On January 27, 1955, wealthy Russian businessman Serge Rubinstein is found dead by his valet. He had been tied up, gagged and strangled in the bedroom of his 5th Avenue New York apartment. He was the son of Dimitri Rubinstein financial lender of Tsar Nicolas II of Russia. During the revolution of 1917, his family fled the country with a fortune in diamonds.
They sewed the gems into the lining of their jackets. They then settled in England where Serge studied economics at the University of Cambridge. Rubinstein became an unscrupulous financier in Europe and then in the United States. Serge Rubinstein was Napoleonic in size and ambition. He sought wealth and believed rules applied to everyone except him. He was a swindler and blackmailer nonpareil, and though many people suspected this, he had the veneer of manners and requisite pocketful of cash to blend with the upper crust. He was a convicted draft dodger, but when it came to fighting women, he was a real tough guy. He beat his first wife unconscious and ripped off her clothes. He used his money to attract models, always dating several at once, yet insisted on fidelity from all of them. He bugged their apartments to be sure they complied. In summation, Serge Rubinstein was a bad guy.
No surprise, then, that in January 1955 he was found strangled on the floor of his palatial Manhattan flat. Police first believed he’d been tortured for the purpose of revenge or for extracting business secrets. Then they started thinking it was a kidnapping gone wrong. The last person to see Rubinstein alive was one of his girlfriends, Estelle Gardner, but she had left his apartment around 1:30 a.m. Around 2:30 a.m. Rubinstein had called another girlfriend named Patricia Wray, but she had declined his invitation to come over. The apartment was protected by heavy doors and iron bars, which meant a key, had been used to gain entry. Rubinstein gave keys to staff and girlfriends. All were questioned and all were cleared. A year after the murder, police were still baffled. Unsolved cases are always a risk to devolve into a sideshow, and this one followed form when Rubinstein’s mother contacted a well-known medium named Hans Holzer because she believed her son was haunting his old apartment. Holzer staged a séance and claimed that Rubinstein’s spirit had supplied the names of his killers. He passed the info to the police, but no arrests were made, because, list or no list, there were simply too many suspects and too little physical evidence. The murder went from sideshow to show biz, when it inspired the 1956 motion picture Death of a Scoundrel, starring George Sanders. The tagline could have been Rubinstein’s epitaph: Men, women... he used them, ruined them on his fantastic march to self-destruction. But even the revival of interest sparked by the movie produced no new leads. Eventually, the murder was forgotten. Serge Rubinstein’s killing was just another cold case, and his life was an example of how bad habits can produce fatal consequences.
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