Beware the cool mom. She says she’d prefer you and your friends not drink, but, if you must, she’d rather you do it in the house, where you’ll at least be safe, which, I promise, you won’t be. She’s against drugs, but will not come down hard on you for it, as long as you keep it at home and let her have a toke, just to make sure it’s on the up-and-up. She’s against pre-marital sex, but says, if you must, because of urges, please not in the car, nor in some dirty motel, but here, in the guest room at the big house by the shore—no, not that room, nor that one, nor that one, nor that one (her house is huge) but in the one at the end of the hall by the maid’s quarters and laundry.
Please hear me now!
No matter if you’ve had an entire case of white-wine coolers or a bottle of schnapps; no matter if you’ve been dating the girl since freshman year and you truly love each other; no matter if you’ve known Mrs. Palmer (“Call me Hadley”) and her husband (“Call him Brad”) since you were 10; no matter if Hadley and Bradley live in one of the swankest houses in Belle Haven, one of the toniest sections of Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the richest towns in America …
Do not go into that room!
If you don’t believe me, check out the legal papers recently filed in the State Superior Court in Stamford, Connecticut, where 53-year-old Hadley Palmer of Greenwich, after striking a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to three counts of voyeurism and one count of risk of injury to a minor.
In short, inside Hadley’s mansion—a $10 million Victorian on Long Island Sound—a camera or cameras filmed the friends of her children (four) or the children of her friends (once innumerable, now not so many) doing the sort of things people tend to do in private. Evidence includes footage of someone “either naked or in their underwear [made] with the intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desire of such person (defendant) or any other person.” According to Captain Mark E. Zuccerella, of the Greenwich Police Department, “At least one of the victims was 15 or younger.”
Inside Hadley’s mansion—a $10 million Victorian on Long Island Sound—a camera or cameras filmed the friends of her children.
“Between 2017 and 2018, the defendant knowingly photographed, filmed and recorded certain individuals without their knowledge or consent, and under circumstances where those individuals were not in plain view, and had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and at least one photograph taken by the defendant depicted a person who was a minor,” Judge John Blawie wrote in the ruling.
There are two pictures to keep in mind when considering the fate of Hadley Palmer, who, not long ago, was a member of the charity-party circuit, the coolest mom in a land of arrested development. The first shows Hadley smiling and blonde beside her husband, Bradley (he looks about like you’d expect), in a black sleeveless dress and a delicate silver necklace posed before a modern painting filled with nudes (foreshadowing) at a benefit in New York City in 2016. The second shows Hadley alone and under arrest, red eyes filled with despair, in a state-issued outfit that looks itchy—that’s the enormity of the fall.
Though her crimes were committed in 2017, news of them broke, or exploded—that’s how they hit Greenwich, like an atomic device that detonates a hundred feet off the ground—shortly after Hadley Palmer pleaded guilty in January. Judge Blawie agreed to keep all case records sealed, an arrangement that, though it was meant to protect the victims, angered many community members. Blawie did, however, write a summary that appeared in a part of the file that was not sealed.
The fact that such records are almost always open to the professionally and recreationally curious makes the Palmer arrangement seem like evidence of a double standard, one for the average pervert caught molesting at the Y.M.C.A. and one for the über-rich like Hadley Palmer, who owns multiple homes, including two in Greenwich and one on Martha’s Vineyard, is in the process of divorcing the millionaire venture capitalist Bradley C. Palmer (Tom Wolfe names, all of them), is a graduate of the Hopkins School and a fixture on the Fairfield County philanthropy circuit—see the picture of Hadley and Bradley in hippie dress at the Avon Theatre’s “Summer of Love 1967!” fundraiser; the love beads, the little round John Lennon glasses, the discordant glass of Chablis—and is a daughter of Jerrold Fine, who founded one of America’s first hedge funds.
Hadley won’t be officially sentenced till August, but, in what seems like a rush to get on with it, is already doing time in the Janet S. York Correctional Institute, in Niantic, Connecticut, where she is inmate No. 439165. She will serve anywhere from 90 days to five years, followed by 20 years of probation and inclusion on the sex-offender registry.
Meanwhile, life goes on, with the Palmers in the midst of an acrimonious divorce. Leaked news of the contretemps in Belle Haven might have something to do with the split, of course, but in any case both parties have employed private dicks to find ways to pressure the other. The Palmers have four children: three are grown; the fourth is the object of a custody battle.
But here’s what really kills me. Hadley Palmer’s father, Jerrold Fine, a financier who spent his late years in Westport, Connecticut, working on a Wall Street novel—Make Me Even and I’ll Never Gamble Again—is a public-school kid from Cincinnati, Ohio. He left the Midwest to follow his ambition cross-country to New York. He found his niche in finance, made his pile, built his mansion, lived his dream, and look where it all led. To the women’s correctional facility in Niantic, where his daughter is inmate No. 439165. On a 2018 trip back to his high school to discuss his novel with students, Fine spoke words that can stand as a kicker for this entire sordid episode: “You can study poker,” he said. “You can count the cards, you can know all the probabilities, but every time a card turns over, everything changes.”
Rich Cohen’s new book is The Adventures of Herbie Cohen: World’s Greatest Negotiator. He is a Writer at Large for Air Mail