By Willy Stern
The first installment in a two-part series
Editor's Note: It has been more than 20 years since Nashville last witnessed a police investigation as intensive as the one surrounding Janet Levine March’s disappearance from her Forest Hills home on Aug. 15. Seldom has an investigation attracted so much attention and inspired so much speculation. Meanwhile, the case remains particularly curious because of the fact that there is no physical evidence that a crime has even been committed.
In this article, the first in a two-part series, the Scene makes public for the first time the Police Department’s detailed theory as to what happened at the home of Janet and Perry March on the evening of Aug. 15. In these articles Perry March also responds for the first time in public to the Police Department’s theory. The vast majority of the information in this article has never been reported before.
This series of articles is based upon more than 200 interviews, many of them with persons who have yet to be interviewed by Police Department investigators. Whenever possible during his investigation of the March case, Scene writer Willy Stern has attempted to verify his findings with Metro detectives. In some cases, however, he located crucial sources whom the Police Department had not been able to find.
Around 10 o'clock on the morning of Friday, Aug. 16, Marissa Moody and her 6-year-old son pulled into the driveway of Janet and Perry March’s four-acre estate in Forest Hills. Moody, the divorced mother of two, had never felt accepted by the Marches, who seemed to have a picture-perfect family. Perry, 35, was a successful lawyer, practicing with his father-in-law’s firm, Levine Mattson Orr & Geracioti; Janet, 33, was a dark-haired beauty and an accomplished artist who frequently lunched at the upscale Cakewalk restaurant, eating alone so that she could have the time to make notes in her sketch pad.
Their children—5-year-old Samson, known as "Sammy," and 2-year-old Tzipora, called "Tzipi"—seemed healthy and well-adjusted. Both children adored their part-time Russian nanny, Ella Goldshmid. What’s more, they spent lots of time with their maternal grandparents, Lawrence and Carolyn Levine, leaving Perry and Janet with plenty of independence and the time to socialize with a circle that included some of West Nashville’s most prominent young Jewish couples.
Marissa Moody may have had good reason to feel intimidated. On that Friday morning, at any rate, she felt snubbed once again. Just the evening before, Moody recalls, she and Janet had made plans for their sons to spend part of the day together. Yet, when Moody and her son arrived, neither of the Marches was available even to greet them.
Tzipi was playing in the side yard with nanny Ella. After Sammy let Moody and her son into the house, they chatted for a while. Moody remembers that, while she and her son waited just inside the kitchen door, Sammy sat on the end of a large, dark-colored rug that was rolled up and lying on the floor just off the kitchen.
As he bounced up and down on the rug, Sammy told Moody that his mother was not at home. Perry March apparently was working in his at-home study, which was located on the same floor as the kitchen, but Moody never saw him. March sent word, via Sammy, that it was all right for the play date to proceed as planned. Moody did not find March’s behavior unusual; she merely assumed that he was simply ignoring her once again. Leaving her son to play with Sammy, Moody shrugged her shoulders and drove away.
In Moody’s memory, the only thing that was curious about that morning was the rug. She recalls the decor in the Marches’ house as minimalist, almost spartan. In most of the rooms, she says, the polished wood floors were bare. Everything always seemed clean and well-organized. The oversize rug didn’t seem to fit in. When she returned a few hours later to pick up her son, Moody says, the rug was gone.
Homicide detectives in the Metro Police Department are convinced that Moody’s memories of that morning can provide vital clues in solving one of the most widely discussed—and most potentially lurid—cases in recent Nashville history. Investigators suspect that, even while Moody and her son were waiting in the Marches’ kitchen, Janet Gail Levine March’s 104-pound body may have been concealed inside the rolled-up rug. They theorize that 5-year-old Sammy may have been bouncing up and down on his own mother’s corpse.
