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Video: Death of a Golden Girl

NBC Universal Anchors and Correspondents
By Dennis Murphy Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 3/22/2010 2:12:56 PM ET 2010-03-22T18:12:56
transcript

DENNIS MURPHY reporting: (Voiceover) New Year’s 2010 was arriving on a shivery night by Miami standards, but temps in the low 60s weren’t enough to chill the South Beach scenesters. And there in the throng, diving into the sizzle, was a couple from Michigan, Paula Sladewski and Kevin Klym, down from Detroit for an impulse long holiday weekend.

(People celebrating New Year’s; fireworks; photo of Kevin Klym and Paula Sladewski; fireworks; partier)

MURPHY: Kevin, how did the idea of let’s go down to South Beach for New Year’s come together?

Mr. KEVIN KLYM: Paula.

(Voiceover) That was my baby. She didn’t skimp on herself, and she liked to live the good life, you know, and going down to South Beach was like, that was—that was it.

(Paula Sladewski; photo of Paula; South Beach street)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) A down-and back: hit the clubs, do some shots, hello, 2010.

(Airplane landing; interior of nightclub; fireworks)

Mr. KLYM: (Voiceover) It was great. Like, we had it all figured out.

(Photo of Klym and Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: We’d go down to South Beach, celebrate the New Year’s, come back on Monday.

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MURPHY: (Voiceover) But come Monday, the live-in boyfriend/girlfriend pair were not on a plane to Detroit. Rather, Kevin Klym was a very worried guy meandering down coconut tree-lined boulevards in a city he didn’t know, looking for his girlfriend, Paula. She was missing. Paula, the aspiring, leggy model with blond hair down to there, had absolutely vanished.

(Photo of Klym and Sladewski; airplane; Klym in nightclub; Klym on street; photos of Klym and Sladewski)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Looking back, maybe if Lady Gaga hadn’t been booked at the Fontainebleau hotel for New Year’s Eve, Paula wouldn’t have insisted on that last minute trip to Miami and later gotten separated. But Paula really wanted to see Gaga’s midnight show. And once down in Miami, Kevin scored scalper’s tickets for $700 each—pricey, but whatever baby wants.

(Lady Gaga performing; Fontainebleau sign; photos of Sladewski and Klym; Lady Gaga performing; Miami skyline; Gaga performing; photo of Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: Since this is the hottest ticket in town, all the celebrity—oh!  She heard the celebrities going to be there, and she had—she didn’t want anything to do with anything else. She had to go to Lady Gaga.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Their attendance at the show was even documented by the guy behind them who took iPhone vids of them dancing. Men tended to do that when they saw Paula all clubbed out. 2010, at that moment, and for not much longer, was starting off for Paula Sladewski right in the sweet spot she loved so well.

(Lady Gaga performing; iPhone video of Klym and Sladewski)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) She liked celebrities and the velvet rope and all that stuff.

(iPhone video of Klym and Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: (Voiceover) Absolutely.

(iPhone video of Klym and Sladewski)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Go to VIP tables?

(iPhone video of Klym and Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: (Voiceover) Absolutely. That was her style.

(iPhone video of Klym and Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: She was a beautiful girl. I mean, you take one look at her, she didn’t take a bad picture.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) And she had a lot of them—pictures: head shots, glamor stuff. At 26 years old she’d come to know cameras very well. She was a model represented by a national agency, and she’d made the usual rounds: local commercials, “pretty girl at the Detroit car show” kind of stints. Nothing really big until Hef said, ‘Maybe.’

(Photos of Sladewski; Playboy logo)

Mr. HUGH HEFNER: (Videotape) Looking for a golden girl.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Paula tried out for a national Playboy Playmate search.  Think an “American Idol”-style cattle call with skimpier clothing. Paula made it onto the 2003 video, “Playboy’s 50th Anniversary Ultimate Playmate Search.” She never got to be Miss November. She didn’t make the cut. Still, her sister Kelly Farris remembers Paula being happy she tried it.

(Excerpts from “Playboy’s 50th Anniversary Ultimate Playmate Search”; photo of Sladewski and Kelly Farris)

Ms. KELLY FARRIS: There was like 500 women, and only 50 got to make it on this anniversary-type video, so she was proud of that.

MURPHY: But it just never quite broke for her, did it?

Ms. FARRIS: No.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) But she talked to Kevin about revving up her modeling dreams or fantasies one last time as soon as this Miami trip was over.  Saturday January 2nd was still a vacation day for Paula and her boyfriend.  They splurged and moved hotels to a place on the beach. There on the art deco strip, they befriended a waiter and asked him what’s up.

(Lights; photo of Sladewski and Klym; photos of Sladewski; vehicle on road; people near vehicle; people in clubs; hotels; band; people on street; woman dancing)

Mr. KLYM: And he said, ‘Well, you know, I’m going to be at Space. You should go to Space.’

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Space to the locals, Club Space to out of towners, Miami’s hottest after-hours club. It’s only open one marathon night a week, from Saturday at 11 PM till Sunday afternoon. So that night, Kevin says, they had a romantic dinner on South Beach, where Paula bought this neon blue dress.  They slept for a bit, then woke up and got dressed. Paula did her customary one-hour makeup thing, and at 5:30 AM Paula and Kevin cabbed it to Club Space.  Lady Gaga, now Club Space. Paula, in her six-inch heels, sheer blue dress and waist-length hair, was a head turner even to an end-of-shift bartender like Raymond Diaz, who sees lots of Miami hotties.

