Vanishing Act

Larry Cohn turned heads by making huge donations to St. Louis charities. Then he up and disappeared.

Collins declined to discuss the matter. She referred questions to her attorney Richard Huck, who says the check was supposed to be a partial repayment for personal loans Collins made to Cohn. The St. Louis attorney says somehow Cohn ran out of cash, so Collins loaned him her credit card and cash. Asked how a man who could give thousands to charitable organizations could end up in personal debt, Huck says, "I don't know the answer to that, other than there seems to be some evidence he went through significant assets of his."

Organizations where Cohn had been active say he stopped showing up in late 2006, without offering any explanation for his absence. Never did he let on that he was in financial trouble. In fact, Craft Alliance's McLoughlin says Cohn signed a pledge letter in April 2007. Such letters aren't legally binding but are generally used to back up verbal commitments and spell out terms of payment. By May of last year, Cohn owed his friend Collins enough money — $160,000 — that she had him sign a promissory note. Cohn backed the note with his condo, which he signed over to Collins in June.

Others who knew Cohn personally refused to talk about him. Landmarks' executive director Carolyn Toft says that she has known Cohn for "more than a decade." Still, she declined further comment. Instead, she replied via e-mail: "He has supported some wonderful work in this community — initiatives that would not have happened without his enthusiasm and his generosity. I am indeed sorry that he is no longer able to participate in Landmarks' vision for Architecture St. Louis, but we are pursuing other funding sources."

Wischmeyer says that Landmarks, a nearly 50-year-old organization, operates on a shoestring, with six staff members and an annual budget of about $300,000. Architecture St. Louis was an ambitious project that would have meant new offices, exhibition space and a 50-seat meeting room, all on the ground floor of the Lammert Building on Washington Avenue.

Cohn seemed the natural benefactor for such a project. Even his personal e-mail address gives a nod to Ed Mays, an insurance and banking magnate who, before the Great Depression, housed his companies in a new art deco skyscraper (the Continental Life building at Grand and Olive). Mays lived in a penthouse on its top floors.

Considering Cohn's love for St. Louis, Phoenix-based cousin Lee Cohn was surprised to hear that people were looking for him. The two last saw each other in October during a dinner at Larry Cohn's mother's home in Winnetka. Terri Cohn did not return repeated phone calls.

If Larry Cohn has in fact left St. Louis for parts unknown, it wouldn't be the first time he's baffled friends and family. "Larry," says Lee Cohn, "had a background of doing stuff nobody could figure out."

Contact the author kathleen.mclaughlin@riverfronttimes.com

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