The ex-husband of a woman found dead shortly after they both appeared on The Jerry Springer Show is a suspect in the woman’s death, police said today, adding that the man’s new wife is also wanted as a witness.
They also said the man, Ralf Panitz, was considered dangerous and may be trying to flee the United States and that his wife, Eleanor, might be trying to get to an Indian reservation.
The ex-wife, Nancy Campbell-Panitz was found beaten to death Monday hours after a national audience saw her, Ralf and Eleanor in a heated exchange on a Springer episode entitled “Secret Mistresses Confronted.”
During the show, Campbell-Panitz — who was married to Ralf for 15 months until February 1999 — learned for the first time that Ralf and Eleanor were married. Until recently, she had shared a home with the couple even after divorcing Panitz.
On Wednesday, Sarasota police had said they only wanted to question Ralf and Eleanor about the slaying. Today, they announced a first-degree murder investigation.
”We have obtained an arrest warrant for a homicide investigation for the arrest of Ralf Panitz,” said Sarasota Sheriff Geoff Mange. “Based on this case and other arrests, Ralf is considered dangerous. We’ve also obtained a warrant to take Eleanor Panitz into custody as a witness.”
Florida authorities believe the couple fled to Maine and may try to seek refuge in Canada. They suspect Ralf, who is a German citizen, could be heading toward a German embassy there and that Eleanor, an American Indian, may try to settle at an Indian reservation.
Police were also staking out the town of Millinocket, Maine, where Eleanor’s family lives and which is near the Canadian border. Maine police have been told that the couple is driving a silver, two-door Oldsmobile.
A Tumultuous Relationship The slaying victim and her ex-husband seem to have had a troubled and volatile relationship. Until her appearance on The Jerry Springer Show, Campbell-Panitz is said to have wanted to reconcile with Ralf and to remarry him.
On the show, she revealed that she thought she had been asked to appear so that she and Ralf could reconcile. But after surprising her with the news of his marriage to Eleanor, Ralf accused Campbell-Panitz of stalking him and thought that a TV confrontation would convince her to leave him alone.
”I thought she might be humiliated enough to recognize it’s over,” Ralf told host Jerry Springer.
However, in a court hearing earlier this month, Campbell-Panitz obtained a court order that forced Ralf out of their house and told a judge how he had allegedly chased her with a knife and threatened to kill her.
”He spent a couple of hours Sunday, telling me how he would kill me and my whole family,” Campbell-Panitz said at the hearing. “He was trying to think of a way to do it.”
Springer Refuses Blame Stepping out of his blue Bentley at his home in Sarasota Bay, Fla., Springer called the killing a tragedy but insisted his show was not to blame. ”They happened to be guests on the show,” Springer said. ”The show is television. This is life and death. Someone got murdered and I want to respect that and let the police do their work.” The slaying appears reminiscent of a murder that that occurred after the taping of an unaired 1995 episode of the Jenny Jones Show in which a guest, Jonathan Schmitz, was surprised to learn that a secret admirer was a homosexual man, Scott Amedure. A few days after the show’s taping, Schmitz fatally shot Amedure. He is now serving a 25-50 year sentence for murder, and Amedure’s family won a $25 million judgment against the Jenny Jones Show last year. ABC Affiliate WWSB and The Associated Press contributed to this report.