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The best things in life are free,
But you can give them to the birds and bees—
I want money.
—“Money (That’s What I Want),” Berry Gordy Jr.’s first self-released record, 1960
On the night of March 2, 1993, Lawrence T. Horn was watching TV in his Hollywood apartment. The 52-year-old free-lance music engineer hadn’t had much work lately, and even though his $545-a-month rent was cheap by L.A. standards, it was still a struggle to find the money every month. He was getting by as a part-time consultant repairing home computers in the cramped one-bedroom bungalow that seemed as bleak as his future.
Not far from Horn’s run-down neighborhood, the gleaming Motown headquarters towered over chic Sunset Boulevard. Horn had spent nearly his entire professional career working for Motown in L.A. and Detroit. As a gifted young recording engineer, he had helped create the “Sound of Young America” that swept the nation in the ’60s. “L.T.,” as he was known, was a whiz kid with a knack for anything mechanical or electronic. Among the first hires Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. made, Horn was one of the technicians who manned the studio recording machine that captured for all time the classic hits by Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, and the other demigods in the Motown pantheon.
It was more calling than job. Though barely in his 20s, Horn ran the control room at “Hitsville U.S.A.,” Motown’s original Detroit headquarters. There were heady, late-night sessions, when the house band—a former jazz combo called the Funk Brothers—laid down the beat that eventually pulsed from car radios and jukeboxes everywhere.
“He was experimenting, he was exploring,” recalls his first wife, Juana Royster, who often attended the recording sessions. “He loved what he did—he really loved it.”
Horn might not have appeared on the covers of any magazines, but his behind-the-scenes role suited him fine. Hell, he and Gordy both knew how important he was to the Motown Sound, and that was all that mattered. And besides, the money was good—damn good. A Porsche, fancy threads, a nice house—it was the sort of lifestyle he’d always dreamed of. He may not have had a high profile, but L.T. was living large.
But all that was years ago. Before Motown relocated to Los Angeles, before the music business changed and the hits stopped, and before Gordy sold—some say sold out—the family business to show-biz conglomerate MCA. Before Horn lost his last job at Motown—as a lowly tape librarian—in 1990.
By 1993, the dream was over for all too many figures from Motown’s past, from the biggest stars to the humblest peons. For a few, there were even worse fates than Horn’s. Marvin Gaye had been dead a decade, slain by his father. Bassist James Jamerson, the genius behind the signature Motown groove, had succumbed to years of guzzling his favorite Greek brandy. Former Temptation David Ruffin had fatally OD’d in a crack house. And the previous summer, Mary Wells, Motown’s first female star, had died in poverty after a long bout with cancer, her medical bills paid only by the charity of sympathetic superstars like Bruce Springsteen.
The only person helping Horn with his bills was his live-in girlfriend, who worked at a bank. Some of his obligations were piling up—he owed his ex-wife $16,000 in overdue child support. Horn was an unemployed has-been—just another stubborn moth hanging around in the Tinseltown glare. The man who mixed “My Girl” had become a soul age dinosaur in the era of gangsta rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg. He still had his white ’76 Cadillac, but there was not much else to show for his long career in the big time.
Horn was still ostensibly in the biz as a free-lance engineer, but the only recording that he’d been doing lately was with his video camera.
That’s what he was doing on the night of March 2—filming a quiet evening at home. The amateur cinematographer set the cozy scene: a panning shot of the cluttered apartment, a TV showing a documentary on jazz great Miles Davis, Horn’s girlfriend sitting on the couch, and finally, Horn himself stepping into the frame for a nice video-cam self-portrait. He even made sure to zoom in on the date and time flashing on the TV screen: 11:03 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, March 2, 1995.
Prosecutors claim that this footage was no mere contender for America’s Dullest Home Video, but a meticulously staged alibi.
At roughly the same time, 3,000 miles across the country in an upscale Washington, D.C., suburb, Horn’s ex-wife, 44, and his 8-year-old invalid son were murdered “with icy dispatch,” as the prosecutor described it, along with the boy’s 38-year-old overnight nurse, Janice Roberts Saunders.
