“Catherine Was Held Captive in Her Own Condo,” Attorney Says
By FRANCES SHARPE | Editor-in-Chief
and ALEXANDRIA BORDAS | Reporter
During a three-hour exclusive tour of the Pacific Palisades condo where 1,200 guns, six tons of ammunition and $230,000 in cash were found, the Palisadian-Post witnessed evidence that Catherine Nebron was held hostage in her own home and that her late fiance Jeffrey Lash was not the undercover agent he claimed to be, but rather a charismatic yet controlling con man who charmed multiple women into giving him money.
When attorneys learned the Post had discovered the names of two of Lash’s other lovers, they agreed to the private condo walk-through on Monday, Aug. 24 and exclusive interviews addressing Lash’s relationships with the successful businesswomen who say they financed his obsessive spending habits.
At the attorneys’ request, the Post has agreed not to release the full names of the other women involved with Lash.
A HOSTAGE IN HER OWN HOME
More than a month after Lash’s decomposing body was discovered in an SUV and authorities recovered over 1,200 firearms and over six tons of ammo from the condo on the 1700 block of Palisades Drive in the Highlands neighborhood, private investigator Scott Ross continues to dig through the choking clutter.
Pushing open the door to a bathroom not much larger than a broom closet, Ross said, “This is where he made Catherine live for three years. She slept on yoga mats.”
Starting in 2011 when the bottom floor of the three-level condo got flooded, Lash confined the well-to-do Nebron to a bathroom on the second floor, according to her attorney Harland Braun.
Taped on the peeling bathroom walls are handwritten notes consisting of motivational quotes, sayings and a worn-out piece of paper eerily titled, “Catherine’s Guidelines For Isolation.”
It’s unclear if the note was written by Nebron or Lash.
The toilet inside of her confined living space did not work because there was no running water in the condo. With boxes and weapons stacked high to the ceiling, Nebron had to shuffle her way out of the maze-like condo in order to use the bathroom of a neighbor who agreed to let her shower in her home.
Nebron’s “room” had touches of femininity—a toilet rug, bright teal and peach wallpaper and fuzzy Ugg boots abandoned in a corner. The small wooden shelf next to the unusable shower was littered with papers and receipts—most for “Jeff Lash” or “Steve Green,” another name Lash used in addition to “Bob Smith”—and a recent People magazine.
A kind neighbor routinely drops off the magazine for Nebron, according to Ross.
Once Nebron, whom Braun described as an “intelligent woman from an upper-middle class family who owned a number of properties,” was allowed to move back into her original living space on the ground level, she was restricted to her bedroom and a second bathroom that did not work.
Scott said Lash had built a network of walls throughout the condo and added locks to doors in an effort to isolate Nebron, effectively preventing her from accessing rooms inside the condo she owned.
“LAPD had to break down the doors and drill through the locks to enter,” Ross said.
Nebron’s daily routine was planned and approved by Lash, who mainly had her running errands for him and taking out money orders or cashiers checks so he could continue his lavish spending.
“If he asked her for $2,000, she would say ‘okay.’ She didn’t question it,” Ross said.
Nebron forked over money that Lash used to buy trucks, guns, computers and hordes of other high-priced items.
When Nebron completed her daily tasks, Braun said she would usually go back to her condo and kill time by watching DVDs in her cramped quarters.
“She was physically trapped inside with locked doors and lived in a small area in the condominium,” Braun said. “There was no water, air conditioning or even access to the majority of her home.”
Although Nebron had the ability to leave and go wherever she wanted at any time, she didn’t.
A looming sense of threat kept her completely under Lash’s control, her attorney said.
The mysterious man known to neighbors as “Skinny Bob” had convinced Nebron that he worked as a trained killer for an undercover government agency.
“She would hear Lash having phone conversations that he said were with General Petraeus and Condoleeza Rice,” Braun said.
He may have hit Nebron once and made threats that if she didn’t do as he said, he would have someone in the ‘agency’ kill someone close to her, Braun said.
She believed him.
“Her incarceration was both mental and physical because after a while, how do you get out of it? It almost required his death,” Braun said.
Almost two months after Lash died, Nebron is beginning to accept that the wild tales he told her aren’t true.
“I hope it isn’t true, then I don’t have to feel scared,” Nebron told her attorney, who added, “She feels free now.”
