The Making of a Murderer Pt 4: David and Max

Therapist to patient: “What stage of grief are you in?”

Patient: “Writing. Is that a stage?”

Said by Sally Wade upon the publication of her memoir about her long-term love relationship with George Carlin.

DavidGoldbergLast picture taken of David M. Goldberg, at Niagara Falls – a vacation trip where he met for the first time Yang, a Chinese man he had been communicating with every day for five years via the internet. (See previous post The Letters, to read Yang’s response to the news of David’s death.)

It is now the one-year anniversary (Yahrzeit) since my brother was murdered. On August 4, 2011, David M. Goldberg, was brutally bludgeoned to death while lying in his bed at his home in an outlying parish of our hometown, New Orleans. David died a mile from the home we grew up in. My sister, Lee, lived next door to my parents for most of her marriage. My sister and brother had an affection for New Orleans, and had love and loyalty for our parents, Madeleine and Meyer Goldberg, and thus, in their adult life, they both stayed close to their childhood home. This home was where we three children fed and groomed our horse, Crackers, who lived in the barn at the back-end of our property. The levee that our house backed up to afforded us a nice six-mile riding trail, from stately Old Metairie to the Point on Lake Pontchartrain, where all New Orleans teenagers watched the “submarine races.” (If you don’t get the reference, think about what teenagers did in the back seats of their Chevy Impalas.)  The body of water banked inside the levee walls, the 17th Street Canal separating Orleans Parish from Jefferson Parish, and of late fame for being the main levee that was breached post-Katrina, was where Lee, David and I paddled on our unique water bicycle: like its name, a bicycle that traveled on water. The carport on the side of the house was where we kept David’s and Lee’s respective Model T’s – twin cars – black and white for Lee, and black and red for David, and my own little bug-eyed white Sprite with green racing stripes — each car given to us when we were 15 years old, driving age in Louisiana at that time. Bellaire Drive was, too, where we five ate dinner meals together as a family at 6:00 pm, every single day throughout each of us finishing high school. It was a coherent family life. We three children each had our separate individual lives and interests, pursuing different passions – Lee, playing and excelling at every sport offered at camp or school; David tinkering with his motorcycles and cars, frequently winning drag-races at LaPlace with his Green Monster, the fastest car in town; and I, playing the piano, entering and winning contests, and being, like my adored older sister, a gifted athlete – though not nearly as gifted as she.

I have spent much of my time in this last difficult year trying to make personal sense of David’s tragic death, and of course, the life that preceded. I have, at times, been overcome with grief, bursting into tears at unexpected moments. But, too, I have brought what I hope has been intelligent thought, analysis and discourse to all aspects of the ramifications of David’s murder. I have researched related topics, including the criminal justice system, the nature of psychopathy, the relationship between psychotropic drugs and criminal behavior, and more.  I have talked to a wide assortment of people who were not previously a part of my quotidian life: the coroner and assistant district attorney of Jefferson Parish; homicide detectives; defense attorneys; a mitigator. I have talked extensively with John Muggivan, the mitigator hired by the parents of my brother’s killer, whose interest was in influencing me to accept a plea bargain for a reduced sentence for Max. And, finally, I have spoken with psychics, shamans and those who claim to communicate with the dead. No leaf unturned, as they say.

At some point, during the time of this experience of coping, processing, managing and handling all affairs related to David’s life and death, I decided to do what I usually do in emotionally challenging circumstances: Like Sally Wade, I committed to put pen to paper. Thus, I created a blog.

I am writing to invite you to read this blog called The Making of a Murderer.

Gary Olliges, my brother’s assistant in his business – sales of an eco-friendly refrigerant that is a Freon alternative used in air conditioners — found my brother’s body. Following an interview with Gary, lead detective Rhonda Goff designated Maxim Hoppens, age 18, as the only suspicious person to be sought for questioning.

As you can deduce from the name of my blog, I believe this is a murder that could have/should have been prevented. My brother’s killer was studied, evaluated, tested, and treated extensively, thoroughly and comprehensively from the age of five. Yet, in spite of these evaluations, in spite of treatment, and in spite of parental involvement and supervision, both society and my brother were not protected from the innate killing violence that lived in this young man.

