Secrets of the Chippendales Murder
Secrets of the Chippendales Murders is now available to stream on Crime + Investigation Play. Peak behind the scenes and beyond the bright lights into a dark world of drugs, arson, a love triangle and murder.
In the 1970s, Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee purchased a struggling rock ‘n roll club on Overland Avenue in Los Angeles and renamed it Chippendales. He turned the failing nightclub into a multi-million-dollar business with the introduction of male strippers, something that was revolutionary at the time. Thousands of women flocked to Chippendales to watch the semi-nude men dance on stage, stuffing dollar bills in their G-strings as they passed.
Somen ‘Steve’ Banerjee
Banerjee and his business partner, Paul Snider, had sought out men in gyms and beaches across the city. At the suggestion of Snider’s wife, Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten, the male strippers began wearing the signature bowtie and cuffs. As Candace Mayeron, a former producer for Chippendales, said: ‘It was the first time ever where something was completely geared to the ladies.’
Chippendales was a massive hit, but over time, the façade of the glitz and glamour began to fade, and ultimately gave way to violence and murder.
After a successful first year, Snider shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself. Banerjee was undeterred by the murder-suicide and refused to let it stain the success of the nightclub. He had ambitions to grow the Chippendale business and the male stripper show eventually transformed into a dancing and touring group with live performances across the globe.
Nick De Noia
In 1981, Banerjee hired Emmy-winning producer Nick De Noia to help choreograph the troupe’s tour and live show routines. It was a huge success. In the club’s heyday, the Chippendales show was bringing in at least $25,000 in profit per week and a second Chippendales location was opened in New York, followed by nightclubs in Dallas and Denver.
The nightclubs were always booming and competing venues quickly noticed and began introducing male strippers to their premises. Banerjee was terrified by the prospect of rivalry, and he attempted to burn down several other nightclubs to end any competition. Eventually, his relationship with Nick began to deteriorate. While Nick was bringing in millions of dollars per year touring with the Chippendales, Banerjee was becoming increasingly jealous over the attention he was receiving from television talk shows and other media.
Eventually, Banerjee and Nick cut a deal wherein Banerjee would take the Chippendales business while Nick received all the rights to the touring show. For a while, things were running smoothly, but the touring part of the business turned out to be the most lucrative aspect, much to the dismay of Banerjee.
The relationship eventually turned sour and in April 1987, Banerjee paid a man named Ray Colon to kill Nick after a legal dispute over touring rights. During the legal dispute, Nick prevailed in court and Banerjee filed for bankruptcy. Colon enlisted a man named Gilberto Rivera, and on 7th April 1987, the two men drove over to Nick’s office in New York. Rivera went inside, shot him in the face and killed him.
Investigators working on the homicide case found no evidence that connected Banerjee to the murder, and business at Chippendales continued like normal. Banerjee even bought back the touring rights of the business from Nick’s family for $1 million.
After getting away with the murder, Banerjee then began scheming to kill members of a rival troupe of sixteen male dancers, the Adonis, who had been harsh competition to the Chippendales. He set his sights on three of the dancers, Read Scot, Steven White and Mike Fullington, who were all formerly associated with the Chippendales. Banerjee offered $25,000 each for the deaths of Scot, White and Fullington, and his hitmen settled on cyanide poisoning. Banerjee decided the hit should be carried out while the group was touring in the UK.
The grim plan was foiled by a man named Lynn Bressler who approached the FBI with his services to become an informer. He told the FBI that Ray Colon had been hired by Banerjee to conduct the hit, but Colon then approached Bressler and asked him to carry it out instead. The plan was for Bressler to travel to the UK and kill the members of Adonis when they were performing at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
'There is a contract out on your life...'
In 1991, Read Scot was performing with the Adonis in London when he was ushered off the stage and informed that Scotland Yard officers had a chilling message for him: ‘There is a contract out for your life. It's going to be a cyanide injection…[Someone] will get close to you and inject you with a needle.’
While working in tandem with Bressler, the FBI discovered that Colon had a canvas bag in his home filled with enough cyanide to kill 2,300 people. He handed Bressler enough to kill the targets, and Bressler went straight to the FBI.
Bressler agreed to wear a wire and bug his telephone to try and capture Colon talking about the murder plot. FBI Special Agent Dan West was in his office in Las Vegas when he listened intently to the damning conversation. Colon suggested to Bressler that he hit his intended victims on the head with a brick or hammer to neutralise them, and then inject them with the cyanide.
It took years for investigators to gather enough evidence, but on 2nd September 1993, Banerjee was arrested by FBI agents. He was subsequently charged with the murder of Nick. He was additionally charged with the attempted arsons of two competitive businesses, Moody’s Disco in Santa Monica and the Red Onion Restaurant & Bar in Marina del Rey. As per the indictment, Banerjee had been motivated to commit the crimes as revenge for perceived damages to his business, or simply because he wanted to destroy competition.
In August 1994, Banerjee shuffled into court where he pleaded guilty to single counts of murder for hire and racketeering. It was part of a plea agreement that would have seen him serve at least 26 years in prison. In exchange, the prosecution dropped charges of attempted murder relating to the hit he had put out on three members of the Adonis.
On 24th October 1994, Banerjee was found dead in his cell at the Metropolitan Detention Centre. He had hanged himself. His suicide came just the day before he was to be sentenced for his role in the murder of Nick DeNoia.
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