According to the Homicide Section’s pieced-together scenario, Janet and Perry March had an argument on the evening of Aug. 15. In the midst of that argument, they theorize, Perry March, who has a black belt in karate, killed his wife, probably by accident. Then, detectives suggest, he hid her body somewhere in the woods that surround the Marches’ $1 million country-French-style residence. Only later, they suspect, did he wrap the body up in the rug and cart it away for disposal, most likely in a dumpster. The names of March’s brother, Ronald, and father, Arthur W. March, have also been bandied about as possible accomplices in the crime. Both deny any involvement in Janet March’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, even though the disappearance of Janet March has led to the most talked-about local investigation since Marcia Trimble was murdered in 1975, the Metro Police Department and the Office of the District Attorney have no case against Perry Avram March, who is their only suspect. There is no physical evidence of foul play, and there have been no arrests. There is no body, and there is no murder weapon.
If a murder has, indeed, taken place, detectives can only guess where it may have happened. No traces of blood have been found, and there are only sketchy hints of a motive for murder. There is no sound evidence that Janet March is even dead.
On the cocktail-party circuit, the case is deemed to be cut and dried: Janet March was a great mom; Perry March is a man with a troubled past. Associates of the couple are convinced that the Police Department is inept, while they portray Perry March as a polished schemer. In short, Perry March has already been tried and convicted. Conventional wisdom holds that he killed his wife.
The fact remains that there is no evidence Perry March murdered his wife. And there is no reason to assume that the lack of evidence is the result of a masterful cover-up. It is entirely possible that there is no evidence because no killing has taken place. What’s more, it’s also entirely possible that, if Janet March is dead, Perry March had nothing to do with it.
Police Department spokesman Don Aaron says the search for the truth about Janet March continues to be categorized as a “missing persons” case, not a murder. Both Tom Thurman, the deputy district attorney who would prosecute the case should it go to trial, and David Miller, Metro’s veteran homicide/missing persons detective, refused to discuss the investigation on the record, as did Sgt. Johnny Hunter, the forensics expert assigned to the case, and Homicide Section detective Tim Mason.
The Police Department has pulled out all the stops in attempting to solve the case. They have brought in forensics and underwater diving teams, they have made use of an Army helicopter specially equipped to locate human bodies, and they have used cadaver-sniffing dogs. Two different psychics have also provided tips that have been acted upon. Detectives have come up with buckets full of evidence against March, but it is all purely circumstantial. The case they have accumulated is weak, at best.
Trained to handle drive-by shootings and domestic squabbles, Metro detectives seem to be embarrassingly out of their depth in attempting to gather information from the upscale segment of Nashville’s close-knit Jewish community. And, if Perry March—a fast-talking lawyer who was an honors program student at the University of Michigan and a member of the Vanderbilt Law Review—is involved in his wife’s disappearance, he is proving to be more than a match for Metro detectives.
Last year, Detective David Miller was responsible for investigating 1,244 missing-person cases in Davidson County. So far, he’s found every one of those people, except one: He’s still looking for Janet March.
At least one other crucial witness remembers seeing the rug in the Marchs’ house on Aug. 16. According to Perry March, both Marissa Moody and the other witness are mistaken. March says Moody never even entered the house that day. Ella Goldshmid, the March children’s nanny, does not recall seeing the rug, and Perry March says it never existed. The Metro Police Department has interviewed the other witness, who says detectives did not ask about the rug.
Deneane Beard, the Marches’ $75-a-visit cleaning woman, says she was at the Blackberry Road house for at least two hours on the morning of Moody’s visit. During that time, Beard says, she never saw the rug. She also says Perry March told her not to clean the children’s playroom that morning. The playroom opens onto the area where Moody says she saw the rug. Beard left the house before Moody arrived.
March does agree with the homicide detectives on one point: He admits that he and his wife had an argument on the night of Aug. 15. But Perry March says he didn’t attack his wife. Instead, he recollects, she packed three bags of her belongings and took an estimated $4,000 to $5,000 in cash, a plastic bag of marijuana, and her passport. Then, at about 8:30 p.m., he says, she drove off in her gray 1996 Volvo 850.
According to Perry March, that is the last he saw of his wife, Janet. Now, he says, he is simply waiting for her to come back. Since mid-September, he and his two children have been living in a $3,000-a-month rented home in the tony North Chicago suburb of Wilmette. Nearly all the furnishings have been removed from the Blackberry Road house, which is now in the hands of a court-appointed conservator. Racks of Janet March’s clothes remain in the closets. Her wedding veil hangs alone in an empty room upstairs.
