For a while, trademark attorney Dean Olds and his wife, Suzanne, led a storybook North Shore existence with their three children. But after he started spending much of his time and considerable wealth on an attractive young German man named Helmut Carsten Hofer, she filed for divorce. The flow of money to Hofer, purportedly to set up a chauffeur business for the two men in Munich, was stemmed by the proceedings. Then, days after Christmas in 1993, Suzanne’s son-in-law found her bludgeoned to death in her garage. Hofer was arrested on murder charges. While Hofer sat in Cook County Jail awaiting trial, Olds groused about his entrepreneurial woes to Nancy Millman for her 1994 Chicago story “Dangerous Liaison.”
“My wife had cut off all funds for Germany,” he said. “You could not run the limousine service without ads in the paper saying ‘Rolls-Royce for hire.’ ” In the end, the business failed, he said, because of “my wife, my wife, my wife.”
The next year, Hofer was acquitted of all charges, but the government soon deported him for overstaying his visa. Later that year, the Olds children brought a wrongful death lawsuit against him and their father. A judge ruled in the children’s favor, declaring the two men responsible. Olds was barred from accessing Suzanne’s inheritance and joint assets. He moved to Laguna Beach, California, where he died in 2011.
Read the full story below.
Living on the North Shore with an attractive wife, prominent lawyer Dean Olds seem to have it all. Then he threw it all away for the company of a young charmer named Carsten Hofer. In May, Hofer was charged in the murder of Olds’s wife, and the mystery of Dean Olds’s spiraling decline grew darker and deeper.
When Dean Olds, a prominent Chicago trademark lawyer, travelled to New York on business, he liked to stay at the United Nations Plaza hotel on the city’s East Side. One night in 1989, stopping for a drink in the hotel’s Ambassador lounge, he noticed a striking young German seated nearby at the bar.
Helmut Carsten Hofer, or Carsten, as he likes to be called, was struggling in a conversation because of his poor English. “I heard him say he was from Braunschweig,” says Olds, who was about 60 at the time. “I had a client there and had been there several times. I speak a little German, so I tried to help him out.”
Hofer, then 20, a six-foot four-inch blond, was in New York visiting friends, he says. Soft-spoken and charming, he had been living on little but his looks and his wits for years. He had been reared by his grandparents and great-aunt, but Hofer says he left home at 15, after his realization he was gay and caused conflicts. Dropping out of school at the same time, he says he drifted through a series of short-term jobs from security guard to house cleaner in Hamburg and Munich.
Despite the differences in their ages and backgrounds, Olds was captivated by the young man that night, attracted by his style and his manners. “He’s a fine fellow,” Olds said in an interview near the end of March. “I have a half-dozen good German fiends. I find they have more presence, more grace,” than their American counterparts. “I wish my son had had the sophistication at 20 that Carsten had.”
This chance encounter led to an intense relationship between the two men that has coincided with a precipitous plunge in the life and career of Dean Olds. Over the next three years Olds — who was married and the father of three grown children and lived with his wife in an exclusive Wilmette neighborhood — spent as much as $2 million with Hofer, setting him up in a purported limousine rental business in Munich; taking him on trips to resorts in the mountains of Europe and on American beaches; and subsidizing him in a Chicago apartment the two shared. When Olds began draining the family retirement accounts to back his business venture and send Hofer regular checks, Suzanne Olds, his wife of 32 years, filed for divorce.
The case centered on the disappearing money and turned bitter. People close to the family believe the limousine service was a scheme to stash away money for Olds and Hofer, who they believe were lovers. Still, Mrs. Olds tried to conceal what she thought were the worst aspects of the situation from the children.
Then one evening, three days after Christmas 1993 and shortly before the case was to go to trial, Mrs. Olds started out to walk the dog and was bludgeoned to death in the garage of her home. Her son-in-law found her body.
On May tenth, Wilmette police arrested the 25-year-old Hofer and charged him with first-degree murder in the death of Mrs. Olds. At a press conference the next day, police chief George Carpenter said his force was “still investigating the possibility that another person may also bear legal responsibility for this crime.” At press time, no one else had been charged.
Dean Olds, who had been named as a suspect, according to his criminal lawyer, appeared at the Wilmette police station on the night of the arrest and was interviewed by detectives. In the following days, Olds defended his young friend to reporters, and tried to debunk the evidence authorities had presented against the German national.
