26 July 2014

Suckers And The Death Of Adrienne Shelly.

When the “Waitress” movie came out in 2007 my wife and I went to see it at the theater.  Andy Griffith is in it in his last role before he died, as the no-nonsense owner of Lulu’s pie café.  There are three waitresses that work at the café and talk to each other about their relationships.  They are likable humble put-upon women.  

Especially the lead character, Jenna, who is pregnant and hides money from her husband, eventually to escape her marriage.  He finds out and smacks her for her financial infidelity, so you don‘t much care for him.  The rest of the men in the film are not much more likable.

Jenna (Keri Russell) is a genius at making unique tasty pies and names them for events in her life.

She has an affair with her married physician, Dr. Pomatter.  In the end she stands up to her husband and wins a pie contest and has a daughter and the movie ends with the two of them walking off, manlessly, confidently, hopefully into the sunset.  Shelly’s own daughter, Sophie, makes her screen debut as the little girl.

I mention this movie because I stayed to watch the credits and saw a memorial to the director of the film.

I realized it meant Adrienne Shelly, forty, the writer, director, co-producer and also an actress in her own film, must have died before it came out.  Curious, I looked up what happened to her and learned she was found dead hanging with a sheet knotted around her neck from a shower rod in her office bathroom. 

The day she died, the first of November, her husband dropped her off in Greenwich Village, at an apartment she used for an office at about nine-thirty in the morning and when he hadn’t heard from her and couldn’t reach her he went there and, along with the doorman, discovered her body. 

Police initially considered Shelly's death a suicide, but this was vehemently protested by her husband and family.  She had a movie coming out, and many other projects in the hopper, and a three-year-old daughter.  "There's no way on this planet that she would have left that child," said husband Andrew Ostroy.  "Nobody is ever going to tell me that woman walked away from Sophie."

Detectives from the Sixth Precinct eventually arrested Diego Pillco, a construction worker who had been in the building that day, doing renovation chores in the apartment directly below Shelly’s fourth floor office.  They noticed a dusty sneaker footprint on the toilet next to the body and matched it to similar tracks in the remodel site, and thence to the nineteen-year-old laborer. 

He confessed to hanging Ms. Shelly.  He said she came down to complain about construction noise and shouted at him and called him names and slapped him and that he struck back and knocked her down.  Thinking her to be dead he dragged her back up to her apartment found a bedsheet and staged a suicide. 

She wasn’t dead, though.  She died, according to the medical examiner, in her office bathroom of strangulation.  She also didn’t have any plaster dust on her shoes and clothes.  She wasn’t even wearing shoes when she was found.  Nor were there any drag marks in the hall or her office.  And how did Pillco know which floor and which apartment to lug her back to?

Later, in court, he changed his story:  "When i saw the lady I decided to rob her," he said.

He found her door ajar, grabbed her bag, took cash, and was putting the bag back when Shelly came out of a room and saw him.  She was calling the  police when he attacked.
They struggled and when she passed out he tied a sheet around her neck to choke her and then hoisted her diminutive frame off the floor and let gravity finish the murder.

Sad, sad, sad.

But this is old news.  It happened over seven years ago.  Why bring it up, now? Well, because of this claim made recently by Mr.Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, on ABC’s This Week, that the almost 50,000 illegal border jumpers, since last October “… are not dangerous individuals.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas also declared the invaders to be harmless and handed out bags of candy to them at detention facilities in her state.

What does this have to do with Mr. Pillco?  Well it seems he was in our country illegally at the time of the murder.  He is one of these non-threatening, benign, industrious, Latinos from down south just dreaming of a better life; one of the many that we are urged to welcome to our bosom to do the menial chores eschewed by our pampered minimum wagers. 

He wended his way up from Ecuador and crossed the Mexican border with the help of a Coyote and then made his way to New York in July of 2006 to bunk with his cousin in a basement apartment in Brooklyn.  He told a neighbor the crossing cost him Twelve thousand dollars. 

He worked odd jobs and sent money home to his parents and according to neighbors and his landlord, was “polite” and “respectful” and “hard-working” and “a good kid.”

Good Kid.  Hmmm.

When he wasn’t working on construction projects, six days a week, for Louis Hernandez, the boss of Bradford General Contractors, and also owner of the apartment building where Pillco lived, he toiled his one day off, Saturday, as substitute super at his domicile.


A few things occur to me.  There’s no way Pillco would have twelve thousand dollars to pay his smuggler (I doubt he even had bus fare to get him to Brooklyn) so somebody else had to vouch for him and cover his debt, and I don’t think it was his parents or his cousin.  No.  I’m thinking it was Mr. Hernandez.  Hernandez pays the coyote—or maybe a better term would be jackal-- and Pillco becomes his indentured servant (slave) until every penny plus interest is paid back.  How long would that take, do you think?  Two years?  Five years?   Ten?  Probably not as long as ten.     

