse Hollywood didn’t go to college. Instead, police say, he eventually went into business for himself. Hollywood had his own house. He had bought it with a big cash down payment the year before, when he was just 19.
How does someone this young afford his own house? According to police, the 5’4 former star Little Leaguer had become a marijuana dealer—and he brought a few long-time friends into the business.
The group eventually included Ben Markowitz.
Hansen: What was the relationship between Jesse James Hollywood and Ben Markowitz?Katz: That was a really complex relationship. Jesse James Hollywood, he was probably a wannabe bad boy. Ben Markowitz was a real bad boy.
At Hollywood’s West Hills home, it was one big party regularly videotaped by Jesse James Hollywood and his friends as they drank beer, smoked pot, and goofed around.
Katz: It was a real scene. Cars, girls, music, booze. I mean they were living this extended spring break.
Yet when it came to business, Hollywood reportedly was dead serious.
Hansen: Take me inside the Jesse James Hollywood posse.Katz: He would give them a certain amount of pot to sell. And they used whatever neighborhood connections they had to sell it. And some of them would bring back the money that they earned. And some would come up short. And the ones that came up short became almost like indentured servants to Jesse James Hollywood.
Over time, authorities say, young Jesse Hollywood, a smart, friendly, fun-loving Little Leaguer, had turned into a tough guy pot dealer.
Hollywood allegedly ruled with an iron hand and ordered those in his debt to clean up after his dogs and pick up empty beer cans around his house.
Hansen: They were the servants.Katz: They were. And he was like the center of the universe.
In one videotape, Hollywood is seen apparently demanding payment on a debt from one of his childhood friends, by now a posse member.
Katz: Jesse James Hollywood was a businessman. He was running a dope-dealing crew. The people around him were basically lost souls. These were kids without were smoking a lot of pot and drinking a lot of beer. Jesse James was kind of the center of their universe. And these kids were smoking so much of his dope that they almost all fell into debt to him.
According to police, Ben Markowitz owed Jesse James Hollywood money too. Around $1,200 dollars at one point.
But Ben Markowitz’s relationship with Jesse James Hollywood was different. Some observers say as tough as Jesse James Hollywood supposedly was, he was actually fearful of Ben Markowitz and saw him as a threat.
Katz: Ben was dangerous to Jesse James Hollywood. None of the other kids would stand up to him. None of them wanted to fall out of Jesse James Hollywood’s favor. Ben Markowitz just didn’t seem to care. And he was probably the only member of that crew that didn’t cow tow to Jesse James Hollywood. Jesse James Hollywood would tell him, “You owe me money.” Ben Markowitz says, “Screw you.”
As Hollywood allegedly grew angrier about Ben’s debt, there was a teenager in West Hills who had no idea he was about to become a pawn in the feud.
To the Markowitz’s family, their little son Nick had grown up so fast, right before their eyes. As a 3-year-old, he was reciting a nursery rhyme, with his older half-sister and half-brother Nick had a privileged upbringing in the West Hills section of Los Angeles.
But by the time he was 15, in the summer of 2000, Nick was about to become entangled in a bizarre series of events. Tragedy would be just around the corner.
A reputed West Hills pot dealer, Jesse James Hollywood and Nick’s half brother, Ben Markowitz reportedly were at war over a $1,200 dollar debt. Ben didn’t pay and then upped the ante. Ben reportedly broke a window at Jesse Hollywood’s house.
Jesse Katz, senior writer, Los Angeles Magazine: It triggered this kind of tit-for-tat back-and-forth taunting between the two of them, which could have been sort of innocent trash-talking, or could have been very menacing.
But according to police, Jesse James Hollywood was determined to teach Ben Markowitz a lesson. Police say one lazy Sunday in August 2000, Jesse James Hollywood and his crew went cruising through West Hills in a van, looking for Ben Markowitz to settle scores. They couldn’t find Ben. But they spotted a different opportunity— Nick Markowitz.
He had nothing to do with his half-brother Ben’s drug debt. Yet, he was snatched right from his own from his own neighborhood in broad daylight by Jesse James Hollywood and his posse.
Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: And why did they take Nick, if they were looking for Ben?Katz: I think he was just convenient...Hansen: Wrong place at the wrong time?Katz: It was a moment, an opportunity, and they seized it.Hansen: Once they grabbed Nick Markowitz, what did they do?Katz: In the very beginning, they did hit him. They punched him and kicked him and threw him in the van.
Jeff and Susan Markowitz had no idea Nick had been abducted. For the first few hours, they thought Nick might be at a friend’s house. But then they started worrying.
Hansen: Where was Nick going when he left the house the day he disappeared? Susan Markowitz: I wish I could ask him that. It’s still a mystery. We can only guess.Hansen: You gave him a pager— and said "If I call this pager, you better return the call."Susan Markowitz: Yes...Hansen: So, you know when he didn’t call back that Sunday, something was up?Susan Markowitz: Yes. Something was definitely wrong. He couldn’t call me back. That’s what I knew.
Nick couldn’t call back because he was being held hostage in a van by Jesse James Hollywood and his crew. From West Hills they headed north on the 101.
Destination: Santa Barbara, about 70 miles away. At some point, Nick was told he was being held because of his half brother’s debt.
Katz: If Ben was in trouble, you Nick wasn’t gonna do anything to exacerbate that. So I think Nick just went along with it.
And then strangely enough, over time, Nick’s kidnapping eventually took on the air of a joyride.
Katz: Moments after he was abducted and thrown in the van, they let him take a Valium and fire up a joint. So, suddenly, Nick is almost part of the party.
And what a party was. At times, four or five posse members and even a small group of girls went in and out of the picture.
Nick even stayed at three houses in Santa Barbara. And some parents who saw the group never realized exactly what was going on.
Katz: It does seem that parents kind of wandered in and out of the picture almost like ghosts, never really asking these inconvenient questions. It’s almost like, you know—Hansen: About “what the hell is going on here?”Katz: It’s almost like you don’t want to know what the answer is.
To the parents, it may have seemed like Nick was having fun instead of being held against his will. In fact, it looked like the posse itself wasn’t so sure what they were doing.
Katz: I think they don’t know what to do with Nick Markowitz. I mean that’s why he really wasn’t being held captive in the traditional sense. Hansen: I mean he wasn’t tied up, bound, gagged or anything like that.Katz: There was a moment when he was, but it didn’t last very long. For the most part, they’re playing video games.
In the meantime, though, back in West Hills, Nick’s mother and father were frantic.
Jeff Markowitz: Susan did a spreadsheet that just went from childhood to 15 years on anybody and everybody Nick's ever met.
For the first day and a half, the Markowitzes were desperately making phone calls and struggling to figure out what could have happened. After about 36 hours, they reached Ben Markowitz, Nick’s half-brother.
Jeff Markowitz: And when we knew that Nicholas hadn’t contacted Ben that’s when I realized “We got a real problem.”
The Markowitzes then called Los Angeles police. By then, of course, Nick was 70 miles away.
Over the next 24 hours, the posse moved from one hang out to another. Eventually, Nick was brought by his captors to a Santa Barbara area motel for—of all things—a pool party.
He even became friendly with a 17-year-old girl who was hanging out with the crew.
Katz: You know, he’s in the swimming pool at a motel. It would have been so easy to signal for help.
When Dateline first covered this case in 2001, we spoke to then-Santa Barbara county chief deputy sheriff Bruce Correll.
Hansen: So this kid’s thinking, “Alright, I’m in trouble here but once all this gets settled, I’m gonna be ok. They’re gonna let me go.” Bruce Correll, then-deputy sheriff: At one time, young Nick made the comment that “This will be a story I can tell my grandchildren.”
Nick seemed oblivious to the real danger he might be facing. But whether Nick knew it or not, authorities say Hollywood realized snatching the 15-year-old old could mean big trouble.
Katz: Jesse James Hollywood was clever and shrewd enough to know that they’d done something pretty major.
After the first day of Nick’s kidnapping, Hollywood allegedly got nervous and took off. According to court testimony, Jesse James Hollywood left Nick Markowitz with his cohorts in Santa Barbara.
He then came back to the San Fernando Valley to meet with an attorney who was a family friend.
