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Fact #81840


Short story:

In Manhattan Supreme Court in New York City, USA, Gail Collins, wife of Felix Pappalardi of heavy rock band Mountain is found guilty of shooting him dead. Her initial charge of 2nd Degree murder is reduced to criminally negligent homicide and she is sentenced to four years in jail.

Full article:


by Johnny Black

Trapped in a stormy and, by all accounts, drug-drenched marriage, Mountain bassist and record producer Felix Pappalardi sealed his own doom in the spring of 1983 by confessing to his wife Gail that he was having an affair and was planning to leave her.

Classically-trained, Pappalardi had achieved success in an extraordinary number of musical genres, starting out as musical arranger for the MOR singing star Dinah Shore, before becoming an in-demand sessioneer in the mid-60s for the emerging Greenwich Village folk music scene. Then, with his talented wife, the songwriter and artist Gail Collins, he produced rock band sessions including the massive hit Get Together by The Youngbloods.

The peak of his fame came in the late sixties as producer/arranger for Cream, at which point Gail contributed lyrics to songs including Strange Brew and World Of Pain. When he formed heavy rock band Mountain in 1969, Gail contributed further lyrics and created their album cover art.

But as his relationship with Gail Collins deteriorated in a haze of pills and heroin, both Mountain guitarist Leslie West and drummer Corky Laing felt that she controlled Pappalardi and was instrumental in causing the breakup of the band.

Soon after beginning an affair with singer Valerie Merians, Pappalardi decided to end his marriage to Gail and against the advice of friends and colleagues, he confessed the affair and told her of his plans. On the night of April 17, 1983, he was shot dead by Gail, in their apartment at 30 Waterside Plaza on Manhattan's Upper East Side in New York City, USA.

Leslie West : I first met Felix in the mid-60s when he produced a couple of songs for a band I was in, The Vagrants. At that time, I was very impressed by him and his wife Gail. I thought they were a great couple, I mean, Felix was a great producer, he was like a folkie from Greenwich Village, and he played bass. She wrote songs with him, she did all the artwork, they were a great creative couple but then as time went on I realised there was more to it than met the eye.

Corky Laing : When Mountain started out, Felix and Gail were a brilliant, creative team but as time went on, Gail got in big trouble with the drugs and things. She got her stuff from the same doctor, Steve, who also supplied Keith Richards and others.

Gradually, people in the business who knew them knew she was, like, a witch. That was her nickname. She was very talented, very smart, but evil.

Gail claimed she loved Felix, but they were always fighting. One day we were rehearsing and Felix came in with a huge band aid on the top of his head, so we asked what happened and he claimed a pan had fallen on his head. Well, no, Gail had attacked him and nearly busted his skull open. Felix was not a big guy and Gail would literally beat the shit out of him, I mean, on a few occasions.

The summer before Felix got shot, my wife Francie and I lived in Nantucket, and Felix and Gail had a place on the island as well. If Felix would come over for dinner we would have to disarm him, because we knew he would drink. I'd go over to their house and there'd be bullet holes in the wall. They'd get high and shoot at the wall.

Leslie West : It was a real nice house but Gail had to put her two cents worth in, she re-designed the house, moved the stair from here to there and suchlike, but one night when they were sitting in the living room they heard an incredible continuous buzzing noise coming from inside the walls. So Felix, he was probably so incredibly high, started shooting at the walls from his chair.

What had happened was that the contractors on the house had got sick of Gail changing her mind so many times on the blueprints, so when they gave her the bill, she refused to pay. So they stuffed hornets' nests between the old wall and the new wall. Can you imagine that? So he was trying to shoot hornets.

Corky Laing : In the fall of 1982, Felix wanted to re-form Mountain and he tried to get me to go along with having Gail in the band. He took me to The Hyatt in New York for a drink. I think he thought if he got me on his side then Leslie would come on board. I remember sitting there saying, "Gail and I go way back, but she is just a very evil person," and there was no way it was gonna happen. He was a little distraught about that.

Then Felix fell in love with Valerie Merians, the daughter of a friend, Ron Merians, who owned a very well-known club (Ed's note – The Joyous Lake) that people would play in Woodstock.

Valerie Merians (talking to the New York Post) : We were very much in love and we had talked of marrying. We talked of getting an apartment together - even of going to Australia together.

Corky Laing : The one big mistake Felix made was telling Gail about it.

So she knew she was going to lose her world. If she couldn't have him, nobody else would. That was it.

It also had to do with drugs. It was just a matter of that time coming when she would explode.

