Monday, December 14, 2015

The Killer With the Voice of An Angel: The Murder Trial of Claudine Longet


"It's a shame because Spider accomplished so much in his life. Claudine Longet only accomplished two things: marrying Andy Williams and getting away with murder."

-- Steve Sabich, brother of international skier Spider Sabich. 


Years before the celebrity murder trials of O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, and Oscar Pistorius, Claudine Longet -- singer, actress, dancer, and former wife of Andy Williams -- found herself in court, accused of killing her boyfriend. Many believe that she got away with it. It's a sad, sordid tale that involves Williams, an Olympic skier, and even The Rolling Stones. Read on for the details...


Claudine Longet made a name for herself during the 1960s for being Andy Williams' wife, appearing many times on his popular TV show to perform songs with and without him. Born in Paris, she began her showbiz career with small parts on McHale's Navy, The Rat Patrol, Hogan's Heroes, and other television series. In 1960, when she had a job dancing at the Tropicana Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, her car got a flat tire. Who stopped to rescue the damsel in distress but none other than Williams. The crooner was 32 at the time; Longet was 18 -- but he was immediately smitten with the petite brunette with the beguiling accent and large eyes, later calling her "my favorite French singer." They married the following year. During the '60s Williams and Longet had three children together: Noelle, Christian, and Bobby. Being married to the star and often appearing on screen with him and their children added to the squeaky clean, family image of the program. 



Things were going remarkably well for Longet by the mid-60s. She became a singing sensation after appearing on the Ben Gazarra series Run For Your Life playing the guitar and singing "Meditation" in her soft breathy voice. The performance even caught the attention of Herb Alpert, who offered her a recording contract with his company. She would eventually record five albums for his A&M Records followed by ones with other labels, covering songs by the Beatles and the Carpenters. 


Not only that, but she was making appearances on other TV variety shows, singing alongside Tom Jones and Bobby Darin. A 2010 book written about Longet's life, Aspen Terminus, stated that she had "succeeded in doing what no French woman singer since Edith Piaf had done: selling serious numbers of records in the United States."




She and her husband also became close friends with Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, and Longet landed a role in the 1968 Peter Sellers movie The Party


Despite portraying a strong union on television, Williams and Longet decided to separate in 1970 and their divorce became final in 1975. In Williams' autobiography, the singer admitted that being on tour and away from home so much began to drive a wedge in the marriage and that "the thrill I used to get when I saw her walking towards me had faded. The private, intimate looks we used to exchange were less frequent, but until that moment I had not understood how far down that path we had travelled. Claudine had fallen out of love with me."



In 1972, while separated from Williams, Longet met the acclaimed skier Vladimir "Spider" Sabich at a celebrity skiing event and they began dating. Sabich's name is mostly unknown to those that didn't grow up in the '60s and '70s, but he had today's equivalent fame of someone like Bode Miller. A handsome, charismatic Croatian-born athlete, he had competed in the 1968 Winter Olympics and was the pro ski racing champion of 1971 and 1972.

Sabich was recovering from back and neck injuries sustained from previous competitions, but he was still sitting on top of the world -- he was said to be the inspiration for Robert Redford's character in Downhill Racer and his name and face were endorsing several products from coffee to cosmetics. He was only 27 years old when he met Longet -- who was 30 at the time with three young children.


Understandably, like any young male athlete would be, he was in no position to settle down and make a commitment with anyone at this stage in his career, particularly a divorced mother. But before long Longet had moved herself and her family into Sabich's Aspen chalet in the tony Starwood complex, near the home of his friend, John Denver, and they soon became the city's hottest celebrity couple.




It was on March 21, 1976 that Sabich's young life and relationship with Longet came to a violent end. After a training session, and before meeting his coach Bob Beattie for dinner, Sabich was getting ready to take a shower when he was shot in his bathroom by Longet, a lone bullet lodged in his stomach. He lost a lot of blood before the ambulance arrived, and was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital.


Longet was arrested and put on trial. She repeatedly claimed that Sabich had been showing her how to use the gun when it accidentally discharged -- an unlikely scenario given the fact that she had shot at Sabich from a distance. 


