If taken into custody, my physical safety and most probably my very life would be jeopardized…rape, beating, maiming, disfigurement and more than likely murder disguised in the form of just another jailhouse accident or suicide would await me. – Deborah Jeane Palfrey
Four years ago yesterday, Deborah Jeane Palfrey was found hanged in a shed behind her mother’s home in Tarpon Springs, Florida, the victim of government persecution that literally drove her to her grave. I’ve been asked if I knew her, and I regret to say that I did not because I’ve been told by those who did that she was a kind, sweet, wonderful person whose philosophy of running an escort service was the same as mine: treat one’s girls fairly and honestly, as one would like to be treated oneself, and extend the same courtesy to one’s clients. Indeed, her only important ethical breach is the one forced upon all whores by criminalization: in order to protect ourselves, our associates and our property we must deny what we are, and officially cloak our legitimate and socially-vital profession under ridiculous disclaimers about “time and companionship”; escort services (including mine) must even require subcontractors to sign documents stating that they agree not to have sex with clients, even though we’d have to let them go if clients repeatedly complained that they obeyed such contracts. As I discovered in my own (insignificant in comparison to Deborah’s) experience with the injustice system, we are forced to commit felonies such as fraud and perjury in order to escape tyrannical persecution for running a business that is neither wrongful nor fraudulent.
Deborah was born in Charleroi, Pennsylvania on March 18, 1956, the daughter of Frank and Blanche Palfrey. Mercifully, Frank Palfrey died in 2002 and so was not forced to endure his daughter’s lynching by his government, but Fate allowed her mother no such kindness; she was the person who discovered the lifeless body of her first-born. The Palfreys moved to Orlando, Florida, but returned to Charleroi in 1966; this was not a happy homecoming for Deborah, who was bullied so mercilessly she eventually asked for and received her parents’ permission to finish high school in Florida. She earned a degree in criminal justice from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, then paralegal credentials from a law school in San Diego. But after a few years at this grind she learned what so many women do: that far from being a liberation as many second-wave feminists pretend, a career can be stifling to the point of unendurability. In the ‘80s she became a cocktail waitress, then an escort, but discovered (as I did a decade later) that criminalization allows seedy, sleazy escort services to flourish, and so decided to start her own agency.
In 1990, she was entrapped by a police “sting” operation, but was terrified by the prospect of conviction on the bogus felony charges leveled against her (which included “extortion”) and so fled to Montana, where she was captured in 1992 while trying to cross into Canada. She was returned to California, convicted of “pandering” (i.e. helping whores to advertise) and locked up for 18 months, resulting in a record which ensured she could never again work in the field of her degree. After her release she founded Pamela Martin and Associates, a Washington, D.C. escort service which she ran mostly by phone and email from her home in California. Though she probably figured her long-distance management would protect her, in reality it did the opposite because she underestimated the government’s dedication to wasting huge sums of money and thousands of man-hours on persecuting citizens for having sex. Inspired by the Bush administration’s newly-minted “anti-prostitution policy”, the IRS enlisted the Post Office’s help in “investigating” Pamela Martin; after two years of by-the-book spying failed to turn up anything incriminating they tried to get a warrant to raid her home, but were refused. Undaunted, the Post Office sent a man and woman in October of 2006 to pose as a couple interested in buying Deborah’s house so she would let them in without a warrant, and while they were there they managed to steal enough “evidence” to secure one. Thus armed they raided her house, arrested her and froze all of her assets so she could not hire proper legal representation.
The media vultures descended instantly, branding her the “D.C. Madam” and indulging in the usual orgy of lurid speculation and holier-than-thou pomposity which distinguishes any news story involving commercial sex. This intensified on February 6th, 2007 when Brandy Britton, a former anthropology professor who had worked for the agency and had a number of important clients, was found hanged; Palfrey assumed a brave demeanor but was almost certainly perturbed about the incident, considering that in 1991 she had already described (in the letter to the judge quoted in my epigram) the fate of arrested whores with clients in high places. In an apparent attempt to protect herself she appeared on the TV news show 20/20 on May 4th, 2007 and announced that she had retained almost 15,000 client phone numbers, prompting a deluge of phone calls from clients trying to make arrangements to keep their names secret despite the fact that prosecutors already had their hands on the information. Gambling that full disclosure might help her case and certainly couldn’t expose her to any greater danger, Palfrey and her civil attorney Montgomery Sibley released the phone number database in TIFF format on July 9th, sending CD-ROM copies to hundreds of journalists and activists. Of course, most powerful men make such arrangements by proxy or at least using aliases and private numbers, but three names from her unreleased client list did leak out: Louisiana Senator David Vitter, Global AIDS Coordinator Randall Tobias and military strategist Harlan Ullman (who invented the “shock and awe” concept). The rest of the names were suppressed by judges, but one more was whispered: then-vice president Dick Cheney.
Thirteen escorts and three politically unconnected clients were given the usual choice described by Harvey Silverglate in Three Felonies a Day: go on the stand and lie under oath by repeating the script we write for you, and we’ll let you go; or, refuse to cooperate and we’ll bankrupt you, destroy your family and imprison you for decades. They submitted, sang as directed, and on April 15, 2008 Deborah Palfrey was convicted of money laundering, racketeering and mail fraud (the usual charges government uses to convict people of victimless, consensual “crimes”); she faced a maximum of 55 years in prison, though it’s likely she would have been actually sentenced to about seven or eight years. She never made it that far: two weeks later she was dead, giving the court a convenient excuse to vacate her conviction, thus washing its hands of guilt and ensuring no more important names would be exposed.
Her dramatic death unleashed a tidal wave of speculation. Alex Jones and his Infowars organization pointed out that Palfrey had repeatedly stated in interviews that she would not commit suicide and stated that if she was found dead it would really be murder. Her mother had no signs that she was suicidal, and some handwriting experts claimed that the suicide note was either forged or written under compulsion. Journalist Dan Moldea told Time that Palfrey had told him she would commit suicide before enduring prison again, but Jones pointed out that Moldea has a known history of fabricating quotes. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether she put the noose around her own neck or it was put there by men in black: it was murder in any case. There is no moral difference between directly executing a victim, inducing her to kill herself by threats against her mother and sister, or driving her to suicide via persecution, robbery, psychological torture and the looming threat of a horrible jailhouse death by rape, torture and disfigurement. “Suicide” has been the preferred method of execution for women who embarrass the rulers of decaying republics since at least Roman times, and the purpose of the kangaroo court which precedes the murder is merely to humiliate the victim, to tantalize her with false hope of acquittal and to allow the sleeping masses the illusion that there is still such a thing as justice.
One Year Ago Today
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