Before he was arrested in the brutal scalping death of the mother of his newborn daughter, promising scion Blake Leibel got caught up in a twisted love triangle and developed ties to the decadent poker scene depicted in 'Molly's Game.' As he prepares to stand trial, those who knew Leibel best reveal what could have caused him to break so bad.
She had bled out — that much was clear. But the body of the woman on coroner Jim Ribe's examination table told a more disturbing story. Many of the thousands of people murdered each year in America die in this manner and, generally speaking, the underlying injury lies elsewhere — a gunshot, a stabbing, blunt force trauma. What Ribe saw before him now was uniquely distressing. The average human vessel contains about 5 liters of blood. She was found with less than a teaspoon.
Her name was Iana Kasian. She was 30 and Ukrainian, with dark eyes and jet-black hair. There were bite marks on her face and defensive wounds on her arms and wrist. But most of the blood loss had occurred, Ribe saw, because Kasian had been scalped. "I have never seen this before," he testified. "I doubt if any forensic pathologist in this country or abroad has ever seen this outside of, perhaps, wartime."
The last reported scalping in the U.S. occurred in 2000, when a Cincinnati man shot his wife's lover repeatedly in the chest and groin with a shotgun and then removed the victim's scalp to drive the point home. But Kasian's scalping didn't appear to be incidental or an act of impetuous, post-murder vengeance. It was a clean incision, seemingly made with a blade, which curved around the base of her skull in a sharp line and back up around one ear. Ribe testified that the skin and hair had been fully removed from her skull down to the surface of the bone, and "a portion of her face" including her right ear, was gone.
In his deposition, Ribe noted that the only injuries he had seen that came anywhere close to this were two people who'd been ripped apart by dogs because "dogs go after the head." Ribe declined to discuss the case with THR except to say, "It's about like one in a million, very, very rare, I'm afraid." There was another detail to which Ribe testified: A dead body cannot bleed out, which meant that Kasian had likely been alive for the duration. He concluded that Kasian had likely suffered, potentially for up to eight hours, before she finally succumbed.
Police found her corpse on the afternoon of May 26, 2016, inside the bedroom of a condominium on Holloway Drive in West Hollywood, a block south of the Sunset Strip and the Viper Room and just down the hill from the Bird Streets, where Dr. Dre, Megan Ellison and Leonardo DiCaprio have all owned homes. It's a swanky neighborhood with a dash of scandal: Robert Durst, the alleged killer showcased in the HBO documentary miniseries The Jinx, maintained an apartment across the street. There was blood throughout the condo. Police entered a bedroom and found Kasian on a bed, mutilated, covered with a blanket. Standing beside her, listless and showing little concern, was her boyfriend and the father of her 3-week-old girl, a minor Hollywood director and graphic novelist named Blake Leibel. He acted surprised when the police confirmed that Kasian was dead. "Well, then," he said to the police, "I guess you'll have to find out who did it."
In the early months of 2018, Blake Leibel, 36, will be tried for the murder of Iana Kasian. The details of the case, already taking its place among the town's most lurid crimes, remain sealed under grand jury indictment, leaving only clues gleaned from those who knew the victim and the accused. New interviews with close friends and associates of both Leibel and Kasian — many of whom have never before spoken publicly — show the knotty web that led to the crime, with threads stretching from a humble family in Eastern Europe to one of Canada's wealthiest dynasties, from the corridors of Hollywood's biggest studios to the high-stakes poker games featured in Aaron Sorkin's Molly's Game. All these intersecting strands led to a killing that ranks in grisly detail with the Manson and Black Dahlia murders, but is only now starting to be understood.
