D.C. Madam Apparent Suicide

I'm on a lunch break from court but logged in and saw this sad news: Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the D.C. Madam, has taken her own life:

Local police responding to a call late Thursday morning discovered the woman's body in a storage shed to the side of the home, according to a statement released by the Tarpon Springs, Fla. Police. Hand-written notes were found nearby which "describes the victim's intention to take her life," according to the statement.

Palfrey was at her mother's mobile home in Florida. A note was found indicating her intent. Previously, she had vowed not to ever do another day in jail.

If you don't remember the details of her case,

A jury in Washington, D.C. found Palfrey guilty of money laundering, racketeering and using the mail for illegal purposes in connection with a prostitution ring she ran from 1993 to 2006.

R.I.P. Ms. Palfrey.

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    Why is prostitution illegal? (5.00 / 6) (#1)
    by dianem on Thu May 01, 2008 at 01:47:54 PM EST
    Most other civilized nations regulate prostitution instead of banning it. It's the ultimate victimless crime, if you take away the abuse associated with driving it underground. It's also hypocritical. If a  woman goes out with a man because she knows he will buy her expensive jewelry, then it's socially acceptable. If she explicitly asks for money, it's illegal. If a woman marries for money, she is respected. If she sleeps with a man for money, she is shamed. I'm sorry that this woman had to face the prospect of jail, and even more sorry that she chose this way to avoid it.

    Right on. (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Chimster on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:06:38 PM EST
    I have a logic question. Why should pornography be legal and prostitution not, when both involve people being paid to have sex? The only difference I can tell is that one is always done while a camera is rolling. Am I missing something?

    Pornagraphy is legislated by the state. (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Fabian on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:19:18 PM EST
    IIRC, only California allows adults to be paid to engage in sex acts for the camera.  It's a major industry for that state.

    That, and there was a decision by the (5.00 / 2) (#24)
    by scribe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:36:08 PM EST
    Calif. Supreme Court some years ago, which decided that acting in pron* was really "Acting" in which the script called for sex and not "having sex for money", therefore not prostitution.

    Since there is no clear way of drawing a line between a "legitimate" dramatic performance and pron, this seems a reasonable resolution, assuming one does not want all motion pictures/video to treat adults on the same level as children.  For an example of the spectrum, and why it can be difficult to draw lines, see, e.g., the actress Chloe Sevigny in "The Brown Bunny" (in which she performs a particular act) vs. same actress in "Boys Don't Cry" (nudity, simulated act) vs. the same actress in "Big Love"(talk and situations).

    There is no bright line test, regardless of what the government (or preachers trying to use it) might say.

    *  A deliberate misspelling so the filters won't block Talkleft from all sorts of "serious" "business" sites.  


    Here is a victim right here (none / 0) (#53)
    by AlSmith on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:57:11 PM EST

    We hear all this "you go girl" about how much money these women make and how empowered they are and yet here is a woman driven to suicide living in a trial park. Doesnt seem like it was so good financially or mentally.

    When I saw all those "stay strong" messages on Spitzer's hooker myspace, I just thought about how these people are setting her up for a major crash and burn in 5 years.


    She killed herself to avoid jail (none / 0) (#70)
    by dianem on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:32:46 PM EST
    She is a victim of the legal system, not prostitution itself.

    If anyone or anything drove her to suicide.... (none / 0) (#72)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:35:08 PM EST
    it was the state, not sex work. She vowed never to go back to jail again, not to never work in the sex industry again.

    But it's silly to speculate, people commit suicide for any number of reasons.


    Why? Because a long, long time ago... (none / 0) (#73)
    by Dadler on Thu May 01, 2008 at 06:29:09 PM EST
    ...all the Puritans go on boats over there in Europe.  And you know where they sailed to?  Right here.  Started their own country even.  

    Featured on CNN (none / 0) (#77)
    by white n az on Fri May 02, 2008 at 09:20:26 AM EST
    Veronica de la Cruz just read this comment and identified it as being from TalkLeft on CNN this morning 7:20 AM PST

    Really sad (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by ruffian on Thu May 01, 2008 at 01:52:19 PM EST
    Someone being hounded by our government to the extent that she was, for crimes that were only partially her fault.


    Weren't There Some Big Names On Her Rolls? (5.00 / 3) (#19)
    by PssttCmere08 on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:27:04 PM EST
    Could there be the possibility she was taken out?
    I know it sounds crazy, but you never know!