(Club Space exterior; Club Space advertisement; moon; Club Space entrance with people; Club Space interior; Club Space exterior; photo of Klym and Sladewski; blue dress; window; photo of Sladewski; people exiting cab; Club Space exterior, interior; Lady Gaga performing; people dancing; photo of Sladewski; blue dress; people in club; Raymond Diaz; interior of club)

Mr. RAYMOND DIAZ: She actually kind of glowed in the dark. She was so blond and really tan. She had beautiful, I think, blue eyes. Her dress was like a neon blue or green, so...

MURPHY: Raymond, we’re talking about Miami. Girls like that are a dime a dozen, right?

Mr. DIAZ: She stood out, you know, tan, beautiful model—I would assume she was a model or on television or something.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Paula and Kevin had been dating and living together for a couple of years, and he knew from painful experience what impact his girlfriend would have in a cavernous dance space jammed with single men powered by alcohol. Paula Sladewski as boomshakalaka.

(Photos of Klym and Sladewski; dance club interior)

MURPHY: She seems to be the kind of girl would walk in the room and just take the oxygen right out of it.

Mr. KLYM: Yeah. Yeah, for sure.

MURPHY: True?

Mr. KLYM: She was a knockout. She was a stunner.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Paula danced, flashing her new mini as the fins began circling her. Kevin knew the drill: run interference on the men salivating for her as best he could. But these guys were making heavy moves on his woman, one in particular.

(Club interior; people dancing)

Mr. KLYM: I’d turn around for a second. He’s—pfft!--he’s on her, you know.  He’s got his hand around her waist, his crotch right up against her. And he’s leaning down kissing—and she’s looking over at me kind of like laughing and like whatever. And I’m like, ‘OK, we got to go.’

MURPHY: (Voiceover) But Paula, lit up by the attention and the shooters she was downing, had a different idea. She was digging in her stilettos.

(Photos of Sladewski and Klym; feet in stilettos)

Mr. KLYM: And I just grabbed her around the waist and the forearm like, ‘Come on, baby, it’s time to go,’ did the boyfriend shuffle with her kind of thing. She’s like, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t want to go.’ Bam. Bouncers are on me. They must have been watching or something, but they were on me instantly. Bam. Two guys.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kevin was being ejected from the club by security. She was staying. She asked him for her credit card and he gave it to her. Kevin said he wasn’t going to reason with her in that haze. So, seething, he says he got in a cab still carrying her cell phone as he always did when they went clubbing, and headed back over the causeway to their hotel room on Miami Beach.

(Club Space exterior; nightclub interior; cab on street; Miami skyline; hotel entrance)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) As the sun came up that Sunday morning, Kevin Klym crashed without his girlfriend. But if he’d paced about outside that club for only a few more minutes after he was tossed out, he would have seen Paula herself leaving just before 7:30 in the morning. She turned right at the sidewalk and disappeared, as they say, without a trace.

(Ocean; sunrise; Club Space exterior; corner of sidewalk)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Coming up, Kevin wakes up alone, but not worried—at least not yet.

(Darkness; Klym on streets)

MURPHY: Had you and Paula had nights that had ended like that before?

Mr. KLYM: Yes. And she always came home.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) This time it would be different. When Death of a Golden Girl continues.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Three days into the new year after a night of clubbing, Kevin Klym woke up in his Miami Beach hotel room with a throbbing head and minus his girlfriend, Paula Sladewski. It came back to him: Club Space, the bouncers throwing him out at dawn, Paula electing to stay.

(Miami Beach; street with traffic; hotel exterior; photo of Sladewski; nightclub interior; man exiting door; nightclub interior)

MURPHY: Had you and Paula had nights that had ended like that before?

Mr. KLYM: Yes. And she always came home.

MURPHY: So it was no big deal to you at that point?

Mr. KLYM: I’m not happy. You know, it’s not the way I want the night to end.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kevin was starting to worry, but he also knew Paula could be a tough Detroit cookie when she needed to be.

(Klym on phone)

MURPHY: She’s a big girl. She knows how to handle herself.

Mr. KLYM: She knows what she’s doing. Yeah, she’s not naive.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Those growing-up pictures of pretty Paula masked a difficult Michigan home life with an absent father and lots of stepdads. When she was 14, she was dating a 29-year-old man. It was her older sister Kelly, not her mother, who called the authorities on him.

(Photos of Sladewski)

Ms. FARRIS: I was very angry and very upset. You know, she’s 14. She’s still a kid. And my mother still let her date him. And at one point I had to call Child Protective Services.

MURPHY: Calling the watchdogs on your mother, huh?

Ms. FARRIS: Yes.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The man was arrested and convicted of having sex with a minor and sentenced to two years in prison. He’s now on a list of sex offenders. Paula, meanwhile, waited till he was released from prison and started dating him again. By then, she was of the age of consent. Old before her time, but still a dreamy little girl in some ways.

(Photo of Sladewski and man; photo of man on Megan’s Law Web site; photo of Sladewski and man; Sladewski)

MURPHY: That whole little girl fantasy of being the pinup girl or the...

Ms. FARRIS: Barbie doll.

MURPHY: ...shampoo model or something, right?

Ms. FARRIS: Yeah. Yeah.

MURPHY: She had a lot of Barbies.

Ms. FARRIS: Mm. Probably has over 500...

(Voiceover) ...and been collecting since she was a little girl.

(Photo of Sladewski and Barbie)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Paula liked Barbie so much she tried to become her:

tall; thin; with long, golden hair. The world of modeling she hoped to enter wasn’t taken with her real-life Barbie looks, but several strip clubs, gentlemen’s clubs in the greater Detroit area, were. She danced at The Penthouse Club there and saved her tips to pay for college tuition until she dropped out. She seemed to like being the girl on the pole, the men lusting after her.

(Barbie in car; photo of Sladewski in car; photos of Sladewski; women dancing on stage; lights; The Penthouse Club logo; dancers)

Ms. FARRIS: I think that’s why, ultimately, you know, she became a dancer.

