WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A man who confessed three times that he incinerated his wife in an oil drum testified Friday that he made up the story to get investigators off his back and that it would have been impossible to do what he said he did.
Werner Lippe, 68, of Cortlandt, said he learned when his mother was cremated that teeth and bones can't be burned to ash.
He also said he had expected to be exonerated when authorities realized his body-burning story couldn't be true.
"I came up with a story that I burned her because I know it is impossible for me or anyone in the world to burn a body (completely)," Lippe said.
He said the last time he saw his wife she was being driven away from their home in a car he didn't recognize.
Prosecutors claim Lippe, a jewelry-maker whose clients have included Donald Trump and Yoko Ono, could have disposed of his wife's bones and teeth with the acids he kept in his workshop at the home in the New York City suburbs.
Lippe testified at his murder retrial in Westchester County Court, eight months after a previous trial ended with a hung jury. The prosecution has been hampered by the fact that no trace of Lippe's 49-year-old wife, Faith, has been found since she disappeared two years ago.
Prosecutors claim that's because Lippe was careful to get rid of all the evidence.
Lippe told a friend, who was working with police and wearing a wire, that he knocked out his wife with a plank of wood on Oct. 3, 2008, then stuffed her into a "burn barrel" in their backyard and reduced her to ashes.
"She doesn't exist anymore," he said on the recording. "They can't find her." He told the same story twice more, to the friend and to police.
He said Monday — as he had at his first trial — that he feared investigators were manufacturing evidence against him. He said his friend had promised the investigation would end if Lippe admitted the killing. He also said he had become fearful that the friend, James Learnihan, would hurt him if he didn't say what Learnihan wanted to hear.
"I wanted him off my back," Lippe said.
So he used what he knew about burning bodies to make up a story that experts could disprove, Lippe testified.
"It was technically and physically impossible," he said.
Lippe said that when his mother died in Austria in 2006 and was cremated, he asked a mortician in Vienna about the specifics of burning a body.
"I'm a curious person," he explained.
He said he learned that teeth and bones have to be ground into powder after a body is burned, and that powder is mixed with the ashes given to the family.
Lippe has been in custody for two years.