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Wealthy Widow's Companion Admits Role in Slaying, FBI Says

August 24, 1985|From Times Wire Services

SAN FRANCISCO — The longtime companion of a wealthy widow who was beaten to death with a liquor bottle in her luxury suite on an ocean liner told federal agents that he must have been the one who killed her because there was no one else in the suite, U.S. Atty. Joseph Russoniello said here Friday.

The statement by Robert Frisbee, 58, was included in an FBI agent's affidavit, filed in federal court here Friday, together with charges against Frisbee of murder on the high seas.

Frisbee is accused of killing Muriel Barnett, 79, in her $17,500 penthouse suite on the Norwegian cruise ship Royal Viking Star two hours after it sailed Monday from Victoria, British Columbia, said San Francisco police homicide inspector Carl Klotz.

Felt 'Depressed'

Frisbee told police he felt "terrible and depressed" by Mrs. Barnett's death and had "no idea" how she was killed.

But FBI Agent Jan Smith said in the affidavit that Frisbee told him in an interview Thursday that he (Frisbee) "did believe he committed the crime, in view of the fact that there was no one else in the room at the time, and he does not recall certain details that happened at the time of the crime."

Smith also said bloodstains and spilled wine were found on a man's dressing gown in the suite, which Frisbee shared with Mrs. Barnett.

Mrs. Barnett's death was discovered by a steward who went to the cabin Monday evening with the caviar, champagne and canapes, which the victim usually ordered before dinner. The steward told police Frisbee answered the door and told him: "She's dead. She's dead," Klotz said.

'Totally Devoted'

Frisbee, who for 20 years had been Mrs. Barnett's companion and personal secretary, told police he had a "mother-son relationship" with the widow and had been "totally devoted to her."

Frisbee said he had been a lifelong alcoholic, but had stopped drinking earlier this year. He resumed drinking, however, during the cruise. On the day Mrs. Barnett died, he said, they had a few drinks, took separate baths and then took naps before dinner. He added that he had no idea whether he had blacked out from the drinks.

Frisbee told police he had expected to inherit $250,000 from Mrs. Barnett's $6.5-million estate. He said he had also been named to receive the same amount in the will of Mrs. Barnett's husband, Phillip, a corporate attorney who died of a heart attack in January, 1984. But he had not received the bequest because it was contingent on Mrs. Barnett dying within a month of her husband.

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