Hofer was held without bond, despite claims by his attorney that there was no chance he would flee and that the evidence against him was based on “innuendo.” Hofer’s supporters, including North Side community activist Charlotte Newfeld, portrayed him as an innocent victim of the media being hounded because he is gay.
Throughout, Dean Olds has been seemingly unmoved by the death of his wife. In an interview six weeks before Hofer’s arrest, Olds still expressed bitterness toward her, blaming the failure of the limousine business on her legal efforts to restrict his funds. “My wife got her teeth into my neck,” he said.
Even before the murder, Olds had been on a terrible slide for a year — treated for alcoholism, forced to resign from his law firm, deep in debt, and with his savings apparently gone. But his circumstances took a sharp turn for the better in March, when a judge ruled that because “at this point there is nothing that says or claims that Mr. Olds was involved” with his wife’s slaying, the divorce action should end with her death. As a result, Olds moved back into the Wilmette house and has access to what is left of the couple’s joint assets. He has been traveling to Florida and Germany, and in March he said he was planning a two-week cruise in July from Norway to the North Pole on a Russian icebreaker.
Mrs. Olds’s survivors, her three children and her brother and sister, as well as her many friends, are shattered by the situation. The children have little, if any, contact with their father. Her friends are angry and, in the words of one Wilmette woman, “profoundly sad for what those children must deal with for the rest of their lives.” And no one who knew Dean Olds and his family can understand how such a seemingly model North Shore existence could have turned around so suddenly and tragically.
At the time that Dean Olds was embarking on his venture with Carsten Hofer, he was by all appearances at the pinnacle of his career. A senior partner with his name on the door of a prestigious firm, Olds was paid more than $400,000 a year (varying with the bonus) and owned a five-percent interest in the firm. His days at Willian Brinks Olds Hofer Gilson & Lione (there is no connection between Carsten Hofer and Roy E. Hofer, a name partner in the firm) were spent in a well-appointed office with a sweeping view of Chicago and Lake Michigan from the top of the NBC tower.
Olds was the picture of a Midwestern lawyer, favoring conservative suits and wing-tip shoes, and riding the commuter train to his office each day. Olds, who has reddish hair and freckly skin, had a polished and witty way of speaking, his neighbors said, and liked to service and discuss fine wines.
Suzanne Olds, his petite and vivacious wife, presided over an $880,000 house in the Indian Hill Estates section of Wilmette, where the couple had reared three children. The girls had graduated from college and were successful in their own right, and their youngest child, a son, was in college.
Olds was an expert in trademark law and had represented and counseled some topflight U.S. companies, including General Mills, American Motors, and McDonald’s. But in 1990, he won the biggest case of his career representing the little guy in a battle against Quaker Oats and its sports drink Gatorade. Olds’s client, a small Vermont marketer named Sands, Taylor & Wood, claimed it owned the rights to the trademark “Thirst Aid,” and that the Gatorade slogan “Thirst aid for that deep down body thirst” was a blatant infringement. After a trial in the spring of 1990, the stunning decision came down from U.S. District Court judge Prentice H. Marshall in December: Quaker was ordered to pay $42.6 million to the Vermont company. It was the biggest trademark infringement award in the history of U.S. law, and is still being appealed by Quaker.
Dean Ambrose Olds grew up in Wichita, Kansas. After earning degrees from Northwestern and the University of Michigan Law School, and serving two years in the U.S. Army Counterintelligence Corps, he settled in Chicago and joined the firm that was to become Willian Brinks Olds. It had been founded in 1917 by two specialists in what today is called intellectual property law, a practice involving patents, trade secrets, trademarks, and copyrights.
His future bride, Suzanne Shonkwiler, a redhead with a bright smile, grew up the daughter of a lawyer and a housewife in Monticello, Illinois, a village of about 4,500 people between Champaign and Decatur. She also had graduated from Northwestern with a teaching degree, and met Olds at the wedding of mutual friends, according to her brother John Shonkwiler, chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Illinois.
They were married on April 16, 1960, at the First Presbyterian Church near her home. He was 30 and she was 22 and beginning a career as a teacher in the Northbrook school district. By the following year, Olds was made a partner in his firm, and the couple started planning for children. Kristen was born in September 1962; Courtney and Stephen followed three years apart. Sue Olds stopped teaching and stayed home to rear the family.
