The Puppet Master
A Woman Is Targeted For Execution. Who Pulled
(CBS) The first report on an October day in 1997
was that a woman had been killed in a drive-by
shooting. As correspondent Troy Roberts reports,
the bullet that struck then 31-year-old Heather
Grossman ripped a fist-sized hole in her neck,
severing her spinal cord.
Heather and her husband, John, had been married for just
four months. The bullet that struck John Grossman, then
47, only grazed him, but Heather's life was forever
"They explained what had happened and that I was going
to be paralyzed from the neck and I was going to be a
quadriplegic," Heather remembers.
Ron Samuels rushed to the scene. He was Heatherís first
husband, and father of their three children. "I was
under the impression that these people were shot and
killed," Samuels says. "It was that time of day when my
three kids couldíve been with them."
The welfare of the children had always been a
contentious issue in a messy custody battle, a far cry
from the happier times the couple enjoyed when they met
a decade earlier.
Heather was working as a flight attendant; Samuels, a
40-year-old entrepreneur, fell hard for the former high
school cheerleader from Minnesota.
"I was the only first class passenger on the way back
from Oregon," he remembers of their first encounter.
"And I said to her you either come home with me now or
I'll see you in the movies."
"He was very persistent," Heather recalls of the
Soon after that flight, they moved in together. They
lived in Pensacola, Fla., where Samuels owned a
successful car dealership. At the top of his career,
Samuels says his net worth was in excess of $30 million
and Heather says he was very generous, taking her on
After living together for several years, in Dec. 1988,
Heather and Ron married; their son Ronnie was born
shortly afterwards. Two years later, they had twins,
Lauren and Joe.
"She was an excellent mother. She was always with the
children," says Ben Bentfeld, who with his wife Helen,
was a good friend.
But if it all seemed perfect behind the scenes, the
marriage was beginning to crumble. "He became
controlling and rude and scary and intimidating,"
"I expected her to understand that to live the lifestyle
that she wanted that somebody had to pay the bill," Ron
Asked if their arguments turned violent, Heather tells
Roberts, "Yes, they became violentÖ. When I wanted to
leave him he held a gun to my head."
But Ron Samuels says he never put a gun at his ex-wife's
Heather fled with the children to her parentís home in
Minnesota and filed for divorce. "When I left him and
divorced him, he said, 'You know, you will pay. Youíre
gonna pay for leaving me,'" Heather says.
Asked if he told Heather she was "gonna pay" if she
left, Ron says, "Not that I recall ever saying that."
Heather moved on and began dating John Grossman, the son
of a business tycoon who was part owner of the Minnesota
Vikings football team.
"I had a wonderful relationship with John Grossman. And
we were in love and everything was really pretty much
perfect," she remembers. "We were happy. We were
starting on our lives, despite all the torture in the
background of Ron Samuels."
Samuels hired a succession of lawyers to fight Heather
over custody of the children and child support payments.
The court ordered Ron to pay $3,000 in child support to
Heather, which he refused to pay. He says he spent
$665,000 in legal fees to fight the child support and
"He didnít want shared custody. He wanted custody of the
children full time, all the time without me having any
contact with them," Heather says.
moved on. Debbie Love, a legal secretary in the
firm that represented Samuels in the divorce,
would become Samuels' second wife.
Debbie and Samuels saw his children often during
scheduled visitations. It was during one of
those visits Samuels says his children told him
that John Grossman was mistreating them.
Samuels confronted Grossman on the phone. "You know darn
well I would never put my hands on your children,"
Grossman told Samuels.
"No? No? All three of them here told me differently,"
Samuels fired back.
"We're getting calls at night and we're getting death
threats," Heather remembers.
But was Ron Samuels capable of carrying out those
threats? "If you wanna know, would I have killed John
Grossman? Had I the opportunity, I definitely would,"
Samuels admits to Roberts.
Speaking about Heather, Samuels says, "I would never do
that to the lady that I watched give birth to my three
children. Thereís no reason in the world for that."
After a five year relationship, Heather married John
Grossman in June 1997.
It was a happy time for them, but their happiness was
overshadowed by their fear of Heather's first husband,
Ron Samuels, who had accused Grossman of abusing his
Because of Samuels' unpredictable and volatile behavior,
Heather and John chose to keep their wedding location a
Just four months later, while driving to a lunch date,
Heather and John were gunned down. "There was no doubt.
In the moment I was shot, I knew Ron Samuels was
responsible," says Heather.
Asked how she knew, Heather tells Roberts, "Because when
I left him, and divorced him, he said that he would
destroy me, that he would kill me."