    I try very hard (none / 0) (#29)
    by kenoshaMarge on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:42:44 PM EST
    not to buy into ridiculous "conspiracy theories. Maybe I watch too many crime dramas but that was my first thought too. "Who didn't want her alive and talking?"

    Whatever, R.I.P.


    They were handwritten notes (none / 0) (#43)
    by dianem on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:16:04 PM EST
    I'm betting that she had considered the possibility that people would think this was a hit, which is why she wrote the notes by hand. Or at least the story makes it seem that way.

    Think of Palfrey whenever we approve of (5.00 / 0) (#4)
    by jerry on Thu May 01, 2008 at 01:58:24 PM EST
    government intimidation in any form....

    The government swings an enormous axe and so whenever we give up privacy in forms of phone records, email, traffic cameras, more cameras, more cameras, rfid, .... consider how it can be used.

    If anyone wants to read a really interesting and thoughtful feminist sex-worker's blog, visit Renegade Evolution

    Rest in peace, Ms. Palfrey.

    Whatever (5.00 / 3) (#6)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:01:22 PM EST

    she did, its hard to see that it warranted 55 years in the slammer.  

    Sad (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by squeaky on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:02:05 PM EST
    All the lawmakers, and their friends, that use the service ought to form a lobby. It is absurd that sex work is a crime.

    A shame. I am sure some politicians are (5.00 / 2) (#9)
    by BarnBabe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:09:17 PM EST
    giving a sigh of relief, but it is not fair. Legal in Vegas but not legal in DC. I am sorry that she choose to end her life. CNN did not list her sentence except to say up to 50 years. They also mention Vitters and Tobias. I hope she is at peace but I wish she had not chosen this path to get there.

    I saw this news and just felt sad - (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Anne on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:12:18 PM EST
    that she felt this was her only option, that our government's priorities seem to be all out of whack, that the emotion most of her clients will have is probably relief.

    The longer I live, the less I understand, it seems.

    Ack! (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by pie on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:17:03 PM EST
    I just read this.

    And Vitter gets to keep his job and avoids any criminal charges.

    Vitter and who knows who else.  Grrrrrrrrrrr.

    Who knows who else indeed. (none / 0) (#28)
    by madamab on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:42:21 PM EST
    Suicide, or murder?

    Either way, it is sad.


    I feel suspicious (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by Saul on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:24:19 PM EST
    Why would she do that.  The appeal process still was going to happen.  I just don't see the desperation. I doubt after it was over that she would have gotten a heavy sentence.   I feel that there is the possibility that someone on her john list might have wanted her out of the way and made it look like suicide.

    Ah...... (5.00 / 4) (#14)
    by miriam on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:24:33 PM EST
    Not to be contrarian, but no one can yet know for certain that this was suicide.  Frankly, I'm surprised she's lived this long (but then again, I'm a mystery writer).  Think how many names on her lists have not been publicly disclosed. Who knows what/who she might have been either threatening or blackmailing.   Handwritten notes are easy to forge and there's been no handwriting analysis yet, I assume.  There are several studies that indicate as many as 40% of adult accidental deaths and suicides are actually murders.

    I didn't realize that one (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by pie on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:26:39 PM EST
    of the women employed by her, the Baltimore professor, committed suicide.  

    Yes - she could not stand the public (none / 0) (#35)
    by scribe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:54:05 PM EST
    exposure and humiliation at her regular job.  The bluenoses came out in force to hound her, and felt no remorse about it winding up pushing her over the edge.

    Sadly, IIRC, the professor had a child whom she couldn't support on professor's wages.


    Would you consider inviting me to your parties? (none / 0) (#31)
    by jerry on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:45:10 PM EST
    They sound like fun.  Seriously.

    It was in the article about Palfry. (none / 0) (#33)
    by pie on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:47:03 PM EST
    (I was referring to Miriam, the mystery writer) (none / 0) (#55)
    by jerry on Thu May 01, 2008 at 04:06:37 PM EST
    The layout is a bit confusing, but I want to attend Miriam's parties.  She's the mystery writer contemplating suicides and murders.  How could she not have fun parties, especially on rainy nights?

    Of course, if you send me an invite, I will happily bring a bottle of two buck chuck over to your shindigs as well.


    wasn't she involved with (none / 0) (#61)
    by otherlisa on Thu May 01, 2008 at 04:45:41 PM EST
    Dusty Foggo (ex of the CIA) and Duke Cunningham?

    The should ask David Vitter (5.00 / 2) (#25)
    by nativenycer on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:36:39 PM EST
    Where he was on the night of April 30th.

