Horvath says that he tried repeatedly to see Bivins, his mentor, but that Banks would turn him away. "It got worse and worse," Horvath says. "[Banks's] stories and his alibis." In the fall of '97, Horvath called to ask about Bivins, and Banks said, "Tell everybody: Stop coming around. He doesn't want anything to do with you boxing guys anymore."
By then Bivins had sold both of the houses he owned—the one he had bought in 1943, where he and Elizabeth had lived, and the house he had bought for his mother. Davidson, the boxing cop, who had become commander of the Third District of the Cleveland police, recalls visiting Bivins in the fall of '97 and noticing that the diamonds were missing from his ring. "What happened to the stones?" Davidson asked him.
Banks, who was present, jumped in and, according to Davidson, said, "Oh, the stones got loose and fell out."
"You lost your stones, Jimmy?" Davidson asked.
"Yeah, I guess," Bivins said.
That winter, Bivins's friends say, he was nowhere to be found. Banks told callers that Bivins had moved to South Carolina.
Horvath and others came to believe that Bivins was a captive in that house. Once, when no one answered the door, Horvath walked around the place calling Bivins's name, only to hear a child's voice yell from within, "Nobody's home!"
No wonder such a firestorm broke when patrolman Gibbons found that skeletal man lying alone in the dark in a stinking room. It was the turning point in a crisis that had begun unfolding weeks before. On Feb. 11, 1998, Banks took Bivins to Meridia Euclid Hospital and reported that the former prizefighter was "talking like a baby" and "falling down more frequently" He was suffering from dementia as well as hypothermia (low body temperature) and pancytopenia (reduced red and white blood cells and platelets). During his two-week stay at the hospital Bivins also suffered a gash on his right middle finger, and nurses soaked the hand in Betadine.
On Feb. 24, Bivins was transferred from the hospital to a nursing facility. There, over the next 11 days, the former top-ranked heavyweight contender lost 38 pounds, from 164 to 126—perhaps, one of his doctors said, as a result of edema, depression or loss of appetite. On March 8 he was released from the facility, and Banks, claiming to be Bivins's son, took the responsibility of caring for him. Bivins was considered a "functionally impaired person" who, under state law, required 24-hour supervision.
By the time the ambulance whisked him back to Meridia Euclid on April 6, Bivins was suffering from more than bedsores and dehydration. The cut on the finger, now infected, had become unbeatable, leaving doctors no choice but to amputate the tip of it. "I figure if I came this far, I can keep on," Bivins said after the surgery. "I don't give up."