Crazy Love: Docu’s about Burt and Linda Pugach–What You Need to Know

One of the best documentaries I saw at Sundance Film Festival in January was Dan Klores’ “Crazy Love,” the astonishing story of the obsessive roller-coaster relationship of Burt and Linda Pugach, which shocked the nation during the summer of 1959.

Burt, a 32-year-old married attorney and Linda, a beautiful, single 20 year-old girl living in the Bronx had a whirlwind romance, which culminated in a violent and psychologically complex set of actions that landed the pair’s saga on the cover of endless newspapers and magazines. With the cooperation of the principles, Burt, now 79, and Linda, 68, Klores examines the human psyche and the concepts of love, obsession, insanity, hope and forgiveness.

Basic Facts

Burton N. Pugach is born on April 20, 1927 to Paul and Anna Pugach. He grows up in the Crotona Park North area of the Bronx.

Linda Eleanor Riss is born on February 23, 1937 to Oscar and Bertha Riss in the East Bronx. The address was 975 East 181st Street.

In 1940, just weeks before his Bar Mitzvah in a Chinese restaurant – Burt’s father Paul deserts the family.

In 1942, Linda’s mother Bertha Riss (nee Librus) leaves her husband and moves back home with her mother Amelia Librus (born 11-8-1881; died 7-12-1964) and Bertha’s younger sister Ella.

During 1942, Linda’s daily care is entrusted to Orthodox relatives in the East Bronx: Minnie & Sam Goldstein and their children, 8-year-old Sylvia and 10-year-old Shelly. At the age of 12, circa 1949, Linda moves back to Hoe Avenue where she soon meets Rita Kessler (nee Stepelman) who becomes a lifelong friend.

Burt graduates from Evander Childs High School (located at 800 East Gun Hill Road, Bronx) at age 16 in June 1943; he’s ranked 39th in a class of 659.

While simultaneously finishing his BBA CCNY, Burt matriculates at Brooklyn Law School. He graduates cum laude from Brooklyn Law in January 1950 and is admitted to the NY State bar in June 1950: At the age of twenty-three, Burt joins forces with Herb Weitz to form Weitz and Pugach,

Burt marries his first wife Francine (nee Rifkin) on June 24, 1951. Their only child, daughter Caryn Brenda Pugach is born on July 21, 1954 but unfortunately she’s severely retarded. DOD: 4-7-95.

Linda graduates from James Monroe High School in January 1955.

By 1955, Burt has built Weitz and Pugach into a highly successful firm specializing in negligence cases.

In 1956, Linda impulsively quits her menial job to spend a month in Miami Beach where she first meets Larry Schwartz.

In early fall of 1957, Burt and Linda meet on Rosh Hoshana at Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx; he’s thirty and she’s twenty.

During early 1958, Linda breaks up with Burt after her mother double-checks the paperwork for the Alabama divorce and discovers it’s a fraud, but he enlists his actor frind, Keefe Brasell, to woo her back.

In April 1958 Burt forces Linda to go to a doctor to prove whether she’s still a virgin. Verdict: she’s a virgin.

When no divorce comes thru by May 1958, as Burt had promised, Linda threatens to stop seeing him but doesn’t.

During July 1958, Burt finds out that Weitz & Pugach is being investigated by a Special Committee on Professional Conduct of the Bronx County Bar Association.

By early September 1958, Linda tells Burt to either buy her the engagement ring – which he still hasn’t done – or get another girlfriend. He doesn’t, so she breaks off with him and soon begins dating Larry Schwartz.

On November 19, 1958, the Special Committee on Professional Conduct of the Bronx County Bar Association formally charges Weitz and Pugach with illegal fee splitting to obtain cases.

During December 1958, Linda goes to the 42nd Precinct and tells detectives about Burt’ threatening behavior, but the police refuse to press charges.

On January 13, 1959 Linda goes to Bronx Magistrates Court and takes out a summons against Burt for harassment, but it’s later dismissed.

During March 1959, Linda goes to the 42nd police precinct in the Bronx, but they tell her they can’t provide protection until some act is committed.

On March 27, 1959 Linda is fired from her job at Sinrod Services, Co. in the Bronx, largely on account of Burt’s continued harassment.

On May 15, 1959, Burt moves into the $45,000 home he’s bought for Linda in Scarsdale in upper Westchester County. Address: 9 Leone Close, Scarsdale, NY 10583.