The killer broke into the $355,000 house in the Layhill section of Silver Spring, Md., and gunned down Mildred Horn, who was apparently caught by surprise at the foot of the stairs. Then he burst into the first-floor nursery and shot Saunders as she watched over Trevor’s crib: She was still in her rocking chair, also apparently caught unawares.
Both women were shot in the eyes at close range with a .22-caliber rifle.
Their bodies lay sprawled in the immaculately furnished home, bloody remains of a shattered domesticity. Mildred Horn was murdered in her nightgown, her hair curlers strewn on the bare floor like a bad roll of the dice. Saunders lay in a sweat shirt and slacks next to the crib. Her cold hands still clutched sewing needles, and an unfinished quilt for her own 4-year-old son lay on a nearby couch. Blood from her wounds seeped through the nursery floor and pooled in the basement below.
The murder scene was described by more than one investigator as among the most horrific they’d ever seen. But these women’s final awful moments were mercifully brief compared with Trevor Horn’s death.
As a 13-month-old, Trevor had been rendered a severely brain-damaged quadriplegic after a hospital mishap. Doctors warned that the semicomatose boy probably didn’t have long to live, but over the years Trevor’s condition improved, due mostly to the constant care of his mother and nurses. By the time he was 8 years old, he was able to breathe on his own, say a few words, and even attend school. Trevor still required round-the-clock care and a respirator to help him get enough oxygen, but these were minor impediments compared to the victory he’d won just by surviving.
A malicious pair of gloved hands changed all that.
The murderer went to the crib where Trev or lay asleep. He loomed over the child, who was likely oblivious to the shots that had just killed his mother and nurse. The killer decided to take a hands-on approach to his last victim and yanked the tracheotomy tube from the respirator machine. Then he plugged the open end of the tube with one hand and sealed the boy’s mouth and nose with the other. He held and held and held until the tiny body went limp.
After years of a day-to-day battle for survival, Trevor Horn’s life leaked out in a matter of minutes. Not that he didn’t put up a fight: The autopsy showed that his heart, lungs, and left eye were speckled with the pinpoint bleeding that occurs with a violent, desperate attempt to breathe during asphyxiation. According to a medical examiner, Trevor gasped for air in a doomed struggle against the assailant’s death grip; he eventually suffocated.
Trevor’s pajama-swaddled body was found that morning as silent and still as the menagerie of stuffed animals that crowded his crib. The medical monitor continued to ring, a distress alarm marking every missed breath. The incessant, obnoxious beep-beep-beep-beep-beep only amplified the juxtaposition of the child’s corpse and the now-useless ventilator still keeping watch like a faithful family pet. In a phone call later retrieved by police from an answering-machine tape, the killer said that the noise had distracted him; otherwise, he might have taken photos of his handiwork.
Every day, there are gunslayings of the vicious kind that killed Mildred Horn and Janice Saunders. In the world of American-style homicide, this is a dime-a-dozen, routine murder. All it takes is someone with a cold heart and a handful of bullets who is willing to pull the trigger.
But it takes a rare sort of killer to strangle a helpless, disabled child to death.
Last week, a Montgomery County jury convicted a 47-year-old Detroit man for the triple murder. A self-described minister and spiritual adviser, James Edward Perry is also a street hustler who conducted his business affairs from corner bars and a shady storefront operation called “Mr. Money.” He is now a convicted murderer, who has been sentenced to die by lethal injection.
What was this Detroit hustler doing in a quiet D.C. suburb, killing three people he apparently didn’t even know? Perry tried to make the murder scene look like a bungled burglary. He overturned some bookcases and a couch, but he didn’t take any valuables. In fact, police ruled out robbery shortly after arriving on the scene. Whoever entered the home that night had murderous intent from the get-go.