THE OTHER WOMAN
The Post discovered that Nebron wasn’t the only woman Lash had charmed into bankrolling his passions. A Los Angeles woman who had a 31-year relationship with Lash also opened her heart and her pocketbook to the womanizer.
In fact, Michelle L. may have spent more than $1 million supporting Lash, according to her attorney Robert Cohen.
Lash lived with the woman, who runs a successful computer consulting business, from 1986 to 1998 before moving in with Nebron for the last 17 years of his life.
“Sometime in 1998, he told Michelle he was going away for two weeks, but then he suddenly moved in with Catherine,” Cohen said.
As the years passed, Michelle L. kept hoping he would come back to her, Cohen added.
When asked if Michelle L.’s condo is in a state similar to the overwhelming hoarding situation at Nebron’s place, Cohen hesitated to use the ‘H’ word but gave a hint to its condition: “Michelle too has acquired a lot of his personal property over the years, and they were together even longer.”
Even after Lash moved in with Nebron, not a day went by during their decades-long relationship that Michelle L. didn’t speak to him or see him—right up until the day he died.
“This situation is particularly difficult because her longtime lover passed away and she also learned that Catherine was his other lover,” Cohen said.
Unlike Nebron who called him ‘Bob,’ Michelle L. knew him by his birth name, Jeffrey Lash, and Cohen said from his understanding the two had a very loving and caring relationship.
“Michelle is currently recovering from the shock, awe and grief of it all,” Cohen told the Post. “We’re still reeling from this and learning about who this gentleman is, and it is throwing Michelle into a frenzy.”
Michelle L. never gave up on Lash.
Her devotion was evidenced in a daily ritual that Nebron’s Highlands neighbors had found suspicious.
Every night for at least 15 years, Michelle L. would drive to the Highlands in a plate-less Mercedes Benz and drop off large green bags on the doorstep of Nebron’s condo.
Neighbors never discovered what was inside the bags or who this mysterious woman was, but they thought it might be drugs or some other illegal activity.
The truth is far more mundane, according to Cohen.
“Michelle would go to Catherine’s house every day bringing bags of food, groceries, cash and ice [because they couldn’t use the refrigerator] and checking in to make sure he was okay,” Cohen said, solving one of neighbors’ most burning questions. “But she had no idea about his engagement to Catherine, so it’s been difficult for her, most definitely.”
Although Cohen said Lash was persuasive and had a psychological grip on Michelle L., he claimed their relationship wasn’t physically controlling the way Nebron’s was.
“I don’t know if there was any abuse or aggressive behavior, but there was definitely manipulation and a persuasiveness about him that had Michelle hooked,” Cohen said. “She wasn’t restricted to any certain areas in her house and had the freedom to come and go as she pleased.”
Cohen explained that after speaking to witnesses, investigators have discovered Lash had many different personas.
“Investigators noted that Lash treated each person he met very differently,” Cohen said. “Michelle is lucky she didn’t experience any of the negative sides… very lucky.”
Nevertheless, her life was restrained due to her commitment to the man she loved.
“For 31 years, she never took a vacation because she was there for him every single day, and she needed to speak to Catherine every single day,” Cohen said. “She’s now feeling a bit of freedom to go do what she needs to do, to go take care of herself. But it will take a long time for her to heal.”
He added, “She’s dealing with the confusion of this man she believed she had a genuine connection to and she’s grieving a loved one. This will take a long time to overcome.”
A THIRD GIRLFRIEND AND MORE?
In addition to sharing the Highlands condo with Nebron for 17 years and living with Michelle L. for 12 years prior to that, Lash also lived with another woman. For the past 10 years during the same time he was living with Nebron, Lash lived in an apartment on the 18000 block of Coastline Drive in Sunset Mesa with a woman named Jocelyne E.
The Post broke the news about the Sunset Mesa residence on July 23 and attorneys and neighbors have since suggested that Lash had an intimate relationship with this woman as well.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more women that are just too embarrassed to step forward at this point,” Braun said. “Lash would pit the women against each other. Michelle didn’t think Catherine was his girlfriend and Catherine was told Michelle was an ex.”
Like Nebron and Michelle L, Jocelyne E. also has a successful business and is financially well off.
