The Story Of How The Man Behind Motown’s Sound Conspired To Kill His Family For Money

It was September 16, 1985. Doctors struggled to insert a tracheotomy tube back into Trevor Horn’s throat. It had almost been an hour, and the 13-month old with the underdeveloped lungs was suffering from a severe lack of oxygen. If it took any longer for the staff at Children’s Hospital National Medical Center to re-insert the tube, he would die. Finally, after an hour of work, the tube was back in place. Unfortunately, the damage was already done: Trevor — the son of famed Motown producer and engineer Lawrence Horn — was a quadriplegic.

Crime can have many points of origin. This is just one.

Motown — 1960s

Detroit was rocking. Berry Gordy Jr. had turned the city into an epicenter of American music in the early 60s, with acts like The Temptations and The Supremes. “Hitsville U.S.A.” — a nickname for Motown — had taken hold, and the company had radio and record companies noticing the power of their product. One of the first talents that Gordy hired to work at Motown wasn’t a soulful singer or house band: it was a Navy veteran with knack for electrical engineering — Lawrence T. Horn.

Lawrence Horn, otherwise known as L.T., had spun records aboard aircraft carriers during his time in the Navy. He had also honed his skills with electronics, so when he was looking for a job after being discharged, Berry snatched him up. L.T. was a natural. Combining his musical and technical talent, he became Motown’s premier engineer, pioneering vocal mixing processes that are still being used today. Mickey Stevenson, a writer and producer who worked with Horn during Motown’s early days, spoke with Uproxx about Horn.

He could build equipment, that was a shock to us. Not only could he work the stuff. He would go out and put it together. That was amazing. Like when the major company that made equipment, like Sony and people like that, he built equipment, he could have worked for them. Because he could actually put the stuff together. Just like guys who know how to build a computer, that’s a certain kind of genius. He had that ability. He was absolutely married to what he did.

Horn, the chief engineer on “My Girl,” was on fire. He was behind the boards for hits from Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder. He even helped build the eight-track recording machine, and his bank account reflected all his hard work. By the end of the 70s, Motown had amassed over 100 Top 10 hits, and Horn helped perfect the sound of almost all of them. The studio belonged to Horn, and he made sure all the knobs and faders were under his control. From Uproxx’s interview with Mickey Stevenson:

The only thing with him, is that when you step into the studio, which was our studio, it became his studio. And you touch a piece of that equipment, you going to hell. I mean, he would go bananas. He would say, “Do you know what you’re touching? Do you know what it does? You know why it does what it does?” [Laughs] He would go over the whole thing, to the point where you would sit there and say, “I would like to get a little more height on this, can you pitch it please? This is our studio, right?” But when we stepped in that room, it was over. It was his studio. I don’t care what you’re doing, don’t touch the equipment. I mean, he wouldn’t go out and tell the musician how to play their instrument or write the song, are you with me? He would not dare. Nobody would dare walk out of that studio and tell any of us how to produce this music. And then we couldn’t go into the studio and then touch his equipment.

In 1972, Horn was flying first-class when he met an airline stewardess by the name of Mildred Maree. Horn was married at the time — for one year to Motown’s receptionist, Juana Royster — but when he met Mildred, he was smitten. By 1973, Horn and Mildred were married, and the two bought a home in San Diego. Horn would split his time between San Diego and L.A. — where Motown had moved headquarters — and in 1974, the couple had their first child, Tiffani.

Fall From Grace — 1980s

Things got rocky between Mildred and Horn. The couple’s relationship was strained, and in 1979, Mildred and Tiffani relocated to Washington D.C. while Horn continued his work with Motown in L.A. In 1981, Mildred filed for divorce, but even through this strenuous time, Horn and Mildred would still occasionally see each other.

Three years after she filed for divorce, Mildred and Lawrence Horn prematurely gave birth to twins: Tamielle and Trevor. After three weeks, Tamielle was released into her mother’s care in Silver Spring, Maryland, but Trevor would have to stay much longer. He was born with underdeveloped lungs, and needed to be placed on life support. The incident with the tracheotomy tube occurred shortly thereafter. Unable to sustain even the most basic motor functions, doctors were skeptical that Trevor would survive.

