Business is booming.

James Caan's actress ex says he threatened her over murder probe in suspicious death of friend

Actor James Caan was making headlines in the mid 90s  – not for his roles in hit films Misery and The Godfather, but for being at the center of a 1993 murder probe and the target of a restraining order taken out by his girlfriend at the time.

Caan’s ex-girlfriend Leesa Rowland filed a 1994 restraining order and settled a physical battery lawsuit for $86,000 after accusing the actor of abuse, but she’s always shied away from the spotlight when asked about the relationship.

Now, emboldened by the actor’s passing last month, actress and author Rowland, 57, is speaking out for the first time to DailyMail.com to tell how Caan choked her, blacklisted her from Hollywood, threatened to put a ‘hit’ on her mother and upended her life after calling it quits 28 years ago.

‘I feel like I’m free and no longer have a threat that someone’s going to hurt me,’ Rowland tells DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview.

Rowland says Caan’s rage toward her came after she questioned him about the mysterious death of their mutual friend Mark Schwartz, 25, a roadie for a band, who fell off the fire escape of the apartment the actor was sleeping in. 

Caan was eventually cleared when the death was ruled an accident, but questions remained.

Rowland was with Caan and Schwartz the night he died and is now shedding light on the circumstances surrounding the fall and Caan’s threats that had her living in fear for nearly 30 years.

James Caan's ex-girlfriend Leesa Rowland filed a 1994 restraining order and settled a physical battery lawsuit for $86,000 after accusing the actor of abuse

Rowland is speaking out for the first time in 30 years to tell the full story

Rowland is speaking out for the first time in 30 years to tell the full story

James Caan’s ex-girlfriend Leesa Rowland filed a 1994 restraining order and settled a physical battery lawsuit for $86,000 after accusing the actor of abuse. She’s speaking out for the first time in 30 years to tell the full story 

Rowland moved from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles in 1989 at the age of 22 with dreams of making it big. She met Caan in 1992 at a mutual friend's home

Rowland moved from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles in 1989 at the age of 22 with dreams of making it big. She met Caan in 1992 at a mutual friend's home

Rowland moved from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles in 1989 at the age of 22 with dreams of making it big. She met Caan in 1992 at a mutual friend’s home 

At the time Caan and Rowland met, he'd already made a name for himself in Hollywood after playing mobster Sonny Corleone in 1972 classic The Godfather and having just starred as a kidnapped novelist opposite Kathy Bates in the 1990 hit thriller Misery. Caan is pictured in 1994

At the time Caan and Rowland met, he'd already made a name for himself in Hollywood after playing mobster Sonny Corleone in 1972 classic The Godfather and having just starred as a kidnapped novelist opposite Kathy Bates in the 1990 hit thriller Misery. Caan is pictured in 1994

At the time Caan and Rowland met, he’d already made a name for himself in Hollywood after playing mobster Sonny Corleone in 1972 classic The Godfather and having just starred as a kidnapped novelist opposite Kathy Bates in the 1990 hit thriller Misery. Caan is pictured in 1994

Rowland moved from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles in 1989 at the age of 22 with dreams of making it big. She got an agent and began doing print work, commercials and starred in cult classic Class of Nuke ‘Em High Parts 2 and 3, with a steady stream of auditions rolling in.

She met Caan – who she calls Jimmy – at a friend’s home in 1992. He was 52, she was 25. 

At the time he’d already made a name for himself in Hollywood after playing mobster Sonny Corleone in 1972 classic The Godfather and having just starred as a kidnapped novelist opposite Kathy Bates in the 1990 hit thriller Misery.

'I feel like I'm free and no longer have a threat that someone's going to hurt me,' Rowland says of Caan's passing

'I feel like I'm free and no longer have a threat that someone's going to hurt me,' Rowland says of Caan's passing

‘I feel like I’m free and no longer have a threat that someone’s going to hurt me,’ Rowland says of Caan’s passing

‘I didn’t really know who he was when I met him. He was just Jimmy. He had a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo belt buckle and he said he was a rodeo cowboy, which is what I thought he was at first. But of course, he wasn’t. He was an actor,’ she says. 

The pair began dating casually and would enjoy dinners and time together at his Beverly Hills home and the Le Parc Hotel, where the actor kept a suite while his house underwent renovations.

‘He was always very charming and nice. We got along great and hung out all the time,’ she said, adding that there were no red flags in the relationship.

