Before O.J. Simpson, there was Joe Hunt, but for some reason, Hunt never became a household name. When you hear what this rich boy and his buddies did, you will wonder why his name never stuck, like an earworm you wish would stop replaying in your mind.
As a handsome and charismatic young man (at least he was young back then, in the ‘80s), Hunt led a sick little club that he dubbed the “Billionaire Boys Club.” It was the kind of club that most of us regular folk would never be privy to. This was a social and investment fraternity, where members wore Armani suits, drove high-end fast cars, dined at only 5-star Michelin restaurants. And, of course, they partied with supermodels.
A Big, Fat Lie
They looked like the cool guys (I guess?), but the whole thing was a lie – a big, fat, high-stakes Ponzi scheme. Eventually, their elaborate scheme started to unravel when investor Ron Levin suddenly went missing in 1984 after he allegedly conned the rich boys’ club. His body was never found, but Hunt was nevertheless convicted of Levin’s murder in 1987.
As of 2018, Hunt is pleading for his sentence to be commuted. It looks like a life sentence without the possibility of parole just doesn’t suit the cushy lifestyle he grew accustomed to. Poor guy. The metal mattress must have made him long for the good ol’ days of daily massages…
Just Who Were These “Billionaire Boys”?
The club was originally called “BBC,” the initials of Bombay Bicycle Club – a restaurant Hunt (whose real name was Joseph Henry Gamsky before he had to legally change it) visited often. The members were the sons of the most powerful families in California – the kinds of families that are able to pay for their future grandchildren’s children’s college tuitions, homes, vacations, and more.
Each member of this boys’ club met Hunt, who offered them the only thing they didn’t have and what their parents probably didn’t teach them – to believe in themselves. What began as a nice idea grew into a fraudulent scheme which then became a deadly trap.
We Need a Place Where Screams Won’t Be Heard
Joe Hunt and 24-year-old Dean Karny rented a house on Beverly Glen. The two gave their Beverly Hills realtor the same story they’d been using for a while: Hunt was a writer facing a tight deadline and needed a quiet place to work for the next month and a half.
Karny and Hunt knew exactly what they were doing, and they agreed in advance that the place they were going to choose would need to be remote, as Karny later explained to the court, “so that the screams could not be heard.”
A Hidden Trap Door? Perfect
The “selling” factor was the fact that the house had a hidden trapdoor in the hall closet that led to the basement. Creepy? Yes. It was just what they needed. In hindsight, it was suspicious to have paid the realtor $9,000 in cash for six weeks of privacy.
But then again, these guys were super-rich. That night, at the Villa Hotel in San Mateo at two in the morning, the others waited for Hunt in a room. That’s when members Ben Dosti and Hunt changed into brown UPS outfits.
Equipment From the International Love Boutique
They thought about posing as police officers instead, and they even rented the classic blue uniforms from a costume store in Hollywood, but Hunt decided that “policemen attract more attention than delivery boys.” The guy had a point.
In the middle of the room were two large navy-blue trunks, each being “big enough for an adult human being” to fit in, as Karny described. One trunk had all their equipment, including handcuffs purchased at the International Love Boutique. Hunt knew where to buy because it’s where he bought the cuffs that he used in the first murder seven weeks earlier.
Toys, Rope, and Chloroform
The trunk also had other “equipment” from the sex shop, including fake appendages, rope, as well as a bottle of chloroform. Oh, and a bucket filled with cat litter which was going to be used as a portable toilet.
Dosti brought a can of air freshener and “this spray-on Band-Aid” to “help avoid leaving fingerprints.” They left the empty blue trunk, wrapped in heavy brown paper, in the parking lot. It was addressed it to HEDAYAT ESLAMINIA, 400 DAVEY GLEN ROAD, #4322, BELMONT, CA.
Just Two Ordinary Delivery Boys
The BMW and the yellow pickup following behind arrived at Davey Glen Apartments. Hunt and Dosti, the two “delivery boys,” entered through a side gate, carrying the large, seemingly weightless package. Ten minutes later, they headed back to the parking lot, carrying this suddenly hard-to-carry package.
