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Authorities identify alleged killer of Fla. firefighter in 38-year-old case

Police believe former firefighter William Halpern’s death is the first of five connected to an Apollo Gym in Hollywood


William “Billy” Halpern was brutally murdered in his Miramar home on Oct. 21, 1986. Halpern, who was 28 years old at the time, was a former firefighter who enjoyed bodybuilding. He worked at the Apollo gym, had a loving family, and was described as a good friend.

Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun Sentinel

By Rafael Olmeda
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

MIRAMAR, Fla. — Justice would be served today in the 1986 murder of William “Billy” Halpern if the killer identified by Miramar police Tuesday were still alive.

Halpern, 28, was a former firefighter and bodybuilder who was found beaten in his home with his throat slashed ear to ear. Police believe Halpern’s death was the first of five connected to the Apollo Gym, a popular bodybuilding gym in Hollywood that attracted both cops and criminals.

Harry Collier was the last of the five victims, and Miramar Police Detective Danny Smith said Tuesday that Collier was certainly one of the men who killed Halpern.

“If he were alive today, we would take him to the grand jury,” Smith said.

Collier and the fourth victim, James Hinote, were found shot to death in Hinote’s home in May 1987, days after the double murder of Charles Mitch Hall, 26, and his girlfriend, Charlinda Draudt, 23, who were found with their hands bound and their necks slashed in a townhouse near Tamarac. Collier was identified by police as Hall and Draudt’s killer shortly after his own death.

Police announced earlier this year that they were developing new leads in the 38-year-old case.

Detectives believe Halpern overheard something at the Apollo gym that led to his murder.

The Apollo Gym and Fitness Center between Stirling Road and Griffin Road opened in 1980 and quickly became home to the most determined bodybuilding men and women, along with paramedics, firefighters and police officers. An ad in the newspaper the year the gym opened boasted it was the “ultimate exercising facility in the country.”

Among the dedicated lifters at the gym, however, were drug dealers. By 1990, the gym’s reputation had gone south. The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported in July 1990 that some of the gym’s more upstanding citizens were quitting.

Gil Fernandez Jr ., a former Miami-Dade cop and bodybuilder with mob connections who owned and ran the gym, has long been considered a suspect in the murders but has not been charged in those crimes, Smith said.

“There are additional perpetrators for sure,” he said. “But I can’t say scientifically it was Gil Fernandez .”

In September 1991, Fernandez was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in the murders of three other men: Walter Leahy Jr ., 25; Richard Robertson, 26; and Alfred Tringali, 31. He was 38 at the time.

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