DETROIT—BDSM, an alleged killing-for-hire, street-level thuggery, and a life of privilege collide in a murder trial beginning this week in the Motor City.
Bob Bashara is charged with first-degree murder, among other charges, in the 2012 strangling of his wife, Jane, whose body was found in the back seat of her Mercedes SUV in a seamy area of the city. Prosecutors say Bashara hired a handyman to get rid of Jane so he could pursue his secret passion for BDSM with another woman, and testimony in the coming weeks promises to be salacious and violent.
Then there’s the weirdness.
“Wow, Mr. Bashara, you’re looking good today,” Wayne County Circuit Judge Vonda Evans said to the defendant when he walked into the courtroom Tuesday morning, the first day of jury selection process.
While such a public compliment by a judge of a man accused of murdering his wife is odd, Bashara, 56, is accustomed to such respect.
The son of a state appellate judge, he was living in an upscale Detroit suburb when Jane Bashara was found dead on January 25, 2012.
Bob Bashara was head of the Rotary Club, a deacon at the Episcopal church, and a booster of the local country club, a scion of power in the community of Grosse Pointe Park.
The state contends he hired Joe Gentz, 50, a local roustabout, to kill his wife of 26 years.
Gentz turned himself in a week after the body was found and pleaded guilty to the murder while claiming Bashara put him up to it at gunpoint.
In conversations with prosecutors, Gentz has wavered on his alleged payment, saying it was between $2,000 and $8,000, with a used Cadillac somewhere in the mix. He is serving a 17- to 28-year sentence for second-degree murder.
“Bob Bashara offered me money…he threatened me if I did not kill her. I killed Jane Bashara because Bob Bashara offered me money and threatened to kill me,” Gentz told the judge when he was sentenced in December 2012.
Bashara has denied Gentz’s allegations.
It’s clear the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Gentz is no one to fool with.
“That’s it, I’m coming back here with a gun, I’m going to take out everyone,” Gentz says he told a bartender at the Texas Bar & Grill, a local drinking spot on Detroit’s east side, a few weeks before the murder. He’d lost a fight in the place during a Christmas party, and his ego was still smarting from the whipping.
Since being locked up on the murder charge, Gentz, who has a reported IQ of 68, has been involved in several confrontations with other inmates.
Last month, with the trial looming, Gentz was moved from the prison where he was having the dust-ups to an undisclosed location, no doubt to prevent more conflicts before he testifies against Bashara.
The Michigan Department of Corrections did not return calls or emails seeking information about the whereabouts of the state’s key witness.
While the state is apparently hiding Gentz in the weeks leading up to the trial, in a March letter to this reporter he said: “I have nothing to hide.”
A parade of witnesses will detail their encounters with Bashara, who prosecutors claim wanted his wife dead so he could pursue a new life with his girlfriend and their BDSM—bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism—lifestyle.
Bashara led a double life, prosecutors say, filled with sexual trysts with several paramours, a full-time girlfriend, and an online identity as Master Bob, a dominator in the world of BDSM.
His “mistress,” Rachel Gillett, says she had no idea that Bob was married at the time of Jane Bashara’s murder.
“He told me he was divorced eight months before,” Gillett says. Only when Bashara was on television the day after Jane’s body was found, sobbing about his dead wife, did it dawn on her that she had been played, she says.
Another witness, Janet Leehmann, will testify that she responded to an ad at alt.com posted by Bashara and Gillett seeking a third, live-in party for their future life.
After Bashara flew to her Bend, Oregon, home for a brief stay a few days before the murder, she was no longer interested in his offer. Leehmann, who has two grown children, had no idea what she was in for.
“Who wants to be ‘outed’ for being a bit kinky by a homicide trial?” she says.
Bashara denies any culpability in the murder. He says that from behind bars; he was sentenced to up to eight years in prison in late 2012 for soliciting the jailhouse murder of Gentz.
“I wasn’t there, and I didn’t hire an idiot to do any criminal activity,” Bashara told me earlier this year.
Lead prosecutor Lisa Lindsey appears obsessed with Bashara’s BDSM lifestyle, and she has vowed to make it a major part of her argument against him.
“This is my life we’re talking about, and 95 percent of everything they have is bullshit,” Bashara says. “They’re using the fact that I had this alternative lifestyle as a motive for me wanting to harm my wife.”
One of Bashara’s defense attorneys, Lillian Diallo, said during pre-trial arguments last month that the lifestyle has “nothing more to add to this [case] other than salaciousness…I don’t understand how that was a motive…Talking about sex dungeons and beatings is not relevant and should not be brought in” to the prosecution’s case.
Despite the protests of the defense, there’s no doubt the trial will include talk of the Blue Velvet-esque cubbyhole beneath one of Bashara’s commercial rental buildings, a place he called the dungeon, where he brought his extramarital partners.
“It was really nice,” marvels one of those women.
It was a windowless, narrow room with a bed in the far left corner. He kept a series of lamps, some with medieval design, on the floor and axes and swords around the room. Hooks on the ceiling were used for binding. A small wooden cabinet with two butterfly doors held ropes and chains, candles, and sex toys.
To attract like-minded women, Bob advertised himself on lifestyle websites like alt.com.
“Welcome to my world, I am Master Bob, a complete trainer,” he announced, describing himself as “male dominant” from “East Side, Michigan,” 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, 50 years old. “I will open train and guide you in this lifestyle…kneel and have all your desires and cravings opened to you. I will make you love and enjoy the lovely mix of moderate pain and pleasure.”
Bashara says his wife knew but “didn’t have a take…she didn’t want to know about it. I did my thing, she did hers, and she gave me the freedom to do what I wanted.”
Jane Bashara, though, told her friends that her husband was addicted to pornography and was plagued by erectile dysfunction.
As part of his role as a dominant, witnesses in preliminary hearings said breath play—choking out a partner until she is on the brink of unconsciousness—was part of his sexual repertoire.
“I was not into breath play,” Bashara says. “Did I ever try it? Absolutely. But it wasn’t the thrust of any relationship.”
Bashara is resolute: He is innocent, himself a victim of Gentz’s violent crime. The lifestyle the prosecution vows will be part of the case is a smokescreen for its lack of evidence, he says.
“With this lifestyle, my goal was to help these women so that they are not abused,” Bashara says. “You have guys that want rough sex in the name of the lifestyle. They don’t know the code, they aren’t true to the lifestyle, they don’t know how to handle the equipment. A submissive woman is a strong woman. She has to have some strength to her.”