Samuels vehemently denies having anything to do with the
shooting. "The one question I have is, if I didnít do
it, who did and why? I have that question, too," he
And Samuels has a theory, too. "I think John Grossman
had a motive to get rid of Heather. For many, many
reasons. But the biggest one is because I was a pain in
his a--. And I had just enough money to be that pain,"
"So, youíre suggesting that John Grossman staged this
shooting? He was injured, though, in the shooting, he
was shot. Doesnít make any sense to me," Roberts reacts.
"I donít think that was intentional," Samuels claims.
But the evidence told investigators a very different
story. It started with a great leadóa detailed
description of the hit manís car, including the license
The car was registered to an insurance salesman named
Hugh Estess. At the time, Estess was a self-admitted
Investigators put the squeeze on Estess, who told them
all about the plan. He coughed up the names of the two
men in the car: a crack dealer and pimp named Eddie
"Slim" Stafford who was the driver; another petty
criminal, Roger Runyon, was the shooter.
Then there was Geoff Pollock, who was not involved in
drugs, but was at meetings where the murder plans were
allegedly discussed with Samuels.
"He said, 'I want her deadÖ,'" says Estess. The motive?
Money. "It was, 'Hey, hereís ten grand. Do something for
me.' Sure, thanks a lot, sucker," Estess says.
But who was paying?
gave the instructions to Hugh Estess and Geoff
Pollock," says assistant state attorney Al
But Samuels is adamant he didn't solicit anyone
to kills his ex-wife. "Iím from Brooklyn, New
York. If I wanted to pay somebody to do this,
Iíd have gone to New York and the professionals
would have come thereÖno, I didnít want to do
that and no, I did not pay anybody," he insists.
But Al Johnson says Ronald Samuels was the "puppet
But could this bizarre conspiracy story hold up in
court? Investigators found no direct evidence linking
Samuels to the crime, but they were sure he had a
powerful motive Ė the costly custody fight that could
see him lose his children, a fight Samuels was
determined to win.
Asked what the children mean to him, Samuels tells
Roberts, "I was willing to swap my life for theirs." And
he was willing to put his children right in the middle
of the fight. To document his claims that John Grossman
was abusing the children, he had them examined by a
Little Ronnie was just six years old when he accused
John Grossman and Heather's parents of harming him.
"I said to them, 'You guys understand these are very
serious things youíre saying. Very serious.í ĎWe
promise, daddy. Itís the truth. We donít want to go back
there,'" Samuels says.
But Heather Grossman says she never saw her husband John
or her parents mistreat her child.
And Ron Samuels says he never coached his children to
lie about the abuse allegations.
"In order to gain the upper hand, itís my belief that
Ronald Samuels would call and make these child abuse
allegationsÖthey were investigated by the police in
Minnesota, they were investigated by the police in Boca
Raton, and they were found to be unfounded," prosecutor
Al Johnson remarks.
The claims of child abuse were rejected by a Florida
judge, and Heather was awarded permanent custody of the
children, just eight days before she was shot.
While investigators were convinced that Samuels was the
mastermind behind the attempted murders, they felt they
just didnít have enough evidence to bring a case against
him. The key was getting the alleged co-conspirators to
cooperate. But at what cost?
The decision was to make a controversial and highly
unusual deal: in exchange for truthful testimony about
Samuels' lead role in the conspiracy, complete immunity
from prosecution for everyone involvedóeveryone, that
is, except for Ron Samuels.
"In a perfect world, all five would have done prison
time for this. We live in a world of choices and we make
the best choice we can," Johnson tells 48 Hours.
With the deal made, the investigators were ready to make
a move. But before Ron Samuels could be arrested, he was
gone. Five months after the shooting, and just days
before he was to be arrested, Samuels was on the run.
|Now retired FBI
agent Larry Doss tracked Samuels to Monterrey,
Mexico, a sprawling city about 200 miles south
of the border. Asked why he went to Mexico,
Samuels tells Roberts, "The reason I went was to
eventually bring the three kids there. Legally
or illegally, I was gonna do it."
In May 1998, Samuels picked up the phone and
called his second wife Debbie Love, using a
credit card. But Debbie had allowed Florida
police to tap her phone.
The Mexican authorities, working with the FBI, were
following Samuelsí every move; as they closed in, he
became more desperate. "A short time after the
surveillance started, he realizes that heís being
followedÖa high speed chase ensues, the car gets
wrecked, and when they arrest him, and inventory his
car, he has six kilograms of cocaine," says retired
While he acknowledges the report said he was found with
six kilos of cocaine, Samuels says it's not true.