The words "Trumpian excess" get thrown around a lot these days, but in the gilded upbringing of Blake Leibel, the description fits. Blake and his brother, Cody, older by a year, grew up privileged in a world where vast sums of money flowed alongside an undercurrent of seedy entitlement. Their father, Lorne, was a former Olympian sailboat racer turned flamboyant billionaire real estate developer who built tens of thousands of suburban houses across Canada. One person who knew Lorne described him as "the best playboy of all playboys." He owned a fleet of Ferraris, and the Leibel estate spanned 300 acres in Toronto's exclusive Forest Hill neighborhood. Still, scandal marred his achievements. In 1976, he became the first Canadian Olympian to test positive for illegal drug use when his urine sample revealed a banned stimulant. Meanwhile, his personal life had become the target of exposés, legal battles and allegations of drugs, prostitutes and sexually transmitted diseases — all of which he has vehemently denied.
Lorne and his wife, Eleanor, separated when Blake and Cody were children, but they remained married. Eleanor Chitel also came from wealth; her father had built a plastics empire from a small business. But she brought to the family a less fortunate inheritance: Blake's maternal grandmother, Leona, suffered from "long bouts of severe mental illness," according to a report in Canada's National Post.
Cody stayed with Lorne; Blake lived with Eleanor. Cody was the sportier of the two, and Lorne doted on him. (According to family friends, Lorne went so far as to buy Cody's hockey coach a house to ensure his son made the team.) Blake felt left out, and the relationship tormented him. "He always seemed very scared of [his father]," says a close friend who agreed to his first interview about the case provided his name was withheld. "He wanted to impress him and prove that he was, you know, not a mistake. He tried to earn his father's love. It was just very hard for him to do it."
After attending the University of Western Ontario, Blake joined a group of college friends who had moved to L.A., including Jeremy Tenser, a slight, bookish law student, older by a few years, who grew up a middle-class latchkey kid in Toronto. Cody also moved to town, cultivating an image as a Hollywood playboy. He started a now-defunct music company, C-Note Records. Like his father, he got involved in real estate. At 23, he became the world's youngest owner of a $1.2 million Ferrari Enzo, one of only a few hundred in existence, and engaged a car-racing blog called Low Rider Network to document him as he cruised the avenues of Beverly Hills alongside billionaire sheikhs.
Blake's ambitions were of a different sort. As a geeky kid, he'd been into video games and comics. One friend describes him as "hyperintelligent, almost too smart for his own good." Now he was in Hollywood, and he wanted a piece of it. He began networking, pitching zany, fanciful ideas about science fiction, psychology and murder. Some of these were dark — his enthusiasm for hard-core gore made an impression on more than one close friend. He was a fan of the Faces of Death movies, sometimes literally taking them into pitch meetings. "He had these really big, cool ideas," says a friend who worked closely with him in those years, "but he could never really execute." Another friend says that while "a lot of people thought Blake was some sort of genius, others thought he was a con artist and a salesman."
But he did make inroads. By 2008, after directing a silly indie high school comedy called Bald, he worked for Mel Brooks as a storyboard supervisor and creative consultant on Spaceballs: The Animated Series, which featured voice work by Joan Rivers and Brooks himself. "Blake was very outgoing, very big," says Rogina Revelle, a producer who worked with him on Bald. For one scene, Leibel called for an abrupt change in the script that would have required 14 women to actually be bald. "He just wanted people to laugh," she says. "It was just a big game." Around town, Blake took to calling people "Angel," the way a big producer might. He attended Comic-Con every year. "He was all about snacks and fun times," says Tenser, in his first in-depth interview. Tenser worked as an agent's assistant at William Morris and was involved in some of Blake's projects as his entertainment attorney, but mostly the two hung out as friends, smoking pot in the kitchen of Blake's house on Schuyler Road in Beverly Hills.
