January 714, 1999
The Kimberly Conundrum
Three years after the murder of Center City jogger Kimberly Ernest, the case is about to explode again, fueled by an all-out campaign to pin the blame on the son of a prominent lawyer.
by Howard Altman
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Bala Cynwyd attorney Fred Ambrose has an amazing story. It's a story about a cover-up in one of the most sensational crimes in Philadelphia history: the Nov. 2, 1995, killing of Kimberly Ernest, the 26-year-old red-headed paralegal who became famous in death as the Center City Jogger.
There was a lot at stake, says Ambrose, when a man walking his dog found Ernest's nearly naked body lying on the cold cement steps of a basement stairwell at 2101 Pine St.
It was a vicious murder in the heart of the city's tony Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.
There was intense media scrutiny and heightened interest from City Hall.
The heat was on police to solve it.
But that was only part of the story, says Ambrose.
Three weeks after the murder, police arrested Herbert Haak and Richie Wise, two gay-bashing petty criminals who confessed and later recanted, saying they were beaten and forced to sign blank papers.
The cops were unable to find one eyewitness or one shred of physical evidence proving Haak and Wise killed Kimberly Ernest, then drove up to Bucks County for Haak's bail hearing about two hours later.
On March 14, 1997, after less than three hours of deliberation, a jury found the pair not guilty.
One month later, Wise sued the city, several police officers and the District Attorney's office, seeking $75 million for the pain and suffering of being beaten and falsely accused. Six months after that, in October 1997, Haak filed a suit of his own.
Blaming Haak and Wise wasn't merely a mistake under pressure by overworked investigators, says the slender, dark-haired Ambrose, who is representing Haak in that lawsuit.
It was part of a grand conspiracy involving the police, prosecutors, the ATF, the mob and the city to rescue the "real killer"son of a big-time lawyer with connections to the mayorfrom a date with the needle.
"There was a concerted effort to cover up who was responsible for the crime," says the intense Fred Ambrose, behind the desk of his office in a monolithic green tower in Bala Cynwyd.
According to Ambrose, the prime suspect in the murder is John Lambert.
A Story Too Far
It is a wild story. And one without any proof beyond the testimony of Billy Liberatore, a crack-smoking male prostitute who used to work for, coincidentally enough, Len Wise, father of Richie.
After one of the greatest legal stunts in the history of a city rife with colorful legal wangdangdoodling, Ambrose entered John Lambert's name into the court record as a prime murder suspect.
On June 26, three weeks after writing Mayor Ed Rendell to ask that he reopen the Ernest homicide investigation, Ambrose showed up uninvited at a court hearing for Lambert on an unrelated matter.
In a statement to Judge D. Webster Keogh, and reporters he had tipped off in advance, Ambrose announced that John Lambert, the man about to be sentenced, was more than just a penny ante crook.
He was the "prime suspect" in the killing of Ernest.
Keogh, whose courtroom had already taken on a circus atmosphere because of questions about why Lambert was being sentenced under his alias, Jason Lynne, allowed Ambrose to speak on the record.
Since then, Ambrose has repeated his theories about Lambert often.
In a press package he has circulated to the area's many media outlets. And in a nine-page memo he gave to Police Commissioner John Timoney on July 15 of this year, outlining 31 "factual recitals" that show why the Ernest case should be reopened and why the police should have suspected Lambert.
The campaign against Lambert isn't limited to accusations about Ernest.
There are also unsubstantiated suggestions that Lambert is a serial killer. Suggestions made by Len Wise and by Stephen Stouffer, a short, balding ex-Marine, now a private investigator who, for the past 15 months, has been doing most of the legwork for Ambrose.
Stouffer, who claims he worked in a "classified position" with the FBI, told the families of two women murdered in 1996 that Lambert killed their daughters, too.
When Ambrose calls Lambert the prime suspect in the Ernest murder and discusses what he says is the effort to protect Lambert, there's not even the slightest bit of hesitation in his voice. "There was a group of people in homicide. One or more people in the DA's office, at City Hall. Mr. Jay Lambert of Duane, Morris & Heckscher, Det. Augustine There was a concerted effort by all involved. It was well financed out of City Hall, where we still touch a raw nerve."
Claiming they've been under constant surveillance and threatened with death, Ambrose, Stouffer and Len Wise have gone to great lengths to pitch this story.
They've gone too far, according to targets of this theory, who say that this campaign to prove Lambert is the "real killer" has needlessly smeared the reputation of Lambert, Det. Tom Augustine and the victim, Kimberly Ernest, who is being linked in death to Lambert and his crack-smoking cronies.
Insisting that Haak and Wise did it, that there was no beating and that the dynamic duo got away with murder, some of the subjects of Ambrose's story are starting to fight back.
Augustine, the decorated veteran cop accused of beating the pair that beat the rap, of inventing their confessions and of being tied to the Philadelphia mob, says he is just about ready to file a suit of his own. "I want to destroy them in court," he says.
Lambert's father, the dignified, deep-voiced attorney Jay J. Lambert, who has a tidy corner office in a Center City office tower, is said to be fed up with the accusations against his son and the conduct of Ambrose and his investigators.
