Crime: How Not To Murder Your Wife

What with a money-stealing hit man, a botched shooting and his nosy receptionist, the Bala Cynwyd chiropractor awaiting trial in a Montco jail just couldn’t get a break

Had a hit man never actually shown up and fired at Sari, the whole Kushner divorce might have been one of those Rock Hudson-Doris Day ’60s movies in which a feuding couple (egged on by Tony Randall as their nosy neighbor) threaten to kill each other, but in the end finally push their twin beds together, rip off their quilted bathrobes, and realize they adore each other. Call it How Not To Murder Your Wife. Instead, it went a more Elmore Leonard route, which might be called Get Kushner. It turned out that Kushner had allegedly been talking about murdering his wife for months, and, according to police, continued talking about it even after his wife was shot in May.

The couple wed in sunnier times, in June 1976, and in the early ’80s bought their house in Bala Cynwyd, where they raised two sons, both now in their 20s. They amassed wealth that’s impressive even by Main Line standards — as much as $5 million, according to Mrs. Kushner. If the prosecutor’s court documents are to be believed, vying for these shared assets is what pushed her husband to the brink during their divorce negotiations.

Chiropractors are gentle folk, recommending less stress and more vitamins as they manipulate your spine and crack your neck into alignment. They play golf on the weekends and talk about orthotics, but Kushner didn’t fit the mold, and perhaps hadn’t been taking his Centrum and St. John’s wort. A few months after he separated from his wife, she claims, he began telling her things like, “I hope you get hit by a truck so I can laugh while you die,” which led her to call 911 in early 2006. Soon, his wife says, Kushner was cranking up into Freddy Krueger-like threats, such as, “I am going to get you — beware — something horrible is going to happen to you soon, by the end of June or sooner!” In August ’06, a judge granted Sari rights to the house, but her husband came by so often that Sari obtained a protective order in 2007. Clearly, the divorce was not going well, as evidenced by the 161 times Kushner is said to have called his former house during the space of one month, and the allegation that he told one of his sons he should have killed Sari, or at least “beaten the shit out of her.”

To that end, Kushner asked his Manayunk car detailer, Michael Simmons, if he “knew anybody” who could help him with his wife problem, according to Simmons, who shared his story at a hearing in December.

“Like a hit?” Simmons asked. “Yeah,” he says Kushner replied, and Simmons told him he didn’t want to talk about it. But Simmons didn’t call the police, thinking his client, whom he’d known for years, wasn’t serious.

Meanwhile, over at Kushner’s office, his rage toward his wife was most definitely spilling over into his work, according to the accounts of employees whose statements have been filed in court. On display in the Lansdowne Avenue office were family photos in which Sari’s face had been Wited-Out; he’d also hung a Halloween witch mask with long salt-and-pepper hair, like Sari’s, and taped her name on the mask’s forehead. When he passed the mask, his receptionist, Yvette Hawkins, told police, Kushner would cry out, “Die, Sari, die!” Patients began complaining to Hawkins that Kushner spent their sessions complaining about his wife, and Hawkins says in an affidavit that one time, in early 2008, the chiropractor brought in two men and started showing them pictures of the Bala house.
Then there was Dr. Kushner’s patient Weldon Gary — so Elmore Leonard.
Gary told detectives he was getting adjusted by Kushner in May 2008 when the doc brought up his divorce, and the fact that his wife was getting everything. Then, Gary said, Kushner asked about “wanting something done to her,” at which point Gary cut off the conversation. “I told him I wasn’t killing no woman for him,” Gary said. But Gary told police that two months later, even after Mrs. Kushner had been shot in the wrist, he took $1,000 in cash from Kushner and agreed to do the job for a total of $20,000 after services rendered — never intending to actually render them. Kushner supposedly gave him the address of his wife’s house and asked him to take care of things before August 21st, which Gary believed was the date of the divorce finalization, but Gary threw away the address. After a month of inactivity, Kushner demanded his down payment back, but it was too late. Gary told the detectives, “I spent it. Most of it, I used drinking. I bought some clothes, some short sets, some sneakers.”
After the shooting, a search warrant turned up photos of the Kushner house and driveway, and of Sari’s Escalade, at the chiropractic office. Over at the Trianon, a safe in Kushner’s apartment yielded $75,000 in cash, police told the court. Of course, anyone could have that kind of cash lying around, but …
Darn.