WASHINGTON – Alexandria, Va., lawyer Kenneth E. Labowitz was sleeping soundly late Tuesday, after preparing for a morning hearing in a routine estate case, when three masked men claiming to be federal police officers forced their way into his home.
Before the night was done, Labowitz had been abducted at gunpoint, tortured with a stun gun, forced to stand at the edge of a freshly dug shallow grave and rescued by alert residents and police. Throughout the incident, he was convinced that at least one of his abductors was a principal in the scheduled morning hearing over the disputed million-dollar estate of an elderly client.
His frightening odyssey began about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, when the trio barged into his home in an upscale neighborhood in northern Alexandria.
Labowitz told friends he recognized the voice of one of the men. He sounded just like the clean-cut young military man – David Marc Kluttz – whom Labowitz expected to see in court the next morning. Kluttz, a neighbor of Labowitz’s client, had an interest in her estate, court records show.
As the men were hustling him to a waiting car, Labowitz shouted for his family to call police.
In the frightening minutes that followed, police say, Kluttz and his two accomplices drove Labowitz to the Watergate at Landmark – a luxury high-rise in western Alexandria – zapped him with a stun gun and threatened him at knifepoint. Then they dragged him to an adjacent picnic area, where a grave had been dug, police say.
As Labowitz stood on its edge, his abductors threatened to harm him unless he dropped the case and helped Kluttz get money and real estate from the disputed will, according to Labowitz’s partner, Peter Dingman, who spoke to Labowitz Wednesday.
“Ken said, ‘You can have anything you want,’ ” Dingman said.
Labowitz, 55, was able to stall his abductors by trying to reason with them until help arrived, Dingman said. Police, already alerted by the Labowitz family, had raced to the scene after several Watergate residents reported suspicious activity in the woods.
“He told me, ‘What do I do for a living? I talk. I started talking,’ ” Dingman said. “He managed to keep talking long enough until the police came.”
Police said that when they arrived at the scene, they found only Labowitz and Frederick A. Baruday, 75, the nephew of Labowitz’s client, who lived with his aunt at the Watergate at Landmark. Baruday, who relatives say is mentally challenged and in poor health, was taken to Inova Alexandria Hospital complaining of chest pains. He has not been charged.
Kluttz, 37, was arrested early Wednesday at his Watergate apartment and was charged with kidnapping and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. A third suspect, Aubrey Berryman, 25, of Fairfax, Va., also was arrested and faces similar charges.
“The abduction on its own would have been unusual as the case unfolded, and it’s only gotten more bizarre,” said Alexandria police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch. “As strange as it is, it’s scary, too.”
Labowitz and Kluttz had been scheduled to appear at an Alexandria Circuit Court hearing Wednesday in a dispute over the will of Eloise O’Connor, 87.