Neil S. Comer (defense attorney, Comer And Meyerson) : The shooting took place in a small bedroom. It was a gorgeous spot, a high-rise building right on the East River ... but the apartments tend to be quite small.

Corky Laing : The tragic thing is that Felix was really trying to get his life back in order. For example, he was getting back together with his family. On the night he died he had been planning to go out to a Bach concert with his father.

That night, Gail was pretty stoned on these percs (Percodan). Apparently they did a blood test on her and she had about 40 percodan inside her. She was out of her mind, and she had this little Derringer.

Leslie West : When they asked her what happened, she said, 'Oh, it was an accident. Felix was giving me a gun lesson.'

Maureen Bardens (prosecuting attorney) : Her story was that she didn't know how to shoot a gun and, while he was teaching her, it went off by accident. I think most reasonable people would say, 'That's about the most ridiculous thing I ever heard in my life.'

Their neighbours heard loud arguing that night, but according to her it was just a lesson in how to shoot a gun.

Gail Collins/Pappalardi (trial testimony) : He was trying to get me to be familiar with it. Something happened that I have no recollection of - a noise, something ... and I moved or something and the gun went off.

Time froze for a second when I realized Felix had been hit. I could not remember my own name at that point.

Leslie West : If it was an accident, what would be the first call you'd make? The emergency services, the police or the lawyer? Well, Gail called her lawyer. We know this because the police had her telephone call records.

Justice James Leff (trial transcript) : She called her attorney instead of calling for help. She was concerned with her own well- being.

Peter Mclaughlin (reporter, writing in the New York Daily News) : Detectives from the E. 21st St stationhouse said 911 emergency operators received a call from Pappalardi's wife, Gail, 43, about 6am.

Gail Collins Pappalardi (transcript of 911 call) : I killed my husband ... I didn't mean to.

Operator (transcript of 911 call) : How did you do it?

Gail Collins Pappalardi (transcript of 911 call) : Anger ... but, ah, not intentional, never, never, never.

Neil S. Comer (defense attorney, Comer And Meyerson) : There was a comedic moment when the police officers arrived at her door and she says, 'I just shot my husband.' The officer says, 'Where?' And she says, 'In the neck.' He says, 'No, I mean, where is he?'

Peter Mclaughlin (reporter, writing in the New York Daily News) : When police arrived at the apartment, they said, they found the musician lying on the bed in his underwear, a single bullet in his neck.

Dr Elliot Gross (Chief Medical Examiner, New York City, trial testimony) : The bullet sliced through the carotid artery, a major vessel carrying blood from the heart to the brain.

Peter Mclaughlin (reporter, writing in the New York Daily News) : Pappalardi, 41, was pronounced dead at the scene. A .38 caliber two-shot Derringer was lying nearby.

Mike Pearl (reporter, writing in The New York Post) : The framed wedding certificate that had hung over the bed of Gail Pappalardi and her slain rockstar husband, Felix, was found ripped to pieces.

Mrs Pappalardi swore that the destruction of the wedding certificate was another accident. She said Pappalardi tore it when he was clearing a desk of old papers.

Gail Collins Pappalardi (trial testimony) : He had a habit of tearing up papers he was about to throw away.

Maureen Bardens : (prosecuting attorney) : I got called by the police department on the day of the murder, saying they had this dead body and the wife was in custody.

It took a while to sort it out, but once we realised there was just one gunshot wound to his neck and there was nobody else in the apartment, it seemed like she must have killed him. He died because the bullet entered his carotid artery, which is not a place where you'd shoot yourself.

Corky Laing : Leslie and I were playing a show at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, so that's where we heard the news.

Leslie West : We were about to leave the hotel, and I'm in the car, and Corky comes out and tells me that his wife had called him to say Felix was dead.

Well, I'd heard that Felix was dead five times already. There were always stories about Felix having OD'd and stuff. So Corky says, 'No, this is real, you'd better come inside.'

Corky Laing : Basically, I was not surprised, because I knew Felix had guns.

Leslie West : I happened to know some of the news guys at ABC Channel 7, the news network in New York City, so I called up my friend John Johnson, and he suggested I should call the police precinct.

So I guess it was the desk sergeant who answered the phone. I told him who I was, and what I'd heard and he says, 'Let me switch you upstairs to the detectives.' As soon as I heard that, I knew it was real.

Corky Laing : When you have guns around, lots of guns, and drugs around, you have jealousy, and you have frustration and you have depression, and all the things that are in that negative, grey area. You're gonna have a disaster.

Neal S. Comer : What Gail testified to, and maintained all along, was that Felix was an avid gun collector, he had a lot of guns, and she objected vehemently to having guns in that house.