Katz: Jesse James Hollywood went to the attorney’s home and said, “You know, there’s this situation. Some kids are in trouble. They’ve held somebody hostage.” I’m not sure he revealed all the details. He probably asked, how big trouble are they in.
Authorities say Hollywood was told that anyone directly involved in Nick’s kidnapping could go to prison for life.
Katz: And Jesse James Hollywood seemed to be very agitated by that news and stormed out of the lawyer’s house.
Soon, what had seemed like an amateurish abduction would take a shocking turn.
August, 2000. In the idyllic resort city of Santa Barbara, California, 15-year-old Nick Markowitz had been held captive for two days by the posse of reputed drug dealer Jesse James Hollywood.
Back home in West Hills, Nick’s parents were panic stricken.
Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: How did you get through those nights?Susan Markowitz: I slept on the couch with the window open, hoping to hear him or see him first.
Yet the Markowitzes had waited until they heard from Nick’s half-brother, Ben to call the police. It was a decision Jeff Markowitz will always regret.
Jeff Markowitz: I shouldn’t have waited at all. I shouldn’t have waited for Ben to show up. Even though that seemed the most logical thing.Hansen: Well, you try not to overreact.Jeff Markowitz: Exactly right, but I’m telling you—as a parent, right now—overreact. Don’t wait a second. As soon as you feel something wrong in your heart, do something about it, follow it up. Get to the bottom of it, now. Don’t wait.
Members led Nick to believe early on he would soon be released.
Jesse Katz, Los Angeles Magazine senior writer: Up to that point, Nick believed he was going home. This has finally reached its end. You know, “I’ll buy you a bus ticket, or a train ticket. We’ll get you back home. I may even give you a little money.”
But Nick Markowitz didn’t know that Jesse James Hollywood allegedly had very different plans.
Hollywood was rattled after an attorney told him that kidnapping nick could mean going to prison for life. About a day and half after the kidnapping Hollywood allegedly made a call to posse member Ryan Hoyt. Hoyt was known as the posse whipping boy and was deeply in debt to Hollywood.
Katz: On that final day, Jesse James met with Ryan Hoyt, and he handed him a duffel bag that had a Tech 9 in it. And this is like gun that had been modified into a fully automatic assault rifle.Hansen: But it was Jesse James Hollywood who gave the bag—Katz: Who gave the bag to Ryan Hoyt, said, “We got a little situation. You’re gonna take care of it for me. And that’s how you’re gonna clear your debt.” And this was a chance for him to be entrusted with an assignment. And Ryan wanted to do it right.
According to police, the plan was set. There was only one way to ensure Nick Markowitz would never be able to talk about the kidnapping— and that was to kill him.
Hollywood allegedly told Ryan Hoyt to do the shooting.
Hansen: Did Jesse James Hollywood really have such a svengali hold on these other kids in this posse that he could say, “Kill this kid”?Katz: He seems to have. The question is, is that because Jesse James Hollywood was this master manipulator? Or was he dealing with kids who were just so lost, so detached, so out of it, that anyone could have maybe yanked their chain.
Either way, two of Hollywood’s crew scoped out the scenic mountains above Santa Barbara for the perfect place to commit cold-blooded murder.
Then-deputy sheriff Bruce Correll: They had found a location there where they did dig a grave...and they then returned down to the hotel...where they then picked up Nick and then did drive him up there.
Two and a half days into the kidnapping, three of Hollywood’s posse traveled up the steep and treacherous, dark mountain roads, with Nick Markowitz. But this time it was no joyride, this time he was bound and gagged.
Hansen: They head up into the woods. Nick Markowitz is bound with duct tape. What happens then?Katz: Ryan Hoyt takes a shovel and, basically, whacks Nick in the back of the head— cold cocks him. Pulls out this Tech 9, one squeeze of the trigger, nine bullets shoot out. Hansen: Nine bullets. Katz: Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Nick collapses. The only reason the gun didn’t keep on shooting is that it jammed. He falls into this grave that had been dug for him, they tuck the gun under Nick’s knees, and now try to bury him.
The posse members thought Nick’s body would never be found in such a remote location. But the grave was too shallow. And it was just off a popular hiking trail.
