Covlin lived just across the hall in their Manhattan apartment building, having separated from his wife months earlier amid bitter divorce proceedings. The night before Danishefsky died, the acrimony had reached its climax: She had just told Covlin she would be removing him as a beneficiary from her $5 million will.
But there in the bathroom, police wouldn’t glean any of this from the scene, or very much at all. They didn’t dust for fingerprints, or collect DNA samples, or collect any evidence for that matter. Within two days, Danishefsky, 47, would be buried without an autopsy, due to the family’s Orthodox Jewish beliefs, the family told NBC’s “Dateline.”
Her death certificate said the cause of death was “undetermined.”
Nearly a decade later, however, a jury believed differently.
On Wednesday, Covlin was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison on second-degree murder charges. Prosecutors said he strangled Danishefsky in the bathroom and then filled the tub with bloody water to make her death appear accidental. He was after the millions of dollars in her will he was at risk of losing the day before she died, they said, and went to sinister lengths seeking to regain custody of their children.
After years of investigation, a state Supreme Court jury in Manhattan convicted Covlin, 45, in March — in part based on testimony that he had even plotted to kill his parents as part of the scheme to get his children back. At one point, he even tried to frame his daughter for the crime, according to the New York Times and New York Daily News, citing legal filings.
Danishefsky “suffered at the hands of this defendant for months, and as soon as she sought to sever ties, he murdered her in a brutal and vicious crime,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement when Covlin was convicted. “That he delayed justice for Ms. Danishefsky’s family by lying to them and to law enforcement in a cover-up scheme only serves to underscore the depravity of his actions.”
Covlin’s attorney, Robert Gottlieb, said he would appeal, insisting there was no proof Covlin was in the apartment before Danishefsky died, the Times reported.
Covlin and Danishefsky had been married for a decade at the time they separated, in April 2009. They met at a bar in New York in 1998 at a party for Jewish singles and fell in love so fast that Danishefsky’s sister had to talk her down from eloping with him spontaneously, family told “Dateline.” They married within a matter of months.
But it wasn’t long before their differences began to erode their relationship. Danishefsky was an ambitious and successful private wealth manager, the breadwinner. Covlin was a struggling stockbroker, who dabbled in martial arts and had an obsession with playing backgammon on the Internet.
“She said, 'He doesn’t get a job. He goes to the gym twice a day, and he’s just hanging around the house,” Danishefsky’s sister, Eve Karstaedt, told “Dateline.” “It was very frustrating for her. She said, ‘It’s driving me crazy.’ ”
The couple’s marriage took a nose-dive on their 10th anniversary, Karstaedt said. Covlin allegedly asked for an open marriage. Danishefsky refused. Instead, they headed for divorce — and that’s when Covlin’s wild lies began piling up, as he pursued custody of their two children, 3-year-old Myles and 9-year-old Anna, prosecutors contended.
First, in May 2009, Covlin called Danishefsky’s employer to claim that she was abusing drugs and draining their joint bank account. Her company, UBS Financial Services, investigated.
All of it was false, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office said.
That July, Covlin took the children to the hospital. He told the New York City Administration for Children’s Services that his wife was sexually abusing their son.
Another invention unfolded, prosecutors said.
By December 2009, as the divorce was still pending, Danishefsky began carving Covlin out of her life financially. She removed him as a beneficiary of her UBS retirement fund, according to civil court records, and made her two children the sole beneficiaries. On Dec. 30, 2009, prosecutors say, she told Covlin she intended to cut him out of her $5.27 million will.
Within 72 hours, she was in the ground.
Even Covlin’s girlfriend and backgammon partner, Debra Oles, remembered thinking the timing was eerily convenient.
“He told me that his wife had an accident and died,” Oles told “Dateline.” “My very first thought was, that’s a really weird coincidence in timing, and that really basically solves all his problems. But then I felt guilty thinking that, because he said it was an accident.”
After initially respecting the religious objection to the autopsy, Danishefsky’s family soon began to feel uneasy about her death, too. Could she really have torn the medical cabinet door from its hinges as she tried to stop a fall? Why, if Covlin had removed her from the bathtub before calling police, were none of his clothes wet when police arrived?
And there was Danishefsky’s hair.
The day before she was found dead, she had gone for a keratin treatment to straighten her hair. The stylist had advised her not to even dampen her hair for three days, he said during Covlin’s trial, according to footage aired by “Dateline.” Why, the family wondered, was she even in the tub at all?
“You’re not even supposed to go to the gym,” Karstaedt told “Dateline.”
A few months later, her family decided to exhume Danishefsky’s body, seeking a formal autopsy.
“Near the end of it,” a New York Police Department detective told “Dateline,” “he looked at us, he showed us the hyoid bone — in the neck ― and that it was broken.”
The cause of death was neck compression, the medical examiner ruled — a homicide.
But prosecutors did not indict Covlin until November 2015 as they continued the investigation, relying entirely on circumstantial evidence and interviews with witnesses since police had collected no physical evidence from the scene.
As the investigation pushed forward, prosecutors say they uncovered Covlin’s dark schemes to collect as much of his wife’s money as possible and to retrieve his children from his parents, who had taken custody in the aftermath of the killing.
In 2013, Covlin devised a plot to kidnap Anna, smuggle her to Mexico and sell her hand in marriage for $10,000, the Times reported. That way, she would be out of her grandparents’ custody.
In June of that year, he even wrote a false confession from Anna’s email account to another family member — apparently seeking to frame his daughter as prosecutors honed in on him, the Times reported. “All of these years I have been so incredibly afraid and guilty about the night my mom died,” Covlin wrote in the fake email in his daughter’s voice, according to “Dateline.” “I lied. She didn’t just slip.”
The email, which went on to describe a fight in the bathroom between mother and daughter, was never sent. Nor was it admitted during the trial.
“Who does that to a child?” Karstaedt’s husband, Marc, told “Dateline.” “Who basically frames a child?”
Finally, before his arrest, he confided in Oles that he wanted to kill his parents ― the two people standing in his way of the children and the money, Oles testified in court. He had multiple plots, she claimed. First, he schemed to break into his parents’ home in the middle of the night, kill them, take the children and then light the home on fire, she said. Then, he considered putting rat poison in their tea — for which he would commission the help of Anna, Oles claimed. Oles talked him out of that one too, she said.
“We were in the car driving and he said to me, you have to help me kill my parents,” Oles told “Dateline.” She refused, adding she feared even if she did he’d kill her, too. He said, “No, I only want to kill the people who tried to take my children from me,” Oles claimed.
Covlin’s parents told “Dateline” they believed Oles’s claims of these alleged murder plots were all “a farce.”
All throughout his trial and sentencing, his parents stood behind him, and just before a judge sentenced him to 25 years to life on Wednesday, his children did, too.
After all these years, his children told the judge, one in person and one via letter, they still believed their mother slipped in the bathtub. “I lost one parent and do not want to lose a second,” Myles, who is now 12, told the judge, the Times reported.
“My mom slipped hit her head, fell unconscious and drowned, just like the Medical Examiner said when he found her,” Anna, now 18, wrote in the statement read by her grandmother in court, “Inside Edition” reported.
The judge was unmoved, and disturbed by Covlin’s lack of remorse. When she gave him a chance to speak, he said, “Luckily, my daughter who was there that night knows the truth. She’s the only one who could.”
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