FLEETING INFAMY: Many Are Called But Few Are Frozen in Spotlight

 by MICHAEL O. ALLEN and RICHARD T. PIENCIAK, Daily News Staff Writers | Sunday, May 4, 1997

Most people who grab fleeting notoriety — Sukhreet Gabel, the kid who stole the A train, Lady Bing and Yankee switcher Fritz Peterson — disappear quickly and quietly.

Then there are those like Burton Pugach, resurrected at regular intervals, and Donald Trump, who never seems to leave the stage.

Pugach has defied the odds by stretching his fame to 45 minutes with front-page appearances in 1959, 1974 and 1997.

The 70-year-old ex-attorney first surfaced when he paid three goons $2,000 to throw lye into the face of a girlfriend who had discovered he was married. After serving 14 years in prison, Pugach hit the front pages again in 1974, when he married the woman who had been blinded in the attack.

His third major foray into the public arena concluded last week with his acquittal in Queens on charges that he had threatened to kill his most recent ex-mistress.

In Trump’s case, his soap opera — separation from Marla — is just beginning.

Here’s a reprise of what happened to some others who just faded away:

Howie Spira

Howie Spira, George Steinbrenner’s one-time archrival, would love to return to center stage. These days, Spira has an entertainment lawyer and a literary agent; he’s hawking a book and movie about his life and says he is dating a beautiful 25-year-old airline employee from California.

Howie’s big moment in 1990 produced dire consequences for a variety of people: The Boss got suspended from baseball; Fay Vincent ultimately was booted from the baseball commissioner’s office; and Spira ended up in federal prison.

Spira claimed Steinbrenner had paid him $40,000 to dig up dirt on slugger Dave Winfield. The FBI charged him with extortion.

Several weeks before his parole in October 1993, Spira made the acquaintance of another inmate, former New York Judge Sol Wachtler.

“He was very upset,” Spira, now 38, recalled. “I introduced him to people. We became friends.

“It’s been very, very difficult. The same people who to this day chase me for autographs or want to talk baseball will not give me a job because of the stigma. . . . I’m frightened about my future.”

Francine Gottfried

Front-page allegations of sexual harassment lodged last week by several female employees of a Long Island brokerage house suggested that the more things change in Wall Street circles, the more they stay the same. Take the case of the Wall Street Sweater Girl of 1968.

At the time, Francine Gottfried was 21 years old, stood 5-foot-3 and earned $92.50 a week as a data processing operator for Chemical Bank. A completely different set of numbers brought intense public attention to the Brooklyn native: her 43-25-37 figure.

The frenzy over Gottfried began spontaneously; several brokerage house employees noticed she exited the BMT subway station near the New York Stock Exchange each workday shortly before 1:30 p.m. The workers told their friends and colleagues, who told more people.

During a two-week period that September, the crowds grew from several hundred to more than 15,000 — all in search of a glimpse of Francine in her extremely tight yellow sweater.

“A Bust Panics Wall Street as the Tape Says 43,” blared one Daily News headline. Added The New York Times: “10,000 Wait in Vain for Reappearance of Wall Street’s Sweater Girl.”

Meanwhile, Francine began considering whether to charge for interviews and photos. “I’ve got a million dollars of publicity already, but no money,” she said. “This is the biggest thing to hit Wall Street since the Crash of ’29, and I should be compensated.”

But Francine eventually dropped from the radar screen by taking a different route to work.

Keron Thomas

On May 8, 1993, at the age of 16, Keron Thomas took Duke Ellington’s musical advice one step too far: He didn’t simply take the A train, he stole it.

A train buff since his childhood in Trinidad, Thomas rode the subway at all hours.

Thomas became such fast friends with trainman Regoberto Sabio that one day he found himself behind the controls of the shuttle between Franklin Ave. and Prospect Park.

Psyched by the experience, Thomas called the 207th St. subway yard in Inwood, identifying himself as Sabio and requesting an overtime shift.

The dispatcher failed to ask Thomas for photo I.D. or his employee badge, which enabled the older-looking teen to take control of a 10-car train.

An estimated 2,000 passengers were aboard during the ensuing three-hour ride.

Thomas might have gotten away with the caper had he not exceeded a 20 mph speed limit, tripping an emergency signal.

The sheer brazenness of Thomas’ act captivated New Yorkers. Friends at Brooklyn Automotive High School took to calling him “A Train.”

The charges were reduced to misdemeanors, and Thomas was sentenced to three years probation.

