The Mike Danton murder-for-hire case would be funny if it wasn't so sad. It's populated with an odd assortment of characters at home in a Coen Brothers film.
Trying to sort out the various elements in this story is daunting, and new revelations have only added to the confusion. Here are some of the key details in the case of Danton, the St. Louis Blues player charged along with a female friend of hiring a hit man to murder his male acquaintance. These details come from the FBI criminal complaint filed against Danton, and from news reports.
The Nature of the Relationship
Was Danton trying to have his live-in gay lover killed? All the evidence screams "closet case" to me, despite statements claiming there was no sexual relationship. Let's review:
In a conversation taped by the FBI, Danton was asked by the acquaintance why he wanted to have him killed. "Danton broke down and sobbed. Danton explained that he felt backed into a corner and also felt that the acquaintance was going to leave him. Danton did not want to allow the acquaintance to leave him, [and] therefore decided to have him murdered."
Few people would contemplate murder if their platonic roommate was threatening to move out. On the contrary, many would do cartwheels and offer to rent a U-Haul.
The acquaintance told the FBI "that he and Danton had a severe argument on Tuesday April 13, 2004, concerning Danton's promiscuity and use of alcohol. ... Danton begged the acquaintance not to go to the general manager of the St. Louis Blues ... and ruin his career."
Let's see, the acquaintance goes to the Blues and says, "My roommate is a promiscuous heterosexual and has a drinking problem." After they stopped laughing, Blues management would have told the acquaintance that if teams kicked out every pro athlete who fit this bill, there wouldn't be enough players to fill a roster. On the other hand, if the acquaintance told them Danton was gay, this could be a different issue. A closet case most fears having his secret revealed to his family or employer, fear enough to have a mixed-up 23-year-old concoct a conspiracy to commit murder.
"The acquaintance to whom Danton had given custody of Danton's residence signed a written consent form to search Danton's apartment, including a safe therein. The FBI agents located $3,000 in cash in an unlocked safe in Danton's bedroom closet."
This was not a casual relationship if the acquaintance has custody of a residence and can allow the FBI to execute a search.
Since Danton's arrest, stories have quoted unnamed sources as saying that Danton's relationship with the acquaintance was not sexual. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said that "multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation or who are close to Danton said the relationship was not intimate. One said there isn't any indication the relationship has a 'sexual element to it at all.' " Also, Danton's agent David Frost told the New York Daily News: "This has nothing to do with a gay lover or his relationship with any female. We're going to get him some help, some treatment. He's had some issues from his younger years that he needs to deal with."
These sources prove nothing, and I'll deal with the Frost angle below. Every gay person knows how easy it is to hide their orientation, even from close family and friends who have no idea what goes on in the privacy of another's home. Many people live the lie for years, even having wives and children.
To the outside world, my first boyfriend and I were "just roommates." We never demonstrated public displays of affection and easily passed as straight. Had the Post-Dispatch interviewed sources close to us at the time, they also would have concluded that there was no sexual relationship.
Danton's agent, David Frost, is a piece of work. According to a profile in the Toronto Star:
Frost is a former hockey coach who once "pleaded guilty to assaulting one of his own players during a game." By the end of his coaching career he'd been banned from coaching in some of the largest junior hockey organizations in Canada.
Frost was known for "exerting an unusual amount of influence on the players he dealt with." Danton, say those who knew him, spent an inordinate amount of time with Frost, even preferring his company to that of teammates." John Gardner, president of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, said that Frost "practiced mind control. He was just a very unusual gentleman."
Danton was described by his junior hockey teammates in Ontario, Canada, as quiet and antisocial. But Danton had no reluctance spending time with Frost. "It was certainly odd from our perspective," said Robert Ciccarelli, owner of the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting, where Danton once played.
Frost also spent a lot of time alone with Danton behind closed doors at the home of the family he was staying with, Ciccarelli said. "It definitely concerned [the family] and it concerned us as a team," he said. Junior hockey players in Canada traditionally are housed with a volunteer family in the towns where they play.
