Operator of D.C. Call-Girl Ring Is Dead in Apparent Suicide

Posted at 3:44 p.m. ETPolice in Tarpon Springs, Fl. held a news conference Thursday confirming that 'D.C. Madam' Deborah Jeane Palfrey appears to have committed suicide by hanging.Video by MSNBC
By Paul Duggan and Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 2, 2008; 2:20 PM

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla., May 2 -- Deborah Jeane Palfrey, facing a likely prison term of four to six years for running a Washington area call-girl ring, apparently hanged herself Thursday in a storage shed behind her mother's mobile home in this small Gulf Coast city, authorities said.

Dubbed "the D.C. Madam" after a grand jury in Washington indicted her 14 months ago on prostitution-related racketeering charges, Palfrey, 52, was found by her 76-year-old mother, Blanche Palfrey, with whom she had been staying recently.

In tapes of her 911 call released Friday morning by Pinellas County authorities, a distraught Blanche Palfrey begged for help after finding her daughter.

As the operator asked for her location and phone number, Blanche Palfrey, in a sobbing, heaving voice, repeatedly said, "Oh my God." Asked if her daughter was still hanging, she replied, "Yes. I can't move her. I'm 76 years old."

Deborah Palfrey was scheduled for an autopsy Friday morning at the Pinellas-Pasco County Medical Examiner's Office, according to Tarpon Spring Police Capt. Jeffrey P. Young, who said several detectives were planning to attend.

Palfrey repeatedly told journalist Dan Moldea last year that she would rather die than live behind bars, Moldea said.

He said Palfrey -- who was incarcerated for 18 months in California in the early 1990s after being convicted of running a prostitution ring -- told him on three occasions: "I'm not going back to jail. I'll kill myself first. I'll commit suicide first."

"Those were her exact words," said Moldea, who interviewed Palfrey last spring and summer for a possible book.

After a weeklong trial in U.S. District Court in Washington that included graphic testimony by 13 former call girls, Palfrey was convicted April 15 of financial racketeering, money laundering and using the mail for illegal purposes. Allowed to remain free while awaiting her July 24 sentencing, Palfrey went to Tarpon Springs to stay with her widowed mother.

Palfrey's death brought an odd legal twist Friday: Officials said the jury's guilty verdict will be thrown out now that she's dead.

It is standard practice for authorities to file an "abatement of prosecution" motion with a court if a defendant dies before the end of a criminal proceeding. Palfrey's case had not ended because her sentencing was pending and she had filed a notice that she planned to appeal her conviction.

Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said prosecutors will begin the process of vacating Palfrey's conviction when they receive documentation of her death from officials in Florida.

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