• Code Amber Ticker

    A Stock Market Murder

    October 19, 1987. The stock market crashes killing the money mad 80's in a single afternoon. Four days later, Diane Pikel, beautiful, glamorous, and rich is on her way to her summer home and another argument with her estranged husband, Joe. Before the week is out, her body will be found 250 miles away at the bottom of a drainage ditch along the New York State thruway. Who had killed her? The answer would send a chill from lower Manhattan all the way out to Long Island's trendy beach community.. The Hampton's.

    Joe and Diane Pikel were a New York power couple. A high flying money manager and his glamorous wife. They seemed to have it all, but their lavish lifestyle masked a tale of perversion and madness. New York city is the capital of money, fashion, glamour, and success. People come from all over the world to try to make it in New York. Some dream of making it big on wall street. Others just want to be accepted by the in crowd, the artists, the socialites, the rich, and the powerful.

    Joe Pikel was a poor kid from Massachusetts dreamed of it all. Joe grew up in the Polish working class neighborhood of Ware. His father, a weaver at a local mill, drank heavily and had a violent temper. He left scars on Joe and not all of them could be seen with the naked eye. Many of the scars he left were emotional. Joe would tell people that he suffered a very abusive childhood and that his Father beat him so badly that he once broke his jaw. Despite the abuse. Joe excelled in school, learning at an early age to conceal his innermost feelings. He ultimately attended a five year program at Northeastern University where he graduated Magna Cum Lauda.

    At Northeastern University Joe met and married Sandy Jarmadin, a sweet and submissive girl. Joe was dominant, confident and in Sandy's eyes charismatic. In 1960 the couple moved to New York city where Joe went to work as a money manager on Wall Street. It was the beginning of the 60's stock boom and Joe was in the right place at the right time. The hours were brutal and the hours intense but his hard work paid off. By the end of the decade he was a multi millionaire. He often traveled to Europe by Concorde SST to check out stocks first hand and was celebrated in the financial press for his business savvy.

    But what made for success in business caused pain at home. Joe bullied and abused Sandy and often drank to excess. He once hit her on the head with a statue and she fell down a flight of stair 70's Joe was caught up in a dangerous downward spiral. He and Sandy divorced. He was also over extended financially and his coworkers complained that he was often drunk and disorderly at the office. On day when a limousine driver came to pick him up from work, he accused the limo driver pf having an affair with Sandy. When the driver denied it, Joe pulled out a gun and pistol whipped him.

    There is no question that Joe Pikel had an extremely volatile temper. The limo driver is just one of many where Joe would simply snap without provocation. With his divorce from Sandy, his financial woes, and his drinking problems, Joe clearly needed help. In April of 1976 he entered Alcoholics Anonymous near his apartment in the West Village on Perry Street. At the meetings Joe found himself surrounded by artists, writers and intellectuals. One of them was a beautiful but troubled young writer named Diane Whitmore.

    Diane grew up in a wealth Indiana family. She was an only child who dreamed of life in the big city, complete with all the writing, art, and lavish parties one could stand. She was a fascinating woman and hilariously funny. She was gracious, interesting and intelligent. In 1965 Diane graduated from Mt. Holioke, an exclusive women's college. She set her sights on New York's famous Grenwich Village, with an ambition to become a writer and to get rich. She was also interested in Bohemian poetry and liked violence and was quite frank about the latter. She spent the next ten years experimenting with drugs and exploring the theories of volatile relationships.

    One of the things that drew Diane to men who were not good for her was that age old quest of her thinking she could change the man in her life. Never successful, she went from one bad relationship to another. After a decade of trying to find herself in New york, Diane was divorced, drug dependant and an alcoholic. She desperately needed a change in her life and hoped to find that change in AA, the Perry Street AA to be exact. That is where she ran into Joe Pikel. Joe clearly had a dark side and Diane was attracted to men with a dark side plus the fact that she wanted to be a rich mans wife and Joe was rich.

