At 7:04 a.m. on New Year’s Eve in 2009, Roderick Covlin woke to a “hysterical” call from his 9-year-old daughter. Mommy was in the tub, and something was wrong, she told Covlin in the 33-second phone call.
Covlin—who was living across the hall from them in a luxe doorman building on West 68th Street in Manhattan, as he and the little girl’s mother were embroiled in a nasty divorce and custody fight—went over.
“So I told her to let me in and she did,” Covlin later said, according to court documents filed in Manhattan Supreme Court. “I went straight to the bathroom inside of the master bedroom at the back of the apartment and saw my wife face down in the tub.”
“I think that she may have grabbed a piece of wood, the wooden cabinet, and fell and hit the back of her head, and slipped under the water. I had to pull her out of the water,” Covlin told cops shortly after they arrived to Shele Danishefsky’s apartment. “I was trying to revive her. I went to the bathroom and pulled her out of the tub.”
“I realized that she was dead because her body was already stiff,” he allegedly said.
The accident theory seemed plausible enough at the time. The water was bloody, and a cabinet door was partially ripped off its hinges. Danishefsky was buried without an autopsy at the insistence of her Orthodox Jewish family, which opposed such an exam for religious reasons. So without any smoking gun to go on, some initially may have bought into the idea that Danishefsky was the victim of an unfortunate and tragic fall.
Nearly 10 years after her death, however, prosecutors allege that not only did Covlin’s daughter unknowingly phone the very man who had just killed her mother—but that very same man would allegedly go on to hatch a plot to frame her for the murder years later.
While it took years for charges to be filed against Covlin in the case, prosecutors have claimed to have damning evidence against him ahead of his trial later this month. Jury selection begins this week.
The trial is the culmination of years of investigation that reportedly uncovered a series of red flags in the wake of Danishefsky’s death—and a slew of insidious plots that prosecutors say Covlin masterminded years later.
Even in the immediate aftermath of Danishefsky’s death, anomaly after anomaly piled up. Danishefsky had undergone keratin hair treatment that day, which meant she would never have taken a late-night bath. She also had scratches on her face, which didn’t jibe with drowning, court papers claim.
Cops later reportedly found out that Covlin had a record of allegedly assaulting Danishefsky—and had “threatened to do much worse.” They learned that Covlin, a routinely unemployed stockbroker who aspired to be a professional backgammon player, was “destitute.”
Perhaps most damning: Danishefsky, who was worth some $5 million when she died, was planning to write him out of her will and leave it to her young daughter and son, prosecutors said.
Shortly before Covlin was set to inherit half of his late wife’s fortune in 2015, his girlfriend reportedly came forward and gave prosecutors the ammunition they needed to indict Covlin, telling them he’d “made statements implicating himself” in Danishefsky’s death.
When her body was exhumed by court order in spring 2010, the New York City Medical Examiner determined that she had been strangled. An injury to one of her neck bone’s was “consistent with a choke-hold” one might practice in martial arts. Prosecutors have noted that Covlin boasted to friends of having a black belt in Taekwondo.
Covlin, who allegedly tossed back Maker’s Mark with a pal the day after Danishefsky’s death, soon spent “an inordinate amount of time trying to get control of his children's funds and often acted as if the children were his own automated teller machines,” prosecutors allege.
He allegedly wrote to a girlfriend on Jan. 6 2010, "[e]ven if my wife changed her will... insurance money (as long as hers didn't lapse... fingers crossed)... goes into a trust for me,” court filings state. “The rest of the money... even if she rewrote the will and gave it to my kids I would still under law get 1/2 and that is if she rewrote it... she might have... changed the will... but still .. .it would mean that I still ended up with 75% of all of the money.”
Most of the money was soon tied up in court proceedings brought by Danishefsky’s family, however. And by April 2013, Covlin lost the right to petition the court for withdrawals after he gave custody of the two kids to his parents.
But prosecutors say he never stopped scheming.
That summer, Covlin allegedly synced an Apple note to his daughter’s Gmail account addressed to her law guardian. The unsent note was allegedly written in such a way as to make it seem like it was penned by his daughter. Prosecutors claim Covlin wrote this phony confession to throw investigators off his trail and wrongly implicate his daughter.
“That day we got into a fight about her dating and I was still mad when I went to bed. I heard her go into her room and run the bath so I went in and argued some more and she told me to go back to my room and I got mad so I pushed her, but it couldn't have been that hard!” the hamfisted missive read. “I didn't mean to hurt her! I swear! But she fell and i heard a terrible noise and the water started turning red and I tried to pull her head up...”
Prosecutors have reportedly been barred from bringing up this alleged plot in court, but they hope to do so if he takes the stand. They say Covlin also went to work on other nefarious plots, at one point allegedly kicking around the idea of offing his parents to gain access to his kids’ money.
In late 2012, he allegedly weighed posing as a “black man... going door-to-door” during local elections. While disguised, Covlin would ring his parents’ doorbell and fatally “karate chop” his mother in the throat, prosecutors say. Covlin’s girlfriend even drove him to a costume shop, “where he bought a mustache, a ‘black man wig,’ and ‘black man makeup,’” court papers claim.
Said to have been inspired by Breaking Bad and Dexter, Covlin allegedly researched poisons on a public library computer. He bought rat poison and planned to “give his daughter the rat poison to put in sugar (to hide the taste) and then have his daughter put the poisoned sugar in her grandparents' tea,” prosecutors allege. Ultimately, Covlin decided not to "because of the exposure that might cause [her] to be arrested.”
Covlin has maintained his innocence after his arrest in late 2015 and his lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, has reportedly dismissed the latest allegations as “garbage.”
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Gottlieb hinted at new details about the case to come out in court.
“The evidence that is not known by the public, as of today, is all going to come out during this trial,” he said.