Sol Wachtler's Boots Were Made for Walking Into an FBI Sting


Sol Wachter's book, After the Madness

In 1992, Judge Sol Wachtler was the head of the New York Court of Appeals, the most powerful appellate court in the country. He was good looking, charismatic and well-respected. And he was completely out of his mind.

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Wachtler was arrested in November of 1992 after harassing wealthy heiress and Republican fundraiser Joy Silverman for nearly a year. Wachtler, the co-executor to Silverman's step-father's will, was upset with her for dumping him in Septermber of 1991 after a 3 year affair that ended when Wachtler refused to leave his wife.

After the break-up, Wachtler would enter manic states in which he would concoct elaborate plans to fool Silverman into coming back to him. He started harassing Silverman under the alias David Purdy. Wachtler was convinced that if he could make Silverman believe in David Purdy, then she would seek advice and comfort from her old lover, Judge Wachtler.

Dismayed that Silverman saw through this rouse, Wachtler obsessed over his plan, going so far as to disguise himself as a cowboy to convince her that he and Purdy were two different people.

From his book, After the Madness:
To do this right -- to make it really work -- I had to do it as Purdy would do it.

So as soon as I returned from Sedona, I went to Linden, New Jersey, where Purdy was supposed to have been sojourning. I went with my Stetson hat, string tie, and boots -- because that is how Purdy would have dressed -- and walked the streets of Linden in the small hours of the morning. Past the movie theater and the post office next door. I remember the sun, as it was rising, casting a shaft of light on a particular mailbox. I took this as a sign. I mailed the letter, certain that Joy would receive it and call her old and dear friend Sol for his assistance in thwarting the demon Purdy.
Along the way, Wachtler created another character, a devout Catholic named Theresa O'Connor. He also kept calling Silverman, who had been recording their conversations. He also threatened to kidnap Silverman's daughter. Finally, Wachtler wrote one last letter as David Purdy. He offered to leave Silverman and her family alone if she would drop off $20,000 in an envelope at a beauty salon. Wachtler was convinced that if Silverman left the money, that would mean she believed in Purdy and that she would seek comfort from him.

On the day of the drop-off, Wachtler was arrested on his way to pick up the money by the FBI. Wachtler, who argued that mental illness had played a large role in his behavior, pleaded guilty to threatening to kidnap Silverman's daughter.

Wachtler served 15 months in prison, received treatment for bipolar disorder, and went on to advocate for the mentally ill. He was readmitted to the New York State bar October 2, 2007.

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