    Just a few months into their relationship Diane became pregnant. Two months later on July 14th 1978 Diane and Joe were married. When Joe and Diane walked down the aisle they thought they were walking into a fresh new beginning. But their marriage would not only turn out to be a big mistake but a deadly one as well.

    By the early 1980's Joe Pikel's fortunes were on the rise again. Diane stayed at home caring for their daughter, Claudia, and infant son, Blake while Joe worked. Joe adored the children flat out. The family moved into an historic apartment in Grenwich Village. They wore designer clothes and had around the clock babysitters. They also owned an expensive house in the Hampton's. The Hampton's had long been the domain of old money and potato farmers. But new money always wants to be where old money is. By the 80's the Hampton's were an irresistible draw for folks like Joe and Diane Pikel.

    With its oceanfront property and trendy scene, the Hampton's was a favorite getaway for the rich and famous like Calvin Klein. Paul Simon, and Cristy Brinkley. The Pikel's Amagansett was at the edge of this rarefied world. It was an upper middle class affluent life where kids went to private school. Diane had a decorator for her Village apartment and her Amagansett house. She was living the high life she had always wanted. Diane and the children spent summers in the Hampton's. Joe stayed in New York during the week and took limos out to Amagansett on the weekends. To an outsider it looked like the Pikels had the perfect life.

    But the joyride would soon come to an end. Joe's dark side, his volatile temper, and his sense of superiority would soon reveal itself. Joe truly felt above the rules of society. He was a truly headstrong individual and conducted himself in every was as the master of the universe. As with his first wife Sandy, Joe wanted to control every aspect of Diane's life. But Diane was not like Sandy and she was always looking to bring the worst out in Joe as he was looking to do the same to her. It is hard for a woman to win in a relationship like that but she was not a doormat. He would start a fight with Sandy and she would throw the ball right back at him as their fights escalated.

    Joe's most viscous tirades were almost always about the way he thought Diane was raising the children. He felt Diane was spending too much time away from the home and used babysitters way too much. In short he thought she was an inattentive Mother. By early 1987 after nearly 10 years of marriage, it seemed Diane could do nothing right in Joe's eyes. The couple rarely shared a bed and Diane began to suspect that Joe was having an affair with another woman. But she was about to uncover a far more disturbing secret about Joe Pikel.

    While searching through the attic in their Grenwich Village apartment one day, Diane made a shocking discovery. She found suitcases filled with women's lingerie some of which was her own. She also found video tapes and photographs of Joe dressed in drag. It appears Joe is leading a double life one as a wall street genius and the other as a cross dresser. Diane was disgusted and profoundly disturbed. She confronts Joe with her knowledge of his cross dressing. She then makes a desperate call to New York's top divorce attorney, Raoul Felder.

    Raoul thinks Joe is living a triple life. On as a wall street genius, one as a cross dresser, and another as a home body where he abused Diane. Raoul advises her to get a protective order and kick Joe out but Diane knew that if she kicked Joe out he'd take his money with him and she would be left out in the cold and she wasn't ready for that, not yet at least. She gave Joe's video tapes and photographs to him and began to plan for a life without Joe. The last words Raoul ever heard Diane say was "Don't worry, I can handle it". Armed with the video tapes, the photographs, and New York's top divorce attorney, Diane appeared to hold all the cards. But what she didn't know was that the
    deck was stacked against her.

    While Diane tried to keep the marriage together, Joe was secretly recording their arguments and hired private detectives to spy on her. It didn't take long for Diane to catch on to Joe's tricks however. Meanwhile Joe was becoming even more eccentric. He rented a secret apartment in Battery Park city and filled it with women's clothing and lingerie. One night he blind folded the children and led them there warning them not to tell Mommy about Daddy's secret. This set off immediate alarm bells to Raoul and he advised Diane to get an order of protection and kick Joe out. Diane was frightened but equally determined not to leave Joe until she was sure she could make it on her own. She took a job as an assistant at Harper's Magazine.

