NEW YORK, NY — In the early morning hours of January 27, 1955, Serge Rubinstein — stock and currency manipulator, socialite, playboy, and draft-dodger — was murdered by a mysterious stranger.
Rubinstein had so many enemies that at his funeral, his own rabbi referred to him as a “psychopath” — and to this day the killing remains unsolved.
The previous evening, Rubinstein had returned from a dinner at Nino’s La Rue supper club with Estelle Gardner to his six-story Fifth Avenue mansion. Gardner left at around 1:45 A.M.
The next morning, Rubinstein’s butler, William Morter, found his body bound, gagged, and dressed in silk pajamas in the third-floor bedroom. Rubinstein’s hands and feet were tied with Venetian blind cords, and his mouth was covered with adhesive tape. The coroner later determined that he had died of manual strangulation.
The murder baffled investigators, who searched for a motive and a suspect. There was no sign of forced entry, and though the room had been ransacked, police were unable to determine if anything of value was missing.
Rubinstein’s mother and an aunt, who lived at the home on the top floors, claimed that they had seen a mysterious “girl [dressed] in brown” on the stairway at about 1 A.M. after hearing an argument. But investigators later determined that the women had been confused about the time, and may have mistaken the ambulance attendant for the mysterious stranger.
The murder made headlines, and numerous theories circulated over the years, including a botched kidnap attempt, involvement of organized crime, revenge by a jilted lover, and revenge by financial victims.
One reporter famously said that, in their search for the consummate con man’s killer, police had “narrowed the list of suspects down to 10,000.”
Just a year after his death, a film was released based on Rubinstein, starring George Sanders as the ill-fated businessman, and beauties Zsa Zsa Gabor and Yvonne DeCarlo. It was entitled Death of a Scoundrel and had the tagline, “He was the most hated man on earth. But he could have been one of the great men in history.”
Rubinstein was born in Russia, where his father was a financial adviser to Grigory Rasputin. The family fled Russia during the Russian Revolution, and eventually settled in Sweden. Rubinstein attended England’s Cambridge University, and later joined the Banque Franco-Asiatique in Paris, France.
By 1932, he was running the bank — but was forced out of France after it was determined that he was manipulating funds. Rubinstein also lived in Shanghai in the 1930s, but he sold off his gold mines and left shortly before the Japanese invaded the country.
He then acquired a fake Portuguese passport in the name of Serge Manual Rubinstein de Rovello and came to the United States in the early 1940s, where he settled in a luxurious mansion at 814 Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Soon he was wining and dining important figures in New York and Washington D.C. In 1941, he married Laurette Kilbourne. The couple had two children, Alexandria and Dianna.
But his legal troubles were far from over. Rubinstein made extensive attempts to avoid the draft during World War II, including claiming that he was the sole support for seven dependents and stating that as a Portuguese citizen, he was required to remain neutral. In 1946, Rubinstein was fined $50,000 and sent to federal prison for two years for draft-dodging.
His wife divorced him in 1949, claiming cruelty. Also that year, Rubinstein was indicted on charges of stock fraud, mail fraud, and violation of the security act. And he was later sued by a New York company, Chosen Corporation, in a complex case of financial fraud after he was accused of smuggling Japanese yen valued at $1.2 million out of Japan.
After the divorce and getting out of prison, Rubinstein became noted for his social life, being seen out on the town with numerous women, many actresses and models, at extravagant nightclubs. He was also simultaneously managing to repeatedly thwart the U.S. government’s attempts to deport him.
Rubinstein even got taken to court by his own sister-in-law in 1951. She claimed that he cheated his late brother Andre out of $1.5 million in the Chosen Corporation swindle. She lost her case.
In 1954, Rubinstein was sued by Blair Holdings for $5 million, alleging conspiracy to defraud. That same year, three men, including Emanuel Lester, were arrested for trying to extort $535,000 from Rubinstein.
It’s easy to see how this life riddled with multiple romantic partners, lawsuits, financial scams, cons, jail time, and family intrigue could lead to multiple enemies.
At his funeral, rabbi Dr. Julius Mark stated that Rubinstein was a “complex, ambiguous, and unquestioned psychopathic personality” who “possessed a brilliant mind, but was utterly lacking in wisdom.”
After his death, it was revealed that his assets totaled $1,281,668, which was far less than estimates of up to $10,000,000 when he was alive.
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Main photo: Serge Rubinstein, the late draft dodging financier, at Nino’s LaRue with Pat Wray (left) and Pat Sinnot [Getty Images]