As it turned out, Perry’s booty was supposed to be a lot more than some jewelry and credit cards. He was a hit man, hired to kill for a fee, which prosecutors said was in the thousands of dollars.
Authorities say that Perry’s employer was Lawrence Horn. Using his talent as a behind-the-scenes engineer—the same skills that helped create some of the most joyous pop music ever recorded—Horn allegedly orchestrated this hit from a very great distance. Prosecutors suggested it was the most heinous crime ever committed in Montgomery County: One simply called the case “evil” and dubbed Horn “a conniving, sniveling coward if there ever was one.”
“Trevor Horn died because his father hired this man—James Perry—to do what nature would not so quickly do,” said Montgomery County prosecutor Teresa Whalen during Perry’s Rockville-based trial, which was attended faithfully by the relatives of Mildred Horn and Janice Saunders. “Lawrence Horn and James Perry devised this diabolical plot, this ruthless conspiracy, almost one whole year before Perry actually carried through with the plan.”
Trevor meant a lot to Lawrence Horn, say authorities—not as a cherished son, but as an invalid worth nearly $2 million from a settlement for Trevor’s hospital mishap. With both Trevor and Mildred Horn dead, Lawrence Horn stood to inherit the money. It was only after Horn tried to claim the money—and after Perry kept pestering his alleged boss by phone for his payoff—that authorities amassed enough evidence to arrest the men.
Like the alleged plot, the investigation took more than a year—the most exhaustive and intensive in Montgomery County Police Department history. The legal proceedings have already lasted an additional year, with Horn’s trial scheduled for January. In both cases, prosecutors have sought the death penalty: If convicted, Horn—like Perry—could face execution by lethal injection.
Montgomery County State’s Attorney Andrew Sonner has likened the complex case—which boasts more than 7,000 pages of documents—to a Victorian murder mystery. In its essence, though, it couldn’t be more modern-day American.
Horn’s motive, prosecutors say, was simple: He killed his wife and son for money.
Money can’t buy everything it’s true
But what it can’t buy I can’t use.
—“Money (That’s What I Want)”
When he met Mildred Maree in 1972, Lawrence Horn was 30,000 feet in the air, flying first-class. His career was soaring as well. At 32, he’d been at the top of the music business for nearly a decade, living the good life of unlimited expense accounts.
The baker’s son from west Detroit had come a long way. When he graduated from the city’s renowned Cass Technical High School in the late ’50s, Horn didn’t have many job prospects. So he did what a lot of young black men of modest means—including a shy D.C. teen named Marvin Gaye—did to get a start: He joined the armed forces.
As an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy, Horn wasn’t particularly keen on a military life. Rather than gunning for petty officer, he launched his music career—but not as a performer like his mother Pauline, a former jazz dancer. Instead, he made his name as “L.T.—Your Man With the Plan,” a hot disc jockey spinning Sam Cooke and Ray Charles records on a radio station aboard an aircraft carrier. In the meantime, he got a chance to develop his talent as an electronics engineer.
In late ’62, Horn got his discharge and went back home to Detroit. He was just another ex-serviceman looking for work, but his musical savvy and technical skills impressed Berry Gordy, a young entrepreneur and family friend who was starting a record company in a house in the neighborhood. The address was 2648 West Grand Blvd.; it would soon become the headquarters of the most successful black-owned label of all time: Motown.
At the outset, Motown was a modest, family-run operation, and the 22-year-old Horn took a job as a $50-a-week technician. As Motown’s first full-time engineer, Horn was soon recording and mixing classics by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, and the Supremes.
“Just as the personalities of the musicians helped shape Motown’s music, the peculiarities of Hitsville were also crucial to the Motown Sound,” wrote Nelson George in his definitive history of Motown, Where Did Our Love Go?. “Engineers Mike McLain and Lawrence Horn, along with Brian Holland and some of the other producers, had, through trial and error, built the original three-track recording machine into an eight-track by the mid-sixties.”