    At Harper's she was seen as a wonderful glamorous person while at home she was being abused with startling regularity. Work was an escape for her. Diane also enrolled in a creative class and began writing short stories. She desperately wanted to improve her self worth and felt that for far too long her only purpose in life was to serve Joe. Seeing Diane beginning to live a life outside his own orbit made Joe even angrier. He absolutely detested her working and wanted her home on call 24 hours a day.

    Just when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse, on Monday, October 19th 1987, the stock market crashed. It was the biggest single day point drop since the great depression. Now not only has Joe's personal life imploded but his professional life has as well. Three days later, Joe met with his ex wife Sandy at the World Trade Center's Windows of the world restaurant. He asked her to become the legal guardian of his children if anything should happen to him of if Diane should have "an accident". At the same time, Diane was making plans to leave Joe and take the children with her.

    She was doing everything she could to get out. She had been looking at apartments, had money put away, had bags at friends houses, and was generally doing everything right when a person is in that kind of situation. Joe and Diane both knew their marriage was broken beyond repair. So that Friday they drove to Amagansett in separate cars with a plan to divvy up their belongings before putting their summer house up for sale. That afternoon one of her best friends calls her up to confirm her plans for dinner that night. She asks Diane if their plans for dinner are still on and Diane responds with "No, she was going out to Amagansett so she and Joe can divide up property".

    Clearly she should not have gone but Diane was feisty if not confident. Maybe overly so. In a movie, this is where you shout out "Don't go in that room!". But it wasn't a movie and no one would be able to save Diane Pikel. After Joe and the children got to the house in Amagansett, Joe put the kids to bed. When she finally pulled into the driveway at 1:00 AM, Joe was waiting. The next morning when the children asked where their Mother was Joe explained that Mommy and Daddy had fought and Mommy had disappeared. He told them that they were going on a road trip upstate and rushed them into the front of the family station wagon. In the back of the car was a large and mysterious bundle.

    Joe's first stop was the Amagansett hardware store. He bought some rope, a wheelbarrow, tarps, trash bags, cleaning supplies, and a shovel. Afterwards Joe paid the nearly $400 bill and when asked if he wanted help loading any of his purchases he adamantly refused. He then went next door to buy 12 bags of ice all the while refusing to let anyone near the station wagon. With the car fully loaded, Joe and the children headed upstate. On the way, Joe called an old college friend, who he hasn't seen in over a decade, to ask him if he could do him a favor. He wants his friend to watch his kids for the weekend. After driving 150 miles north to drop off his kids, Joe drives another 200 miles to his ex wife Sandy's house near Boston.

    When he finally arrives at four in the morning, Joe, acting crazy and desperate told Sandy he had something to bury. At first she thinks he is talking about some sort of financial transaction he is talking about but the he says no, I really want to bury something in your back yard. As the conversation it becomes clear to Sandy that Joe is talking about burying Diane's body. Joe admitted to Sandy that he had killed Diane and that her body was in the back of the car. When Sandy refuses to help him he headed back to Manhattan.

    Joe Pikel had now spun completely out of control. This is a man who was once touted as a wall street whiz kid and is now asking his first wife if he can bury his second wife in her backyard. 48 hours after he killed his wife Joe Pikel awakened in his Grenwich Village apartment. Joe's children were still upstate with his college friend and his wife's body was still in his car parked on a side street just around the corner. He called his children's school to report that they would be absent then he got into his car for the two hour drive to go upstate to pick them up but first he had to dispose of their Mother's body.

    As he approached the Newberg exit there is a pull off on the road and he must have realized that this would be his last chance to dump Diane's body. He pulled off and looked down in a drainage ditch and probably thought to himself I have to get rid of this body. Joe was now only a few miles away from picking up his children when he pulled Diane's body from the car and dragged it 30 feet into the drainage ditch. Everyone wonders to this day why such a smart man professionally would dump her body where it could be so easily found. After picking up his children, he drove to the Stewart auto wash in Newberg New York. According to the attendants there he looked as if he had been days without sleep, his hair was a mess and his cloths were all wrinkled.

