The Greek Tragedy That Killed Edmond Safra

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The only thing he had to fear was fear itself. Billionaire financier Edmond J. Safra died because he was poisoned by the same conspiracy theories that consumed the media in the days following his death. The most commonly discussed scenario in Safra's fiery death had the Russian mob settling a vendetta against the banker for blowing the whistle on money laundering schemes. It turns out this whodunit had a more ordinary culprit: the nurse.

Ted Maher, a New Yorker who began working for Safra five months ago, confessed to police Monday that he had set the fire that led to Safra's death. His reputed motivation: jealousy of other nurses. Maher apparently was one of the least favored members of Safra's medical staff (the 67-year-old banker suffered from Parkinson's disease) and wanted to win his boss's favor by painting himself as a hero. So he started a small fire in a wastebasket, claimed two knife-wielding hooded men entered the apartment — and slashed himself. The plan was to say he scared off the assailants and saved the day.

But Safra, who as owner of the Republic National Bank of New York had made some high-powered enemies, had reportedly grown neurotic in recent months, convinced that he was in constant danger, and wouldn't emerge from a bathroom — despite entreaties from rescue workers — as the apartment became engulfed in flames. But will the public accept a tidy conclusion to this veritable Greek tragedy? Theories have already emerged on the Internet painting Maher as a Lee Harvey Oswald-like Russian mole. Another, probably closer to the truth, has Maher trying to ingratiate himself with the sickly billionaire, thus finding a place in his will. Expect a movie of the week at a cable station near you.