Around 2006, Blake met Amanda Braun, a slender, dark-haired former model who grew up in San Luis Obispo, California. Her friends described her as a "party girl," a regular on the wealthy, celebrity-infested social circuit Blake and Cody moved in. Braun declined to participate in this story, but friends say she genuinely cared about Blake. "She's a really good person with a good heart," says one. Before Blake, Braun had dated Andrew Altchek, a hedge fund manager who was convicted of running a Ponzi scheme and sent to prison, where he was killed in 2010. Braun thought Blake, who appeared stable, even shy, would be a good antidote to her former boyfriend. Blake and Braun hung out at Soho House in West Hollywood, where Blake was a member, and for several months lived together at Chateau Marmont, where they went largely unnoticed. She often attended parties without Blake, who preferred to stay at home. "People would laugh because she's so bada-boom and he's so nerdy," says a close friend of Braun's. By the time they married in 2011, she was already pregnant with a boy.
By 2011, Blake's mother, Eleanor, was dying of brain cancer. One close friend recalls seeing Blake after he called his mother via Skype. She had lost her hair. "He bawled his eyes out." Blake began acting out. "He lost it," says a friend, recalling an incident in which Blake exploded with rage when someone touched his head. He threw tantrums if he didn't get his way. "There was just a lot of verbal abuse," says another friend. "It didn't get violent, but there was a lot of yelling." He berated people, then apologized. He disliked being alone.
Eleanor died that year. Media reports from Canada suggest that her personal estate, including stocks and properties, was worth some $12 million. Blake skipped the funeral. "He couldn't handle it, frankly," says Tenser. "His mother was the only real person in his life." According to friends of Braun's and Blake's, Eleanor's intention had been to leave the bulk of her wealth to Blake, but some significant portion of the money went to Lorne instead. Blake's friends say he believed Lorne managed to change Eleanor's will at the last minute. Blake contested the will in court, but lost. "Blake felt betrayed by his brother and his dad over the will," says a family friend. Around this time, Blake's closest friends from Toronto began to drift away.
All but Tenser. Blake had a nickname for him: Hollace, a name that Blake thought sounded cool. He grunted it. "Hollace — so that you sound like a Southern gentleman attorney," he said. Tenser was glad for the friendship. "We came here together," he says, "for the American dream." Other friends say Blake never had any respect for Tenser. "Fire this guy, get rid of him," Blake told one of his producers, who replied, "Isn't he your friend?" "Yeah," Blake said, "But you know, fire him. Get him out of here."
But Tenser stayed. He brokered a deal Blake had with the actor Wilmer Valderrama, who published some of Blake's graphic novels, including Operation Redux, about Nazis in New York City's Twin Towers. "He's been depicted as a trust-fund kid, but he was smart and successful in Hollywood," Tenser insists. When Lionsgate approached in 2014 with an offer to turn Blake's graphic novel Syndrome into a TV show, Tenser negotiated the contract.
Syndrome became Blake's calling card. The cover depicted a wide-eyed baby whose scalp has been peeled half-off, exposing the viscous brown tubing of a brain, followed by a question: "If you loved hurting things, what would you do?" The opening sequence featured a grisly torture scene, including a body dripping with blood. Another scene portrayed a beheaded woman lying on a bed in a pool of blood. A character named Dr. Wolfe Chitel — the maiden name of Blake's mother — hires an actress to "role play" with him, then nearly kills her. With Syndrome, Blake seems most interested in exploring whether sociopathy could be isolated in the brain and removed, but the book's conclusion isn't rosy. "In the end," a narrator warns, "we all become monsters."
Long before Sorkin penned the script for Molly's Game, there were the games themselves. Former real estate assistant Molly Bloom had fashioned an underground high-stakes poker empire. Her roving games, held in different mansions or hotels in Beverly Hills or Hollywood, gained notoriety for their famous players: DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, director Nick Cassavetes and moguls like Israeli entrepreneur Alec Gores and inventor Andy Beal, estimated to be worth more than $9 billion. One attendee says that at a game in Beverly Hills, a private guard with an assault rifle watched over "at least $2 million in cash stacked on the table." High-end prostitutes milled about, he says, "and off to the side there was a smaller table with a huge pile of cocaine. I thought one of the women was going to overdose, they were getting so fucked up."