Paul Aguilar of Coastline Property Management, Inc. is the property manager of the apartment where Lash lived with Jocelyne E. He said the lease for the apartment was under Jocelyne E.’s name and she paid the $3,700 rent on the two-bedroom, two-bathroom ocean-view apartment on the hillside near the Getty Villa.
(Note: The Sunset Mesa area has a Malibu zip code but is considered by neighbors to be part of Pacific Palisades.)
Jocelyne E. asked Lash to move out of the apartment about four months ago, according to Aguilar, in part because of his declining health and his inability to walk up and down the stairs leading to her apartment.
During the Post’s tour of Nebron’s condo, Jocelyne E.’s business card was found on a table in the dining room where a number of love letters were also found. A box filled with cards and notes included messages from a woman who signed her name “Mich,” as well as a possible fourth romantic partner named Juliann.
“I think he was conning these women but also conning himself because he believed that everything he was doing and saying was completely normal,” Braun said. “I guess we will never truly know.”
STILL DIGGING OUT
As the women in Lash’s life attempt to deal with the emotional upheaval of his death and betrayal, the cleanup at the Pacific Palisades condo continues.
“In my 37 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said private investigator Ross, who has served as the lead investigator in high-profile cases, including the Michael Jackson trial, Robert Blake murder case and the LAPD Rampart scandal.
Inside the 2,000 square-foot, three-level condo, the evidence of extreme hoarding remains.
Ross pulled out rifles, cross bows, arrows, knives, swords, rifle scopes, magazines and bullets.
“The police couldn’t find all of them,” he told the Post, crawling through a maze of boxes.
Pointing to one customized sniper rifle, Ross said, “This one’s worth about $5,000.”
A life-size 3D bear caught mid-growl and a majestic lion standing amid piles of boxes and bags in the living room appear to have served as target practice for Lash’s crossbow or other bows and arrows.
Weapons weren’t Jeffrey Lash’s only obsession.
The two-bedroom plus den, three-bath condo valued at close to $1 million is still piled high with a disarray of containers holding expensive gear: brand new top-of-the-line cameras and lenses (mostly Nikon and Canon models worth thousands of dollars each), never-been-used computers (VAIO, Fujitsu), high-powered binoculars and Palm Pilots. “There were probably a thousand Palm Pilots,” Ross said.
In addition to amassing a cache of weapons and tech gadgets, Lash hoarded new clothing (camouflage gear, North Face Gore-Tex jackets), thousands of books (everything from Eckhart Tolle and Ralph Waldo Emerson to self-help books and Harry Potter), CDs and DVDs.
“There were about 50,000-60,000 CDs and 20,000-25,000 DVDs,” Ross said.
Opening one box at random revealed a rifle scope, computer software and camouflage clothing—all wrapped in the original packaging.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” Ross said shaking his head.
As the probate hearing for Lash’s estate draws near and his assets are inventoried and placed into storage, Braun said at least nine people claiming to be Lash’s cousins have stepped forward and are angling for his estate.
Cohen and Braun are working together to ensure both Michelle L. and Nebron receive a fair amount of money for the many years they financially supported Lash.
“Nebron’s condominium was extensively damaged during the time Lash lived with her, about $300,000 worth of damages. She supported and provided him with money that he in turn used to purchase guns, so she definitely has a stake,” Braun told the Post.
Michelle L. may have spent upwards of $1 million to satisfy Lash’s indulgences, Cohen said.
“The ladies are working together matching up their stories, and we are all collaborating to prepare our case,” Braun said.
Braun said Nebron is transitioning nicely into her newfound freedom. She has been staying in a nearby hotel until her condo is cleared out and livable.
“She’s accepting that she spent 17 years of her life giving Lash everything and I think she will live a normal life after this,” Braun said. “She is really looking forward to moving back home in the coming weeks and to start working again.”
Cohen said Michelle L. has continued working despite the traumatic ordeal and has been trying to lay low until she comes to grips with the reality of the situation.
“The 10 days where Catherine was in Oregon and Lash had passed away Michelle had no communication with anyone for the first time in 31 years and was going absolutely crazy,” Cohen said. “Now she is back in communication with Catherine, which is helping tremendously.”
Is a book or movie deal in Nebron’s future?
Braun said, “People are offering Catherine book deals and movie scripts but the question is, what’s the ending?”
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