The Olds family lived well, but not ostentatiously. Their red brick house is at the end of a cul-de-sac and set back from the street. Sue Olds decorated in a traditional style, mixing new furnishing with many antiques she had inherited from her family. The living room contained several of these heirlooms, including a mahogany baby grand piano. Outside was a lovely garden. Sue Olds showed a talent for selecting beautiful flowers and arranging them artfully, said her friend Denise Handley.
Like many women of her generation, Sue Olds, who was 56 when she was killed, led a sheltered life. Even when she left the Tri Delta house at Northwestern to live with her husband, her neighbors included sorority sisters and friends from college.
“She was very much a lady,” said George Kundaris, her hairdresser. “You could kid around with her, but politely. You could tell that swear words would make her a little uncomfortable.”
By the early 1990s, according to court records, Sue Olds was maintaining the house and her activities with the $13,000 to $16,000 a month she received from her husband in two installments, about half his monthly income. She was program chair of the Forty Acres Bird and Garden Club one year, president another. She was a good tennis player, her friends say, and played regularly at Skokie Country Club. At the Kenilworth Union Church, she taught Sunday school and worked on the annual bazaar.
But for many years, Sue Olds’s life was not what it seemed. “She said her marriage was over 20 years ago,” recalled Kundaris, who styled Mrs. Old’s hair twice a week for the last couple of years of her life. “When people asked about the divorce, she would say her husband was involved with someone. She never said it was a man… But she would ask me questions. She was interested in learning more about the gay life.”
Why she stayed in the marriage can perhaps be explained by the words of her minister at the crowded memorial service last December 31st. “She has the small town values of home, family, and service,” said Elizabeth Andrews, associate minister of the Kenilworth Church. “Everything was for the children.”
Another reason may be traced to her upbringing. “She was very frightened as far as her image and propriety were concerned,” said a friend.
After their chance meeting in the hotel bar in New York, Dean Olds and Carsten Hofer quickly grew close. Olds began traveling to Germany often, even spending part of the Christmas holidays there in 1990. Hofer also visited Olds in Chicago, and says he was entertained at the family home and at their country club. He even went with Dean to watch his son Steve’s tennis matches.
“We’ve been really good friends,” Hofer said in an interview on March 25th, six weeks before his arrest. Inhaling deeply on a Marlboro Light in his lawyer’s office and speaking in accented, nearly fluent English, Hofer described his relationship with the wealthy lawyer. “We had talks like real good friends at dinners. He’s be telling me about his family, about his business, about his cases… and I just knew him as a very nice and very friendly person,” he said.
Hofer denied the two were lovers, but photographs accidentally discovered by one of the Olds daughters show them in intimate situations. One shot is of Hofer reclining on the floor in bikini briefs and a polo shirt. Another shows both men clad only in shorts on a hotel room bed. Hofer said he eventually came to believe that Olds was in love with him. “But I wasn’t aware of that for a long, long time,” he added. “That came when I came over here to the States, and when I’ve been living with him.” As or romance, Hofer said, “There was never from my side anything.”
For his part, Olds attributed any problems in their relationship to the 40-year difference in their ages. Hofer “likes to dance all night,” Olds said, while he prefers to stay home and go to bed early.
Unquestionably, the two men spent an enormous amount of Olds’s money together. In 1990, Olds withdrew almost all his stake in his law firm’s profit-sharing fund — $675,625 — and transferred it to a trust over which he had sole authority. The money was supposed to be for Sue and Dean’s retirement, but it was quickly dissipated on a variety of trips and expenses, purportedly in connection with Dean and Carsten’s joint business, Hofer’s Rolls-Royce Service, a limousine rental firm in Munich. Hofer said the idea was his, hatched when he was working as the assistant to the owner of an incentive travel business in Munich. Olds said he believed in his young friend’s abilities, even though he had little business experience. “He knew how to treat big shots in the right way,” Olds said. “If he was meeting Pavarotti at the airport, he knew how the car had to be polished and how to act.” In March 1991, Olds prepared documents that set up the business for Hofer to run.
Carlton R. Marcyan, Sue Olds’s divorce lawyer, believes that the limousine business may have been a plot to hide money for Olds and Hofer. But the two insist the business was real, if unsuccessful. And there’s no denying that the venture was extremely costly.