Blake attended a few of these games. But a much more frequent player — and occasional host — was his brother, Cody. In fact, his house in Beverly Hills had been rigged with cameras, chandeliers and felt tables like a high-roller room. "Cody was a whale," says one of his friends, who requested his name be withheld. In the poker context, a whale is a wealthy, not very skilled player whom other players target for money.
Eventually the poker games expanded to the East Coast, where organized crime figures from Russia and Eastern Europe drifted in. Some games were held in apartments inside Trump Tower. Among the new attendees was Vadim Trincher, a Russian with ties to organized crime who lived in a $5 million apartment one floor beneath the current U.S. president. Another player, Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, was a "vor," a member of an elite class of Russian mafia. According to Tenser, Cody's proximity to these shadowy figures increasingly worried Blake. "He and I would sit and smoke a joint and talk about his concerns about his brother's gambling debt," Tenser says. On one occasion, Blake told Tenser that other players "took Cody for a million bucks in one game." (Cody Leibel didn't respond to requests for comment.)
In April 2013, federal prosecutors announced charges against more than two dozen people involved with Bloom's games; the "Taiwanchik-Trincher" organized crime network was indicted for racketeering, money laundering and extortion and found to have laundered upward of $100 million. (Bloom herself pleaded guilty to gambling charges as part of a deal.) Blake began to see news stories about these arrests that detailed the type of people playing poker with his brother, like Trincher, who had once threatened a troublesome customer with "torture." The press linked another defendant, Anatoly Golubchik, to a 2012 murder-suicide near JFK Airport.
Around the same time, another gambling case involving dangerous criminals was taking shape in Los Angeles, one that would also touch Blake's world. In June 2013, prosecutors indicted Jan Harald Portocarrero and 18 other people on charges of operating a "violent" sports betting business. Just days after Portocarrero was indicted, Cody placed a lien on his house for $2.5 million to ensure that Portocarrero could stay out of jail. "Cody Leibel posted bond," says Eric Beste, a U.S. Attorney who helped prosecute the case. "If Portocarrero didn't come back, or committed another crime, then the government could have basically foreclosed on Cody Leibel's house." Portocarrero was convicted and sentenced to prison and has since moved to Peru.
"When I checked the lien in 2014, Blake was concerned Cody was into the mob for at least $2.5 million," Tenser claims. There is nothing to suggest that the lien, or Cody Leibel, was tied to organized crime. But Blake, insists Tenser, was desperately worried. Over the course of a few days in the spring of 2015, he sent Tenser several texts, which THR reviewed, laying out his concern that his brother's gambling debts were placing his family in danger. On April 25, Blake wrote: "Hollace — my son's safety is a concern — these people Cody owes money to are dangerous." The next day, Blake wrote again to say that someone was in his backyard with a flashlight. He wanted to call the cops. Tenser calmed him down, telling him, "They are not hiding up there to shoot you." Then Blake sent Tenser a link to a health website page filled with random words and phrases thrown together, like gibberish. Blake had scoured it and found that it contained the words "Cody Leibel," "Gambler," "15 million losses" and "Las Vegas," among other terms. Tenser told Blake, "It looks like someone is using this as code to communicate the debts."
Back and forth they went, with Blake sending links to random websites that worried him and Tenser reciprocating with his own concerns that "Cody and Lorne are overleveraged," as he later explained. "They're like the Trumps, these people, they borrow money to buy houses."
In this manner, the friends did little to calm each other's fears. Blake wanted Tenser to look into whether Lorne was "trying to commit fraud using my name." Blake's missives grew increasingly frantic. "Jeremy — if the baby and I were to pass — Cody would have extra money to pay these people [the crime syndicates]. He could tell them that. And they could come after us for the big take." Tenser agreed to look into it. "I want you to explore all options pertaining to my families [sic] security," Blake wrote on April 27. "I am legitimately nervous for my son's well-being — and I need your help — the help of Hollace."