That all changed after September 18, 1993.

‘I was with Jimmy and Mark the night he died,’ Rowland tells DailyMail.com from her Manhattan apartment.

She describes with vivid memory the day leading up to his death.

She and Caan were at a friend’s apartment at the high-rise Wilshire Corridor building. Instead of staying at the Le Parc, Caan had swapped places for the night for added privacy to make phones calls and read scripts, Rowland said.

‘Jimmy and I were at the apartment and I had an audition the next day. Jimmy called Mark to tell him to print out my script. He printed it out, picked up pizza and brought it over to the apartment. He brings it up and we hang out with Mark for a while,’ she says.

Mark Alan Schwartz worked with funk boy band The Gap Band and was a friend of Caan’s. Rowland said Caan introduced her to Schwartz, who at the time was dating Ola Ray, who shot to fame for starring as Michael Jackson’s girlfriend in the Thriller music video.

‘Mark was so fun and charming. He was 6’3 and handsome and was a roadie for The Gap Band,’ Rowland says. ‘He wanted to be a music manager eventually.’

Rowland said Schwartz left in the afternoon, then came back later that night to pick her up and bring her to the Le Parc hotel so she could rest for her audition the next morning.

‘We were with another friend talking, laughing, looking at photo albums of him and Ola. Everything was fine and normal,’ Rowland said. ‘He wasn’t drunk like the reports said.’

She went to bed alone and that was the last she saw of Mark Schwartz.

‘I go into the bedroom of the suite, I go to sleep and then I wake up in the morning to homicide police.’

Rowland says that without much explanation, the officers took her and a mutual friend – whose name she’s chosen not to reveal – to the crime scene. 

‘The police tell us they have James in another [police] car and that he didn’t recognize the body,’ she says.

Rowland says she breathed a sigh of relief, because if Caan didn’t recognize the body, it meant it was likely she didn’t know the victim.

‘We arrive at the apartment and it’s marked off as a crime scene. They walk us over to the scene and take the cloth off the body and it’s him.’

Under the sheet was the body of 25-year-old Mark Alan Schwartz from West Hollywood.

Holding back tears, Rowland says, ‘I thought at first it was a gunshot, because of the gash on his head. I have never seen a dead person in my life, much less my friend. I was crying hysterically.

‘I looked up and it seems so obvious that he fell from the balcony of the apartment,’ Rowland says. But Caan had denied that Schwartz ever entered the apartment and claims he slept through the whole ordeal.

1660325563 513 James Caan039s actress ex says he threatened her over murder

1660325563 513 James Caan039s actress ex says he threatened her over murder

1660325563 163 James Caan039s actress ex says he threatened her over murder

1660325563 163 James Caan039s actress ex says he threatened her over murder

1660325563 223 James Caan039s actress ex says he threatened her over murder

1660325563 223 James Caan039s actress ex says he threatened her over murder

Represented by women's rights attorney Gloria Allred, she filed a physical battery lawsuit and settled outside of court for $86,000, which Rowland says went to her medical bills

Represented by women's rights attorney Gloria Allred, she filed a physical battery lawsuit and settled outside of court for $86,000, which Rowland says went to her medical bills

Represented by women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, she filed a physical battery lawsuit and settled outside of court for $86,000, which Rowland says went to her medical bills

‘The police brought me inside and it’s there that I hypothesized that Mark may have tried climbing the fire escape and fell. The cop wrote that down, took me for seven hours of questioning and that was it.’

After questioning Caan for nearly 10 hours, what began as a murder probe was ruled an accident. The police report said Schwartz fell around 4am as he tried to climb into the eighth-floor apartment balcony from an adjacent fire escape.

‘It appears he lost his footing and fell to his death,’ LA Detective Vic Pietrantoni said at the time. ‘An autopsy was conducted which confirmed that the cause of death was related to the fall.’

Police said Schwartz arrived at the Wilshire Boulevard building in a taxi and discovered that he did not have money for the fare.

Building employees told police that Schwartz was last seen entering the elevator in the lobby, presumably planning to return to pay the fare. But shortly after, the lobby attendant reported hearing a loud ‘thumping noise’ coming from outside the complex.

Caan told police that Schwartz was a casual acquaintance who had visited briefly during the early evening hours Friday.