However, they also owned an estate on Nantucket Island, which they referred to, I think, as 'the farm'. From what Gail testified, Felix had promised her that he had removed all the guns to the farm. There were these orgies of shooting at the farm where friends would come out there and they'd shoot at all kinds of things. But the promise was that the guns were removed.

Corky Laing : After Gail was arrested it became a big soap opera. It was front page news for several days, and her lawyers were saying that it was an accident.

Maureen Bardens : We had the basic fact that Gail had admitted shooting Felix, but proving her state of mind was where we had to do all the work.

You then get into degrees of homicide. She was indicted for the highest – second degree murder. The only thing higher is if you kill a cop.

The whole issue became what happened? Was it intentional or was it something else.

Neil S. Comer (defense attorney, Comer And Meyerson) : Gail and Felix's involvement with lawyers was generally with people who specialised in entertainment law, but one of those lawyers, Jim Mosher, was related by marriage to my law partner so, when Gail got arrested, she called him and then he called us because we specialised in a lot of heavy criminal cases.

It was a terribly interesting case because it was a she said/nobody said case. There was nobody else in the room but Felix and nobody alive but Gail. So that's quite a good starting point for us.

Leslie West : I guess Gail didn't have money for bail because she called up Felix's business partner, Bud Prager, and offered to sell him her share of the song publishing for the Cream songs she had been involved in, Strange Brew and World Of Pain. He gave her $25,000 for that.

I said to him, 'Bud, how could you do that? She killed your partner.'

And he said, 'You know, Felix probably would have wanted me to help her.' That was his excuse. I said, 'You gotta be kidding me.'

Neal S. Comer : The prosecution's theory was that the motive was sexual jealousy. There was ample evidence that these two were living in a very open marriage.

Leslie West : Gail claimed in court that they had an open relationship and they each had sex with whoever they wanted to. As well as Valerie Merians at that time there was a housekeeper.

James Mosher (entertainment lawyer, trial testimony) : From time to time they each had sex with other people, but it was no big deal. They even made jokes about it.

Neal S. Comer : They had relations with other men and women, and there was some woman who they were both sleeping with, and that sort of thing, so that kind of dampened down the idea that somebody in that relationship would be jealous.

Francis J. Flaherty (journalist, writing in the National Law Journal) : Listening intently to a tape of her urgent call to the police right after the shooting, the jury tries gamely to probe the mind of the defendant as she sits a few yards away, quietly cleaning her rose-tinted glasses, a violet sweater draped over her shoulders.

Leslie West : I was in court when Gail was claiming how much she loved me. I stood up and I said, 'Bull shit!' Her lawyer said he wanted me removed but the judge said I could stay.

Mike Pearl (writing in the New York Post) : When defense attorney Neal Comer suggested that members of Mountain blamed Gail for the breakup of the group and had suffered financially when they disbanded, West shouted, "That's a lie."

Neal S. Comer : She said in her testimony that they were in the bedroom and she was searching around in a drawer for something and she comes out holding this Derringer in her hand and she says, 'What the hell is this?' Next thing she knows, the cat jumped on her, the gun went off and she'd shot Felix.

There was a cat in the room. She may have been surmising it was the cat. It was never quite clear.

Mike Pearl (writing in the New York Post) : There was a dramatic moment when Mrs. Pappalardi refused to touch the tiny silver Derringer with which she shot her husband.

Miss Barden, the prosecutor, had a court officer place the gun in front of her. Mrs Pappalardi stared at the gun and, recoiling, sobbed, "I can't tocuh that gun, I can't, I can't touch that." She put her head in her hands and began to weep.

Francis J. Flaherty (journalist, writing in the National Law Journal) : Defense lawyer Neil Comer fiddles idly with the double-barrelled Derringer while questioning the gun expert. Doesn't the small size of the gun butt – no larger than a man's thumb - make this an awkward weapon that is easy to use accidentally, the attorney asks.

"It's a difficult weapon" agrees the prosecution witness. And no sooner is his answer complete than the lawyer fires the empty gun.

"Ooops., sorry," he says, as the prosecutor quickly objects.

Corky Laing : The Derringer was the key in this. The defence were trying to say that Felix had just given her the gun for protection because they lived on the East Side and it was negligent homicide, that she did it by mistake.

Francis J. Flaherty (journalist, writing in the National Law Journal) : Ballistics expert Thomas Natale – a detective in the New York Police Department – amiably describes the features of the Derringer: its grip and double-barrel and chamber selector, its accuracy, the kind of bullets it can fire.