These were truly Motown’s glory days, when any session could produce a million-selling smash. Horn served as chief mixing technician on the Temptations’ “My Girl,” the hit that ruled the charts for 13 weeks in early 1965.
One night later that year, Horn and Gordy co-produced what remains the raunchiest, funkiest song that Motown ever released, “Shotgun,” by Junior Walker and the All Stars. One of the only records for which Horn got credit as producer, it was an anarchic assault of undiluted R&B spearheaded by Walker’s screaming sax and ad-libbed lyric: “Shoot ’em ‘fore he run now.” Decades later, it was the lone Motown tune hip enough to make it onto the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. A party record for the ages, the smash hit was also notable for the startling shotgun-blast sound effect that kicks off the raucous music.
“Engineers are often some of the most important yet overlooked factors in a record’s success,” wrote Gordy in his 1995 autobiography, To Be Loved, describing his sound crew. “From those early days when Lawrence Horn had to handle most of the recording and mixing, we had been fortunate to build one of the best engineering teams in the business.”
A well-read man whose tastes ranged from jazz to classical, Horn didn’t need the charm school that Gordy had set up to polish his stars, many of whom hailed from the roughest neighborhoods of the Detroit ghetto. Like Gordy, Horn came from the city’s black middle class, and he cut an impressive figure. He certainly impressed Juana Royster, Motown’s receptionist and switchboard operator, who still recalls the day when the tall, handsome Horn first came to the Hitsville office for his job interview. “He was brilliant and whimsical and fun-loving, with a real flair about him,” says Royster.
In 1965, Horn and Royster got married, and the newlyweds settled in a two-bedroom house near the Motown headquarters. By now, Royster had left Motown to attend Wayne State University, and Horn helped her with her studies. The young couple often stayed up late discussing books Horn had read—all sorts of authors who weren’t even part of Royster’s curriculum—-Socrates, Khalil Gibran, and obscure Indian philosophers.
“Lawrence really loved learning—that was one of the things I dearly loved about him,” says Royster. “He read everything—electronics, philosophy, everything….He had a very extensive vocabulary, and he had a command of that vocabulary.”
“He was very, very creative,” she recalls. “It’d be 3 a.m., and he’d say, “Let’s go down to the studio,’ and I’d go down and watch him mix and remix songs all night long. I’m telling you, he really loved what he did.”
Despite the relish with which Royster speaks of her life with Horn, their marriage lasted barely a year. Now a college administrator in Seattle, she won’t elaborate on what doomed their short-lived relationship—only that she and Horn agreed to an amicable divorce and remained friends even after Horn remarried.
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Royster says she was flabbergasted when she first heard of the charges against Horn: “I just can’t fathom it. He loved his children,” she says. “It’s just hard for me to get that into my head—I did not know him that way.”
The disintegration of Horn’s first marriage in 1966 didn’t seem to cramp his career. He was by now a bona fide Motown veteran, hooked on the sweet taste of success. For a young black man who’d come of age before the civil rights movement, the scenario seemed almost too good to be true, like some sort of wild dream: “We were making so much money then, the situation was just crazy,” Horn later said in an interview with the Washington Post in the spring of 1993, a few weeks after the murders.
In 1972, though, Horn got a dose of hard reality—and intimations of his own mortality—when he was badly shaken by a serious car accident. In the interview with the Post, he told of his Porsche sliding off an icy Detroit highway and flipping into a ditch: His prized sports car was completely demolished. Horn survived the wreck without a scratch, and he apparently believed that it was divine providence that he met his second wife shortly thereafter.
A 22-year-old flight attendant for American Airlines, Mildred “Millie” Maree was one of 14 children raised on a farm in tiny Walterboro, S.C. As a girl, dreams of her future career were stoked by the glamorous, exotic tales from modern romance novels and magazines. “She read a story about a woman who was an airline stewardess [who] had all these adventures and met all these interesting people, and Millie decided she wanted to become an airline stewardess,” her sister Gloria Maree testified at the trial. It was apparently one of those rare instances when reality matches the fantasy: According to Gloria Maree, Millie—with her knack for making people feel comfortable and cared for—found the perfect job. “She was like a flower,” Maree testified, “and when she was working she came into full bloom.”