Schwartz apparently had knocked on the door in an attempt to wake Caan, police said, but was unsuccessful. Then he climbed out on the fire escape.

Caan told The Los Angeles Times that he was woken up by police knocking at the door.

‘It was certainly a rude awakening,’ Caan said. ‘They had their guns pointed at me…It was like a Columbo script…It’s ludicrous. You don’t kill someone and go back to sleep.’

Caan said he had gone to the apartment to read scripts in private and that when he went to bed, he turned the ringer off so that he would not be disturbed.

‘I was staying in the back room of the apartment and I couldn’t hear anything,’ said Caan. ‘I feel sorry for the kid and his folks.’

Caan said friends told him that Schwartz had been drinking that night, but Rowland says they were sober when she went to sleep. 

‘He had been drinking and that’s why he took a cab,’ Caan said. ‘His friend put him in a cab and sent him home. Everybody suffers when something like this happens.’

Mark Schwartz died after falling from the eighth floor balcony of the high-rise Wilshire Corridor building in LA. His death was ruled an accident

Mark Schwartz died after falling from the eighth floor balcony of the high-rise Wilshire Corridor building in LA. His death was ruled an accident

Mark Schwartz died after falling from the eighth floor balcony of the high-rise Wilshire Corridor building in LA. His death was ruled an accident 

When Rowland moved to Los Angeles she got an agent and began doing print work, commercials and starred in cult classic Class of Nuke 'Em High Parts 2 and 3, with a steady stream of auditions rolling in. She said that all ended after Caan blacklisted her

When Rowland moved to Los Angeles she got an agent and began doing print work, commercials and starred in cult classic Class of Nuke 'Em High Parts 2 and 3, with a steady stream of auditions rolling in. She said that all ended after Caan blacklisted her

When Rowland moved to Los Angeles she got an agent and began doing print work, commercials and starred in cult classic Class of Nuke ‘Em High Parts 2 and 3, with a steady stream of auditions rolling in. She said that all ended after Caan blacklisted her 

But one thing always bothered Rowland, ‘Why did he say he didn’t recognize the body? If I could know who he is, the person I met him through should know who he is.’

While she can’t say definitively if Caan was involved or at fault, the question always loomed in her mind.

‘It changed our whole relationship because I was always trying to figure out what happened with Mark,’ Rowland says.

Caan called her a few days later and wanted to know everything that was said in interrogation, she said.

‘I asked, ”I don’t understand why you told them you didn’t recognize Mark.”

‘”Because I was being investigated for murder,'” Caan said flippantly, according to Rowland. ‘He never wanted to figure out what happened to him.’

Caan claimed he didn't recognize the body of his friend Schwartz and that he slept through the whole ordeal as Schwartz fell while climbing the fire escape

Caan claimed he didn't recognize the body of his friend Schwartz and that he slept through the whole ordeal as Schwartz fell while climbing the fire escape

Caan claimed he didn’t recognize the body of his friend Schwartz and that he slept through the whole ordeal as Schwartz fell while climbing the fire escape 

In the eight months of their relationship after Mark’s death, Rowland said it haunted her.

‘I had feelings of guilt, thoughts that if I hadn’t left the apartment or hadn’t gone to sleep, he wouldn’t have left.

‘We saw each other a lot and talked about the incident quite a bit. Jimmy was nice about it in the beginning and comforting and tried to make me feel better,’ she said. ‘He never wavered that he slept through it.’

Rowland says he told her not to talk to the media or friends about the case because it would hurt his image and affect the public’s opinion of him.

She says Caan started drinking more and doing drugs in front of her. She says he was teaching her how to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol and she started drinking whenever she would think about the grisly scene.

Caan entered rehab later that year in August 1994. 

‘A few months later the story is on the news and I joke to him, ”’Can you believe they used my hypothesis that he fell from the fire escape? It’s obvious he fell from the balcony. What’s that about?”’

‘He didn’t think that was funny,’ she says. 

‘His whole demeanor changed and he said, ”Leesa, if I ever hear that you’re talking I will put a hit out on your mother.” And if you know Jimmy he thinks he’s a gangster. And at that moment he felt like a gangster.

‘Then he took me by my neck with his bare hands and said I’m going to kill you. And he started punching me and strangling me and just went ballistic.

‘Finally, he opens the door and tosses me into the hallway.

