Bashara's secret life shakes family, friends
He once was known as "Big Bob," the gregarious Grosse Pointe Rotary Club president and church usher who raised millions for charity and volunteered to help at his kids' volleyball and soccer games.
Big Bob was also Master Bob — a kinky sex persona he hid from his family and upper-crust acquaintances. But his image quickly soured — from philanthropist to philanderer, and worse — after his wife, Jane, was killed, and details of his secret life began to emerge.
Sex dungeons with multiple partners, country club cocaine use, putting out a hit on a hit man. Every week, it seemed, a new revelation knocked Bashara down another notch on the social ladder of the seemingly straight-laced Pointes, home to old money, private clubs and private lives.
By the time Bashara's murder-for-hire trial began in October, Bashara's reputation as an upstanding family man had already been tarnished. But throughout two months of testimony, even more damning details about his other life were revealed.
After 74 witnesses and 460 exhibits, the trial in Wayne Circuit Court is finally winding down. Closing arguments are set for Tuesday, and then the jury will decide if Bashara is guilty of hiring his handyman, Joseph Gentz, to kill his wife. Prosecutors say Bashara wanted to collect her 401(k) and life insurance money and set himself up in the bondage, discipline and sadomasochistic lifestyle with his longtime girlfriend, Rachel Gillett.
A central theme throughout the trial was how Bashara, who carefully cultivated his image as "The Mayor of Middlesex" — the street on which he and Jane lived — had his friends and family bamboozled.
"You're close to someone for so many years, and you think you know him," Jane Bashara's mother, Lorraine Engelbrect, said during a break in Bashara's trial, which enters its 10th week Monday. "He had me completely fooled."
Bashara owned a block-long building on Mack Avenue that symbolizes his duality. The property housed two popular Grosse Pointe Park night spots: the Hard Luck Lounge and Dylan's Raw Bar and Grille. In the basement was Bashara's sex dungeon. Hard Luck patrons and employees testified they had no idea the dungeon was there.
And at the tony Lochmoor Club in Grosse Pointe Woods, which has counted among its membership such Metro Detroit luminaries as Edsel Ford and former Detroit Mayor James Couzens, Bashara regularly snorted lines of cocaine and smoked marijuana on the golf course, according to testimony.
"The pictures you see of him on the golf course where he's smiling and happy — that's how he appeared to us," said Jane Bashara's aunt, Barbara Naeyaert. "He was Big Bob, the guy who raised money for charity."
Name purged from awards
Bashara won several awards from the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club for his fundraising, but after he pleaded guilty in October, 2012 to trying to have Gentz killed, the club purged his name from all awards and other records.
"I came to the conclusion that if Bob's lips were moving, he was telling me a lie," said Michael Carmody, a Grosse Pointe Rotary Club member and Bashara's former friend. Carmody said he felt betrayed after discovering Bashara had repeatedly misled him.
According to testimony, Bashara even had people in the kinky sex scene fooled. He told one friend, Patrick "Sir Patrick" Webb, that he would bankroll the construction of a state-of-the-art dungeon, but reneged on the deal.
"In my dealings with him, he always portrayed himself as having money," said Webb, who was forced to find other money to build the dungeon known as the A2 Reformatory in Milan. "I wasn't happy with him."
Webb said he once almost came to blows with Bashara during an argument in his dungeon. "He wasn't easy to deal with," he said.
Webb testified the BDSM — bondage, discipline and sadomasochism — community has many more members than many people realize. He said his dungeon had 70,000 registered members.
When he had BDSM parties several prominent people would attend, including doctors and lawyers.
'I'm a huge figure here'
Bashara bragged about his status in the Pointes in an email to Gillett, who lived in St. Clair Shores when Jane Bashara was killed.
"You worry about assimilating into Grosse Pointe, but don't worry. I'm a huge figure here, and have many friends," he wrote.
After his arrest, that quickly began to change.
One by one, former friends and relatives testified during the trial they felt betrayed after Bashara's deceptions were exposed. His mother, two children and cousin no longer speak to him.
Even Gillett, who testified that she stuck by Bashara several times after discovering he'd lied about divorcing his wife, eventually abandoned him, and filed a personal protection order to keep him from contacting her.
A few weeks into the trial, Engelbrect told The Detroit News it was difficult for her to sit through the hearings.
"I can't stand to look at him," she said. "He makes me sick every time I come in here."
Days after making that statement, Engelbrect of Roseville decided to spend the rest of the trial with relatives in Ohio — "so she wouldn't have to look at Bob's face on the news every day," said Naeyaert, who has attended the trial since the beginning.
"Before Jane was killed, everybody thought he was a great guy," said Naeyaert of New Baltimore. "He fooled everybody, especially Jane's mother."
Family sympathy vanished
After Jane Bashara was killed, relatives had mixed feelings about their suspicions, Naeyaert said. "There were some in the family who thought he had something to do with it, and others who didn't think he did," she said.
Naeyaert said any family sympathy for Bashara vanished after he tried to use his dead wife's ashes as a bargaining chip, saying he would return them to her relatives if they would publicly support him after his arrest.
The victim's family found out during testimony that the urn was kept in the basement of one of Bashara's friends from the BDSM scene, next to a box of whips and other implements.
"That was disgusting," Naeyaert said.
Bashara had purchased a plot in the cemetery next to where Jane Bashara's ashes are buried at St. Michael Episcopal Church — but her relatives lobbied to have his grave site moved, Naeyaert said.
"That wasn't going to happen," she said. "They had to give him a lot in the cemetery, since he paid for it, but not that one.
"Jane's mother bought that lot, so Bob couldn't be buried next to her," Naeyaert said.