A Killer Nanny

Charlotte Foster wanted a male nanny who’d play sports with her sons. She got an escaped murderer.

Yes, he had committed crimes in Switzerland, Baur wrote, but in the Americas, Bieri had socialized himself. He attended high school in Hawaii, studied literature at a Mexican university and was a devoted husband and father. The articles say that Bieri taught English and French in Barcelona, translated a book in Venezuela and worked at a hotel in Acapulco before moving to Houston, where he sold cars and his identity was discovered.

On his Web site, Baur posted happy pictures of Bieri and his wife and a shot of Bieri shaking hands with the president of Venezuela at the 1997 Andes Summit in Bolivia. Baur wrote, "Welcome back home in Switzerland, dear Hanspeter -- Du hast Dich offensichtlich verandert, Deine Heimat nicht," which translates to "You have changed, your country has not."

Baur says his articles led to Bieri's receiving a new trial. "They revealed plenty of new facts," says Bieri, talking on his cell phone in Switzerland. "I didn't have a chance to defend myself 18 years ago; I was tried in absentia. My lawyer had no right to represent me, and some laws were broken right there."

The nanny didn't know how to make macaroni and cheese.
David Terrill
The nanny didn't know how to make macaroni and cheese.
Foster hired the nanny to play soccer with her sons.
David Terrill
Foster hired the nanny to play soccer with her sons.

He says that when he was 20 he enlisted in the Swiss army. After 19 weeks of basic service, he was promoted to lieutenant and planned to attend military school, but he says the Swiss army discharged him when they discovered that he had a criminal record for stealing motorbikes and chocolate bars.

Bieri says he met an older guy, a "lowlife" with an extensive criminal record who talked him into stealing car radios and eventually cars. In May 1983, the two decided to rob the Black Out Disco, a nightclub near the Zurich International Airport in Kloten. During the robbery, Bieri says, a large club patron grabbed him. "He started fighting with me and he fought me down to the floor and he climbed on top of me," Bieri says. "During this fight, one shot got out of my gun."

But instead of hitting his attacker, Bieri shot himself. Bieri says his partner fired six shots -- some into the air and some into the crowd. One bullet hit the man restraining Bieri.

In the parking lot, Bieri had trouble starting the car because his bullet had pierced the ring finger on his left hand. A guy from the club ran after them and was trying to force open the car door. "Do something," Bieri told his partner. Through a one-inch crack in the window, his partner shot and killed the man. "After he fired that shot, I started the car and we got away," Bieri says.

Bieri testified that when he told his accomplice to "do something," he meant that he wanted him to do something to help start the car. He says he wasn't even aware that someone was outside the car because he was in extreme pain and bleeding heavily.

According to Swiss newspaper reports, after Bieri's return to Switzerland, the victim's family told the court they forgave Bieri; they didn't want him to be separated from his young sons, so they asked the judge to dismiss the charges.

The obergericht, a superior high court in Switzerland, said that Bieri was a changed man but he was still a murderer. It handed down a guilty verdict and a much-shortened five-year sentence.

"I got a very fair consideration," Bieri says.

He served less than half the sentence and was released from prison in June 2001.

On July 18, 2000, Foster filed a lawsuit against Nanny Professionals Inc. The petition says that Mathews's company claimed to have verified that the nanny had no criminal history. Unfortunately, the petition says, Davis has "an extensive criminal background," including convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and being under the influence of a controlled substance. Then the Fosters discovered that the nanny was actually Hanspeter Bieri, a convicted murderer and robber.

The Fosters ask for a refund of their $600 referral fee, $450 for the nanny's wages, plus the $840 severance check, $544 to change 13 locks and $3,670 spent on the comprehensive criminal background investigation.

"We decided to sue because we never even got as much as an apology or any kind of empathy from the agency," Foster says. "No empathy at all, and we've had a murderer in the house."

Had Mathews refunded the fees and sincerely said she was sorry, Foster says, she wouldn't have sued.

Mathews informed the Fosters that she would gladly refund their referral fee, pay for rekeying their locks and any other expenses -- as long as the Fosters signed a waiver promising they wouldn't sue. "I was happy to do it; I just needed the release signed," Mathews says. "I expressed my concern and sorrow over what happened, but maybe I didn't do it good enough."

In the original answer to the lawsuit, Nanny Professionals Inc. says the Fosters' contract states that NPI is not responsible if anything bad happens after hiring the nanny. The response says the suit is groundless and meant to harass Mathews and tarnish her reputation.

There are only two complaints on file against Nanny Professionals Inc. at the Better Business Bureau. One is from a woman who didn't like her nanny and wanted her money back -- Mathews refused and offered her a onetime free replacement nanny. The other is from Michelle Gessner, who says she hired a nanny from Nannies of The Woodlands, but since the nanny also worked for Nanny Professionals Inc., Mathews's office billed her credit card a $600 referral fee. Gessner was given a $527 refund; she wrote a letter for the BBB's file urging parents to read the agency's contract carefully. "The fine print contains onerous and almost criminal terms and conditions," she wrote.

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