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Questions Remain in Fugitive Judge Case, Including ‘Where is the Money?’

March 30, 1994 GMT

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ Authorities looked for fugitive judge John Fairbanks for four years, and only found him after he committed suicide. Now the death has created a new mystery: Where is the $1.8 million he’s accused of stealing?

″There is nothing to date that would provide us with any confidence that we are going to find any hidden cache of money,″ state Assistant Attorney General Don Feith said Tuesday.

Fairbanks, 70, had been a respected district court judge for more than 30 years when he was charged in December 1989 with stealing $1.8 million from trust funds he managed for a list of clients that included his three sisters. He disappeared the next day.

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He was found dead Sunday night in a Las Vegas hotel room, a plastic bag over his head and a note on the mirror. His death was ruled a suicide.

Investigators looked all over the Caribbean, Canada, Europe and the United States for Fairbanks. Some thought they were close to catching him, others say they aren’t so sure.

Now they’re not sure if he hid the money somewhere or simply spent it all before he died. It isn’t even clear how much he took.

″I feel he stole $10 million over the course of his career,″ said Thomas Hannigan, a retired investigator who tracked Fairbanks.

The clients who sued put the figure at $6 million. They got 21 cents on the dollar after Fairbanks’ property was sold.

State Rep. Peter Burling and former Newport Police Chief Arthur Bastian think Fairbanks started skimming money from his clients’ trust accounts to play the stock market when it was booming in the 1980s. When the market crashed in 1987, they speculated he took more money to cover his losses.

″He would take a recess from court and go into his office and we could hear him talking to whoever his stockbroker was in a loud tone of voice,″ Bastian recalled. ″He was having problems. I think that’s when everything fell out for him, 1987.″

Hannigan thinks Fairbanks began stealing money in the 1950s, citing irregularities with an account that belonged to the city of Claremont.

Hannigan and others said Fairbanks lived lavishly, eating out nearly every night, traveling whenever he wanted, spending generously on his four children and building expensive houses in Newport and Ogunquit, Maine.

The Newport home, overlooking the city, came with marble countertops, an imported European kitchen, stone and parquet floors, 3 1/2 bathrooms with marble floors, $40,000 worth of landscaping and three two-car garages. A local realtor, Prunella Anastos, estimated it cost $600,000 to build.

″Nobody builds a house like that in Newport,″ she said. ″It’s the most expensive house in Newport, without a doubt.″

And then there was the question of what Fairbanks was doing at the plush MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas during the last days of his life. Was he trying to make one last big score, this time at the gambling tables?

″It’s pure guesswork and nothing more than conjecture, but it’s not unreasonable to suspect that,″ Feith said. ″He didn’t die in Ohio or someplace that doesn’t have gambling.″