Deborah Jeane Palfrey

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Deborah Jeane Palfrey

Deborah Jeane Palfrey aka DC Madam; at a court hearing, on 30 April 2007.
Born 1956-03-18
North Charleroi, Pennsylvania
Died 2008-05-01
Tarpon Springs, Florida
Other names D.C. Madam
Alma mater Rollins College
Sex Female

Deborah Jeane Palfrey (March 18, 1956 – May 1, 2008)[1] (dubbed the D.C. Madam by the news media) operated Pamela Martin and Associates, an escort agency in Washington, D.C. Although she maintained that the company's services were legal, she was convicted on April 15, 2008 of racketeering, using the mail for illegal purposes,[1][2] and money laundering.[2] Slightly over two weeks later, facing a prison sentence of five or six years, she was found hanged. Autopsy results and the final police investigative report concluded that her death was a suicide.[1][3][4][5]

Early life

Palfrey was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of Charleroi, Pennsylvania, but grew up in her teens in Orlando, Florida. Her father was a grocer. She graduated from Rollins College with a degree in criminal justice, and attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, but did not graduate.[6] Working as a paralegal in San Diego, California, and later as a cocktail waitress,[7] she became involved in the escort business. Dismayed at how most services were run, including widespread drug abuse, she started her own company recruiting mostly women over 25.[6] In 1990 she was arrested on charges of pimping, pandering and extortion; after fleeing to Montana she was captured while trying to cross the Canadian border and brought back for trial. Following her conviction in 1992 she spent 18 months in prison.[6][8] After her release, she founded Pamela Martin and Associates.[9]

Ms. Palfrey held an MBA in International Business.[10]

D.C. Madam scandal

In October 2006, United States Postal Inspection Service agents posed as a couple who were interested in buying Palfrey's home as a means of accessing her property without a warrant.[7][11] Agents froze bank accounts worth over US$500,000, seizing papers relating to money laundering and prostitution charges.[11]

For a short time, Palfrey's service recruited postgraduate students through the independent University of Maryland student newspaper and the Washington City Paper.[12] Her escorts charged as much as $300 per hour, and many have had professional careers. Palfrey continued to reside in California, and cleared some US$2 million over 13 years in operation.[6] Palfrey appeared on ABC's 20/20 as part of an investigative report on 4 May 2007.[13] In combination with Palfrey's statement that she had 10,000 to 15,000 phone numbers of clients, this caused several clients' lawyers to contact Palfrey to see whether accommodations could be made to keep their identities private.[14] Ultimately, ABC News, after going through what was described as "46 lb" [21 kg] of phone records, decided that none of the potential clients[15] was sufficiently "newsworthy" to bother mentioning.[16]

The scandal led to the resignation of Ambassador Randall L. Tobias from his State Department position and as the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Also named as a regular client was columnist and military strategist Harlan Ullman, creator of the concept of "shock and awe", of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Washington Times. Neither testified at Palfrey's trial.[17][18]

Dick Cheney, Vice President at the time, was also reported (by the lawyer for Deborah Jeane Palfrey) to have been on the list of clients.[19]

On July 9, 2007, Palfrey released the supposed entirety of her phone records for public viewing and downloading on the Internet in TIFF format, though days prior to this, her civil attorney Montgomery Blair Sibley had dispatched 54 CD-ROM copies to researchers, activists, and journalists. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) acknowledged on the night of July 9 that he had been a customer of her escort service.

In early 2007, Palfrey reacted to the suicide by hanging of Brandy Britton, one of her former escort service employees, by saying, "I guess I'm made of something that Brandy Britton wasn't made of."[20]

Thirteen former escorts and three former clients testified at her trial.[21][22][23] The witnesses were compelled to testify, after being granted immunity from prosecution.

On April 15, 2008, a jury found Palfrey guilty of money laundering, using the mail for illegal purposes and racketeering.[1][2] Palfrey believed that contrary to the U.S. Attorney's Office lower estimate, she might spend six or seven years behind bars.[24] She faced a maximum of 55 years in prison.[25] Palfrey's death resulted in her conviction being vacated.[26]


On May 1, 2008, Palfrey was found hanging in a storage shed outside her mother's mobile home in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Police found handwritten suicide notes in the bedroom where she was staying, dated a week before her death. The autopsy and the final police investigation concluded her death was a suicide.[3][5][27]

Suicide notes

Palfrey's two handwritten notes were released to the public. In one of them, she wrote to her sister, "You must comprehend there was no way out, I.E. 'exit strategy,' for me other than the one I have chosen here." In another, she described her predicament as a "modern-day lynching". She said she feared that, at the end of serving her sentence, she would be "in my late 50s a broken, penniless and very much alone woman".[27][28]

Speculation surrounding her death

The New York Times's Patrick J. Lyons wrote on the Times' blog, The Lede, that some on the Internet were skeptical that her death was a suicide.[29] News accounts at the time reported that her mother said she had "no indication" that Palfrey was planning to commit suicide,[24][30] though she later stated, "I was afraid constantly [for her]. I watched her like a hawk."[31] In an interview on the Alex Jones show in July 2007, Palfrey explicitly stated, "I'm not planning to commit suicide" and made clear her motivation to present her case at trial, saying, "I plan on exposing the government in ways that I do not think they want me to expose them".[32] However, after investigating the crime scene, police found "no new evidence [that] would indicate anything other than suicide by hanging" nor did the final police investigative report released six months later.[3][5] The police stated that Palfrey's family believed the notes were written by Palfrey.[33][34] Palfrey sought to put her affairs in order before her death as she turned over the ownership of her high school alumni web site to a classmate,[35][36] had moved her possessions to her mother's home, whom she was staying with at the time,[24][37] and had transferred money from her accounts to her mother's.[5] The day before, she reviewed her pre-incarceration papers and watched videos of her deceased father.[3]

