It started like a Hollywood movie, fitting for many teens raised in the West Hills of LA: swimming pools, girls, alcohol, and plenty of pot. Indulging in the raucous and racy life of drug dealing, tough guys, and hanging out with big brother’s friends was all fun and games for 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz until he was bound, gagged, and dragged to a remote location. That’s when things got serious. And deadly.
Nicholas Markowitz was a good kid. He would do anything to get a laugh and was an ordinary teen. Due to his older half-brother Ben’s far wilder lifestyle, one would expect the elder to be the one his parents would need to worry about. It, therefore, came as an enormous and heartbreaking shock when the Markowitzs received the news that it wasn’t Ben who’d become fatally entangled with a gang but innocent and unassuming Nick. The events befitting a Hollywood film soon morphed into a search for a dangerous man with a name to match his deadly theatrics.
Nicholas Markowitz One They Didn’t Have to Worry About
The Markowitz’s were a typical family living in Los Angeles, California, in 2000. Chris Hansen of NBC News writes that Susan Markowitz was a stay-at-home mother and wife. Jeff Markowitz had taken up the family business of manufacturing aviation components. They had three children, Ben and his sister from Jeff’s previous marriage, and Nicholas “Nick,” who was their son together.
He had a great fondness for his older brother. This made his mother nervous as Ben was far from a model eldest child. She admitted that he was a hard one to be around. When asked by Hansen during his NBC News interview if Ben was a problem child, Jeff Markowitz responded that his son was “not a troublemaker; but he was always there when there was trouble.”
The Markowitz’s tried their best to set Ben on the right path. He worked alongside his father, which did little to reduce his run-ins with the law and misbehavior at home. Fed up, Jeff Markowitz told Ben that he’d better shape up or ship out. Ben chose the latter and left the family home. Pushing him to this decision was an act his parents would later regret. If Ben had remained at home, he might have never encountered the gang leader who would lead him and, eventually, his brother down a distinctly destructive path. Nick remained very much in the background during all of this. But he would soon gain the spotlight in a manner no parent ever wants for their child.
The Reign of Hollywood
A tight-knit group of friends is a staple in a true-to-life Hollywood story. The kids in the West Hills grew up with their peers, playing side-by-side in Little League and hanging out together in their spare time. Ben became involved with one boy in particular, Jesse James Hollywood.
Jesse Hollywood’s father, Jack, coached the local Little League team. However, beneath his acceptable outward appearance lingered whispers from others about a past steeped in marijuana distribution. Despite the shady concerns about his past, Jack Hollywood’s son looked like any other kid. For a long time, he seemed in little danger of being led astray by his father’s personal career choice. It wasn’t until he reached high school that evidence that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree surfaced.
After years of forming a spotless record, exercising his athletic abilities, and attending a prestigious high school, Jesse James Hollywood began exhibiting actions befitting a name linked with famous outlaw behavior. Things grew turbulent enough that he was expelled during 10th grade. Though he completed his primary education, things didn’t improve after graduation.
By the ripe old age of 19, he’d bought his own house with his earnings, laying the foundation for his reign and forming a gang.
Enter Ben Markowitz, a force to be reckoned with and a worthy match for Jesse.
Someone Has to Pay the Debt
Like a true Jay Gatsby, young Hollywood hosted wild parties at his house, making for a rowdy time for all, including Ben. However, it wasn’t all girls and alcohol–it was business too. Hollywood quickly became known as a hardcore ruler. He gave his cronies a certain amount of pot to sell, lording over those who didn’t meet his assigned sales quotas. According to Jesse Katz, who wrote about Hollywood in great detail and referenced in NBC’s article, he treated those who fell short like ‘indentured servants’ and was ‘like the center of the universe.’
Like many of his underlings, Ben Markowitz eventually became indebted to Hollywood for $1,200. This would be frightening to most, but Ben wasn’t intimidated and presented himself as even more formidable than the operation’s high head. Even when Hollywood demanded he pays up, he didn’t give him the time of day. When things grew more serious, Ben reportedly broke one of the windows of Hollywood’s house. Hollywood had had enough of the back-and-forth taunting. He was ready to crack the whip. Someone needed to pay.
Nicholas Markowitz Takes Center Stage
Nick had very much played the role of a side character. He was about to become the main character in the most frightening ways. Nick was innocent when it came to his half-brother’s debt to Hollywood. However, this didn’t stop him from becoming a target when Hollywood and a few members of his gang went on a hunt for Ben.
After forcing Nicholas Markowitz into a van, Hollywood and his crew went North on 101 until they reached Santa Barbara. During the drive, Nick was informed of the reason behind the abduction: his brother’s debt. Though the grave reason for the surprise ride had been revealed, Nick was given a cigarette and a Valium as if he were in the company of the captors of his own volition.
Nick’s parents grew concerned when he didn’t answer the messages they sent to his emergency pager. They called everyone they knew and finally got a hold of Ben. He hadn’t heard from his brother.
