Chippendales: Where Clothes And Murder Are Optional

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WARNING: THIS ARTICLE MAY FEATURE SUBJECT MATTER THAT MIGHT MAKE SOME PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED!

Somen “Steve” Banerjee
Nick De Noia and Candace Mayeron the “Chippendales den mother”

Somen “Steve” Banerjee was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India on October 8, 1946. After operating a Mobil gas station and a failed backgammon club Banerjee migrated to the United States where he hoped for a fresh start and more business opportunities. In 1975 he bought the failed Los Angeles club “Destiny II” and turned it into a nightclub that often featured female mud wrestling and a female exotic dancing night. During this time “Destiny II” was not considered to be a high end nightclub but more of a dive bar. That all changed when Banerjee met a Los Angeles promoter named Paul Snider. 

In 1979, Banerjee renamed the club “Chippendales” after the furniture that adorned the interior of the club and began hosting exotic dance nights geared towards women. Needless to say, it became a major hit. Although Banerjee was soft-spoken, he wanted Chippendales to be outgoing and fun. Snider helped Banerjee promote Chippendale’s main event, a “Male Exotic Dance Night for Ladies Only”. The show had a twenty-dollar entrance fee, and would soon grow to become America’s first all-male strip club solely targeted toward women. 

As Chippendales grew in popularity Banerjee became dangerously obsessed with protecting its success, even if it meant resorting to violence. In 1979, Banerjee quietly sent his handyman confidant, and former police officer Ray Colon, to burn down Moody’s Disco, a rival nightclub in the Chippendales area. Banerjee often turned to promoter Paul Snider for advice on how to advance the club and get its name even further to the public. Paul Snider had a strong personality and often butted heads with everyone he met. He thought he was shit. He thought he was all that and a bag of chips with ridges. Many dancers did not get along with Snider, but Banerjee stuck by his side. At the time Paul Snider had been married to August 1979 Playboy Playmate of the month, Dorothy Stratten. By 1980, Stratten had landed the role of Playboy Playmate of the Year and Snider became dangerously possessive and jealous of her. Their marriage became strained and the two became estranged. On August 14th that year Paul Snider shot and killed Dorothy Stratten before turning the gun on himself. Banerjee saw both Stratten and Snider as stepping stones to moving on to something greater. 

After the tragedy, Banerjee brought on producer Nick De Noia to choreograph the live shows in 1981. De Noia was the producer of children’s television shows and a former high school teacher in New Jersey who won two Emmys for the children’s show Unicorn Tales. Although the pair helped shape the iconic brand into what it is today, they would constantly butt heads. They shared numerous creative disagreements and were often heard shouting at one another. Banerjee resented the fact that people called De Noia and not himself “Mr. Chippendales”.Banerjee also envied his creativity and charisma. In 1983, De Noia convinced Banerjee to open a New York franchise of the club. It was at this time that De Noia’s ambitions grew. In 1984, he created the act “The Perfect Man” and incorporated the character into the dancer’s act. This was a part of the show where a mad scientist creates the perfect male using different body parts. It became one of Chippendale’s biggest successes. De Noia worked closely with Chippendales associate producer Candace Mayeron. She would become a close friend and loyal ally to De Noia.

Mayeron was one of many people who gave De Noia credit for creating the version of Chippendales that became a sensation. De Noia turned the business into a polished, professionally choreographed, and lavish organization. Instead of beginning to work together Banerjee and De Noia’s clash for control became even stronger. One of the many arguments the pair had was over De Noia’s decision to hire Hodari Sababu, Chippendales only black dancer. Banerjee was confused as to why De Noia hired Sababu and De Noia was confused as to why Banerjee was against it. Sababu is later left out of the popular Chippendales calendar and Banerjee expressed that it was nothing personal it just came down to business, claiming that Chippendale’s predominantly white audience may not want to see a half-naked black man hanging on the wall in their homes. That is a load of bullshit. I don’t care if you are black, white, blue, green, orange, or purple, if you look good I want to see you half-naked (Sorry dad! But I have a half-naked poster of David Beckham on my wall so you should already know this). Sababu did pose for other Chippendales merchandise such as greeting cards and air fresheners but only paid half of what the white dancers earned.

Later, when Banerjee realized how lucrative it would be to allow men into the club after the strip show ended each night he would, however, he would not allow black men inside. Eventually, Banerjee did allow black males to dance in the shows and into the club as guests but imposed a racial quota. Don Gibson, a black UCLA student, sued Chippendales for discriminatory practices along with others. Gibson told the public that he had been turned away from the club three times, once while he was with two white friends who were allowed inside. In 1985 Chippendales reached an agreement that the business would allow black guests into the club and that twenty percent of their new hires would be black. The club also agreed to do a minimum of $50,000 of business with black-owned companies.