So fed up that, as early as next week, he will bring the might of the civil court and possibly the bar down upon them.
And this month, the District Attorney's office began investigating charges that Ambrose's private detectives are threatening two people: Joyce Homan, Haak's former girlfriend, and journalist Thom Nickels.
Still smarting over the not-guilty verdicts, the DA's officewhich is no longer a defendant in the civil caseis investigating whether these two individuals are being harassed into changing their statements to make the conspiracy theory work.
The Sorry Case Against Haak and Wise
The stairwell at 2101 Pine, where the body of Kimberly Ernes was found.
photo: Sandor Welsh
The police trying to solve the Kimberly Ernest murder faced an uphill battle from the start.
There are about 194 windows with a view of the stretch of Pine Street where Kimberly was dumped and left for dead.
But nobody saw anything from any of those windows.
Nobody heard anything, either, on that miserably cold and rainy Thursday morning.
In interview after interview, cops turned up drug dealers, male prostitutes and other minor-league miscreants who prowled the area.
But no one was saying who really killed Kimberly Ernest, a bright, vivacious athlete who, by all descriptions, had a lust for life and liked to challenge herself, be it jogging the streets of Philly, tackling the elements with Outward Bound or climbing mountains in Australia.
Police got a break on Nov. 8, 1995.
A dumpy, dark-haired computer wizard with a long criminal history named Herbert Haak, who was incarcerated in Bucks County on a parole violation, told his counselor that his girlfriend was being threatened by his housemate.
The housemate was Richie Wise, a tall, baby-faced wiry blond with White Power tattoos who also had a long history of petty criminality. Wise, Haak told his counselor, killed Ernest.
Over subsequent weeks, Haak's story would keep changing. First he wasn't at the crime scene. Then he was. Then he helped.
On Nov. 28, 1995, Haak's stepfather, a notorious jailhouse snitch named John Hall, told police that Haak confessed to him.
Several hours later, at five minutes before midnight, Herbie Haak told police he was present while Wise killed Ernest.
On Nov. 29, 1995, police charged Haak and Wise with the Ernest killing.
The accused pair claim, however, that the confessions were coercedthat they were beaten into signing blank papers that were later filled in by police.
The case fell apart between the night Haak and Wise were charged and the trial, which began in February 1997.
First, the cops learned the sperm samples taken from Kimberly's body did not match the DNA of either Haak or Wise, leaving no physical evidence connecting those two to the victim.
Then it was learned that Hall had lied to police about several elements of his testimony, making him, and the information he provided, worthless. Making it very difficult, if not impossible to prove that Haak helped to brutally kill a woman, then arrived in court a few hours later showing no signs of a struggle.
By May of 1996, the press was making such a mockery of prosecutor Judy Rubino's case through the media that the DA's office sought a gag order.
It was no surprise to anyone, even homicide investigators, when the jury took little time to find Haak and Wise not guilty on March 14, 1997.
This April, the FBI launched an investigation into charges that Augustine and homicide Sgt. Paul Musi violated Haak's civil rights by beating him. FBI spokeswoman Linda Visi says the local office has completed its investigation and has forwarded the results to the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. A spokeswoman there says the case is still open.
Augustine says no beating, coercion or false confession took place. There is scant evidence to prove there was.
But the question of whether a beating took place is beside the pointHaak and Wise were cleared because the evidence just wasn't there.
So was there a prime suspect that the police ignored?
Mayoral spokesman Kevin Feeley, saying that police remain confident that Haak and Wise killed Ernest, says any talk of a conspiracy to protect Lambert is "absurd."
"This story has been going around for years," says Feeley. "This is a situation where people decided to throw mud against a wall and see what sticks."
An intensive two-month examination of police reports, court records and internal city documents, as well as interviews with dozens of people intimately aware of this case reveals an argument far flimsier than the one against Haak and Wise.
There is plenty of circumstantial evidence showing that Lambert, who lived near the crime scene, was known to police. Even some evidence that Lambert and Kimberly frequented the same bars in the 13th Street neighborhood. And there is plenty of reason to suggest that, three years ago, the cops should have talked to Lambertwhose name comes up more than a hundred times in depositions and court filings in the civil case.
However, Jay J. Lambert, John's father, hasn't contributed a dime to Mayor Rendell, according to campaign records. His firm, Duane, Morris & Heckscher, has contributed $15,000 over the course of Rendell's two most recent mayoral campaigns. Those contributions are a fraction of what many other large law firms have donated to Rendell.
There is nothing, except for the morphing testimony of Billy Liberatorea witness so shaky that defense attorney Jack McMahon refused to call him to the stand in the criminal trialsuggesting that Lambert killed Ernest.
Why The Cops Should Have Talked To Lambert
In the days following Kimberly's murder, police received hundreds of tips, including several pointing the finger at alleged suspects other than white punks Haak and Wise. The cops were told about blacks and Hispanics as well, and many tips focused on a group of male prostitutes who worked the general vicinity of 17th and Pine.