    Blessed Be (5.00 / 2) (#26)
    by themomcat on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:36:50 PM EST
    May the Goddess guide her on her journey to the Summerlands. May her family and friends find Peace. Blessed Be.

    It is so wrong (5.00 / 1) (#36)
    by BarnBabe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:57:47 PM EST
    A Congressman, a man of family values,  who employs a Lady of the night gets to keep his seat in Congress (If he is GOP) and the employer gets 55 years. He gets to be embassassed because he was caught, His wife gets to be tortured and made to stand by his side, and the Lady of the night gets the rest of her life in jail. Seems like the women got the short end of the stick.  And, there looks like there were a lot more customers than there were employees.

    I wonder how this would be reported (none / 0) (#2)
    by Fabian on Thu May 01, 2008 at 01:48:32 PM EST
    if it was a man.

    Would it be cowardice or "I did it my way!" ?

    I'm sad about her death.  I hope it will be investigated thoroughly.

    If it was a man, he'd be on TV with his wife by (5.00 / 3) (#15)
    by derridog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:24:36 PM EST
    his side, explaining how it wasn't his fault. Plus, he wouldn't be prosecuted for anything.

    you ain't lying derridog (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by PssttCmere08 on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:27:48 PM EST
    Well, we'll find out. (none / 0) (#21)
    by Fabian on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:30:25 PM EST
    The leader of the prostitution ring that snagged Spitzer was a man, not a woman.  His wife is dead, he is/was a widower.  (Don't remember if he married after her death or not.)

    Gimme a break.... (none / 0) (#39)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:06:24 PM EST
    men who run prostitution rings go to jail on the regular, same as the women who run them.

    You are confusing the pimp with the john.


    I'll bet that wind that just passed by... (none / 0) (#5)
    by white n az on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:01:08 PM EST
    was the relieved exhale of David Vitter

    Seemed to be drastic but it's clear she knew what it was going to be like back in prison.

    Curious thing about suicide...women seem to always succeed but men seem to fail

    You've got it Backwards (1.00 / 3) (#18)
    by daryl herbert on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:26:56 PM EST
    Women are much more likely to attempt and fail.

    That's especially true for young women.  For them, it's mostly a cry for attention.

    When a young guy wants to off himself, he does it, and he succeeds.

    That's why suicide attempt rates are higher for young women, but suicide success rates are higher for young men.

    Nothing works as well as a bullet to the back of the mouth.  Nine times out of ten when someone uses that method, it's a guy, not a woman.  Women are always taking pills and slitting wrists and Mickey Mouse stuff like that.  Men go straight for the hardware and they get the job done right the first time.


    You mean (5.00 / 2) (#23)
    by TeresaInSnow2 on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:35:09 PM EST
    a cry for HELP, not attention.

    What kind of help? (none / 0) (#66)
    by daryl herbert on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:13:29 PM EST
    Are you talking about attention from medical professionals?

    Attention from mental health professionals?

    Attention from their parents?

    Attention from their friends at school?

    Or some other sort of "help" that I'm not understanding?


    Mickey Mouse stuff like that??? (5.00 / 2) (#32)
    by BarnBabe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:46:57 PM EST
    For them, it's mostly a cry for attention.
    I was under the impression that all suicides were a cry for help. Your facts were descent but your delivery was crude. Just because women might not use the violent method does not mean that they do not want to succeed. A suicide is a suicide whether man or woman.

    My mother (5.00 / 1) (#37)
    by TeresaInSnow2 on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:00:38 PM EST
    actually successfully committed suicide about 30 years ago.  She jumped off a bridge into ice cold water, and she couldn't swim.  It was non-violent but effective.  She had spoken several times about hypothermia and how you just fall asleep, so she suspected the death would be somewhat painless and that's what she wanted.

    She wanted to go.  

    Not a cry for help, nor a cry for attention, in her case.  Some people think life isn't worth living and don't want to live.  She was one of those.  Yes, it's a warped sense, but it's real to those who are experiencing it.

    Anyway, just thought I'd use her as an example.  And I'll emphasize, it was 30 years ago (as in, I'm not 'crying for sympathy or attention' ;-).  I'm just stating facts to possibly change the "stereotypes" surrounding suicide.


    Some people want to go.... (5.00 / 1) (#46)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:33:56 PM EST
    couldn't have said it better myself.

    My old man probably picked the worst way to kill himself....vodka.  Slow and painful, yet effective.

