Wednesday 23 August 2023

Whodunnit? Millionaire Murder

In 1997 Gardner Young decided to give his partner, Greg Siner, what he had always dreamed of. Greg was a dog groomer and ran a dog boutique in New Jersey and had often dreamt of owning his own kennels and breeding championship dogs.

Gardner and Greg found the ideal place in Hopkinton, Rhode Island. It had been abandoned since 1988 and had become something of a local legend. The estate had been the home of a renowned yet eccentric millionaire spaniel breeder called Cam Lyman. Cam disappeared in 1988.

Greg had met Cam briefly a few times at various dog shows across the US, and he revelled in telling stories of Cam’s disappearance to his old friends from the New Jersey gay scene when they visited him. He had even more stories to tell after July 1998.

Greg and Gardner began the long task of renovating the estate and setting up their kennels. One of the problems that needed urgent attention was the drains in one of the kennel buildings. It had become blocked. Greg reasoned that the drain leading to the septic tank needed a good clean out after nearly a decade of non-use.

I’ve watched too many true crime programmes to be not surprised at what happened next.

After prizing off the lid of the underground septic tank Greg could see a human skull staring up at him from the bottom. He knew exactly who it belonged to. Cam Lyman had been found. Examination of the remains showed that Cam had been shot in the head.

Cam Lyman was born a biological female in 1932 and was raised as a girl. Her parents were millionaires from old colonial families and baptised their daughter Camilla Lowell Lyman. Before we go further, a brief word on pronouns. In accordance with accepted convention for people who are no longer alive I will use female pronouns for when Cam identified as female. Some YouTubers assign a non-binary identification on Cam Lyman. There is absolutely no evidence or justification for this, as there is no record that Cam identified as such, and claiming so shows disrespect.

Cammilla’s parents were like chalk and cheese. Mrs. Margaret Rice Lyman showed no interest in any of her four children. She never displayed any love towards them. Arthur Theodor Lyman, on the other hand, was the most loving and supporting father they could have. Camilla was particularly attached to him.

Growing up, Camilla became distinguishable by her large frame and awkward mannerisms. At school she was nicknamed “Butch” by her classmates. Camilla’s closeness to her father began to show in her wearing the type of jacket that he also wore. What brought them closer was their shared interest in dogs and dog-breeding which other members of the family didn’t have.

After her father’s death in 1968 Camilla seemed to withdraw from her family. Her contact with the outside world came primarily in the dog shows where she became a familiar sight and a success as a breeder. She wore her fathers’ jackets, long skirts, and cut her hair short. People were beginning to say that she was turning into her father. One month after her mother died in 1973 the transformation became complete. Camilla had become Cam.

One unsettling aspect of Cam’s new identification as a man came in his taking of steroids developed for dogs made from bull’s semen. With his aversion to established health services he would never have considered reassignment surgery, according to those who new her best. He never went to a doctor or dentist. Cam’s family and contacts in the dog world put his behaviour down to natural eccentricity and accepted it.

However successful Cam was as a dog-breeder the same cannot be said about his handling of money. To help run his estate and finances he employed a “handler” called George O’Neill.

With hindsight, the most charitable thing I can say about O’Neill is that he was a crook, and it showed from the very beginning. But Cam, for some reason, trusted him. More significantly, Cam trusted O’Neill to handle all his money and ensure all bills and official documents were delivered on time. It was O’Neill to whom Cam entrusted the preparation and delivery of the documents stating his intention to legally adopted the name Cam instead of Camilla. To the outside world O’Neill seemed to be having a controlling influence on Cam, even at dog shows, and Cam seemed to be totally dependent on him. O’Neill was even given power of attorney over everything.

Yet, despite all this, and their successful partnership as dog breeders, Cam was prone to sudden rages and the two had a tempestuous working relationship. Their last known disagreement concerned O’Neill not submitting entry details for Cam’s prize-winning spaniel in a show in Canada on time. To be honest, it wasn’t entirely O’Neill’s fault. There was a postal strike, but Cam blamed O’Neill completely. The heated argument over the phone ended when Cam’s line was cut off.

The next day, 20 July 1987, O’Neill went to Cam’s estate to explain. He found the phone ripped off the wall and could not find Cam anywhere. Nothing else seemed out of order, and the dogs were okay but they needed feeding. For the rest of his life O’Neill claimed that he had assumed Cam had left the business and gone to have gender re-assignment surgery in Europe. Knowing Cam’s aversion to health care this was never believed by anyone.

By Christmas 1987 Cam’s family had got very concerned and began an investigation. At the same time Cam’s lawyers and bank did as well. It was discovered that O’Neill had been embezzling money from Cam’s estate for several years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars had gone missing. Cam probably never knew it was happening. Although O’Neill was eventually convicted of embezzlement, he refused to admit he knew anything about Cam’s disappearance, or even showed any real concern. All he said was “she’s dead”, but that’s what Cam’s family was thinking as well.

Apart from O’Neill the police and private investigators could never identify a reason for Cam’s disappearance, nor any suspects in his murder after his body was discovered by Greg Siner. O’Neill acted very suspiciously throughout the whole investigation, but that’s not proof of any involvement.

To this day the case is unsolved. The mystery behind it only enhances its appeal, like Jack the Ripper. It still features in the media from time to time.

Cam’s remains were buried with his parents. There’s no-one still living who had any close connection to the 1987 case. The last of Cam’s siblings died in 2018 and his many nephews and nieces were too distantly connected to have any useful information. Only Greg Siner and Gardner Young (now separated) remain to give first-hand accounts.

So, whodunit?

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