Interviewed at the Wilmette house on Christmas Day, March described himself as “the Richard Jewell of Nashville,” likening himself to the security guard whose life was turned upside down last summer when the FBI singled him out as the prime suspect in the bombing at Olympic Park in Atlanta. Jewell waited some three months before prosecutors acknowledged he was no longer a suspect. “I’m the victim in all this,” March said at one point in the seven-hour interview.
March, an animated talker, still wears his wedding band. He is intense, and tears welled up in his eyes when he talked about his wife. Still, he seemed to be in control of his emotions—and of the conversation.
After a dinner of Chinese takeout—shared with Sammy and Tzipi, March’s younger sister, Kathy, and her boyfriend—March put his children to bed and, while sipping cup after cup of hot chocolate, talked about what he perceives as his reversal of fortunes:
“Look at me. On Aug. 15, 1996, I was a respected Jewish lawyer in Nashville,” March said. “I had it all: Beautiful wife. Two wonderful kids. Gorgeous home. I was a go-to guy in the Jewish community and the business commuity. I was making good money. Now, my wife has left me.”
March grew visibly angry as he described the scrutiny to which he’s been subjected. “Without a shred of evidence, the police and my in-laws have taken away my house, my livelihood, my community. They’re trying to screw around with my son and daughter. I’ve been wrongly accused of sexually abusing my kids. My daughter has been subjected to a complete medical examination.” Still he predicted, “But you’ll see. I’ll be vindicated.”
March says he has arranged financing to pay off the note on the Blackberry Road house, which is held by his father-in-law. Then, he says, he and his children will move back into the house and he will open a one-man law office in Nashville. “I will not allow one misguided police officer, one vengeful man, and a few low-life journalists to destroy what I’ve taken years to build,” March said.
March is correct in saying he has been ostracized by his former friends and associates. Janet Levine March’s parents, well-connected and prominent Nashvillians, are convinced that Perry March killed their daughter. Lawrence Levine is a doting father and a charitable man, but he is also bullish and litigious—all traits he shares with his son-in-law. Larry Levine has refused to talk to the media, and he has made it clear to his law partners and to his sizable extended family in Nashville that he would prefer that they remain silent as well. Most have complied, even if they have mixed motivations for doing so. Several have told friends they feel sympathy for both of the Levines, but they also say they are scared of Larry. Said one, “When Larry is lucid, all he can talk about is destroying Perry.”
In a statement released by their attorney, the Levines have said they are giving law enforcement personnel their full cooperation. Earlier this week, Michael Geracioti, one of Lawrence Levine’s law partners, said the partners in the firm have remained silent as the result of a “business decision.”
A good portion of Perry and Janet March’s former West Nashville social set, which was largely Jewish, also suspect that Perry, in their terms, “did it.” Some of the Marches’ friends were annoyed because Perry did not return their calls, or confide in them, after Janet’s disappearance. Feelings were hurt. Many of Perry’s former friends figured that he was blocking them out because he had something to hide. They turned on him early, and much of Nashville has followed their lead.
There has been a price to pay—at least socially—for the few who have said that they’ll assume that March is innocent until proven guilty. For example, local manufacturing executive Elliot Greenberg has refused to accept March’s guilt as a foregone conclusion. After a memorial service for Janet, held at West End Synagogue on Nov. 17, Greenberg received a discreet call from one of Janet’s friends, Beth Zeitlin, informing him that he probably would not be welcome at the Levines’ home while the family was greeting mourners. Zeitlin, who is close to Greenberg, says she made the call as an emissary for a group of their friends, who were hoping to avoid an awkward scene.
The Scene interviewed more than 20 persons who were members of Perry and Janet’s social circle; only Greenberg would talk on the record. Nashville’s affluent Jewish community has closed ranks against Perry March, a native of East Chicago, Ind., with remarkable speed. The battle lines are clearly drawn.