    Joe ordered the $9 super wash and was especially concerned that the back of his car be cleaned thoroughly saying that he would pay whatever it took. While his car was being cleaned, Joe told anyone who would listen about the fight with his wife and how she had left him and that he had found a condom under their bed that didn't belong to him. He said that he just had to get away and took the kids for a trip upstate. When Joe and the kids finally left nearly three hours later, workers at the car wash checked the dumpster where Joe had thrown a number of items away. They found a knife and a lot of women's clothing and hi heel shoes all in very large sizes most too big to fit any normal sized woman.

    They thought the situation was strange enough to notify the local police who responded to the car wash at once. They found a picture of his children Joe had thrown away as well as men's size 11 women's shoes. It had now been two days since anyone had heard from Diane Pikel, and her friends suspected the worst. At ten AM, Bill Glynn of the New York city police department received a phone call from one of Diane's coworkers from Harper's magazine where she worked. Her concern was that Dianne was being held captive at her summer home in Amagansett. But not long afterwards Detective Glynn got a call from Joe Pikel playing the role of concerned husband claiming that he had an argument with his wife and she has taken off and he doesn't know where she is.

    He claimed the fight was over the fact that he had found a condom under the bed that didn't belong to him. So he confronted his wife about it and they had a verbal altercation and she had walked out. Joe promised to call Glynn if Diane didn't show up by nightfall. The police decided to set a trap for Joe. Joe got a call from someone from a car wash in Newberg claiming to have found some of Joe's credit cards in a dumpster there. The caller who identified himself as John Clancy was actually Newberg Detective John Smith. The police of course were hoping Joe would take the bait and come to Newberg to pick the cards up.

    Instead, Joe sent his driver to pick up the credit cards in Newberg. So much for cop tricks. But when the driver arrived there was no John Clancy waiting. By this time the Newberg police had traced the credit card address to a Grenwich village address. They immediately alerted the NYPD. Around midnight Detective Glynn headed over to Joe's apartment to take a missing person's report from him. Detective Glynn asks Pikel if he is at all concerned that he hasn't seen his wife in 24 hours and Joe replies no, she has done this before and that she will show up eventually.

    The next day the New York State police search Joe and Diane's home in the Hampton's. Next to the residence is a cemetery and their first thought was that she could be buried there, But after checking it out that possibility is ruled out. Strangely enough the cops do find a condom under the bed just as Joe had said. The next day the NYPD gets a call from maintenance workers on the New York State through way that a body has been found. it didn't take the police long to identify the body as that of Diane Pikel. An autopsy reveals that she has been severely beaten and the strangled to death.

    When police go to question Joe at his home he was gone. Not only that but they soon found out that his money was gone too. Finally on Thursday, October 29th five days after Diane's disappearance, Joe Pikel was arrested at his lawyers office in Manhattan and taken downtown for questioning. The detective who was driving Joe said all he could talk about was how nasty Diane was and how she had boyfriends all over the place. To keep him talking the Detective took him to the morgue to view the body (another cop trick but this time it works). The detective was trying to gauge Joe's reaction but he got none. Joe looked at the body and said "that's her".

    Joe was then asked to undress so police could check for marks on his body. Pikel violently objected. The detective informs Joe that either he strip or they are going to do it for him. When he finally disrobes it is obvious why he objected. He is wearing a woman's bra, panties, and pantyhose under his clothes. When the detective notices cuts and scratches on Joe's body, he is ready with an explanation. He claims he got the cuts and scratches playing with the kids. By now it was late and Joe was tired. At half past midnight the detective asks his final question:"How did you do it?" and Joe puts his hands together as if making a choking motion so the detective asks "you choked her?" and Joe shook his head up and down in the affirmative.

