Deborah Jeane Palfrey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Deborah Jeane Palfrey
Deborah Jeane Palfrey.jpg
Palfrey at a court hearing, on April 30, 2007
Born (1956-03-18)March 18, 1956
North Charleroi, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died May 1, 2008(2008-05-01) (aged 52)
Tarpon Springs, Florida, U.S.
Other names D.C. Madam
Alma mater Rollins College

Deborah Jeane Palfrey (March 18, 1956 – May 1, 2008)[1] (dubbed the D.C. Madam by the news media) operated Pamela Martin and Associates, an escort agency in Washington, D.C. Although she maintained that the company's services were legal, she was convicted on April 15, 2008 of racketeering, using the mail for illegal purposes,[1][2] and money laundering.[2] Slightly over two weeks later, facing a prison sentence of five or six years, she was found hanged. Autopsy results and the final police investigative report concluded that her death was a suicide.[1][3][4][5]

Early life[edit]

Palfrey was born in the Pittsburgh area town of Charleroi, Pennsylvania, but spent her teens in Orlando, Florida. Her father was a grocer. She graduated from Rollins College with a degree in criminal justice, and completed a nine-month legal course at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law.[6] Working as a paralegal in San Diego, California, she became involved in the escort business. Dismayed at how most services were run, including widespread drug abuse, she started her own company recruiting mostly women over 25.[6] In 1990, she was arrested on charges of pimping, pandering and extortion; after fleeing to Montana she was captured while trying to cross the Canadian border and brought back for trial. Following her conviction in 1992 she spent 18 months in prison.[6][7] After her release, she founded Pamela Martin and Associates.[8]

D.C. Madam scandal[edit]

In October 2006, United States Postal Inspection Service agents posed as a couple who were interested in buying Palfrey's home as a means of accessing her property without a warrant.[9][10] Agents froze bank accounts worth over US$500,000, seizing papers relating to money laundering and prostitution charges.[10]

Palfrey's escorts charged as much as $300 per hour, and many have had professional careers. Palfrey continued to reside in California, and cleared some US$2 million over 13 years in operation.[6] Palfrey appeared on ABC's 20/20 as part of an investigative report on May 4, 2007.[11] In combination with Palfrey's statement that she had 10,000 to 15,000 phone numbers of clients, this caused several clients' lawyers to contact Palfrey to see whether accommodations could be made to keep their identities private.[12] Ultimately, ABC News, after going through what was described as "46 lb" [21 kg] of phone records, decided that none of the potential clients[13] was sufficiently "newsworthy" to bother mentioning.[14]

On July 9, 2007, Palfrey released the supposed entirety of her phone records for public viewing and downloading on the Internet in TIFF format, though days prior to this, her civil attorney Montgomery Blair Sibley had dispatched 54 CD-ROM copies to researchers, activists, and journalists. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) acknowledged on the night of July 9 that he had been a customer of her escort service.[15]

In early 2007, Palfrey reacted to the suicide by hanging of Brandy Britton, one of her former escort service employees, by saying, "I guess I'm made of something that Brandy Britton wasn't made of."[16]

Thirteen former escorts and three former clients testified at her trial.[17][18][19] The witnesses were compelled to testify, after being granted immunity from prosecution.

On April 15, 2008, a jury found Palfrey guilty of money laundering, using the mail for illegal purposes and racketeering.[1][2] Palfrey believed that contrary to the U.S. Attorney's Office lower estimate, she might spend six or seven years behind bars.[20] She faced a maximum of 55 years in prison.[21] Palfrey's death resulted in her conviction being vacated.[22]


On May 1, 2008, Palfrey was found hanging in a storage shed outside her mother's mobile home in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Police found handwritten suicide notes in the bedroom where she was staying, dated a week before her death. The autopsy and the final police investigation concluded her death was a suicide.[3][5][23]

Suicide notes[edit]

Palfrey's two handwritten notes were released to the public. In one of them, she wrote to her sister, "You must comprehend there was no way out, I.E. 'exit strategy,' for me other than the one I have chosen here." In another, she described her predicament as a "modern-day lynching". She said she feared that, at the end of serving her sentence, she would be "in my late 50s a broken, penniless and very much alone woman".[23][24]

Speculation surrounding her death[edit]

The New York Times's Patrick J. Lyons wrote on the Times' blog, The Lede, that some on the Internet were skeptical that her death was a suicide.[25] After investigating the crime scene, however, police found "no new evidence [that] would indicate anything other than suicide by hanging," and a police investigative report released six months later concluded that her death had been a suicide.[3][5] The police stated that Palfrey's family believed the notes were written by Palfrey.[26][27]

