Samson "Sammy" March was not a happy camper on his first day of kindergarten at the University School in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 22, 1996. The other children in his class were predictably nervous and teary-eyed on their first day of school, but Sammy, whose sixth birthday was just days away, was particularly upset because his mother, Janet March, had been gone for a week. Sammy's teacher, Kim Scott, remembered that the little boy was "very sad because he had not seen his mom and he missed her. He did not get to say goodbye to her before she left."
Samson "Sammy" March was not a happy camper on his first day of kindergarten at the University School in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 22, 1996. The other children in his class were predictably nervous and teary-eyed on their first day of school, but Sammy, whose sixth birthday was just days away, was particularly upset because his mother, Janet March, had been gone for a week.
Sammy's teacher, Kim Scott, remembered that the little boy was "very sad because he had not seen his mom and he missed her. He did not get to say goodbye to her before she left."
Sammy's father, attorney Perry March, told people that his wife was away on vacation. Naturally Perry did not share the details with his son or his two-year-old daughter, Tzipora, but he told others that on August 15, 1996, he and his wife had had an argument after which Janet had packed her bags and informed him that she was taking a 12-day vacation. March acknowledged that it was a bitter fight, and it might have started when Janet learned that her husband had been paying a $24,000 out-of-court settlement to a paralegal he had sexually harassed at Bass Berry & Sims, the law firm where he had worked until 1991. According to the Associated Press, he had been caught on videotape "leaving sexually explicit notes" for the woman. So far he had paid only half of the settlement and had informed the woman in a letter that he couldn't pay her the balance.
March said that during the argument, Janet had written up a "to-do list," which she expected him to complete before she returned. The list included balancing the checkbook, changing light bulbs, and cleaning the basement. "Things that I had seemed to have dropped the ball on in the course of my 10 years with her," March said on the television program 48 Hours Investigates. She made him sign the list, which she'd titled "Janet's 12-Day Vacation," as if it were a contract, then put her bags into the family's 1996 gray Volvo 850.
That night March told Janet's parents, Lawrence and Carolyn Levine, that Janet had promised to be back in 12 days, in time for Sammy's birthday party on August 27. It would later prove to be an odd statement because Janet had sent out invitations saying that the party would be held on the 25th.
Days passed, and Janet did not show up for her son's birthday party or his first day of school. March covered for her, telling the parents of Sammy's kindergarten friends that she was in California visiting her brother and that an ear infection had prevented her from flying. But Janet March never returned home.
No Hairbrush, No Toothbrush, No Bras
Janet and Perry March had first met when they were undergraduates at the University of Michigan in 1982 and married five years later. Janet's parents felt that Perry was the perfect husband for their daughter and came to love him as a son. They paid his way through Vanderbilt University Law School, and when Perry left Bass, Berry & Sims, Lawrence Levine found him a position at the law firm where he was a partner, Levine Mattson Orr & Geracioti.
By all appearances Janet and Perry March were happy and prosperous. She maintained a successful career as a children's book illustrator while raising her two children. The family had just moved into the couple's dream house on four acres on Blackberry Road in the Forest Hills section of Nashville. Janet had designed and supervised the construction of their new home.
Perry described his wife to an Associated Press reporter as "lovely, headstrong, and impetuous." The 33-year-old petite brunette was "not street-smart," he said, and was also somewhat "oblivious to the world."
According to the Tennessean, people who knew Perry characterized him as "high-energy, hard-charging, aggressive, and tenacious." Others called him "greedy, manipulative, and deceptive." Born in Chicago, Perry earned his undergraduate degree in Asian Studies. He speaks fluent Chinese and holds a black belt in karate.
On the night that Janet supposedly walked out on Perry, he called her parents around midnight to tell them what had happened. They advised him to give her some time to cool down and asked him to call them when she came home.
But when Janet didn't return by the next morning, her parents started to worry. They called her friends, but none of them had seen her. They called local hotels, but she wasn't registered at any of them. Perry and the Levines drove to the airport and scoured the parking areas, looking for her car, but they couldn't find it. But as concerned as they were, they didn't call the police.
Perry later claimed that his in-laws didn't want to get the police involved because it might embarrass their daughter if her marital problems became public. But the Levines said that it was Perry who didn't want to go to the police. It wasn't until August 29-two weeks after Janet's disappearance-that the police were finally notified.