    Now six days after strangling his wife Joe Pikel, millionaire stock broker, is officially charged with murder. Bail was set at $350,000. It is now January 1989. Diane Pikel had been dead for/ more than a year. Although her husband Joe admitted he strangled her he claimed it was in self defense. To handle his defense, Pikel hire high priced New York Defense attorneys Steven Worth and Ron Beckoff. This trial was going to be a very interesting trial indeed. It was Joe's word and his money, against the State's evidence. And to make matters more bizarre, Joe had remarried against his lawyer's advice. His new wife was a Manhattan fashion designer named Mary Bain. But it was absolutely mind boggling how any woman could become involved so quickly with a man accused of killing his wife.

    Because the body was found in upstate New York the trial was to be held in Goshen, a sleepy little town two hours north of Manhattan. The location put Joe's big city legal team at a disadvantage. On January 26 1989, the trial got started. Joe's lawyers would go out of their way to appease the small town Jury but they couldn't control Joe's new wife Mary. She insisted on wearing her mink coat to trial everyday despite the lawyers advice against it. Before the trial even began, Joe's high priced attorneys requested several meeting with the judge to keep damaging testimony out of court.

    First and foremost the Jury would never hear about Joe's cross dressing fetish. But the prosecution wasn't worried. They had plenty of evidence to build their case. In their opening statement the prosecution took the Jury back to the early morning hours of October 24th 1987 starting when Diane arrived at the couples home in the Hampton's. On the witness stand the detective who interviewed Joe told of how Pikel had confessed in so many word or gestures. Prosecutors then showed evidence where Joe put Diane's car in the back of his car and took her to Little Albert's Landing a nearby beach where he tried to bury her but couldn't. Frustrated, he left her there overnight.

    They claimed he came back the next morning, wrapped his dead wife in canvas, put his body in the back of the station wagon and drove her and the children upstate. Methodically the prosecution presented the rest of their evidence including the beating Diane suffered before being strangled, her belongings being found at the bottom of a car wash dumpster and her being dumped in a drainage ditch along side the New York State through way. The prosecution was confident they had an airtight case.

    But throughout the trial Joe seems strangely unconcerned. The prosecution couldn't help but to wonder the next day what his lawyers had up their sleeves. They would soon find out. The defense planned to call Joe himself to the stand to testify on his own behalf. In a murder trial putting the defendant on the stand is a risky move because of cross examination. Putting Joe pike on the stand would be riskier than anyone imagined. if Joe faltered he was a dead duck. But they had been rehearsing him for weeks and they were confident he could pull it off.

    But on the morning Joe Pikel was scheduled to take the stand he didn't show up. He finally staggers into the courtroom at 9:55 AM with Mary. She says he is drunk he is drunk. The defense scrambled to try to get the trial adjourned for the day, But the Judge refuses, tells Joe to have a cup of coffee and get on the stand in an hour. So just before noon Joe Pikel gets on the witness stand. He says that Diane was a bitch who deserved to die and he didn't want her around his children and that she had tried to kill him. To back up there story the defense showed photos of the cut on Joe's side saying that she had attacked him with a knife. This was the same cut that Joe told police he had gotten while playing with his kids.

    The very next day the Jury announced they had reached a verdict. His own testimony sank him. He was found guilty but that isn't the end of the story. He then tells his attorneys he is sorry that he messed up and he shouldn't have drank. A few days later his wife brings his attorneys an audio tape of an arguing with Joe in which she tells Joe she is going to stab Joe with a kitchen knife and she doesn't care who knows it. Based on this new information Ron Beckoff plans to appeal Joe's conviction.

    But he never gets the chance. On June 2nd 1989, Joe collapsed in his jail cell, dead. Joe pikel had died from complications from aids. Ironically, his death enables his wife to clear his name. In New York state, if a dependant dies before you are sentenced the conviction is vacated. After a funeral at St. Joseph's church in Grenwich Village, Joe was buried in an unmarked grave next to his summer house in Amagansett. Six months later his conviction was officially erased from his record. In the eyes of the law Joe was an innocent man. As far as New York state is concerned, he died with a spotless record. But Joe Pikel is not an innocent man. He brutally murdered the Mother of his children. Perhaps somewhere he is paying for his crime.

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