Horn thought he’d found his guardian angel in the sweet-natured Southern country girl: Why else, he figured, would their chance meeting in the sky have occurred so close to his near-death experience? In turn, Millie was smitten with the suave Horn, who wined and dined her in a jet-setting courtship that alternated between his Detroit digs and her home in southern California.
They married one weekend, on Aug. 20, 1973, in Las Vegas. As much as Horn apparently believed God arranged their meeting, the union brought mostly grief and unhappiness to both husband and wife.
In the first years of marriage, the Horns bought a home and resided in San Diego, where Millie continued working for American Airlines. But Lawrence remained loyal to Motown, which had moved its operation to the West Coast; he rented his own apartment in Los Angeles, where he lived during the work week. In 1974, the couple had a child, Tiffani, but it was a stormy marriage, with frequent arguments and as many reconciliations.
By 1979, the Horns were experiencing “serious marital difficulties,” according to court papers. The troubled couple agreed that Millie and Tiffani would relocate to the Washington, D.C., area to live near Millie’s relatives, who could help raise Tiffani. Horn and his wife were now 3,000 miles apart, but they still met for occasional liaisons when Millie worked flights to the West Coast.
On Aug. 8, 1984, Millie gave birth to twins, Trevor and Tamielle, three months prematurely. After four weeks in a D.C. hospital, Tamielle moved with her mother into the Silver Spring home of Millie’s sister.
But Tamielle’s twin had a rougher time. Born with underdeveloped lungs, Trevor spent his first three months hospital-bound; he had bronchopulmonary dysplasia and required a life-support system to assist his breathing. Though his health steadily improved, he still needed frequent visits to the hospital.
Things took a turn from bad to worse on Sept. 16, 1985, at Children’s Hospital National Medical Center. Trevor’s tracheotomy tube was accidentally disconnected, and it took hospital workers more than an hour to get it back in place. The lack of oxygen caused irreversible brain damage, rendering the 13-month-old a severe spastic quadriplegic. He was unable to use his limbs, talk, or perform even the most basic functions. Doctors didn’t give him long to live.
Trevor Horn would eventually overcome this dire prognosis and not only survive but regain his sight, develop some ability to speak, and even attend school. The more immediate casualty from the hospital mishap was the Horns’ marriage. The unstable relationship simply couldn’t bear the weight of the tragedy. Horn later told the Post that Millie already blamed him for Trevor’s health problems, claiming that the stress of their stormy marriage caused the premature births in the first place. The accident that destroyed Trevor’s chance at a normal life did nothing to reconcile Millie to her estranged husband: “That situation broke the back,” Lawrence Horn told the Post. “She found a way that it was really my fault. She said I was a curse on her life.”
Ultimately, the couple divorced in 1987. They were awarded joint custody of the children, but the children remained with their mother, while Horn continued to live in an apartment in Los Angeles. He was ordered to pay $650 a month in child support.
If Millie blamed her husband for the sour turn their lives had taken, Horn took out his frustration on his disabled son, say family members, mostly by ignoring the boy. After the murders, Tiffani Maree Horn, now a student at Howard University, told police that her father didn’t seem to care about Trevor: “Tiffani stated that she had never seen her father hold Trevor, exhibit any affection toward him, or pay attention to him,” according to court papers. “He told her that Trevor could never be a real son to him because of his physical and mental disabilities.”
Even though Horn had joint custody, he rarely saw Trevor. In fact, he didn’t see either Trevor or Tamielle from their second to fourth birthdays, according to court records.
In stark contrast to Horn’s virtual abandonment of his son, Millie’s extended family (including relatives in Maryland and New Jersey) doted on “Tricky Trevor,” or “Little Trooper,” as the boy was affectionately nicknamed. For his part, Trevor called himself “Or,” the syllable of his name he was able to speak, and he took after his father in at least one trait: “He truly enjoyed music,” said Millie’s sister Marilyn Farmer at the trial. “He had certain favorites like “Disco Duck,’ and he would sing along with the music and he would dance in his crib.”
