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‘My stolen son’

Community: Resident writes book to tell story of son, kidnapped and killed 10 years ago

Posted: August 9, 2010 10:21 p.m.
Updated: August 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Ten years after Nick Markowitz’s death, his mother, Susan Markowitz, has published “My Stolen Son” — her story regarding the disappearance and murder of her son. The film “Alpha Dog” is based of the events leading to her son’s death.

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A small framed clown painting hangs from the living room wall in the Markowitz’s Santa Clarita home. A young Nick Markowitz created the painting.

Upstairs, typed essays hang from the wall — essays that Nick wrote for school while growing up.

In the next room, some of his old toys — a fake snake and bead maze — are strewn on the floor in the corner. In parents Susan and Jeff Markowitz’s library, dozens of Nick’s books fill the shelves.

But much of Nick’s belongings have been boxed up and stacked in a closet behind a “memory wall.” Susan Markowitz tried to leave painful memories behind in their West Hills home when the couple moved to Santa Clarita five years ago.

Susan Markowitz is in disbelief she has survived 10 years without her only biological son. Monday marked the 10-year anniversary of the murder of 15-year-old Nick Markowitz.

“I feel I died when he died; I know I did,” Susan Markowitz said.

She almost did die — Markowitz attempted suicide 13 times over the six years following the murder.

For a while, Markowitz lived to see her son’s killers caught and punished.

Nick was kidnapped by gang led by Jesse James Hollywood. Held in Santa Barbara for a few days in a bid to recover a drug debt, the boy was taken to a hiking trail and shot dead in 2000.

Earlier this year, Hollywood was finally sentenced in the case.

But for Susan Markowitz, what kept her going eventually shifted from vengeance to a more benign purpose.

At some point, she decided to turn her focus to the lives she could save by telling her son’s story.

On Sept. 7, Markowitz’s book, “My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story,” co-written with Jenna Glatzer, will hit bookstores.

“I don’t want to be known as an author,” she said. “I guess I am now, but I am Nick’s mom more than anything.”

Her stolen son
She sang Christmas songs in the middle of August. She cleaned her house over and over again.

Anything to distract herself from a gut feeling that her kidnapped son was trapped between two rocks.

Susan Markowitz’s nightmare became reality when she learned her son was murdered; his body left in a shallow grave in the hills near Santa Barbara.

The case was the basis of the 2006 movie “Alpha Dog,” but Markowitz said she wanted to lay out the truth as she knows it in the pages of her book.

On Aug. 6, 2000, Nick Markowitz was kidnapped by Hollywood and others. Hollywood orchestrated the hostage plan to recover a $1,200 drug debt owed to him by Markowitz’s older half-brother.

The kidnappers took a bound-up Markowitz to a party, where no one attempted to call police or get Nick home, Susan Markowitz said.

“There were 32 people that could have saved my son’s life,” she said.

But no one did.

Nick was held by Hollywood and others at a Santa Barbara motel. On Aug. 9, 2000, he was shot to death at a hiking spot in the Santa Barbara foothills.

That inner voice

As Susan and her husband sat through court hearing after court hearing, they heard countless details about the kidnapping and murder.

“I tell the truth as I can best recall,” Markowitz said. “If someone else feels it’s different, then they can write their own.”

Markowitz said she hopes Nick’s story leads other teens to think of the consequences surrounding their choices and to “listen to that inner voice.”

“If you know you’re late for curfew, that feeling you get — it’s trying to guide you,” she said. “That fear is guiding you, and you can’t ignore it.”

Justice to hope
All participants in the murder were convicted or made pleas in the years following the killing — except for Jesse James Hollywood.

The FBI chased Hollywood for five years before he was arrested in Brazil.

When she wasn’t in mental hospitals or trying to kill herself, Markowitz was consumed by the search for Hollywood. On Feb. 5 this year, a judge sentenced Hollywood to life in prison.

Other accomplices in the kidnapping and murder were given various sentences. Ryan Hoyt, the gunman, is now on death row.

Susan Markowitz only missed one court hearing date — on the day of what would have been Nick’s high school graduation.

She made key chains inscribed with Nick’s name for his peers. They hung from the branches of a tree planted in Nick’s memory at El Camino Real High School.

Markowitz said she no longer focuses on what she doesn’t have but on what she does have.

“There are so many parents out there that have lost their children and still don’t know where they are,” she said. “I have a grave.”

Guilt and honor

Markowitz’s stepson, Ben Markowitz, is now married with children.

“If he wasn’t doing well, I wouldn’t be doing well,” she said. “It’s important to me that he’s honoring Nick’s memory by not continuing on in the path he was going.”

Ben Markowitz served some jail time. And although he felt extreme guilt for his halfbrother’s death, Susan Markowitz said, she doesn’t blame Ben for the murder.

“He had started to clean up his life prior to Nick getting kidnapped,” she said. “It was something he swept under the rug that came back to haunt him.”

“I don’t think that would be fair of me to hold it over his head.”
Learning to laugh
Just a few months before Nick’s kidnapping, Susan Markowitz heard the song “I Hope You Dance” play over the radio.

She went home and told Nick she wanted to dedicate the song to him one day.

That day never came, but two years ago Susan heard the song again.

“It was totally reversed: he was dedicating it to me, and I believe that,” she said.

The passing of 10 years has not eased the pain, she said. Her son was stolen from her for forever.

“You never get over it,” she said. “You have to learn to live with it and work through it.”

Markowitz said she is just recently learning how to laugh again. Nick was a funny guy who enjoyed the work of comedians like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams.

“Every time I laugh, I feel like he’s helping me,” she said. “It’s his way of saying, ‘Snap out of it.’”

About a third of Markowitz’s book includes passages from journal entries she shared with Nick while he was growing up.

She wants readers to remember Nick as the loving, humorous book-reader that he was.

Markowitz made a promise to Nick that she would stay on earth until her time was through. She believes the book is the ultimate fulfillment of that promise.

“I’m in disbelief that I have survived, but I’m grateful that I have,” she said. “I don’t think there will be a day where I think it’s okay to be here without him.”

“But I will work it and make him proud,” she said. “And maybe make a difference in somebody else’s life.”


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