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Categories: Yesterday's Crimes

Yesterday’s Crimes: The Bay Area Cold Case That a Heated Divorce Solved

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Dr. Benjamin Hurwitz probably never thought his San Mateo podiatry practice would get him killed, but that’s just what happened on Sept. 20, 1976. While he was driving home from work, somebody took a shot at him on near the Delaware Street off-ramp on Highway 92 in San Mateo. The .38 caliber slug didn’t penetrate the doorframe of his Ford station wagon, so he didn’t think much of it. He worried more about if his insurance would cover the patch up job than if he was being targeted for a hit.

The killer brought a much more powerful gun when he tried again almost a month later. On Oct. 13, Hurwitz was returning home from a medical meeting in San Francisco when the killer ran him off the road just off of Hwy. 92 in Foster City. The police found Hurwitz’s station wagon with the engine still running in a drainage ditch. The foot doctor’s dead body was slumped over the steering wheel. He had been shot through the neck.

Foster City police were baffled by what they called “an assassination-type killing.”

“At this point, we don’t have anything,” Foster City Police Detective Daniel Endaya told the Chronicle at the time. “We have no idea about a possible motive.”

After the hunt went nowhere, a friend of Hurwitz’s widow even enlisted the Mystery Writers of America to help find the killer. A spokesperson for the San Mateo Police wished them luck, but what Chronicle columnist Herb Caen called the mystery writers’ “keen powers of deduction” failed to turn up any leads.

The case went cold and stayed that way until Sergeant Steve Archer of the Foster City Police took a new look at it 22 years later. When he checked on all the potential suspects from back in the day, he discovered that Hurwitz’s business partner, William Moalem and his wife Tania were currently going through a nasty divorce.

Because of the separation, Tania could now be compelled to testify against her ex. Archer leaned on her, and she flipped.

Over the course of four interviews, the soon-to-be ex Mrs. Moalem told Archer a tale straight out of a 1940s film noir with Barbara Stanwyck. The Moalems needed cash after a series of risky real estate schemes left the couple broke, so they took out a $60,000 insurance policy on Hurwitz. Sid Cooper, the shady insurance agent who sold the Moalems the policy, put them in touch with Richard Quilopras, a hitman out of Union City in the East Bay.

William then suckered Hurwitz into financing his own murder. “(We) did not have the $6,000 to pay Quilo’s fee and the money would have to come from a loan,” Tania told investigators. Hurwitz loaned his partner the money for Quilopras’ services believing it was to cover another real estate deal.

William also convinced Hurwitz to go to that medical meeting in San Francisco the night he was killed and made sure that the hitman would be waiting for him.

Police always suspected the Moalems, but the couple was able to threaten authorities with enough legal action to put the investigation on the back burner. And in the end, the Moalems had to settle for only getting $24,000 of their $60,000 policy on Hurwitz because they forgot to make the last monthly payment.

The Moalems and Quilopras were arrested in August 1998. William and Quilopras both received life sentences for conspiring to murder Hurwitz. William has been denied parole several times.

Tania pleaded guilty to being an accessory to murder on Dec. 15, 1998 and was sentenced to five years’ probation. Cooper the insurance agent wasn’t charged, in exchange for helping the prosecution.

More recently, Donald Trump Jr. and his wife Vanessa filed for divorce last month. As soon as the divorce is finalized, Vanessa will be able to testify against her soon-to-be-ex husband, if she wishes. As a nod to what this could mean, it appears she’s already hired a criminal lawyer.

h/t Suzanne Kleid

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Nuala Sawyer is the News Editor at SF Weekly. You can reach her at (415)-359-2644 or nsawyer@sfweekly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBestNuala.

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