Ron Samuels would serve five years for narcotics
trafficking in a Mexican prison, and his second wife,
Debbie, would divorce him.
How does one man have such bad luck?
"Some would say I brought it on myself," Samuels tells
Roberts. Asked if he did, Samuels says, "I must have
been a very bad judge of two women."
But amazingly, even behind bars, Samuels found romance,
when he had a chance encounter with Elizabeth Pastrana.
"I met him when I had a clothing business and I took
clothes to the poor at the jail," she explains. Three
years later, while Samuels was still in prison,
Elizabeth became wife number three.
To this day, even in light of the charges against him,
Elizabeth remains loyal to Samuels.
While Samuels was serving out his sentence in Mexico,
John and Heather Grossman and her children moved to
Not long after she was shot, Heather says John became
increasingly abusive, both physically and emotionally.
"I truly believe John couldnít handle it. And his anger
and his rage just took over," she says.
In 2003, they divorced. Two years later, John died of a
massive heart attack. "I forgive him. And I can
understand it now, she says.
Asked if she forgives Ron Samuels, Heather says, "I
forgive Ron Samuels, but I am afraid of him still."
Ron Samuels was extradited from Mexico and returned to
Florida to stand trial in West Palm Beach on two counts
of attempted murder. The co-conspirators, under the
controversial grant of immunity, are all expected to
testify about their role in the plot to kill Heather and
her second husband, John Grossman.
Heather makes the long trip across country from Arizona
to Florida to testify. She needs to confront the man she
believes has caused her so much pain.
Itís been nine years since that fateful day. Defense
lawyers Ned Reagan and Alex Brumfield plan to attack the
credibility of the co-conspirators.
Asked if all these men are liars, Brumfield tells
Roberts, "I would say yes."
"So your position is that this immunity deal gave them
license to lie?" Roberts asks.
"Thatís exactly it," Reagan argues.
Questioned by prosecutor Al Johnson, Roger Runyon
admitted that he was the triggerman on Oct. 14, 1997 and
that the primary target was Samuels' ex-wife.
Runyon's testimony made Samuels explode. "I'll meet you
in hell, you son of a bitch! Iíll find you one way or
the other!!!" he shouted.
After order in the court was restored, one by one, the
other alleged co-conspirators take the stand to testify.
Eddie "Slim" Stafford, the drug dealer and pimp who was
driving the car, says Samuels talked often of killing
And Geoff Pollock, who worked odd jobs for Samuels, says
he was at a meeting where Samuels gave the orders to
"When Ron mentioned he wants his ex-wife taken care of,
he made a motion of a gun in his hand," Pollock
Hugh Estess, the old friend of Samuels, also took the
"Did there come a time when you provided him someone who
might do this for him?" the prosecution asks.
"Yes," Estess replies, who says he arranged it all.
The testimony seems to put all the elements of the
conspiracy in place.
But Samuels is skeptical. "I think that you could get
anybody to say anything if they think theyíre not going
to go to jail for whatever it is they have pending," he
But thereís no getting around phone records the
prosecution says link Samuels to Estess and Stafford.
"The lynchpin of our case was corroboration through the
phone records," says prosecutor Al Johnson.
"And the phone calls ceased after the shooting?" Roberts
"Pretty much," Johnson says.
"After our marriage, Ron changed immediately. He became
angry, resentful, moody," says Debbie Love, Samuels'
second wife, who tells jurors she was afraid of him. "I
was fearful of Ron. Heís very forceful. Heís very
domineering, dominating and controlling," she testifies.
And then, Debbie Love makes the prosecution's day.
"What terms would he use when he was describing
Heather?" Johnson asks Love.
"That she was a gold digger. That she took his money,"
"Did the defendant ever indicate he wished ill of
Heather?" Johnson asks.
"Yes, he did," Love replies.
Asked what words he would use, Love testifies, "That
bitch should be dead. I wish she was dead. She needs to
be dead. Somebody should kill the bitch. We need to get
rid of her."
But Samuels says Debbie is lying.
Everyone is telling the same story of rage and revenge
and murder for hire. Everyone that is, except Ron
In court, Heather Grossman is about to confront the man
she believes was behind the plot to kill her. "I might
have to look away, because he still scares me," she
says. "Just knowing that heís there is eerie enough."
Seventeen-year-old Ronnie is called to testify about the
decade-old allegations of child abuse against his
step-father, John Grossman.