She was seeking male attention, you know, love that she didn’t get growing up.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) So along comes Kevin, new boyfriend, and he has to deal with her being an exotic dancer, a successful one.

(Photos of Klym and Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: We got to that point where she was like, ‘This is it. Take it or leave it.’ And I said, ‘Well, I love you that much. I’m going to take it.’

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The money from stripping was good enough to allow Paula and Kevin to move to Los Angeles, just in time for the housing bubble to knock his budding mortgage and real estate business into the ditch. Paula kept on dancing and paid the bills. For a few months they moved back and forth between places in Michigan and California. Now she was gone, and he was a guy alone in a Miami Beach hotel with a desk clerk on the phone asking if he was going to roll over the room for another night. Kevin got himself together and went down to ask the manager for help.

(Dancer on stage; photos of Klym and Sladewski; dancer on stage; photo of Klym and Sladewski; hotel exterior; Kevin walking)

Mr. KLYM: (Voiceover) She’s, like, ‘Listen. Get yourself together.’

(Kevin walking)

Mr. KLYM: ‘We need to get this girl’s picture out on the TV and out on the airwaves.’ Whew.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Miami Beach police told him he’d have to file his missing persons report with the city of Miami, a different jurisdiction. That’s where Club Space was located. But the cops wouldn’t take his report till 24 hours had passed. He’d now last seen Paula about 10 hours before.

(Kevin on street; Klym entering door)

Mr. KLYM: And I’m freaking out. We’re from out of town. We’re vacationing.

You know, it’s not like her for her to be gone this long.

MURPHY: So what happens the rest of Sunday night?

Mr. KLYM: Hospitals and jails, I’m calling. Hospitals, jails. Space, hospitals, jails.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kevin even went back to Club Space, which was closed late Sunday night, to ask the homeless in the area if they’d seen Paula earlier that morning. After spreading some money around, he went to a gas station two blocks away.

(Kevin on streets; Klym at gas station)

Mr. KLYM: I’m in the taxi. I get out, I go inside, and I talk to the clerk.

(Voiceover) And I show him a picture of my girlfriend.

(Klym on security video)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) That’s Kevin on security camera.

(Klym on security video)

Mr. KLYM: (Voiceover) And I say, ‘Have you seen this girl?’

(Klym on security video)

Mr. KLYM: And he’s like, ‘No. Well, I haven’t—I’ve only been here for like an hour or two.’

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Returning to his hotel room and the sleepless night that followed, he got an idea: call a private detective. He went online and started calling some numbers. The next morning, Monday now, one of them, a private investigator name Dave Wasser, called Kevin back.

(Hotel exterior; Web sites; Miami Beach street; Dave Wasser)

Mr. DAVE WASSER: He was desperate. He said, ‘Can you help me?’ You know, and I said, ‘Well, why don’t you tell me a little bit about it.’ I did a little pre-interview over the telephone and then I said, ‘We got to meet at the city of Miami police station. I can get you some help.’

MURPHY: And you got to say, ‘What do I have here? What’s going on,’ huh?

Mr. WASSER: Yeah, and, I mean, in the back of my mind I was wondering, you know, is this guy straight up with me or not?

MURPHY: (Voiceover) After filing a missing persons, Kevin returned to the hotel while Wasser, the private eye, and a Miami police detective went to Club Space and talked to the manager and two of the bouncers who’d worked the door that early Sunday morning. The people at the club said Paula left the club alone shortly after Kevin. Club policy, they say, is to remove both parties after a fight. Mike Samuels is the front door manager.

(Klym entering foyer; Club Space exterior; nightclub interior; Dennis Murphy interviewing Mike Samuels)

Mr. MIKE SAMUELS: She got to the sidewalk, she went around to the right towards the east.

MURPHY: She’s solo.

Mr. SAMUELS: One hundred percent by herself.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) While his private detective followed up wafer-thin leads, Kevin decided to call the medical examiner’s office.

(Wasser; medical examiner department sign)

Mr. KLYM: (Voiceover) I gave a very, very accurate description of her.

(Building exterior)

Mr. KLYM: And the medical examiner says, ‘Hold on a second.’ Gets back on the phone, says, ‘We’re sending a detective.’ Heart just sinks.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The detectives asked Kevin, did Paula have any body piercings? Yes, he said, she did.

(Photo of Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: He pulled out a baggy, a Ziploc baggy. And there was two piercings, two posts. They’re all like charcoaled, like all burnt, blackened, you know. And he said, ‘Would these be the piercings?’ And I lean and I look close. I’m, like, no.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Detectives then checked out some photos of Paula on Kevin’s iPhone. They studied an earring.

(Photo of Klym and Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: He pulled out a photocopy of her earring, and I knew it was her.

And that’s the worst day of my life.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The earring, Paula’s earring, had been found at the scene of a burning dumpster. And inside the dumpster they found the charred body of a person they thought was a female.

(Earring; dumpster in alley)

MURPHY: It turned out to be gruesome beyond belief.

Mr. KLYM: Yeah. I’ve relived that moment too many times.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kevin was driven to the police station in North Miami, near where Paula’s remains had been found, about 10 miles north of the dance club. They had questions for him, intense ones. How was he going to explain what police were learning about a violent domestic history with his now-murdered girlfriend, the woman found in a burning dumpster? And how was going to explain that lover’s quarrel at the club the very night of the murder?

(Driving down street; North Miami Police Department; photo of Klym and Sladewski; dumpster; Klym and Sladewski; Club Space exterior)

Mr. DIAZ: (Voiceover) They were having an argument. He grabbed her arm.

