Profile of a Puzzling Life
Slain McLean Man a Mystery to Many
By Michael D. Shear and Josh White
His body was found along with those of his wife and teenage son in their McLean house just before the Memorial Day weekend after what detectives described to relatives as execution-style slayings -- exactly two bullets to each chest, no gun found at the scene.
During his 27 years in Northern Virginia, Taima, 63, was an international consultant, a dealmaker, a TV pundit. He was born to wealthy parents in Iraq and boasted that a family house became the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. He made frequent trips back home.
In a prime spot in his split-level on Broyhill Street, Taima hung a photograph of himself with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The license plate on his white Oldsmobile read "IRQ1."
Yet many friends and business associates say the exact nature of Taima's affairs remains obscure.
He dressed in sharp, expensive clothes, yet his wife complained about holding three jobs to pay for their modest home and low-end American cars. He portrayed himself as a doting parent and husband, yet reportedly was alienated from his wife and went for years without seeing five children from a first marriage. He claimed to be a high-stakes power broker, yet spent the last six years desperately looking for business and depressed by failure.
"No one ever knew, really, what he did," said Neal Sher, a family friend in McLean. "That was always the subject of speculation."
Investigators, who say the killings were not the result of a robbery or another random act, insist that they have not ruled out any other possible motives, such as some kind of personal vendetta against Taima's wife, Dorothy M. Taima, 54, or their son, Leith, 16.
But Fairfax County police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are focusing their efforts on Taima's business and political activities, trying to piece together a tale that spans four decades and two continents. Among their theories: that the killers were Iraqi political assassins, perhaps acting under the direction of the regime, or business contacts angered by a deal gone bad.
"We're trying to locate his business associates, and we're looking at his wife, too, and her associates," said Fairfax police Capt. Audrey Slyman, who is overseeing the investigation. "We're looking at everything there is."
This week, police released a composite drawing of a man who was seen entering the Taima home shortly before the killings. He was described as white, possibly of Middle Eastern descent, about 50 years old, possibly driving a small white vehicle.
Dorothy Taima's father, Lawrence W. Draeger, said police turned the McLean house upside down looking for clues. They took computer records, documents and even an upstairs bedroom door with two bullet holes. Black fingerprint powder covered everything, he said.
"It was probably an execution of some kind," Draeger said. "It had to be."
Like everyone else who knew the family, he has been grappling with one question: Why?
'A Real Dynamo'
Fuad Taima's Iraqi father was the chief representative for Sears, Roebuck and Co. in the Middle East, according to family members. The son immigrated to the United States in the 1950s to study at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in Philadelphia, where he met his first American-born wife, and they had five children before splitting up in a "bitter" divorce, said June Taima, a daughter from that marriage.
Fuad Taima was articulate, he liked the finer things in life, and he could be quite charming, June Taima said. He sold life insurance for a while, then married Dorothy Draeger -- known as "Dot" -- in 1970.
They moved to the Washington area, where she had grown up, and he became what the newspapers then called "an Arab money broker," once investing in a proposed new town near Ocean City, Md. Taima backed out of the project in the late 1970s, and developer Paul A. Tonneman later was convicted of defrauding his investors.
Taima was fast-talking, smart -- he was "an in-your-face kind of person," said Baltimore businessman John Menzies, who knew Taima in the 1970s. Others said he affected a European style, carrying a man's small purse long before anyone used them in this country.
Still, the success of his ventures was unclear. "He was always a little bit mysterious about what he was doing," said Peggy Chaplain, a Baltimore lawyer who helped Taima set up an Arab American Chamber of Commerce in the late 1970s.
In the mid-1980s, when U.S.-Iraqi relations thawed for a bit, one of Taima's consulting firms landed a $10 million contract with the Iraqi government to sell American-made oil and gas machinery. Taima's partner in the venture, Assaad Khairallah, said Taima didn't put in his own money but was savvy at attracting other investors.
U.S. officials at the International Trade Administration, a part of the Commerce Department, said Taima regularly attended seminars, sought information about business opportunities in the Middle East and seized any chance to mingle.