"The things that you told childrenís services and social
services was the truth or a lie?" the prosecutor asks
"It was a lie," the teen replied.
It's a lie that his father, Ronnie says, convinced him
"Did Ronald Samuels tell you the reason why he wanted
you to make these allegations?" the prosecution asks.
"Yes, he wanted to take me away from my mom and John,"
the teen says.
Asked what it was like to see his own son testifying
against him, Samuels says, "What did I expect that boy
to do after 10 years of being told that his dad did that
to his mom? And seeing his mom suffer everyday of her
life in that chair."
And now, finally, it was Heatherís moment of truth came.
"Iím not scared of him like I was before. I was afraid
to see him at first, but he doesnít look intimidating
now. I somewhat feel sorry for him that he chose to do
what he did. And itís really messed up his life," she
"The problems you were experiencing with Mr. Samuels,
did they intensify in the latter part of 1996 and into
1997?" prosecutor Johnson asks Heather.
"Yes, they kept getting worse," she says on the stand.
And Heather testifies that her children never complained
to her that Grossman was beating them.
The courtroom is hushed as Heather recalls the very
moment she was shot. "I tried to scream out for help,
but, 'Help' wouldnít come out. And I donít remember
anything after that," she testifies.
If the courtroom was riveted by Heatherís testimony, the
atmosphere becomes electric when Ron Samuels, against
the advice of his lawyers, takes the stand.
"Did you have anything to do with the shooting of Mrs.
Grossman?" defense attorney Brumfield asks his client.
"I did not," Samuels says. "I wouldnít want anything
like that to happen to her."
He insists he had nothing to do with the murder for hire
scheme, saying he did not go to a restaurant to meet
Hugh Estees, Geoffrey Pollock and Eddie Stafford.
And he insists that the phone records donít prove
Samuels claims he truly feels Heatherís anguish, but he
insists heís innocent.
Up until the trial, young Ronnie hadnít seen his father
since the shooting, more than nine years ago. Ronnie
tells Roberts he does believe that his father took out a
contract on his mother's life.
Asked if there is anything Ron Samuels could say that
would change anything, Ronnie says, "Oh, no, not at all,
you know? He made his mistake. Thatís his doing, you
know? He chose it this way."
After three weeks of testimony, and three days of
deliberation, Heather Grossmanís nine-year wait for a
verdict is about to be over.
The verdict? Guilty on two counts of attempted first
degree murder and on four additional charges related to
the murder for hire conspiracy. Samuels was sentenced to
life, plus 120 years.
"I know that heís out of our lives forever. He will
never bother us. I know that Iím safe and my children
are safe," Heather says.
As for Roger Runyon, who confessed he shot heather, heís
still haunted by his actions. "I'll never forgive
myself," he tells 48 Hours. "At this point, just like
right now, I wish I never would have been born."
As he begins serving out his sentence in a Florida
prison, Ron Samuels, who still maintains his innocence,
has grown almost philosophical about his fate. Asked
what his biggest regret is, Samuels tells Roberts, "My
greatest regret? My greatest regret is that both of us
should have tried harder. For the sake of the three
"I love the three children. And Iím hoping that one day
theyíll want to come see their father. Before theyíre
married and have families of their own. And before I
die. I miss them very much," he adds.
And he wants his children to know the truth. Asked what
that truth is, Samuels says, "The truth is, I would
never, ever harm one hair on Heatherís head."
The court ordered Samuels to pay Heather more than
$300,000. But the one-time successful businessman who
once said his worth was in excess of $30 million tells
Roberts he now has "zero, and then some."
But Heather doesnít believe that. "I know he had
millions of dollars," she says.
But if thereís really no money left for Heather, she
says he could offer her something else of value. "I
would have liked an apology. But I know I will never get
one. Because I'm sure he was overjoyed that day that I
was shot. Ron Samuels is exactly where he belongs and I
don't have to think about him anymore."
Asked if she thinks there is any chance for
rehabilitation for her condition, Heather says, "No Ö
Maybe in 20 years there will be rehabilitation for
someone in my condition. I donít think thatís gonna
happen in my lifetime."
Today, her fragile condition requires 24-hour care. "I
had to learn how to eat, how to swallow, how to sit up,
how to speak on a ventilator, and just deal with
everyday life this way. So, itís been very hard," she
Does she ever sorry for herself?
"I guess. Some days, you know? I might have a difficult
day," Heather tells Roberts. "So, itís been very hard.
But you know, with my faith and the way my life is now,
itís great. It might be hard for some people to believe,
but I'm sitting in a very happy place."