What’s more, both the Police Department and the Levines’ lawyers have shown extraordinary skill in directing public opinion against March. Salacious tidbits about March have been masterfully leaked to the Nashville media, which have been all too willing to pass them along to the public. This technique may be the best way to ferret out a brilliant criminal who may have committed what looks like, at least at this point, the perfect murder. At least, that is the Police Department’s strategy. The Levines continue to refuse to comment. March says he is considering legal action against The Tennessean editor Frank Sutherland says he is not aware of—nor has Perry March informed him of—any factual inaccuracies in his paper's coverage of the March case.
Perry March is no angel. He stresses that, “if anybody else had been subjected to the kind of scrutiny I’ve received in the past few months, you’d find people to say unpleasant things about them as well.” The Scene interviewed more than 150 people who have known March at various points in his life, and they paint a portrait of a man who has not always been a model citizen. One woman, with whom March was an undergraduate at Michigan in the early 1980s, even alleges that he assaulted her, punching her in the face with his fist in a sudden fit of jealousy.
March denies hitting the woman. “She was a slut,” he says. “I fucked her for a few months. Then she came back from vacation, told me she had the crabs, and I dumped her.” The woman says she and March never had sex. She also says she did not report the alleged incident at the time to the police or to campus security. March says he is considering legal action against the woman for slander.
Janet and Perry March were known as two highly intelligent people, albeit with very different strengths. Janet was known as an artist and a dreamer who popped off to Chicago for shopping trips. She was often forgetful and late, but her friends forgave her easily, saying, “Well, that’s Janet.” Perry was the practical one—full of common sense and a heady self-confidence that bordered on arrogance. He had enjoyed quick success in his profession, and he did pro-bono legal work for the Jewish Community Center, where he was a board member until last month, when he was “replaced.” Janet looked great splashing around in her bikini along with her kids at the Center’s pool.
But the Marches had been having marital problems for some time. Together, and at times separately, they’d been seeing a Nashville psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas W. Campbell. Campbell refused to comment on the Marches’ case, but a variety of sources—including law enforcement officers, an attorney representing Perry March, and several of Janet's friends—say the couple was working on a list of issues. For one thing, Perry apparently resented what he perceived as pressure to change himself in order to make his wife happy. On the other hand, Janet apparently felt that Perry had never finished grieving for his mother, who apparently committed suicide with a barbituate overdose in 1970, when Perry was 9.
Several close friends of the couple speculate that Janet may have been depressed. She lived in a dream house, one that had been painstakingly designed according to her own specifications. She had two beautiful children. Now, friends suggest, she may have felt empty and left behind. Perry’s career was taking off, and, they say, he may have been getting bored with his wife of almost a decade.
Perry March acknowledges that he and Janet had mentioned the word “divorce”; but he says, at least to his mind, they never discussed the subject seriously. Deneane Beard, the Marches’ cleaning woman, says that, at some point during the months before Janet disappeared, she saw a book about divorce on Janet’s bedside table.
It is known that Perry March had begun spending more and more time away from home. Employees at the Jewish Community Center told the Scene that they had assumed Perry was single, since they thought no married man would have time for workouts like Perry’s regular programs of aerobic work and weightlifting that lasted two hours or longer.
Janet didn’t share her problems with most of her closest Jewish girlfriends. Her circle of intimate friends included seven-or-so Jewish girlfriends who’d been together since they were classmates at University School of Nashville. But Janet was surprisingly tight-lipped about her marital problems. Said one of her friends, “Who knew? We were all so involved in our own lives.”
If Janet confided in anyone, it was her mother or her bosom buddy, Laurie Rummel, both of whom declined comment. Rummel was also friendly with Perry, and he says he shared confidences with her. Perry and Laurie lunched together on the Friday after Janet disappeared. They talked about Janet, Perry says, and about designs for his new office.
Meanwhile, several sources have reported to the police that, during the months before Janet’s disappearance, Perry March had been seen in the company of other women. One source claims to have seen Perry leaving Belcourt Cinema arm-in-arm with an attractive blonde. Another source allegedly saw Perry sharing an intimate dinner with a brunette at Bound’ry restaurant. Ironically, Janet and her girlfriends met at the same restaurant for a “girls-night-out” dinner on the Tuesday before she disappeared.