In March 1991, Olds and Hofer visited Fort Lauderdale together, where they bought their first Rolls-Royce, a brown one. They shared a room in a beachfront hotel, Hofer said, and Olds “paid for the room and he said he could take it mostly off on taxes of whatever.” According to tax documents, Olds paid $38,900 for the car and another $1,700 to ship it to Germany. But within a week of the car’s arrival in Munich, trouble struck. Hofer took the car on a pleasure trip to visit his grand-aunt, but while driving 100 miles per hour along the autobahn, he said, he swerved to avoid overtaking a slower car and crashed the Rolls into a ravine. Though no one was hurt, the car was totaled, Hofer said. Insurance didn’t cover the loss, according to court records, because Hofer did not have the proper type of license. In fact, his driver’s license had been revoked after previous traffic violations, including drunk driving.
In the space of the next two months, Olds sent Hofer close to $40,000, mostly through American Express moneygrams, which Olds listed on his tax return as expenses of doing business in Germany. In an affidavit, Olds says money represented operating expenses for insurance, import fees, telephone and other overhead. Then, in May 1991, Olds bought a second Rolls-Royce, a green one this time, to replace the one that had been wrecked. The car cost $55,000, according to his tax statements.
That July, Olds visited Munich, deducting $7,500 for his travel expenses and another $11,800 in other unspecified business expenses. A third Rolls-Royce, blue, was purchased in December, his tax documents say, for $51,577.
Throughout the year, at least twice a month, Olds sent large checks to Munich payable to Hofer in amounts ranging from $1,075 to $15,000. Though this massive cash outflow is listed on Olds’s 1991 tax return as business expenses, the return shows little of the standard accounting for running a business. No documents that Olds produced in the divorce case show any income from the business that year. If there was a business at all, it appears to have been a total loss.
During this time, Olds continued to practice law at Willian Brinks Olds. “He marched to his own bear,” said John Pavlak, the managing partner, who has acted as the firm’s spokesman since the murder of Sue Olds. “He didn’t necessarily follow our unwritten rules.” For the most part, the infractions were rather minor, Pavlak said — such as telling young associates that they wait to become partner would be shorter than it actually was. Still Olds’s legal skills were celebrated. “Dean is very intense,” said a marketing consultant who worked on trademark cases with him. “He’s bright as hell. I wouldn’t want to be on the other side against him.”
Old’s partners say they didn’t notice any change in him as his relationship with Hofer was deepening — except that he was taking frequent trips to Germany. The same can’t be said for his wife, however. As early as 1987, Sue Olds began filing a separate tax return, and by 1991 she was deeply concerned about the family’s financial situation. “She thought that Dean was less than forthright with her” regarding financial matters, said Marcyan, her divorce lawyer. “Since her primary goal was to preserve assets for the kids, I think she thought if she tried to isolate herself from potential problems, in the end it was better for the children.” He adds that she knew Hofer “was playing some role in her husband’s life,” probably by the end of 1990, but she didn’t take any action “because she had some family goals she wanted to accomplish.”
Apparently, the primary goal was to keep up appearances for the wedding of her daughter Kristin. In July 1991, Kristin Lynn Olds married Matthew Glavin, a lawyer with the Chicago firm of Ross & Hardies, in a late afternoon ceremony at the Kenilworth Union Church. Peach and green were the predominating colors, to go with Kristin’s long red hair. Afterward, about 200 guests joined the family for cocktails, dinner, and dancing at the Skokie Country Club, where the Oldses were members. At the dinner, Dean Olds toasted his wife, giving her credit for the success of the celebration and the execution of the many details. In court document later, Olds said he had to borrow money to pay his income taxes because his wife had insisted that he spend his available cash on the $60,000 wedding.
The family Christmas card that year was made from a wedding photograph. But Olds didn’t spend Christmas at home in Wilmette. He was vacationing in Laguna Beach, California, with Carsten Hofer.
Seven months after the wedding, there was no longer a need for Sue Olds to keep up the pretenses. She consolidated her own assets — close to $1 million in stocks and bonds that had accumulated from the money she inherited, as well as some farmland near Monticello that she held in trust with her brother and sister — and changed her will, leaving everything to her children. And she called on Schiller, DuCanto and Fleck, the country’s largest matrimonial law firm.
On March 19, 1992, Sue Olds filed for divorce from Dean Olds on the grounds of mental cruelty and irreconcilable differences. “She was frightened about the massive amount of money he had taken out of the country,” Marcyan said. And she was troubled by how the divorce, and what she was learning about her husband’s relationship with Carsten Hofer, would affect the children.