On Sunday, Danton's father, Stephen Jefferson, tore into Frost, contending his relationship with his son ended "all because of David Frost. ... I haven't spoken to Mike in a long, long time," Jefferson told reporters. "David is a monster, a manipulator. Mike and I got along fine until (his agent). ... I want David Frost to stay away from Michael." In response, Frost portrays himself as Danton's supportive friend, saying that at 15, the player "begged me to get him out of the house."
In a development April 20, law enforcement sources told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday that "the FBI found Frost at the player's apartment in Brentwood about midnight Thursday. That was minutes after Danton's accused teenage accomplice and a man she believed to be a hired killer had arrived there. That man had reported the alleged plot and was secretly working with the FBI." Fox2 TV also reported that Frost was the intended target of the alleged hit. If this information is true, it adds another strange twist to this case.
Who is "Danton?"
Mike Danton was born Mike Jefferson and changed his last name in 2002, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, because he wanted to "dissociate himself from the Jeffersons." He picked "Danton, because it was the first name of a youth he met while helping at a hockey camp. He stopped answering to Jefferson. ... he preferred ‘Dants.' " Sounds like Mike had a crush on Danton.
The other person charged in the conspiracy is Katie Wolfmeyer, 19, who the FBI said signed a written confession. It was Wolfmeyer who contacted the prospective hit man, who then became a cooperating witness for the FBI.
"Wolfmeyer told Danton that she may know somebody willing to kill the ... person for him."
What a handy friend to have. I have friends who can fix my car, get me a cheap airline ticket or help me buy a laptop. But for the life of me, I can't think of any who could, on a few hours notice, find me a hit man.
At the time of planning the alleged hit, Danton was in San Jose with the Blues during the NHL playoffs, Wolfmeyer was in Missouri and the hit man was in Illinois. We learn from the FBI complaint that:
The cost of the hit was $10,000. Danton concocted a plan to have his acquaintance killed in their apartment in a way that it looked like a burglar had broken into it. The police would be told that there were two burglars, and that one killed the other and stole $3,000 from the apartment. Danton told the hit man that the $3,000 would be a down payment.
Wolfmeyer and the hit man agreed to meet a Denny's in St. Louis County on April 15 to set the plan in motion. But the hit man called her to say he was running late because "he had to stop a get a gun." (No gun? And he calls himself a hit man?) There is no word on whether they ordered the "Grand Slam" or "Moons Over My Hammy."
The two then drove to Danton's apartment and told the security guard at the complex that they wanted to see Danton. "The security guard called to Danton's apartment and an acquaintance of Danton came to the second-floor railing. The acquaintance yelled down and asked [the hit man] who he was. The [hit man] became alarmed and gave the man a false name. The acquaintance told the [hit man] he was Danton's father. The [hit man] drove out of the parking lot. Subsequently, Wolfmeyer was arrested."
The acquaintance tells the hit man he's Danton's father. Danton and his then-coach Frost spend a lot of time together behind closed doors. Is Danton into daddies? Why did the acquaintance feel compelled to offer some identification to a total stranger?
One other bit of evidence that suggests secrecy about the relationship is the cover story Danton was going to concoct, telling police that the body in his apartment was that of a burglar who met an untimely end. This shows that Danton's live-in was not known to the player's friends or teammates, or else Danton would know this alibi wouldn't fly.
At least one former teammate is not surprised that Danton is in trouble. "Out of anyone that I've known in hockey, I could see something wacky coming from that guy," former junior league teammate Ryan O'Keefe told the Toronto Star. "You could see he was a time bomb ticking. ... I feel sorry for him though. I wouldn't wish this on anyone"
His Blues teammates were shocked and talked about how tough a player Danton is, but what's most interesting are their comments on possibly having a gay teammate. Doug Weight told the Associated Press: "Let's preface it by saying who knows what the situation is. There's rumors of what went on and who exactly was involved with this so-called thing. Let's not jump to conclusions, but you know what, hypothetically I think it would be fine. I'd like to think people are bigger than that and look into the person as a person and as a teammate."