Party Verdict: Video Games, a Pool, and One Fatality
As the Markowitz’s searched for their son, Nick didn’t appear to be having a particularly rough time in Hollywood’s custody. The gang brought him to three different houses before ending up at a hotel pool party. Nick wasn’t even that concerned. According to NBC News, the teen, Bruce Correll, former deputy chief, reportedly said, “This will be a story I can tell my grandchildren.”
And it was quite a story. He became friendly with a 17-year-old girl who’d eventually joined the group, played video games, and hung out with Hollywood and his guys. However, Hollywood was starting to get nervous as the reality of his actions began to sink in. Nicholas Markowitz wasn’t visibly suffering in his custody, but he’d still been kidnapped. A crime had been committed, and he needed to think fast to dodge the consequences.
Leaving his buddies and their captive behind, he went to San Fernando Valley to visit a lawyer and family friend at his home. Katz reported to NBC that Hollywood’s summary of the situation was as follows: “You know, there’s this situation. Some kids are in trouble. They’ve held somebody hostage.” He was none too happy to hear that such a crime would result in life-long imprisonment and left the house in a rage. Hollywood began to panic, quickly escalating matters when he sent a command to one of his minions, Ryan Hoyt, who was indebted to him. The orders? Kill Nick.
Murder of Nicholas Markowitz
Two and a half days after the abduction, Hoyt, equipped with the Tech 9 given to him by Hollywood, made his way to a rural hiking trail with two other gang members and Nicholas Markowitz, who was bound, gagged, and duct taped.
“The only reason the gun didn’t keep on shooting is that it jammed,” Katz told Hansen in the NBC News article coverage.
The gang members had figured the place was isolated enough to keep the body from being discovered. However, a few young people found Nick a few days later. It was time to give the teen’s parents the unspeakable news. The son they’d thought was the least of their worries was dead.
The Worst News
For an excruciating week and a half, Susan and Jeff Markowitz had been waiting for word of her son. “I slept on the couch with the window open, hoping to hear or see him first,” Susan told NBC News. But it wasn’t Nick who eventually showed up at her door. According to Steve Chawkins of the LA Times, five men wearing black came to the Markowitz home to share the distressing news: Nick had been found shot at Lizard’s Mouth. “They had that look in their eyes and that smell of death,” Susan reportedly said.
According to NBC News, Jeff Markowitz regretted not having called the police right when Nick went missing, and Ben blamed himself for what happened to his half-brother. Susan Markowitz was in complete shock about the whole thing. While the family mourned, the 17-year-old girl who befriended Nick during his captivity saw the news footage. She suspected the teen was being held against his will, and now it had been gruesomely confirmed. “Here’s this kid,” Katz records her to have said. “Sweet, funny, gangly kid that I hung out with for three days a couple of weeks ago. He’s dead.”
While Hollywood Ran, His Cronies Faced Trial.
The girl went to the police, and within hours the authorities had taken Hoyt and a few others into custody. Hollywood, however, was nowhere to be found. A true fugitive, Hollywood jumped around to avoid detection. He went first to Colorado Springs to visit an old friend before heading to Las Vegas with his girlfriend, where they enjoyed the luxury of the Bellagio hotel. After that came the San Fernando Valley and even part of Vancouver, British Columbia. A $50,000 reward was offered for information on the runaway while Susan Markowitz spread wanted posters throughout the city.
While Hollywood ran, his cronies faced trial.
Trials and a Long Search
Hard as it was, the Markowitzs attended the trials of Hoyt and the others involved in Nick’s unjust death. During the proceedings, they were faced with graphic photos of their son upon being exhumed from the too-shallow grave.
Seeing Ryan Hoyt on the stand was equally troubling. Nick’s parents were particularly appalled by the casual defense of his actions. “All I did was shoot him,” Hoyt is recorded by NBC News to have said.
Hollywood was not easy to track down. Two years before the authorities got a tip, Hollywood was hiding in a monastery in Brazil. However, he’d moved before they could reach him.
The Leader of the Gang Appeared Before the Long-Awaited Court
Four and a half years later, and with much more heartache, Hollywood was found in Saquerema on the eastern coast of Brazil. He was going under the alias Michael Costa Giroux. He kept to himself and had two dogs. He’d fathered a child by a woman named Marcia Reis. Reis did not take the news that her child’s father was a felon well and said she considered her now fatherless child Hollywood’s second victim.
Hollywood would get his turn under trial, but things wouldn’t wrap up nearly as neatly as they had for the others involved. Though he wasn’t present for the actual killing, he was charged with murder. He was then given the death sentence.
For a very, very long time.
The Markowitz’s were not bitter about the sentencing. “Another son’s dying isn’t going to bring Nicholas Markowitz back,” Jeff Markowitz said. Still, nothing would make up for the time Nick’s parents lost with their child or the experiences and possibilities that would have awaited the young man. “He died a month shy of his 16th birthday,” Susan Markowitz is recorded to have said. “Instead of a car, he got a coffin.”