A week and a half ago, The Daily Beast ran an article, missed by some because it dropped on a Friday evening, reporting on the largely forgotten 2006 groping allegations against Vince McMahon. What made the case newsworthy again was that while McMahon was never charged with assaulting the Florida tanning salon employee, a newly unearthed police report revealed that the local cops felt there was probable cause to believe he did it. While the Boca Raton Police Department report had not previously been published, I had been working on my own story about the case that was already close to publication when we got scooped about the report’s findings. That’s not the end of the story, though, because the report contained not just the “probable cause” note, but also the witnesses’ names and circa 2006 contact information. And one witness, who spoke to Deadspin, volunteered a number of claims that both contradict and supplement the police report.
The story initially got a good bit of attention back in 2006, with local Florida media, wire services, and the wrestling fan press picking it up after the initial report first surfaced in an un-bylined Palm Beach Post article on February 1, 2006. Citing “two Boca Raton police sources” who had seen the initial department report, that story said that McMahon went to the now-closed Tanzabar tanning salon on North Federal Highway “late Sunday night,” at which point a salon employee said he assaulted her. That was January 29. “The alleged victim says Mr. McMahon first showed pictures of himself naked on his cellphone,” said one of two BRPD sources cited by the Post. “Then she says he made unwelcome advances and finally cornered her in a tanning booth and groped her.” The newspaper was unable to get in touch with Vince, but they did reach his wife, Linda, who said the allegation was “totally bizarre.” Their daughter, Stephanie, when asked if her dad had just visited Tanzabar, told the Post that “Yeah, he was there the other night” though she added “I’m not aware something happened.”
There was a problem with the allegation as published, though: Vince would have been in Miami for that year’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view event all Sunday night. The next day, though, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran a piece by Chrystian Tejedor and William Lucey, which clarified that the tanning salon employee was saying this happened on Saturday January 28, not Sunday. The same article also added further details about the underlying claim against McMahon: The 22-year-old woman had told police that McMahon asked her to take his photo using his phone, she agreed, and when she gave it back to him, that’s when he “showed her nude and semi-nude photos of himself on the camera phone.” She asked him to stop, she said, but later, after the tanning session, he followed her back into the tanning suite when she went to clean up, closed the door, and started forcibly kissing her. She said that it ended when she pushed him off as he tried to pull her shirt off.
The Sun-Sentinel also spoke to another customer, Kelly McMahon (no relation) who bumped into a pleasant-seeming Vince on Saturday. “He was nothing but a gentleman. He shook my hand three times,” she said. “He showed no signs of coming on to [the employee]. He was talking to me. She was trying to interrupt our conversation.” Another day later, the story was picked up nationally by The Associated Press, though the wire piece didn’t really add anything new.
The next (seemingly) related development came just a couple weeks later on the February 13 edition of WWE’s flagship TV show, Monday Night Raw, where a curious segment, which remains intact on the WWE Network version, appeared. One of the big matches being built for WrestleMania that year was going to be Trish Stratus defending her women’s title against Mickie James, her new friend/stalker and soon to be enemy. In this bit, Trish was visited by “Jack,” a man that she went on a date with a week beforehand, who ended up alone backstage with Mickie. After making a quip about how she and Trish are friends, and “friends share,” Mickie tried to kiss Jack, who pushed her away. Out of nowhere, Mickie then started screaming, telling Jack to stop touching her, and tearing at her own clothes. “The reality Mickie James lives in is one I’m not familiar with,” announcer Jonathan Coachman quipped as Trish consoled Mickie. “Any resemblance between that skit and Vince McMahon’s defense in his case against the woman who accused him of groping her in a tanning salon is strictly coincidental,” Pro Wrestling Torch columnist Bruce Mitchell wrote in his review of the show that week’s newsletter. A then-member of the WWE creative team, who requested anonymity, told Deadspin that while he did not recall the specific segment, McMahon was largely “indifferent to” the women’s title feud in general.
Nothing new broke until March 25, when the Sun-Sentinel reported that the WWE promoter would not be charged due to “insufficient evidence.” The brief item, part of the Sun-Sentinel’s “Digest” section, has “STAFF REPORTS” as its byline and doesn’t directly cite any sources. It says that the State Attorney’s Office refused to charge McMahon but does not say how the reporters learned this, and while the police report is referenced it’s not entirely clear if the reporters actually saw it. None of the other Florida newspapers available on Newspapers.com that covered the initial story appear to have covered the news that McMahon wasn’t being charged. The only other Newspapers.com hit for the story comes from Byron Robertson’s pro wrestling column a week later in The Montgomery Advertiser, which did not cite any sources.
Meanwhile, “Jack” returned to Raw on April 17, after the decision not to charge was made. The women’s relationship was now fully in “Single White Female” mode, and Stratus brought out Jack, bound and gagged, and challenged James with a King Solomon-esque test. The ostensible point of the segment is summed up by Jack’s one line, spoken when Trish briefly un-gagged him: “I think both you bitches are crazy!” Announcer Joey Styles, plugging their rematch, said that, “They might wanna have that women’s championship match inside of a rubber room at the asylum. What do you think, guys?” Color commentator Jerry Lawler could only muster a “Wow” in response.
That was it on this story until this past November. Well-known men were being exposed as sexual predators on a seemingly daily basis, which reminded me of this story and how quickly it disappeared. I looked it up and. noticing how little coverage the non-charging of McMahon had gotten back in 2006, wondered what exactly had happened. The Boca Raton PD fulfilled my request for the police report inside of a week, and when I got it, the last line on page 10 jumped out at me:
There is probable cause to believe that Vincent McMahon did actually and intentionally touch against the will of [redacted], contrary to Florida Statute 784.03 (1).