“Mrs. Olds’s major objective was trying to insulate the children,” said Marcyan. “Even with things that developed concerning Carsten and Dean, she didn’t want us to be suggestive or descriptive in what we were doing in the divorce case… In the pleadings we were very general… [using terms such as] ‘business associate,’ ‘friend.’
At the time the divorce was filed, the court ordered Dean Olds to stop transferring assets out of the country. But Olds, who still officially lived at the house in Wilmette, ignored the order, according to Marcyan, and continued to send money to Hofer — thousands of dollars at a time almost biweekly, totaling about $115,000 in 1992. That’s not including what Olds spent on the trips the two took together in the United States and in Germany and Switzerland, nor the $27,000 in cash advances Olds charged on his American Express Gold Card that summer.
When Marcyan began digging into Dean Olds’s financial dealings, he found evidence, according to court documents, of yet more money that Olds had spent: loans totaling $150,000 on his life insurance, $400,000 in bonuses from his law firm, and $350,000 in proceeds from the sale of stocks and bonds. These sums, added to the pension plan withdrawals and other loans, totaled about $2 million, court records show. “The money went to subsidize Carsten’s lifestyle,” Marcyan charged in a recent interview. “For instance, the documents…. That supposedly explain where money was going in the German business show lots of transactions at very nice restaurants, hotels throughout Europe, liquor. What I thought was just amazing — why they produced this to me was beyond me — was a whole tape of items, like a cash register tape, with a line entry for condoms. And I thought, This is a nice business — full-service luxury auto rental.”
“We supplied documents we believed complied with the requests,” said Charles Sproger, who represented Dean Olds in the divorce case.
By late 1992, Hofer was losing interest in Rolls-Royce. He says he wanted to get out of the business and move to the United States. “I [was] falling in love with somebody at the end of 1992,” Hofer said. “I decided I wanted to live with him.” Hofer says the man was an American actor who had been on tour in Europe. “We had our plan that we wanted to go live in Los Angeles.” But first they were to spend a few months with his boyfriend’s family in the Chicago suburbs. So, Hofer says, he and Olds turned all the operating papers for the limousine service over to a liquidator. That’s the last that Hofer — the venture’s manager — admits to knowing about the business. Olds says the last Rolls-Royce was sold in February 1993 to pay off some of the company’s debts. “The business was not a roaring success,” he said. He attributes the initial problems to the Gulf War, but after that, he says, Sue Olds stepped in. “My wife had cut off all funds for Germany,” he said. “You could not run the limousine service without ads in the paper saying ‘Rolls-Royce for hire.” In the end, the business failed, he said, because of “my wife, my wife, my wife.”
In the spring of 1993, having sold everything in his apartment — which also served as the office of the limo business — Hofer packed up his two schnauzers, a giant and a miniature, and moved to Chicago.
Coincidentally, that same march, Sue Olds and her lawyer finally put a clamp on the family’s hemorrhaging financial situation. Marcyan was able to prove that Olds had regularly violated the injunction against sending more money to Germany. As a result, divorce court judge Aubrey Kaplan ruled that the court was to take control of all of Dean Olds’s funds.
A court-appointed receiver, attorney John Kneafsey, was retained to set up an account that would take in Olds’s salary from the law firm and disburse the funds, including $9,000 a month in maintenance for Sue Olds and living expenses for Dean Olds. No other payments were to be allowed unless approved by the lawyers and the court. The regular checks to Hofer were to stop.
Hofer insists he knew nothing about the intricacies of Mr. Olds’s divorce problems, his financial situation, or any other personal matters when he came to this country. His affair with the American actor ended suddenly, he says, and he moved into the apartment that Olds had recently rented on East Ohio Street after moving out of the house in Wilmette. Despite the coincidences of timing, Hofer says his arrival in Chicago was not related to the court’s control of Olds’s money, and that he only went to live with Olds because his building permitted dogs.
Spending most of the spring and summer Rollerblading, running, partying with his friends on Olds’s powerboat in Wilmette harbor, and going to bars at night, Hofer also decided to try his hand at modeling. He arranged to have some sample photographs of himself taken at the Model’s Workshop Studio on Kinzie street, a company that trains would-be models.
Though as a visitor to the United States Hofer was prohibited from working here, he took at least one modeling job. Jeanette Hady, a photographer, hired him for some plastic surgery ads.