Horn and Mildred’s relationship had been distressed for years, but the troubled birth and subsequent near-death experience of their son had completely destroyed their frail bond. In 1987, their divorce had finally been settled, and all three of their children moved in with Mildred. Due to the negligence at Children’s Hospital, the Horn’s won a $2 million lawsuit. The bulk of the money was placed in a trust fund to pay for Trevor’s medical needs, but Mildred was rewarded with $250,000, while Horn was gifted $125,000.

By 1988, with Motown’s “Hitsville” losing floor space, Berry Gordy sold the empire to MCA for $61 million. L.T. — as he was known as — perhaps began losing faith in the company he had helped build. Maybe, it was the loss of a familial structure, the kind that you work with everyday, unifying to be the best at what you do. Somewhere, during that period, where Motown had lost the incredible momentum it had gained, Horn became lost as well. The insatiable hunger for perfection that had helped mold the Motown sound had faded. As Mickey Stevenson explained:

…we were family, that’s my point. And he was part of the family. Motown was a family, it was a factory in turning out product. And a family as a unit. So we all stuck together for a lot of things. We had certain parties, and meetings, and everybody showed up. Everybody was behind everybody. That’s what made it grow. It was all on a positive note. And he was part of it. It’s as simple as that.

After Gordy sold Motown, Horn was no longer polishing records for some of music’s finest talents — he was filing tapes as a librarian, standing firm as one of the company’s last vestiges. That changed in 1990, when he was fired. He wasn’t building. He wasn’t creating. He was merely surviving. Lawrence Horn had gone from manning the boards, to manning the tapes in the basement.

The Spiritual Adviser — 1990s

The former golden couple of Motown were now locked in a heated battle over child support and custody of Trevor. Horn owed Mildred $16,875 in overdue support, and by 1992, that $125,000 that he was awarded had dried up. He was working — barely — as a freelance computer repairman, and living in a cheap L.A. apartment with his girlfriend. Just to make ends meet, Horn had to borrow $65,000 from his mother, Pauline, who had to borrow the money herself from a family member who was an actor on A Different World.

Horn had nothing. Actually, he had less than nothing, he had debt. The biggest asset he had was…Trevor. After Trevor and Mildred, Horn would be next in line to receive the malpractice money.

He had a plan. He was going to go back to where it all started. Back to Motown. Back to Detroit, where he used to sit at big, expensive mixing boards, shining up vocals for Diana Ross, and The Jackson 5, and The Four Tops. Where he lived a jet-set life, staying in the studio until 3 a.m. pumping out catalogs of hits for the greatest musicians of all time. He was going back.

In the spring of 1992, Thomas Turner heard a knock on the door of his Detroit home; it was his cousin Lawrence Horn. Horn told Turner about his money issues, about the overdue child support payments and the narrow L.A. apartment he was relegated to, and how Mildred had all the money and he had none, and the $1.7 million trust fund in Trevor’s name. Turner handed Horn a business card, one that had the phrases “spiritual adviser” and “House of Wisdom” printed on it. It was for a self-described minister named James Edward Perry.

“Give Mr. Perry a call,” Turner said to his cousin. “He helps people.”

Lies and Videotape

It was the summer of 1992, and Lawrence Horn wanted to see his son. He asked his eldest child, Tiffani, if she wouldn’t mind videotaping Trevor in his bedroom where he was hooked up to a respirator every night. Sensing the longing of a parent for a child he barely saw, she obliged. On his way to pick up Tiffani from Mildred’s Silver Spring home, Horn was doing some filming of his own.

The trip from Downtown, Washington D.C. to Silver Spring, Maryland is roughly a 30 minute drive, and using a rented van with a mounted camera, Horn filmed the entire trip. When he arrived at his ex-wife’s home where she lived with their children, he filmed that too. Every inch of the outside perimeter; the driveway, the address posted on the facade.

In an interview with The Washington Post in April of 1993, Horn would state “I videotaped my entire trip,” solely for the purposes of showing his family back home in California.

Thomas Turner, meanwhile, continued to be a bridge of communication between Perry and his cousin, Horn. He sensed something nefarious was going on between the two.