‘All I could think of was him doing that to Mark. Is this what happened to Mark? Over the balcony? It was a flashback to Mark dead because of the way he threw me.’

She says she eventually got up from the hallway and went back into the hotel room to get her things and Caan was on the phone.

‘I’ve already made a coupe phone calls about you.’ Caan told her.

Caan is best known for his breakout role as Sonny Corleone in 1972 crime film The Godfather, which scored him an Oscar nomination. After this death last month, former Gambino family underboss turned FBI informant Salvatore 'Sammy the Bull' Gravano claimed Caan needed permission from the Colombo family to be able to star in The Godfather

Caan is best known for his breakout role as Sonny Corleone in 1972 crime film The Godfather, which scored him an Oscar nomination. After this death last month, former Gambino family underboss turned FBI informant Salvatore 'Sammy the Bull' Gravano claimed Caan needed permission from the Colombo family to be able to star in The Godfather

Caan is best known for his breakout role as Sonny Corleone in 1972 crime film The Godfather, which scored him an Oscar nomination. After this death last month, former Gambino family underboss turned FBI informant Salvatore ‘Sammy the Bull’ Gravano claimed Caan needed permission from the Colombo family to be able to star in The Godfather

Caan returned to full-fledged stardom opposite Kathy Bates in Misery in 1990. The pair are pictured together in the film

Caan returned to full-fledged stardom opposite Kathy Bates in Misery in 1990. The pair are pictured together in the film

Caan returned to full-fledged stardom opposite Kathy Bates in Misery in 1990. The pair are pictured together in the film

Rowland says she went home and her roommate took photos of her bruised eye and fractured nose. 

And while Rowland didn’t know for sure if Caan had the means to order a hit on her mother, she wasn’t willing to run the risk.

‘I went down to the station and made a police report…as life insurance. If anything happened to me I would have this.’

Rowland was represented by famed women's rights attorney Gloria Allred in her case against Caan

Rowland was represented by famed women's rights attorney Gloria Allred in her case against Caan

Rowland was represented by famed women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred in her case against Caan 

Caan was always known as a Hollywood bad boy and was speculated to have ties to the mob. Just two months before the assault on Rowland, Caan was arrested after being accused of pulling a gun during an argument with a rapper in Hollywood.

In 2011, Caan offered to stand bail for mob boss Andrew ‘Andy Mush’ Russo and revealed Russo is godfather to his son Scott, star of the TV crime series Hawaii 5-0.

‘I’ve known Andrew since 1972 and in all that time I have known him only as an unbelievable father, grandfather, great-grandfather and as good a friend as any person could ask for,’ Cann said in a letter read to the court in Brooklyn,

And after his death last month, notorious mobster Sammy the Bull Gravano claimed Caan was an associate of the Colombo mafia family, so much so, that Caan had to ask the mafia family permission to take on the role as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather.

‘He was in the mob,’ Gravano told Megyn Kelly on SiriusXM’s The Megyn Kelly Show. ‘James Caan was in –  was hooked in with the mob.’

‘I was there when he came down and asked permission to be in that movie. I was there with Carmine Persico,’ Gravano said, referencing another Colombo family boss allegedly present. ‘Joe Colombo gave him the role. He was connected with the Colombo family.

Gravano doubled down and said that while Caan was not a made member of the mob – given that he was Jewish born from German immigrants – he was an associate of the Colombo family.

Reps for Caan have not responded to comment. 

His bad boy behavior continued throughout his life. Caan was divorced four times, had a cocaine addiction, was also accused of abusing his ex-wife and once lived at the Playboy Mansion. He’s also rumored to have terrified his co-stars on set. 

Rowland says Caan started drinking more and doing drugs in front of her. She says he was teaching her how to 'self-medicate' with alcohol and she started drinking whenever she would think about the grisly scene. Caan entered rehab later that year in August 1994

Rowland says Caan started drinking more and doing drugs in front of her. She says he was teaching her how to 'self-medicate' with alcohol and she started drinking whenever she would think about the grisly scene. Caan entered rehab later that year in August 1994

Rowland says Caan started drinking more and doing drugs in front of her. She says he was teaching her how to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol and she started drinking whenever she would think about the grisly scene. Caan entered rehab later that year in August 1994

‘Once I got the retraining order it was in the news. A couple weeks after that, my house got ransacked. I was intimidated.’