(Nightclub interior)

Mr. DIAZ: That’s when I called security.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Nine o’clock Sunday night on New Year’s weekend, residents of a neighborhood in North Miami began calling it in: A small dumpster behind a propane gas dealership was on fire. Flames were shooting out. A body, it turned out, had been set on fire.

(Dark street; fence; light; Suburban Propane sign; dumpster; flames)

MURPHY: Could you tell male or female even?

Detective MICHAEL GAUDIO: At that point, no. We had nothing else to go by other than it was a human being.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) It was Detective Michael Gaudio’s responsibility to learn who the victim was and how it was that he or she—they couldn’t tell at first—had been thrown away and torched. At the morgue, the ME confirmed everyone’s suspicions. It was a woman’s charred body—in cop talk, a Jane Doe.

(Michael Gaudio at work; dumpster; flames; medical examiner’s department sign and building; autopsy table; scale)

Det. GAUDIO: (Voiceover) We started contacting other agencies, see if they had anybody missing, checking missing person reports.

(Gaudio at desk)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The North Miami detective was with the medical examiner’s staff when the phone rang. It was Kevin Klym asking if they’d found a young woman, his girlfriend, Paula Sladewski, missing now for three days.

(North Miami Police Department building; medical examiner’s sign; photo of Klym and Sladewski)

Det. GAUDIO: He described her to the investigator there at the medical examiner’s office, and it kind of fit a general description of what we had.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Dental records would later confirm that it was indeed Paula Sladewski.

(Photo of Sladewski and dog at beach)

MURPHY: Why would a killer or killers dump a body, dispose of it, the way that they did?

Det. GAUDIO: Well, you’re looking at a couple of different aspects. You’re doing it for—either there’s hate involved, anger, or you’re trying to cover something up, some type of evidence.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) DNA, bodily fluids, skin under fingernails. The woman’s murderer might assume all would be rendered just so much unreadable char.

(Lab work being done; flames; chains)

MURPHY: Can you take us inside the head of this killer you’re looking for at all?

Det. GAUDIO: We have somebody that’s very comfortable in their surroundings, who felt like they had a lot to lose if this woman was found.

MURPHY: Pretty quickly the detective had a victim from Michigan with a name and a boyfriend who’d reported her missing. What’s more, he was still in South Florida. So what was his story, this Kevin guy? On the one hand, he appeared to be appropriately distraught; he was the one who filed the missing persons report, and he was seen putting up posters around town with her photo on it. On the other hand, he was the boyfriend, and that single fact alone made him a person of interest to the investigators.

Det. GAUDIO: In these type of cases, you’re always going to talk to somebody who was the last person to see them. They had the most information about what was going on in the final moments of a person’s life, or what they were doing or where they’re with.

MURPHY: In addition to talking to him, you want to strip off his clothes, see if he’s got any scratch marks on him.

Det. GAUDIO: Of course.

MURPHY: Standard procedure?

Det. GAUDIO: Standard procedure.

MURPHY: Take off the clothes, take some pictures, ‘Have a seat, we’re going to talk to you for a while.’

Det. GAUDIO: Yeah.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) A good while, in fact. And even though Kevin Klym showed no visible marks or scratches from a fight or struggle, detectives still had a lot of questions.

(North Miami Police Department building; photo of Klym and Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: They came to my hotel room around noon. And by the time the detectives dropped me off back at my hotel, it was 12:30 at night.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Detectives quickly learned the details weren’t always pretty. Kevin and Paula’s relationship had been rocky at times. Court records in both California and Michigan showed a history of domestic violence arrests between the two. One included Paula’s arrest in California for hitting Kevin with a bottle. The case was dropped when Kevin refused to press charges. And in the months prior to the Miami trip, Kevin was arrested twice for assaulting Paula in Michigan. The last time, Paula’s nose had been broken.

(Hotel exterior; photos of Klym and Sladewski; street at night; photo of Klym and Sladewski)

Det. GAUDIO: They’d been together off and on, according to him, it’s like two years. There’s a history of domestic violence. It’s all come up.

MURPHY: Well, you got to wonder, right?

Det. GAUDIO: Well, you have to wonder. Again, this goes back to he’s the last person to see her that knows her. So we have to—you have to wonder about what is he not telling us?

MARK POTTER reporting: (News report) Police say the victim’s boyfriend is still considered a person of interest.

Unidentified Reporter #1: (News report) Sladewski’s boyfriend, a man with mug shots from a history of domestic violence...

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kevin’s name and background quickly got into the reporting on the lurid murder. The reporters found the court records of domestic violence complaints. That didn’t look good for the boyfriend. And neither did the story told by the Lady Gaga concertgoer who’d taken iPhone videos of Kevin and Paula. The cell phone photographer, John Williams, went on TV and said he distinctly remembered the man who would turn out to be Kevin as someone acting too aggressively in the crowd.

(Court records; iPhone footage)

Mr. JOHN WILLIAMS: (Newscast) Now, here’s this guy who was really obnoxious and pushing through this crowd more so than anyone else I saw there.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) And then there was a new lead to the coverage. According to news reports, sometime—it’s not clear when, but before her Miami weekend—Paula had allegedly sent a text message to an ex-boyfriend saying, “He’s trying to kill me.” He was that Kevin.

(Sladewski with puppy; news story; photo of Klym and Sladewski)

Ms. PATSY WATKINS: (Newscast) They’ve got to find who did this to my baby.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Paula’s mother, Patsy Watkins, up in Michigan, was telling anyone who’d listen that she had no use for Kevin Klym.

(Patsy Watkins; photo montage of Sladewski)

Ms. WATKINS: She was scared. She called her ex-boyfriend. She’d text him, ‘I’m hiding from the beast.’