“I got to thinking I was brought into something and I didn’t know exactly what,” Turner would later testify. “I had my…suspicions. I approached Mr. Perry and told him that whatever business he had with my cousin they should conduct it between themselves.”

There was one more videotape Horn needed to create, though, before he and Perry’s plan could come to fruition.

Best Laid Plans

The jury watched as a documentary for Miles Davis blasted onto the screen. After a few short moments of the jazz legend blowing on his trumpet, the image cut to another: the inside of a Hollywood Boulevard apartment — it was Horn’s. He was manning the camera, making sure to tape himself, his girlfriend, and even the time and date on the rolling channel guide scrolling away on his TV screen. It was 11:03 pm, March 2nd, 1993. On the other side of the country, in Silver Spring, Maryland, the second half of the plan was about to commence.

Perry had done his homework. For $30 he was able to purchase a book published by Paladin Press titled, “Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors,” from a mail-order catalog. He followed the literature closely. He filed off the serial numbers — as well as a part of the gun barrel — of the .22-caliber, AK-47 rifle he had acquired, along with affixing a silencer to the end of the weapon. What happened next also followed the details laid out in the book.

It was sometime after 2 a.m. at the  home in the Northgate Drive cul-de-sac where Mildred and the children lived. Trevor Horn was in his nursery — hooked up to the respirator that served as his lifeline. Sitting next to him was Janice Saunders, his caregiver. Perry snuck in through the basement window. He found his first victim, Mildred, at the base of the stairs, and shot her in the head three times, with one bullet traveling through her right eye. He then made his way, undetected, to the nursery where Trevor and Saunders were located. Bursting into the room, he shot Saunders twice in the head at close range, once in the left eye. This method of killing — shooting someone at close range and in the eyes —  is described in the book Hit Man as a certain way to “ensure quick and sure death.”

The book does not go into detail, though, in how to murder a young, disabled child. Perry hovered over Trevor’s body, the child laying in a crib among several stuffed toys. With gloved hands, Perry “placed one hand over the tracheostomy opening in his throat and the other hand over his nose and mouth.” At 7:30 a.m., Mildred’s sister and a neighbor came into the home, the loud alarm on the disconnected respirator echoing throughout the house. Trevor Horn, Mildred Horn, and Janice Saunders were dead, and a single blade of grass lay on Trevor’s cheek. Perry — in all the wisdom that he gained from the book — left no discernible or traceable evidence at the scene of the crime.

Building The Case

“I guess (the police) have to do their job,” Horn said in an interview with The Washington Post five weeks after the murders. “I just want it to be over with, because it’s been a nightmare.”

Little did Horn know, investigators were acquiring a mountain of evidence against him. First, police found a piece of paper in Horn’s pocket on the night of the killings. The flight numbers and times written on the paper corresponded with the flight Mildred was scheduled to work on the day she died. About a week after the murders, a flight attendant who worked with Mildred contacted the Montgomery County police and told them that Mildred had feared that her ex-husband would try to kill her. On March 12th, along with the videotapes that Horn made, police seized computers, audio cassettes, computer disks and more. Receipts showed that Horn had made several trips between Maryland and Perry’s native Detroit. Then, there was a phone call that Horn made to Mildred on the night of the murders. The police found it suspicious that Horn would call solely to check on the whereabouts of his other two kids mere hours before the slayings. Their conclusion was that he wanted to make sure they were not there when Perry arrived.

That same search of Horn’s apartment also turned up another highly incriminating piece of evidence: a hand-drawn map of Northgate Drive, where Mildred lived. Authorities had all they needed to place wiretaps on Horn’s phones in California. Meanwhile, Horn was trying desperately to access the money that he was due to inherit from Trevor’s estate, but his plan hit a snag. His daughter, Tiffani, along with two of Mildred’s sisters blocked him from obtaining the inheritance under Maryland’s “slayer rule.” The law “disqualifies a person who feloniously and intentionally kills another person from benefitting from the estate, insurance proceeds, or property of the decedent” and such a person “also may not benefit from the estate, insurance proceeds, or property of the decedent as a direct result of the disqualification of the killer, despite being innocent of any wrongdoing.” Horn couldn’t access the money, and Perry could not get his part of the reward for the killings.