That was typed up by an investigator identified as “J.M. Clare” (presumably Detective Jeff Clare) on March 3, 2006 before being reviewed by a supervisor listed as “N. Girardi” (ostensibly Sergeant Nicole Girardi) two weeks later. They came to this conclusion despite the tanning booth attendant being unable to pick McMahon out of a photo lineup. On April 6, prosecutor Jill Richstone of the State Attorney’s Office in Palm Beach County decided that “upon review of witness statements, there is a lack of independent evidence to support the allegations against Vincent McMahon.”
While emails from Deadspin to both Richstone and the office in general were not returned, spokesperson Mike Edmondson told The Daily Beast that “the filing standard for the state is above and beyond a reasonable doubt” and not probable cause, and said that’s why McMahon was not charged. “A misdemeanor that is not done in the presence of a law enforcement officer in Florida generally is not a prosecutable case unless there is a independent witnesses and or physical evidence as in photos—that kind of thing,” he added. (George “Bob” Dekle, an Emeritus Legal Skills Professor at the University of Florida and retired prosecutor in Florida’s Columbia County, told Deadspin that this is likely a non-lawyer’s inelegant explanation. While probable cause is all you need in legal terms, the filing standard for what is needed beyond that is set by the office’s elected prosecutor.) Per the police report, those misdemeanors were simple battery and assault and battery, with neither being a sexual offense as groping does not fall under sexual battery in Florida.
When Deadspin filed a public record request with the prosecutors for their documents from the case, we were told that “the records and files from this time period have been destroyed pursuant to Fla. Sta. §316.655 in the General Records Schedule GS9 for State Attorneys, which establishes a one year retention period after a final disposition of a misdemeanor or felony case.” As it happens, the records were apparently destroyed almost three years later, on January 29, 2009. The actual statute, for whatever it’s worth, says that the one year retention schedule applies only to the “record copy,” while the instruction for duplicates is to “Retain until obsolete, superseded or administrative value is lost.”
Besides the final conclusion, the other thing that jumped out right away in the police report was that the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the witnesses were not redacted, with only the victim’s name being removed. The copy obtained by The Daily Beast was the same one generated for me, with a timestamp from the day it was sent out, as was the one that Deadspin got after paying the BRPD for a local background check on McMahon; it was the only case in which he was being investigated. The other two reports released pertained to a 1992 car accident and the 1993 theft of $1,000 cash from his gym bag while he was working out.
The Daily Beast was able to reach one of the three witnesses named in the report: Caroline Clear, Tanzabar’s manager at the time of the case. The unnamed complainant had called Clear immediately after the incident, and the police report says that Clear told her coworker not to call the police. Clear, however, told The Daily Beast in 2018 that she could not remember specifics of that day. William Robert Wells, an employee at the Papa John’s store in the strip mall, was another witness; the complainant ran over to him when McMahon left the salon. While The Daily Beast was not able to reach him for comment, I did get in touch with Wells, who gave an on-the-record interview in which he volunteered a number of things that were not in the report and disputed some other things that were.
“[The tanning attendant] came in crying, and we knew it was Vince McMahon walking out, and she asked me if it would be fine if I came in the store until the cops came,” Wells said, adding that he also obliged her request to bring a baseball bat. “I don’t know what a baseball bat’s gonna do to someone like this, but OK, I said I’ll bring one with me because hey, I’m only 17 years old at the time.”
As they waited for the police with the door locked, Wells says that McMahon sat in his car staring them down “for a good 45 minutes” after turning his car around to face the store, eventually leaving just a few minutes before the police showed up. Wells got the impression that the police “didn’t really want to talk to me, honestly, and that’s probably why there’s not a lot of the statement,” because he didn’t witness anything in the salon even if he saw the aftermath. Wells recounted that McMahon staying in his car on the premises for so long is what especially scared his friend. “You know how big that guy is,” Wells said. “He scared me a little bit, too.”
It surprised Wells, based on what he perceived as indifference on their part, that the police felt there was probable cause in the case. When I mentioned that, he volunteered that there were cameras both “all over” the shopping center and inside the salon, albeit not inside the booths. “The lobby, and where you walk into each room, I know they’re there,” he said. In the police report, it’s written that the tanning booth attendant “stated that the business has surveillance video and a front desk register that will show McMahon in the business.” When the police served a subpoena on Caroline Clear, though, she “stated that the business does not have video surveillance.” While the police did take the other records they were looking for, there is no further mention of this conflicting information in the report; there’s also no indication whether the detectives attempted to get a search warrant for the whole business or even spotted cameras while they were there. Voicemail messages left with both the department’s public information office and on the home phone of the now-retired detective Jeff Clare were not returned.
Wells repeatedly stressed that he had become close enough friends with the woman in question to be sure she wouldn’t make up what she told police, which he said got her fired. The March 3 police write-up indeed called her a “former employee” of Tanzabar, although it didn’t give details. Another bit that Wells mentioned which wasn’t in the report was that he saw McMahon tearing up papers while he was in the car. Wells believed them to be photographs, though he wasn’t certain if he was told that the alleged nude photos were printed or on McMahon’s phone. Wells also added that the initial issue, which is not reflected in the report, was that the attendant told him that McMahon emerged naked, despite warnings that Tanzabar was a non-nude facility. From there, what he remembered was roughly the same as what the report says.
While Wells had agreed that our conversation was on the record, he has not responded to follow-up messages since then. An email sent to WWE’s senior spokesperson, asking for comment on the probable cause finding and Wells’ statements, has not been returned.
David Bixenspan is a freelance writer from Brooklyn, NY who co-hosts the Between The Sheets podcast every Monday at BetweenTheSheetsPod.com and everywhere else that podcasts are eavailable. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidbix and view his portfolio at Clippings.me/davidbix.