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Who Shot Vic Weiss? A Trail Gone Cold

June 11, 1989|MICHAEL CONNELLY | Times Staff Writer

The meeting with Jack Kent Cooke and Jerry Buss had gone well. Vic Weiss was close to a deal that would bring University of Nevada, Las Vegas, basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian to Los Angeles to lead the Lakers, the team Cooke was selling to Buss.

Briefcase in hand, the stocky but energetic Weiss, a 51-year-old sports promoter, sometime agent and businessman, left the meeting room at a Beverly Hills hotel, hopped into his Rolls-Royce and headed over the hill to his house in Encino.

But Weiss never made it home. Three days later, on June 17, 1979, his red-and-white Rolls-Royce was spotted in the garage of a North Hollywood hotel.

Police opened the trunk and there was the body of Victor J. Weiss, hands tied behind his back. He had been killed with two gunshots to the head.

Organized Crime Link

Ten years later, Weiss' killing remains unsolved and one of the San Fernando Valley's most puzzling mysteries. Los Angeles police believe Weiss was the victim of an organized crime hit, the most difficult of murder cases to crack.

It is a case that plunged detectives into the milieu of mobsters and informants, where they became suspicious of everyone, sometimes even fellow cops. And once they even found themselves being followed by someone they were investigating.

Still, they were able to learn much about the secret life of Vic Weiss. They learned that while he publicly hobnobbed with legitimate names in sports and business, he privately rubbed shoulders with criminals, ran up huge debts on sports betting and skimmed off the top of laundered money he delivered to mobsters in Las Vegas.

It is believed by police that those latter indiscretions cost Weiss his life. But who ordered the killing and who carried it out remain unknown.

Detective Leroy Orozco, the only original investigator still assigned to the killing, says that after 21 years as a homicide detective, the Weiss case tantalizes him most. He has followed leads across the country but never made an arrest. He has carefully investigated and traced potential suspects, only to learn that, apparently by grim coincidence, they too had been killed.

Orozco has two file drawers filled with reports, notes and evidence on the case to show for a decade of investigation. But even after 10 years, he doesn't need to open the boxes to recall the details. He can even recall what he was doing--driving his family to an ice cream parlor after a Father's Day dinner--when his electronic pager beeped and he was called to the parking garage in North Hollywood.

"This case has been my biggest challenge," Orozco said. "It won't lie down and die.

"You get a case like this maybe once in a lifetime. How often do you read about a Mafia hit, especially in L.A., with the intrigue of Vegas and the cops being followed by the bad guys? But I knew from the beginning it would be tough. As soon as I walked into that garage and saw that Rolls, I knew I was in deep."

In life, Vic Weiss presented the image of success. Raised in the Pasadena area--where he went to high school with longtime friend Tarkanian--Weiss first became successful in real estate and insurance ventures and was later known as a part-owner in Ford and Rolls-Royce dealerships in Van Nuys. His red-and-white Rolls had a gold interior. He wore a diamond ring and a Rolex watch. He was known as a guy who always picked up the tab after dinner or drinks with friends and business associates.

Sports Negotiations a Hobby

Weiss became prominent in sports circles beginning in 1973 when he bought the contract of welterweight boxing contender Armando Muniz. Though not a professional sports agent, Weiss handled contract negotiations for his friend Tarkanian as a hobby. It was that hobby that brought him to the negotiating table with Cooke and Buss at the Beverly Comstock Hotel on June 14, 1979.

According to police accounts of the meeting, details of the agreement to bring Tarkanian to the Lakers were written by Weiss and Cooke on a piece of paper that Weiss dropped into his briefcase when he left.

"He was probably confident as he left," Orozco says. "Negotiations went well."

Weiss was to go to dinner with his wife, Rose, but first, police say, he planned to call Tarkanian, who was waiting at a Long Beach hotel for word on the negotiations. Tarkanian never got the call, and the talks would never go further. The Lakers eventually hired another coach.

Weiss was reported missing by his wife, but there was no sign of him until four days later when a security guard spotted his Rolls in the garage of the Sheraton Universal hotel. After Weiss' decomposed body was discovered and removed, detectives found no clues to what had happened.

Weiss' wallet and briefcase were gone, but his diamond ring and watch had not been taken. That led police to rule out robbery as a motive. Cooke, Buss and Tarkanian were quickly eliminated as having any involvement. That left police with the mystery.

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