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Cops: 'Bagel King' Fled
Trauma An aimless journey after friend's slaying
By Carolyn Colwell and Kinsey Wilson
September 30, 1988
The mysterious two-week disappearance of Suffolk County, L.I., "bagel king" Jerry Steuerman was described by law enforcement authorities yesterday as an anguished odyssey that took him to a succession of exclusive hotels, from Atlantic City to San Francisco to Big Sur.
Traveling under the alias Jay Winston - a name inspired by the limousine service that took him from Atlantic City to Newark Airport for his trip to the west coast - Steuerman moved with seemingly little purpose from one city to another, always paying his bills in cash.
When Suffolk County law enforcement officials caught up with him in a southern California motel Wednesday - he was traced with the help of airline records - Steuerman, 48, said he had staged his disappearance to escape emotional pressures that culminated with the brutal assault of his business partner, Seymour Tankleff, and the murder of Tankleff's wife, Arlene, in their Belle Terre, L.I., home.
Although the search for Steuerman was handled by the Suffolk County Police Department's homicide bureau, authorities insisted there was "absolutely no connection" between Steuerman's disappearance and the Tankleff case.
"He's just a missing person," said Det. Sgt. Robert Doyle, who was staying at Steuerman's Redondo Beach, Calif., motel yesterday with Det. James McCready of Suffolk homicide and Edward Jablonski, chief of the district attorney's homicide bureau. "He's not wanted for any crime." Doyle said Steuerman had agreed to return to Long Island voluntarily, but the timetable was unclear.
The Tankleff's 17-year-old son, Martin, has been charged in the attacks on his parents, which took place in the early morning hours of Sept. 7 at the family home, just hours after a weekly poker game Steuerman and others attended.
Martin Tankleff's lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, yesterday rejected the authorities' contention that there was no connection between Steuerman's disappearance and the Tankleff case.
"It's clear that they were concerned enough about Mr. Steuerman and his disappearance that they sent the chief of the homicide bureau out there to question him," he said. "Obviously they see the connection and that is why they rushed out there."
Gottlieb added that he wanted to see any statements Steuerman had given police. He said Martin Tankleff was expected to be released on $500,000 cash bail or $1 million bond today.
Steuerman's two-week journey took him to Los Angeles, Big Sur, San Francisco and Marina Del Ray, before authorities caught up with him in Redondo Beach.
Steuerman traveled in style, Doyle said, staying in exclusive hotels and paying his bills in cash. He never once contacted family members or friends on Long Island.
When they finally tracked him down, Steuerman, a widower, told them he had left behind life insurance policies worth $2 million payable to his children and his girlfriend. Only after he had fled, Steuerman said in an interview Wednesday, did he realize they wouldn't be able to collect on the policy of a missing person.
Doyle also said that Steuerman's claim that he had been threatened in the wake of the Tankleff murder was apparently concocted as part of his disappearance.
Business associates and law enforcement authorities yesterday said Steuerman and Seymour Tankleff had been business partners for the past several years, sharing a stake in two of Steuerman's bagel outlets and joint ownership of two race horses.
Robert Horowitz, who was Tankleff's insurance partner for seven years, said Steuerman and Tankleff met through the North Shore Jewish Center about 10 years ago.
When Tankleff retired from the insurance business in 1985, he began bankrolling some of Steuerman's ventures.
"Jerry had the knowledge and Seymour had the money," Horowitz said. "Basically, Jerry built up an empire and Seymour financed it."
Their financial ventures included two race horses - Ali Kahn and Precious Cammi - that served as a both a tax shelter and a hobby.
Doyle said that while Steuerman owed Tankleff money, he was not in any serious financial straits at the time of his disappearance.
Tankleff is listed as the beneficiary on a $500,000 insurance policy he took out on Steuerman, Doyle said, but Steuerman had no policy on Tankleff.