Ten days later investigators found her car parked at the Brixworth Apartments on Harding Avenue in Nashville. Her purse and her packed bags were in the car, but there was no trace of her. Her passport was in her purse, and as reported in the Tennessean, a pair of her sandals appeared to have been neatly placed in front of the car. The police went through her luggage with her family. They found nothing out of the ordinary, but something struck Janet's mother as very odd. Certain essentials were missing, things that Carolyn Levine knew her daughter would certainly have packed if she were going away for 12 days. There was no hairbrush, no toothbrush, and no bras.
"It seemed like a bag that a man had packed," Carolyn Levine would testify ten years later.
On September 12, 1996, with no activity on Janet's credit cards since her disappearance and no reported phone calls to her family or friends, the police declared that they were treating her case as a homicide. They searched the Marches' home, the surrounding grounds, Perry March's office, and an apartment he had recently rented in Nashville near Vanderbilt University. Investigators took several items from his home for further examination, including a stained shirt and bath mat, and over 20 computer disks. But when they examined his computer, they found that the hard drive was missing. They asked March where it was. He said he had not removed it and had no idea who might have done such a thing.
The police asked him to take a lie-detector test, but according to the Tennessean, he refused, saying that he was taking an anti-stress medication and feared that it might affect the results. They asked him if they could interview his 6-year-old son, but again he refused their request.
Investigators discovered that March had replaced the tires on his Jeep six days after his wife had disappeared. He explained that the tires had been bald, and it was one of the chores on his to-do list. But when the police questioned employees at the shop where March had purchased the new tires, they said that the original ones weren't worn out and they had pointed that out to March. Nevertheless he insisted on buying new ones.
The police located witnesses who said that they had seen a rolled-up Oriental rug in the March house near Janet's studio and Perry's study. When asked about the rug, Perry March said that the witnesses were mistaken, there was no rug. Police investigators searched for a rug but never found one.
In late September, a little over a month after his wife's disappearance, March suddenly announced that he would be moving with his two children to Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Lawrence and Carolyn Levine were understandably outraged and heartbroken when they learned that March wanted to take their grandchildren away. They vowed to use every legal means available to gain visitation rights with Sammy and Tzipora. The Levines initiated court action on the same day that March left for Chicago with the children. The Levines later learned that when March had packed up his office, he left behind a wedding photograph of Janet.
South of the Border
The Levines took their case to a Chicago court where they sued to have visitation rights with their grandchildren. They eventually won their case, earning regular visits every other weekend. In the spring of 1999 March was ordered to appear in court to arrange a visitation schedule, but he didn't show up. He had moved with the children to Mexico.
Map of Mexico with Ajijic Locator
When asked about her new husband, Solorio said on 48 Hours Investigates, "He's a great husband. He's sweet. He's perfect for me."
Now convinced that their former son-in-law was responsible for the death of their daughter, the Levines dedicated themselves to bringing March to justice. They filed a civil action against him to protect what they considered Janet's assets, valued at more than $200,000. The court froze March's American bank accounts, preventing him from accessing funds in the United States. The Levines also filed a wrongful death suit against him. But their primary concern was their grandchildren. The Levines believed that Perry March was an unfit parent, and they wanted full custody.
Rescue in Mexico
In May 2000 the Levines traveled to Mexico, armed with court papers granting them visitation rights with their grandchildren. They knocked on March's door in Ajijic, but he refused to let them see Sammy or Tzipora.
As reported on 48 Hours Investigates, one month later the Levines were in Ajijic again, having been tipped off by the FBI that Mexican immigration officials planned to question March. Early one morning after the children had left for school, four Mexican officers seized March, telling him that there was a problem with his papers. They threw him into their van and drove off.
While this was happening, Carolyn and Lawrence Levine went to their grandchildren's school with a Mexican judge and a local lawyer, intent on getting their court-ordered visitation rights. But someone at the school called Arthur March, who raced there, fearing that Janet's parents would take the children. According to the Levines, Arthur March pulled a gun on them and "told them they would never get out of Mexico alive."
