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Love and Death on the Upper East Side

". . . The first wave of newspaper stories splashed happily over the 'love triangle.' Older-guy-loses-girl-to-younger-guy . . ."


From the September 11, 1978 issue of New York Magazine.

There was a tropical feel to the air that hot July afternoon, and the sunlight was rich as melon. It was half past four. Jack Tupper was standing outside the building in which he lived, talking desultory business with an acquaintance I shall call Shaw.

A piece of blond wood caught their eye. A bar. It was among the oddments being disposed of by a shoe store which was selling out. Tupper was planning to buy a bar. They walked inside. There was a girl there. Melanie Cain.

This was unsurprising. The moribund shoe shop was, after all, cheek by jowl with My Fair Lady, the model agency of which Melanie Cain was part owner and—as one of the city's leading models—the principal ornament. Indeed, the entire building, at 155 East 84th, which lies between Lexington and Third, belonged to Buddy Jacobson. Melanie's partner and longtime lover.

Tupper knew them slightly. He had, a few weeks before, moved from the fifth floor to apartment 7C. Just across the hall from Buddy and Melanie in 7D, where I happened to have talked to them a few months previously while writing a feature for this magazine entitled "Model Wars."

The three chatted. Melanie asked if Tupper wanted to go jogging. He said sure. They'd meet in half an hour.

Jack Tupper jogged with Melanie Cain around the reservoir.

That was how it began. Jogging. Truly an American Romance.

On Sunday, August 6, less than three weeks later, Jack Tupper was murdered.

Jack Tupper's face was sliced up with a knife. His head was beaten in. His body bludgeoned. Also, he had been shot seven times. (According to police, two bullets in his body matched a spent bullet found in Jacobson's apartment, and there were bullets embedded in the wall.)

A while later, three men were observed trying to set fire to a box on a piece of wasteland in the Bronx. The wasteland is within eye line of an upper window of the local firehouse and is in full view of much of Co-op City. Three witnesses allegedly identified Buddy Jacobson. One gave the license-plate number of the yellow Cadillac in which the men departed. The perfect crime it wasn't.

The first wave of stories splashed happily over the "love triangle." Older-guy-loses-girl-to-younger-guy. Buddy Jacobson's reported offer to Jack Tupper, covertly tape-recorded, of $100,000.

Later stories, unencumbered by details, alluded to call-girl rings and cocaine dealerships. The FBI was said to be involved. Likewise, the Mafia. Oh, yes: There was a death threat.

This is (some of) what actually happened.

Buddy Jacobson, like Jack Tupper, comes from Queens. The man who always lies about his age was born in Flatbush on December 30, 1930. His father was in the hat business and lived on Queens Boulevard.

Hatting did not allure. But Buddy's mother was born Florence Jacobs. Her brothers—Sidney, Eugene, and, especially, Hirsch Jacobs—were potent names on the racetrack. Trainers to reckon with. Hirsch's daughter, Patrice, was later to marry Louis Wolfson, owner of the Triple Crown winner Affirmed. At nineteen, Buddy was a groom with Eugene Jacobs in Florida. After a stint in the Merchant Marine, Jacobson set up as a trainer.

He was brilliant at his work. In 1963 he was America's most successful trainer, a feat he repeated in 1964 and 1965. He was not, however, winning prizes for popularity.

Established owners and trainers still grow choleric on the subject of Buddy Jacobson. He thought of horses as machines, I was told again and again, at Saratoga and at Belmont. They say he drugged and ran "sore horses." There are occasional hints that he hung around with "bad" people.

Well, there is no shortage of bad people on the turf but no evidence that Jacobson did much hanging around them. "Buddy was a good, solid horseman," says Pete Axthelm, the sports-writer, who knew him at this period. "Revisionist history makes him the biggest outlaw on the turf. But they would have gotten him if he had been."

Another trainer agrees: "Buddy had a clean bill of health. He never had a ruling against him for entering a horse of the wrong weight, the wrong age, or whatever. Which is remarkable for somebody who was running about 50 horses." But this trainer takes a cooler view of Jacobson's horsemanship.

"He wasn't such a good judge of horses' legs. It's a fallacy," he told me. "It was a matter of wheeling and dealing. He was quick in picking up on things. Buddy would use X-rays before anybody. He was pumping cortisones into a horse's joints before anybody else. It gave him an edge."

His increasing success made Jacobson increasingly autocratic, obsessive. "As a personality he was a loner, and he didn't like anybody telling him what to do," says Sam Lefrak, the builder, for whom he trained with considerable success. "You would never ever see him pat a horse," an owner recalls, still affronted. "He was always saying that they were the dumbest things alive."


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