Commander Bruce Correll, SBCSD: Within a few days the body was discovered by some young people.
The local media reported that a body had been found. After a few days there was a positive identification.
Back in West Hills, after a week and a half of anguish, Nick’s parents got the devastating news.
Hansen: Do you remember what the detectives said to you?Susan Markowitz: “I’m sorry. We found your son. We found his bullet-riddled body.”Hansen: How do you even process something like that?Jeff Markowitz: You don’t.Susan Markowitz: I remember sitting down, feeling like I was going to be sick. And I think I was thinking of crying but wouldn’t allow myself. Or, maybe I did but it was so hysterically spontaneous—for just a second. And then it’s like I went into shock.
Ben Markowitz, who had been helping search for Nick, was inconsolable. He immediately blamed himself for Nick’s death.
Ben Markowitz on KNBC-TV: It’s my fault...that my 15-year-old brother is dead.
Nick Markowitz’s funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners. And just days later, the case was breaking wide open:
Hansen: And how do the police get onto Jesse James Hollywood and his posse?Katz: Well, the one young lady who had befriended Nick during his captivity up in Santa Barbara—Hansen: When all the partying is going on?Katz: …who was 17 had realized that Nick was being held against his will. And they had in fact discussed, you know, the potential for escape. And that’s when Nick told her, “Don’t worry, you know, everything’s gonna work out.” So she believed everything was okay.Hansen: Was fine. Until?Katz: Until—it was about—four or five days after Nick’s body was found. And now a picture of Nick ran in the local newspaper in Santa Barbara. Realizes—Hansen: “Oh my god.”Katz: “Here’s this kid. Sweet, funny, gangly kid that I hung out with for three days a couple weeks ago. He’s dead. They lied to me.”
The girl went to the Santa Barbara county sheriff’s department, where leads were already pouring in. Names and phone numbers were given.
And within hours—police were making arrests, including triggerman Ryan Hoyt, and three others.
But one suspect disappeared: Jesse James Hollywood. As the alleged ringleader, he was indicted by a grand jury for murder and kidnapping. And because he was nowhere to be found, he was now an FBI fugitive.
Five years ago, just months after the murder of 15-year-old Nick Markowitz, Dateline began following the trail of accused mastermind Jesse James Hollywood.
Bruce Correll, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s dept: We believe that Hollywood is so ruthless and so dangerous that anyone involved with him or would be in his company could be at risk.
Santa Barbara county chief deputy sheriff Bruce Correll told us then this was one of the toughest kinds of cases.
Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: He’s got no interest at all in coming back. He faces, either, if convicted, life in prison and possibly...Cmdr. Bruce Correll: ...the death penalty...exactly. He has no incentive to come back. None whatsoever. Hansen: Where does the trail go? Where does it go cold? Commander Bruce Correll: We believe that the moment
Jesse either read in the Los Angeles Times that a body had been found here or was contacted by someone who read the paper that a body had been found that Jesse was gone. He left immediately.
Hansen: Where do you think he went after he left California? Commander Bruce Correll: We know that he went to Colorado Springs.
In Colorado Springs, where his family once lived, Hollywood visited an old family friend. Police were tipped off, questioned the friend, but Hollywood was gone.
Investigators say in the week after Nick’s body was found, Hollywood had also traveled with his girlfriend to Las Vegas, staying at the luxurious Bellagio hotel on the Strip. He then headed back towards the San Fernando Valley. After that the trail went cold.
A photo obtained by Dateline, taken at a photo studio in Vancouver, British Columbia, appears to confirm that he was in Canada part of the time.
Hansen: Where do you think he is right now? Commander Bruce Correll: I don’t know.
With Hollywood on the run, the four other young people charged in connection with Nick Markowitz’s murder went on trial.
Apparently none of them had information about Hollywood’s whereabouts.
The Markowitzes attended each of their trials almost every day and saw the gruesome crime scene photos of their murdered son.
Jeff Markowitz: He’d been in the ground for eight days, shallow, in 110 degree weather, I believe. It was tough.
It was also difficult facing accused triggerman Ryan Hoyt.
