Early on the afternoon of Feb. 4, 1982, a truck driver named Albert Brihn, on the way to a sewage-treatment plant off PGA Boulevard just outside Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., noticed something lying in a clearing of pine trees 60 feet off the road connecting the treatment plant to the street. It looked like a dummy.
Mr. Brihn delivered his load and headed back out. On the way, the thing in the clearing caught his eye again. Then something else—a buzzard, floating over it, banking again and again in those grim buzzard circles. Suddenly the thought broke, and Mr. Brihn knew what the thing was.
He stopped the truck and walked to the body. It was a man dressed in a black bikini bathing suit. There was a gold chain around the neck threaded through an Italian horn of plenty. He studied the body—there was a hole to the right of the nose, another at the right temple, both with muzzle burns, and there was a tear between the nose and the mouth where a bullet fragment had passed going out. As he stood there, the chest rose and fell twice. It was 1:30 in the afternoon.
A little more than 10 minutes later, the paramedics from Old Dixie Fire Station No. 2 arrived in an ambulance. If you believe the signs you see coming into town, Palm Beach Gardens is the golf capital of the world. It is home to a large retirement community—in this case a financially secure retirement community—so when one of its citizens expires, serious efforts are made toward not leaving the body lying around. Certainly not long enough to attract buzzards.
This particular body, of course, did not belong to someone of retirement age. The paramedics were there in 10 minutes anyway, and took it, the chest still rising and falling, to Palm Beach Gardens Community Hospital, where, at 3:36 p.m., the chest went suddenly still. Michael J. Dalfo was 29 years old, and the coroner's report would say he died of two .25-caliber bullets, shot at close range into his head.
There is not much to say here about Michael J. Dalfo. He lived with his brother, Christopher, in a condominium in the Glen wood section of PGA National, a golf resort and residential development. His father had some money, and he and Christopher and his mother once owned a restaurant, Christopher-Michael's Ristorante. A year after they sold it, investigators say, someone torched the place.
Michael Dalfo had a mustache and a girlfriend, and he apparently spent a lot of time with other girls, ones he had to pay. He also apparently used cocaine.
On the night he was shot, according to police, Dalfo called the Fantasy Island Escort Service three different times. A woman named Diane De Lena had come over first, sometime before midnight, and stayed an hour. Dalfo, in the words of an assistant state attorney, "hadn't been able to get things going" and tried to talk his visitor into staying another hour. He wrote her a personal check for $75, but she refused to take it and left.
Dalfo called Fantasy Island again, this time ordering two more girls. When they arrived he told them that they were "dogs," and they left.
"He was very untactful," one of the escorts would later tell police.