July 29, 2000 -- A man suspected of killing his ex-wife after they appeared on The Jerry Springer Show turned himself in to authorities Friday. His current wife is also in custody.
Ralf Panitz was wanted in connection with the slaying of Nancy Campbell-Panitz, who was found beaten to death last Monday at a home in Florida she had sometimes shared with Panitz and his current wife, Eleanor. Just hours before, a national audience had seen Nancy, Ralf and Eleanor in a heated exchange on a Springer episode titled “Secret Mistresses Confronted.”
Sarasota County Sheriff’s officials said Ralf, 40, and Eleanor, 45, flew back to Florida from Boston Friday and, accompanied by a lawyer, turned themselves in. In a 20-minute hearing Friday, a judge ordered Ralf held without bail on a first-degree murder charge. The judge also ordered that Eleanor be held as a material witness.
“This witness was, if not in his (Ralf’s) immediate presence,was very close to him when this crime occurred,” Assistant Sarasota StateAttorney Charlie RobertsRoberts said at the hearing.
A judge will review Eleanor’s status Tuesday and could order her toremain in custody without bond, set bond and conditions of herrelease or release her.
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 wanted to reconcile with Ralf and remarry him, the slain woman’s lawyer, Lisa Kleinberg, told ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America Friday.
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 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 said he thought 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. She told a judge Ralf had 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.”
A Strange Encounter
Earlier, Florida authorities had said they believed the couple had fled to Maine and would try to seek refuge in Canada. They suspected that Ralf, who is a German citizen, would head toward a German embassy there and that Eleanor, an American Indian, would try to settle at an Indian reservation.
But Jayne Weintraub, one the Panitzes’ attorneys, insisted media and police reports of a flight from authorities were inaccurate. She insisted Eleanor Panitz is ready to cooperate with investigators.
“She’s here voluntarily. She’s here on her own,” Weintraubsaid of Eleanor Panitz. “There was no attempt to flee of anykind.”
Neighbors Josh Jankowski and Cachet Sopetto told Good Morning America Friday that they noticed the Panitzes and Campbell-Panitz acting strangely on the day of the killing.
In the morning, all three of them were arguing loudly outside, said Jankowski. Later in the day, he saw Eleanor looking “scared and nervous,” and her husband appeared “a little shocked.”
Jankowski said he asked Ralf how he was, and he responded “I’m fine, I’m fine,” in an agitated voice. When Sopetto remarked to Eleanor that it seemed like an unusual day, she answered, “If only you knew …”
Springer Show Promises Cooperation
Linda Shafran, publicist for The Jerry Springer Show, issueda brief statement Friday: “We are gratified that they have turnedthemselves in. We are continuing to cooperate with the SarasotaCounty Sheriff’s department.”
The slaying appears reminiscent of a killing 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 his secret admirer was a homosexual, Scott Amedure.
A few days after the show’s taping, Schmitz fatally shot Amedure. He is now serving a 25- to 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.