Jeff Markowitz: It’s a bad feeling to be in a courtroom with somebody that killed your child. It’s a bad feeling.Hansen: Shot him nine times?Susan Markowitz: His words were, “All I did was shoot him.”Hansen: “All I did was shoot him?”Susan Markowitz: Yes.
Hoyt was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Another posse member got life in prison for kidnapping. Two others got lighter sentences for their part in the crime.
But from day one, Susan Markowitz focused on finding Jesse James Hollywood:
Susan Markowitz: I was always looking over my shoulder, or handing out wanted posters or cards. I made up cards.Hansen: You actually made up cards, and handed them out in the community.Susan Markowitz: Everywhere. And I left them on windshields. Hansen: You weren’t gonna let this thing go.Susan Markowitz: No.
Eight months after Hollywood fled, investigators suspected that his parents knew where he was hiding. At the time they believed his father, Jack, was the key.
Hansen: If as you suggest, Hollywood’s parents know where he is. Why can’t you arrest them? Why cant you compel them to tell you where this fugitive is?Cmdr. Bruce Correll: We would have to have clear-cut evidence that they are aiding and abetting him which we do not have. However, conversations from Jack Hollywood that have been relayed to us indicate that it is highly likely that he knows exactly where his son is.
The case received national publicity. The FBI distributed Jesse James Hollywood’s wanted poster all over the country — and posted it on the Internet. And Jesse James Hollywood began to become something of a legend.
A $50,000 reward was offered to anyone who could provide information leading to Hollywood’s capture.
In the meantime, Nick’s mother Susan could barely hang on.
Susan Markowitz: I’ve been in the hospital, I think, 12--Hansen: 12 times?Susan Markowitz: 12-- something like that. I don’t remember.Hansen: You contemplated taking your own life?Susan Markowitz: Suicide. Yeah. Pills—with drinking. And I cut my wrists.
But her personal pursuit continued, plastering the Los Angeles area with wanted posters and asking everyone she met to help.
Hansen: Did a day go by where you didn’t do something to try to help find Jesse James Hollywood?Susan Markowitz: On the days that I was trying to kill myself, I wasn’t trying to find him.Hansen: But other than that?Susan Markowitz: Yeah, I pretty much focused on him.
Finally, two years after the murder, police got a tip that Jesse James Hollywood had headed south—all the way to Brazil, a country with a reputation as a safe haven for international fugitives—like one Ronny Biggs.
Biggs took part in England's historic great train robbery in 1963 and made off with millions. He was arrested but then escaped.
And he ended up in Rio de Janeiro. He became a huge local celebrity. and even though authorities knew where he was — Biggs was not extradited to Britain. A local law protected him because he fathered a child in Brazil.
As Ronny Biggs found, it is a swinging international city known for sun and fun, and... danger. It’s just the type of place American law enforcement officials believed would attract Jesse James Hollywood.
And in fact, two years after the Markowitz murder, police got a tip that Jesse James Hollywood was hiding in, of all places, a monastery. But there was little else to go on. And investigators soon hit a dead end.
But it turned out that while Brazil seemed like it was a dead end — there would be new clues on this road leading out of Rio.
It had been four agonizing years since their son’s murder, when one day in late 2004 undercover Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies paid a visit to Susan and Jeff Markowitz:
Jeff Markowitz: They said, “We are going to find Jesse Hollywood.”Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: “We are going to...”Jeff Markowitz: “We are.”Hansen: Not “try to find…”Jeff Markowitz: They said, “It’s not if. It’s when.”
And a few months later it turned out that having followed these roads 65 miles from Rio, investigators blazed a trail to new leads:
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies obtained intelligence that brought the international search for Jesse James Hollywood to this windswept beach resort on the eastern coast of Brazil called Saquerema.
It’s a place where spectacular sunsets are shrouded in the salty mist of the roaring waves. And just off the beach, behind these tall wooden gates, it was home to a man who locals knew as a young Canadian named “Michael Costa Giroux.”
Neighbors called him “Mike”. He didn’t talk much, but he seemed to love his two dogs—and he worked out with weights that he kept on the front patio. This woman was a neighbor:
Woman: He was always wearing a cap, and kept his face down, hidden away—even inside his home.
But apparently, not allthe time. There was a photo of Mike Giroux that he allowed to be taken for a Brazilian travel brochure.
