Imagine, for a frightful second or two, that you were one of the early
investors in American Biomaterials Corporation. You sank thousands of
dollars of your precious nest egg into the Morgan Lane-based biotech
start-up company that was hoping to market an artificial bone
substance called Bioglass that had promise of restoring hearing in
You trusted the execution of this business plan to an unorthodox but
aggressive former medical product salesman named Bill MacKay.
Unorthodox, you concede, because MacKay’s most prominent credential
was the national notoriety he earned in the mid 1970s when it was
revealed that, in his role as a medical salesman, he had supposedly
gone into operating rooms, helped out otherwise bumbling physicians,
and in some cases actually completed procedures that surgeons couldn’t
do himself. MacKay’s exploits were written up in an as-told-to memoir
entitled "Salesman Surgeon," published in 1978.
But soon after MacKay took over American Biomaterials, your trust
began to erode. Money from the company till appeared to be
underwriting the expensive dog-showing hobby of the chief executive
officer and his family. The company had purchased a motor home for the
boss, valued at nearly $100,000, that seemed to be used to transport
him and his family (six kids between him and his wife, Joyce) to dog
shows, more than it was used to do company business. And by means of a
special arrangement, the company advanced MacKay a personal loan of
about a quarter million dollars to pay off the mortgage on his six
bedroom home on four acres on River Road, just off Route 206 in
The house quickly sprouted some fancy new additions — a kennel for up
to 25 Doberman pinchers, a swimming pool, and a jacuzzi. Subsequent
review of the books made some believe that workers hired for projects
at American Biomaterials in fact did work on MacKay’s house. And that
personal loan on the property never was repaid.
By the time it all fell apart (U.S. 1, August, 1987), MacKay and his
chief financial officer, Muncie Russell, faced not only civil but also
As one of the jilted investors, you took some satisfaction at the
five-year sentence — the maximum — that MacKay received (he began
his time at Danbury, Connecticut, and later was transferred to
Minersville, Pennsylvania, where he is scheduled to serve until 1995).
And you agreed with the court when it extracted a settlement from
Joyce MacKay that she and MacKay’s mother, Muriel, whose name was also
on the property, pay $100,000 in damages.
And, of course, you expected that the house would be disposed of by
the American Biomaterials "estate." Even though your stock is worth
nothing, the proceeds from the sale of the house and the other
settlements would be some small measure of your investment — a token
at least of your participation until the bitter, bitter end.
Except now even that deal is unraveling. Joyce MacKay didn’t pay the
$100,000. And instead of quietly walking away from the house and
letting it go to auction, she is fighting to stay, and pleading for a
deal from the attorneys representing the investors so that she can
continue to live there and make a go of her one-year old business and
sole means of support, a boarding kennel for dogs.
No way, you say.
But she argues otherwise — put that house up for auction, she says,
and the person who gets it will be Bill MacKay himself. Far from the
luxurious estate that you imagine it to be, she says, the house is in
disrepair, suffering from water damage caused by its close proximity
to the Millstone River. The most substantial improvement is the kennel
and dog runs, surrounded by chain link fence. But unless you have 25
dogs or so, or run a kennel, it’s worth nothing. The improvements that
investors may think went into the house must have gone someplace else,
Joyce MacKay says. "Bill MacKay created things, he didn’t maintain
Someone, somehow, she says, will show up at the auction secretly
representing Bill MacKay. Why would MacKay, sequestered in a
Pennsylvania prison, want anything to do with a house on four acres in
a community where he has been thoroughly discredited?
Because, says Joyce, he works in circles. "He’s repeated his life over
and over again, trying to get it right." The six-bedroom house on four
acres just outside Princeton would give him "the street image" that he
wants for relatively little cost. And by taking back the house and
getting Joyce out of the way, he could turn over that kennel operation
to his oldest son, who has shown an interest in the business. MacKay
would be a hero in his son’s eyes.
If MacKay pulls this off, his former wife argues, it will be his
ultimate Princeton scam and you investors will once again be played
for the dupes.
No way, you say again.
But then you begin to think of all the times you have been a dupe in
the Bill MacKay story. Not just you, of course, but people like the
author of this column, for example. A dupe? Sort of. The research for
this column opened up three thick file folders of material gathered
five years ago when the American Biomaterials improprieties first came
to light. Scattered through the papers were interviews with some of
MacKay’s earliest investors. "This isn’t a case for the SEC," said the
investors. "This man should be investigated by the FBI."
