Reporter’s Notebook: Killer lets me have the last word

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Larry Hurwitz''s unpublished autobiography ends with a challenge to the journalist who covered him for 30 years.

An archive photo of Larry Hurwitz. (Portland Tribune)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Larry Hurwitz murdered Tim Moreau on Jan. 23, 1990. The former Starry Night nightclub owner pleaded “no contest” to murdering his employee on Aug. 21, 2000. He confirmed the overwhelming evidence against him in a civil wrongful death lawsuit filed by Moreau’s family on Dec. 10, 2001. He also agreed to pay them $3 million for their loss.

It is important to keep these facts in mind when considering the most recent development in the case that I have reported on for nearly 30 years — the discovery of an unpublished autobiography written by Hurwitz.

The 231-page manuscript, which I have read, appears to have been written more than two years after the murder, but approximately six years before Hurwitz was arrested and charged with the crime.

Then, like now, Moreau’s body had not been found, making it hard to prove Hurwitz had actually killed him. Hurwitz killed Moreau with the help of employee George Castagnola and the full knowledge of other workers and associates. They did not turn on him and tell the truth until 1998, finally solving what had been one of Portland’s most notorious unsolved murder mysteries.

The premise of the decades-old manuscript is that Hurwitz is the real victim, not the murderer in the case. It sticks to the cover story that he and the other conspirators concocted — that Moreau ran away and disappeared after a confrontational meeting with Hurwitz over money. In the introduction, Hurwitz claims he is writing the manuscript to clear his name.

Ironically, given Hurwitz’s eventual confession, much of the manuscript blames me for ruining his life by reporting that the police suspected him of the murder a few months after it happened. I wrote that story for Willamette Week, where I worked at the time. Hurwitz also denounces me for following up on the story two years later, after he unsuccessfully sued Willamette Week and me for libel, in my own Portland newspaper, PDXS.

Hurwitz burst back into the news earlier this year when he was arrested with 4.4 pounds of cocaine and $328,000 in cash on June 27 in Huntington Beach, California. The money is far more than the token payments he has made to the Moreau family so far.

I was not surprised. After serving just eight years on the murder charge, I figured he would eventually get himself back in trouble. Hurwitz is still in jail in Orange County, facing 15 years in prison. He is scheduled to appear at a plea bargain hearing on Thursday, Dec. 4 — the 18th anniversary of his settling the civil wrongful death suit.

But I was surprised to learn about the manuscript.

I thought it took a lot of nerve to sue Willamette Week and me for libel when it was obvious why the police suspected him of murder. He admitted to being the last person to see Moreau alive and had accused him of counterfeiting tickets to a show at the nightclub — something I have always believed Hurwitz orchestrated. When the counterfeits were discovered at the door, the bad press threatened Hurwitz’s business and he needed to find someone else to accept responsibility for them. I am convinced Moreau refused to do that during their final meeting.

According to Hurwitz’s manuscript, my Willamette Week story seriously hurt business at Starry Night, prompting him to sell it within a year.

Many readers were apparently convinced I was right. So trying to draw even more attention to the case by writing a book about it seems like an even worse idea than the libel suit, which was dismissed by the judge in the case. Maybe that’s why Hurwitz didn’t publish it.

Hurwitz moved to Seattle and then Vietnam shortly after the manuscript seems to have been completed.

Now that he’s being held in California and faces new legal challenges, Hurwitz stopped paying for his apartment in Portland. That meant his property was legally abandoned and could be seized and sold at public auction.

Erin Olson, the local attorney for the Moreau family, found the manuscript among other possessions Hurwitz left behind. Olson bought it in hopes of finding clues to the location of Tim’s body, which has never been recovered.

Unfortunately, the manuscript, which the Moreaus have read, does not provide the closure that they deserve. It does not elaborate on the discredited cover story, providing no fresh clues to follow.

“When we learned that Larry Hurwitz had written a manuscript for a possible book, we were anxious to read it,” said Moreau’s parents, Mike and Penny. “We hoped to gain more insight into the reasons Hurwitz killed Tim and learn where they buried his body, which has never been found. However, we were disappointed the manuscript revealed little about Hurwitz’s (and Castagnola’s) motives. Hurwitz still denies his involvement in Tim’s death, so we must continue our 30-year quest to hold him accountable.”

Instead, the manuscript is more concerned with accusing me of reporting unfounded allegations against Hurwitz in my Willamette Week and PDXS stories. It’s unclear why Hurwitz thinks I did that, except for him saying I am an unethical reporter who does not care about the truth.

But my reporting has held up. The murder suspicions I first revealed in Willamette Week were proven true. The false federal income tax filings that I subsequently documented in PDXS resulted in his deportation from Vietnam and conviction on federal tax evasion charges. That is when his accomplices in the murder turned against him.

Aside from his score-settling, most of the rest of the manuscript is the story of Hurwitz’s life up until shortly after the libel suit was dismissed. It begins with his upbringing in a middle-class New York family, his dropping out of mainstream society to work in the emerging rock music industry before moving to a commune in Washington during the Vietnam War years and his eventual opening of Starry Night in Old Town.

In some ways, Hurwitz’s journey reflects the turbulent times, when young people were rebelling against the establishment and fighting for a better world. But all of his stories are shallow and self-serving, intended only to make him appear to be a restless truth-seeker instead of an evolving killer.

Despite his intentions, much of the manuscript makes Hurwitz look bad, including admissions of womanizing and intentionally overcrowding Starry Night during popular shows to increase his profits, despite the fire risks. Because they looked so official, the counterfeit tickets tricked Portland Fire & Rescue into wondering how so many people could be at the most popular shows legally.

And, of course, the manuscript leaves out a lot that would make Hurwitz look even worse, like the serious crimes he committed. He does not confess to killing Moreau, naturally. Nor does he admit to buying and concealing the silver that the IRS eventually learned about, leading to his income tax evasion conviction. And there is nothing about the bombing he led of SavMor Grub, a second-hand store near Starry Night he thought was bad for business. Several nearby businesses were destroyed by the blast on Aug. 24, 1989. Hurwitz’s associates confessed to it when they turned on him 10 years later.

Amazingly, in an accompanying transcribed conversation with a former employee, Hurwitz jokes that he is thinking of titling his book, “Starry Night, How I Got Away With Murder.”

The manuscript ends with this challenge to me: “Jim Redden, what will you write about me when the mystery is solved?”

Here’s my answer: In the Dec. 11, 2001, issue of the Portland Tribune, I wrote, “With a few short words over a speakerphone, Larry Hurwitz finally closed the book on one of Portland’s longest-running murder mysteries. During a Tuesday morning (civil wrongful death lawsuit) settlement conference before Multnomah County Circuit Judge Kristena LaMar, Hurwitz admitted that he murdered Tim Moreau on Jan. 23, 1990.”

To learn more

You can read the complete coverage of the Hurwitz case at www.pamplinmedia.com/starry-night-murder.

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