Edward Savitz, Main Figure In Sex Scandal, Dies Of Aids The Allegations Forced Him Into The Public Eye. He Was To Have Gone On Trial April 5.

Posted: March 29, 1993

Edward I. Savitz, 51, the meek Center City actuary whose bizarre sexual fetishes made him front page news in Philadelphia and the nation last year, died Saturday of AIDS.

Mr. Savitz died at a Philadelphia hospice, where he had been transferred about a week ago by court order. Previously, he had been held in the prison wing of Girard Medical Center.

"He's finally at peace and he is no longer tormented by those who accused him of infecting thousands with AIDS," said Barnaby C. Wittels, his lawyer. ''The facts are that no one ever got AIDS from this man, and he is as yet untried and therefore cloaked in the presumption of innocence.

"He should be remembered for his intelligence and kindness and for all the good he did for others," Wittels said. "That is his true legacy."

Before his arrest on March 25, 1992, on charges that he had sexually molested four teenage boys, Mr. Savitz had what appeared to be a comfortable upper-middle-class existence. He lived at the Wanamaker House in Rittenhouse Square and worked as vice president of the Savitz Organization, a successful consulting firm founded by his brother Samuel in 1968.

But Mr. Savitz's world began to self-destruct in 1991. He was diagnosed with AIDS in June, and in September a 20-year-old man told police that Mr. Savitz routinely paid him and others for sexual favors.

The next month, seven students at St. John Neumann High School in South Philadelphia gave a counselor detailed accounts of visits to the man they called "Fast Eddie" or "Uncle Eddie." They estimated that "50 students or more" had had contact with him in his Center City condominium - contact that included oral sex and anal intercourse, posing nude for photographs, and selling him their feces or dirty socks and underwear.

And contact, it was later revealed, that may have involved hundreds of boys as young as 13, going back 20 years.

Cries of "Fast Eddie's dead!" were trumpeted yesterday on the streets of Grays Ferry, the South Philadelphia neighborhood that provided Mr. Savitz with so much business.

"I'm glad he's dead," said Keith Monaghan of the 2700 block of Dickinson Street, who appeared to be in his late 20s. "He gave Grays Ferry a bad reputation that it didn't deserve."

A few said they were genuinely sorry Mr. Savitz was gone. "I think it's a shame he died and all, but in a way, it's better because he won't have to go through all that suffering," said a 19-year-old, who said he had visited Mr. Savitz many times to sell his clothing.

Health-care activists and Mr. Savitz's long-ago friends reacted with compassion.

Stanley Coren, who grew up 10 blocks away from Mr. Savitz in Wynnefield and was his classmate from elementary school through college, said he felt only pity. "I am as much saddened, I suppose, by the loss of the potential in him and also because it was one of those high school presumptions you make that, well, at least I know a couple of people who are going to turn out OK," said Coren, a well-known author and experimental neuropsychologist at the University of British Columbia.

Francis J. Stoffa Jr., executive director of the AIDS Task Force of Philadelphia, said he felt "great compassion for the guy." But he also criticized the way Mr. Savitz's case was handled by the media, city officials and the courts. "In my professional life, I never saw anything like it," he said.

The case damaged public perceptions of people with AIDS, Stoffa said. "It was a horrible, horrible stereotype of a gay man. The Savitz case should be viewed for what it is - a unique case, a pathetic case. He was unto himself."

The break in the Savitz case came on March 5, 1992, when Philadelphia's Department of Human Services relayed the Neumann counselor's information to police. There followed allegations of foot-dragging and miscommunication among police, child welfare authorities and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, each

blaming the other for not acting or not acting fast enough on the original information.

Mr. Savitz's arrest - and the subsequent discovery of 187 trash bags full of soiled underwear in his rented storage locker - triggered a sensational media frenzy. It panicked entire neighborhoods and transformed this unassuming, obscure and sadly obsessive man into one of the city's more notorious and tragic figures.

The shocking revelations about his sexual habits and rituals - and the legions of young men who willingly catered to them to make a buck - stunned parents and others. The allegations also ricocheted through a city bureaucracy that immediately came in for criticism.

Activists in the gay and health-care communities objected to District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham and Health Commissioner Robert K. Ross holding a news conference to announce the arrest of Mr. Savitz, whom they would not name. Activists accused the two - and the media - of fueling public hysteria over AIDS. At the height of the furor, members of Act Up pelted the district attorney with packaged condoms, claiming she was "playing politics with an epidemic."

The upset over Mr. Savitz was at its most virulent in the working-class neighborhoods of Grays Ferry, South Philadelphia, Two Street, Kensington, Schuylkill and the Northeast, where his young acquaintances lived. He was the talk of the street corners - and the many calls to AIDS hotlines.

Finally, the uproar subsided. And Stoffa's task force began educating parents and children about AIDS. "We worked in the neighborhoods, in community centers, in people's kitchens and living rooms," Stoffa said. ''Maybe for the first time, parents began to talk to their children."

Generally, he said, parents and children coped with the news of Mr. Savitz's arrest and illness with denial. "No parent wants to believe the child went along with all this," he said. "Everyone wants to believe the child was snatched off a playground."

But reality interceded. "We shouldn't fool ourselves into believing that we know our kids, or that somehow our neighborhoods or our kids are immune

from this," Stoffa said. "A lot of parents had their eyes opened by this."

Mr. Savitz had been scheduled to go to trial next Monday on 22 criminal charges - involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, promoting prostitution, corrupting the morals of minors and sexual abuse of children. He had pleaded not guilty.

On March 19, Wittels told Common Pleas Court Judge Legrome D. Davis that Mr. Savitz was close to death and would not make it to trial. He asked that his client be allowed to enter an AIDS hospice to "die with dignity."

The judge lowered Mr. Savitz's bail - which at one point had been as high as $20 million - from $200,000 to $160,000. His family paid it and he was moved to a hospice.

Wittels said he would go to court today to ask that the case against Mr. Savitz be dropped.

Mr. Savitz was one of four sons born to Paul and Ann Gechman Savitz, who were Russian emigres. His father ran a penny arcade at 16th and Market Streets.

He attended William Cullen Bryant Elementary School, Sayre Junior High School and West Philadelphia High School, where he was vice chairman of the school senate, a member of the choir, a talented organist and pianist, and editor-in-chief of the yearbook.

Mr. Savitz won many honors and was voted most likely to succeed, most versatile and best student. He was awarded a full academic scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, the only one from his school that year.

At Penn, Mr. Savitz pursued his interest in music, joining the men's glee club. He was a member of the men's student government; Pi Gamma Mu, a national honor society for social science students, and Sigma Tau Sigma, a service organization. He graduated in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in economics.

That same year he wed Judith Widman, now a lawyer in Center City. They divorced a decade later.

Mr. Savitz went on to work for his brother's multimillion-dollar actuarial firm. His advice was apparently sought after; in 1988, Money magazine quoted him as an expert on annuities.

Besides his brother Samuel, Mr. Savitz is survived by a brother Bernard.

A private funeral and burial were held yesterday.

Memorial contributions may be made to Betak Hospice, 7141 McCallum St., Philadelphia 19119.

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