Thursday, April 09, 2015

The way we were...The Barry Adler murder case

Barry Adler in 1977.
On Jan. 8, 1979, convicted killer Barry Adler stood in a Dade County courtroom and sobbed as he waited to hear his sentence for a brutal killing he had committed when he was just 18 years old.

On Aug. 16, 1977, Adler and a friend picked up Robert Topping at Miami International Airport, after Topping, the heir to a sports empire, arrived on a flight from Atlanta.

From the Miami Herald, April 28, 1986:
Robert Reed Topping had everything to live for when he stepped off an Atlanta-to-Miami flight on Aug. 16, 1977.

A sophomore at Emory University in Atlanta, he was listed in social registers. He was the son of Dan Topping, a one-time owner of the New York Yankees, and the stepson of Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons.

Robert Topping was no stranger in Miami. He was a graduate of Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove and Miami Beach High. Homicide detectives said he visited Miami 10 times, maybe 15 times, in the six months before his murder.

Topping came to Miami for cocaine.

Adler, who also had attended Ransom Everglades, was one of Topping's drug sources, according to Circuit Court files. Instead of returning to a summer job at a day-care center, Barry Adler waited to leave for college and dealt in drugs.

He told police he pocketed between $15,000 and $20,000 "tax free" selling cocaine and marijuana -- enough to buy a boat, a stereo, stylish clothes, expensive winners and racing tires for his car.

Topping came to Miami at Adler's request. More than 20 pounds of cocaine was available, Adler said.

Less than 25 minutes after his flight landed, Topping was dead.

Adler and his close friend, 19-year-old Andrew Schell, were quickly identified as suspects. When Adler was first questioned by homicide detectives, he said he knew nothing about the murder. He said he was asked to pick up Topping at the airport. The car he was in broke down, he said; the horn was stuck, and he cut his hands fixing it.

Adler said he knew nothing about drugs or drug money.

Adler pleaded guilty to second degree murder in connection Topping's kidnapping and killing, but then had a sudden change of heart.

"I've been railroaded by my lawyers. I didn't mean to plead guilty," Adler told the judge at his sentencing in Jan. 1979. "I want a jury.

Judge Alan Schwartz listened and then said, "I do not believe a word the defendant has said."

He then sentenced Adler to life plus 99 years, telling the 20 year-old defendant he hoped he would stay in prison forever.

But in April 1986, after serving just seven years, three months and 20 days in prison, Adler was paroled.

The crime for which Adler went to prison was particularly vicious. Topping had been stabbed 33 times and his throat was slit.

Here's how a September 14, 1977 Miami News story described Topping's killing.

One Florida newspaper called Adler's parole, "a stench in the nostrils of justice."

The Miami Herald quoted Adler's attorney, Marshall Cassedy, as saying "sentence reductions are a reward for good conduct in prison."

But Lance Stelzer, a former prosecutor who helped negotiate Adler's guilty plea told the Herald, "As long as you behave as a model prisoner, you can kill a person in the most brutal fashion and only serve seven years."


On September 11, 1986, a 28 year-old Miami Herald photographer named Al Diaz pulled into the parking lot of a Lum's at 550 NE 125th Street in North Miami.

Diaz had planned to treat his girlfriend to a romantic dinner of beer-battered hot dogs and then cap off the night with a trip to a local bowling alley.

As he pulled into a parking space, his high-beam lights shone through the front windshield of a car that was backed into another parking space. A man was sitting behind the steering wheel.

Diaz remembers thinking that the man looked to be very pale. Diaz also says that shadows from nearby tree branches appeared to be falling across the man's face.

As Diaz and his girlfriend walked into Lum's, they passed the car and got a closer look the man behind the wheel of the $25,000 gold Datsun 300ZX Turbo. He was wearing designer sunglasses and the shadows turned out to be streaks of blood. The man had been shot in the head.

Diaz and his girlfriend walked inside and asked the cashier to call the police. "There's a dead man in a car in your parking lot," Diaz told the cashier who was taking care of an older couple who were paying their bill.

Diaz remembers the woman turning to the man and saying, "See, I told you it was a body!"

Barry Adler had been murdered just four and half months after leaving prison.

Police quickly ruled out robbery as the motive for Adler's killing. According to the Miami Herald, he was wearing a Rolex wristwatch and a gold chain, and had money in his pocket.

He was 27 years-old.

His killer has never been caught.


Miami Herald, April 26, 1986: "Life" term ends after seven years

Miami Herald, Sept. 13, 1986: Freed drug case killer gunned down

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