The Sins of the Father
He'll still say the words privately to his friends and family, but he won't allow himself to utter them again publicly. It's been almost a year since he first spoke them, just hours after he had found his mother in her Winchester home, dead, blood pooling from a huge gash in her head. “He did it,” Greg Wyler told Winchester police detective James Pierce late on the night of October 2, according to an affidavit Pierce filed in court. “My father finally killed my mother.” ? He just blurted the words right out. There was no hesitation, no doubt. But since then, reporters from across the country — Diane Sawyer, for example — have been trying to pull the words out of him again. He won't let them. My father killed my mother. Some sentences are not easily repeated. ? So 33-year-old Greg Wyler — looking preppy and fresh as he labors over his grilled chicken salad in a booth at Bennigan's in Peabody — tries to redirect the conversation. He yearns to talk about the sweeter things in life: his volunteer work in Rwanda, his overseas trips, his pretty young wife. No question he's carved himself an enviable adulthood — multimillion-dollar North Shore home, successful career in the computer industry — but that's just a shell. The rolling tears and staccato bursts of anger and manic clip to his voice betray another side. Despite his upbringing in a wealthy and politically connected family, he's remembering a childhood that was equal parts anger and sadness, with no control over either of the two emotions. Helpless. His mother is dead. Murdered. The person he and her friends hold responsible — his own father, Geoffrey Wyler — is a free man, 61 years old, a successful and high-powered insurance litigator, still practicing law. If Geoffrey Wyler is a target of the police investigation, nobody's saying, and he's not returning repeated calls or speaking to reporters. “No one has been ruled in, and no one has been ruled out as a suspect,” Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley says. But while the prosecutor keeps an open mind, Greg Wyler cannot. Speaking at length for the first time about his mother's murder and his suspicion of his father's involvement, he says: “There's no mystery as to who did this. Someone went into my mother's house, beat her to death, and left without taking a single thing. It all points in one direction, and one direction only.” He stops short of repeating those five words, though, adding simply that his hands are tied for legal reasons. Trouble is, Greg Wyler has no faith in the system. His mind is made up. Ever since he was six years old, he says, he watched his father destroy his family, watched his father torment his mother. The courts, the cops — they did nothing, he says. And they're still doing nothing, as far as Greg is concerned. He should be grieving over his mother's death right now. Instead he's battling for answers, stewing in a cauldron of emotions — from bitterness to anger to despair — that keep him paralyzed. “The more we pull away, the more [my father] comes after us,” he says, as if reliving a nightmare. “At the end of the day my mother's dead, he's taken everything from her, and everything he's said has come true: She would be killed, she wouldn't get the house, she'd never get anything from him.”
It was straight out of a Springsteen song, that sultry summer night at the Jersey Shore when Geoffrey Wyler met Susann Napolitano on the Seaside Heights boardwalk. Home from college for the summer — he from Amherst, she from Monmouth — they fell in love under the carnival lights, married in 1965, and lived in Berkeley, California, where Susann worked as a teacher while her husband finished law school. After he graduated, they moved back east and settled outside Boston, in the quiet affluence of Winchester, in 1971. There Susann would raise her two sons, her husband's law career would blossom, and their marriage would mutate from bliss to betrayal — and, ultimately, Greg believes, to violence. It started to erode in the mid '70s, when an apparent rift led Geoffrey Wyler to leave the Boston litigation firm Sherin & Lodgen and to open his own civil practice in 1978. The only person to leave with him was a secretary named Jean Mattuchio, who happened to also live in Winchester less than a mile from his house. (Mattuchio, who has been questioned by police, also did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.) “He was considered an all-American son of a bitch,” says Monroe Inker, a lawyer who represented Susann Wyler in her divorce case and says he has known Geoffrey Wyler for years. “He has a terrible reputation as a lawyer, ruthless, who'd do anything to win a case.” Inker says that four times he tried to bring in Mattuchio for a deposition in the Wylers' divorce, and that one line of questioning that was sure to come up was whether she was having an affair with Wyler. But each time he tried to depose her, he says, Geoffrey Wyler blocked it. “I was going to ask her about everything, from the day she met him to how he brushed his teeth,” Inker says. It was that very combativeness in Wyler that made him so successful, particularly in the slip-and-fall insurance cases he continues to handle for Stop & Shop. The contentious work suited his personality. “I don't remember my father ever being happy. Never,” Greg Wyler says. “His whole life was a fight. He was suing one person after another. Everybody was out to get him, and he was out to get everybody else.” Including his wife, Greg says. In 1978, Susann was taking Greg to see the Tall Ships in Boston and stopped by her husband's downtown office. As Greg tells it, something set his father off. Greg says Geoffrey smashed Susann's face into the doorjamb, breaking her nose, and left her whimpering on the floor. Greg says his father broke Susann's nose two other times, too. (Geoffrey Wyler has said in court that he never abused his wife, even when a judge confronted him with a doctor's report documenting injuries she said he inflicted.) Greg says he was 11 when his mother started talking about divorce. But it would take her years to follow through because, as she would finally tell a court, Geoffrey had threatened to have her declared mentally unstable and, she feared, take custody of the kids. So she stayed, throwing herself into her own interests. She raised money for a local charity, taught at Winchester High School, doted on her sons. Greg says Geoffrey forbade Christmas and birthday presents — “We were bad, we didn't deserve anything,” Greg says — so Susann would quietly celebrate with them when he wasn't around. “He called the house his hotel,” says Greg. Geoffrey acknowledged the estrangement, but blamed Susann. “My wife has consistently sided with the children against me in family issues, and has succeeded in turning both sons against their father,” he said in an affidavit filed in court. Things got so bad that as a teenager Greg moved in with his mother's parents in New Jersey, eventually returning to an apartment in Winchester that his mother rented for him. “She was always trying to keep the peace,” he says. “She was always trying to make things better.”