Authorities knew that — because of his financial situation — Horn had plenty of motive to have Mildred and Trevor killed, they just needed more evidence, and the wiretaps and phone records provided just that. Police recorded several instances of Perry and Horn talking over the phone, but it was a phone call on the night of the murders that helped to seal their fate. A phone call to Horn’s apartment was made from a Montgomery, Maryland Days Inn, roughly a 30 minute drive from Silver Spring, Maryland where the murders occurred. Perry had been efficient and skilled in conducting the murders, but he made one fatal mistake: he registered at that Days Inn with his actual driver’s license.

On July 19th, 1994 — after a 16-month FBI investigation — Perry and Horn were arrested in Detroit and L.A. respectively.

“In terms of manpower and hours,” said one investigator, “this was a very intense, time-consuming case. To see a handicapped child murdered was completely unacceptable.”

Things Fall Apart

James Edward Perry’s trial was held before Lawrence Horn’s, and the evidence was damning. Between the tapped phone calls, travel logs connecting the two associates, telephone records on the night of the murders, and the evidence that Perry had purchased the Hit Man book — which he followed precisely — it was enough to convince a jury of his guilt. In order to link Perry and Horn even more than they had already, prosecutors granted Horn’s cousin, Thomas Turner, full immunity in exchange for his testimony, and he told the court everything. He explained how he introduced Horn to Perry, how he kept lines of communication open between the two parties, how he refused to cooperate with the two after the murders, hints that they were doing something so nefarious it sickened him. In October, 1995, James Edward Perry was convicted of a triple homicide, and sentenced to death. Perry, though, professed his innocence.

“The finders of fact found me guilty and have imposed the death penalty,” he proclaimed after the trial. “But, I stand before you this evening and say I had nothing to do with these crimes. I am innocent, and I will continue to fight the good fight.”

In January of 1996, it was Lawrence Horn’s turn for a trial in masterminding the murders of his ex-wife and child. Like James Edward Perry, the evidence provided an insurmountable task for his legal team to defend against. The jury watched the videotapes in his possession: the surveillance video he made in the van, the video of Trevor’s bedroom, and the “alibi” video he made on the night of the murders. They saw the map of Northgate Drive that Horn had drawn, along with the paper in his pocket he had on the night of the murders containing Mildred’s flight information. They heard the recorded conversations between Perry and himself. They saw the financial records that had proven Horn was desperate for money. Horn’s mother, Pauline, testified that her son’s financial situation was dire, and listed out the times he borrowed from her just to pay the bills. Thomas Turner — just as he did at Perry’s trial — testified once again, providing that Horn and Perry conspired through him to plan the murders. In all, there were over 700 prosecution exhibits linking Horn and Perry to the killings. Mickey Stevenson told Uproxx about the disbelief he felt overcome with when he learned about his former co-worker’s crimes.

I was in shock because his passion was the arts. Once you get involved in your passion, your first love of the arts, that’s where your mind stays. So obviously something changed for him. It had to. Because he was completely 24/7 an engineer. Now, something changed that. It had to take over. And I would have to be a psychologist with him 24 hours a day to tell you what that was.

On May 17th, 1996, Lawrence T. Horn — the man who had spent countless hours perfecting the sound of one of America’s greatest musical institutions — was sentenced to life in prison. The years of him refining some of the greatest voices and sounds to brilliance — erupting out of speaker boxes and radios with a sheen and gloss, infecting the ears of young america — was over. The art was gone. The passion had evaporated.

But as those things faded, a desperation for the money needed to continue to support a life of comfort set in. For Lawrence Horn, that desperation was so great that he was willing to take the lives of his ex-wife and child. Horn’s daughter, Tiffani, cried out in court, “I hate you. I hate you so much. You killed my family.” Deputies led Lawrence Horn away, his destiny to live forever in a cell. Saying no words in response, Horn just shook his head.

In December of 2009, James Edward Perry died in a Maryland hospital from illness, at the age of 61. He never saw an execution. Lawrence Horn continues to spend his life in prison.

Chloe Schildhause also contributed reporting to this piece.