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Ennis Cosby Buried During Private Service

January 20, 1997|NICHOLAS RICCARDI and ANGIE CHUANG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Ennis Cosby was buried in a private funeral at a secluded family estate in Massachusetts on Sunday, while a continent away, Los Angeles police investigators began sifting through the avalanche of calls that followed Saturday's release of a sketch depicting the man authorities believe may have killed the 27-year-old son of one of America's most beloved entertainers.

Through a spokesman, meanwhile, Bill Cosby issued a challenge to the print and electronic tabloids, which he said have been offering money for information on his son's death. The funds, the elder Cosby suggested, ought to be used to create financial rewards that would assist law enforcement's investigation of the crime.

Cosby, according to his spokesman, David Brokaw, believes financing such rewards would be "a more constructive form of journalism."

Bill Cosby's request resonated with at least one tabloid, the National Enquirer. Its editor, Steve Coz, said Sunday that his paper will put up a $100,000 reward for information on Ennis Cosby's killer as soon as the details can be worked out with the Cosby family and the LAPD. The editor called Bill Cosby "probably the longest-standing friend the National Enquirer has."

Also on Sunday, the CBS networked announced that the entertainer's situation comedy--"Cosby"--will air as scheduled tonight, though the episode will conclude with written tributes to both Ennis Cosby and television producer Sheldon Leonard, a close Cosby friend who died Jan. 11.

Brokaw said that maintaining such a public presence, while zealously guarding his family's privacy--as Cosby seems to be doing in the wake of his son's death--reflects a delicate balance the entertainer has attempted to strike throughout his long celebrity.

"He has always been comfortable with being a public figure, and he has a really good understanding of the advantages and pitfalls," Brokaw said. "He is communicating what needs to be said, as opposed to sitting there and just inanimately grieving. Being able to react is a tonic for him. That's the best way for him."

Cosby's public stature was amply demonstrated Sunday, when tipsters from London to Lakewood inundated the Los Angeles Police Department with leads in the case.

"The response has been very good," LAPD spokesman Vince Aguirre told a reporter. "Because of you guys we've gotten called from all over."

Aguirre was referring to the international dissemination by the press of a sketch released Saturday night by the LAPD. It shows a white man of average height and weight, who investigators believe shot Ennis Cosby once in the head early Thursday as the 27-year-old Columbia graduate student changed a flat tire on his Mercedes at the side of the darkened San Diego Freeway near Bel-Air.

Investigators said the composite was based on observations of a female acquaintance of Ennis Cosby's who witnessed at least some of the events that night. They also released a composite of a possible second witness, a goateed white man who drove a blue hatchback.

A source familiar with the investigation said detectives are checking crimes committed in the area during the past three to six months for similarities with the Cosby killing, which they say may have been an attempted robbery. Investigators are also checking the tires of Ennis Cosby's Mercedes for sabotage.

The torrent of calls to LAPD offices this weekend will be routed to the department's robbery-homicide division, which is investigating the slaying, Aguirre said.

Some tips didn't require much follow-up: Several callers claimed to have seen the suspect in their dreams, Aguirre said.

Others raised hopes that didn't appear to pan out.

Journalists in Placer County noted that the LAPD composite resembled that of an unknown gunman who last month shot a sheriff's deputy on the shore of Lake Tahoe, and a copy of the sketch of that assailant was passed on to LAPD investigators, Lt. Brad Marenger of the Placer County Sheriff's Department said.

But Marenger cautioned that there is only a slight resemblance between the suspects. "We don't see any tie at this particular time," he said.

As police fielded calls, Bill Cosby, his wife Camille and their four daughters attended a midday burial service at the family estate in Shelburne Falls, Mass. Ennis Cosby's friend Phil Caputo and another friend also attended, a family spokesman said.

While at the estate, the Cosby family has followed media coverage of Ennis Cosby's death. Brokaw said the young man's parents and sisters are pleased with the way their son and brother is being remembered, but fear that coverage will become "something not really human."

It is partly for that reason that the family made its request to the tabloid media, which has recently been forced to moderate some of its coverage of celebrities. In November, after a boycott of its programs, Paramount Television announced that it would no longer buy "video paparazzi" footage that intrudes on celebrity privacy.

Cosby has also twice spoken to Loretta Thomas Davis, mother of Corie Williams, the 17-year-old girl who was shot by a reputed gang member on an MTA bus Thursday, Brokaw said.

*

Cosby described his conversations with Davis as "wonderful," Brokaw said. They talked of their responses to having reporters at their front doors, the invasiveness of media questioning, and the new way in which the entertainer and Davis respond to news of other tragedies.

"They talked about how it's hard to comprehend unless it's something that's happened to you," Brokaw said.

Times staff writer Jim Newton contributed to this story.

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