In 1986, De Noia suggested to Banerjee that they take the Chippendales act on tour and convinced Banerjee to give him full control of the traveling show. The two worked out a deal that De Noia would receive complete creative control and rights of the show. This meant that Banerjee would not earn any money from the revenue the show brought in. A “contract” was written on the back of a dinner napkin and both parties signed it. De Noia left Los Angeles to start up the tour in New York City under the organization Chippendales Universal. He paid royalties to Banerjee for the right to use the Chippendales name. The tour ended up being a major hit and brought in a large revenue. Banerjee quickly became frustrated with De Noia’s success. He tried multiple times to have the contract voided but was unsuccessful.

Banerjee needed to get Nick De Noia out of the picture and once again turned to his friend Ray Colon for help. In 1987, Banjeree formulated a murder-for-hire plot against De Noia and asked Colon to be part of it. Colon recruited Gilberto Rivera Lopez to be the gunman. On April 7, 1987, Colon and Rivera Lopez traveled to the Chippendales office in New York City. Rivera Lopez found De Noia sitting at his desk in his office, and shot and killed him. The two quickly fled the scene. De Noia was shot in the left cheek with a large-caliber firearm. Apart from a description of the triggerman not much other evidence was found. With De Noia out of the picture the whole Chippendale franchise, including the touring rights were fully under Steve Banerjee’s control. However, with De Noia no longer around to balance out Banerjee’s more aggressive and reckless traits, things worsened.

Ray Colon

Banerjee became increasingly paranoid and hyper-vigilant, constantly looking over his shoulder. This caused his murderous tendencies to increase. In 1990 and again in 1991, Banerjee began to plan a murder-for-hire plot against three former Chippendales dancers who had left the franchise to start working for, the Adonis, a rival male dance revue company. He once again turned to his right-hand man, Ray Colon, to carry out the hits. Banerjee offered Colon $25,000 each for the deaths of Read Scot, Steven White, and Mike Fullington. The men planned to stab the three dancers with a syringe full of cyanide while the show was on tour in the United Kingdom.

The murderous plan was eventually foiled by Lynn Bressler, a man who was asked by Colon to carry out the hit. Bressler was told to travel to the UK and kill the dancers of Adonis while they were performing in Blackpool. Bressler immediately went to the FBI and offered his services as an informer. The FBI called Scotland Yard and shared the details of the plan. While Read Scot was performing in London he was ushered off stage by Scotland Yard officers and told that “there is a contract on your life. It’s going to be a cyanide injection…someone will get close to you and inject you with a needle.” 

While working with Bressler, the FBI discovered that Colon had a bag in his home filled with enough cyanide to kill approximately 2,300 people. He handed Bressler enough to kill the three targets and Bressler took it straight to the FBI. Bressler eventually agreed to wear a wire and have his telephone tapped to try and capture Colon talking about the murder plot. Las Vegas agent Dan West listened in on the conversation. Colon suggested to Bressler that he hit the victims in the head with a brick or hammer to incapacitate them before stabbing them with the cyanide syringe.

It took the investigators roughly two years to gather enough evidence against Banerjee and his men and Steve Banerjee was finally arrested on September 2, 1993. He was charged with the murder of Nick De Noia, the attempted murder of Read Scot, Steven White, and Mike Fullington, along with two counts of arson against competitive businesses, Moody’s Disco in Santa Monica and Red Onion Restaurant & Bar in Marina del Rey. Banerjee pleaded guilty to arson, racketeering, and murder for hire. He struck a plea deal with prosecutors that would have him serve twenty-six years in prison, and lose of his shares of Chippendales. In the early morning hours of October 23, 1994, just hours before Banerjee was due to be sentenced, he was found dead in his jail cell. Banerjee had taken his own life by hanging himself.

Ray Colon served two years in federal prison and house arrest. He was released in June 1996. The dude got off easy if you ask me. That was a mere slap on the wrist. Gilberto Rivera Lopez was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison.

Gilberto Rivera Lopez

Money has been called the root of all problems and maybe it’s true. Greed is a normal human tendency. Always wanting more than you can have is natural. Just be careful because people are willing to do ugly things to get what they want. 

Sources:

“Curse of Chippendales” – Discovery+

“Somen Banerjee” – Wikipedia

“Secrets Of The Chippendales Murders” – A&E

“What Happened To Chippendales” – Entrepreneur

“Nick De Noia”- Wikipedia

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