April 20, 1998
Secret Life Comes to Light in Arrest in '79 Kidnapping Case
By JON NORDHEIMER
IAMI -- To those in his newly cultivated circle of friends in Palm Beach, William Stephen Martin had all the assets prized by local society: dashing good looks, charm, a globe-trotting career in the Central Intelligence Agency, an oceanfront home and, of course, money.
Given the nature of his government service, guests at dinner parties refrained from asking indelicate questions about his past. Those who did were rewarded only with a mystifying smile from Martin, 56.
He indeed had a secret life. But the one revealed in a Palm Beach courtroom on Friday was far different from the one he suggested to fellow board members at the Palm Beach Opera.
On Thursday, police officers from Massachusetts had arrested him on 19-year-old warrants charging him with the abduction of his two daughters -- 2 and 4 in 1979.
His real name, the authorities said, was Stephen Howard Fagan. He had never been a CIA spy, as he led others to believe. He was a graduate of Suffolk Law School in Boston but had never taught at Harvard Law School. When he vanished with his daughters after a bitter divorce from his first wife, Barbara, he was a part-time teacher at Harvard Law School's legal clinic in the Boston area. In divorce papers, his former wife had contended he was mixed up in art forgeries and insurance fraud. He had countered that she had drinking and drug problems.
The revelations hit Palm Beach society like a bombshell. "Only a very few people who live in Palm Beach are actually born here, so in a sense everyone is a stranger," explained Mary Montgomery, whose husband, Robert M. Montgomery, is a high-powered lawyer and patron of the arts in the Palm Beaches.
Fagan told his young daughters, Lisa and Rachel, that their mother had died in a car crash, the Palm Beach police say. Until last week, they did not know that she was alive, remarried and living in Charlottesville, Va., and that she had tried to find them. Fagan assumed the name William Martin by taking the name and Social Security number of a dead Massachusetts boy, said the police in Framingham, Mass.
Someone, however, learned that Fagan was a fugitive, investigators told The Boston Globe. But the investigators would not disclose who blew the whistle on him.
Mrs. Montgomery said her socially prominent friends never questioned Fagan's confections about his past. "People adored Bill," she said, using the name she knew him by. "He was a very, very nice man. Charming, amusing, not arrogant."
Now that the truth about his background has been revealed, she said, speculation has turned to how he acquired his wealth.
The authorities in Palm Beach and Framingham, where the warrants were issued, said Fagan and his fourth wife, Harriet, had lived in the northern part of Palm Beach County for several years before moving with his daughters -- now 23 and 21 -- into a $2.5 million oceanfront home two years ago.
Fagan immediately campaigned to win friends among the resort's wealthy elite.
His first social triumph was repainting the exterior of his new home, located on exclusive South Ocean Boulevard about five blocks south of Donald Trump's sprawling Mar-a-Largo estate. "It was a spec house with an awful tangerine color," Mrs. Montgomery recalled. "He also replaced the ghastly wood trim with stone. Everyone in the neighborhood was thankful someone with good taste had taken it over."
Last year he was named a board member of the Palm Beach Opera company and was elevated to the Board of Governors, positions generally assigned to those benefactors who are expected to contribute five-figure sums annually, Mrs. Montgomery said.
Neighbors said Fagan was a devoted father who saw his younger daughter become a champion swimmer and the other go into philanthropic work in New York.
He was flown in handcuffs to Massachusetts on Saturday and faces a court hearing on Tuesday in Framingham.
On his arrival in Boston he was asked how he would explain himself to his daughters. "Anything I have to say to them, I have already said," he told reporters. "I love them."