And at night, “Mike” would often drift from bar to bar. At a small watering hole just 50 yards from his house, the crowd knew Mike as a guy who started talking as soon as he started drinking.
Bar patron: We kidded him, “Are you Mike like in Mike Tyson?” He joked “No, Mike Tyson uses his fists to defeat his opponents, I use a baseball bat to defeat mine.” Neighbor: I always mentioned to my neighbors that this boy was needing some help.
A few years ago, at a singles bar in Rio de Janiero, Mike Grioux met a woman more than ten years his senior named Marcia Reis:
Hansen: What did he tell you about himself?Marcia Reis, (translated from Portuguese): He said he was studying, he had come to Brazil to study. When I met him, I thought he was very young. I thought he was a little lost. He had had a lot to drink.
They dated and eventually lived together at “Giroux’s” little house in Saquerema. Marcia told Dateline he would get in bar fights at times, but that he treated her very well.
Reis: With me he was wonderful. He was very sweet, tender. He was very caring, attentive. Everything I wanted he would get. He was always with me, kissing my feet, my hands. Wonderful. Leading a very decent life.
One day in March, 2005, Marcia said, the man she knew as “mike” got a phone call from a family member.
A female cousin he hadn’t seen in years would be visiting brazil...and the couple came to this little cafe in Saquerema to meet her. As they sat down for coffee, ‘Mike Giroux’ had no idea police back in California had been secretly tracking his movements, and funneling information to authorities here in Brazil. And then, a woman approached his table.
Kelly Bernardo, Brazilian agent, (translated from Portuguese): At first when I approached him, he got up as if he knew me.
But the woman was not “Mike’s” cousin. She was Brazilian federal agent Kelly Bernardo:
Bernardo, in Portuguese: He was surprised as I approached him and as the authorities told him he was under arrest, he kept saying he was someone else, Michael Giroux.
Of course, his name was not Michael Giroux. It was Jesse James Hollywood. After four and half years on the run, he was finally under arrest for the kidnapping and murder of Nick Markowitz.
Tough police will not talk about it publicly, sources close to the case say they were led to Jesse James Hollywood by listening in on phone calls with his father, Jack. Jack Hollywood has not been charged connection with the case.
In the meantime, Marcia Reis was in stunned disbelief. The caring, loving man she thought she knew was accused in a murder thousands of miles away.
As Hollywood was led away from the café, Marcia pleaded with the agents:
Reis: I told them, no, this is not possible, we have a child together! This can’t be!”
It turns out, Reis was six months pregnant with Jesse James Hollywood’s baby.
According to Brazilian authorities, Hollywood told them after his capture that he had been advised to take a cue from train robber Ronnie Biggs to father a child to avoid deportation.
But if it was a ploy, it didn’t work. The law had changed, having entered Brazil on a false Canadian passport, Hollywood was extradited immediately.
Back in California, Susan Markowitz had finally gotten her wish. She collapsed in tears.
Markowitz: I broke down. I hadn’t cried in a long, long time. It was just so final. Of it being all over. And then me thinking why did this have to happen in the first place? Like just why?
In April, 2005, Jesse James Hollywood was arraigned in Santa Barbara. He pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and murder. But even though he was not the shooter, or even present for Nick Markowitz’s murder, he could face the death penalty.
James Blatt, defense attorney: It’s clear that Mr. Hollywood was not the shooter, he was not present at the scene, so the key determination is whether he gave the instructions for this unfortunate murder.
Now , there are new twists and turns in the Jesse James Hollywood saga. One leads to a street in Rio de Janeiro, where another innocent life has entered the story. Another leads to Hollywood, the place.
Now, the Jesse James Hollywood case is the basis for a controversial new Hollywood movie. It’s titled “Alpha Dog” and has an all-star cast including Justin Timberlake and Sharon Stone. The movie went into production while Jesse James Hollywood was still on the run. It changes names and places, but for Susan and Jeff Markowitz there can be no doubt where the inspiration came from.
Chris Hansen, Dateline correspondent: Do you worry about the movie?