MURPHY: (Voiceover) As she arranged for care for her murdered daughter’s two dogs, she was preparing to tell detectives in Miami what she had already told the TV cameras. She claimed her daughter was terrified of Kevin Klym.

(Sladewski and puppies; North Miami Police Department building; photos of Klym and Sladewski)

Ms. WATKINS: Just the threats that echo in the back of my head. To destroy her life, and she’d never be able to work again.

MURPHY: But bad-mouthing family and maybe bad behavior at a Lady Gaga concert didn’t make for the foundation of a homicide case. So detectives came here to the club where she was last seen to get down exactly what that story was about how the two of them had come to be ejected from Club Space by bouncers.

(Voiceover) Bartender Raymond Diaz told about seeing the start of the trouble between the pair.

(Diaz; photo of Klym and Sladewski)

Mr. DIAZ: They were having an argument. They were only two or three feet in front of me. But then he grabbed her arm.

MURPHY: Took hold of her physically?

Mr. DIAZ: Took hold of her physically by the arm. And that’s when I called security.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The club managers explained the house policy of ejecting both parties when trouble flares: him, then her. So in the early hours of the case, there was a lot of stuff swirling about Kevin Klym. He came across like a short fuse guy who sometimes got physical.

(Nightclub interior; outside Club Space; cabs on street; photos of Klym and Sladewski)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) At the end of that first interview with Kevin, the boyfriend, is he on your suspect list of people of interest?

(Hotel exterior; interview room sign; interview room interior)

Det. GAUDIO: Yes, he is.

MURPHY: He hasn’t talked himself off the list?

Det. GAUDIO: No.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) At the end of his 12 hours of grilling, Kevin said he felt more like a prime suspect with a star next to his name—forget about person of interest.

(Hotel exterior; North Miami Police Department exterior; Klym on street)

Mr. KLYM: ‘We know you did it. Why’d you do it? We don’t think you’re a bad guy. Maybe you made a mistake,’ you know, and all this stuff, and I’m just like, ‘I can’t tell you I did something I didn’t do.’

MURPHY: (Voiceover) In the court of public opinion, it was looking as though the boyfriend did it. But it turned out the 26-year-old dancer who so loved the lens had one final scene before the camera, a few seconds of grainy security cam footage. And what investigators saw there made them think that maybe the boyfriend was telling the truth.

(Photo of Klym and Sladewski; Sladewski; security camera footage; security camera; security camera footage; photo of Sladewski and Klym)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Coming up, Paula’s last date with the killer.

(Security cameras and video screens; security camera footage)

Mr. SAMUELS: They literally walked off holding hands as if they were a couple.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) When Death of a Golden Girl continues.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Paula was dead. And the boyfriend, Kevin, realized he was falling behind the curve on where the finger of suspicion pointed.

(Photo of Klym and Sladewski)

MURPHY: Do you volunteer the tumultuous history as it’s going to be reported in the newspaper stories in the next few days?

Mr. KLYM: I told them everything. I told them everything. Everything.

Signed a release, you know, no warrant necessary, waived my Miranda rights.  ‘Let’s do it, because I need you to rule me out immediately so that we can get on to finding who killed her.’

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The North Miami detectives interviewed him for 12 hours before letting him leave.

(North Miami Police Department building)

MURPHY: So you’re waiting to be arrested at that point.

Mr. KLYM: I don’t know. They didn’t tell me. They didn’t tell me anything.  They just said, you know, ‘Hope—we hope—I hope we don’t find out you did it.’

Mr. WASSER: (Videotape) It’s very active at 7:10. There’s security up front.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Meanwhile, Dave Wasser, the private detective Kevin had hired the day after Paula went missing, was doing his own legwork.

(Wasser interviewing people outside Club Space)

Mr. WASSER: (Videotape) Do you remember a white gentlemen named Kevin Klym...

MURPHY: (Voiceover) He videotaped interviews with people who hang around outside the club and handed out fliers. Kevin was just a guy who’d called the detective in the middle of the night, but there was something about the boyfriend that felt right in his gut.

(Wasser interviewing man; people outside Club Space; Klym in lobby)

Mr. WASSER: Believe me, everything that this guy went through, he didn’t go off the line one—for one bit. I’ve been interviewing criminals a long time, and this guy was straight up.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) And soon the detective would meet an unlikely supporter of Kevin’s, a member of Paula’s family, her sister Kelly Farris, who, unlike her mother, thought that Kevin was getting a bad rap in the media—not that he was blameless.

(Farris driving; Farris exiting car)

Ms. FARRIS: He shouldn’t have left her, and he’s going to live with that the rest of his life. And he’s devastated about that. He’s taken that really hard. He wants to kill himself, you know. It’s what he talks about all the time.

MURPHY: Do you believe his story...

Ms. FARRIS: Yeah.

MURPHY: ...that he left alone in the cab, came back to the hotel?

Ms. FARRIS: Yeah, I had never had a doubt.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kelly the sister paid her own way down to Miami to help police in the investigation.

(Wasser and Farris)

Ms. FARRIS: (Press conference) I just plead with anybody out there that has any information to please come forward.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) She’d last seen her sister with Kevin that Christmas at a family get-together. And they seemed together, no sign of the behavior that got both of them arrested for domestic violence before.

(Photo of Klym and Sladewski)

MURPHY: If they’re going at it like cats and dogs, why are they staying together, Kelly?

Ms. FARRIS: I don’t know. You know, I really—I ask myself that question now. But when they weren’t drinking, they got along great.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kelly said Paula was also taking prescription diet pills to stay in shape for her modeling and dancing careers.

(Photo of Sladewski)

Ms. FARRIS: You know, the combination of that, and she just—they kind of got crazy.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kelly shrugs off her sister’s reported broken nose.