One of the issues that I have become re-interested in since David’s death — the nature of psychopathy — has become a timely issue of late. The New York Times Magazine article, May 20th, “Can You Call a Nine-Year Old a Psychopath?” looks at the presence of signs for psychopathy in young children. Researchers have found that significant signals can be observed as early as three years of age.  I suspect that my brother’s killer, Max, is a psychopath. His own mother describes him in such terms (see my first post on the blog, in which I quote his mother’s description of him). I puzzle over the tools we professionals have to identify — even predict — who is a psychopath. Further, is there a way of thwarting the menacing acts that such individuals routinely engage in (whether they be banksters or serial killers)? These individuals are most often charming, and whip-smart. Most professionals agree that currently, no successful treatment — either psychological or pharmaceutical — exists for the disorder.

My interest in the criminal justice system arises from two compelling statistics. The US leads the world for its overall prison population. And, within this fact, one state far outdoes America itself and incarcerates nearly double the national average; that state is my home-state of Louisiana.

I will also be reflecting on legal drugs, the medications that are given to those who are diagnosed with a psychological or psychiatric disorder. The two topics of crime and pharmaceutical drugs are not unrelated: these two industries are growing at an unprecedented rapid rate, unlike most of the country’s other struggling businesses.

I will shortly be posting on the three-hour illuminating meeting I had with Louise, Max’s mother. I will also be describing a wild and wooly ride I took to search for David’s hidden treasure using a woo-woo fascinating technology (which happily coincides with my interest in frequency/vibrational/energy healing). We had some good high moments, when we thought we had found David’s hidden treasures (including his Rolex), and then further heartbreak when we didn’t.

Thus far, I have posted three entries on the blog: Finding Out; Max; and The Letters. Following is my latest post: David and Max. At the end of the blog, there are directions for how you can become a “follower” of the blog:

My brother had shown great sympathy to his eventual murderer Max, who he had met a year earlier. Although the details of Max’s difficult life were not known to David, nevertheless David did understand that Max had created great challenges for himself in his short life.

MaximHoppensMaxim Hoppens

As I have learned from conversations with those who know Max, he had been a difficult child from the time he was adopted in his native Russia at the age of five. A year after his adoption, Max had begun to steal toys and food, to lie, and to hoard food. He also started a fire inside his house. These behavioral problems –lying, stealing, being fascinated first with fire, and then graduating to access to guns, and an inappropriate display of showing off, wildly swinging a gun around — continued to be manifested through Max’s teen years.

There were few pleasantries or successes in Max’s life, and in spite of many repeated efforts by his devoted New Orleans adoptive parents to get him help, no interventions – neither pharmaceutical nor psychotherapeutic — seemed to offer any relief from the troubles Max was causing everywhere he went – from school, to boy scout camp, to his own family’s home, to his neighborhood, even to state juvenile facilities wherein he was remanded.

It has been described to me that Max had a close relationship with his biological sister, Tatiana, who lived at the same orphanage as Max before their adoptions. The two toddlers – at three and five years of age — were adopted together, and taken out of Russia at the same time. Louise has described that when Tatiana arrived in this country, her mental and cognitive deficiencies were, and remain today, far more severe than Max’s.

When Max was 13, he raped his sister for the first time. He repeated the molestation again when he was 16. Because of these molestations, Max was no longer allowed to live in his family’s home. For a time, his parents rented him an apartment. Because Max was still a minor, he was not allowed to live in the apartment alone; thus his father, Don, went to the apartment every night and slept there. However, Max slipped out of the apartment most nights, and complaints about his disruptive behavior were made from neighbors.

David first met Max when Max was 17. He was homeless, and adrift, and David allowed him to live in one of his large, side-by-side attached homes. I don’t know how long this arrangement lasted. But it ended when Max kept leaving the house at wee hours of the morning, as he had done when he was living with his father, and leaving the front door of the house wide open. David asked him to leave.

Max was then sent to a mental health rehab facility in Utah, paid for by his parents. Three weeks before the murder, Max clandestinely returned to New Orleans, having flown in without his parents’ knowledge. Upon arrival in New Orleans, he called my brother from the airport, looking for kindness once again in asking that David allow him to stay with him.