She says over the next five years her tires were slashed, her home was ransacked several times, she was mugged in Manhattan and lived in constant fear of her mother being killed back in Texas.

‘I never wanted to see him again in my life,’ she says. ‘Bad things kept happening to me. Everywhere I went bad things would happen. It was like a was on some intimidation list. Of course it could be a coincidence, but it all became too much.’

Represented by women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, she filed a physical battery lawsuit and settled outside of court for $86,000, which Rowland says went to her medical bills.

The damage to her career was perhaps even worse than the physical damage.

‘I went from booking a lot of TV gigs and people sending me scripts, and then it all stopped. I got no auditions, nothing. My agent only wanted me to do things talking about Jimmy, but I couldn’t and didn’t want to talk about it. I just wanted to do my work and I couldn’t tell them what the abuse stemmed from. So I didn’t talk for 30 years.’

She worked as a stylist and makeup artist and moved to the Cayman Islands for three years and says that’s where she found peace.

But she says the trauma followed her throughout her entire life.

‘My whole demeanor changed after that. It was a life changing event. I was always nervous.

‘The worst part was I lost my voice. I was so afraid that someone would say I was talking about the incident even when I wasn’t.

‘I couldn’t tell anyone that he threatened to kill my mother. Even now, I’m afraid to talk because I hear Jimmy yelling at me that if I speak he’ll put a hit out on her, and my mother passed in 2003.’

In the 30 years since, she’s run into Caan twice. Once at a restaurant in Los Angles; they made eye contact and he had to leave due to the restraining order.

The second time was just a few years ago in Florida. 

‘He had a walker and he was right across the room. I couldn’t talk to him. It was the weirdest thing. I just couldn’t talk to him because he put me through so much.’

‘He never reached out once to apologize,’ she says. ‘I was hoping one day he would contact me and explain and apologize.’

Caan was spotted using a walker at a restaurant with friends in California last year after spending some time in a wheelchair as he recovered from back surgery in 2020

Caan was spotted using a walker at a restaurant with friends in California last year after spending some time in a wheelchair as he recovered from back surgery in 2020

Caan was spotted using a walker at a restaurant with friends in California last year after spending some time in a wheelchair as he recovered from back surgery in 2020

Caan was spotted using a walker at a restaurant with friends in California last year after spending some time in a wheelchair as he recovered from back surgery in 2020

Rowland says she ran into Caan for the second time just a few years ago in Florida. ‘He had a walker and he was right across the room. I couldn’t talk to him. It was the weirdest thing. I just couldn’t talk to him because he put me through so much,’ she said. Caan is pictured in Los Angeles with a walker last year 

Rowland has written two self help books and lives with her partner of 15 years, real estate attorney Larry Wohl

Rowland has written two self help books and lives with her partner of 15 years, real estate attorney Larry Wohl

Rowland has written two self help books and lives with her partner of 15 years, real estate attorney Larry Wohl

Rowland, who lives in Manhattan and runs an animal rescue, says the trauma has affected her relationships and she never told a soul about the threat made against her 30 years ago

Rowland, who lives in Manhattan and runs an animal rescue, says the trauma has affected her relationships and she never told a soul about the threat made against her 30 years ago

Rowland, who lives in Manhattan and runs an animal rescue, says the trauma has affected her relationships and she never told a soul about the threat made against her 30 years ago

But on July 6, Caan passed away at age 82 after years of health complications.

‘A mutual friend told me. I was saddened that he died. I really liked him at one time and I was sad that he had health issues at the end of his life and suffered a lot,’ she says.

‘But I feel like I’m free and no longer have a threat that someone’s going to hurt me.

‘I don’t know if he really would’ve killed me or my mother but I lived with that threat,’ she says. ‘I feel a sense of freedom, that I don’t have to worry about my sweet family.’

‘He had a long time he could’ve called me to apologize. Wouldn’t you think he would? Especially if he was innocent.’

Reports of his passing noted that Schwartz death was the ‘secret Caan took to the grave’ and highlighted his checkered past.  

Rowland has since written two self help books and runs a non-profit Animal Ashram to help animals. She lives in Manhattan with her partner of 15 years, real estate attorney Larry Wohl. 

She says the trauma has affected her relationships and she never told a soul about the threat made against her 30 years ago.

‘It still bothers me. Me, Mark’s family, Ola – we still don’t have closure on what happened to Mark.’

.