On Nov. 6, 1995, four days after Ernest was killed, homicide investigators were following up on a lead about a 36-year-old petty thief named Donald Moyer who was one of at least half a dozen people named by informants as a suspect in the Ernest homicide.
Ambrose and Len Wise say that what happened next is proof that the cops were looking for Lambert.
After interviewing a resident of 1708 Delancey Street about Moyer, police looked through the trash next door outside of 1706A Delancey, the basement apartment of John Salago Lambert. In the trash they found a Gold Touch jewelry receipt for $323 dated Nov. 3, 1995. The receipt was apparently signed by Lambert. The receipt also contained the name of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and an employee number.
Augustine says there was nothing nefarious about the discovery of the receipt; it was just part of the homicide division's copious search for clues.
Det. Maria DiBlasi visited the hotel and was told the employee number belonged to John Lambert, who used to work at the hotel but left. No reason for Lambert's departure was given.
At this point, police ran a computer check on Lambert.
A police activity sheet dated Nov. 6, 1995, states that "A check with Sex Crimes reveals that this male [Lambert] was never a suspect, nor an offender and has no prior record in Philadelphia."
Though it's not clear whether the activity sheet was referring to the absence of a prior sex-crimes record, Lambert did have a criminal record at the time.
In 1993, Lambert pled guilty to charges of burglary, theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property and was on probation for those crimes at the time of the Ernest murder, according to National Crime Information Center records. Lambert also had a criminal record in Montgomery County dating back to 1993 and had served time for nearly killing and permanently injuring a woman while driving drunk.
Ambrose is using the criminal records discrepancy as evidence that the cops intentionally looked the other way on Lambert.
What do the cops say about this discrepancy?
Not much officially.
The police department and the DA's office are refusing any comment about this case because of the pending litigation.
Det. Tom Augustine, who sat down for several lengthy interviews over the last two months and is the only one associated with the initial investigation to speak on the record, says it is possible that Lambert's criminal record may have failed to come up because of his alias, Jason Lynne.
The receipt and the ensuing flap weren't the only reasons to talk to Lambert, an interesting man in many ways.
Even if nobody knew his last name, denizens of the seedy underworld near Ernest's murder scene tended to count on and confide in John Lambert, according to those interviewed by the cops.
"I was on Delancey Street, at John's, because he had lots of money and lots of crack and he was being generous," a homeless man named Phillip William Paul told police on Nov. 8, 1995, when asked where he was in the hours before and after Ernest was killed. John "was turning me on to crack and I basically was taking all I could get. I hung out there most of the weekend."
By this time enough buzz had developed about the Donald Moyer investigation that someone began anonymously passing out photocopies of an internal police memo with Moyer's face and name in the neighborhood where Ernest was killed. Later, on Nov. 14, the cops would go out of their way to tell the Daily News that Moyer was never a suspect, a fact recently confirmed by his lawyer at the time, Richard Haaz. But on Nov. 8, 1995, they showed Paul a picture.
"That's Don," said Paul in his statement. "I know him for a few months. He was living with John."
Moyer, too, had an opinion about Lambert when asked by the cops.
"Check 1706 Delancey," Moyer told police. "It's owned by John he's a cook He's on probation in Montgomery County. Everyone goes there and they tell John about everything."
Should The Cops Have Suspected Lambert?
If John knows anything, the police don't know it.
They never asked him.
Ambrose and Stouffer say that there were plenty of reasons why they should have.
Augustine says that any questions about Lambert ended Nov. 29, when Haak and Wise confessed.
Other than John Lambert's status as a font of knowledge about the dark deeds of Delancey Street, the question remains. Should the cops have suspected Lambert in Kimberly Ernest's murder?
In his letter to Commissioner Timoney, Ambrose points to police records of a call from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) indicating that Kim and Lambert hung out in the same circles and that Kim might have been involved in a drug buy.
On Nov. 16, 1995, according to these records, ATF agent Darryl O'Connor "calls with info from a CI [confidential informant] who states he knows or can get the information on the 21st and Pine St. murder."
The police, says Ambrose, never followed up on that lead and never even called O'Connor to thank him.
"Right after the murder, in December of 1995 or January of 1996, a couple of confidential informants provided information to the effect that there were one or two merchants, or businessowners in the area of 17th and Pine, who saw Mr. Lambert either solely or with Ms. Ernest," Ambrose says. Agents from the ATF "interviewed these individuals and relayed that to the District Attorney's office. There was never a response to that information. That is very strange and queer. This was very reliable information. The ATF should at least get the courtesy of a response, which they never did receive."
Ambrose says his office "has subsequently verified with the confidential informants" that Lambert and Ernest were seen together. He won't release the informants' names.
Does the lack of response from police about O'Connor's tip concern the ATF as much as it concerns Ambrose?
"I don't think so," says Bob Graham, assistant special agent in charge of the Philadelphia office and O'Connor's boss. "This information [the statements from the confidential informants] was totally unrelated to what we do. He passed it on. It would not be unusual for [the police] not to call."
Graham says he is not pleased that his agency is caught in the middle of this tug-of-war between the city and Ambrose.