For this reporter it all sounded like the sour grapes of unwary
investors. With the glaring light of publicity shining on him,
following MacKay would be about as exciting as tracking a choirboy on
his way to church.
Some church. In the weeks and months following his dismissal from
American Biomaterials, MacKay retreated to his home on River Road and
established a new business, United Capital. Working in concert with a
Florida man named James Laiacona, also known as James Lindell, MacKay
was arrested in March of 1990 on a federal charge that he made false
statements to investors in a "shell" company that was supposedly
merging with a hot little biotech start-up company. This one made
ophthalmic devices. Even after he was caught on this scam, sources
say, MacKay struck a deal to cooperate with the FBI in exchange for a
light sentence. But then, so the story goes, MacKay tried to pull some
sort of deal on the FBI. He got the maximum.
So investors and reporters might well think twice about Joyce MacKay’s
position: Maybe she does have a point.
But for her last name, Joyce MacKay’s predicament today
would be no different from scores of other middle-aged women fighting
for their homes after bitter divorce proceedings. If hers were a
normal parting of ways by divorce, her interest in the house (and that
of the six children) might be protected by New Jersey’s equitable
distribution principle: since both of them acquired the house, she
would be entitled to a substantial portion of it.
But in Joyce MacKay’s case, what she was investing in her marriage to
MacKay turned out to be nothing that she imagined. And in that sense,
her story is not much different from that of any other investor. Joyce
MacKay long ago gave up her career as a operating room nurse to marry
MacKay, raise the kids, be the CEO wife, and participate with him in
the raising and showing of championship dogs. After his demise, Joyce
MacKay turned that interest — the dogs — into an activity that
actually raised some money to help her keep house and home together.
She says that for a few months after MacKay went to prison, she
received monthly support payments of $1,000 from him — filtered
through a Montgomery Township businessman and buddy of MacKay.
But soon the payments ended and her sole means of support came from
the dog kennel and grooming business she developed on the property:
Bed and Biscuit. And now her time is near to lose it all.
The investors of American Biomaterials essentially have won the house
in a civil proceeding against MacKay. Represented by Nola Bencze, now
with the Alexander Park law firm of Jamieson, Moore, Peskin, and
Spicer, the investors have won an order from the bankruptcy court,
paving the way for a public auction of the house, possibly within the
next few months.
Bencze hasn’t returned phone calls on the MacKay matter. But Gerald
Mauder, the man who took the reins of American Biomaterials after the
departure of MacKay, sums up the dilemma: "My human spirit," Mauder
says, "wants to believe Joyce, but my logic says that I shouldn’t
believe a thing."
The logic goes like this:
The company essentially paid for the house, for a $233,000 mortgage
that MacKay never repaid (and apparently never recorded as a
mortgage). And now that the company is in bankruptcy the house is an
asset that rightfully should be distributed to the shareholders.
Mauder, the CEO who picked up the pieces after MacKay, is not a
shareholder and stands to gain nothing from a sale of the house. But
Mauder initiated many of the proceedings against MacKay on behalf of
the shareholders. And he stands by the decision to include Joyce as a
defendant in the civil proceedings.
"We felt we had sufficient evidence of her participation in the
fraud," says Mauder. But couldn’t she have been ignorant of her
husband’s excesses? "At times her personal American Express bill
exceeded Bill’s salary," responds Mauder.
At the civil proceeding, neither Russell nor MacKay showed up. His
mother told the court she was to ill to appear. And so Joyce was there
alone, claiming to be unaware of all her husband’s shenanigans. But
later, and she now concedes, it was discovered that she had been in
daily touch with MacKay, who had been calling her from a car phone.
At the sentencing hearing for MacKay after he had been convicted of
criminal charges, MacKay made an impassioned plea to Judge Maryanne
Trump Barry that he be allowed to hold his family together. Joyce was
there in court, standing by her man.
Joyce’s story goes like this, and it’s one that only
now, at the age of 50, is she really beginning to understand.
"I often wonder why, of all the men in the world, I ended up with Bill
MacKay," she says. "I now realize that I had a very abusive, scary,
domineering father. My first husband was an intimidating man — a
surgeon at the hospital where I worked as a nurse. And I was the only
one who would stand up to him in the OR."