Blake's fears about his brother's gambling, paranoid or not, coincided with problems at home. A few weeks after the flurry of text messages with Tenser, during the early summer of 2015, Blake began to dismantle the Hollywood life he had spent the past several years building. Within a few weeks, he filed for divorce, left Braun and leased the apartment on Holloway, where he now installed his new girlfriend, a 29-year old recent arrival from Ukraine named Iana Kasian. "We couldn't figure it out," says a close friend of Braun's. "Blake loved Amanda, and then all of a sudden he was gone. It was the start of his erratic behavior."
Kasian was born in Estonia, where her father labored in a navy yard. Her mother, Olga, was in health care. They moved to Ukraine soon after. Sometime around 2014, Iana Kasian arrived in L.A. It's unclear what, exactly, she did here. Several people close to Braun have hinted that Kasian was working as an escort, pointing to racy and sometimes nude pictures they found of her online. But Jake Finkel, an attorney representing Kasian's family, disputes this. He claims she "graduated from a law school in Kiev and was studying to be a translator."
By August 2015, Kasian was pregnant. According to one source, she didn't wait long to advertise it. One day, shortly after he had walked out on Braun, she spotted Blake and Iana driving around Beverly Hills. She followed the couple to a restaurant and confronted them. Kasian rubbed her belly gently. "I'm pregnant," she said, according to a close friend of Braun's.
Braun did not know that, in addition to Kasian, Blake had begun seeing a third woman, Constance Buccafurri, a storyboard artist whom he had met several years earlier and whose IMDb page shows several credits on major projects including Frozen and the upcoming Aladdin, starring Will Smith. Records also show that she has been arrested for offenses ranging from drunk and disorderly conduct to resisting arrest. During a recent interview at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, Buccafurri, who wore a gray sweater with a picture of Mickey Mouse and a pair of large, studious glasses, showed herself to be a complicated, volatile personality. She unleashed in a torrent, saying her relationship with Blake had always been professional, even as she acknowledged it developed into something sexual. Following the interview, Buccafurri sent THR a series of unsolicited emails that included screengrabs of texts, photos and documents. In these, she claims that Blake had been "obsessed" with her for years and had stalked her. While this is unproved, he did take a keen interest in her, helping Buccafurri hire a lawyer for a run-in with police at the Viceroy Hotel in early November 2015, according to one person who knew them both. Three weeks later, Blake purchased another house on North Gardner Street in West Hollywood and Buccafurri moved in. "Blake would refer to her as his fiancee and sometimes his wife," says the source. Buccafurri confirmed his ardor in an email: "Blake was obsessed with me — he loved me very much." But after only six weeks, they had split up. Buccafurri continued to live in the Gardner Street house.
Oddly, about a month later, Buccafurri reached out to Braun. The two began corresponding about Blake and Kasian. They became united in their hatred of her, agreeing that she was the real interloper. They texted each other regularly, as if they were friends, rather than romantic rivals. According to Buccafurri, she and Braun exchanged dozens of texts. In one, shared by Buccafurri, she wrote Braun that she would "call INS" on Kasian "so she can get deported." In another: "I swear to god Amanda I want you to have justice ... I am team you!"
Braun replied that Kasian was "the nastiest person" and that she wanted Blake to get help. "Blake hates everyone from his past," Braun wrote, "his family and most of all his friends. He only sees them if he needs something. He speaks horribly of everyone and cuts people off at the drop of a hat. He is very ill."
When, in the early spring of 2016, Blake and Kasian vacationed in Hawaii, Buccafurri hired a private investigator to track their whereabouts. When the reports from the P.I. came in via text messages, she forwarded them to Braun. "I told her everything," says Buccafurri. "I want that whore deported," Braun wrote back. "What does it take??"
