On Wednesday night, Frederick John Handler, 57, was found dead by a neighbor in front of his home on his family compound, the Point, on the Gold Coast of Long Island. Handler’s death is the latest in a string of tragedies to befall his family, who have feuded for years over the estate, a 21-acre spread that includes a vineyard, lily pond, tennis and squash courts, a horse paddock, a greenhouse, and formal gardens that is believed to have inspired Jay Gatsby’s home in The Great Gatsby. “It was rather idyllic, but a fool’s paradise as it turned out,” Handler’s mother, Marjorie Brickman Kern, told the New York Times last year. Kern, whose father, Herman Brickman, built the compound in 1951 and her son Russell were involved in a bitter legal battle with John Handler: They alleged he had tricked his mother into selling him her 22-percent share of the estate and put the family $1.7 million into debt. The dispute dragged on for over a decade. “My father’s intent was that we all live in great harmony in a beautiful setting,” Kern told the Times ten years ago. But then “avarice and greed took over.” Also, apparently, really bad luck.
In 2006, John Handler’s wife, Jennifer Eley, a child prodigy turned principal pianist for the Long Island Philharmonic, was found dead in an indoor pool at the estate by her 9-year-old daughter. Some years earlier, her mother, Jean Eley, was killed when she crashed her car into a tree on the grounds. Those deaths were both ruled accidents, and it looks as though Handler’s might be as well: Though the Times this morning reported that he was found with mysterious injuries, Newsday now says that police told the family that it appeared Handler slipped and fell. “It’s a tragedy,” his brother Russell, 59, told Newsday. “It’s a tale that is almost unbelievable.”