When the detective says that the gun, requiring several pounds of pressure to fire, has 'by no means a hair trigger' it helps the prosecution's theory that the shooting was not an accident.

Maureen Bardens : Gail had said that she didn't know how to shoot. This was where Francie Lang was such a valuable witness. She came forward and testified that Gail had had a gun for years.

Corky Laing : They were very gun-oriented, she did target-practice. Felix had been a marksman in the army. Over a period of years he had taught Gail about guns.

Nobody knew at first that anybody had seen that gun before. A couple of detectives came to Nantucket and spoke to people and realised they were talking about the gun, the Derringer, she pulled on my wife.

Gail kept that gun in her purse. She was very proud of it. It was a beautiful little gun.

Something that nobody really knows is that in court that day, Francie and I were sitting in the front row, with hardly anybody else there, we were just getting settled in, and someone came over quietly and offered us $2000 and two tickets to Jamaica if we'd just walk out and not testify.

Gail came into the courtroom shortly after that, she was in handcuffs, and as she passed us by, and I'll never forget it, she said, 'You motherfuckers, you will never get me.'

Frances Laing (courtroom testimony) : We (she and Felix Pappalardi) were trying to have a conversation but the band was too loud, so we went out to the parking lot and sat in my car to finish our conversation. All of a sudden, Gail showed up ... obviously very irate. She was standing at my window, she pulled a gun and pointed it at me. She was upset about Felix and I sitting and talking in the car.

Corky Laing : Gail was stoned and, thank God, nothing happened, but she came up to my wife and said, 'You gotta stop fucking around with my husband or I'll blow your brains out,' with the Derringer at Francie's head.

Maureen Bardens : I thought we had shown that her account could not be true. I thought we had established by her own words and by other testimony that she had lied to the jury on the key points.

On that 911 call she said, "anger but not intentional", but her testimony at trial flatly contradicted this statement.

 She had been indicted for 2nd degree murder but in the end she was convicted of a much lesser charge, criminally negligent homicide.

I didn't think the verdict reflected what we had proved.

Mike Pearl (reporter, writing in the New York Post) : Gail Pappalardi collapsed in her lawyer's arms as she was told she'd been acquitted of murdering her rock-star husband.

A six-man, six-woman jury bought her story that she shot her husband dead during a bizarre bedside firearms lesson with a loaded Derringer. Mrs. Pappalardi came close to being totally exonerated. Until a few minutes before the verdicts were handed down, there were four jurors holding out for acquittal on all counts.

Grace Walters (juror, speaking to New York Post) : We were very impressed with her. We did believe her story. We felt there was no intent. She did not want him to die.

Mike Pearl (reporter, New York Post) : She had cried on the witness stand and I guess the jury just bought her story. New York juries sometimes seem willing to believe anything. People get away with things in New York that they wouldn't get away with anywhere else. I thought she got away with murder.

Maureen Bardens : I never spoke to any of the jurors but I think the picture that emerged was of a relationship that was difficult, that was kinda suffused in drugs and sex with other people and all kinds of things like that, so it got to be a kind of sordid mess, and I think Felix looked bad by the end.

So that, I think, had its influence. I think the jury kind of felt sorry for her and some of them believed her.

Neal S. Comer : The judge thought she was guilty so he didn't like it. We didn't really care. He was a crotchety old guy. Our job wasn't to be popular with him but to win the case.

The prosecution was also very angry at us, because it was a very high profile case and one they didn't want to lose.

After Gail was released in 1985 she was around for a while. She was running an evening or midnight boat tour around Manhattan island, and they would serve you dinner. I went on that once but I never heard from her again after that.

Corky Laing : She went incognito, nobody knew her. She was gone.

Leslie West : I talked to Tom Dowd, who had engineered the Cream album, before he died, and he had heard that Gail committed suicide but I never really was able to confirm that.

Corky Laing : I heard that she hung herself. I heard through Mick Ralphs that someone he knew had read or heard that Gail hung herself in Mexico or Southern California.

Leslie West : You want my advice? Buy your wife a diamond ring, some flowers, a push-up bra. Don't buy her a gun.


Gail Collins Pappalardi was released on parole from Bedford Hills Women's Prison, New York State, on April 30, 1985, less than two years after she had been sentenced. She returned to Manhattan and, for a while, ran a small business taking tourists on boat trips round the island.

Then, by all accounts, she disappeared. It has been reported that she may have re-located to Southern California or perhaps Mexico, and one grimly unsubstantiated rumour holds that she committed suicide by hanging herself.

Leslie West and Corky Laing continue to perform and record both individually and under the Mountain banner.