Horn may not have considered Trevor a “real son,” as Tiffani put it, but he was willing to accept his share of the money that came from the successful malpractice suit against the hospital. In 1988, the Horns filed a federal court lawsuit against Children’s Hospital for negligence in causing Trevor’s injuries. The family won a $2-million settlement, with most of the money awarded to Trevor to cover his medical care through the year 2003.
But both parents nabbed a healthy cut for themselves. In the spring of 1990, Millie received a tax-free payment of $250,000 and Lawrence Horn got a cool $125,000. Millie used her money to buy a $355,000 home for her family on North Gate Drive in the upscale Layhill section of Silver Spring. It was just a few doors down from the house where her sister, Vivian Rice, lived with her husband.
For Horn, the money couldn’t have come at a better time. After a dismal decade, his music career had hit an all-time low. He’d just lost his final job—a $28,000-a-year gig as a tape librarian—with Motown, which laid off hundreds of workers in 1990. He had already seen the end coming, though: Two years before, Gordy had sold the former family operation to MCA for $61 million.
Unemployed and without job prospects, Horn was thousands of dollars behind in his child support payments, so his share of the settlement money was like a godsend. Of course, Millie had received twice as much, but after all, she did have to look after the kids.
By 1992, though, the $125,000 had run out. According to court papers, Horn was “financially desperate.” He still owed on his overdue child support—he hadn’t exactly been throwing money to the twins—and he’d had no luck regaining a foothold in the music business. He had even been forced to borrow thousands of dollars from his mother.
His thoughts allegedly turned to that $1.7 million that was just sitting there in the trust fund—all for Trevor.
According to authorities, Horn was aware that Millie’s employment insurance (she still worked for American Airlines) covered the cost of Trevor’s medical care only until March ’93. Millie intended to use Trevor’s trust fund for his care thereafter. Trevor’s nursing care costs alone totaled $1,178 a month, not to mention all the related medical expenses—which had averaged $250,000 a year, according to court papers.
Tiffani Horn later told police that her father became “obsessed” with the civil settlement awarded to Trevor. All that money for that little boy hooked to a machine, just lying there in that big house with his mom and round-the-clock nurses. And none for Lawrence Horn, who could barely pay his rent without help from his girlfriend.
Prosecutors allege that Horn began to imagine how things would change if Trevor and his mother were to somehow die—if that were to happen, the money would go to Horn. The nagging question was how. How?
Horn took a trip to his old stomping grounds in Detroit, but he wasn’t going back to the Motor City for nostalgic reasons, according to prosecutors. He needed some help, he allegedly told friends there, with a “problem” he had in Maryland.
Some people would say that a hit man is an emotionless, cold-blooded killing machine….On the contrary, a hit man has a wide range of feelings. He may be excruciatingly tender towards his woman. He may be extremely compassionate towards the elderly or disabled. He may have a strong aversion to the useless killing of wildlife. He may even be religious in his own way. What the professional lacks is remorse. He feels no guilt.
The business card, emblazoned with a moon-and-star emblem and a design of a walking cane, reads:
The House of Wisdom
Dr. J. Perry
By Appointment Only
During Horn’s early 1992 visit to Detroit, his cousin, Thomas Turner, gave him a card and told him to call Dr. Perry. Maybe the “case buster” could help with Horn’s problem, Turner testified (under a promise of immunity from prosecution) at the Perry trial.
A self-professed minister, “Dr.” James Perry is also an ex-jailbird who twice did hard time in the ’70s for armed robbery—one incident included shooting a Michigan state trooper. Turner and Perry met when they were in prison together. It was Perry’s qualification as an experienced gunman—someone unafraid to pull the trigger—police claim, that led Horn to hire Perry as an assassin to kill his wife and son: The former DJ once known as “L.T.—Your Man With the Plan” had found someone to carry out his dark design.
