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Three years under a cloud of suspicion

Since his wife died in 2009, Gary Klein, a Beverly Hills father of three, has become the target of an investigation into her death. He wants to clear his name.

March 30, 2012|By Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times
  • Gary Klein insists he's innocent and wants to clear his name for his sons. He says he and Rina never discussed divorce and that she tended toward melodrama.
Gary Klein insists he's innocent and wants to clear his name for his… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Rina Pakula Klein, 41, trim, fit and dancing at a wedding days earlier, lay immobile and hooked up to tubes on a hospital bed.

She had arrived by ambulance at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center a day earlier after feeling "a pop" in her head. Persistent seizures followed, leaving her brain-dead.

Rina had seemed in glowing health. It made no sense. Her sister observed it was "awfully coincidental" that she had collapsed just as she was about to divorce her husband, and their mother agreed, Rina's sister-in-law recalled.

Gary Klein, Rina's husband of nearly eight years, did not hear the whispers. He sobbed and begged God to take him and spare the mother of his three young boys. His sister said she dismissed the dark allusions as symptoms of shock and grief.

But the bewilderment over Rina's death did not go away. It gave way to suspicions that helped fuel a murder investigation by the Beverly Hills Police Department and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department that persists nearly three years later.

Detectives have searched Klein's home in Beverly Hills three times. His wife's body was exhumed for a second autopsy. His two older boys were questioned at their elementary school. Did Daddy ever lock Mommy in a closet? Did Daddy have secret hiding places? Was Mommy ever black and blue?

Klein, 58, and his attorney have gone to court six times to learn the evidence against him. Judges, siding with police, have prevented him from seeing the last autopsy report or records supporting searches of his home, though he has not been charged with a crime.

The criminal probe has paralleled court fights between Klein and Rina's family over her $2.8-million estate and visitation of his children, with a Beverly Hills detective even being called to testify in the estate litigation.

If Klein killed his wife, why hasn't he been arrested? If there is scant evidence, why do police persist? Should detectives remain unfettered as long as they believe a slaying has occurred, even if they cannot prove it? Is an innocent man entitled to have his name cleared? How long should the family of a dead woman have to wait for answers?

Rina's mother and sister, citing advice from police, declined to talk. Their statements came from probate and family court records. The police also refused to comment. Klein spoke without his lawyer in dozens of interviews.

With no end in sight to the investigation, Klein has lashed out. He has hired a truck to drive the streets of Beverly Hills with signs denouncing the police. He has filed a complaint against detectives and created a website, http://www.beverlyhillscopsgonebad.com, where he derides them as "Bozos."

"I am just trying to do whatever I can to end this nightmare," Klein said. "I don't want my children to grow up thinking Daddy possibly murdered their mother. I can't let it sit."

::

Gary Klein met Rina Pakula on a blind date in September 2000. He was 48. She was 33, practiced law and lived near him in Beverly Hills. "She was very pretty and very personable, with smiles from ear to ear," Klein recalled of the petite, brown-eyed brunet. She also was Jewish and Republican, a combination that suited Klein, the son of an Orthodox rabbi.

But Rina struggled with insecurity, a factor in the collapse of a first marriage after only months. Antidepressants and regular visits to a psychologist helped. She had also been diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, but showed few symptoms.

Klein, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, had worked in the aerospace industry and opened an import business. By the time he met Rina, he was closing his business and investing in apartment buildings. Both wanted marriage and children. But Klein kept kosher and tried to avoid driving on Saturdays, while she had a more secular outlook. He worried "she wasn't religious enough and we would have conflicts."

Still, the couple soon married and settled in Klein's two-story home. Rina became pregnant and plunged into despair when she stopped taking antidepressants. After the birth of their first son, postpartum depression crippled her. She hired a nanny and did not return to work.

"Rina was on a great deal of medicine for depression," said Helene Klein, Gary's younger sister. "She had medical issues, and if I fault Gary for anything, it is for not being aware of how ill she was."

Rina complained Klein was a "control freak," testified Anita Pakula, her sister. One of Rina's physicians said in probate proceedings that she told him she had met another man. Her former boss testified she was considering divorce but feared Klein would take the kids and money.

Julie Pakula, 71, testified that Klein disparaged her daughter in front of the children, telling them "Mommy's crazy," and used religion and money to control her. "He put her down constantly, called her names," Pakula said. Rina called her husband "Jekyll and Hyde," described him as "evil" and feared he would kill her if he discovered her divorce plans, Pakula testified.

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