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D.C. Madam Committed Suicide? Flynt Thinks So

WASHINGTON — Police in Tarpon Springs, Fla., said there was “no question” that Deborah Jeane Palfrey committed suicide by hanging Thursday, but that was not enough to stop immediate speculation that the infamous “D.C. Madam” was the victim of murder.

Hustler magazine publisher and free-speech advocate Larry Flynt — one of Palfrey’s staunchest advocates — was the strongest voice forwarding the notion that Palfrey’s death was not by her own hands.

“I think the media should be very cautious in treating this as a suicide,” Flynt told in a telephone interview from his Beverly Hills office.

Asked if he believed Palfrey was murdered, Flynt responded: “I personally believe that’s what happened, but I have no proof.”

Palfrey was found guilty of federal racketeering charges on April 15 in connection to her prostitution business, Pamela Martin & Associates, which operated out of California but hired Washington, D.C.-area women for its operations.

The case drew wide attention early last year when Palfrey gave media organizations phone numbers of her clients, but not their names, in the hopes that the clients would support her claims that her business was a legitimate escort service.

Flynt was an integral part in keeping Palfrey’s story public and worked with her and investigative reporter Dan Moldea to break the story that the phone number of Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was among those numbers in Palfrey’s client list. Flynt targeted Vitter because he had campaigned for office on a family-values platform.

Vitter apologized in July 2007 for his name appearing on Palfrey’s list, saying, “This was a very serious sin.” The senator never explained his relationship to Palfrey’s business. His office did not respond on Thursday to a phone message seeking comment.

The Palfrey case also contributed to Randall L. Tobias’ resignation from a position at the State Department after a news report identified him as a Pamela Martin client. A receptionist reached Thursday at Tobias’ Indianapolis foundation said, “There will be no comment.”

Flynt said he met Palfrey around the time of her indictment in March 2007 and discussed her case with her on several occasions.

Palfrey’s defense relied on an argument that her business was a “sexual fantasy” business but did not involve paid sex — at least none that Palfrey was aware of.

But Flynt outright dismissed that notion. Asked if she knowingly sold sex for money, Flynt said there’s “no question.”

But she also was an intelligent woman, he said.

“She did not have the demeanor of the type of person that would carry certain signs of suicide, like being withdrawn or depressed,” Flynt said. “You know, those are the kinds of signs that you look for. She didn’t display any of those traits. … She was very friendly. … Very bright. She was by no means a dummy. She knew what she was doing.”

Flynt said he believes that in her quest to avoid prison time — her sentencing hearing had been scheduled for July — Palfrey was prepared to release one or two final names connected to her case.

“She had a lot of names, and I know she was holding on to them for a reason,” Flynt said. He said he knew some of the clients’ names, and they include big-hitters in the political and media worlds. None of those names came to light, though, because they didn’t fit the mold that Flynt was pushing for: politicians who said one thing and did another. Only Vitter, Flynt said, appeared to match that description.

But Flynt hinted at much juicier material to be unearthed.

“Let me put it this way, there were more Democrats on it than Republicans,” he said, supporting his theory that the only reason this case was of interest was because of the number of Democrats who could be targeted by the Bush administration.

But Flynt said his conversations with Palfrey were off the record, and if any investigators come knocking on his door for names, they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Flynt said the only person who might know more about those conversations with Palfrey is Moldea, who was working with Palfrey on a book. Flynt said he has no financial stake in that book.

While Flynt’s version of events might be the most intriguing, they are not the only version. Many believe justice ran its course — however misguided — and the case won’t have any lasting effect, said David Corn, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones magazine and a Washington-based journalist who reported on the case.

“I met her once — and it was not in a sordid fashion — as a reporter, and I kept asking her, ‘You know, if you had any famous, high-profile clients.’ And she said, ‘Well, not really. A lot of people wouldn’t recognize these people anyway,’ ” Corn recalled on Thursday.

He said it struck him as odd that the prosecution focused on her case, rather than any of the other “escort services” that can be found in the local phone book. Corn said Palfrey seemed to have a “why me?” attitude.

Corn did not question that Palfrey had taken her own life.

“There’s a certain sad element to this — anytime there’s a suicide,” Corn said. “She went to her grave, her death, not fully understanding why hers became the only escort service to be targeted for such prosecution.”

And he said he did not think her death was the result of any sort of conspiracy.

“You hate to say this about anybody, but Jeane’s death won’t have any consequence to Washington,” he said. “She’s not taking any secrets with her. She seemed to not have them in the first place.”

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington did not return a phone call Thursday, and Palfrey’s defense attorney, Preston Burton, was not available for comment. He issued a statement through a colleague at his firm, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

“This is tragic news. My heart goes out to her mother,” Burton said, according to Orrick attorney John Pitts.


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