(Photo of Farris and Sladewski)

Ms. FARRIS: From what I’ve been told, that was an accident.

MURPHY: And that text message from Paula to an old boyfriend saying she feared for her life, that turned out to be less than advertised. It was moldy old, and the shaky source of it was the same boyfriend who was jailed for having sex with a minor when Paula was just 14.

(Voiceover) Kelly doesn’t make apologies for her sister’s lifestyle choice—the strip bars, the booze, the pills—but she remembers as well a Paula who loved her Barbies and who caught the bouquet at Kelly’s wedding.  Now she was reduced to the 11:00 news tease: Playboy model in burning dumpster.

(Photos of Sladewski; Sladewski catching bouquet; newscasts; dumpster)

MURPHY: Your pretty sister, your kid sister treated like so much trash.

Ms. FARRIS: Yeah, exactly.

MURPHY: Burned in a dumpster of all things.

Ms. FARRIS: That was—yeah. That was—I mean, it’s bad enough that she was murdered. But to be burned like that and us not even able to—be able to bring a body home, it was just terrible. It’s just terrible.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) When she got to Miami, she decided to do some searching herself. She turned on her rental car’s GPS and punched in her sister’s final waypoints: Club Space and the dumpster.

(Farris driving; GPS system; Club Space seen from a distance)

MURPHY: I imagine you’re hoping you’re going to come across somebody who’s seen something, or...

Ms. FARRIS: Yeah, right.

MURPHY: ...notice that there’s a camera that might be taking a picture, huh?

Ms. FARRIS: Or there’s a camera that’s—yeah, see if there were cameras and—because there was a club next door, and there was a club right across the street. And it appeared that there were outside cameras.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Club Space, it turned out, had almost 30 security cameras, but none outside showing the sidewalk. Most were aimed at the bar cash registers to keep the employees honest. But there was one camera that just might have captured something. There was a camera inside high over the front door entrance. The private detective rewound the tape deck.

(Video monitors; security cameras; video screens of security footage; security camera)

MURPHY: And then you have a ‘holy cow’ moment. There she is, huh?

Mr. WASSER: Well, I was waiting for that to happen. It took us about three hours as we were sitting there waiting and watching. And then when we saw it, we go, wow! It was—it was a—it was her.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Seven seconds of grainy video, the last images of Paula Sladewski. That’s her on the right side of the screen. The hair, the dress, the six-inch heels. It’s 7:21 in the morning. And Kevin? Rewinding the tape about five minutes, the detective found him, too. That’s Kevin on the right side of the screen begging bouncers to ask his girlfriend to leave with him.

(Security cam footage)

Mr. KLYM: And they say, ‘Well, go talk to her.’ They leave me, come back, and they say, ‘Listen, we talked to her, and she’s—wants to stay, and you got to go. You got to get out of here, man.’

MURPHY: (Voiceover) At 7:17 in the morning, Kevin is seen exiting the club alone.

(Security camera footage)

Mr. KLYM: It’s a decision I’m going to regret the rest of my life. I mean, I—this is my nightmare. I wake up thinking if only I would have stayed an extra 10, 20 minutes. If only—if only.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Although police still considered Kevin a person of interest, there was persuasive evidence now that he left Paula behind at the club.

(Security camera footage)

MURPHY: It seems to bolster his story and his recollection at the time that he exited...

Det. GAUDIO: Yes. Everybody we’ve talked to, you know, down there said he did leave by himself, and there was no problems.

MURPHY: The head of security at Club Space, Mike Samuels, says he saw both Kevin and later Paula leave alone. But he and others have added an important new observation, something not seen by this blinking security camera up here, a detail that has changed the focus of the murder investigation.

(Voiceover) The club security chief said he did see Paula walking away with someone once she was on the street, and that person wasn’t Kevin Klym.

(Feet on sidewalk; Club Space exterior)

Mr. SAMUELS: A light-skinned African-American male with a groomed, full beard, you know, well-built, average height, probably six foot.

MURPHY: And you didn’t see an abduction? You don’t see a rag of chloroform or something, and I’m making it up.

Mr. SAMUELS: They literally walked off holding hands as if they were couple.

(Voiceover) And they were last seen me and my staff walking away from the club towards the parking lot.

(Street; parking lot)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Paula was gone, but who was the man who accompanied her?

(Photo of Sladewski)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Coming up, was Paula’s killer one of the men who’d been hitting on her at the club?

(Halter top; photo of Sladewski; security camera footage)

Mr. KLYM: It wasn’t some random guy off the street, walks up to her and she just walks off with him.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) When DATELINE continues.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Police now had two big clues in the gruesome murder of Paula Sladewski: a grainy, seven-second surveillance video showing the aspiring model leaving the club alone; and an eyewitness, a bouncer at the club, who said he saw Paula walk away hand in hand with a man she met on the street. But Paula’s boyfriend, Kevin Klym, said the sometime exotic dancer was too savvy to go off with a stranger.

(Sladewski; security camera footage; security camera; Murphy interviewing Mike Samuels; photo of Klym and Sladewski; woman dancing on stage; photo of Sladewski)

Mr. KLYM: She knew how to read guys. And, listen, I mean, she’d been working in clubs in Detroit for eight years. OK, Detroit’s not a nice area.  And she never had any problems.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The boyfriend is convinced it had to be someone who’d been hitting on her in the wee hours at Club Space.

(People in nightclub; photo of Sladewski; street)

Mr. KLYM: But it wasn’t some random guy off the street walks up to her and she just walks off with him.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kevin had told police that guys were swarming all over Paula at the dance club, and that was the reason he wanted to get her out of there. Was her killer one of the guys hitting on her? But when Kevin and his private investigator, Dave Wasser, went back to the seconds of surveillance cam showing Paula leaving, they came up with another theory. They study the images and thought that two club employees seen following her out are maybe overly interested in the striking blonde.