But 18 months after the A train incident, Thomas was arrested for stabbing a teen.

Charged with attempted murder, Thomas spent 177 days on Rikers Island and pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree assault. He was credited with time served and was released in July 1995 on five years probation.

Last week, Probation Department spokesman Jack Ryan said Thomas’ file was sealed. Despite being 18 at the time of the stabbing, Thomas ultimately was treated as a youthful offender.

Sukhreet Gable

For nine riveting days in 1988, Sukhreet Gabel testified against her ailing 75-year-old mother — a respected judge — former Miss America Bess Myerson, and Bess’ lover, contractor Carl (Andy) Capasso.

The prosecution alleged that Sukhreet had been given a city job in return for her mother’s fixing of Capasso’s divorce settlement. The bribery trial ended, however, in acquittals for all.

“I think I was naive,” says Gabel, now 47. “I might do it differently if I had to do it all again. But my mother’s words always come back to me. What she said was to always tell the truth, and I think those are good words to live by. My mother was a wise woman.”

Sukhreet remembers her moment in the spotlight as having been quite awful.

“So often I would be misunderstood and labeled crazy, when I don’t think I am,” she said. “I’m certainly a character, but I’m not crazy.”

These days, Gabel is busy importing and exporting traditional and high-end contemporary textiles, a job that takes her all over the world.

Lady Bing

At age 22, Carroll Lee Douglass married 65-year-old moviemaker Jack Glenn. Following a divorce, she married William Rickenbacker, son of World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker. In 1987, at 47, she married retired Metropolitan Opera impresario Sir Rudolf Bing, 85 at the time.

The wedding ceremony had taken place only two days after Bing’s relatives succeeded in getting a judge in Manhattan to schedule a competency hearing for him.

Bing and his wife, who took to calling herself Lady Bing, appeared at the hearing on Jan. 12, 1987, but vanished once the judge declared that the groom was incompetent to handle his financial affairs.

Within a month, the Daily News traced the newlyweds to the idyllic Caribbean island of Anguilla.

Eventually, the pair returned to New York, where a judge annulled the marriage; Sir Rudolf entered the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale.

Last Thursday, a worker at the home confirmed that Bing still is a resident. “He’s doing fine,” she said.

Does Lady Bing ever come to visit?

“No,” the employee said. “She hasn’t been here in well over a year.”

Harvey Sladkus, Lady Bing’s attorney, said she appeared unannounced at his law offices on Park Ave. several weeks ago. “She looked very sad. She had lost considerable weight.”

Lady Bing wondered whether Sladkus would hire her as the office receptionist.

“I told her, ‘We already have someone in that position,’ ” the attorney recalled.

Alice Crimmins

Alice Crimmins may well have achieved her aim of blending anonymously into the community. But more than three decades ago, her crime held the city spellbound.

Her daughter, Alice Marie Crimmins, 4, and the child’s brother, Edmund, 5, disappeared from their Kew Gardens Hills apartment July 14, 1965. The girl’s body was found a half-mile away and the boy’s a mile away.

It took two trials over a six-year period before Alice Crimmins was convicted of her son’s murder and of manslaughter in her daughter’s death. The investigation focused on Crimmins’ many boyfriends.

The murder conviction eventually was overturned for lack of evidence, but she was sentenced to 5 to 20 years for the manslaughter conviction.

On Friday, Thomas Grant, assistant to the chairman of the state Parole Board, said Crimmins no longer is under parole supervision. He said records indicate she was released from a state correctional facility on Sept. 9, 1977, after serving nine years. He said her official file also showed a closure date of Jan. 17, 1993.

Crimmins, who married a Long Island construction contractor while on a weekend furlough, no longer talks to the media. Her last known address was a high-rise in Bayside, Queens.

She consistently has denied killing her children.

Yankee Wife Swappers

Even if former Yankee left-handed pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson had produced Hall of Fame numbers, their off-the-field exploits would have overshadowed what they did on the mound.

At the beginning of the 1973 baseball season, the two close friends and free spirits told the world they had swapped wives, children, dogs and houses.

Peterson moved in with Susanne Kekich and her two daughters, Kristen, 4, and Reagan, 2. They married soon after she divorced her husband.

For Mike Kekich and Marilyn Peterson, the exchange had an unhappy ending. They broke up two months after he moved in with her and her sons, Gregg, 5, and Eric, 2.

Fritz and Susanne remain married. Peterson works as a craps dealer at Grand Victoria Casino Boat in Elgin, Ill.

Original Story Date: 050497