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National News

Club owner's death tied to Google case

BY JOSÉ PATIÑO GIRONA
Tribune Staff
and The Associated Press

Published:   |   Updated: July 10, 2014 at 11:14 PM

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The world is coming to know Dean Riopelle as an eccentric Atlanta music venue owner whose death from a drug overdose last year is being linked to the fatal overdose of a Google executive two months later.

Ybor City knew Riopelle as a club owner who brought alternative bands to the Ritz Theatre building before they were huge — Marilyn Manson, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails and the Misfits, among them.

Tom DeGeorge, co-owner of Crowbar in Ybor City, remembers Riopelle as a great boss who knew live music and the bar business backward and forward.

“He took the business real serious,” said DeGeorge, 40. “If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't own my own bar.”

Now, police say that a high-priced prostitute who calmly left the Google executive dying on his yacht in November was also with the 53-year-old Riopelle — her boyfriend — as he suffered a fatal overdose on the floor of his home in Milton, Ga., northeast of Atlanta.

Police said Thursday they are re-examining the death.

Riopelle had been living with Alix Tichelman, 26, who is now charged with manslaughter in the death of Google executive Forrest Hayes. She was never charged in Riopelle's death.

“Both subjects in these cases died of heroin overdoses so there's just several factors we want to look at to make sure that we didn't miss anything,” Milton police Capt. Shawn McCarty said.

It is not clear how long Tichelman may have been involved in prostitution, though police in California say she had many clients in the wealthy Silicon Valley. Police there also said that, after Hayes' death, she did online searches for how to defend herself legally after administering a lethal dose of heroin.

“The whole thing just blows my mind,” said Crowbar owner DeGeorge.

Before Wednesday night, DeGeorge said he wasn't familiar with Tichelman or her relationship with Riopelle. He said he never met her or heard of her.

He emphasized he didn't have a bad word to say about Riopelle.

The two men met in 1999, when DeGeorge was living in Pennsylvania and applied for a managerial position at Riopelle's Masquerade live music venue in Atlanta — a club he opened after the success of the Masquerade club he had established in Ybor's historic Ritz Theatre in the late 1980s.

DeGeorge was hired and worked the Atlanta club as a night manager from 1999 to 2001. When the manager in Ybor City quit, DeGeorge came south to manage it and stayed until it closed in 2006.

At the time, Riopelle was based in the Atlanta area. He would come down to the Ybor City Masquerade every three to four months.

Riopelle went out of his way to show his support for his staff, DeGeorge said, planning annual outings for managers to places such as Destin in the Panhandle.

“Working there was like being with a big family,” DeGeorge said. “He was a good guy. We were all really close.”

The two men talked often about improving the business and about DeGeorge's career plans, whether he envisioned opening a bar.

“I always thought he had an interesting take on whatever we were talking about,” DeGeorge said. “He had an opinion on everything. That's for sure.”

The two talked by phone, Tampa to Atlanta, after the Ybor club closed — Riopelle, a huge Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, taunting DeGeorge when his Pittsburgh Steelers were failing.

Another Tampa fan of Riopelle's, the lead singer Gen with the band Genitorturers, said she has performed at the Masquerade in Ybor City and Atlanta since 1989.

“I knew him to be a really caring, fantastic guy,” she said.

Sometimes her band and his band would play on the same nights. Riopelle was a singer.

“He was a wonderful stage performer,” she said.

Gen, who gave no last name, said she believed Riopelle has children but would not elaborate.

As to the new revelations about his death, she said, “It seems very out of order. It sounds pretty crazy. I had no idea.”

In Atlanta, Riopelle and Tichelman had been dating for about two and a half years and lived together at the time of his death, said Riopelle's sister, Dee Riopelle.

In a 2012 interview with a fetish magazine, fIXE, under the pseudonym AK Kennedy, Tichelman describes herself as a model, writer and makeup artist. She also said she was interested in bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism, or BDSM. She said she and Riopelle would go to clubs, with her wearing a collar and leash.

Riopelle was the lead singer of a rock 'n' roll band called the Impotent Sea Snakes, known for its wild stage shows and sexually explicit lyrics. His Atlanta Masquerade, a destination for rock, punk and metal acts housed in a former mill, has three levels: “heaven” upstairs; “purgatory” on the main floor; and “hell” downstairs.

He was also known for his love of monkeys; just to the right of his home stand large animal enclosures, which include a barrel strung up by rope and fencing extending to the top.

Riopelle got a degree in construction engineering from the University of Florida and held construction contractor licenses in Florida and Georgia. But his sister said engineering wasn't for him.

Over the years he also opened several sports bars and a fetish bar, Dee Riopelle sister said.

“He was very, very wise when it came to business sense,” she said. “Everything Dean touched turned to gold.”

In September, however, he and Tichelman's lives took a dark turn. On Sept. 6, a drunken Tichelman called police, saying Riopelle threw her to the ground, according to a police report. Riopelle told officers that she had taken pills and drank alcohol, and had been stage diving and exposing her breasts that night at the Masquerade. He said he took her home because he did not approve.

Riopelle also told officers that she bit him on the finger and threatened to hit herself and tell police Riopelle had beaten her. A neighbor confirmed hearing Tichelman say that. She was charged with battery and arrested; Riopelle was not.

Less than two weeks later, a panicked Tichelman called 911, saying her boyfriend had overdosed on something and wouldn't respond. She told a dispatcher that his eyes were open but that he was unconscious, describing his breathing as “on and off.” In the 911 tapes released Thursday, she can be heard saying, “Hello, Dean? Dean, are you awake?”

Tichelman tried for five minutes to revive him before calling 911, according to a police report. She said she had been in the shower when she heard a crash and came out to find Riopelle unconscious. Tichelman said she did not know how much drugs Riopelle had taken, but that he had been on a “bender the last few days,” according to the police report.

Riopelle died at a hospital a week later. An autopsy report listed his death as an accidental overdose of heroin, oxycodone and alcohol. Tichelman had told the dispatcher that he had been taking painkillers and drinking.

Police say surveillance video from the Google executive's yacht shows Tichelman's next deadly encounter with heroin in California, on Nov. 23.

Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark gives the following account from the video:

Tichelman prepares the heroin to a liquid and injects it into Hayes' arm. Shortly after, Hayes clutches his chest, near his heart. Tichelman tries to prop him up, but he then loses consciousness.

Tichelman then starts picking up her belongings, including the needle, and cleans up a counter while stepping over Hayes several times. During that time, Tichelman calmly drinks a glass of wine and surveys the scene.

Tichelman then goes outside the cabin of the boat on the dock, looks back inside, then pulls down a window blind, closes a door and leaves.

“Never does she call 911 or call out to others in nearby boats for help. She never tries to administer any aid to him,” Clark said. “She is more concerned about getting herself out and concealing evidence than helping Mr. Hayes.”

Clark said that investigators learned that Tichelman later did online searches “on how to defend herself after giving a lethal dose of heroin.”

Investigators also learned that Tichelman planned to leave California late last month, possibly for Georgia, and maybe even the country, Clark said.

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