Hunt called out to Karney, who was waiting in the car, to help with the now-heavy trunk. On the drive to the U-Haul dealership, Hunt was not pleased. He was annoyed that Dosti stopped to wash his hands in the middle of the abduction.
The Man in the Trunk
The mission wasn’t over yet; they still had to reach the dealership. Once there, the trunk was transferred to the back of a 12-foot truck. As they were lifting the trunk, Karney heard pounding and a muffled voice, calling, “Please, sir, please let me out!”
Karney, who was on summer vacation from law school and still wearing his gray business suit from that morning, sat down in the dark, hollow rear of the truck, with the man in the trunk.
The Boys Were in Too Deep
These Beverly Hills brats, who started holding regular meetings in 1983, were too far gone; they were in too deep. The past was unmentionable, and the future was terrifying enough to make their hearts stop. Eventually, their little boys club would be exposed for what it was. It was only a matter of time.
Hunt had promised them power and wealth. Everything else? Well, they were just going along for the ride. A few little white lies told to family and friends? No big deal. But stock fraud, extortion, grand theft, and kidnapping? Big, big deal.
Hunt and His Two Disciples
How did these boys go from being daddy’s little rich kids to full-blown killers? They were only (half) joking when they started referring to themselves as the Billionaire Boys Club. Hunt, and his first two students (aka followers, aka believers, aka disciples) Karny and Dosti, presented their club as…
“This new type of group; an organization where not the structure is important, but the merit of the individuals.” Sounds like a bunch of baloney to me, and probably you, but for the wannabe Billionaire Boys, it was just what they wanted to hear.
Young, Rich, and 20-Something
Okay, so how did one become a member? You had to have an idea for your own company, which was to be financed by Hunt’s knack for commodities trading. The best part of the whole thing was that Hunt could grant Harvard college students impressive titles, like president, executive vice-president, and chairman of the board.
As for Hunt, he simply described himself as the club’s administrator. This group of young, wealthy, 20-somethings started meeting regularly in 1983. Among the first 12 members were Evan Dicker, the son of a filthy rich lawyer, and Alex Gaon, the son of the man who founded Chemin de Fer (the jeans manufacturer).
Meet the May Brothers
If any of them deserve the “second command” title in the whole BBC mission, it’s the May brothers. Tom and Dave May come from an impressive bloodline. Their mother was a bit actress in television in the late 1950s. In fact, her twin boys were the product of an affair with actor Ty Hardin.
The boys never met their biological father, though, as when they were two years old, their mom married David May II, who ran a real estate empire that placed him at the top of the list of the wealthiest men on the West Coast.
Something to Prove
The May brothers became heirs to their stepdad’s fortune, despite their mother divorcing him and remarrying. Tom and Dave were the stereotypical, good-looking but not-so-bright college kids. They drove fancy cars, enjoyed their monthly allowances, and hosted heaps of girls at their apartment in Brentwood every summer.
Once they reached their 20s, they needed to prove to themselves (and daddy) that they were worth more than just pretty girls and fast cars. One business partner revealed, “Daddy May used to tell them, ‘Why don’t you get a job at Baskin Robbins? That’s all you’re qualified for.’”
Joe Hunt Has the Answers
After a failed investment in a beach-front nightclub, the twins gave Joe Hunt $160,000 and told their stepdad they had just been elected to the board of directors at a new corporation, BBC Consolidated of North America. Sounds sweet, right?
Hunt, a former “class idiot,” was really becoming the guy he always wanted to be. All the young, wannabe big shots that he gathered were guys he used to go to school with at Harvard. He had come a long way since his days as a lanky geek named Joseph Gamsky.
The Lanky Geek
By 13, he was already over six feet tall, and his thin figure made his appearance pretty comical. He tried to make a name for himself as a young teen, by running for school office, but he was never elected to anything.
He was the A-student who read the Congressional Record at lunch. He went to prep school on a scholarship, joining all the other sons of the wealthy and powerful families in southern California. His father, Lawrence Gamsky, was a “storefront psychologist” who rode a motorcycle and made his son address him by his first name – no “dad” business.