"The truth is that Darryl passed on this information. The story about what happened to it changes depending on who you talk to. I even called the Chief of Detectives' office. They claimed they followed it up. The person who is feeding you this says it was never followed up. He went digging."
In an internal City Hall e-mail obtained by City Paper, Deputy City Solicitor Jeffrey Scott, representing the city in the civil suit, said he "received information that a confidential informant has been providing information to an ATF agent regarding the identity of the 'real killer' and how the murder was accomplished. We believe that the confidential informant works for Mr. Haak's lawyer. We also believe the same confidential informant has contacted the news media."
O'Connor would not comment for the record about what he told the police, nor about what the police did with that information.
The Same Circles?
It's possible that, living within four blocks of each other, Ernest and Lambert might have crossed paths.
Lambert's street hustling associates are familiar figures in the neighborhood near such bars as Woody's, the Westbury (both gay bars) and Dirty Frank'splaces Kimberly visited, according to a co-worker at her law firm, Larrabee & Cunningham.
"She went to Woody's," Margaret Scheidts told police on Nov. 7, "the Westbury, I think she's been to Dirty Frank's. She went to Woody's a lot." According to Michelle Williamson, another of Kimberly's co-workers, she had recently made friends with two gay housemates who accompanied her to the bars (and to the last movie she ever saw, Seven, about a serial killer.)
When shown a picture of Lambert, regulars at Dirty Frank's said they had seen him at the bar and throughout the adjacent 13th Street neighborhood.
And police statements taken at the time of Ernest's death indicate two degrees of separation between Ernest and Lambert. Police found the phone number of a man named James Johnson in Kimberly's wallet; Johnson, a friend of a friend of Lambert, says he exchanged numbers with Kimberly at Bertucci's, where he worked.
Interesting. But inconclusive.
Were Ernest and Lambert drug world cohorts?
In his letter to Timoney, Ambrose suggests that Ernest knew Lambert through the drug world.
But Kimberly abhorred that whole scene, according to her mother, Dorothy. And three of her co-workers at Larrabee & Cunningham told police that Kim once dumped a boyfriend because he did cocaine.
Do these statements conflict with Ambrose's assertion that Ernest might have been involved with drugs?
"Mommy didn't always know what was going on," says Stouffer.
Where Was Lambert?
In his letter to Timoney, the first reason Ambrose gives for reopening the Ernest homicide investigation is that "John Salago Lambert fits, fairly accurately, the description of a suspect walking away near the scene of the crime on November 2, 1995 as described by two independent witnesses and subsequently reduced by them to a police sketch, which remarkably resembles our suspect."
City Paper's analysis of the evidence shows that Ambrose is right that the women did see someone near the crime scene and did assist police in making a sketch.
But the description they gave, of a "well-built, lean and muscular" 30-year-old white male "who looked like he took care of his body" hardly fits with the many portrayals of Lambert, including a March 1996 Philadelphia magazine story about Center City male hustlers that describes Lambert as "wasp-waisted," with "long, lank hair." The author of that story, Eric Konigsberg, remembers Lambert as being "really kind of skinny and not looking like he took care of himself."
More damaging to Ambrose's theory, City Paper has learned, is that Sharon Ridolfo and Christine DiGiacomo, the two women who saw a shirtless man in the rain, have signed sworn statements that they don't believe that person is Lambert. And Ridolfo repeatedly told Jack McMahonbefore the criminal trial even beganthat the man in the sketch was not Lambert.
McMahon, who was representing Richard Wise, and his investigators "were asking about who we saw," says Ridolfo. "They kept on showing us a picture of Lambert, asking us if it was him. We said no. I didn't understand why they kept on asking me. They kept bringing up the same picture. They even came to us at work."
"Mr. Lambert was not the guy," says DiGiacomo. "He doesn't even match the description, the statements we gave from the beginning. When we described what we saw, it did not look anything like him."
The women say they are angry that, despite their denials, Ambrose has repeated his claim that they saw Lambert.
Even more disturbing, say Ridolfo and DiGiacomo, is the extent to which Stephen Stouffer has tried to convince them to cooperate.
"Somebody called looking for my daughter," says Ridolfo's father, Robert. "He was supposedly a private eye, said he was an ex-FBI agent working for Kimberly Ernest's family. He lied up and down. This guy's a scumbag."
Ridolfo says her father was talking about Stouffer, who describes himself in a deposition as an ex-FBI agent.
"Stephen Stouffer didn't call me, he called my father," says Ridolfo. "Nobody has my home number. The man said he was working for Kimberly Ernest's mother, that she wants to reopen the case and it would be helpful, to catch the real killer, if you give Sharon the number. Cool, I thought, I was doing something good for this woman. Then he was almost harassing me on the phone.
"Right off the top, the private investigator lied about what I said," adds Ridolfo. "They say that Chris and I had said that this guy Lambert is the guy we saw. I got kind of scared. This didn't sound right."
Ridolfo says she then made some calls, found out that Stouffer was working for Ambrose and decided not to speak with him anymore.
That was about 15 months ago, she says.
Ambrose mentions nothing of it in his relentless pursuit of Lambert.