Journalist Dan Moldea, who was working with Palfrey on a book, recalled that in a 2007 conversation, Palfrey told him, "I am not going back to prison. I will commit suicide first."[20] He said her previous prison experience had traumatized her and she felt she couldn't do it again.[1][16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Stacy, Mitch (May 3, 2008). "`D.C. madam' who vowed not to go to prison kills herself". The Associated Press. Archived from the original on May 5, 2008. Retrieved May 4, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c Rood, Justin (April 15, 2008). "D.C. Madam: Guilty". ABC news. Retrieved May 2, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c "Police Close 'D.C. Madam' Investigation, Confirm She Died by Suicide". Fox News. Associated Press. October 31, 2008. Retrieved October 31, 2008. 
  4. ^ "D.C. Madam: 'There was no way out'". CNN. May 5, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2008. 
  5. ^ a b c Thompson, Stephen (October 31, 2008). "Police Officially Conclude 'D.C. Madam' Hanged Herself". The Suncoast News. Retrieved October 31, 2008. 
  6. ^ a b c d "'I Abhor Injustice,' Alleged Madam Says". The Washington Post. April 29, 2007. Retrieved April 29, 2007. 
  7. ^ "Former madam comes across as an enigma". San Francisco Chronicle. April 1, 2007. Retrieved April 1, 2007. 
  8. ^ "Death of a Madam". Retrieved November 16, 2008. 
  9. ^ Susie Bright (August 27, 2007). "The D.C. Madam Speaks". 10 Zen Monkeys. Retrieved May 5, 2008. 
  10. ^ a b "New D.C. Sex Scandal Looming? Feds target escort service in money launder, prostitution probe". The Smoking Gun. October 9, 2006. Retrieved April 29, 2007. 
  11. ^ ""D.C. Madam" Speaks with ABC News". ABC News' The Blotter. April 29, 2007. 
  12. ^ "Focus of D.C. sex scandal remains a mystery". The Register-Guard. April 29, 2007. 
  13. ^ "Deborah Jeane Palfrey - Telephone Records". 
  14. ^ Buncombe, Andrew (May 6, 2007). "Network refuses to name clients of 'DC madam'". The Independent (London). Retrieved July 10, 2007. 
  15. ^ Murray, Shailagh (July 10, 2007). "Senator's Number on 'Madam' Phone List". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 13, 2014. 
  16. ^ a b Zagorin, Adam (May 1, 2008). "D.C. Madam: Suicide Before Prison". Time. Retrieved May 1, 2008. 
  17. ^ Chris Amos (April 10, 2008). "Navy officer testifies in D.C. Madam case". Navy Times. Retrieved May 26, 2010. Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Dickinson told federal prosecutors at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that she had sex with nearly every client she met while working for Deborah Jeane Palfrey from October 2005 until April 2006.  mirror
  18. ^ Josh Mitchell (April 13, 2008). "Debt forced Naval officer to become call girl". Go Erie. Retrieved May 26, 2010. A Navy officer who testified this week that she moonlighted for an alleged prostitution ring while stationed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., was nearly $300,000 in debt at the time despite a Navy income of more than $93,000, court records show.  mirror
  19. ^ Paul Duggan (April 10, 2010). "Navy Officer Took Call Girl Job: Supply Official Testifies She Moonlighted at Escort Service". Washington Post. Retrieved May 26, 2010. The women were compelled to testify by prosecutors under grants of immunity that prevented them from remaining silent under the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.  mirror
  20. ^ a b Mairano, Willoughby (May 2, 2008). "D.C. madam's mystery death: The Orlando connection". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved May 2, 2008. 
  21. ^ "911 tapes released in D.C. Madam's death". WTOP-FM. May 2, 2008. Retrieved May 4, 2008. 
  22. ^ Meek, James Gordon (May 21, 2008). "D.C. Madam's Conviction Dead on Arrival". Daily News. Retrieved May 21, 2008. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that…the jury verdicts are vacated and the indictment in this matter is dismissed. 
  23. ^ a b "D.C. madam calls trial 'lynching' in death note". Journal Gazette. May 6, 2008. Retrieved May 19, 2008. 
  24. ^ "D.C. Madam: 'There was no way out' (text of suicide notes)". CNN. May 5, 2008. Retrieved May 5, 2008. 
  25. ^ Lyons, Patrick J. (May 2, 2008). "Skepticism and Sadness After Death of 'D.C. Madam'". The New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2008. 
  26. ^ Associated Press (May 5, 2008). "In suicide note, 'D.C. Madam' said she didn't want prison". WIFR 23. Retrieved August 30, 2013. 
  27. ^ Dvorak, Petula (May 5, 2008). "Palfrey Suicide Notes Are Released". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 5, 2008. 

External links[edit]