An Ohio businessman was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole Wednesday for his role in an intricate scheme to murder a North Hollywood bookkeeper, falsify a death certificate and collect on his own insurance policy.
Melvin Hanson, 53, was convicted last month of suffocating the victim, Ellis Greene, who had been targeted and picked up in a gay bar by Hanson and then-prominent Glendale neurologist Richard Boggs.
The victim's body was misidentified as Hanson's, then cremated. Hanson, meanwhile, underwent plastic surgery and fled to Mexico and Florida.
When he was arrested in 1989 at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, Hanson was carrying a book on how to create a new identity.
A third co-conspirator, John Hawkins, a former bartender, eluded police for three years, and was found only after his picture was seen on television. He was arrested on the Italian island of Sardinia on his boat, the "Carpe Diem," which is Latin for "seize the day."
Hawkins, who also was convicted last month of insurance fraud, grand theft and conspiracy to commit murder, will be sentenced Oct. 10. But a jury deadlocked on a murder charge.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Al MacKenzie said Wednesday that a murder charge against Hawkins will be dropped if he is sentenced to 25 years to life on the conspiracy charge.
Both Hanson and Hawkins, who were executives at an Ohio clothing manufacturer, admitted insurance fraud, but denied taking part in the murder, blaming the killing on Boggs. Their attorneys said the two didn't realize the doctor would kill someone to produce a corpse for the insurance fraud scam.
But MacKenzie argued that both men participated in the slaying.
Boggs, the Rolls-Royce-driving, Harvard-educated doctor, who is serving a life sentence in prison, declined to cooperate with the prosecution but did not help the defense either.
During testimony at his trial, Hanson said Boggs agreed to sell him a body for $50,000.
"Did it occur to you that, perhaps Dr. Boggs had murdered somebody?" Hanson's attorney asked him.
"No, it did not," Hanson replied.
Hawkins, 32, Hanson's former business partner in a sweat shirt company, did not testify at the trial.
It was Hawkins, sole beneficiary of Hanson's $1.5-million life insurance policy, who claimed the dead body, saying it was his partner and arranging for a quick cremation, scattering the ashes at sea.
Based on Boggs representation that the dead man had a heart condition, the coroner originally attributed the death to natural causes.
During the trial, defense attorneys argued that without the body there was no way to establish foul play.
It was an insurance investigator who noticed that the fingerprints taken from the corpse at the morgue did not match Hanson's prints on his driver's license.
Had it not been for the fingerprint mismatch, the killers might have gotten away with the murder.
"It was almost the perfect crime," MacKenzie said.