Chris Pronger, talking in general about having a gay teammate, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "A lot would depend on the guy. And what kind of guy he was. If he was liked by his teammates. A lot of it would have to do with his character, more than anything. I wouldn't have a problem with it. If that's the way he wants to live his life, that's the way he should live his life. Everybody has a private life outside the locker room." These comments are about the only positives to come out of this sordid affair.
I suspect we'll never know the whole story behind Danton and his acquaintance. Short of sworn testimony by either that they were lovers, many will simply refuse to believe it. A lengthy public trial appears unlikely. While Danton is presumed innocent, the FBI appears to have a strong case against him, with telephone transcripts discussing the plot, evidence obtained during a search of his apartment and Wolfmeyer's written confession.
I would expect that Danton tries to reach a plea agreement or that his attorney tries for a lesser sentence by mounting an insanity defense. The latter is already starting. Michael Edelson, Danton's Ottawa lawyer, told Canadian television that "Danton's real story will be told in the coming months -- he says it includes anguish, suicidal thoughts and an explanation for the NHL stars' troubles." Frost told the London (Ontario) Free-Press that "Mike is suffering from some paranoia and some delusional thoughts regarding his past. In his mind, Mike honestly thought he was in danger."
May 2006 update:
Since this story still gets a fair amount of traffic, we thought it best to append the following so people can be updated:
Mike Danton, Revisited: The Mike Danton murder-for-hire story has always been bizarre. NHL player in 2004 tries to hire hitman to kill his Svengali-like agent. Despite being the target (he still denies it despite all the evidence), the agent still is close to the player, even advising him on a legal strategy as player sits in jail. Player pleads guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and is in federal prison on a seven-year sentence.
Our interest has always been on the possible gay angle between Danton, the former St. Louis Blues player, and the agent, David Frost, but continuing reporting by Canadian media, especially the CBC, makes that angle appear nonexistent. A recent 40-minute report on the CBC's "Fifth Estate" news magazine offered a devastating portrayal of Frost as manipulative, lying and controlling, taking young impressionable players and separating them from their families. Danton is so estranged from his family that he changed his last name from Jefferson to Danton.
The CBC report detailed sex parties with "hockey bunnies," weird "bonding" rituals where Frost would tie up young teenage boys naked to beds (in cases never prosecuted), and phone calls from Danton in prison to Frost, where the agent demanded the player tell him he still loved him. Danton is said to have been "out of control" in his sexcapdes with women, including strippers. But no one has demonstrated there was ever anything sexual between Danton and Frost. "The idea that Danton was trying to murder his gay lover came not from the facts, but from an interpretation, or misinterpretation, of statements made in the criminal complaint," the CBC said in a report late last year, which is a pretty accurate assessment of what we and other media interpreted at the time.
Danton continues to defend Frost, writing a 36-page letter to the Ottawa Citizen last week saying their relationship should be viewed as more "father-son" than "player-agent." He credits Frost with rescuing him at age 11 from what he called a horrible upbringing. "Not once was I ever read a book at night and I can't remember ever receiving a hug or kiss," Danton wrote. He even credited Frost with getting him to brush his teeth every day and use deodorant.
Danton sent a hand-written press release to Outsports two weeks ago through an attorney stating why he thinks he should be transferred from a U.S. prison in New Jersey to one in Canada (which could trigger probation). Danton says he has been a model prisoner who is tutoring other inmates to get their GEDs. He said he wants to go to Canada to get proper "psychological treatment" and be in a "loving, productive family environment." The whole case has many angles -- weird, odd, bizarre and sick, but apparently none that are gay. (May 2, 2006)