Journalist Dan Moldea, who was working with Palfrey on a book, recalled that in a 2007 conversation, Palfrey told him, "I am not going back to prison. I will commit suicide first."[24] He said her previous prison experience had traumatized her and she felt she couldn't do it again.[1][20]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Stacy, Mitch (2008-05-03). "`D.C. madam' who vowed not to go to prison kills herself". The Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2008-05-05. Retrieved 2008-05-04. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Rood, Justin (2008-04-15). "D.C. Madam: Guilty". ABC news. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "Police Close 'D.C. Madam' Investigation, Confirm She Died by Suicide". Fox News. 2008-10-31.,2933,445538,00.html. Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  4. "D.C. Madam: 'There was no way out'". CNN. 2008-05-05. Retrieved 2008-05-05. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Thompson, Stephen (2008-10-31). "Police Officially Conclude 'D.C. Madam' Hanged Herself". The Suncoast News. Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "'I Abhor Injustice,' Alleged Madam Says". The Washington Post. 29 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-29. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Susie Bright (2007-08-27). "The D.C. Madam Speaks". 10 Zen Monkeys. Retrieved 2008-05-05. 
  8. "Former madam comes across as an enigma". San Francisco Chronicle. 1 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-01. 
  9. "Death of a Madam". Retrieved 2008-11-16. 
  10. 1:03:00. Interview. Alex Jones Show.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "New D.C. Sex Scandal Looming? Feds target escort service in money launder, prostitution probe". The Smoking Gun. 9 October 2006. Retrieved 2007-04-29. 
  12. Interview. Alex Jones Show.
  13. ""D.C. Madam" Speaks with ABC News". ABC News' The Blotter. 2007-04-29. 
  14. "Focus of D.C. sex scandal remains a mystery". The Register-Guard. 2007-04-29. 
  15. "Deborah Jeane Palfrey - Telephone Records". 
  16. Buncombe, Andrew (2007-05-06). "Network refuses to name clients of 'DC madam'". The Independent (London). Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  17. "Palfrey Found Guilty In D.C. Madam Trial". WRC-TV. 2008-04-15. Retrieved 2008-05-06. 
  18. Duggan, Paul (2008-04-09). "Four Former Call Girls Testify at Palfrey Trial". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-05-06. 
  19. LAYNE, Ken (2007-05-23). "Cheney Totally On DC Madam's Phone List". [1]. Retrieved 2011-12-10. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 Zagorin, Adam (2008-05-01). "D.C. Madam: Suicide Before Prison". Time.,8599,1736687,00.html. Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  21. Chris Amos (2008-04-10). "Navy officer testifies in D.C. Madam case". Navy Times. Retrieved 2010-05-26. "Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Dickinson told federal prosecutors at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that she had sex with nearly every client she met while working for Deborah Jeane Palfrey from October 2005 until April 2006."  mirror
  22. Josh Mitchell (2008-04-13). "Debt forced Naval officer to become call girl". Go Erie. Retrieved 2010-05-26. "A Navy officer who testified this week that she moonlighted for an alleged prostitution ring while stationed at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., was nearly $300,000 in debt at the time despite a Navy income of more than $93,000, court records show."  mirror
  23. Paul Duggan (2010-04-10). "Navy Officer Took Call Girl Job: Supply Official Testifies She Moonlighted at Escort Service". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-26. "The women were compelled to testify by prosecutors under grants of immunity that prevented them from remaining silent under the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination."  mirror
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 Mairano, Willoughby (2008-05-02). "D.C. madam's mystery death: The Orlando connection". Orlando Sentinel.,0,4270322.story. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  25. "911 tapes released in D.C. Madam's death". WTOP-FM. 2008-05-02. Retrieved 2008-05-04. 
  26. Meek, James Gordon (2008-05-21). "D.C. Madam's Conviction Dead on Arrival". Daily News. Retrieved 2008-05-21. "IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that…the jury verdicts are vacated and the indictment in this matter is dismissed." 
  27. 27.0 27.1 "D.C. madam calls trial 'lynching' in death note". Journal Gazette. 2008-05-06. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  28. "D.C. Madam: 'There was no way out' (text of suicide notes)". CNN. 2008-05-05. Retrieved 2008-05-05. 
  29. Lyons, Patrick J. (2008-05-02). "Skepticism and Sadness After Death of 'D.C. Madam'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  30. Duggan, Paul; Shipley, Amy (2008-05-02). "911 Tapes Are Released in Palfrey Death". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  31. Fazan, Sarina (2008=05-21). "Interview with mother of 'DC Madam'". WFTS-TV. Retrieved 2008-05-22. 
  32. ^ 1:17:00. Interview. Alex Jones Show.
  33. Associated Press (May 5, 2008). "In suicide note, 'D.C. Madam' said she didn't want prison". WIFR 23. Retrieved August 30, 2013. 
  34. Dvorak, Petula (2008-05-05). "Palfrey Suicide Notes Are Released". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-05-05. 
  35. Paglia, Ron (2008-06-08). "Charleroi grads sending SOS to perpetuate alumni Web site". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 2008-06-08. 
  36. Augenstein, Neal (2008-05-09). "D.C. Madam wraps up affairs with labor of love". WTOP-FM. Retrieved 2008-05-09. 
  37. Scantz, Mark (2008-05-03). "High-Profile Suicide Creates Media Frenzy In Tarpon". The Suncoast News. Retrieved 2008-05-05. 

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