Joyce was born and raised on Long Island, where her father worked as
an aircraft mechanic and her mother was a telephone operator. Joyce,
one of three kids, went to nursing school and eventually got a job at
a brand new hospital in Smithtown, where she met her first husband,
the surgeon, and Bill MacKay, the salesman for Zimmer orthopedic
He was a good salesman, Joyce recalls. "When I had my first child he
brought a hand-made Raggedy Ann doll as a gift." Then in the mid ’70s,
when her first marriage ended, Joyce recalls MacKay offering moral
support. "It was a vulnerable time for me. I was 31, my husband was
42. He took up with a 19-year-old girl."
Bill and Joyce got married in 1975 — she had one child from her first
marriage, and Bill had three from his first. Though the new family
didn’t have much money, Joyce recalls Bill striving to make himself
appear more affluent than he was. "When we first met, Bill told me
that he had been married twice before, that one wife had been Julie
Revson, heiress to the Revlon fortune, and that her father had paid
big money to have the marriage annulled. That was before I realized
that Bill was a pathological liar. Now I don’t even know if there is a
During their romance, MacKay used to drive Joyce past a huge house in
Brookville — on Chicken Valley Road — and another in Garden City,
and tell her that some day they would be buying one or the other of
them. "We ended up in an apartment in Roslyn."
MacKay began to run his medical products sales company out of their
home. Joyce helped with the business and found herself enjoying it. "I
had enough background with the medical products that I was able to
deal with both the hospitals and the manufacturers." The business
began to grow, but the family still struggled financially. "You got
paid commissions on your sales, but if the company didn’t get paid for
the product, you lost it." As a salesman, Joyce now figures, "Bill was
always going for the quick kill. He never looked down the road. If he
had gone slow, he would have been great."
Bill MacKay’s life soon took a strange turn when he became the focal
point of an inquiry into operating room procedures at Smithtown
Hospital. The inquiry alleged that surgeons were unfamiliar with the
medical device they were installing and on several occasions had to
summon the salesman — MacKay — into the operating room to help them
complete the operation.
MacKay quickly turned his notoriety into a hardcover book. In it he
claimed that he stole cadavers from morgues and presented them to
hospitals desperately needing them for educational purposes. And he
boasted about bailing out one bumbling physician after another, on
some occasions literally taking over the operation so that the patient
could be sewn up successfully. As people look back on MacKay’s career
now, they wonder how much of the book was true.
His ghost writer, Maureen Mylander, later admitted that he told her to
make up certain sections of it. And even the $50,000 advance for the
book turned out to be a sour deal for MacKay’s writing partner: she
said in 1987 that both of their shares had been garnished by a dentist
with whom MacKay apparently had a financial disagreement. Joyce MacKay
remembers it differently: she recalls her husband getting the advance
and using it to furnish the offices of his new executive search firm.
She suspects MacKay might have concocted another story for his writing
Even though MacKay’s medical products career was temporarily stymied
by the "Surgeon Salesman" controversy, he quickly rebounded. "Bill was
always able to turn things around," says Joyce. He started an
employment agency with a partner, Larry Orbach, and began to sell
franchises in the business. But that business, too, ended in a flurry
of controversy, with charges that MacKay had bilked several
Contacted in 1987, Orbach was a reluctant source. His comments a
decade before had gotten him into "about five years of litigation with
MacKay." But, Orbach noted, "according to the book he only has an
eighth grade education. He happens to be extremely intelligent. No one
ever took advantage of Bill MacKay. Basically it’s not a good idea to
co-own anything with him."
After the employment agency endeavor, MacKay returned to medical
sales, and ended up moving the family to South Knoxville, Tennessee.
Joyce recalls that the new job "never materialized" and that the
family — by then including a pack of show dogs that they had begun
assembling — literally had to move out in the middle of the night to
That was in 1982 or ’83, Joyce recalls, and the move was to the house
on River Road in Belle Mead. MacKay chose that location because he had
been contacted by a medical supply company that was planning to move
to the Cranbury area. Joyce had done the shopping: "We needed a place
that would allow dogs," she recalls, "and it had to have owner
financing. We would never qualify for a mortgage."
They found the house and Bill also soon found a new job — as a
consultant to a tiny biotech startup operating from a kitchen table in
a Virginia suburb. That was the home of Llewellyn Jones-Parks, a
housewife who had become intrigued by artificial bone technology being
developed by some University of Florida professors. The company was
called Larc, and it was the predecessor to American Biomaterials.