My brother felt compassion for Max, and once again gave him a place to stay. While these acts of generosity may seem odd to some, my brother himself had been the recipient of such kindnesses after Katrina. David was one of a small contingent of people who had stayed behind during the hurricane, deciding to dare Katrina into submission. For days after the hurricane – with a 20-foot river raging in front of his house where there had previously been only a street — David repeatedly went to his roof, waving at hovering helicopters, encouraging them to come rescue him. Yet, there was no rescue at hand. The various pilots waved back at David, and each time, flew away. David realized that no help was forthcoming, and that he would likely die if he continued to stay in his home.  On the sixth day, he found a piece of broken-off Styrofoam, and used that as a raft to paddle his way to high ground, the Claiborne Overpass, overlooking the Superdome. There, David was met by four militiamen pointing AK47 rifles at him, telling him he could not continue on his journey to the Superdome, and that they were under orders to shoot anyone who tried to pass. Below the Overpass, David saw that the streets were, like most of the rest of the city, a sea of water. He explained to the militiamen that he didn’t know how to swim, but that he was going to jump in the water and doggie-paddle his way to the superdome, and would greatly appreciate it if they kindly did not shoot him. (Dependent upon the kindness of strangers  — as Blanche declared herself to be). They didn’t shoot him. After standing in line for 12 hours at the Superdome (standing because sitting meant that he would lose his place), he finally was able to board a bus heading to Dallas. Amongst the throngs of homeless New Orleanians, he stood out as white and well-dressed, and was spied by a man who had come to the holding pen of refugees. This man had come in search of people who needed assistance. He invited David to his home, and gave him a cell phone (with which to call, at long last, his worried family), clean clothes and a car. (The kindness of strangers again.) David stayed with this man and his partner for three months before returning back to New Orleans. Generosity — from others, as well as toward others (read my last post, The Letters in which the loving gestures of friends and family paid in tribute to David in the form of unsolicited letters, as sent to me upon David’s death, are printed) — was not unknown to David.

Two weeks after Max had settled into my brother’s home, David discovered that Max was stealing from him — both a computer and a TV. He told Max that if he was going to steal from him, that he was no longer welcome to stay there.

Before Gary left work that fateful Thursday afternoon, August 4, he overheard David having a conversation with Max. He understood Max to be saying to David that he had gone to the pawnshop and reclaimed the stolen items, and that he was prepared to return them. David and Max made plans for Max to come over late that afternoon. Gary saw Max strolling toward my brother’s house at the appointed time, but with hands empty, no sign of the stolen goods.

Gary showed up for work Friday, then again on Saturday and yet again on Monday. (For Gary, Sunday is devoted to G-d and church.) Each day, the front door was locked, and there was no response from within – either by doorbell or telephone. This was highly unusual; Gary had been working for David for over a year, and there was not a day that David was not hard at work – all day, every day, 7 days a week. Saturday, Gary called the police and asked them to investigate. They saw no foul play from the outside, and refrained from breaking down the front door. Gary asked if he himself could break into the house, as he was sure there was something wrong. The police dissuaded Gary from doing so, indicating that he could be arrested for breaking and entering. Gary returned Monday, and did exactly what the police had warned him not to do. He climbed up two ladders at the back of my brother’s house, crawled into a back window on the second floor, and thus found my broth er’sunmoving, badly beaten, dead body.

After interviewing Gary, the police began a search for Max. They called his parents, who assured them that Max was safely ensconced in the rehab facility in Utah.  Yet, they were wrong. Max was, indeed, in New Orleans. And he was in hiding.

A few days after the murder, my nieces Kim and Lisa, found a new posting on Max’s Facebook. It said: “im a very caring person hate seeing people get hurt but when it comes down to thing thing need to be dealt with then ey im in.” Scary words. Threatening words. Or defensive words for an act already done?

We called Detective Goff immediately to tell her Max was on Facebook.  She told us that she was already on the situation. Fortunately, the posting had come from Max’s cell phone, and the police were able to “ping” the message to find the approximate location of Max.  He had been staying with his friend Michael Robinson in a section of town called the “Dump.” Detective Goff described this area as the worse of the worse. The police surrounded Robinson’s house, but Max was younger and more spry than the police officers – and he bolted out a side door and escaped capture. The police then put out an all-points bulletin for Max. His picture was plastered all over the New Orleans television stations. A few days later, Max turned himself in, represented by attorney Claude Kelly.

Max has never denied that he killed my brother. He has changed his story on the motivation several times however.  And, last week, he changed his plea from guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity, and is claiming a drug-induced psychosis. More on that later….