    We had some deep talks before the vodka finally worked...in short, he didn't want to be old and helpless, definitely not his style.  He had enough of living.  It was hard, damn hard, but I came to understand and respect his decision.

    Besides prostitution laws being a big fat joke, laws against suicide are equally ridiculous.


    Yes (5.00 / 2) (#52)
    by TeresaInSnow2 on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:55:05 PM EST
    Some people really are that miserable.  And you wish you could help them, but it's almost like a terminal illness.  You treat and you treat and then finally there isn't anything else you can do.

    It's so much easier to take when it's a physical illness.  When it's a mental illness it's hard to come to terms with the fact that their brain wiring just isn't right -- it's an organic pathology, just like epilepsy is.


    In my dad's case.... (5.00 / 1) (#64)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:04:38 PM EST
    I don't think he was mentally ill in the slightest.  It's a complicated thing sister...

    It is hardest on those left behind, no doubt.  I know it was a long time ago for you, but my condolences none the less.  


    Illegal? (none / 0) (#47)
    by squeaky on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:35:57 PM EST
    What is the penalty for killing yourself? How could it be illegal?

    Look it up squeak.... (none / 0) (#51)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:52:41 PM EST
    It's illegal to take your own life....though you can only be prosecuted for attempted suicide, for obvious reasons.

    I believe it to be rarely, if ever, enforced...unless it's an assisted suicide, see Dr. Kevorkian.  But the laws are on the books.


    Wow (none / 0) (#56)
    by squeaky on Thu May 01, 2008 at 04:10:16 PM EST
    If I'm not mistaken.... (5.00 / 1) (#68)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:26:45 PM EST
    oral sex is still illegal in some states.

    Wow is right my man.

    One out of every four sessions of Congress and State Legislatures should be allocated strictly to the repealing of all the brain dead laws on the books.  No new laws allowed, strictly repeals.  

    The law books have never had a proper spring cleaning...we're long overdue.


    The Catholic Church calls suicide a mortal sin. (none / 0) (#63)
    by hairspray on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:03:07 PM EST
    Furthermore you will go straight to hell for doing this and at one time you could not receive any religious rites or be buried in a Catholic cemetary. It may still be true. Our earliest laws come from religious doctrine and this is one example.

    The hardest part of suicide for me to (none / 0) (#41)
    by Joan in VA on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:14:15 PM EST
    understand is how someone does not comprehend what it does to those left behind. I guess when someone is so depressed, it just doesn't register. I am sorry you have had to deal with such an awful event and I feel sorry for Ms. Palfrey's mother.

    Either that (5.00 / 1) (#50)
    by TeresaInSnow2 on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:52:23 PM EST
    or they believe that their survivors are "better off" without them.

    They really can believe that.  Again, it's hard to understand but very real for those who believe it.


    Or they see that as the only way (none / 0) (#75)
    by splashy on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:05:31 AM EST
    That there are no other choices. It's giving up hope.

    It's the feeling of a lack of viable options that drives people to that state of mind.


    It might be worth considering (5.00 / 1) (#40)
    by spit on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:08:08 PM EST
    that in our culture, it is still far more common for men to own guns in the first place.

    As for "Mickey Mouse", anybody intentionally causing themselves harm is a serious business, and your implied minimization of the seriousness of women intentionally hurting themselves is frankly pretty offensive.


    Vitter (none / 0) (#22)
    by bernarda on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:33:51 PM EST
    Now let's see Faux News or any other channel ask David Vitter how he feels about her passing.

    Punishing the suppliers (none / 0) (#30)
    by Prabhata on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:44:13 PM EST
    I'm not suspicious. Going to jail is not something many people can deal with.  It's sad.  Prostitutes and drug dealers are punished, but anyone who knows just a little economics understands that the demand creates the business, not the supply.

    That isn't funny, (none / 0) (#34)
    by scribe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 02:50:51 PM EST
    and your timing for introducing that clip surely could have been better.

    FWIW, one of the things which has astonished me over the past four or five years has been the number of young women who claim to be desirous of entering into the field of prostitution as a money-making venture.  I suppose the money at the high end might be worth it, but there are likely better career paths.

    I deleted the comment (none / 0) (#74)
    by Jeralyn on Thu May 01, 2008 at 08:47:37 PM EST
    you are replying to. It was off topic and inappropriate.