And there was other damning evidence -- for months the relationship had been rocky, with Sabich admitting to an ex-girlfriend that he didn't know how he was going to break things off with Longet and that she was throwing temper tantrums. Friends said that Sabich wanted to kick Longet and her kids out of the house. According to Longet's diary which was confiscated to be used as evidence in court, the relationship had grown tumultuous in the months leading up to the death. A blood sample which was also taken from Longet the night of the murder revealed that she had taken cocaine. 


Unfortunately all of this key evidence had to be dismissed in court, all because the Aspen police didn't follow procedure and obtain a warrant to properly search Sabich's home.




Andy Williams flew to Aspen to be by his ex-wife's side, and escorted her to and from the trial every day. He vehemently supported her and believed her innocence. "The manslaughter charge is ridiculous," he told People magazine in 1976, just before the trial took place. "She could get up to 10 years. She loved Spider." 


During the trial, Longet refused to leave Aspen, a decision that infuriated residents. She even made her kids go back to school the day after Sabich's death, and purchased an old Victorian house in town. The press descended onto town during the drama, turning it into a pre-TMZ.com media circus. 




Because of the dismissed evidence, the best argument prosecutors could use in court was the position of Sabich's body when he was shot: bent over and facing away from the gun. The jury found her guilty -- but only of negligent homicide. She was sentenced to pay a small fine and spend 30 days in jail. Furthermore, the lenient judge said she could choose which days she served her time, so she spent mostly her weekends in jail, seeing her children the rest of the week. She was even allowed to decorate her cell.


While the judicial court had given her a slap on the wrist, the court of public opinion, however, was a different story. Public reaction, particularly in Aspen, was of disbelief and anger. Many believed that Longet got away with murder, especially given the blatant evidence that couldn't be used in court. She also began dating her attorney, Ron Austin, who was married at the time and even vacationed with him after the verdict. Longet and Austin eventually married and still live in Aspen today, where Longet is still despised by people who were there during the trial. That innocent, sexy image she had cultivated while married to Williams was destroyed by her own doing. 


The Sabich family then initiated a civil lawsuit against Longet. The case was settled out of court, with one of the conditions being that Longet could never give an interview or write a book about her story, thus preventing her from making a profit off of Sabich's death. 


In 1980, The Rolling Stones recorded a song called "Claudine" which chronicled the Sabich/Longet relationship, murder, and trial ("Claudine's back in jail again..."). It was meant to be included on the album Emotional Rescue but was considered too controversial at the time and the track got pulled, making its way to fans' ears via bootlegs until the Stones included in on the Some Girls reissue in 2011.




To this day Longet lives in seclusion and there have been no new photos of her in decades. Her entertainment career ended the day she put a bullet in her boyfriend. She may have gotten away with murder, but clearly has been living in her own private jail ever since. 

8 comments:

  1. This was a good read, magazine worthy. A couple weeks ago, Get-TV was airing old Andy Willians Christmas specials and his (former) wife was in 'em & seeing her again after all these years reminded me of that ski-murder scandal in the 70s. I remember my grandma expressing shock that Andy was paying for his ex-wife's defense, but I never knew anything more about it.. until now! Nice work Pam.

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  2. Thank you very much, Doug -- I really appreciate the compliment. It's amazing that it apparently never occurred to Andy Williams that had he stayed married to Longet, he could have ended up he same way Spider Sabich did. The whole case is infuriating; it was smart of Sabich's family to ensure Longet could never write a book or tell her story.

    Total travesty of justice, but perhaps the rest of her life has been her karma.

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  3. I've read Andy Williams' autobiography, "Moon River And Me", and that part of his story bothered me. I just can't fathom why he'd remain so faithful to her and turn a blind eye to what seemed like an obvious act of murder. I really admire Andy Williams for being such a decent man throughout his life and career, yet there I felt his loyalty was misplaced.

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  4. I haven't read his autobiography but totally agree, Pete. Perhaps it was impossible for him to believe that they mother of his children could do such a thing, even though her story was absurd and the evidence was so obvious.

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  5. Celebrities live different lives, eh? Great post, Pam!

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  6. That was a good article but guilty should have had a harder sentence. Celebrities seem to get off from crimes they commited which is plain out WRONG.

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  7. I believe it was an accident. I know Claudine and I do not believe she would do that

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  8. The evidence very clearly says otherwise and that's why her defense needed it to be inadmissible on a technicality to allow her to get away with it.

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