Iana's mother, Olga Kasian, arrived in L.A. from Ukraine in mid-April 2016 — her daughter's pregnancy had reached full term, and she wanted to help with the baby. For the previous year, Olga had been getting regular updates from her daughter about her life in the U.S., according to family attorney Finkel. Iana told her mother she was comfortably installed in a luxurious Hollywood apartment owned by a movie director. She also told Olga that her life wasn't perfect — that Blake smoked huge amounts of marijuana, ate hallucinogenic mushrooms and dabbled with synthetic marijuana (though the latter two cannot be independently confirmed). For Iana, it was better than Kiev. Blake had bought her a Mercedes M-class SUV and taken her on luxurious vacations. He'd told her they would get married. He would give her a ring. A house. A future. When Olga arrived, Blake set her up in a nearby apartment. On May 3, Olga's 60th birthday, her granddaughter, Diana, was born.
"I know that [Iana] wanted the baby very much," says Kristina Kuts, a friend from Ukraine who believes Kasian was truly in love with Blake. Friends of Braun say they believe it was mutual, that Blake was in love with Kasian. "They were both very happy when they found out she was having a baby," says Kuts.
Almost immediately after the birth, though, Blake's behavior went from erratic to inexplicably disruptive, according to Finkel — all in a matter of days. "Things started to get a little bit strange," says Finkel. "Blake flipped out." At home, he kept the windows closed and the curtains drawn, though Olga, when she visited, would throw them wide open. He blasted the air conditioner at all times, even in the baby's room. When Iana complained, Blake told her to go to her mother's place. She would stay there for a night or two, then return, and the fighting would resume. He continued to smoke pot, filling the apartment with the fumes. "He got really dark," Finkel says.
About two weeks after Diana's birth, Buccafurri filed a rape allegation against Blake, according to court documents. Buccafurri says the assault actually occurred months earlier, when she and Blake first started dating, and that Blake had assaulted her multiple times and infected her with an STD for which she had to seek treatment. Despite these attacks, she says she "forgave" him. But Blake had asked Tenser for his help in evicting Buccafurri from the Gardner Street house they once shared; now, about a month later, she was pressing charges. Police arrested Blake, and according to Tenser and several others, tased him. Friends of Braun's say she told them the tasering threw him into a "psychotically angry state of mind."
Iana called Braun to post Blake's $100,000 bail. "It got freaky and bizarre," says Finkel. "Blake and Kasian just had a kid together and suddenly she's bailing him out for sexual assault — with his wife."
It was around 1:40 a.m. on May 26 when a 27-year-old hairdresser stepped out of her apartment to walk her Pomeranian, Ruka, near the intersection of Alta Loma and Holloway. She spotted a couple nearby, fighting. A young, dark-haired woman with an Eastern European accent seemed distraught, and her partner, a sloppily dressed man with a hat and curly hair, was yelling as she walked away. The man took out his phone. "Baby," he said, trailing behind her, "Baby, come back here." She didn't. "She wanted to get away from him," the woman tells THR.
This was, quite possibly, the last public sighting of Kasian alive. Her mother, Olga, who hadn't heard from her, was already concerned. The day before, she had convinced an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy to accompany her to the Holloway condo that her daughter shared with Blake, but they couldn't get in and left. Olga then filed a missing person's report. The police returned to the condo the next day. This time, they broke through the front door and moved slowly down a central hallway, clearing rooms, searching for Kasian.
When they arrived at the bedroom on the building's far northwest corner, they found the door shut and locked. They announced themselves, then tried kicking in the door, but it wouldn't budge. Someone had braced furniture against it. A man inside shouted at them. Eventually, he moved the furniture and allowed them in. Kasian was in the bed, covered from the neck down by a Mickey Mouse blanket. Her head was visible; her left forearm rested on her stomach. Blake Leibel stood off to the side, watching in silence.