Hady befriended Hofer, offering to shoot portfolio pictures for him at a nominal rate. On the day that Hady was to photograph him, he arrived with a wardrobe that included a designer tuxedo. When she suggested he might need a black topcoat for the formal shots, “he went over to Saks and charged a $1,700 cashmere coat.” Hady adds, “He implied that he was independently wealthy.”
Hady said Hofer persuaded her to turn over all the transparencies from the photo session, something she wouldn’t ordinarily have done. In the following weeks, when she tried to get some of them back, she found that Hofer had moved out of Olds’s apartment and into a roommate arrangement with a woman in Marina Towers. Hofer stopped returning Hady’s calls.
The photographer wasn’t the only one having a tough time finding Hofer. For weeks, he eluded off-duty cops trying to serve him with a subpoena for a deposition in the divorce case. When they did catch up with him, it was on the boat in Wilmette, where he was sunning with his friends.
The acrimonious divorce and the relationship with Hofer were taking their toll on Dean Olds. In the spring of 1993, after acknowledging that he had a drinking problem, he was put on a leave of absence from the law firm. Pavlak termed the leave “not entirely voluntary.” Though people close to the firm say there were few outward manifestations at the office of Olds’s problem, “it was something he knew he had to deal with and wanted to conquer,” a friend said. Olds quickly left for a month at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California.
But matters just got worse. The securities and Exchange Commission announced that Olds had signed a consent agreement in a complaint against him alleging inside trading violations. Olds, the SEC said, had profited illegally from information he obtained from one of his clients, Minnetonka, which was about to announce it was considering putting itself up for sale. Olds made about $41,000 on these stock trades, and was ordered to pay back that amount, plus an equal sum as penalty and another $21,000 in interest.
His law partners learned of the SEC action only when their records were subpoenaed. By now, they were deeply concerned. “We felt some of the things had the potential to impact us,” Pavlak said.
Throughout the summer, the board members at Willian Brinks Olds wrestled with how to handle the Olds problem. “In late July or early August, we decided to take the matter to the shareholders,” Pavlak said. “We had an evening meeting and discussed the subject for an hour or more.” Finally, they voted on whether to force the resignation of Dean Olds. The vote wasn’t anywhere near unanimous, Pavlak said. There were people who felt very strongly that Olds should be allowed to remain because of his status in the field and the contributions he had made to the firm. Still, the firm decided to ask him leave.
After several weeks of negotiating his separation package, Olds left the firm at the beginning of September. On September 17th, shareholders voted to change the name of the firm to Willian Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione.
If the money that Olds had poured into the limousine business was really gone, Olds was in rather dire financial straits. He had credit card debts of about $55,000; he had borrowed $231,000 from Chicago’s Northern Trust Bank; he owed the SEC more than $80,000; and he was obligated to pay his estranged wife $9,000 each month. The termination from the firm would bring him, according to court documents, approximately $600,000, paid in increments over time. But the money would be disbursed to him by the receiver only as needed, until the divorce was resolved. On November tenth, Marcyan got a court order to stop any further payments from the receiver to cover Dean Olds’s personal expenses. The divorce lawyer wanted to protect the estate, but he also was hoping Olds would have to tap into any money he might have hidden. If Olds truly had squandered all that cash, he was without any income.
Seven weeks later, on December 28th, Kristen Olds Glavin talked to her mother on the phone at about nine in the evening. Sue Olds had gone to work out at the Evanston Athletic Club, stopped for groceries at the Treasure Island, and now was at home, about to take her golden retriever, Murphy, out for a walk. When Kristin called her mother again later and no one answered, she became concerned. Her husband, Matt Glavin, drove over from their home in Evanston to check on Sue. The garage door, which has an elaborate curtained window façade, was open. Murphy was loose on the lawn. Glavin found the body of his mother-in-law on the floor of the garage. She was dead from blows to the head.
“The victim was fully clothed, and we found no evidence of theft, robbery, or burglary to the house itself,” Wilmette police chief George Carpenter said the next day. “While it is premature to speculate on a possible motive, the evidence we have so far suggests that the offender may have come to the victim’s home for the express purpose of causing her death.”
The Wilmette police immediately assembled a task force of about 20 members, including detectives from neighboring towns and members of the state police force and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. Dean Olds and Carsten Hofer were questioned shortly after the murder, and both retained lawyers. Olds hired William Kunkle, a prominent criminal attorney and former prosecutor, and Richard Kling of Chicago Kent law school’s legal clinic eventually took Hofer’s case on a pro bono basis.