Stouffer denies harassing anybody, and says he has never told anyone he was acting on behalf of the Ernest family. "That must have been someone else," he says, although he acknowledges that he introduces himself as having worked for the FBI.
As for Lambert being the man seen by Ridolfo and DiGiacomo, Stouffer says they changed their stories.
"The description fits Lambert to a tee," says Stouffer. "He is very muscular. I seen him in prison. He does fit the description they gave police and he fits the composite."
The Augustine Accusation
In his effort to prove there was collusion to falsely convict Haak and Wise, Stouffer has been offering evidence showing that Tom Augustine is connected to the mob.
It is a dark photocopy of a picture taken by Daily News shooter George Reynolds on March 22, 1998. The photo, of a group of men standing outside the Monti Funeral Home on South Broad Street, accompanies a story about the funeral of reputed mafioso Anthony Turra.
On the margin of this photocopy handed out by Stouffer, the words "picture of detectives attending Turra funeral" are written in blue ink.
Also drawn in blue ink is an arrow pointing at the man furthest to the left, the one in glasses. Next to the arrow is written the name Tom Augustine.
The same Tom Augustine whom Ambrose accuses of beating Haak and Wise.
Ambrose and Stouffer say the picture proves their theory that the Ernest murder was covered up and that the cops and the mob were in cahoots. At first glance, the statement seems credible, considering that the man in the picture really does bear a striking resemblance to the bespectacled Det. Augustine, a big guy with a boyish face.
But upon closer examination, this part of the equation quickly unravels.
The man in the picture isn't Augustine.
The man with the arrow next to his head is, in reality, Anthony Garafalo, a freelance pallbearer who handles the coffins at many mob funerals.
The other Ambrose-purported detective is Frank Gatto, a mortuary science student who does work for the funeral home.
This much is learned with a quick trip to the funeral home, where funeral director Michael Rago, dapper in his pin-striped suit, laughs at the notion that anyone would claim that his workers are cops.
"It is very laughable," says Rago as he looks at the photocopy. "I don't know how anyone can come across saying anything like this."
Jack McMahon, who complained to the court that Augustine attacked him in a hallway during the criminal trial, agrees.
"There is no way Det. Augustine is associated with the mob," says McMahon. "That is ridiculous. I know we had our differences professionally in the courtroom. But that is just absurd. That is just desperation, if you ask me."
Ambrose maintains that his sources, whom he will not name, place Augustine at the Turra funeral.
Ambrose claims in his letter to Timoney that the Ernest family backs his efforts to find the real killer.
He told Timoney that Kimberly's aunt, Saundra Brewer, a Los Angeles County assistant district attorney, "has vigorously given her support to our efforts."
Five days after Ambrose sent his letter to Timoney, Brewer gave a sworn statement excoriating Ambrose.
She said that she had spoken with Ambrose and Stouffer, telling them she was surprised that the Philadelphia Police hadn't provided her with police reports.
But Ambrose's assertion that she was cooperating was totally false, Brewer stated.
"I was disturbed at a number of the 'factual recitals' which were attributed to me," Brewer said in her sworn statement. "Clearly the most disturbing was item #24. To characterize my assistance as 'vigorous support' to Ambrose's efforts to focus attention on a different possible perpetrator, is inaccurate and extremely misleading."
Brewer, who says she believes Haak and Wise killed her niece, states that she called Stouffer to complain.
Contacted about Brewer's comments, Stouffer said, "She didn't think Haak and Wise did it in the beginning. Someone turned her. She went back and forth. All these people went back and forth. She was very helpful, very, very nice. When the DA's office talked to her, she turned everything around."
(Brewer says Stouffer was not rude or harassing in his conversations with her. She also says she "got into a lot of trouble with the family" for talking to him.)
On July 9, 1998, Barbara Lambert, in reaction to the antics of Ambrose, wrote a statement about how Stephen Stouffer tried to convince her that her son was a serial killer who dispatched Ernest.
It started, she wrote, in February, 1998.
A man identifying himself as a friend of her son's first called her at her home in Portsmouth, RI, where she was with her daughter Alison, who was interviewing with colleges.
The caller, who later identified himself as Stephen Stouffer, said he "needed to speak to John about several of his friends, and a crime in which they might have been involved. He assured me, repeatedly, however, that John had absolutely nothing to do with the crime he was investigating."
Barbara Lambert says Stouffer changed his story considerably when she met with him on June 6, 1998, at Houlihan's in Abington.
"At the meeting, Mr. Stouffer informed me that he was a private investigator, hired to further investigate the Kimberly Ernest murder, since the people who had been initially arrested were acquitted. He inferred, initially, that he was doing this on behalf of the Ernest family. He further stated that he had previously worked for the FBI and the CIA "
Then, states Barbara Lambert, Stouffer dropped a bombshell on her.
"He then asked me if I was aware that John was in prison, under an alias, and that did I know that John was a suspect in Kimberly Ernest's murder and in fact could be responsible for at least six or seven murders over the past several years."