Joyce MacKay recalls that "all he did was go to Virginia. At one point
I said, `We can’t live this way. Why don’t we move to Virginia?’ But
then the company moved here, to Herrontown Road."
Incongruously Bill MacKay, the eighth grade dropout, the cadaver thief
and salesman surgeon, the man with the cloudy record selling
employment agency franchises, the guy who couldn’t qualify for a
mortgage, was tapped as CEO of American BioMaterials at the moment the
tiny firm came into a huge windfall via a multi-million dollar initial
Money was soon no problem for the MacKays. Though the original
owner-financing on the River Road house was for only $140,000,
American Biomaterials refinanced it for $233,000. MacKay’s contract
eventually called for a salary of $250,000, plus the use of a personal
car — he picked out a Mercedes.
"This was enormous for us," recalls Joyce MacKay. "He was making very
big money. He would come home and turn over his entire paycheck to
me." But the CEO of this money-hungry biotech start-up firm always had
cash on hand. Joyce remembers her husband carrying around huge amounts
of cash. Mauder confirms the story: "Every time he and Joyce would
have a fight, he would come into the office with a briefcase filled
with cash." The money, apparently, was cash he had taken out of safe
at home just in case his wife locked him out of the house.
Then the American Biomaterials deal fell apart. It was, in the
retrospective view of MacKay’s accusers, a classic operation. Among
the charges: That MacKay — aided by the executive vice president and
secretary-treasurer of American Biomaterials, Muncie Russell — had
created an executive search firm to which American Biomaterials had
paid more than $400,000 in fees for recruiting various employees.
Joyce MacKay now says she agreed to the $100,000 civil settlement
because MacKay had assured her that he would take care of it for her.
"I had to believe it. That was my only source of income. I didn’t know
that this man really left us high and dry. I didn’t know about his
girfriend on Long Island
And she says that, even at the criminal sentencing, she still held
hopes that the family somehow could stay together. "Bill convinced
everyone that he would get a suspended sentence and that we would all
be together again."
One week before the criminal sentencing, when the MacKays were also
engaged in their divorce action, Bill made one more show of devotion
at the house. He showed up as if he was ready to move back in, Joyce
recalls, and produced a suitcase with $140,000 in cash. "He sat there
and showed it to me — in $100 bills. I still wanted to believe in
Bill. I really did." My daughter said: "Why now? He had all year to
But Judge Barry didn’t believe MacKay and sentenced him to the maximum
prison term. And soon Joyce MacKay came to the same realization —
that MacKay had been lying to her all along. While he had been running
United Capital he had been creating a new life for himself back on
Long Island. Among his new acquisitions: a woman he described as his
wife, and a huge house on Chicken Valley Road in Brookville — the
same house he had shown Joyce back when he was trying to impress her
in the mid ’70s. It was another circle in MacKay’s life.
After a while the implausible begins to sound plausible.
And after a while, if you are really cynical, you wonder if Joyce
MacKay herself could still be in cahoots with MacKay. Could Bill
MacKay be capable of that kind of double scam?
"You’re right," Joyce answers. "He is capable of it. But I am not."
And it is hard to think of a single thing Joyce MacKay would gain by
casting her lot again with Bill MacKay.
In the meantime, she is earning her living the old-fashioned way — in
her case by boarding dogs at a rate of about $10 to $13 a night, and
by grooming them at fees that average $28 to $35. She hopes that the
kennel income will qualify her for a mortgage so that she can buy back
the house from American Biomaterials before it gets to the auction
So how’s business? Good, she says. "The business is special because
it’s such an integral part of the house. I can do things that other
kennels can’t do and people recognize these special touches. One of
the things people really like is that they can drop the dog off here
on the way to work, get it groomed, and pick it up on the way home. I
have people who haven’t gone away for six or eight years because they
didn’t want to board their dog now bringing their dog here. They say
this is the cleanest kennel they have ever seen.
"I do have helpers on the weekend, but during the week I am here
alone. People want a place where their dog is special. That’s my sales
pitch — that I’m just a little place." Joyce MacKay allows a smile to
come into her voice: "I guess that’s one thing I did learn from Bill
MacKay — how to be a good salesperson."