It ended in the pool. The whole tragic cartoon.
That morning, it was last Labor Day, Seth and Phyllis Tobias woke up together in the master bedroom of their not-quite-finished dream home. The $5 million, 6,700-square-foot mansion is located in the Bear’s Club, a gated community built on a golf course in Jupiter, Florida, twenty minutes north of Palm Beach. Designed in the style of Addison Mizner, the house is very big and very faux—faux Spanish architectural themes, faux this and faux that. There’s a Ritz-Carlton condo complex in the development, too. Phyllis liked to work out there, get massages, and have her hair blown out.
Seth had bought the house for Phyllis in late 2006 from an upscale Palm Beach broker named Linda Olsson. It was a gesture of reconciliation after the couple had almost divorced. There was a lot of that—reconciliation—but that’s because there was also a lot of fighting. You get the picture. The home included a state-of-the-art office for Tobias, the founder and chief executive of Circle T, a quarter-billion-dollar Manhattan-based hedge fund. The pool was in the backyard.
The day before, the couple had invited friends over for a barbecue. The party broke up with Seth and Phyllis at each other’s throat. But by the next day, the couple had made up, and now they’d decided to have lunch at the Breakers, the tony Palm Beach resort. At about 5:30 p.m., Seth and Phyllis left the hotel. Over the course of the afternoon, they’d rung up a $323 bill. Phyllis went home to Jupiter. Seth met up with this guy he’d known since he was a kid, Brett Borgerson. The two of them drove to a bar called E.R. Bradley’s.
Over the next two hours, Seth and Borgerson had a few more rounds. Seth called his wife nineteen times, but she didn’t call him back. It was getting dark, and Seth drove home. He passed through the gates of the Bear’s Club and pulled into their brick driveway.
At 8:08 p.m., Tobias texted Borgerson to let him know he’d gotten home safely. Seth and Phyllis had dinner together and then, according to Phyllis, tried to have sex in the pool. They eventually gave up, Phyllis says. Seth was too drunk.
Phyllis went inside and began her nighttime beauty regimen. After a shower, she walked downstairs and squinted through the gloaming. She thought she caught a glimpse of Seth swimming naked in the pool. Then she went back upstairs and got ready for bed. But shortly after midnight, Phyllis called Brett Borgerson’s wife and left a voice-mail that said, “Please call me back, Seth is acting weird. I don’t know if he’s passed out.”
About half an hour later, she called 911. “I don’t know if my husband has passed out or what.” Her accent was thick, New Jersey. The dispatcher asked if her husband was breathing. “I don’t know, he’s turned over!” Phyllis screamed. “Please just send me somebody. He’s outside [in] the pool.” She could then be heard shouting at her floating husband, “Seth, don’t play with me.”
About fifteen minutes later, a Jupiter Police Department squad car arrived, and two officers shone their flashlights into the pool. The lights eventually settled on Phyllis. She was holding Seth in the shallow end. Paramedics arrived and began CPR. Geysers of water shot out of Seth’s lungs; rigor mortis had already set in. At 1:08 a.m., Seth Tobias was pronounced dead. He was 44.
Before Seth Tobias wound up dead in his pool; before the accusations surfaced that his wife was a thrice-divorced pill-popper and cocaine user who drugged Seth and killed him for his money; before the claims that Seth had led a secret life in which he drank too much, snorted a boatload of coke, and liked to pick up male hustlers and strippers, including one named Tiger; before Seth’s brothers filed suit in Palm Beach to block Phyllis from getting her hands on Seth’s estimated $25 million estate; and certainly before I found myself face-to-face with the main source of all the dirt—a 300-pound gay con man and Internet psychic with a long criminal history named Billy Ash who claims to have been the couple’s personal assistant and may well have fabricated all or part of his claims regarding Seth and Phyllis because he’s a proven liar and self-serving attention seeker … Before all of that, Seth Tobias was known to the world, to the extent he was known at all, as an upright cable-TV talking head and multimillionaire hedge-fund manager. But that’s getting ahead of the story. Let’s just start at the beginning.
Seth Tobias was raised in Plymouth Meeting, a well-to-do suburb of Philadelphia. His father was a doctor, his parents got divorced. It was a common story. After high school, Tobias went to Boston University, where he was an indifferent student majoring in finance.