Three weeks before he took his own life, Allen Myerson, a New York Times business editor, and his wife, Carol Cropper-Myerson, a writer for Business Week, went out to dinner with their close friends Kevin Buckley and Karen Wirtshafter. A celebration was in order. That afternoon, last July 31, the Myersons had closed on their dream house, a $645,000 Georgian on the leafiest block in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. Kevin and Karen, both surgeons and neighbors in nearby Montclair, took them to the area’s nicest restaurant, Liberté. Champagne was uncorked, but Carol, despite being “positively bubbly” all night, barely took a sip. Her friends remarked that that wasn’t like her—Allen and Carol fancied themselves wine connoisseurs—and Carol blushed. “Well,” she said in her sweet Kentucky accent, “we have some other news as well. I’m pregnant!”
Kevin and Karen were delighted. Like most of the Myersons’ friends, they knew the five-year hell of fertility treatments the couple, both 47, had gone through in their attempt to conceive. On July 5, they’d tried one last time, and, miraculously, it took.
“You must be thrilled,” said Karen. Carol was, but Allen seemed oddly subdued. Usually he was almost manically upbeat, but tonight, as his pretty wife gushed on, he picked at his Chilean sea bass. Later, on the way out to the parking lot, the wives were walking ahead, and Kevin Buckley turned to his friend. “Allen, you’re a little quiet,” he said.
“That’s because I’m getting a divorce,” Allen replied.
The next day, Carol met her husband at the Times after work. They often joined friends for dinner, or took in a show, before returning to New Jersey. That night, they had tickets to a Mets-Astros game at Shea. “On the drive home,” says Carol, “he said, ‘I filed for divorce today.’ ” Carol Myerson was one month pregnant, with twins. In four days, the movers were coming to deliver the couple’s furnishings to their new home, but only she would move in. And 21 days from the night of the baseball game, Allen would stand up at his desk, make his way to a window near the top of the Times Square building, and plunge fifteen stories to his death.
To most who knew him, Allen Myerson’s suicide was unfathomable. He was the guy always in control, the consummate pro, the one who could handle any pressure, any deadline. Simultaneous breaking Enron stories? Get Allen. WorldCom imploding? Allen was your man. He was the Times editor who calmly weathered reporters’ freak-outs, never yelling, never losing his grip.
“Except for the competitive part, he was the opposite of the newsroom mentality,” one colleague says. Most knew the basic bio: a Jewish only son who came from modest roots in New Rochelle, went to Harvard, then worked his way through eleven years of newspaper jobs around the country before landing, in 1989, at the pinnacle, the New York Times. They knew he had a beautiful wife he was enchanted with, if a bit cowed by. And he seemed to have an unusually full life outside the newsroom. He didn’t just love the opera and the theater; his wallet was filled with membership cards to every company at Lincoln Center. He was a zealous foodie who took enormous pride in his familiarity with New York restaurants; friends were always impressed when the owner fawned over him. He had a book club and a rigorous gym schedule; he collected wines and was known for his adventurous travels—Turkey, China, Ireland, Indonesia, Italy—always with his wife. Depression? Despair? Not a hint.
Yet the man who never let on that there was any private drama in his world would, in death, have the most intimate details of his life and his psyche aired—by his own family. Not his Times family, as then–executive editor Howell Raines referred to his charges in his eulogy for Allen. But by his sisters, who are embroiled in a breathtakingly aggressive and unprecedented lawsuit against Carol Myerson over Allen’s estate. They hold Carol—who on St. Patrick’s Day in March gave birth to Allen’s twin children, a boy and a girl—responsible for his suicide. So rancorous is the fight that Allen’s widow secretly traveled hundreds of miles from Glen Ridge to deliver the twins, fearful that Allen’s sisters would show up in the hospital nursery.
Indeed, Jean Myerson—a 43-year-old Westchester housewife who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to her brother—began to assemble a suit against her sister-in-law within hours of Allen’s death. She hired a lawyer and a private eye and also became her own self-appointed investigative reporter, wheedling information out of banks, shrinks, even fertility clinics. She cashed in her IRAs and went into debt to finance her mission. She even ordered up a batch of buttons inscribed JUSTICE FOR ALLEN and began handing them out.
By September, when the Times held a memorial service for Allen, efforts had to be made to keep the sisters and the wife separated. As several hundred Times employees filed out of the teary service, Jean exclaimed, “I can’t believe that murderer is here!” Carol had to be escorted out a side door.
Nine months later, they are still fighting over his estate—about $150,000 in probatable assets—though the two sides combined have already plowed through more than that amount in legal fees. But the sisters also feel they deserve a share of the non-probate estate (which would normally go unchallenged to a spouse) as well; it includes Allen’s $100,000 Times life-insurance policy naming Carol as the beneficiary, his $230,000 Times 401(k), the proceeds from the sale of the dream house, and the couple’s car, worth $2,000.
They are also battling over the twins: Jean wants a paternity test, even as she claims that Allen was “tricked” into donating his sperm for the last in vitro treatment. They’ve fought over the menorah Allen got when he was 5, the $441 in cash he had in his wallet, and who will get his Harvard diploma.
Mostly, however, they are at war to assign blame.
To hear Jean Myerson tell it, Carol “tortured and abused” her brother, literally driving him over the edge. Unbeknownst to Carol, Allen had been spilling his guts to Jean in his final weeks, describing, she says, a manipulative and conniving wife who had “a carefully calculated plot” to get what she wanted—a house and babies, with “him footing the bill”—and still get rid of him. Jean also is armed with the eerie words of a dead man, in piles of personal notes and documents that Allen left behind or shared with her during the couple’s recent and seemingly inexplicable separation. Many of the notes, however, are confusing in their anguish and clearly contradictory—except to Jean. “I know exactly what she did to him,” she says, barely containing a seething rage.
To hear Carol Myerson tell it (though she tells it reluctantly), she is a woman in grief over her husband’s shocking suicide who now has two babies who will also have to live with that legacy. In Carol’s eyes, the Myersons—never very fond of her to begin with—are out to destroy her and the children.
Thursday, August 22, the morning Allen jumped, was a hot but gorgeous day. Since filing for divorce, he had been moving boxloads of personal things from his apartment to his desk—credit-card files, medical records, his marriage license, clothing, bottles of wine, and opera tickets through July 10 of the coming season. On that day, he got to his desk on the third floor at the Times by 8 a.m., earlier than usual. At precisely the same time, according to bank records, Carol was at the downtown branch of Chase Manhattan bank withdrawing $37,000 from their joint checking account, leaving a balance of $1,071. No one in the newsroom had an inkling that Allen’s marriage was on the rocks, let alone that he was about to become a father.
At 8:30, he received what seemed to colleagues to be a disturbing phone call. But he also went about his business; at one point, he asked reporter Steve Lohr, who covers technology, how his story was coming. To Lohr—and everyone else—he seemed perfectly normal. Shortly before nine, Allen sent his last e-mail, to Bill Pinzler, a lawyer who was trying to help him find an apartment in Manhattan—though Pinzler was still somewhat mystified as to why the couple was splitting up. In the e-mail, Allen wrote that he had just found out that someone else got the place Pinzler had tried to score for him on the Upper West Side; concerned about his finances, Allen had put in a lowball offer. “But he didn’t seem terribly upset,” says Pinzler. “It was more like, ‘Aw, shit, somebody else got the apartment.’ ”