Candace Mossier and Melvin Lane Powers Trial: 1966
Candace Mossier and Melvin Lane
Powers Trial: 1966
Defendants: Candace Mossier and Melvin Lane Powers
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Henry Carr, Percy Foreman, Walter E. McGwinn, Marian Rosen, Harvey St. Jean, and Clyde Woody
Chief Prosecutors: Richard E. Gerstein, Arthur E. Huttoe, and Gerald Kogan
Judge: George E. Schulz
Dates of Trial: January 17-March 6, 1966
Verdict: Not guilty
SIGNIFICANCE: Millions of dollars were at stake in this trial, one of the most sensational in years. There was talk of sexual variations, suspected contract-killers, and police corruption in this tale of greed and brutal murder.
For 12 years Candace and Jacques Mossier lived together in seeming harmony. Mossier, a multimillionaire Houston, Texas, businessman, lavished attention and money on his beautiful wife and was rewarded with her apparent devotion, until 1961. In that year, Melvin Powers, Candy Mossler's 20-year-old nephew, came to live with the couple. Not long afterwards, according to Mrs. Mossler's testimony, Jacques Mossler was struck down by a mysterious illness that left him a homosexual. Shattered by this discovery, Candy Mossler turned to her sister's son for companionship, despite their 21-year age difference. When Jacques Mossler found out, he fired Powers from the company and moved to Miami, Florida.
Candy Mossler and Melvin Powers remained in Houston until the summer of 1964, when she took her four adopted children to visit her husband in Florida. Once there, she began chauffeuring the children on a series of suspicious midnight car rides. On June at 1:30 a.m. she drove them to a nearby hospital emergency room. Just minutes later, someone broke into the Mossler household, struck Jacques Mossler over the head and stabbed him 39 times. The murder time was established by neighbors who heard loud barking from the MossIer's dog, and cries of "Don't! Don't do that to me!" A "dark-haired man in dark clothing" was also seen fleeing. Police believed that man was Melvin Powers, acting in collusion with Candy Mossler. The couple was charged with murder 12 months later.
Jury selection began January 17, 1966, and took several days. At its conclusion Arthur E. Huttoe presented the state's case against Candy Mossier and Melvin Powers, detailing a "sordid, illicit, love affair." The motive, Huttoe said, was money: with her husband out of the way, Candy Mossier would inherit millions plus control of his business.
A fortune of that magnitude meant that Mossier and Powers were able to afford the very best in legal talent. Legendary Texas attorney Percy Foreman was imported to head the powerful defense team. He maintained that Jacques Mossier's sexual appetites—"transvestitism, homosexuality, voyeurism and every conceivable type of perversion, masochism, sadism,"—had caused his own death; he was murdered, said Foreman, by a slighted homosexual lover. In support of this claim, Foreman referred to a human hair found on Mossier's body, which, despite exhaustive investigation, had never been identified. Foreman later broadened his scope of potential killers to include disaffected business partners, saying that as "mastermind" of a great financial empire, Mossier was hated by "thousands of people."
Prosecutors believed otherwise. Their version had Powers flying into Miami on the night of the murder, killing Mossier, then leaving at eight o'clock next morning. And they had plenty of witnesses to back up the claim. Mary Alice Domick, a National Airlines ticketing agent in Houston, recalled selling Powers a ticket to Miami on June 29, 1964. Stewardess Barbara Ann Barrer confirmed that Powers was aboard, carrying just a brief case; and the manager of a lounge near Mossier's home placed Powers in his bar between 7:00 and 8:30 p.m. on the night of the killing.
At Miami International Airport, police found Candy Mossier's abandoned 1960 Chevrolet. Fingerprint expert Robert Worsham testified that of 55 prints found in the car, six belonged to Powers. Foreman wasn't impressed. "You do not know whether Melvin Powers drove that car in June, May, or April in Miami, do you?" he asked.
"No," admitted Worsham.
Another fingerprint specialist, David Plowden, wasn't so easily dismissed. He had located Powers' palm print on the kitchen counter in the murdered man's home. Mossier's handyman Roscoe Brown testified that he had wiped that counter down just hours before the killing. Brown also disclosed a telephone conversation with Candy Mossier after the murder, in which she said, "You've got to say you didn't clean that sink … remember, a man's life is at stake, anything you say can hurt him."