The defense argued that Perry was a religious family man who traveled around attending to his far-flung flock. “James Perry is a father and a grandfather,” Perry’s lawyer Roger Galvin told the jury at the trial. “He’s a spiritual minister. He’s got people that he ministers to all over the country.”
Whether or not Perry is a true man of God, he had no experience as a hired assassin. To bone up on the subject, he studied a book, Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors, published by the Paladin Press in Colorado. (Perry must have badly needed the money that a successful hit promised, though: The check he used to purchase the paperback later bounced, testified a Paladin employee.)
Penned by so-called “expert assassin and bodyguard” (and obviously pseudonymous) Rex Feral, Hit Man‘s chilling, hard-boiled prose gives step-by-step instructions on how to execute someone for money—and get away with it.
Prosecutors say Perry used Hit Man as a “blueprint” for the killings. All of his major moves in the crime are recommended in the 138-page manual, down to the type of weapon and the modus operandi.
“A hit man without a gun is like a carpenter without a hammer,” notes Hit Man. “The AR-7 rifle is recommended because it is both inexpensive and accurate.”
Perry used an AR-7 rifle that police later recovered in pieces from in a roadside ditch. The serial number had been filed off, and Perry had also tampered with the inside of the barrel.
“Use a rifle with a good scope and silencer and aim for the head—preferably the eye sockets if you are a sharpshooter. Many people have been shot repeatedly, even in the head, and survived to tell about it,” Hit Man recommends.
Proving himself an excellent marksman for a first-time hit man, Perry shot Millie Horn three times in the head, including two blasts to her left eye. The killer shot Janice Saunders twice in the head, including one bullet to her left eye.
“Close kills enable you to determine right away if you have successfully fulfilled your part of the contract; distant shots may mean waiting around to read the morning papers.”
Perry didn’t have to hang around. Following the book’s advice, he used a rental car, paid cash at the motel where he stayed, left no witnesses, messed up the house to make it look like a robbery, discarded the gun, and quickly got out of town; all in all, nearly two dozen points of similarity between Hit Man‘s instructions and the actual murder.
Hit Man doesn’t offer instructions on how to suffocate a disabled child. To perform that deed, Perry apparently had to improvise.
The prosecution’s case against Perry was entirely circumstantial. There were no survivors, and thus no eyewitnesses. Police found no bloody gloves at the scene, no fingerprints or shoe marks, no hair or even clothing fibers that matched Perry’s, “not a single shred of evidence,” according to defense lawyer Galvin.
After the prosecution’s daunting four-week argument (boasting more than 3,000 hours of police work), and testimony from Horn’s now-grown daughter, the defense rested after barely four hours. Johnnie Cochran was nowhere in sight: All Perry had was a court-appointed attorney arguing a bad set of facts, and the jury decided in a short amount of time that Perry’s guilt was open and shut. All that remains to be decided is whether Perry will die for making the hit.
But behind the Perry conviction looms the figure of Lawrence Horn, whom Galvin characterized as “the gray eminence hovering over the trial.”
Indeed, without Horn, Perry not only didn’t have a murder to commit, he didn’t have the necessary information to pull off the job. Lawrence Horn was the alleged mastermind who did all the homework. For Horn, the sheer logistics of the alleged plot must have presented a massive practical challenge: He’s in L.A. His hit man’s in Detroit. The targets are in Maryland. There would have to be all sorts of reconnaissance missions, which authorities say both men undertook in the form of trips to the Silver Spring area.
Authorities say the year-long association between Perry and Horn—including hundreds of pay-phone calls and several money exchanges chronicled in a staggering 7,000 pages—prove a murder-for-hire conspiracy. The police version of the events paints a portrait of cross-country phone calls and intricate planning.