Stouffer, says Lambert, "then informed me that he had overwhelming evidence which proved that John was responsible for Kimberly Ernest's death."
He even provided a scenario, according to Barbara Lambert, telling her that "John probably did not intentionally kill her. That he and a friend encountered Kimberly Ernest early, in the morning, when they were returning from buying drugs.
"Initially, he told me that John knew Kimberly, from a local bar where they both hung out; and on that morning of the murder, John and Kimberly got into a shouting match, John pushed her, Kimberly fell into a stairwell, hitting her head."
As if to cushion the blow, Stouffer told Barbara Lambert that it was just an accident. Kimberly's death was not first degree murder.
"He reassured me that John did not intentionally set out to murder her, but was guilty of leaving the scene, and, thus, permitting her to die of her injuries."
Barbara Lambert says she was so stunned, she needed Stouffer's assistance to walk out to her car.
"Several more phone calls were received from Mr. Stouffer, over the next week, all continuing to insist that I obtain a confession from Johnfor the sake of the Ernest family," she states. "At the time of the third call, I informed Mr. Stouffer that I had absolute proof that John, in no way, could have committed the murder, and therefore, could not help him with his further investigation. I received no further calls from him after that."
Ambrose acknowledges that Stouffer told Barbara Lambert he had evidence her son killed Ernest.
"During the course of the interview, she made very surprising remarks to us, to the extent that she always wondered if her son was involved," says Ambrose.
Jay Lambert, John's father, has refused to allow his family to comment for this story and was unavailable to respond to what Ambrose is saying about his wife.
Barbara Lambert never expressed concern that her son was a possible murderer, says John Lambert's attorney, Jake Griffin. "It is part of the ongoing preposterous behavior of Fred Ambrose who is making a desperate attempt to salvage a federal case that is dying on the vine."
The Serial Theory
John Lambert, called a "prime suspect" by Haak's attorney.
Fred Ambrose, Stephen Stouffer and Len Wise have gone to great lengths to hint that Lambert was involved in at least six killings that took place between April 14 and Oct. 10, 1996.
Informational packets distributed by Ambrose to the media contain several articles linking an unnamed man to a series of crimes committed in the Kensington area between those dates.
The packets also contain a letter, typed by Len Wise, claiming that seven murder victimsincluding Kimberly Ernestwere killed by the same person"a white male, 6'2," long brown hair, 170 to 180 pounds, thin builthe is a heavy crack addict. His crack addiction is what puts him in the areas of homicide."
In this letter, Wise states that all seven victims were found or murdered in the early morning hours, found in drug areas, had reddish brown hair, were severely beaten and strangled, were sexually assaulted and had defensive wounds.
The flyer also states that this killer lived near Ernest when she was slain and moved to Kensington, where four of the other victims were killed.
In interviews, Wise and Stouffer say the suspect in those murders is John Lambert.
They base their assertions on independent research conducted by Wise and on the results of probing from a flotilla of private investigators called in to look at this case by Len Wise and Jack McMahon.
"Jack Miller believes it, Wayne Schmidt believes it, William Acosta believes it and Ed Geigert believes it," says Stouffer of the notion that Lambert is a serial killer.
When contacted, however, Acosta is the only investigator among the four who will confirm that he believes in the serial-killer theory.
Miller says he won't point the finger at Lambert. Schmidt says theories about Lambert being a serial killer "never came from my lips."
Geigert, who was at the heart of the investigation, died in April 1998.
And closer examination of the theory uncovers little more than coincidences, half-baked psychobabble and bags of evidencewhich may or may not have existed and may or may not have disappeared from a dead detective's files.
Of all the investigators mentioned by Stouffer, William Acosta, a former New York City policeman, goes the furthest out on the limb. After a two-day visit to Philadelphia, Acosta told Stouffer that the Ernest killing "was that of a serial killer, not the work of two people, because there are similarities in the cases that have been popping up around Philadelphia and the surrounding area" since Ernest was killed.
"He selects at random women fitting almost the same characteristics as this female," claims Acosta.
To bolster his argument, he says that whoever killed Ernest was sending a message that he hates authority by dumping her body off near a law office.
Acosta says he personally has no physical evidence of this theory. However, he says well-known gumshoe Geigert, Jack McMahon's primary investigator, collected piles of evidence from Lambert's Delancey Street apartment in the spring of 1996. (Lambert had since moved to Kensington.)
Jack Miller, a former Philadelphia police officer who was working as a PI with Geigert, also says that evidence was taken from the apartment.
"We took out three bags of stuff," says Miller, who claims to have been with Geigert and McMahon on that day. "There was clothing, bed linens that appeared to have blood and semen stains, ladies' undergarments, photos of John Lambert with different women, samples of what appeared to be long, dark brown human hair were taken. Letters were taken, hundreds of letters from one girl that he got while he was away in prison."
Miller, who acknowledges that there is little other than rumor, innuendo and coincidence linking Lambert to any of the crimes, says he does not know what happened to the evidence collected by the now-deceased Geigert.
"Your guess is as good as mine as to what happened to it," says Miller.
Adding to the mystery, McMahon says there never was any useful evidence collected from Lambert's apartment.