Looking around at the bloody scene, the police thought it looked as though Blake had been wiping walls and moving furniture to destroy evidence. In his deposition, Det. Robert Martindale said he had never seen a crime scene quite like this one. But the look on Leibel's face was familiar. "He didn't care that she was dead," he said. "It's kind of that sociopath type of look on his face, like, 'I don't care that she's dead. I didn't do it.' He had no feelings whatsoever."
The police searched the rest of the apartment and found blood evidence throughout, including "quite a bit within two bedrooms and other locations," according to one deputy. There was one place they didn't find any: in the victim. Kasian's body had been thoroughly and deliberately emptied, or as the prosecutor would later describe it, "drained."
The Twin Towers Correctional Facility, an imposing block of octagonal buildings in downtown L.A., is the nation's largest mental health facility. A day after Blake was arrested and charged with "murder, mayhem, aggravated mayhem and torture," Tenser took an elevator to see him on an upper floor reserved for the most dangerous inmates. Blake was on suicide watch.
"Hollace," Blake greeted his old friend. Tenser told him he was hiring him a good criminal attorney. "He was not aware of the gravity of the situation," Tenser says. "He thought he was going to get out that first day." Tenser reached out to lawyers and arranged for Howard Bragman, the celebrity crisis manager, to manage the unfolding spectacle. Eventually, Blake fired them all. An L.A. County public defender, Haydeh Takasugi, was brought in. "The family isn't giving him any money," Tenser says. "They don't give a shit."
Braun also visited. She reported to a friend afterward that Blake had scratches on his face and bruises all over his body; she surmised that he had been attacked before his arrest. Buccafurri tried to visit, but was arrested for violating the terms of a previous offense. Since the murder, Braun had come to see Buccafurri as dangerous and threatening, eventually cutting off contact. According to a legal filing obtained by THR, Braun took out a temporary restraining order against Buccafurri, in which she claims Buccafurri "admitted that she had fabricated the rape allegation and had been plotting it from the moment Blake dumped her." Buccafurri responded by threatening to kill herself if Braun didn't talk to her.
Braun also states that Buccafurri had become "obsessed" with her and her children. "I truly believe that she would either kidnap, hurt, or even kill them," says the document. When Braun discovered that Buccafurri had enlarged pictures of her two sons, written their names in journals and on whiteboards and followed them to their home, where she left threatening messages, she says she grew "petrified." She writes that Buccafurri's behavior was akin to the women in Single White Female and Fatal Attraction. Buccafurri maintains that she's "also a victim in all of this."
Meanwhile, everyone in Blake's world was blindsided by the horror of the crime. Many had viewed him as eccentric, even slightly bipolar, like his grandmother. Though he liked the horror genre, there had been no indication that he himself was capable of violence. "He was always charming and manipulative," says an old friend from Canada, adding he no longer knows what to think. "We'd get in fights, but then he would come in and apologize — he had empathy. But sometimes I think to myself, 'Was that him just wanting to keep me around because I did so much for him? Did he really care?' Because when I go look back on it, I think, 'Oh, shit, this guy really checks off every box of what a crazy person does.'" It felt, he said, as if Blake were haunted. "It ties back to the father in a way," says the friend. "The father was a womanizer, was a player ... [Blake] was turning into his father in a way. It was so weird, because the person he hated the most, he was becoming."
Tenser became fixated on Blake's earlier concerns about Cody's gambling debts; he was overwhelmed with suspicions. He believed Blake had been set up, framed by the Russian mafia. "I had a reasonable doubt," he says. "He told me a year before that he was afraid of being leveraged by the mob." In early June, Tenser visited the FBI's L.A. field office and told agents that he and Blake had been "life hacked."
