Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, murdered by whom?

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | May 05, 2008 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: DC Madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, direct action group, Randall Tobias, scandal, sex work decriminalization, Washington, Washington D.C.

Oh, no -- I just heard (from Gina) that Deborah Jeane Palfrey (known as the DC Madam for the escort service she ran that included all sorts of noxious politicos on its client list) allegedly killed herself two weeks after being convicted by a federal jury (on April 15) of money laundering, using the mail for illegal purposes and racketeering. Her body was found near her mother's house in Tampa, Florida.

Palfrey had not yet been sentenced, but was facing up to 55 years in prison -- that's right, 55 years. She had already done a number of years in prison in the past, and struggled with current health problems, so apparently she thought about the possibility of death in prison or death at her own hands, and chose the option she had more control over. That is, unless one of her high-profile clients decided to take matters into his own hands.

This case is yet another example of the need for immediate decriminalization of prostitution -- in the short term, I'm wondering if anyone is planning some sort of political funeral or other type of festive direct action to call attention to this atrocity. Ideas?

Of course, Deborah Jeane Palfrey has gotten a lot more attention than most sex workers caught up in the violence of the criminal "justice" system, but that doesn't make her pointless death any less tragic.

Mattilda blogs at

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55 years? That's way more than I'd have imagined. And for what? Running a business? If they had proof that she withheld pay or otherwise abused her employees, they should prosecute that. Then again, it's just because of things like this that they don't investigate her actual business practices.

But two suicide notes and a few of the other details... it's too much for the conspiracy theory buffs out there.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 5, 2008 10:44 AM

I am reminded of what the governor said to Sheriff Ed Earl in "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

"You make that whorehouse sound like it's a God Damned charitable institution!"

Look, this is a high profile case made spicy by political intrigue. The life of most persons who prostitute themselves is horrible. To say "decriminalize" also means, to me, to accept responsibility for what you have made legal.

We would need to create an entire structure to police a "victimless" crime, which is neither a crime or victimless. I can assure you that in Chicago I have seen my share of drug dependent, pimp abused street prostitutes. Legalizing the behavior would not help these people unless they became public "commercial sex workers" with rights and a pension, health care and all other benefits of modern life.

You cannot "just decriminalize," and think you have solved a problem. All you have done is institutionalize an exploitation.

America, is too hypocritical, to permit this at this juncture and no politician is going to come within nuclear strike distance of the topic. Sadly, all we can do is be available to sex workers who desire to change their circumstances.

Alex, you're right that TWO suicide notes does seem a bit suspicious...

Robert, the point of decriminalization (not legalization) is to make conditions safer for all sex workers, and to eliminate (or at least substantially reduce) the types of exploitation you're talking about. Of course decriminalization would not solve all problems, but it is an important beginning.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 6, 2008 12:18 PM

Mattilda, we are probably very close in intention, but until these women have adequate drug treatment and career alternatives, first, whether their activities are decriminalized or not is of minor importance. Their pimps/drug supplier will not care about what is, or is not, legal.

Now we can casually use phrases like "world's oldest profession" all we like, but I bet you there was a cave man (or madam) who took meat, hides, or furs in exchange for the sexual favors of the first woman who was a prostitute. I cannot imagine a scenario, where a person used in this manner, is not being harmed by the experience.

OK, a small percentage of very careful college girls go into and out of the profession. Those are the women Elliot Spitzer wants, they were the persons a Ms Palfrey would use for her escort service, they do not need to be protected from pimps? Do you believe that? Let them show up without the money they are expected to bring back to the madam...