A Weird Father, An Absent Mother
“I’m not your father,” he would tell his young son, “I’m your teacher.” Rumor has it that Lawrence used “devices” on the boy to heighten his mental powers, which included Wilhelm Reich’s orgone box and posthypnotic suggestion.
As for the kid’s mother, well, she disappeared when he was in high school. (Now, the pieces are starting to come into place just a little bit, right?) One story Hunt told about his mother was about the time she took him to a spiritual medium. Suffice it to say, it didn’t go too well…
The Kids on the Debate Team
Hunt said that the medium stood up in the middle of a séance, screaming out that the boy was the anti-Christ before running out of the room. Hunt participated in one extracurricular activity: the debate team, which is where he met Dean Karny.
Karny was a little blond kid who was cut from the freshman football team yet knew everyone’s nickname and always had a pretty girl on his arm. Ben Dosti was also on the debate team, but he was athletic and always finely dressed.
No Longer the Star Debater
By 13, Dosti had his own tailored tuxedo and would read The Wall Street Journal. After the bell rang, the May twins would drive their convertibles home to Beverly Hills, and Joseph took the bus out to San Fernando Valley to his tiny house.
At night, instead of sleeping the day off, he would spend three hours reading the dictionary. Despite the geekiness, Joseph was dismissed from the debate team by coach Ted Woods. The kid used falsified evidence during a tournament. The waywardness had begun.
So, What Have You Been Up to Joe?
After graduation, Karny didn’t hear of Joseph Gamsky until a night in April 1980 when he and Dosti—now UCLA students — ran into Joseph on the sidewalk. That’s when he told them about what he had been up to, like passing the C.P.A. exam after high school (and becoming the youngest person in the country to do so).
He finished USC in a year and a half, and before he even hit 20, he was working full-time as a junior accountant downtown. But he told his old school pals that his superiors didn’t like new talent and initiative – that they were against him.
Flaunting His Way Back Into Their Lives
That night, Joseph (still not Joe Hunt) took Karny and Dosti to a movie – on him, since he was making some nice cash. A movie ticket soon grew to lunches and video games. He was wining and dining his school friends: in other words, showing off.
During Karny’s summer vacation, Joseph stayed over at the Karny estate in the Hollywood Hills. His parents figured Joseph was a good influence on their son. His father, Shalom Karny, was a Holocaust survivor who made a fortune as a real estate developer in LA. Soon enough, the kid had his own bed in the house.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
By the fall of ’80, he had a seat on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the Karnys even put up $150,000 in Joseph’s trading account. He convinced his friends, including Karny and Dosti, to add another $250,000.
When Joseph set up shop in Chicago, he had a trading fund worth half a million bucks. 18 months later, he had lost it all, somewhere in the neighborhood of $14 million. According to Karny, people “became very hostile toward [Joseph]” and “squeezed him out.”
The Rich Kid Goes Homeless
The kid went from school nerd to corporate asshole, and he was raking up enemies along the way. Tom Utrata, director of the Merc’s Compliance Department, referred to the guy as a “pathological liar”; he was convinced that Joseph “cannot distinguish truth from fiction.”
After losing everything he had, and becoming homeless as a result, Joseph went back to LA with a mere four dollars in his pocket. At the time, Karny was studying law and was living rent-free in an Encino condo owned by his father. So, he “let Joe move in” and supported his friend in need.
Becoming Joe Hunt
Joseph knew it was only a matter of time until he got back into trading. Before he left Chicago, he had already changed his last name. Once in LA, he became “Ryan Hunt.” Later, when he was later asked under oath why he changed his name, he replied…
“I wanted to have the same last name as my father.” Whatever suspicions Karny and Dosti had, Hunt would win them over with gifts. A ski trip during Christmas 1982 was what made Karny realize his friend was worth keeping.
Don’t Be a “Normie,” Man
Karny was in the dumps after his girlfriend left him, and while everyone was off skiing, Hunt stayed behind with his friend at the lodge. But Hunt had his view of Karny, as the son of “Normies,” a term Hunt coined to describe non-intellectuals who couldn’t to see past “old values.”