After an hour of heated argument, school administrators released Sammy and Tzipora to the judge who in turn gave them to the Levines. They then headed for the airport with their grandchildren, Arthur following in hot pursuit. The Levines managed to lose him along the way and boarded a plane for Nashville with Sammy and Tzipora.
Later that day Mexican officials released Perry March, and when he learned what had happened, he swore he would get his children back. He hired two attorneys who took his case to United States federal court, arguing that an international treaty signed by both countries prohibits the legal action that the Levines took in seizing the children. Lawrence and Carolyn Levine were ordered to return Sammy and Tzipora to their father, which they did.
"We're now the Brady Bunch," Perry March told 48 Hours Investigates in 2005, referring to his children and second wife's children all living together in the same house.
But Perry March's sitcom bliss wasn't destined to have a long run.
"Buying a BMW"
At 8:00 a.m. on August 3, 2005, ten armed federal agents took Perry March by surprise and arrested him outside his
restaurant in Ajijic. They had been watching him for several months. Eight months earlier a grand jury in Nashville had indicted him, charging him with
second-degree murder, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with evidence. March did not put up a fight as he was driven to the airport in Guadalajara and flown to
Criminal Justice Center, Nashville
March chose not to fight extradition to Tennessee and was transferred to a cell at
Nashville's Criminal Justice Center after entering a plea of not guilty. Judge Steve Dozier set his bond at $3 million, which forced March to await trial
Judge Steve Dozier
March managed to make at least one friend in jail, Russell Nathaniel Farris, the inmate in the next cell, who was being held on charges of attempted murder and robbery. March and Farris communicated through an air shaft between their cells. March told Farris of his predicament, and as they got better acquainted, the two men came up with a mutually beneficial solution to their legal dilemmas.
Russell Nathaniel Farris
March felt that the Levines were his biggest problem. He knew they were well connected in Nashville and assumed they were doing everything they possibly could to get him convicted. He figured that if Carolyn and Lawrence Levine were out of the picture, he might stand a chance of beating the murder rap.
Farris told March that all he wanted was a place were he could live in peace with his dog and maybe his mother. March said he had an idea that might get them what they both wanted. After two days of intense discussion, they came up with a plan. March would arrange to pay Farris's bond and eventually get him set up in Mexico if he would kill Lawrence and Carolyn Levine.
Farris agreed to do it and assured March he would do it right, spending some time getting to know the Levines "patterns" so that he could assassinate them together. March promised to hold up his end of the deal with the help of his father who would arrange things for Farris in Mexico. Farris even came up with an alias he would use once he got to Mexico: "Bobby Givings." As they discussed their plot, they used a code phrase for the double homicide, "buying a BMW."
Meeting "Bobby Givings"
Arthur March had never liked his son's in-laws. He would later testify that he considered his daughter-in-law Janet "a typical JAP... a Jewish American Princess." He called her mother, Carolyn, the "queen of the Jewish Mafia." According to Court TV.com, he once considered killing Lawrence Levine himself, even though the man had put his son through law school. "They [the Levines] were political animals," Arthur March said, "who used her position with the Jewish Mafia and his position with the Democratic Party to get what they wanted."
Considering the way Arthur March felt about the Levines, it must have been a happy day for him when he received a phone call in Mexico from Russell Farris in August 2005, reporting that the job was done. Arthur agreed to pick up the hitman at the Guadalajara airport a few days later.
Up until this point, Arthur March's participation in the conspiracy was through telephone conversations with his son from jail. He had never actually met Russell Farris, but he just assumed that the man who approached him at the airport was "Bobby Givings." In fact it was FBI Special Agent Kenneth Sena who placed a very "shaken" March under arrest.
Farris had been cooperating with the authorities all along, secretly recording his jailhouse conversations with Perry March. Prosecutors also obtained recordings of March's telephone conversations with his father. Somehow attorney March hadn't realized that all inmate phone calls are routinely recorded at the Davidson County Jail.
On October 28, 2005, Perry and Arthur March were formally charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and two counts of solicitation to commit first-degree murder.
The case against Perry March for the attempted murder of the Levines came to trial in Nashville on June 1, 2006. Arthur March, hospitalized with chronic heart disease, chose to plead guilty to the charges and agreed to give a deposition regarding his participation in the plot.
