Maybe He Had It Coming

When the judge calls the victim of two murder attempts “probably one of the most despicable people” the court had ever seen, you can bet the case is one worth a second glance.
Albert Junatanov of Hollywood, California, was (and still may be) a really bad guy, and many people will argue that Fate or karma or some other universal force was only giving him some of what he deserved when he was stabbed and then injected with battery acid while he recovered in the hospital from the earlier attempt on his life.
The records show that over the years Albert was involved in drug trafficking, prostitution, and gambling on both the East and West coasts of the United States, and was a violent paranoiac who frequently physically attacked people with little or no provocation.
His wife, Firuz, his mother-in-law, and his two sons, Johnny and Oscar, were the most frequent targets of his abuse. During the trials of the people accused of trying to kill him, defense attorneys presented a 20-year history of sexual and psychological abuse, economic exploitation, and death threats.
A witness at the 1986 trials of those who wanted him dead recounted one beating where Junatanov attacked his son for failing to add salt to a batch of bread he was baking for the family eatery, the London-New York Shawarama Restaurant.
Shortly afterward, Johnny and Oscar offered the witness, a pimp named Danny Soloranzo, $5,000 to kill Junatanov. Soloranzo, who testified at Johnny’s trial under a grant of immunity, declined to be the triggerman, but helped put the brothers in touch with a street hustler named “Mousey” who introduced the brothers to Richard Gragg, another street person recently in from Oklahoma City.
Gragg’s only previous run-ins with the law were a couple of traffic infractions. However, life on the streets didn’t suit him and he agreed to kill Junatanov for $3,000.
As is typical in these types of amateur acts, Gragg’s first attempt on Junatanov was unsuccessful. He was allegedly lying in wait in an alley near the restaurant with a knife, waiting for his target, when Junatanov spotted him and fled in the opposite direction.
On July 20, 1985, Gragg got his second chance.
He entered the restaurant where Junatanov was working, purchased a soft drink and then went to the rear of the diner to play some pinball. In collusion with Johnny, Gragg either lost or pretended to lose a quarter in one of the machines and Johnny summoned his father.
When Junatanov went back to the machines, he apparently recognized Gragg from the previous attempt and grabbed him by the hair. As Gragg pulled his knife, Junatanov slammed his attacker head-first into a wall. Gragg recovered and stabbed Junatanov in the stomach, lacerating his liver. Gragg fled the scene and the restaurateur was taken to the hospital where he underwent emergency surgery.
Johnny refused to pay Gragg, and contemplated with Soloranzo shooting him for botching the job. Instead, when Gragg agreed to try again, Johnny and Soloranzo relented and allowed him to make another attempt by Junatanov was recuperating in the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital.
Gragg showed up at the hospital with his knife, but Junatanov again recognized him and began shouting, forcing his assailant to flee. Johnny, weeping crocodile tears, arranged for his father to be moved to a different room and spent the night in the hospital “guarding” him.
“We will save you,” Johnny promised. “No one will be able to kill you.”
Johnny didn’t mean it, of course, but his words were prophetic.
Georgeanna Vieweg was a 17-year-old runaway from Oklahoma who had accompanied Gragg to Hollywood. On July 21st, she accompanied Gragg to the hospital for his aborted third attempt on Junatanov’s life. The morning after Johnny promised his father that no one would be able to murder him, Gragg, Vieweg and Johnny met in Gragg’s hotel room, where Johnny asked the runaway if she was willing to help. Vieweg was broke and desperate to return to Oklahoma, so she agreed.
The group purchased a nurse’s uniform complete with a nametag (”Cathy”) for Vieweg, and Soloranzo gave her two hypodermic syringes filled with sulfuric acid.
With another friend acting as lookout, Vieweg entered Junatanov’s room and attempted to give him an injection “for pain.” She wanted to make the injection into a vein, but Junatanov insisted on taking it in a muscle in his upper arm, which probably saved his life. The acid burned his arm and he began complaining.
Vieweg panicked and fled, saying she would go get a doctor. Instead, she and the lookout left the hospital, discarding the syringes in the parking lot.
“I can’t believe you did it,” Gragg said as the panic-stricken girl jumped into his car and urged him to drive. “Are you telling me the truth?”
Three days later, Gragg and Vieweg met with Johnny who informed them that no only had his father survived, his condition was improving. The crew exchanged words and eventually Vieweg, scared for her life, fled home to Oklahoma.
Gragg demanded at least half-payment for his attempts, but Johnny was refusing to pay. The conspirators called off their arrangement at that time and Johnny started looking elsewhere for someone to take care of his dear old dad.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Solorzano got picked up for grand theft auto and decided to use the plot to kill Junatanov as leverage. He put Johnny in touch with an undercover LAPD cop who was hired to kill Junatanov with a firearm that Johnny offered to procure.
As a result of that agreement, Vieweg was extradited back from Oklahoma and received a five-year term with the California Youth Authority. Gragg was convicted of attempted voluntary manslaughter for the stabbing incident that put Junatanov in the hospital.
Johnny was acquitted on all three counts. Oscar pleaded guilty and received probation.
Junatanov apparently didn’t learn anything from his experiences. During the trial, the defense played a taped interview of a talk Junatanov supposedly had with a Lubivatcher rabbi during which he promised never to beat his wife or children again. The rabbi threatened that God’s wrath would strike down Junatanov within two years if he ever broke the vow.
At the trial, Junatanov insisted that the voice on the tape was not his, but instead belonged to his son, Oscar.