Hunt successfully steered Karny out of his parents’ hold. The three friends – Karny, Hunt, and Dosti – held a holiday recruiting drive, calling on Karny and Dosti’s friends. After his fall from grace in Chicago, Hunt came back with long, unruly hair and suits that were too small for him.
Hunt Was Finally Getting In on the Fun
His two buddies basically groomed their friend-turned-leader for his new role. The trio hit the club circuit, while keeping the image of the BBC as a cool group of people with their heads on their shoulders. The high school kids with cars and girls were now college kids with cars and girls, and, finally, Hunt was getting in on the fun.
Still, in that early phase – weeks after the BBC’s first meeting – they were all borrowing their parents’ Porsches, BMWs, and Rolls-Royces. Biochemist and investor Gene Browning nearly laughed out loud when the baby-faced 23-year-old leader introduced himself.
The Kid Can Talk
Yet, within the hour, Browning decided that “Joe Hunt was the most articulate person I had ever met.” Soon enough, the young executives were sitting in a suite of offices that took up the entire floor in West Hollywood.
The boys were traveling first class as money was pouring into Hunt’s new commodities-trading fund, Financial Futures. As Hunt drew other “boys” in, he was slowly building his system, or “layers of understanding,” as he called them. What he was talking about was how the boys would systematically commit to the BBC. In other words (my words), they joined the cult…
Come With Me, Boys
Slowly by surely, one by one, the boys were breaking up with their old girlfriends, telling their dads to “go fly a kite,” and essentially integrating themselves into the fabric of the BBC. They were inching further and further away from society and its “Normies.”
Everything was going smoothly as long as Hunt appeared to have the answers. He kept them busy earning money, which is all he needed to run his dark, big-little empire. In October 1983, the BBC’s core members started living in a high-rise luxury condo in Westwood.
Hunt Found Himself a New Girlfriend
Hunt and Karny occupied a huge three-bedroom place on the 15th floor that they shared with Hunt’s new 19-year-old girlfriend, Brooke Roberts. The girl, whose father was movie producer Bobby Roberts, wanted to be an actress, but daddy forbid her. She hated him.
Roberts managed to get herself a part on the TV series Diff’rent Strokes, but as soon as her father found out, he made one call, and the next day she was out of a job. Bobby Roberts didn’t approve of his daughter’s new boyfriend, either, which only made her attraction towards Hunt even more potent.
Desperate Desires Call for Desperate Measures
Call it “daddy issues” if you want (and I do), but one BBC member described one instance in which Roberts made it clear just how much she wanted to be with him. One time, she painted her entire body with paint, spread out a huge sheet of paper on the floor, and pressed herself against it in all kinds of Kama Sutra-like poses.
She wrote “I LOVE YOU, JOE” in the corner of the artwork. “She thought he would fall head over heels,” the source recalled, but Hunt acted as though it was “no big deal.”
Girls Shmirls: Joe Hunt Was Busy
Hunt wasn’t distracted by girls, though. All he cared about was money and power, and as Karny said, “Everything wound up being used as some sort of prop for the image that he was trying to project.” Hunt even hired a bodyguard, Jim Pittman, to add to the BBC’s façade.
The cash flow became a river, and Hunt was paying his way out of any and every little bump that came along the way. Parking beside a fire hydrant? Ah, it’s cheaper to pay a ticket than look for a legal space. Wait in line? How’s $500 cash look to you?
Ronald G. Levin: The Future Victim
Hunt was “warned” that Beverly Hills’ Ronald G. Levin – the man Hunt murdered – was “a scammer,” but after their first meeting Hunt was impressed. Levin was a true character: a Harvard graduate with a 186 IQ who turned his $200,000 inheritance into $25 million.
The man also seemed to know everything about everyone in town. To those around them, it was the “scoundrel” in Levin that intrigued Hunt. Levin was 42 at the time and bragged about his many swindles. The tall, thin, rich man had silver hair, a white beard, and was always immaculately dressed.
A Pair of Frenemies
Levin was a homosexual with an entourage of young men, and one of his longtime friends was the GOAT, Muhammad Ali. Levin’s parties saw the likes of Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and Andy Warhol, to name a few.
