A homeless woman entered the offices of Deak-Perera, the worldwide currency exchange and precious-metals dealer, today and fatally shot the firm's 80-year-old founder-chairman and his receptionist, police said.
Officers said Lois Lang, 44, walked into Deak's 21st-floor office on Broadway in lower Manhattan about 9:30 a.m., asserting she was a part owner of the company and that "an injustice had been done to her." She was ushered out.
Two hours later, the woman, dressed in dungarees and a T-shirt and shouldering a knapsack with an aluminum baseball bat inside, returned with a .38-cal. revolver, police said. Receptionist Frances Lauder was shot once in the head, police said, and as Nicholas Deak emerged from his office to investigate, Lang shot him in the chest.
Lauder, 58, was declared dead on arrival at Beekman hospital; Deak died shortly after arriving there.
Nancy Rivin, a Deak employe, said Lang had visited the firm's offices on several occasions over a period of years but "was not affiliated with the company."
Police said Lang, who was arrested as she left Deak's office, has no criminal record. Lang was charged tonight with two counts of second-degree murder.
Lang reportedly told authorities that she lived at a hotel in Orlando, Fla., but a desk clerk said there was no record of anyone with that name having lived there. Police were unable to provide any additional background on Lang.
The shootings were the latest in a series of crises for the Deak empire. Last December, three Deak companies filed for bankruptcy following allegations by the President's Commission on Organized Crime that they had laundered millions of dollars from cocaine deals.
Company officials denied the allegations, but, according to Nicholas Deak, rival companies circulated the report to depositors, who withdrew their money, forcing the bankruptcies of Deak & Co., Deak-Perera Wall Street and the Deak-Perera International Banking Corp.
"The damage we have suffered from maliciousness in that report to a very great extent caused the downfall of a very fine firm and the damage to a very fine man -- my dad," Deak's son, R. Leslie Deak, said in a December interview with The New York Times.
Federal agents have testified that there was no evidence that Nicholas Deak knew about the unreported currency transactions.
The younger Deak could not be reached for comment today. However, his wife, reached at their Scarsdale home, said, "Everyone is terribly upset. It was a crazy woman who did it . . . . This has not been a good year."
Deak-Perera U.S., the family's principal holding company, was not affected by the bankruptcies and is solvent. Deak & Co., including Deak-Perera U.S., was sold in August to an anonymous group of investors represented by a Singapore attorney, contingent on a settlement with creditors by Jan. 3.
Nicholas Deak, who was born in Transylvania (now Romania) in 1905, immigrated to the United States in the 1930s. He founded his company in 1939; served in World War II in the Office of Strategic Services, where he operated behind enemy lines under the command of William (Wild Bill) Donovan, and performed intelligence work throughout Southeast Asia and southern Europe.
This afternoon, the glass doors of Deak's office were locked and tearful employes refused to discuss the shootings. "We've been through a lot," said one. "It's been a shock."
In addition to his son, Deak is survived by his wife of 46 years, Liselotte. The couple lived in Scarsdale. Lauder, of Staten Island, is survived by her husband, John, and a daughter, Bonnie.