No one has charged that Perry March was having an affair. March says he routinely ate and socialized with women as part of his work. At the suggestion of his lead attorney, noted Nashville criminal defense expert Lionel Barrett Jr., he declined to make specific comment as to whether or not he’d been unfaithful to his wife.
By early August, Janet and Perry’s relationship had worsened. They began spending some evenings apart. March acknowledges approaching one of his law clients, Paul Eichel, the rough-and-tumble owner of Music City Mix Factory, and asking him about renting Eichel’s spare condo, which, as it turned out, was not available. Sources at the Hampton Inn near Vanderbilt University and the Budgetel Inn on Lenox Avenue confirm that Perry March spent a total of five nights at the two hotels during the week before Janet’s disappearance. Police have subpoenaed records from both hotels.
March acknowledges spending nights at each of the hotels, but he says he always stayed home until after the children were in bed, and he says he was always back by 7 a.m. on weekends to help with morning chores. March says he checked into the hotels simply to get some sleep.
Other than Perry, the last two people to see Janet March alive were apparently a pair of cabinetmakers. John McAlister and John Richie of Classic Interior & Design spent part of Aug. 15 at the March residence, doing some warranty work on wood countertops they had installed. During the late afternoon, Janet supervised the repairs, while Perry played outside with Sammy and Tzipi. According to a spokesman for the cabinet company, McAlister and Richie left the Blackberry Road house at approximately 5 p.m.
Beyond that, there is no corroborating evidence for any account of what happened inside the March house that night. Sammy and Tzipi have been interviewed by a child psychologist, but not by Police Department investigators.
Metro homicide detectives are convinced that Perry March killed his wife, and they believe that they know how he did it. Perry says their theory is “bullshit.” Sources in the district attorney’s office have privately expressed concern that the Homicide Section is focusing too strictly on its theory, while excluding other possibilities, but Metro detectives feel that they have mapped out a logical sequence of events.
According to the chain of events suggested by the Police Department, the March children went to bed, according to their usual routine, some time between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Before long, investigators theorize, a fight developed. The reason for the squabble, they say, was money. It also had a lot to do with sex.
Just two days earlier, Perry had allegedly written a letter to a woman, an attractive paralegal who, like March, had been employed at the Waspy, gray-suited Nashville law firm of Bass Berry & Sims in the early 1990s. At the time he was hired, fresh out of Vanderbilt University School of Law in the fall of 1988, March and one of his Vanderbilt classmates were the only Jews the firm had ever hired on a full-time basis.
March had shown great promise at Bass Berry & Sims, but he had been required to leave the firm in 1991 when it was determined that he had written three seamy, sexually explicit notes to the woman, who was highly regarded for her work at the firm. March had agreed to pay the woman $25,000 to avoid a sexual harassment suit, but the Levines’ attorneys said in Davidson County Probate Court in November that Perry still owed the woman $12,500 at the time Janet March disappeared.
According to two sources who have read March’s Aug. 13 letter to the paralegal, March indicated that he was having trouble coming up with the money. Detectives suspect that Janet learned about the letter and confronted her husband with its contents. March, at the suggestion of his attorney, has declined to comment on any matter involving Bass Berry & Sims. The paralegal, through her attorney, also declined comment. Numerous sources familiar with the situation say she left the law firm about two weeks before March departed in 1991, apparently angry that March had not yet been pushed out the door. Bass Berry & Sims has declined comment.
Homicide investigators suggest that, some time around 8 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 15, the Marches’ argument grew heated and that, as was their custom, the couple continued their disagreement out on the back porch, well out of earshot of Sammy and Tzipi’s second-floor bedrooms. In the heat of the argument, Perry March says, his wife announced that she was going to take a short vacation and proceeded to make good on her threat.
Investigators have another theory: They suggest that, as the argument continued, Janet said something that caused Perry to snap. Their best guess is that she demanded a divorce and threatened to cut him off financially.
