Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the "DC Madam" who was convicted in April of charges related to her famous prostitution ring, died today in an apparent suicide at her mother's house in Florida. She was 52. Palfrey was busted in October of 2006, and it wasn't long before she captured national attention by threatening to release her phone records—records that could've destroyed the careers of hundreds of Washington politicians and officials. Or so went speculation at the time.
Palfrey, a former receptionist, cocktail waitress, and probable escort herself, began her escort service under the name "Pamela Martin & Associates" in 1993. By 2006 her girls charged $300-per-hour and allegedly counted as clients thousands of important Washington figures.
She was finally busted in 2006 (by the Post Office!), whereupon she began her second career as an inescapable media figure (in DC, at least). She made headlines by threatening to sell her client list to pay for her attorneys—attorneys she kept firing, until finally deciding to defend herself. The presiding judge eventually convinced her to take a court-appointed lawyer as the case went to court this February.
Meanwhile, Palfrey continued insisting she'd done nothing illegal. She was merely offering an "erotic fantasy service." The first high-profile johns Palfrey outed—Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias and some think-tank nut—admitted no wrong-doing. Tobias did eventually resign.
As her trial for money laundering and racketeering drew closer, Palfrey found herself settling into a comfortable role as a media talking head—DC's own unrepentant Heidi Fleiss, happy to opine on the whoring of great men in case tomorrow's column was looking a little dry.
Faced with the convictions on all charges, though, and possible jail time, well—who the hell knows what was really going on. You never do.
Now we await the conspiracy theorists who'll swear she was killed by the government before she could reveal that Dick Cheney was a client, or something.