"I went into that location with Mr. Geigert," says McMahon. "We looked around. There was nothing of any evidentiary value. If there was something to that effect, we would have used it. But there was no such evidence that was helpful in any way, shape or form."
Stouffer says McMahon "is fucking lying about the evidence."
Miller says "McMahon is incorrect [about the evidence]. It's a straight-out lie."
Asked about the comments from Stouffer and Miller, McMahon denies lying, repeating his assertion that nothing of use was found in Lambert's apartment, which he visited with Geigert after Lambert moved out and workmen were repairing the apartment.
"This guy has to get a grip on life," says McMahon of Stouffer. "Why would I hide evidence that would have been helpful to my client? I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I'm not that stupid. If I have evidence, I am not going to sit on it. Nothing of the sort. He is living in Fantasy Land. Disneyland."
The DNA Question
Whatever evidence McMahon's investigators may or may not have uncovered, the argument that Lambert is a serial killer is moot if DNA evidence shows no link between Ernest and the other alleged victimsa point that both Miller and Len Wise acknowledge.
That DNA evidence appears to exist.
City Paper has learned that the Philadelphia Police DNA ID lab, at the behest of Tom Augustine, compared sperm found in murder/rape victims Ernest, Anjeanette Maldonado, Nina Borgesi and Tammy Pierce.
(They also tested the blood of convicted killer Arthur Bomar, found guilty of killing Aimee Willard. She is one of the seven women Wise alleges were murdered by one serial killer.)
The results, according to the lab's July 17 report, are that the DNA found on Ernest does not match DNA found in the sperm of the people who raped Maldonado and it is dissimilar to the DNA taken from the sperm found in Borgesi.
Meaning that whoever killed Ernest did not kill Maldonado and probably did not kill Borgesi, either.
No conclusions could be drawn from the seminal stain found on the sweatpants of Tammy Pierce because the tests could not determine any DNA, according to the report by Lewis Brenner and Brian P. Pfleegor, neither of whom can comment about this case according to department rules.
Noted forensics expert Henry Lee, examining a copy of that report provided to him by City Paper, says that, on the surface, it does not appear that Ernest, Maldonado or Borgesi are victims of the same killer.
Lee, however, cautions that there is not enough DNA evidence contained in the report "to make a conclusive judgment" because the report does not contain information about the women's DNA.
Ambrose says he was unaware of any DNA evidence collected in regard to the serial killer theory.
The handling of the serial killer aspect of the grand conspiracy theory raises additional questions.
In April 1997, Len Wise contacted the family of Nina Borgesi, showing up at a benefit dinner for Nina that he'd read about in a local paper.
"He said that his son was the wrong person in the Kimberly Ernest murder," says Frank Borgesi. "Mr. Wise showed up at the dinner with maps and an attaché case and he wanted to get up on stage and talk to the people at the dinner."
Wise was invited to have something to eat, Borgesi says, but was told he would not be allowed to make a presentation.
Borgesi says that about nine months later, in December 1997, "an investigator called me. Stouffer. He said he was an ex-police detective. Stouffer said Lambert definitely did this to Nina and that he was arrested time and time again, but because of who his father is, a big donator to Ed Rendell, he always got out of it."
Frank Borgesi said he never bought into Stouffer's story.
"We know who did it and it wasn't Lambert," Borgesi says.
Paulette Smith, mother of Anjie Maldonado, has a similar story to tell about a visit from Stouffer in February 1998.
"I am not sure how they found me," says Smith. "I had just moved and I am unlisted, but they came and gave me this religious spiel. They didn't want any money for what they were doing. They were doing this in the name of God. Mr. Stouffer said he was going to help find who killed my daughter. They had reason to believe it was related to the Kimberly Ernest case they were investigating. They wanted the autopsy results and everything."
Smith says she was ecstatic. At first.
"Someone was willing to take on my case," she says, "and there was a good chance of getting it solved. The more people, the better, you know?"
Smith's hope soon faded. She didn't hear from Stouffer for a couple of months. When he finally contacted her, Smith says she was suspicious.
"They were basically telling me bogus kinds of things," says Smith. "They said they found pictures in this guy's room, the guy they thought who did it, they mentioned him by name. They said it was a picture of my daughter, up in his room. It was one of 35 other girls up there. They wanted me to ID it."
Despite her reluctance, Smith checked it out.
"I had to go see it, because if there was any chance it was her "
She was greatly disappointed.
"It was a sleazy picture of a teenage girl in lingerie. It was hardly her, but they kept saying it was my daughter. It was a blonde. My daughter was never a blonde. Ever. I felt like I was being taken for a ride. I didn't need that."
Smith says that when she told Stouffer that the picture was not her daughter, he acted like he was shocked.
That was the last she'd heard of him until September, when Stouffer said he wanted to introduce the lawyer he was working for, that they were not actually investigating her daughter's case, but that they were looking for Lambert. They said that if they found anything, they would let her know.