It was then, detectives say, that March, who acknowledges holding a second-degree black belt in karate, dealt a death blow to his wife. The killing was, they think, accidental.
The Scene has confirmed that March received a first-degree black belt in Soryu Kan karate in the 1970s at the now defunct Karate Academy in Michigan City, Ind. His instructor was Bill Homann. March continued his training later in Michigan.
Local karate instructor Jerry Williams says any person who holds a legitimate black belt, as March does, would know several ways to kill a lighter person in just seconds without spilling any blood. Death could be caused by a choke hold, a blow to the sternum, or putting pressure on pressure points.
The Police Department’s scenario makes sense, up through the death blow. Beyond that point, it begins to grow cloudy. Was Janet’s body actually wrapped up in the rug that Marissa Moody saw on the morning of Aug. 16? Or had March stashed his wife’s body in the basement? Or had he dragged the body into the woods that surround the house? Apparently, investigators cannot find evidence that supports any of their suppositions.
According to phone records seen by the Scene and confirmed by March, Perry placed a call to his younger brother, Ron, in Wilmette, Ill., at 9:11 p.m. on the night of Aug. 15. They talked for three minutes. At 9:14 p.m., March called his sister, Kathy, at her boyfriend’s home in New Buffalo, Mich. That conversation lasted for four minutes. Detectives suggest that these phone calls were March’s first attempts to cover up what they think is the accidental killing. March says he simply called his two siblings to let them know that Janet had left him and the children.
Homicide investigators failed to interview promptly any of the persons Perry March called on the night of Aug. 15. The Scene interviewed Ron March, a Chicago-based entertainment lawyer who is now part of March’s defense team; he confirmed Perry’s account. Ron March’s wife, Amy, says she and her husband were preparing to go to sleep when Perry called. She confirmed that Ron talked about Janet’s departure and added that she criticized her husband afterward for not being more supportive of his brother. Likewise, Kathy March corroborated her brother’s version of the story, as did her boyfriend, Lee Breitowich, who says he overheard Kathy’s half of the chat.
When they were interviewed by the Scene, Ron and Amy March, Kathy March, and Lee Breitowich presented carefully coordinated, complementary accounts of conversations that took place months earlier. Amy March even called back the day after her interview “to clarify” her story. She, Kathy March, and Breit-owich all say Nashville detectives have not attempted to interview them. There can be little point in investigators conducting such interviews, this long after the fact.
After Perry hung up from his conversation with his sister, at 9:18 p.m., police officers theorize that he hid Janet’s body in the woods or in the basement of the house. Then, they suspect, he likely packed his wife’s bags, threw them into her Volvo, and drove the car to the Brixworth apartment complex on Harding Road. There, according to Police Department theory, he abandoned the car and either jogged or mountain-biked the five-or-so miles back to his home. All the while, according to the Homicide Section’s scenario, March’s two children slept soundly upstairs. A representative of Music Country Volvo, who sold the Volvo 850 to the Marches, confirmed that it is designed to carry a standard mountain bike inside.
Police also suspect that, before he left home, Perry drafted and printed on his home computer a note that listed 23 things he was to do while Janet was away on her purported 12-day vacation. The list is mundane: Feed the kids healthy meals, pay the psychiatrist, call the driveway guy. It ends: “I agree to do all of the above before Janet’s vacation (in response to Perry’s cowardly, rash and confused vacation) is over.” Perry then signed his name above the date, Aug. 15, 1996, at the bottom of the note. Computer records indicate that the file was saved at 8:17 p.m.
March says his wife wrote the note and demanded that he sign it before she walked out the door. Detectives say they have three reasons to doubt that Janet herself wrote the to-do list:
First, it makes no mention of the fact Janet and Marissa Moody had arranged a playdate for their sons the following morning. The playdate is not mentioned, Perry says, because it was he, not Janet, who had spoken with Moody about Sammy’s playdate. Moody is adamant that she and Janet made the arrangements. When Moody arrived at the March house on the morning of Aug. 16, she says, it appeared that neither Sammy nor Perry knew about the playdate. In fact, she says, Sammy told her he and his father were planning an excursion to Perry’s downtown office.