"I didn't have the impression he was making a gazillion dollars," said a Commerce Department official who asked not to be named. "He went to Baghdad a lot. He was aggressive. A real dynamo."
In 1990, Taima joined forces with Bevier Inc., of Baltimore, to represent 50 petrochemical companies in their bid for business in Iraq. It's unclear how much money he made from the arrangement. The idea eventually fizzled, as did Taima's other plans, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Friends and associates say Taima's Iraqi assets were frozen when U.S. trade sanctions were imposed.
As the threat of war in the Persian Gulf grew, Taima founded the American Iraqi Foundation, a group aimed at improving relations between the two countries. He and several others from the group met with President George Bush at the White House, urging a negotiated peace. Taima was then part of a delegation to Iraq for a face-to-face meeting with Saddam Hussein. He returned to the United States with 14 freed hostages.
One of those hostages, Peter Timko, now 32, was a State Department employee in Kuwait when Taima came to his rescue. As a gesture of gratitude upon his return, Timko invited the Taima family to his apartment for dinner.
"I remember that I hadn't cooked in quite a while, and the dinner I made really wasn't very good," Timko said. "But they were very gracious. She was a very, very sharp woman. He just struck me as a genuinely very nice man, but there was always a sense of distance."
Television and Threats
With a higher profile, Taima began appearing on national television, and after the war, he became a critic of the continued political and economic pressure on Saddam Hussein. "He was very happy to be on TV," Khairallah said.
But the family also drew unwanted attention. Taima told friends and family members that his car was firebombed in front of his house, though Fairfax police say they have no record of an attack. Over the years, he frequently mentioned to acquaintances that he had received threats on his life.
After the Gulf War, Taima lobbied for a group to organize cultural exchanges between the United States and Iraq. His political stance earned him the enmity of Iraqi exiles opposed to Saddam Hussein's continued rule. They debated Taima on television and viewed him with distrust.
"We never take interest in his activities," said Ayad Alawi, secretary general of the London-based Iraqi National Accord, an opposition group. "There are others like him elsewhere in the world. We just try to avoid them because usually this is their end."
Some who knew Taima suggested that he might have had connections that went beyond ordinary political contacts. Once, in a conversation with a friend, Taima casually related the names of several covert CIA operatives in the Persian Gulf. The friend, who asked not to be identified, said he had reason to believe that the names were accurate, and he was surprised by Taima's intimate knowledge of U.S. spy secrets and his willingness to brag about it.
"Fuad and Dot had a term for people who did intelligence work," the friend said. "They called them 'colorfuls.' "
Taima's high-profile days ended by the mid-1990s. The sanctions were never removed, and Taima's media popularity faded along with interest in the Gulf War. Friends say Taima's financial and mental health suffered. He became depressed, according to some, and his marriage began to unravel.
Dorothy Taima worked as a teacher of English to nonnative speakers and ran a consulting business that produced manuals on how to write reports. June Taima, who met her father's new wife a few years ago, described her as "very intelligent, very intense. . . . They were a good match."
But recently, Dorothy had told several friends that her husband had become an angry and frustrated man and that he took out his financial problems on the family.
"She said her husband was in a deep sense of depression," said Neal Sher's wife, Grazia, who worked with Dorothy Taima in the Arlington County public schools. "She said he was always taking control of her and her life."
Another friend, who asked not to be identified, said that Dorothy "had problems with him for years. She was absolutely miserable. I kept saying, 'Why don't you leave?' "
Some saw brief flashes of joy in Fuad Taima's life, even recently. Diane Geiman, who worked with his wife in her consulting business, said she heard him express love for a kitten the family had saved from the streets.
"Here's this very strong man, telling me about the little kitten they had rescued," Geiman said.
Taima may have landed a deal recently that could have turned things around for the family. After returning in mid-May from a trip to Baghdad, he told friends and relatives that his financial troubles were over.
Draeger, Dorothy Taima's father, said his son-in-law called him a couple of days before Memorial Day to deliver the news of the "good contract." The details would come soon, he promised.
"He said we'd meet in a few days," Draeger said, "and we never had that chance."
Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company