(Halter top; interior of nightclub; Wasser looking at clips; security camera footage; photo of Sladewski)

MURPHY: Kevin, break it down frame by frame, this snippet of video of her leaving.

Mr. KLYM: Yeah.

MURPHY: What do you see in it?

Mr. KLYM: (Voiceover) I see her walking out and, you know, the bouncers eye her, her go out. I see three or four people fall right behind her. This one guy is kind of right behind her, could be with her, I don’t know. She walks out of frame. And then immediately after, the two bouncers just like immediately, pchoo, they go out after her.

(Security camera footage)

Mr. KLYM: That’s what I see.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Police also studied the tape and talk to every club employee seen in it. Lead homicide Detective Michael Gaudio:

(People in nightclub; video monitors)

MURPHY: You talked to the door guys, security. Were they also persons of interest to you?

Det. GAUDIO: Yes. Yes.

MURPHY: Have they talked themselves off your list at this point?

Det. GAUDIO: It’s such an ongoing, massive investigation, with many people, we have to wait till we get all of their information back to be able to actually eliminate them from any type of suspicion.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kevin, getting all conspiracy theory, even wondered if maybe there was a plot among club workers to make a play for the hottie left behind by her boyfriend. Police say that’s doubtful.

(Klym on street; Club Space entrance; people in nightclub)

Det. GAUDIO: We haven’t uncovered anything that would lead to any type of conspiracy against the—against her that night. So I have to say, you know, it’s viable, but it’s not the strongest lead we have.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Here’s one of the club employees in that video. He’s Mike Samuels, the club’s chief of security. He says look at the tape and you see exactly what really happened, employees doing their job: showing an ejected patron to the street. No one makes a move for her.

(Murphy talking to Samuels; video monitors; security camera footage)

MURPHY: Now, this is the little bit of chamber before you go to the street, and the security camera’s up here where we see that video of Paula then leaving the club.

Mr. SAMUELS: Right. Correct. After I—after Kevin had left...

MURPHY: And you’re in that picture?

Mr. SAMUELS: Correct. I walked back over, I got Paula, and I walked her back out this way just like we’re walking.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) That’s front door manager Samuels directly behind Paula escorting her to the door. The two bouncers at the left of the screen were not following Paula, he says, they were following him, their boss, to the front door to make sure there were no further problems on the street.

(Security camera footage)

MURPHY: Mike, when armchair detectives say, look, she’s a hot woman.  Security guys had their eye on her, it’s easy to get rid of the boyfriend for a minor violation, and then we’ve got the girl to ourselves.

Mr. SAMUELS: That’s insane. That’s completely ludicrous. Especially since the fact that we saw her leave with another gentleman.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) What’s more, the security chief says every employee was accounted for that night, and no one left with Paula.

(Murphy talking to Samuels)

Mr. SAMUELS: The fact that our staff has to clock in and out with a hand reader system with their fingerprints, the fact that nobody leaves, staffwise, until 2 or 3 or 4 in the afternoon when we close, it just makes no sense at all.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Samuels emphasizes that the bearded black man Paula was seen walking away with had not been in the club that night. Why not? Because of the club’s strict dress code.

(People in nightclub; exiting club)

Mr. SAMUELS: (Voiceover) He was wearing shorts. Our number one rule, no matter how much money you have, we do not allow you in in shorts.

(Street outside club)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) But two weeks after Paula’s murder, Club Space employees could not believe their eyes. They thought they saw the very man Paula walked off with that morning out on the street. He was back, brazen. Could this be the man everyone was looking for, Mr. Walked Away with Her Hand in Hand?

(Cars on street; people in nightclub; sketch of man; street; people on street)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Coming up, a first look at the man who may have killed Paula.

(People with sketch of man; sketch of man)

Mr. KLYM: It does look like someone that I saw that night at the club.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) When Death of a Golden Girl continues.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) A Sunday morning just before 7:30 outside a Miami club where the party night’s only halfway through. Taxi, patrons. Paula Sladewski ejected and leaving under the watchful eye of the head security man.

(People outside Club Space; security camera footage)

Mr. SAMUELS: She got to the sidewalk, and then I noticed her and the suspect that were—I guess they’re looking for walking across the street hand in hand towards the parking lot.

MURPHY: And you go over there because there’s a big parking lot there.

Mr. SAMUELS: Correct, there’s a big parking lot.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Paula and somebody heading towards the lot behind the strip club across the street. And guess what? Two weeks after the murder, bouncers at Club Space are certain they’ve seen the same man again right outside the front door.

(Parking lot near Club Space; outside Club Space entrance)

MURPHY: This guy that your door people saw that night, the one approaching her, they believe they saw that same individual again a few weeks later, is that correct?

Mr. LOUIS PUIG: I believe two weeks later on Saturday, they saw an individual fitting that description walking in front of the club.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Club Space owner Louis Puig says they called the Miami cops, who came and questioned the man.

(Club Space entrance; police vehicle)

Mr. PUIG: The police came, they apprehended him. They talked to him, and from my understanding, they let him go because it wasn’t the guy.

MURPHY: So he’s not on the list?

Mr. PUIG: You know, the guy she left with might not have been the guy that did the crime.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The missing 14 hours, the time between when Paula was last seen outside the club, to the hour when her body was found afire in a dumpster, a gap in time police all over Miami were trying to fill. Paula’s boyfriend left Miami within 10 days of the murder under a shadow. Back in Michigan he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge in one of those domestic violence cases and was given probation. His lawyer says charges against him in the other case have been dropped. Police in Miami say they still consider him a person of interest, but now they were focusing on the man Paula was seen walking away from the club with. Paula’s sister Kelly also left her home in Detroit, but returned to Miami four weeks later. She wanted to keep the case alive.