Secondly, the list is written using capital as well as lower-case letters, a style that is consistent with the way Perry wrote lists. (Other lists drafted by Janet, and obtained by the police, use only lower-case letters, even at the beginning of sentences.) Finally, Perry’s lists are typically dated at the bottom of the page, while Janet’s are dated on the top.
March waited until around midnight to call his in-laws. Investigators say that delay provided more than ample time for him to hide his wife’s body, draft the list, dump the car, and formulate a plan of action. March says he did not call the Levines promptly because he and Janet had an agreement that they would not involve her parents in their problems. First, he tried a few local hotels. He finally called his in-laws, he says, because he thought she might have driven to her parents’ house to spend the night. It was at least the next day, investigators believe, before March could dispose of his wife’s body.
After Moody picked up her son, Perry says, he drove his own children to their grandparents’ house near Edwin Warner Park. Then, he says, he and Lawrence Levine drove together to the Nashville International Airport, where they roamed the parking lots, searching in vain for Janet’s gray Volvo.
Sammy and Tzipi spent much of the weekend with the Levines. During that time, the Police Department suspects, March may gave gotten rid of the body. Or, they suggest, he may have decided to wait for help from his father, Arthur March, a retired pharmacist and a former U.S. Army Reserves officer.
Phone records indicate that Perry called his father at his home near Lake Chapala, Mexico, more than 48 hours after Janet disappeared. The first call was placed on Sunday, Aug. 18, at 5:11 p.m. and lasted four minutes. A second call, three minutes in duration, was placed at 10:18 that same night. The elder March says his son called him to tell him that Janet had gone on a trip; as a result, he says, he decided to drive to Nashville to help Perry with the kids. Arthur March—who lives in the caretaker’s cottage on an estate in Lake Chapala, where many ex-military types settle to retire cheaply—says he isn’t certain about the exact date, but he thinks he arrived in Nashville, driving his Ford Escort station wagon around Aug. 21 or Aug. 22—a full week before Perry reported his wife missing. Around that time, Perry and his father were seen driving the Ford wagon.
Arthur March, who turned 69 on Jan. 15, is not the kind of guy you’d want to pick a fight with. He’s a gruff, rough-talking man who washes his tequila down with beer. He has a good-sized gut, but he also has massive arms. He says he regularly bikes 20 miles, at a stiff pace, just for fun. March also took correspondence courses in guerrilla warfare operations while in the Army reserves, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Army Reserve Personnel Center in St. Louis, Mo.
Arthur March’s own account of his military career is less than trustworthy. When he lived in Nashville in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he boasted that he had served in the Green Berets, in the Special Forces, and on special missions to Israel. He has also handed out a business card identifying himself as a retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. An army spokesman says March retired as a lieutenant colonel—a lower rank—in the reserves, and that, while on active duty from 1950 to 1953, March served primarily as a pharmacist and laboratory officer in an army hospital.
When asked about the discrepancy, March said he had been on “temporary assignment” to Special Forces and faxed an I.D. card that indicated that he had been a full-fledged colonel. The army spokesman says March’s I.D. card is either a forgery or the result of a foul-up by a clerk. According to the spokesman, March’s personnel records, his pension payments, and his health benefits all indicate he never attained the rank of colonel. “If he thinks he’s a colonel,” said the spokesman, “he’s never complained about the fact that his pension payments reflect lieutenant-colonel status.”
Police theorize that Arthur March may have aided his son in disposing of Janet March’s body. They even suggest that Perry and his father may have used the Ford Escort to transport the corpse. Both Perry and his father deny those allegations. Arthur March says he still owns the Ford Escort. The cops, he says, are welcome to search it. Although police did interview Arthur March when he was in Nashville, they did not inspect his car.
As the week wore on after Janet March’s disappearance, Perry says he advised the Levines that the police should be informed that she was missing. March says his in-laws were adamant that the police should not be called, for fear of embarrassing their daughter. The Levines declined comment.