Early one morning in August 1989, police say, a woman called them screaming for help. When officers arrived at the Wylers' house, they found Greg, Susann, and Geoffrey. They took a gun from Geoffrey's pocket that Susann would later tell a court her husband had pointed at their son during the dispute. The officer wrote in his report that Geoffrey Wyler “possibly needs psychological help,” that “the problem here is not Gregory,” and that “Mr. Wyler's past actions have made Mrs. Wyler quite concerned for her safety.” It concludes: “It was left to the discretion of Mrs. Wyler to seek counseling or legal action.” In other words, the police did nothing. Susann would later testify that police sent a letter demanding Geoffrey Wyler turn in his remaining cache of guns, which, according to Susann's affidavit, he never did. Greg says the family could not escape Geoffrey's reign of terror, and he recounts a litany of petty tyrannies. (There is no one to confirm or deny any of these accounts. The family was private. Susann is dead. And no one else is talking.) “For him, everything was about power and control,” Greg says. Geoffrey, according to Greg, demanded that the children sign typed letters accepting full responsibility for any arguments, and he banned Susann, a devout Catholic, from going to church, forcing her to sneak off to pray. He also juggled numerous personal lawsuits, Greg says. “Everything he got involved with ended in a lawsuit,” Greg says of his father. It was Geoffrey's own form of intimidation, which he eventually turned on his own sons. Greg's older brother, also named Geoffrey, had founded a small aircraft assembly company his father incorporated in 1989. Nine years later, his father barred him from the premises, insisting that he controlled all the stock. “My brother was not in a position to fight him financially,” Greg says of his only sibling, who moved to the West Coast and refuses to this day to answer questions about his family. “He gave my father everything he had and left.” Through it all, Susann lived in fear. According to a statement she later filed in court, Geoffrey said that if she ever filed for divorce, he would kill her or her mother. So she stayed, Greg says, even when Geoffrey demanded that she not speak with her sons, or tried to stop her from going to Greg's wedding on September 16, 2000. She went anyway.
The cardboard sign was handscrawled: “No Trespassing.” Susann and her sister, Janet, had just returned to Winchester from Greg's wedding when, Janet recalls, they saw it, above a heap of her clothes tossed on the front stoop of the house. Susann ignored it and went inside. Five days later, on September 23, Susann and Janet were shopping in Winchester Center. “Watch out!” Janet yelled to her sister in the crosswalk. Susann turned and, wham, an SUV smashed into her, throwing her onto the hood. She was hospitalized in a coma. When Greg returned from his honeymoon and learned of the accident, he and his brother rushed to their mother's bedside. Geoffrey abandoned his wife the day she came home from the hospital, Greg says, and Janet was left to care for her sister for six weeks. Among her many injuries, Susann was left with palsy on the left side of her body, double vision, and partial deafness. She could barely walk. It was in the summer of 2001 when Geoffrey reappeared. He told Susann he wanted to reconcile, then added that he wanted her help in suing their son, Greg, who had founded a company based on a cooling technology he had developed. Greg and his cofounder, GOP stalwart Jim Rappaport, had sold the company for millions back in 1998. Now, in 2001, in a lawsuit that's still pending, Geoffrey was claiming that he had founded the company. “[Geoffrey] stated that recovering against Gregory would ensure a comfortable retirement for us,” Susann wrote in an affidavit. “I know my husband's claims to be false.” Suing their own son proved too much for Susann. Two years ago this month, at 58, she filed for divorce. Terrified of how Geoffrey might react, she changed the locks at home and installed a security system. When she went away for Christmas, according to her lawyer, Geoffrey called the security firm to try to get the access codes. When Susann returned, she suspected that the locks had been tampered with. She had the police come and take two guns and boxes of bullets from the house. Then she filed for a restraining order on January 3, saying she feared Geoffrey “would gain entry to the house and use one of the guns on me.” Two weeks later, husband and wife appeared in court to argue over whether he had struck her in the past, and might do it again. It was a hearing that grew so testy Judge Judith Dilday had to order tempers to be restrained. “Do you understand that we have medical records here and, according to counsel, these medical records record a visit by your wife to the hospital for treatment, and the doctors' notes apparently say that she told the doctor that her injuries were the result of something you did to her? Are you aware of that?” Dilday asked Geoffrey Wyler halfway through the hearing. “It is totally false,” he answered. “What about the allegations that you pointed a gun at your son and she intervened?” “Totally false, totally false. It was a bad event, no doubt about it, but I never