'DC Madam' hangs herself in mother's shed

The “DC Madam,” whose arrest for running a high-end prostitution ring sent sex-scandal tremors through the United States capital, hanged herself on Thursday in a shed at her mother’s house, police said.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey was found by her mother hanging by a nylon rope from the ceiling of the shed at her mother’s mobile home in Tarpon Springs, Florida, local police said.

“Handwritten notes were found on scene that describes the victim’s intention to take her life,” said police Captain Jeffrey Young. “Foul play does not appear to be involved.”

Palfrey (52) was convicted last month on federal racketeering charges for running the prostitution ring for the rich, famous and powerful, including members of Congress and other Washington power-brokers.

She was out on bail awaiting sentencing, slated for July, when she was found dead by her mother (76) who after waking up from a nap went to see why a three-wheel bicycle normally kept in the shed had been moved, police said.

Palfrey’s arrest last year had Washington on tenterhooks, amid rumours and speculation about which movers and shakers might be on her powerful client list.

She ran her escort service Pamela Martin and Associates, mostly serving Washington DC and neighbouring Virginia and Maryland from her home in Vallejo, California, according to the January 2007 indictment.

The operation—which she insisted was a legal escort service that did not ask women to have sex with clients—generated over $2-million between 1993 and 2006, according to the charges.

More than 130 women worked for her over the period, and prosecutors said she had used male “testers” to “determine the ability of those women to perform the appropriate prostitution activities”.

The company’s clientele included a cross-section of Washington, including private and public sector officials, Nasa employees, United States military brass, and World Bank and International Monetary Fund executives.

In 2007, conservative Louisiana Senator David Vitter apologised after being exposed as a former customer, and the head of the US Agency for International Development (USAid), Randall Tobias, stepped down after being identified as a patron.

During her trial, a number of the women who had worked for the service were called as witnesses to rebut Palfrey’s claims that the operation was about “erotic fantasy” and not a sex ring. One of the woman was a serving navy officer, who was forced to admit that she had performed sex for money as one of Palfrey’s employees during 2005 and 2006.

Young said in a press conference that Palfrey appeared to have killed herself while her mother was napping early on Thursday.

“They were both kind of tired, and the mom said I’m going to take a nap real quick.
That was pretty much the last she talked to her,” Young said.

He said Palfrey left two or more suicide notes. “It was more than one note. I believe it was approximately two and some other notes in a book,” he said.

“We feel for the family as they are victims in this case just like in any other case, where a suicide leaves behind a whole mess of victims,” Young said.

“They have to pick up the pieces and move on with their lives.”

He said that federal authorities were also involved in the investigation.

“The FBI was called and notified due to the ongoing cases that we knew Ms Palfrey had in the Washington’s area,” Young said. - AFP

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