Betrayal, Murder, and Money

Good morning, Allegedly readers. 

We are back! 

Since an explanation of our sporadic schedule is a bit boring, let’s get right to today’s edition: We chatted with longtime New York Post reporters Rebecca Rosenberg and Selim Algar whose book, At Any Cost: A Father's Betrayal, a Wife's Murder, and a Ten-Year War for Justice, came out several weeks ago. 

Their book chronicles the life and death of Shele Danishefsky, a successful Wall Street financier who eagerly wanted to build a family. Enter Rod Covlin. The Ivy League graduate, whom she met at a Jewish singles event in 1998, seemed to be the man of Shele’s dreams, quickly sweeping her off her feet. They married shortly thereafter, but Shele’s hopes for a fairytale life quickly faded. While they had the children Shele so desperately wanted, Rod lived off her financial and emotional labor, indulging in dalliances and an obsession with high stakes backgammon. Shele decided to divorce Rod in 2009 and planned to cut him out of her will.   

On New Year’s Eve that year, Shele’s lifeless body was found in the bathtub of her Upper West Side home. The New York Police department decided that Shele’s death was an accident. Disputes between Shele’s family and the Covlins over child custody and money fanned the flames of suspicion that her death wasn’t an accident. In 2019, Rod was convicted of second-degree murder for killing Shele and hit with the maximum sentence—25 years-to-life. 

Allegedly didn’t think it would be appropriate for us to review the book, as we’re friends with Rebecca and Selim, but we have been talking with them about the reporting and writing process anyway and figured, why not write this down? 

Anyway, here is Allegedly’s interview with Rebecca and Selim. It’s been edited for length and clarity.

Allegedly: Rebecca, you’ve covered courts for a long time. Out of all the crimes you’ve covered, what made this one stick out? 

Rebecca: I think what was most interesting about it was just that he almost got away with it, and how long it took for them to finally build a case. And that had Marc Karstaedt [Shele’s brother-in-law] and her family not pushed so hard,  he never would have been brought to justice. The other element that fascinated me was that it was such a circumstantial case.  It was just so different from some of the other cases you cover. You don't have that smoking gun. You have all these little strands, woven together, where it's like, it couldn't be anybody else. It actually was an incredibly powerful case, even though it was circumstantial, I think, also, the characters in the courtroom were perfect for that courtroom theater. 

I think, also, just the stuff with the kids, which is so incredibly tragic. They went through what they went through, and even at the end of the day, the daughter wrote a letter of support. The kids just couldn't accept that their father did this. I think, also, just the failure of the family court system to protect them. Even with everything going on, the kids remained with the Covlins—even though every single warning sign, because there was such a strong [mandate] to keep kids with a parent if you can . Even in this case, when there was every reason not to. You just wonder: how differently would their lives turned out had they been raised with the Danishefskys or Karstaedts rather than the Covlins?

Allegedly: For someone who’s not familiar, could you explain how this is an example of family court family failing?

Rebecca:  The courts already knew that there was a problem here, right before she was killed. There was a restraining order against Rod. There were threats. There was all kinds of really alarming stuff going on. And then she dies, he's the prime suspect, yet the two kids are still with him. And then at one point, the kids end up technically in the custody of his parents, but he's living in the house and has full access to them. And all these really terrible details emerge about what he's doing with them, his instabilities. 

He's trying to do these manipulative things to get his hands on the money. They still do not remove these kids from this really dysfunctional environment. You have all these lawsuits going on at once. They're really slow. They take forever. And the courts are just always favoring Rod. And the longer the kids are with his family, the less the courts want to move them, even in the face of all of this. 

Selim: I think the custody issue just sort of illuminated how dysfunctional the bureaucracy in the city is on that front. And I think it really sort of drove home how prejudicial the courts are in favor of simply going for the easiest route. In other words, they don't want to take them from the primary parent, because they think, automatically, that it confers some basic stability for the kids, even when it's pretty plain that it doesn't. To me, that was one of the sort of bleaker aspects, how the safeguards, the societal safeguards that are supposed to be put up for kids who really have no control over their own fate, failed them.  

Allegedly:  You’re parents. So as you’re both writing this, the more that you go into it and confronted what these kids were going through, how did it feel? 

Selim: We have two young kids, eight and three now. I think it certainly adds another dimension of just comprehending what they're going through. And the latter part of the book, where it sort of becomes plain that these kids are simply unable to fathom that perhaps their father was involved in something like this, to me, it was really sad.  I mean, it's a form of love, I guess, to think that your father or your mother, perhaps in another instance, are simply incapable of these things. It shows sort of that bond, between parent and child. In most instances, that is a positive, uplifting thought, and this one, it, it's sort of the flip side of that, and it was pretty depressing, I would say. 

Allegedly: You both have full-time jobs, and did this book with full-time jobs and two kids? How did you manage to do it?

Selim: We came to the realization pretty early that this was going to be a challenge. Our days are pretty hectic, with the newspaper job. So when we filed our stories for the day, we would get to work. Initially, we tried to do it at home and then kids would start rampaging through the house. It quickly became clear: We just simply wouldn't be able to do it. When you have this deadline, staring you in the face, and a lot of people sort of depending on you, you have to take evasive and extreme action, which in my case, was accepting the residence of my mother-in-law in the house for four months.  She was kind enough, let me rephrase: she was kind enough to come from Seattle, where Rebecca is originally from, to help us out.

Rebecca: I would probably say we only made it out, with our work schedules,, maybe one day of the week, maybe toward the end it would be two days. Or when we took time off work, it was every day. But every weekend, when my mom wasn't here, we had to pay a babysitter. We would go for 10 hours. We had three cafes we would switch  between. I’d go to the pie shop and I'd have all the sort of pie. So I’d have pie for breakfast and lunch. And then we would go to this ramen place for dinner and work there. It was really a punishing schedule. It was not easy. In the end, we got an extension from six months to maybe, eight. Had I not covered the trial before we started writing it, I think it would have been impossible, honestly. I had basically done the this huge chunk of work already. I already had read through all the motions. I had been covering the case since he was arrested, and so it was just a matter of reviewing things I've already seen and obtaining more things, and then doing these additional interviews. Had that work not been done before, I don't know how anybody could have done that.

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Thank you for reading Allegedly this week. As Allegedly mentioned earlier, our reason for a sporadic publishing schedule is boring, but here it is: We are exhausted after 13 months of the pandemic and everything else in 2020 that has continued into 2021. 

We care about bringing you New York City’s courts and crime news— so very much–but things might be a little less frequent for a while. So, please be patient while we figure out how to bring you more stories.  <3