    That's not that much of a stretch (none / 0) (#42)
    by dianem on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:15:03 PM EST
    When I was in college, some female college students were paying their tuition with money they made as strippers (alas, I was not destined to be qualified to be one of them). A lot of men pay their way by letting themselves get beat up on the football field. It seems that stripping, or even prostitution, would be no less damaging. Women's sports will never be as profitable as men's. It's regrettable, but true.

    Try to make a reservation (none / 0) (#45)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:33:25 PM EST
    for a mid to late afternoon Friday flight from San Diego to Vegas on SW Airlines.

    Those USD girls gotta make tuition somehow.


    You're better than this (none / 0) (#44)
    by scribe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:16:08 PM EST
    and better than your comment, too.

    The woman is dead, and for no good reason at all.  Show a little respect.

    Me? (none / 0) (#49)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:47:55 PM EST
    I don't see how I disrespected the dead bro.

    The state is the one that disrespected her.


    I read your prior comment (none / 0) (#54)
    by scribe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 04:05:50 PM EST
    to be more than a little snarky, about the relative ease, etc., of making piles of dough working in the sex trade and thought it (b/c of the perceived snark) a little inappropriate given the main context of the post and thread was that Ms. Palfrey apparently killed herself rather then go to prison.  While a single comment or even thread is woefully insufficient to cover the topic (people make whole careers out of documenting/advocating for people in the sex work industry, fer pete's sake), I just thought and think it disrespectful of Ms. Palfrey to joke about how one would make a pile of money on their back if they were a little more buff, or whatever.

    People in that industry - prostitutes, courtesans, pimps, madams, whatever you call them - are nonetheless people.  Some are there by choice, some not so.  They are all, however, deserving of respect and respectful treatment, regardless of what one thinks of their work.

    And, FWIW, some of the best writing I've read on the internet was written by people who said they were sex workers.  And, when I say "best" I don't mean "most exciting" - I mean just plain good writing.  


    No snark intended... (none / 0) (#62)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 04:54:20 PM EST
    Personally, I have no moral qualms whatsoever with consensual sex work, and wish for all sex workers to be free to ply their trade without harassment by the state or their fellow citizens.  The post stirred a debate on prostitution prohibition and I chimed in with my knuckleheaded two cents.

    I wasn't joking around...if there was more of a market for heterosexual male sex workers I would give it serious consideration.  

    You know me by now scribe...all else being equal I respect people in the sex business more than those in the law enforcement business...all else being equal.  


    IMHO, one is more likely to meet a (none / 0) (#67)
    by scribe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:18:25 PM EST
    fair-minded hooker than a fair-minded cop.

    Just kidding - it's probably about equal.

    More seriously, I agree with you on getting the gov't out of this area of peoples' lives.  Back when Spitzer got guillotined over Ashley whats-her-name, I remember a discussion on this site about the proper legislative structure regarding the sex industry.  My comment then stands - no criminal exposure for the transaction, but not allowing people not doing the actual work (i.e., pimps) to benefit from it.  Sort of like the British or Canadian models.


    No one should be forced... (none / 0) (#69)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:30:06 PM EST
    to hand over the fruits of their labor.

    But if a sex worker wants to hire an agent to find them work, like an actor or a musician, in exchange for a percentage, I don't think the government should be involved in that either.  Provided the agreement is voluntary.


    "voluntary" is the big issue (none / 0) (#71)
    by scribe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:33:20 PM EST
    since there is a lot of involuntariness that creeps in (no pun intended) wrt "management".

    Just the way things are, sadly.


    After she did time in the '90's (none / 0) (#48)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu May 01, 2008 at 03:36:41 PM EST
    for prostitution stuff, and then, with full knowledge of how much she hated prison, she got right back in the biz? Then, when she gets popped again, she decides she'd rather take her own life than do more time?

    Somehow I don't think she would want us to feel sorry for her.

    so when is vitter going to be (none / 0) (#57)
    by cpinva on Thu May 01, 2008 at 04:21:38 PM EST
    prosecuted? i believe paying for sex is still a crime.

    Never. IOKIYAR. (none / 0) (#60)
    by scribe on Thu May 01, 2008 at 04:40:06 PM EST
    Some animals... (none / 0) (#65)
    by kdog on Thu May 01, 2008 at 05:08:00 PM EST
    are more equal than others.  

    If he was Joe Blow John he'd at least be forced to testify to avoid prosecution, or pay a fine, community service or something.


    Sad story (none / 0) (#76)
    by AnninCA on Fri May 02, 2008 at 07:37:09 AM EST
    and I do not get the RICO bit at all.  From what I heard, she wasn't really making tons of money.

    Very said story.