As the days passed, however, Perry and his in-laws came closer and closer to a troublesome deadline: Sammy’s sixth birthday party was scheduled for Aug. 25 at Fannie Mae Dees Park, the “Dragon Park” on Blakemore Avenue. Many of Sammy’s friends and their parents had already been invited. Perry and the Levines agreed to tell the guests at the party that Janet was in California visiting her younger brother, Mark, who practices law in Los Angeles. According to the carefully concocted story, Janet March had developed an ear infection that prevented her flying home. The Scene talked to numerous people who attended the party; many say they accepted the story at face value.
By the time Perry reported his wife missing on Aug. 29, homicide detectives speculate, there was little chance that her body would be recovered. If the corpse had been hidden in a dumpster 10 or 12 days earlier, it would almost certainly have been too late to find it. Local spokesmen for the trash-hauling firms BFI and Sanifill of Tennessee confirmed that many Nashville dumpsters are emptied more regularly than every two weeks. (Many restaurant dumpsters are emptied daily.) The chances of recovering a body, once it has been dumped in a landfill or has been burned, are almost nil.
At the March residence, the evidence of foul play is virtually nonexistent. The house is a maze of hidden closets and secret cubbyholes, all designed to Janet March’s specifications. According to Perry March, detectives have searched through every inch of the 5,300-square-foot house.
There are only a few facts that suggest that someone may have attempted to cover up the traces of some unusual occurrence. According to the cleaning lady, the house seemed to be particularly spotless when she came to clean after Janet went missing—“almost as if somebody had already scrubbed the place and emptied all the trash,” she recalled. During the two weeks after Janet March disappeared and before she was reported missing, the National Weather Service reported traces of rain on four days and .09 inches of rain on another day. Any amount of rainfall only made even harder work for the Police Department’s forensics team, which searched the premises for traces of blood and other clues.
Nothing seems particularly curious about the list of clothing that was left in Janet March’s abandoned Volvo: three sundresses, two pairs of white socks, a bikini swimsuit—a typical vacation wardrobe. The only thing unusual about the list, detectives say, is that there is no mention of essentials such as a toothbrush, hairbrush, or bra. What’s more, a pair of Janet’s sandals were found in front of the Volvo. A Police Department photograph indicates that the sandals were not left there in haste; they seem to be carefully positioned. (Investigators asked that the Scene not describe the specific positioning of the sandals, a detail that may help screen out “nut cases” who turn up to confess to a crime they did not commit.)
Investigators seem fascinated by the fact that the hard drive on Perry March’s Ambra home computer has been ripped out. Detectives searched the house on at least two occasions shortly after Janet’s disappearance was reported; during at least one of those investigations, they examined the computer with Perry’s help. He even printed a file for them. However, on the weekend of Sept. 14 and 15, Perry March was with his children in Chicago celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Arthur March spent at least part of that weekend at the house on Blackberry Road, and he acknowledges that, during some of that time, the house’s burglar alarm system was turned off. Investigators suspect that, for some reason during that weekend, Perry’s father removed the computer hard drive—perhaps without telling Perry.
Arthur March denies that allegation, just as he denies any other implication that he is involved in Janet’s disappearance. Perry says that, like the Police Department, he is puzzled by the disappearance of the hard drive. Now, however, investigators are not so welcome in the massive French-style dream house designed by Janet Levine. Once it became known that Perry March was the Police Department’s prime suspect, his attorney insisted that investigators no longer enter the house without a search warrant. It was on Sept. 17 that detectives, armed with their first warrant to search the house, discovered that the Ambra’s hard drive was missing.
On that day, several dozen police officers and Police Department trainees, accompanied by forensics experts and a computer specialist, descended on the house. While cadets probed the ground with sharpened stakes, workmen used a bulldozer and a backhoe to turn up the earth. All the while, Perry March and his brother, Ron, seemed to pay little attention to the search. Instead, they sat on the back porch, calmly smoking cigars.
Next Week: Perry March’s troubled past, his fall from grace at Bass Berry & Sims, and the first shots in his counterattack. Plus, still more details the dailies don’t know.
Next Week: Perry March’s troubled past, his fall from grace at Bass Berry & Sims, and the first shots in his counterattack. Plus, still more details the dailies don’t know.
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