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The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
3. Sex, Murder & Videotape

Copyright 2000     Jason Manning     All Rights Reserved

Vicki Morgan went to Hollywood in search of fame.  She found it, but not in the way she expected.  When multi-millionaire Alfred Bloomingdale saw her at Grauman's Chinese Theater, where she was employed as an usher, the 54-year-old department store tycoon and founder of Diners Club talked Vicki into becoming his mistress.  She was married at the time, with one child born out of wedlock, but the arrangement with Bloomingdale lasted for twelve years.  During that time, Vicki divorced her first husband and had two more brief marriages.  When Bloomingdale became terminally ill in 1982, he agreed to give Vicki $18,000 a month even though he would no longer be able to enjoy the pleasure of her company; Vicki claimed he made this commitment both verbally and in writing.  A few months later the payments were stopped by Alfred's wife Betsy, who happened to be one of First Lady Nancy Reagan's best friends.  (According to Vicki, it was Mrs. Reagan who saw her with Alfred and reported the sighting to Betsy -- a charge emphatically denied by a spokesman for the First Lady.)  Vicki hired superlawyer Marvin Mitchelson and went after a sizeable chunk of the Bloomingdale fortune with a $5 million palimony suit filed on July 8, 1982.  She had exactly one year, less a day, to live.
Alfred Bloomingdale died of throat cancer in Santa Monica, California, on August 20, 1982 at the age of 66.  His wife, who allegedly attended upscale soirees on both coasts while her husband was hospitalized, had Bloomingdale's remains interred before his death was officially announced.  Vicki had already taken the precaution of filing a lawsuit against Betsy for the $5 million she felt she deserved.  She argued that she had, in a sense, served as his sexual therapist; he had indulged his sadistic proclivities when they were together.  Her lawyer claimed that the recent Michelle Triola/Lee Marvin palimony decision set a precedent for Vicki's suit, but a judge disagreed and threw the case out.
Vicki's friends and neighbors told reporters that the beautiful 30-year-old blonde became a virtual recluse following her courtroom defeat.  Bloomingdale had spent an estimated $1.5 million to keep his mistress in the style to which she had become accustomed, but soon Vicki was selling her Mercedes and her jewelry just to make ends meet.  To help pay the $1,000-a-month rent on her apartment, she agreed to let a 32-year-old man named Marvin Pancoast move in with her.  A few years earlier, Pancoast had met Vicki in a mental hospital where both of them had been treated for depression.  According to friends, they were not lovers; it was suggested that Pancoast was gay.  On July 7, 1983 -- three weeks after moving in with Vicki -- Pancoast slipped into her bedroom while she was sleeping and beat her to death with a baseball bat.  A short time later, he strolled into the North Hollywood police station and calmly announced that he had just committed murder.
A small service was held at L.A.'s Forest Lawn Mortuary for Vicki, whose remains were cremated.  The story quickly took another bizarre turn.  Robert Steinberg, a prominent Beverly Hills attorney, announced that a mystery woman -- blonde, thirtyish, expensively dressed -- had given him three videotapes the day Vicki was laid to rest.  According to Steinberg, the videotapes were of orgies whose participants included Vicki Morgan and several other women, along with Alfred Bloomingdale, two high-level members of the Reagan administration, and a congressman.  Steinberg claimed he had offered to hand the tapes over to President Reagan, but then reported them stolen from his office.  Enter Larry Flynt, the flamboyant and controversial publisher of Hustler magazine, who asserted that Steinberg had agreed to sell the tapes to him for a cool one million dollars.  The lawyer adamantly denied having made any deal with the porn peddler People Weekly described as the "Duke of Raunch."
Eleven months after Vicki Morgan's death, a woman named Sharon Porto testified at Marvin Pancoast's trial that Vicki had been planning to write a sizzling kiss-and-tell book which would have mentioned the names of a lot of rich and powerful men, all of them presumably engaged in sordid behavior.  Marvin Mitchelson said that Vicki told him she knew a lot of the "political and sexual secrets" of members of the Reagan administration.  Pancoast's attorney, Arthur Barens, persuaded his client to withdraw his confession, and Barens suggested that Vicki was killed by "persons unknown" because of the videotapes.  Despite the failure of the prosecution to establish a convincing motive for the murder, and the failure of the police to take fingerprints from the murder weapon, Pancoast was convicted.  The videotapes, if they ever existed, were never found.

Postscripts

A civil court jury awarded the Vicki Morgan estate $200,000 based on a February 12, 1982 letter signed by Alfred Bloomingdale which promised Vicki $10,000 a month for two years.

In November 1985, prison physicians reported that Marvin Pancoast had AIDS.

On August 18, 1983, a L.A. County grand jury indicted attorney Robert K. Steinberg for making a false report of the theft of the videotapes, which the jurors concluded had never existed.

The Vicki Morgan story was depicted fictionally by Dominick Dunne in his novel, An Inconvenient Woman.

Marvin Pancoast, flanked by his attorneys, at his arraignment.


REFERENCES

Newsweek, 18 July 1983, 25 July 1983

People Weekly, 1 August 1983

Time, 4 October 1982, 21 May 1984

Make-Believe: The Story of Nancy & Ronald Reagan
Larence Leamer (New York: Harper & Row, 1983)

Vicki
Joyce Miller and Ann Bardach (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986)