(Nightclub interior; security camera footage; dumpster; police vehicle; Klym on bridge; Klym on bench; sidewalk in front of Club Space; Farris driving; Farris on freeway)

Unidentified Reporter #2: (Interview) Talk to me about your parents, your family.

Ms. FARRIS: (Interview) It’s hard.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) She gave TV interviews...

(Farris being interviewed)

Ms. FARRIS: (Interview) Is this going to stick on a tree?

MURPHY: (Voiceover) ...posted fliers with the private investigator Dave Wasser and talked to anyone who might have seen something, a big sister Nancy Drew.

(Wasser and Farris posting fliers, talking to people)

Mr. WASSER: We appreciate it.

Ms. FARRIS: OK, thank you so much.

Unidentified Man #1: Thanks. Good luck.

Ms. FARRIS: Thanks. Appreciate it. Thanks a lot.

Mr. WASSER: (Voiceover) She’s very hurt. She’s struggling.

(Wasser and Farris)

Mr. WASSER: She’s trying to keep this case alive by putting up a reward with her own money.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The sister put up $15,000 of her own money for a reward. Club Space owners doubled that to $30,000, a lubricant hopefully for reluctant tipsters. And then, almost one month to the day after the murder, just when the case seemed to be stalled out, came a dramatic development. Police announced they had a composite sketch of that man that people had seen outside the club with Paula. The club employees had only glimpsed the man from the back and side. Now there was a new witness—police won’t say who—who got a better look at the man from head on. This is the sketch of that man produced by a police artist.

(Missing person flier; Wasser and Farris looking at computer; missing persons flier; Club Space entrance; Farris on street; Farris and Wasser putting up fliers; sidewalk outside Club Space; parking lot near Club Space; entrance to Club Space; sketch of man)

Det. GAUDIO: The person in the sketch is seen walking towards Paula as she’s standing on the corner. They have a conversation, and then they turn and they walk off together.

MURPHY: That’s not to say that he hasn’t been inside the club, right?

Det. GAUDIO: We have no information to say he was in the club. He may have been, but we don’t know for sure.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) The sketch was released the same day Kelly was putting up reward posters near the dumpster where her sister’s body was found. This was the moment when Kelly got her first look at the man who may have killed her sister.

(Farris and Wasser putting up fliers; Farris and Wasser with sketch of man)

Mr. FARRIS: I’m looking at a murderer.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kevin Klym thought he actually recognized that face in the sketch and dropped a bombshell.

(Missing persons flier; Klym on street)

Mr. KLYM: It does look like someone...

MURPHY: Someone where?

Mr. KLYM: ...someone that I saw that night at the club.

MURPHY: Inside the club?

Mr. KLYM: It appears—to me it looks very closely like a bouncer at the club.

MURPHY: Like a bouncer?

Mr. KLYM: It looks like one of the bouncers at the club, yes.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Kevin thought it was someone who had checked Paula’s ID when they entered the club. On another trip down to Miami, he went back to Club Space on a Sunday morning at the very hour when Paula had disappeared weeks earlier.

(People around entrance of Club Space; Kevin on street; Kevin at Club Space)

Mr. KLYM: This place is a zoo. I mean, there’s absolutely no way there’s not witnesses out there that saw her leave.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Hoping he wouldn’t be recognized, Kevin went undercover at the club. He was looking for the bouncer he thought matched the sketch.  Two hours later, he emerged to the daylight, disappointed.

(Interior of nightclub; Klym; street)

Mr. KLYM: The entire security crew’s gone, different security altogether.  The door—from the door guys to—everybody is different in there. They changed out the entire staff pretty much, especially the security crew.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Baloney, responded the club owners. They say Kevin is mistaken. The staff is the same, and they have the payroll stubs to prove it.

(Entrance of Club Space)

MURPHY: Security guys are all new, according to Kevin.

Mr. PUIG: Yeah. And it’s really sad that he’s taking this opportunity, you know, instead of trying to help, you know, to, you know, just throw leads out there that are not helping anybody. He’s got to sit back and let the police do their work.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) None of the bouncers matches the suspect in the sketch.  So at this point the investigation continues, an increasingly cold case in a hot city.

(Club Space entrance; sketch of man; palm trees; Miami skyline)

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Forensic experts have processed some abandoned cars found near the dumpster. If there was a hit there, the authorities haven’t disclosed it. So mainly there is this sketch. The detectives hope that Paula’s look-at-me looks will trigger a memory from a witness somewhere that morning in January.

(Dumpster; sketch of man; photo of Klym and Sladewski; sidewalk outside Club Space)

MURPHY: So that signature of her whole life of turning heads might ultimately be the signature of what—who finds the killer.

Mr. KLYM: Absolutely.

MURPHY: Because you can’t take your eyes off her.

Mr. KLYM: Absolutely.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Meanwhile, the Miami party goes on. Business at the clubs hasn’t dipped a bit. If club patrons don’t seem to be worried about maybe a hunter in their midst, the police have done their worrying for them.

(Partiers; car on street; woman dancing; people on street)

Lieutenant NEAL CUEVAS (North Miami Police Department): (Press conference) We do have a deranged, sadistic killer out there that’s preying on vulnerable women, and we need to locate this person as soon as possible.

MURPHY: (Voiceover) Paula’s sister Kelly and boyfriend Kevin are now back in Michigan, waiting for a call that, so far, hasn’t come: ‘We have him.’ 2010 was a very short year for Paula Sladewski, murdered at the age of 26.

(Klym and Farris walking; Farris and Klym looking through photo book; ambulance; photo of Sladewski)

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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