For the young Joe Hunt, Levin was a frustratingly fascinating figure. Why frustrating? Because Levin wasn’t buying into his deals. “Joe hadn’t gotten Ron to invest any money, and he was kind of wondering whether Ron took him seriously as a businessman,” Karny shared. The two were best of frenemies.
Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels
As Karny recalled, Hunt and Levin had “almost the same kind of personality.” They both loved money and hated drugs. But Hunt was more of a purist; he refused all alcohol, sugar, and caffeine. He would never touch anything that could hinder his intellectual abilities.
Finally, Levin was ready to talk business with Hunt. He wanted to make a “four- or five-part series on commodities trading.” He wanted to film the trading process, and his documentary was meant to have a dramatic feel. The subject? Joe Hunt.
The Deal That Made Hunt Tick
This was Hunt’s opportunity to prove to Levin his big-scale trading theories. And it worked at first; he turned $5.2 million into over $13.5 million within six weeks. Karny described it as a replay of what went down in Chicago.
His friend was playing the commodities market the way he used to play pinball machines in his favorite dark corner of the Hard Rock Café. Eventually, Hunt was told that his margins had been tripled, and he had 24 hours to come up with $1.5 million to cover his bets. The brokerage house sued, and Levin was served, too.
Hunt Was on the Hunt
It was revealed that the money Hunt was trading (and gambling with) wasn’t real money. Levin apparently had gotten credit in brokerage houses fraudulently and had scammed about a million and a half, leaving only $250,000 to Hunt.
Hunt was on the hunt for a while, chasing Levin down. With time, he gave up, choosing not to chase a guy for such a “small” amount of money. He did, however, state that he was “going to get around to killing Levin one of these days.” Foreshadowing? I think so…
And Then There Were 16
With Levin now “the bad guy,” all the followers of Hunt’s cult started hating on the guy too. By April 1984, the BBC boys were in over their heads. They were bleeding money and couldn’t pay it off quickly enough. Hunt started to keep his closest followers even closer, and the wayward ones even further away.
He even managed to split the May twins apart. BBC went from 30 adherents to a core of 16. As Karny explained, half left “either because their parents had a very strong pull and yanked them out, or because they got scared — scared of Joe.”
They Shot Up the Place
At this point, Hunt started referring to the BBC as his family and the other members as his children. Hunt was in a crisis, and he worked relentlessly. For the first time, the members of his club saw signs of stress in their untouchable leader.
Hunt was getting thinner, was often distracted, and suddenly borrowing money in amounts that just three months earlier he would have laughed at, like $10,000 from Tom May, for instance. All the while, Hunt was getting closer with Pittman, his bodyguard.
When the Targets Become Human
Sh*t got real(er) when Hunt disappeared one night after a dispute with FCI Laboratories. Upon his return, he announced that he and Pittman had shot up the FCI lab with machine guns. It was a matter of time until the target would be human.
A man named Bruce Swartout became Hunt’s next victim. On the morning of April 13, 1984, after Swartout arrived and parked his car in his office parking lot, a “muscular Black man in khaki work clothes” (Pittman) tossed his boiling hot coffee on the man’s back. “I thought I was stabbed at first,” he later stated.
Ron Levin Was on the “To Do” List
A week later, a BBC member, Steve Taglianetti, saw that Pittman had a vial of liquid on the dashboard. The bodyguard told him not to touch it – that it could cause a heart attack. By June 1984, it became clear, to Karny at least, that Hunt was serious about killing Ron Levin.
On June 4th, Karny came into the office early and saw Hunt jotting things down on a yellow legal pad. “To Do: At Levins.” Under it, a list of 15 or so items: “Close Blinds; Scan for Tape Recorder; Tape Mouth; Handcuff . . .”
$1.5 Million and a Missing Man
Two days later, Hunt asked Karny to take his girlfriend Brooke to the movies that night. He saw him again the next morning, ready for the day, carrying a briefcase that contained a $1.5 million check signed by Ron Levin. Levin was nowhere to be found. His maid, Blanche, saw that his blanket and top sheet were missing.
