Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jesse James Hollywood

Feuding Friends

Ben Markowitz
Ben Markowitz

This is the twisted tale of how a group of middle-class friends in Southern California fell under the spell of a charismatic and disturbed leader with the improbable name Jesse James Hollywood. The young men's actions would lead to the murder of a child, Nick Markowitz, leave a community reeling from grief and shock, and spawn a four-year international manhunt.

Hollywood, 20, and Ben Markowitz, 22, had once been good friends. They grew up together, playing in the same junior baseball league as kids and working out together in the same Malibu gym as young men.

But on that hot August day, they were sworn enemies.

Ben had been part of a network of friends that Hollywood used to sell dope on consignment, but the older Markowitz boy had recently cleaned up his act. He'd moved back into his dad's house, got a job as a machinist in the family aerospace business, and was engaged to be married, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Jesse James Hollywood
Jesse James Hollywood

But Ben's decision to fly straight didn't erase the $1,200 debt he owed Hollywood for "merchandise." Nor did it assuage Hollywood's anger that his former friend had foiled an insurance-fraud scam he was working: Hollywood reported one of his cars missing in an attempt to collect $36,000 for it, but Ben had alerted authorities to the scheme.

The two men carried on a months-long feud punctuated by threatening voice mails. Hollywood went to the restaurant where Ben's girlfriend worked as a waitress and stiffed her on a bill. In return, Ben drove to Hollywood's house and smashed a window.

On August 6, the hostilities took a sharp turn when Hollywood and his crew were driving around in another futile attempt to find Ben — who had gone into hiding — and spotted his little brother.

A few minutes earlier, Nick had turned down a ride from his uncle and cousin — who lived a few doors down from his house — as they returned from the gym. He waved them on, perhaps wanting to delay the difficult talk with his parents.

Then the white van came to a squealing stop beside the startled youngster, and four young men jumped out.

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