Favorite DC escort of advice columnist Ann Landers back in the news

In 2002, when I was writing a profile of Eppie Lederer (aka Ann Landers), I tracked down and interviewed just about every handsome, usually younger, man who escorted the famous Chicagoan and internationally renowned advice columnist to her many social events. I was told repeatedly how much Landers, who died in her co-op on one of Chicago’s most prestigious streets (East Lake Shore Drive) earlier that year, loved being in the company of charismatic men — Bill Clinton, although not an escort, was at the top of her chart of mesmerizing men. She did not like navigating her dizzyingly full social life without leaning on the arm of a gentleman. (She was divorced from her husband Jules, he left her for a younger woman, in 1975.) 

These men were a key part of Eppie’s life. During the course of almost any week, she was in the company of the world’s most famous movie stars, politicians (John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald and Nancy Reagan), philanthropists (Mary Lasker, Walter Annenberg), billionaires (Warren Buffett), collectors, artists and writers — many of whom privately sought her advice to deal with personal family matters.    

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One of those escorts, she called him “my gentleman friend,” was a handsome, charming, attentive, divorced Washington lawyer named Lester Hyman, now 82. (Were Landers alive today she would be 95.) When Hyman, who still lives in D.C., attempted to come to Chicago to see Eppie near the end of her life, she refused, telling him she wanted to wait until she looked better. (She had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma and refused the chemotherapy that might have prolonged her life.)  

Since Eppie’s death, Hyman, whom I interviewed by telephone in October 2002 for the Ann Landers profile, and who eagerly recalled details of their travels around the world, has popped into the news frequently. He is most often described as counsel, PR man and lobbyist for disgraced former Liberian president Charles Taylor, now 65, one of Africa’s most corrupt and brutal despots. Ryan Lizza, then writing for the New Republic, described Taylor as having “just presided over a war … that left 85 percent of the Liberian population dead, injured, or displaced.”  

Taylor’s name popped up again Wednesday, having just arrived in Britain to serve his 50-year sentence “for aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity.” 

Hyman’s name also popped up this week in a Sunday Washington Post story about alleged ties between Terry McAuliffe, a Bill and Hillary Clinton best buddy/fundraiser and former chairman of the Democratic National Convention, now running for governor of Virginia in a particularly ugly contest, and the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry, headquartered in Virginia, that runs Liberia’s shipping registry — the second largest in the world. One of the biggest contributions to McAuliffe’s campaign coffers, $120,000, came from the company’s chairman.

Hyman is a former chairman of the company, a position he held briefly presumably because of his many ties to Taylor, who hired Hyman as his U.S. counsel after Taylor was elected, democratically, in 1997.

In 2003, the New Republic branded Hyman as “Taylor’s lobbyist in Washington,” and Taylor as “Osama’s man in West Africa;” the latter title conferred because Taylor allegedly sold diamonds to al Qaeda, thus helping Osama bin Laden to hide his wealth.

The diamonds, according to Ryan Lizza quoting a “European investigator” via a Washington Post reporter, were so important to bin Laden “that to cut off al Qaeda funds and laundering activities you have to cut off the diamond pipeline.”

According to Doug Merlino writing for Slate, “It’s been estimated that wars Taylor started or help to fuel resulted in 300,000 deaths.” One reason for such carnage was allegedly Taylor’s lust for neighboring Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds, which he acquired by trading weapons, thus aiding the rebel army that controlled the diamond mines of that country.

Hyman is now senior of counsel to a Washington law firm. 

How much Eppie knew about her beau’s foreign client, I don’t know. And my guess is not much. By nature, she liked to focus on the positive and her interests were much more domestic than foreign. She would have been impressed by Hyman’s activities on the domestic front, particularly his connections to U.S. presidents.

Born in Providence, R.I., Hyman had been chairman of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. He described himself as a close friend of JFK’s, and later an especially close friend of Ted Kennedy’s — “I came to D.C. for the Kennedy family in 1969,” Hyman told me. He was also a friend of LBJ’s and has been quoted as saying that Taylor reminded him of Johnson. Hyman was a FOB (friend of Bill’s) in good standing — he vetted Clinton’s cabinet and Supreme Court picks — and of Hillary’s, whom Hyman persuaded to receive Taylor’s wife, Jewel, at the White House.

And Hyman was not the only prominent American who took to Charles Taylor. 

According to The New Republic, among Taylor’s other American friends were the Rev. Jesse Jackson and televangelist and one-time Republican presidential hopeful Pat Robertson. Lizza, who has done brilliant reporting on Taylor, described the Clinton administration as very friendly to Taylor, and Jackson, then Bill Clinton’s envoy to Africa, as holding “a conference in Chicago to help burnish the warlord’s image. He also encouraged Americans to invest in the war-torn country.”

Of Hyman, who reportedly described Taylor as a different kind of African leader with whom the United States could do business and who wanted “to restore peace, democracy and prosperity to Liberia,” Lizza wrote: “Of all the American VIPS who have supported Taylor over the years, perhaps none is as intimately connected to the dictator as Lester Hyman.” 

In one of those odd connections, that makes journalism such a fascinating pursuit, “intimately connected” to Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and to Chicago’s own, Ann Landers.