The police investigation centered on Hoer from the beginning, and detectives also closely followed the movements of Dean Olds. When he was questioned on the night of the murder, Hofer told police he had been driving Dean Olds’s Ford Taurus that night, a car he drove often. Hofer’s friend Douglas R. Kragness, an assistant Cook County public defender, accompanied Hofer to the police station when he was questioned, and later stated that Hofer was at his West Cornelia Avenue apartment at the time of the murder.
The day after the murder, Charlotte Newfeld invited Hofer to live as a guest at her home in the 3500 block of North Pine Grove Avenue, where he remained until the night of his arrest.
Even before the Wilmette officers arrested Hofer, he had a run-in with police. In January, Chicago police arrested him in Roscoe’s, a bar on Halsted Street, and charged him with a misdemeanor in connection with bouncing a $102 check. He had written the check on December 22nd to buy a pair of exercise dumbbells.
Though police did not comment officially on any aspects of their investigation before Hofer’s arrest, details had leaked, primarily to Channel 7’s Chuck Goudie, who reported extensively on the case. In addition to reports of evidence that linked Hofer to Sue Old’s murder, TV news coverage alleged that Hofer had serious legal problems in Germany as well. But Christoph Sander, the deputy consul general for Germany in Chicago, said a check of Hofer’s record there showed only traffic violations, including a drunk-driving conviction, and a report that he was being investigated for embezzlement.
As the news coverage continued to put the spotlight on Hofer, his Chicago friends rallied around him. Newfeld, an artist and long-time community activist, had come to know Hofer through Kragness, who is her close friend.
“What I had seen on television was more than an inference that because he was gay he was bad,” Newfeld said in an interview several weeks before Hofer’s arrest.
Newfeld and other gay-rights activists organized a meeting with the gay and lesbian press at the office of Richard Kling and voiced their concerns. The meeting generated stories in the gay press and a follow-up in the Reader in which Sander, the deputy consul, called the earlier coverage “homophobic.”
On April 19th, Hofer appeared in court on the misdemeanor charge, which was dismissed. In the ensuing weeks, he worked with Mark Wheeler, his civil lawyer, on a libel case against Chuck Goudie charging that reports portrayed Hofer inaccurately and irrelevantly played up his homosexuality. He then prepared to return to Germany. Dean Olds bought him a round-trip ticket to Munich with a May 12th departure date and an open return.
Shortly after 10 p.m. on May tenth, Kragness and Hofer were at Kragness’s apartment and had ordered a pizza, planning to go later to mark Wheeler’s place nearby. Kragness was in the shower, and Hofer left for Newfeld’s house to clean up and change clothes. Immediately he was surrounded by police, told he was wanted for the murder of Suzanne Olds, and taken into custody.
During a press conference at the Wilmette police station the next day, Carpenter insisted that Hofer was not arrested because he planned to leave the country, but because the “evidence came together.”
At 2:30 p.m. on May 12th, Helmut Carsten Hofer, wearing wrinkled jeans and a blue shirt, was escorted by two Cook County deputy sheriffs before Circuit Court judge Marcia B. Orr at the Skokie courthouse. Standing between Richard Kling and assistant state’s attorney Steven Goebel, Hofer shook his head in denial while Goebel outlined the case against him.
“It was a crime of hatred, not a crime of burglary or robbery,” Goebel said.
When Hofer was questioned about his whereabouts on the night of the murder, Goebel said, “he admitted having exclusive possession of [Dean Olds’s] car” during the period in which the murder was committed. The car was recovered at marina Towers, Goebel said (where Hofer had been staying with a friend, Bernadette Horan). Blood was found in the car, Geobel said, and DNA tests on the blood showed that it was “consistent with Suzanne Olds’s blood.”
Goebel also told the court that footprints found in the snow leading to the garage where Mrs. Olds was murdered and leading away from the garage were analyzed and found to be similar to prints of boots owned by Hofer. The high-top boots were traced to a Chicago shoe store with the help of someone who was with Hofer when he bought them, Goebel said.
Up until the time Hofer was charged, Dean Olds had been freely admitting that he had a sexual relationship with Hofer, Goebel said. The prosecutor referred to a photograph “of the defendant and Mr. Olds together on a bed in boxer shorts. On a mirror was written ‘I love Dean,’ with the name ‘Carsten’ underneath,” he said.