In the summer of ’92, on a visit to Maryland for child support proceedings, Horn vid eotaped the outside of Millie’s house as he sat in his parked rental van waiting for his daughter Tamielle. He also recorded the route from the National Mall to the house on North Gate Drive. Horn later asked his daughter Tiffani to videotape the interior of the spacious house—a request she refused—but she did agree to film Trevor’s nursery. Horn allegedly designed a map of the Layhill subdivision with X’s at the locations of Millie’s and her sister’s houses.
For his part, Perry dutifully awaited his instructions, hanging out at his Detroit storefront business, Mr. Money, and a local bar, Francelle’s. Authorities say that Horn and Perry always used pay phones to contact each other, and that both used a calling card that belonged to a friend of Horn’s. Prosecutors also claim that Perry accepted frequent cash payments—the sort of expense money discussed in detail in Hit Man—sent via Western Union by Horn, who allegedly used the alias “George Shaw” and the address 2562 Sunset Blvd.: the Motown building.
Authorities say that Horn took the name George Shaw from a local death notice on the July 1992 Los Angeles Times obituary page that also reported the death of singing legend Mary Wells. Whether the references to his former employer were just inside jokes or wishful fantasies for Horn, Motown was still very much on his mind.
Perry followed Hit Man nearly to the letter, but he made two major mistakes, according to prosecutors: When he checked into a Day’s Inn in Rockville after midnight on March 3, Perry paid cash to avoid revealing his identity, as Hit Man recommends. But the clerk asked for ID anyway, and made a Xerox copy of Perry’s driver’s license.
His murderous deed done, Perry made a phone call from a pay phone beside the motel to Horn’s apartment in Hollywood. At 6 a.m., Perry checked out of the motel, which is just a few miles from Millie Horn’s house in Silver Spring. Then he stopped at a Denny’s restaurant in Gaithersburg, where he used a pay phone to again call Horn.
The brief stay at the motel and the early morning calls were enough for authorities to connect the hit man to his alleged boss while Perry was in the vicinity of the murder site, and to begin building their case.
In the weeks after the deaths of his son and ex-wife, Horn filed court papers to stake his claim to Trevor’s $1.7-million trust fund. But Millie’s sister Vivian Rice filed a civil suit to block Horn’s claim to the estate. Perry grew increasingly frustrated with the delays and made repeated phone calls to Horn, allegedly demanding payment. The frantic crisscross of calls helped convince authorities that they were on the right trail.
The civil suit is pending, awaiting the outcome of Horn’s trial.
Meanwhile, Horn is being held without bond at the Montgomery County Detention Center. His immediate family has stood behind him since his arrest: His mother Pauline Horn testified that the video that Tiffani filmed of Trevor in his nursery was meant for her—a grandmother who hadn’t seen her beloved grandson in too long. His girlfriend Shiri Bogan, a regal, middle-aged woman, testified that she had never even heard the name James Perry, and that Horn videotaped on a daily basis.
A lifelong friend also maintains Horn’s innocence: “I know how he feels about money and I know how he felt about his son,” says the Detroit businessman, who wants to remain anonymous. “He didn’t care about money. I don’t give a damn what they say.”
Like everyone else involved in the pending case, Horn is unavailable for comment. But in April ’93, just weeks after the murder and a year before his arrest, he maintained his innocence in an interview with the Washington Post: “For me to do that, I would be dead now,” he said. “I would not be living on, because what would be the point? I would be a monster.”
Authorities suggest Horn hired a monster to do what he wanted done, but could not do himself. That way, he wouldn’t have to actually pull the trigger and watch his ex-wife crumple to the floor, her eyes blown out. He wouldn’t have to gun down Janice Saunders as she sat quilting and watching over his son—a chore that he had never taken the time to do. And he wouldn’t have to suffocate his own child and witness his son’s terrible last moments.
By hiring someone to carry out the executions, he could stay in the background and leave the focus on someone else, just as he had done all those years as an engineer in the music business. At his trial in January, prosecutors will try to make sure that Lawrence Horn finally gets the credit he deserves.