Defense attorney Clyde Woody struggled to salvage the situation. "Didn't Mrs. Mossier tell you, 'Don't let them put words in your mouth?'"
"Right," said Brown.
"Didn't she say, 'I would do the same for you if I thought you were innocent?'"
"That's right," Brown answered.
Earlier in the trial, Freddie Duhart, a colorful ex-convict from Houston, testified that Powers had offered him $10,000 to find a hired killer. "I told him you could get someone from Mexico and put the body in the trunk of the car—nobody checks the trunk of a car at the border—and give a man $50 to $100 to take the body back up in the mountains and throw if off a volcano."
Galveston, Texas, resident Edward Diehl also swore that Powers had solicited him to kill Jacques Mossler, with the promise that "there's $5,000 in it for you."
Yet another convicted felon, Billy Frank Mulvey, pointed the finger of suspicion at both defendants. After stating that, in a jailhouse confession, Powers had admitted murdering Mossier to him, Mulvey further. claimed that two years earlier Candy Mossier had paid him "seven grand" as a down payment to kill her husband. At this, Candy Mossier cried out across the courtroom, "I've never seen or heard of this man," an outburst that brought a stern rebuke from Judge George E. Schulz.
Mulvey continued: "I told her it wasn't enough."
"What did you do with the $7,000," asked Foreman.
"I stashed it." Mulvey replied, adding, "I'm a thief—not a burglar." According to several defense witnesses, Mulvey was also a heroin junkie, pathologically incapable of telling the truth, and a police informant willing to say anything to beat an upcoming habitual criminal rap and possible life sentence.
Preparing an Alibi
In closing arguments prosecutor Gerald Kogan submitted that Candy Mossler's strange nocturnal visits to the hospital, all between the hours of midnight and 7:00 a.m., were undertaken to establish an alibi. He further submitted that the evidence, although circumstantial, could lead to only one reasonable conclusion: Powers and Candy Mossler had conspired to kill Jacques Mossier.
From among the several of defense lawyers, it was Percy Foreman who commanded center stage. In his closing 6Vz hour speech Foreman laid the blame for Mossler's death everywhere except at the door of Melvin Powers. He blamed the police for entering into a "monetary conspiracy" with the dead man's daughter; he blamed "Dade County justice"; he accused police of buying testimony from "a lifetime thief and other ex-convicts"; he recited passages from the Scripture and Shakespeare. He concluded the masterly, if somewhat discursive, oration by thundering, "Let him among you without sin cast the first stone." Then Foreman sat down, smiling, confident he had won over the all-male jury.
And so it proved. After 16 hours and 44 minutes of deliberation on March 6, 1966, they returned a verdict of not guilty. State Attorney Richard Gerstein received the news in grim silence. Later, watching Candy first embrace Powers, then several of the jurors, he remarked, "I don't agree with the verdict, but this is the American system."
More Unsolved Mysteries
Following the trial, Melvin Powers returned to Houston and became a successful real estate developer. Candace Mossier continued to attract controversy. In 1971, she married Barnett Garrison, 19 years her junior. The following year Garrison suffered brain damage in a fall from the roof of the Mossler mansion in Houston. Apparently Mr. Garrison, wearing a pistol in his belt, had tried to gain access to his wife's third floor balcony window when he lost his footing and plunged 40 feet onto a concrete patio. Police ruled the fall accidental. Three months later the couple divorced.
In May 1974, Candy Mossier told police that a masked intruder had broken into her home, chloroformed her, then made off with $396,000 in jewelry and money. She had reported a similar theft in Miami Beach two weeks earlier. On that occasion a thief "with soft hands" had taken $200,000 in gems. Carelessly, Mrs. Mossier reported the same item—a $160,000 diamond—stolen in each robbery. Neither case was solved.
In October 26, 1976, Candace Mossler died in her sleep at the Fontainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach. She was 55 years old.
Florida's rush to prosecute Candy Mossler and Powers highlights the weakness of any case based solely on instinct and suspicion. At no time did the circumstantial evidence ever approach the degree of cogency necessary for conviction.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Axthelm, Pete. Newsweek (November 8, 1976).
Crimes and Punishment. Vol. 12. England: Phoebus, 1974.
Taylor, Gary. National Law Journal (May 22, 1989): 29f.