One night in mid-June 2016, police surrounded Tenser's home, a semi-detached townhouse in the Fairfax district. Someone, Tenser isn't sure who, had called his father in Canada, who then called the LAPD to report that his son was behaving erratically. It was early evening, and about a dozen cop cars came screeching to a halt outside the house. As a helicopter hovered overhead, shining a spotlight into Tenser's house, a SWAT team arrived and threatened to break down the door. Inside, Tenser was cowering in the bathtub, a white towel draped over him. "I thought if I did that they wouldn't be able to see me," he now says. One of Tenser's celebrity clients, Jack Osbourne (Ozzy's son), arrived to help. After seven hours of a tense standoff, Tenser surrendered to police, who quickly released him.
Tenser returned to the FBI the next morning to see if the agency had done anything about his "life hacking" claim. They had not and recommended that he check himself into a mental hospital. Tenser admitted himself to UCLA, then was transferred to Glendale Memorial Hospital. "The doctor tried to have me committed," he says. "I had to request a hearing in front of a judge to secure my freedom." When he was released, he went to Canada, where he was again sent for a mental health evaluation. "There was nothing really wrong with me," he says. "It was just anxiety, which is normal if you feel that justice is being obstructed in a murder investigation."
The ordeal took its toll on Tenser, who lost three-quarters of his clients, including Osbourne. "I'm not sure what I experienced was psychosis — I definitely had PTSD," he says. "I thought that someone was gaslighting the both of us." Greg Rose, a cryptologist whom THR engaged to examine the web pages Blake had texted Tenser about, says it's unlikely there was anything nefarious about them — they are almost certainly "Markhov chains," software tools that spammers use to increase a site's traffic with nonsensical phrases and words. Looking back on the events surrounding his friend's arrest, Tenser is no longer gripped by the sense of doom and paranoia he felt at the time. His anxiety has subsided. And while he remains convinced that the police have overlooked something in Blake's case, he is realistic about his friend's situation.
One day toward the end of November at a courthouse near LAX, just past 9 a.m., a doorway beside the clerk's desk opened and Blake Leibel shuffled in — a large, imposing man with a mane of curly brown hair and a pallid complexion. He wore a yellow prison shirt over a set of blue long underwear and appeared considerably heavier than he does in pictures that have circulated online. His eyes were dull and vacant; he had a large bald spot on the back of his head. The judge asked Blake if he would agree to delay the trial for some unresolved procedural matters. "No," Blake said. "I don't want to wait any more time." The judge delayed the case anyway.
For a time right after the arrest, there was some discussion about whether Blake could face the death penalty if convicted. He will not. While the public defender, Takasugi, declined to discuss any details of the case, she says her client will plead "not guilty." Otherwise, little is certain about the case, other than that the crime in question is distinguished by its brutal specificity — it is hard to imagine that, if Blake is guilty, his family history of mental illness or the fascination with gore and evil that surfaced in his art do not hold some deeper meaning.
After the hearing, Tenser bounded through security just minutes after the judge ruled. "Did I miss it?" he asked. After some coffee, Tenser decided to try to see Blake. As his entertainment attorney, he says he still has that privilege. But he was back a few minutes later. "He didn't want to see me," Tenser said. "I don't blame him, he's dealing with a lot."
Tied up with the logistical repercussions of the murder, Olga Kasian was forced to miss her daughter's funeral in Ukraine. It was a subdued affair. But Iana Kasian's childhood friend Kristina Kuts attended. Kuts had grown up with Iana, and the two were neighbors and school friends. At the funeral, Kuts listened as another friend of Iana's spoke about how Blake had always seemed "gentle" with Iana. "No one can think that such terrible things can happen," said Kuts, who now wonders if Iana knew something was wrong and kept it to herself. "I think maybe it could be something she didn't tell anyone in his behavior." Diana, a toddler now, is being raised by her aunt and grandmother in Ukraine. "The baby, she's never going to have a normal day in her life," says Finkel. "She's a girl whose father brutally murdered her mother. The course of her life has totally changed. One day she's going to learn the truth of her past, and it's grotesque and disturbing." Finkel says that Olga has told him one thing over and over again: "Blake didn't just kill her, he killed all of us."
This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.