On May 24, 1959, Linda and Larry Schwartz send out engagement announcements to friends and family.

On June 6, 1959, Burt visits Linda’s father Oscar Riss at his antiques store and finds out about Linda’s engagement to Larry.

On June 14, 1959, 22-year-old Linda & Larry celebrate their engagement with their families.

On Monday, June 15, 1959, Burt’s hireling Heard Harden arrives at Linda’s apartment at 8AM. Harden poses as a messenger and, stepping into the vestibule, throws lye from a mayonnaise jar at Linda. Harden and his accomplices–all hired by Burt–are Al Smith Newkirk and Walter “Preacher” McMillian. The attack made headlines nationwide.

After three months, Linda is released from Medical Arts Center Hospital in September 1959.

On October 30, 1959, Bronx detectives Weldon and O’Connor finally arrest Burt on assault and gun possession charges. When Burt arrived at his office in the Bronx, detectives Frank Weldon and Jerry O’Connor were waiting there to arrest him on the maiming charge. When they found the handgun inside his briefcase, they immediately charged him with a Sullivan Law violation.

Simultaneously, Newkirk, Harden and McMillian are seized at their homes. All four are taken to the 42nd Precinct in the Morrisania section of the Bronx.

During their arraignment, Francis X. O’Brien, Magistrate for Bronx County Felony Court, sets Burt’s bail at $105,000; the highest ever in a Bronx criminal case.

On Friday, July 14, 1961, following numerous trials, and after deliberating for less than two and a half hours, an all-male jury finds Pugach and Harden guilty on Maiming (3 counts); Assault 2nd degree (2 counts); Conspiracy; and Burglary 2nd Degree (because the jury was convinced that Harden had entered Linda’s apartment).

Following Burt’s conviction, Judge Martinis sets September 28th for sentencing and sends Burt to Kings County Hospital for psychiatric examination “as an aid to sentence.”

On March 14, 1962, after a 3-month sanity hearing in which 2,000 pages of testimony was taken, Judge Martinis delivers his verdict: “The court is constrained to find the defendent legally sane,” explaining that “any other decision would constitute a mockery of justice.” Burt receives the maximum penalty: 15 to 30 years in state prison (including 15 years for the burglary conviction).

On March 21, 1974, Burt is finally given parole after spending fourteen years in prison.

TV news reporter Paul Bloom interviews Pugach for Channel 11 News (WPIX-TV) on March 28, 1974 – Burt proposes to Linda on-camera.

On May 22, 1974, Burt is interviewed by Marvin Scott for Channel 5 News’ “10 O’Clock News” (known as WNEW prior to 1986, now WNYW)–Burt proposes to Linda on-camera again.

On November 27, 1974, Burt and Linda are married during a civil service in the chambers of Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Brown in the Kew Gardens Court Building in Queens.

During 1990, Linda loses what little remains of the eyesight in her left eye after undergoing heart surgery.

On Tuesday, October 15, 1996, Burt’s mistress Evangeline Borja meets with Burt in his office in order to break off their relationship. Afterwards, she calls NYPD Precinct 112 to complain that he groped her and threatened her.

Investigating detective Frank Ventrella brings Burt in on Wednesdsay 10-16-96 and he’s promptly arrested, arraigned, and spends the night at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility.

On Thursday, October 17, 1996 Linda – wearing matching black leather pants and jacket – posts bail with a suitcase containing $50,000 in cash and Burt is released. On this same day, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown holds a press conference during which he states that Burt hired someone to kill Evangeline.

On October 30, 1996, Burt is jailed again after allegedly violating an order of protection prohibiting him from entering the building where he works – the same building Evangeline works in – during regular business hours. He spends eight more days in jail. Burt subsequently rejects a deal to serve 60 days in jail and three years probation, choosing instead to become his own lawyer

The subsequent trial begins on Monday, April 21, 1997 and lasts for 10 days with Judge Wong presiding. The prosecutor is assistant DA Elizabeth Fox.

On Thursday, April 24, 1997, Linda arrives at Queens Criminal Court in Kew Gardens and appears as a character witness for the defense. The next day, she’s front-page news in the Daily News, Newsday, and NY Post.

On April 30, 1997, after deliberating for three days, a 6-person jury acquits Burt of the 10 most serious charges, only finding him guilty of a misdemeanor, harassment in the 2nd degree.