"The whole time," she says, "they kept showing me pictures of Lambert, asking me if I recognized him, that he lived in the neighborhood. Basically, they were wasting my time, leading me on. They are a nuisance I don't need right now." Ambrose denies that Stouffer claimed Lambert was a serial killer.
"We never had any concrete proof that all of these killings are related," says Ambrose. "We may have said we suspected it, and we are investigating it. How [Frank Borgesi and Paulette Smith] synthesize things, I can't account for."
A Journalist Threatened
Ambrose and Stouffer have been a nuisance, too, to Thom Nickels.
Nickels lives across the street from where Ernest's body was dumped. A freelance journalist, Nickels wrote a piece about Ambrose's theorythat Lambert killed Ernestfor Au Courant, one of the city's two gay weeklies. Nickels says that because Lambert was not charged with the Ernest killing, he didn't name Lambert, instead using the name "John Doe."
Appearing in the August 11-17, 1998 issue, the story quotes Ambrose as being certain that "John Doe" killed Ernest.
"I'm convinced that [John Doe] is the killer and that he did this crime," Ambrose told Nickels in the Au Courant story. "We basically proved that [John Doe] is the killer and that he did this crime. We basically proved that [Doe] did commit this crime and right now we're trying to gather evidence that will be admissible in municipal court."
Ambrose also told Nickels that Saundra Brewer, Kim's aunt, was cooperating with the Ambrose team.
A few paragraphs later, Nickels' Au Courant story takes a very strange turn.
Ambrose said he had evidence that a friend of this John Doe, after Ernest was killed, glanced up and noticed people in a nearby apartment looking down at him.
One of those people was Nickels, who wrote that he saw "nothing but leaves" outside his window.
Since that story came out, Nickels has filed a complaint with the District Attorney's office that two investigators for Fred AmbroseStephen Stouffer and Skip Thomastried to intimidate him into saying that he did see something out his window on the morning Ernest was killed.
Nickels says his first contact with Stouffer came because he had given a statement to police the morning Ernest was killed and later wrote an opinion piece for the Daily News about the killing. Stouffer was looking for information and was initially quite polite, Nickels says.
Nickels told Stouffer that John Lambert "was somebody my lover had coffee with and invited up to the apartment. He was somebody we both knew."
Ambrose's investigators, says Nickels, continued to call seeking further information. Nickels says he complied.
Then, in the summer of 1998, Nickels says he decided to write a story about Ambrose's theories on the Ernest killing for Au Courant.
Shortly after that story appeared, Nickels' relationship with Ambrose and his team took a turn for the worse, when Nickels says he was called into Ambrose's Bala Cynwyd office to answer some questions.
"This is when they accused me of withholding evidence," Nickels says. "They claimed reliable, unnamed sources saw me talking with Lambert the morning of the murder. I was really outraged by this. That ended the relationship. My integrity as a journalist and a writer were being threatened."
It didn't end there.
In September, Nickels says he was dropped off at his house by his lover only to find Stephen Stouffer waiting. Stouffer, he says, offered to carry his bags upstairs. He profusely apologized for Ambrose's behavior.
In early November, Stouffer appeared at Nickels' apartment again. With a much different attitude.
"Skip Thomas and Stephen Stouffer came running up my stairs and said they had to talk to me," says Nickels. "They just stormed in, looking very desperate. They came in as if they owned the place. They told me that they believed I was withholding information. Stephen Stouffer asked me if I hung out with Kimberly Ernest at the Westbury. The inference was that I was lying and that I knew Ernest. Skip just said he wishes he could believe me."
The conversation, says Nickels, was heated. "Loud enough so that my neighbors could hear."
Nickels says the investigators left after he refused their request to take a polygraph. Then he contacted the DA to file a complaint.
Nickels says that Ambrose and Stouffer changed his mind about the Kimberly Ernest murder.
"In the soul of my soul, I really believed that Lambert did it," says Nickels. "Now, I don't put much faith into the story that Ambrose puts out. If only because of what was done to me."
Stouffer has denied harassing Nickels, saying that Nickels is the one not telling the truth. Thomas has been unavailable for comment.
Ambrose says he has "reliable evidence from other investigators who have been looking into this case that Mr. Nickels saw more than he is telling us."
Nickels "should file a complaint against me," says Ambrose. "I am the one who interrogated him" about allegations that Nickels is withholding information.
A Waiting Game
Sam Malat, Len Wise's attorney, does not share a zeal to publicly taint Lambert. He does, however, say "there is more than enough probable cause to obtain DNA samples from Lambert."
The police and the DA's office have refused to order Lambert to take a test. And Lambert has refused to volunteer any DNA material. So far.
Lambert's attorney, John Griffin, will not comment on whether Lambert-who was jailed last month for a parole violation-will take a DNAtest.
That DNA material, says Malat, is the motivation behind the actions of Ambrose and Stouffer.
Ambrose, says Malat, wants to be sued so that he can then compel John Lambert to provide DNA evidence under the rules of civil discovery.
"That's why Fred is saying that Lambert is the killer and I haven't," says Malat. "He has more balls than I do."
How a crack-smoking male prostitute named Billy Liberatore sparked a chase for the truth about who killed Kimberly Ernest.