The prosecution's star witness was Russell Farris, who testified that Perry March had asked him to do the killings. Farris admitted that he had five prior felony convictions on his record-three for attempted murder and two for aggravated robbery. He told the court that March's proposition troubled him, and that he confided in his mother, Vickie Farris, as well as his lawyer. Mrs. Farris called Lawrence Levine directly to warn him that March was out to kill him. When the authorities learned of the situation, they persuaded Farris to tape his conversations with March.
Farris testified that Perry March had tantalized him with the promise of a better life in Mexico after the murders were completed. According to Farris, March had told him that they could go into business together in Mexico, doing "express kidnappings" of the children of wealthy parents. "He told me he'd done several," Farris told the court. As reported in The Tennessean, March already had a potential victim for this scheme, a British billionaire who was living in Mexico. "Three hundred thousand without the blink of an eye," March allegedly told Farris, indicated the ransom they'd reap.
Excerpts from Farris's jailhouse conversations with March regarding the planned murders were played for the court. Jurors heard March telling Farris, "Do it. You have to do it when they're both together to help me."
Jurors also heard recordings of Farris's telephone conversations with Arthur March. "When this operation is finished... remember, you've got a home," Arthur March told the would-be assassin. As reported on Court TV.com, on another occasion Arthur March enticed Farris with visions of paradise in Mexico: "The sky is blue, the beer is cold, and the women are hot. What more do you need?" At the time of these phone calls, the Marches believed that Farris was free on bond and making arrangements to carry out the murders. In fact he had been transferred to the Williamson County Jail where he continued the ruse.
After their indictment, Perry March had tried to keep his father from cooperating with the state. Arthur March's attorney, Fletcher Long, testified that he witnessed March telling his father in jail, "Dad, I'm not going to roll on you. You're not going to roll on me. We will wear these jumpsuits with a badge of honor."
Perry March's lawyers tried to discredit Farris, characterizing the conspiracy as merely a story that the career criminal had concocted to improve his own situation with the authorities. But the jury rejected this theory, and on June 9, 2006, voted to convict Perry March on all counts.
This was just the midpoint in Perry March's legal ordeal. Prior to this trial he had been found guilty in civil court in the battle over Janet's assets. Now he had to defend himself against charges that he had murdered of his wife.
"This Is a Case About Deceit."
For Perry March's next trial, which came just two months after his conviction in the conspiracy to kill his in-laws, Judge Steve Dozier granted the defense's request for a change of venue. March's attorneys argued that news coverage of the case had saturated the Nashville area over the years and tainted any potential jury pool. March's trial for the murder of his wife started in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in early August 2006. The charges included second-degree murder, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse.
In his opening statement, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Tom Thurman said, "This is a case about... deceit" and characterized March's long flight from justice as "a ten year odyssey."
Defense attorney William Massey pointed out to the jury that the prosecution was attempting to try a murder case without a body. "They don't have evidence," he said, "because it doesn't exist. There is no direct proof that Perry March killed anyone." He went on to outline an alternate theory as to what had happened to Janet March. Massey claimed to have received an anonymous letter from a man who said he was involved with Janet and that she had come to him the night she disappeared. The man wrote that she had overdosed on sleeping pills and alcohol while she was with him, and he then disposed of her body. County investigators attempted to locate Janet's alleged companion but could not find any such man.
The jury of six men and six women heard testimony from Leigh Reames the woman who had sued March for sending her sexually explicit letters. She testified that they had settled out of court, and he had agreed to pay her $24,000 in installments over a four-year period. The prosecution contended that when Janet March had learned of the letters and the settlement, she threatened to divorce her husband. March flew into a rage, according to the prosecution, a rage that had fatal consequences.
The state called witnesses who testified that they had seen a rolled-up rug in the Marchs' house after Janet's disappearance. An FBI analyst then testified that fibers found in March's Jeep were consistent with such a rug.
The tape recordings of March's conversations with would-be hitman Russell Farris were played for the jury. They learned the details of March's plot to murder his in-laws and heard him tell Farris that his chances of beating the rap in his upcoming murder trial would go from 40 to 90 percent if the Levines were out of the picture.
