EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. Five minutes from the center of town, past the Maidstone Golf Course and a short distance from the houses owned by the art dealer Larry Gagosian and the entertainment manager Sandy Gallin, is a seven-bedroom English-country-style manor house.
It’s the kind of space people spend a lifetime working 60-hour weeks to acquire: two-plus perfect acres with ivy-covered walls, a gorgeous weeping willow on the front lawn and a pool in back.
Today, the house looks somewhat run-down. The once-magnificent garden needs pruning. The front lawn facing Middle Lane is patchy. The two people who own it have barely been home in more than a decade.
They just don’t want to be there.
“There are lots of great memories,” Greg Ammon, 22, said recently, as he drove up to the house in a black Chevy Tahoe with a visitor beside him and his twin sister, Alexa, in the back seat. “But they’re distorted by all the bad ones. I think ‘Am I really going to sleep in my father’s old bed?’ ”
You see, 11 years ago something terrible happened here. The father of Greg and Alexa, R. Theodore Ammon, 52, a former investment banker at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and the man from whom they inherited the house, was murdered. He was discovered by a colleague, Mark Angelson, who found him naked in his bed, bludgeoned to death. The police determined that the killer had used a stun gun on Ted Ammon and had bashed his head 30 times.
Ted Ammon had been in the middle of a bitter divorce from his wife, Generosa. She had been having an affair with her contractor, Daniel Pelosi, a man with a rap sheet and a trigger temper.
The New York Post over the next three years published more than 200 articles about the incident and its aftermath. Vanity Fair and New York Magazine devoted multi-page features to it. “Law & Order” did an episode inspired by it. A television movie was shown on Lifetime.
And now, a decade later, Greg Ammon, the man who said he can barely bring himself to go inside his parents’ house, has come back with Alexa to promote a documentary he directed about his father’s death and the years that followed.
The film, “59 Middle Lane,” which was self-financed, had its debut at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October. (The film does not yet have a distributor.)
What made the Ammon case such a big deal – and such an enduring story? In part, it’s because murder in the Hamptons is virtually unheard-of.
“I think it was the second one in 30 years,” said Larry Cantwell, the village administrator. “And it was pure Hollywood. It was the perfect script.”
Steven Gaines, the author of “Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons,” said, “It had all the tabloid elements: money, sex, blood and gore.”
There was real suspense about the outcome. For quite a long time, there was a sense of worry and excitement that Pelosi, who was a suspect and who later married Ted Ammon’s widow, might go free, even though the tabloid-reading public was convinced of his guilt.
“It was one of those things where everybody knows who did it and the police don’t do a thing for over two years,” said Robert Kolker, who covered the case for New York Magazine. “They don’t make an arrest. They let Danny and Generosa leave the country. And so there were two possibilities. Either the police were incompetent or they were building a case. It turned out they were building a case.”
That’s getting ahead of the story, because during the two years before Pelosi was charged and went to trial, lots of strange things happened.
For one, there was a Hamptons character who alerted the media that he’d had an anonymous homosexual encounter with a man he believed to be Ted Ammon. Both Generosa and Pelosi’s legal team used the story to bolster their case that perhaps Ted Ammon had been killed by a stranger. It was not true.
Generosa and Pelosi eloped and moved into Pelosi’s house in Center Moriches, N.Y. But soon, another tragedy struck: Generosa received a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer and died in August 2003.
Seven months later, the police charged Pelosi with the murder of Ted Ammon. (Although not before Pelosi collected Generosa’s ashes and took them to a bar, where he had a drink and a chat with a reporter from The New York Post.)
As for the house in the Hamptons, when it finally went on the rental market, Diane Saatchi, one of the area’s best-known brokers, was flooded with calls from people who wanted a tour – though few seemed interested in taking it for the summer.
At trial, the prosecution’s chief witness against Pelosi was an inmate who spent time in jail with him.
The inmate said Pelosi had confessed, and as proof, presented a copy of Muscle & Fitness Magazine in which he’d inscribed the sordid details. A former girlfriend of Pelosi also testified against him.
He was convicted in 2004 of second-degree murder and is in Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, N.Y., serving a sentence of 25 years to life (he will be eligible for parole in August 2031).
Simultaneously, a custody battle for the twins, who had been adopted as infants by the Ammons and who were 11 when the murder happened, ensued between the housekeeper, Kaye Mayne, and their aunt, Sandra Williams, Ted Ammon’s sister.
For a time, the twins were separated; Greg was sent to boarding school and Alexa lived in East Hampton with Mayne. Eventually, Williams prevailed and they moved to Huntsville, Ala.
“It was definitely a culture shock,” Alexa said.
From that time until Greg decided to make a documentary, about 2 1/2 years ago, he and his sister lived in relative anonymity. Part of his motivation for the movie was that it might be therapeutic, he said. He also was driven by a desire to desensationalize a story that he thought had been distorted in the tabloids.
“The only information we were getting was from the media,” Greg said. “We’d hear all these things about my father, gay trysts, all this crap. It was absurd, but it really affected the way I perceived my father and mother. And so editing the documentary and trying to come to terms with everything was my way of trying to find out who my parents were on my own.”
So he and his sister visited their relatives and talked to them about what happened; they stayed in the house on Middle Lane and engaged in a lot of on-screen therapy time. Then they went to Ukraine in search of their birth mother. Greg said he’d had somewhat unrealistic fantasies about what they might find.
“It’s such a burning question when you’re adopted,” he said. “You never know what’s out there. I was expecting to knock on the door and this big fat old woman would open it, would be my birth mother, and she would open her arms. I thought it was a second chance to find family.”
Instead, he and Alexa stumbled across a half-sister who told them their mother was a prostitute who died of alcoholism, and their father, a one-night stand, was long gone.
It was heavy stuff, but it also led Greg and Alexa to a conclusion that shaped the film. Putting aside the obvious socioeconomic differences between their birth and adoptive families, the dysfunction in them was nearly identical.
They are aware their story is dramatic. But to them, it’s not that remarkable.
“It’s the human experience,” Alexa said. “We just happened to experience it in a very intense way.”