pointed a gun at anybody.” Later in the hearing, Geoffrey's lawyer, Amy Wanger, said that if Susann would simply move from their Winchester house, allow it to be sold, and not give out her new address, she would not have to fear Geoffrey any longer. “He would be more than happy if he didn't know where she lived,” Wanger said. “We object to that suggestion,” Susann's lawyer, Patrice Morse, said. “Why should she go into hiding?” “Lower your voice,” Dilday briskly told Morse. “I'm sorry, your honor. I guess I find it preposterous making a suggestion that she should go into hiding to protect herself.” With that, Dilday issued restraining orders for both Susann and Geoffrey to stay away from each other. But as the proceedings progressed, Geoffrey Wyler was fined twice, first for being in contempt for not paying alimony (at one point, he was more than $25,000 in arrears), and then for liquidating assets and purchasing a house without a court order (he was allowed to keep it). “Throughout their marriage he said, “If you ever divorce me, I'll kill you,'” Susann's lawyer told the judge. “If you ever divorce me, I'll kill your mother. If I don't do it, I'll hire someone to do it.'” In court that day, Geoffrey denied making any threats. Susann shared with her friends the bitter details of the divorce. “She would talk about the lies that were going on,” says Dorothy Buehler, a neighbor of Susann's in Winchester and her friend of 15 years. “She wanted to rise above the horrors she was living through. To get out and live again.” As the divorce dragged on, Susann did start to live again, volunteering at a church and making plans to join the Winchester Republican Women's Club. She went with friends to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra and museums and on trips to Italy and New Mexico. She cared for a friend with cancer. “She was really there for people in a way that not too many people are,” that woman says. “She looked so beautiful toward the end. It was like the weight of her life with him started to fall away and it showed. She smiled more.” Her longtime friend, Barry Kolevzon, adds, “She was really feeling good, reevaluating where she wanted to go.” Geoffrey, meanwhile, had all of the marital assets — four cars, 12 motorcycles, a helicopter, a private plane, a 44-foot yacht, a powerboat, two homes, and 12 accounts worth more than $3 million — in his name. Since the courtroom proceedings were depleting all of Susann's money, her lawyers filed a petition to have Geoffrey pay $200,000 for her legal fees. It was sent to him on October 1.
The very next night, Greg Wyler punched his mother's number into his cell phone as he pushed down on the accelerator of his truck, racing from a business meeting in Boston to the North Shore. No one answered. He began to worry. She hadn't called him all day, which was odd. She was supposed to babysit for Kolevzon's grandchildren at 5:30 p.m., but never arrived. Greg called his wife. “I'm going by her house,” he said. Zooming up Lockeland Road around 10 p.m., he relaxed as the house came into view. The house was “lit up like a Christmas tree,” a neighbor remembers. He walked up the front steps. The door was open. She must have just gotten home, he thought. “Mom,” he yelled out. “Mom!” Silence. He opened the door from the breezeway to the garage. There, sprawled on the concrete, lay Susann, her head crushed, staring up at him. Blood was everywhere. “Mom!” he screamed. He called 9-1-1 and tried to shoo the dogs away from her body. Hamilton, her eight-year-old golden retriever, was coated in her blood. “He did it,” detective Pierce said Greg told him at the time. “My father finally killed my mother.” And though part of his brain was immobilized with shock, the other part, the part refined through years of living in hell, felt fear. “I was worried about my life, too,” Greg says. He and his wife hid at Jim Rappaport's house for days while police watched his home. At the time, he assumed it would be only hours before the police arrested his father.
Greg Wyler woke up on October 3 feeling as he had when he was just a boy: sad and angry and, worst of all, helpless. His mother was dead. His father, he says, had faxed a letter to the Winchester police saying Susann's death meant he, Geoffrey, now had possession of the home in Winchester and that Greg and his brother were banned from it. Greg was stunned. “I thought for sure they would have arrested him,” he says. Greg says Geoffrey also had control over Susann's remains, and that he refused to release her body for burial unless Greg agreed to pay all funeral expenses. No one has been named a suspect, let alone been arrested or indicted, for the murder. Susann Wyler's friends and family are furious over the inaction, and went so far as to send a petition to the district attorney, Coakley, asking that she make the case a priority. Coakley insists “significant progress” has been made, and that “justice will be done.” But the waiting continues. Meanwhile, because Susann died before her divorce was done, the estate still belongs exclusively to Geoffrey Wyler. He's still a lawyer, he still has the home where he and Susann got their start, where they raised their boys, and where she met her end. And he's still sailing on his boat. The one he named Rest Assured. B