Nashville Detective Pat Postiglione testified that when March was extradited to Nashville in August 2005, March talked to him about making a plea bargain in exchange for admitting his guilt if he could get "no more than seven years" and avoid the maximum sentence for murder. Postiglione said that on their flight from Los Angeles, March asked him how much evidence had been assembled against him. The detective believed that March had been trying to gauge his chances in court.
March did not testify in his own defense, but he did take the stand out of the presence of the jury to ask that his son be excused from testifying. With an oddly cheerful demeanor, March told the court that the boy had spent far too much time in courtrooms over the years, and he hoped that 15-year-old Sammy could be spared the ordeal of testimony and cross-examination. March's request was taken under consideration, and the prosecution chose to show the jury a videotaped interview of 9-year old Sammy with a television journalist from 2001. In this interview Sammy states that on the night that his mother had left home, she came into his bedroom and kissed him good-bye. "She told me she'd be back soon," he said, "then took her two bags and left."
But in a police interview conducted in the weeks after Janet's disappearance in 1996, Sammy told investigators that he woke up the next morning to find his mother missing. Sammy's kindergarten teacher Kim Scott testified that he had told her that he was upset in school because "he did not get to say good-bye to her [his mother] before she left." And Ralla Klepak, Sammy's court-appointed attorney from Chicago in the custody battle between his father and grandparents, testified that Sammy never told her anything about his mother kissing him good-bye. Jurors were left wondering if March had coached his son for the television interview, or if perhaps over the years March had convinced Sammy that he had seen his mother alive on the night she disappeared.
But without a doubt the most damaging witness against March was his own father. Arthur March, 78, was too sick to travel from the Kentucky prison where he was incarcerated, but the prosecution presented a three-hour videotape of his testimony. In it, he described how he had traveled to Nashville from Mexico to help his son with the children after Janet March had disappeared and wound up becoming Perry's accomplice. Angry, vitriolic, and at times vocally anti-Semitic in his testimony, Arthur March said that Perry had told him Janet was dead and that it had been an "accident." Arthur also admitted to helping his son clean bloodstains in the house and disposing of the hard drive from Perry's computer before the house was searched. He referred to the police who conducted the search as "Gestapo storm troopers."
"He's My Son!"
In his videotaped testimony Arthur March explained that he had helped his son move Janet's body from the construction site where Perry had initially buried her. One of Perry's clients, a real-estate developer, had told him that a road was going to be built 10 yards from Janet's makeshift grave, and he feared that it would be discovered. The father and son put Janet's bones and clothes in a plastic "leaf bag" and drove from Tennessee to Kentucky in Janet's Volvo. They checked into a motel, and Perry stayed in the room while his father looked for a suitable place to dump of the body.
Arthur drove along I-65 to the Bowling Green area until he found a site he liked. He stopped and hid the remains in a brush pile. Nine years later when he tried to locate the spot with the police, he couldn't find it because, he said, the road had been widened and the landscape had changed. To this day, Janet March's body has never been found.
When asked why he helped Perry hide the body, Arthur replied as if the answer were obvious: "He's my son!"
Dr. William Bass
Dr. William Bass, founder of the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee where researchers study the rates of decomposition in human corpses, corroborated Arthur March's testimony regarding the condition of the body he moved. A human body in Tennessee in August heat would skeletonize in three weeks, Dr. Bass testified, which supported Arthur March's testimony that Janet March's remains were mostly bones when he and his son unburied them.
Jurors also learned that Perry March had written a novel called @Murder.com in which an attractive brunette is killed. In the book, March describes the victim "lying on the smooth pile carpet, crumpled and soft-looking. She lay on her back, her left leg tucked beneath her, her head facing the ceiling, hands to her throat, eyes open and bulging. Classic strangulation expression."
The evidence presented was enough to convince the jury that Perry March was not the innocent man he claimed to be, and on August 17, 2006, they found him guilty on all counts. At sentencing, Judge Steve Dozier tallied up March's convictions in his three trials and gave him 56 years of hard time, which he is currently serving.
Judge Dozier also rejected the plea deal that Arthur March had made with the state and sentenced him to five years for his participation in the crimes. Three months later Arthur March died at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas.
Perry and Janet March's children, Sammy and Tzipora, are now living with their grandparents, Lawrence and Carolyn Levine.