Jeff Markowitz: You know when anybody does a movie it’s usually sensationalizing the bad guy. And in this case, it’d probably be Jesse Hollywood. And I’d like to see a movie about our son. And I don’t think we’re gonna see that.
But despite their misgivings, Jeff and Susan Markowitz cooperated with director Nick Cassavettes and the “Alpha Dog” cast, including Sharon Stone, who plays a character based on Susan. (“Alpha Dog” is distributed by a division of NBC Universal, parent company of this network.)
James Blatt, defense attorney: To me, it’s unprecedented. I’m not aware of any case like this before.
Hollywood’s attorney, James Blatt, says he was especially concerned because the prosecutor also cooperated with the film makers:
Blatt: We are deeply concerned that Mr. Hollywood receive a fair trial, and by the prosecutor developing, producing, creating a motion picture, prior to trial, it puts us in the position where this particular jury, in all probability, will see that version of events, and we’re deeply concerned about it.
Earlier in December, Blatt failed in an attempt to stop “Alpha Dog” from being released, and is now appealing that decision.
But on December 21st, the California Supreme Court announced it will look at another aspect of the case... the prosecutor. The high court will decide whether prosecutor Ron Zonen or the Santa Barbara County prosecutors office should be permanently taken off the case. Earlier, an appeals court removed Zonen for cooperating with the “Alpha Dog” filmmakers. The judge wrote “the prosecution of criminal cases and entertainment enterprises are best kept separate.”
Zonen declined dateline’s request for an on-camera interview.
But earlier, Zonen said he cooperated with the filmmakers because he felt the movie might help lead to the capture of Jesse James Hollywood, who was still a fugitive when the movie was being made.
The prosecutor says “Alpha Dog” will not affect the case at all, because any potential juror who might happen to have seen the film would be excused from this case.
Zonen denies any misconduct and was not paid for his help to the filmmakers.
Jesse James Hollywood’s trial is expected to begin in the next few months. But in Brazil, where Jesse James Hollywood was apprehended, another life has been drawn into the story— the life of an innocent child.
His name is John Paul Hollywood-Reis. He’s now 17 months old. And he’s the son of Jesse James Hollywood and his girlfriend Marcia Reis.
Remember, it was alleged Jesse James Hollywood hoped to avoid possible extradition by fathering a child. Now, the baby’s mother says, young John Paul is another victim.
Marcia says she named him John Paul in memory of Pope John Paul the second. She wanted him named after a good man, she said, not after an outlaw, like Jesse James.
Marcia Reis: John Paul is a baby, I don’t know what I’ll tell him when he grows up. He is a victim.Hansen: You’ve been through a lot. Are you bitter? Marcia Reis: I’m not angry, but yes I’m hurt. I’m deeply hurt because I was left on my own with a baby.
Now, Marcia hopes to be able to bring John Paul, who is eligible for American citizenship because his father is an American, to the United States. She is awaiting a visa.
Reis: I’m having a lot of problems getting my visa. I really want to go to America because he has never met his son.
Back in California, though, another family will never have a chance to see their son.
But in the last year, they have repaired their relationship with jeff’s son, Ben, who now has a job and a family:
Susan Markowitz: Ben is really in his own hell. You know, he will never be the same because of his brother’s death. I know that. I know he loved him. And if he had the opportunity to have made things different, he would have. It was a little strange at first seeing him so often. But the more I saw him, the more I realized that I did miss him.
The Markowitzes now say they only hope Nick’s death has some meaning. They say young people should be taught that the partying, easy money, and drug-fueled lifestyle of the Jesse James Hollywood posse, which seemed so enticing... led to death.
They say it’s incredibly sad the young people involved were more worried about preserving their lifestyle and currying favor with Jesse James Hollywood than in protecting Nick.
Jeff Markowitz: I think a lot of the kids involved in Nick’s murder were at that crossroads where they could have made a choice and listen to their heart, and I don’t think they did. I think they thought about their lifestyle, not our son’s life.Susan Markowitz: Lifestyle changes all the time. What’s in today may be out tomorrow. Fads go in and out but life it doesn’t come back once it’s gone.
The trial for Jesse James Hollywood is expected to begin sometime in 2007. The Markowitz family is hoping that the coming year will bring justice.