Two of Levin’s young male friends were waiting for him outside of his home. He had promised to take them on a trip. Levin’s luggage was sitting in front of his closet, empty. Blanche reported Levin missing that morning.
The Night Of…
After avoiding Hunt for a few days, Karny reluctantly listened to Hunt tell him, in detail, exactly what he and Pittman did to Levin. While Karny and Brooke were at the movies that night, Hunt showed up at Levin’s with two take-out dinners. He then told Levin that he had invited his friend to dinner.
Pittman, whom Levin had never met, rang the bell at 9:30 p.m. and introduced himself with a silenced .25 Berretta. Hunt explained to the freaked-out Levin that he now owed him $4 million. He gave Levin an ultimatum: either pay up tonight or you’ll be dead by the morning.
A Single Shot
So, Levin wrote him the $1.5 million Swiss check. But after that, things happened quickly. Pittman pointed the gun to Levin’s head and forced him to lie face down on the bed. After listening to him whimper for a few moments, Pittman killed the man with a single shot to the back of the head.
His blood started seeping onto the comforter and sheets, so they wrapped his body in them and carried his corpse to the car. They proceeded to a spot near Soledad Canyon, where Pittman had dug a pit earlier that day. But before burying the corpse, they disfigured it with shotgun blasts, Hunt told Karny.
Listen Up, Boys
Hunt figured the cops would suspect that Levin wanted to create the impression that he was abducted. Why? Because he was being indicted for illegally purchasing $300,000 worth of computer and photography equipment. He was facing up to seven years in prison.
Weeks later, Hunt held a meeting with ten BBC members. Hunt sat on an ottoman in the center of the room and began to tell them what happened. “The BBC was going to take some bold steps and achieve greatness, and for those people who wanted to go along with the BBC to achieve these levels of greatness, they must know things and do things,” he told the guys.
Someone Always Talks
“There is basically a point in everybody’s life where either you are going to continue on with the company, or just leave,” Hunt told them. “And so, anyone who wasn’t prepared to deal with a much greater level of responsibility could leave right then and there,” Karny remembered Hunt saying. But no one left.
“Jim and I knocked off Ron Levin,” he announced. Pittman had warned him: someone always talks. And the first one to talk was Jeff Raymond, who stayed close with Dave May – the twin that was deemed “untrustworthy.” Dave then told his father the whole story. Revenge of sorts, I guess.
Hot Pursuit in the Mojave Desert
Not long after, the “trustworthy” Tom May turned on Hunt, too. Once Hunt discovered their deceit, he held a meeting with the now five-member BBC core. The Mays “pose[d] a threat to us,” he told them, and they discussed “the elimination of that threat.” Hunt suggested having a “large, weighted truck smash into them” on the open highway.
The next day, Hunt and Pittman chased the Mays into the Mojave Desert by truck, motorcycle, and a twin-engine plane, but without success. Hunt had his hands full, to say the least. Remember the man in the trunk?
The Man in the Trunk
The man they kidnapped that night was Hedayat Eslaminia, an extremely rich former high official in the Shah of Iran’s government. Eslaminia’s 24- year-old son Reza hated his father and asked Hunt and Dosti to kidnap him and make him forge a $30 million check, which they could then split.
That dark truck ride with Karny and the man in the trunk to keep him company? Well, the man ended up dying inside the thing. Hunt and the BBC boys were now neck-deep in trouble for the death of Ron Levin and a kidnapping/murder of an Iranian from northern California. On September 28, Joe Hunt was arrested.
Free Joe Hunt?
Both Hunt and Pittman were arrested, each charged with murder in the death of Ron Levin. Then, one by one, the BBC members were served with subpoenas. It was Karny who showed the LAPD where Levin was buried. Tom and Dave May became prosecution witnesses and spent a while trying to break into the film business with their version of the BBC story.
Dosti was released on bail and started working as a lawyer. In 2018, Hunt appealed to have his sentence commuted. His friends and family created the “Free Joe Hunt” campaign asking for signatures to get Hunt’s sentence commuted. For now, he’s still behind bars…