After a divorce deposition in which Hofer was shown this photograph and others, “Hofer told another person that he did not like Mrs. Olds,” and that she and her divorce lawyer, Carlton Marcyan, were “trying to ruin him because of his relationship” with Olds, Goebel told the judge.
Press reports on the case also mention a surveillance videotape from a Winnetka gas station that showed Hofer asking for directions to Sue Olds’s Ramona Court address on the day of the murder. Another tape reportedly showed the Ford Taurus leaving Kragness’s parking lot on the evening of the murder. Reports also referred to a map found in the car with the location of the house marked with a star. But none of this evidence was presented to Judge Orr at the bond hearing or confirmed officially by police or Goebel.
Judge Orr, in addition to denying bond, ordered Hofer to surrender his passport and to undergo a psychiatric examination.
Following the hearing, as his client was headed for Cook County Jail, Kling told reporters he was “outraged and angry and convinced that [Hofer] is innocent.”
Just a month before Hofer’s arrest, a court ruling put an end to the financial strain that had plagued Dean Olds since the receiver took control of his funds a year before. On March ninth, Circuit Court judge Jeffrey A. Malak dismissed the pending divorce case, which meant that the couple’s joint assets, primarily the Wilmette house and its contents, reverted to Olds. He also was now free to receive the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to him by his law firm, without the restrictions imposed by the court during the divorce proceedings.
Nevertheless, Olds still was a man whose career was in tatters, whose fortune was largely dissipated, and whose existence was still shadowed by the murder of his wife of more than 30 years. But shortly after the divorce decision, he sounded remarkably chipper during a phone conversation. He chatted about his travel plans and reminisced a little wistfully about his life with Hofer. “I’m sure he was tired of playing Monopoly and Battleship,” he said. But still, it was clear that the relationship was not over, despite the advice of lawyers for them to stay apart. Until he was arrested for murder, Hofer still was using Olds’s car regularly, and sometimes the two of them would drive together to visit the schnauzers at a south suburban kennel. “Carsten was trying to get his roots down in the U.S.,” Olds said several weeks before Hofer’s arrest. “Now, with the problems he’s had, I don’t know. I just want to pick up his spirits. I want to sponsor him for American citizenship.”
Olds went to the police station on the night of Hofer’s arrest “because he was concerned about his friend,” William Kunkle said. On televised news coverage, Olds’s appearance was disheveled, and he seemed to be intoxicated. He staggered toward his car and told TV reporters attempting to question him to “buzz off.”
After Hofer was arrested, it because clear that a variety of versions of the alleged murderer’s life were being melted out.
For example, at a press conference the day after Hofer was arrested, Kling, his defense lawyer, made much of Hofer’s modeling career in Germany and his success in that field here, even referring to his appearance in a national Gatorade commercial. But in an hour-long interview with Chicago six weeks before, Hofer never mentioned being a model in Europe, despite detailed questions about his work experience. And Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, the Chicago agency that handles all of Gatorade’s advertising, said its records indicated no payments for commercial roles ever being made to Hofer.
Dean Olds, too, played a part in disseminating conflicting information about Hofer’s life. The day after Hofer’s bond hearing, Olds told the Chicago Tribune that after Hofer’s parents “walked off and left him when he was a child, he basically put himself through college.” But Hofer told Chicago magazine that he left school at 15 did not attend university.
Hofer’s reasons for wanting to return to Germany (as stated by his lawyers) also beg for an explanation. Kling told reporters Hofer wanted to see his family and reestablish his career in Germany. But Hofer and Wheeler told Chicago in the same March 25th interview that Hofer’s grandparents, who aside from his great-aunt were the only relatives with whom he was close, had cut off all contact with him. And, Hofer said, his salary from Dean Olds in 1991 and 1992, purportedly for managing the limousine business, was his primary means of support while living in Munich during that time.
Throughout the months after the murder, the Olds children have refrained from commenting publicly on the case, but family members and friends say that more than anything, they want the murder of Suzanne Olds to be solved. Matt Glavin is still brought to tears recalling the horror of finding his mother-in-law lying on the garage floor with her head smashed in. “This is something that will never leave me,” he said. Glavin says he believes there are only a very few people who would have had any reason to harm Sue Olds. “There is nothing I would like better than for the truth about this to come out,” he said.