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Authorities Call in FBI, Doubtful Heiress Still Alive

November 25, 1995

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) _ Jacqueline Levitz was a fixture of high society in Palm Beach, Fla., a millionaire’s wife known for elegant soirees and work with charities. She owned diamonds once worn by Marilyn Monroe.

After her husband’s death, she moved to this historic small city for peace and quiet and to get back to her Southern roots.

Then she vanished, leaving signs of a violent struggle and blood in her one-story brick house. There was blood all over a bedroom carpet, blood soaked into a mattress and evidence someone had tried to clean up in a bathroom.

``This case is a little strange,″ Warren County Sheriff Paul Barrett said. ``We believe she is dead. In cases like this, we can’t figure out why they would take the body.″

Authorities said they were calling in the FBI after a helicopter search turned up no sign of either the 62-year-old woman’s body or sheets missing from her bed, which might have been used to wrap her body.

``They can help us,″ Barrett said of the federal agents. ``They can talk to people in Florida and in California that we can’t talk to and we need to talk to.″

Investigators have found no trace of Ms. Levitz along any road in the county or along either bank of the powerful mile-wide Mississippi River. She was last seen alive Nov. 18.

The blood was being analyzed at the state crime lab to determine if it is hers, the sheriff said.

Ms. Levitz was born at Oak Grove, La., and moved to Beaumont, Texas, where she lived with a sister, Pat Tuminello, worked as a secretary and won a beauty pageant.

She and her first husband moved to Washington, where she began buying and reselling houses.

``She would decorate them to the eights and to the nines, right down to the forks on the table,″ said designer Lee Menichetti, who met Ms. Levitz about 10 years ago. ``She was a decorator at heart.″

She and her first husband divorced _ they had a son _ and her second husband died in 1968.

In 1987, ``Jackie,″ as she was called by friends, was hired by furniture magnate Ralph Levitz to decorate his Palm Beach mansion. His business had grown into a billion-dollar empire with stores in more than 20 states.

They married and lived in a $2 million home in Palm Beach that she decorated exquisitely, friends told the Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale.

``She had very good taste,″ said Menichetti, who at one time designed exclusive accessories and jewelry for her. ``She was a decorator at heart. That was her love.″

There was no comment Friday from Levitz Furniture. Company headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., was closed for the holiday.

The couple were known for elegant soirees and house parties and for their work with charities. Friends said Ms. Levitz owned diamonds that once belonged to Monroe.

Her husband died in March. The company is now publicly held. Ralph Levitz left the bulk of his fortune, estimated in excess of $15 million, to his wife; he had one son, Phillip, who was next in line of inheritance.

In October, Ms. Levitz moved to Vicksburg, a city of 25,000 people known for its Civil War history and casino gambling. The house she bought was perched on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi.

She wanted to get closer to her family and to make a home where she could be hostess for her eight brothers and sisters, Ms. Tuminello told the Sun Sentinel.

``She told me several times she had been looking forward to that all her life,″ said Ms. Tuminello, who had been planning to visit her sister this Christmas.

Ms. Levitz didn’t answer calls last weekend. Brother-in-law James Earl Shivers of nearby Tallulah, La., on Monday found a door unlocked, a television on and blood.

Neighbor Jody Gatling told the Sun Sentinel he went with Shivers and saw what looked like blood that someone tried to clean up in one of the bathrooms. They found blood ``all over the carpet.″ Pieces of false fingernails, which Ms. Levitz often wore, littered the floors.

Police turned over the mattress and found it soaked in blood that was still wet.

``It looked like she had put up a sure-enough fight,″ Gatling said.