Now I don’t know for sure that this is the case.  Perhaps I am maligning Louis the landlord, who only wants to help the poor émigré and generously offers to employ the teenager seven days a week.

 But you can see how I am suspicious of the relationship, seeing as how Pillco spends so much time working exclusively for his landlord, and how it’s such a splendid deal for a contractor looking for a cheap young reliable exploitable uncomplaining drudgeling.  A savvy Spanish-speaking contractor invests six month’s normal wages, if he has to hire a legal worker, on the chance of getting six years of labor out of a young imported Ecuadorian onager.   Mr. Hernandez probably had the same deal going on with Pillco’s cousin.  And that is how Diego first came to see the Brooklyn Bridge

“Say, Mr. H, you’ve got some projects coming up, and I’ve got a relative in Ecuador.  He’s a good kid, works hard and won’t be no trouble.”

Or maybe it was Mr. H who first broached the subject to the cousin.

I’m also thinking Mr. H, in July, sits his new arrival down and speaks very bluntly about what is expected of him.  That he will get a bed and some meager spending money, and maybe a pittance to send home to Senor and Senora Pillco, back in Ecuador. The rest of his earnings will be used to slowly retire his enormous debt. 

I’m also very sure that his landlord and boss, who now practically owns him for the next few years, tells him he cannot have any interaction with the police.  He cannot drink in public or even piss in an alleyway, or litter or even spit in the gutter.  He must be as harmless as Mother Teresa and have a lower profile than a Lotus Europa.  Speaking of which, he must not drive a car and he cannot be getting in fights.  If a crime is committed against him, he must not complain to the authorities. 

One little mistake and his illegal status will be discovered and he could be deported back to his sweaty corrupt muggy buggy gang-weevilled dead-end country and then how will he pay his debt?  It is time to be an adult, to accept responsibilities.  It is time to be a man.  Comprende?  Si Senor bossman.

So young Mr. Pillco works and works and works.  He is bounced around to various remodeling jobs, ordered here and then there.  He walks or takes the subway.  And on his day off… he still works… as the super at his apartment building, sweeping floors and fixing leaky faucets.  And it is looking like the next years are going to go by very slowly.  He doesn’t have any time to work a side job for anyone else.  All his cash comes from the boss/landlord.    

So that is why, on a November day in 2006 he decides to do a little moonlighting, while on the job, and like Jenna, the pregnant waitress, sock away some pin money, some mad money, instead of having to turn most of it over to her abusive husband.

Diego sees a rich white woman—to him anyone who can afford to rent an apartment at Abingdon Square must be wealthy; heck, even the gringo poor people are wealthy to Diego—with a big handbag and he sees her get off on the fourth floor and unlock her apartment and he decides he will do a little pilfering. 

This building he works in has a doorman so some renters are not so careful about locking their doors when they are in, only when they go out.  It is also 9:30 on a Wednesday morning and this woman is arriving, as if from a night shift job.  If there is a man he will have left for his job already, so she is, perhaps, alone in the apartment.

He rides the elevator up a floor and takes the stairs back down and finds her door unlocked and her bag just inside.  Maybe he takes the bag back out into the hallway so he won’t be seen or heard as he paws through it.  He finds cash in a pocketbook and is putting the bag back when the woman sees him and you know the rest of the story.

He risks putting the bag back in its place, instead of just making off with it, so the missing cash will go unnoticed for hours or maybe even until the next day.

It has been suggested that Mr. Pillco’s real intent was rape, but I don’t agree.  He didn’t want to confront anyone or even be seen.  In a doorman controlled building the pool of suspects is limited, and eventually the police would show up at his door for such a serious crime. 

Not so for petty thievery.  It might not even result in a call to the cops, and if called they might not bother tracking down all the possible suspects, and if they do and visit Brooklyn they probably won’t find Pillco there because he is working all the time, elsewhere, and if they do find him home, the stolen bills are not traceable and, besides, he doesn’t know anything about it, and who’s to say the money was taken from the woman’s apartment?  Maybe the lady left her bag unattended in the coffee shop.  Maybe her husband borrowed her money without telling her.

So there is risk, but it is acceptable, and this isn’t the first time he’s found an unlocked door in other buildings he’s worked in,

This time, though, he is seen.

Now let us consider what would have happened if a different young man took the cash; someone who is the same age and height and complexion, but is a citizen of the United States.  He already has a rap sheet of petty crimes and knows, by experience, that nothing much will happen to him if he is caught and arrested for a petty theft. 

When confronted by the woman, he turns and walks out of the apartment and goes home.  He keeps the cash, but tosses her credit cards.  If the police want him they know where to find him.  He will likely lose his job, but he’ll get another, or just live on unemployment or some other welfare, maybe move in with his girlfriend and her kid.  Pity that the woman saw him because he intended to let his girl use the cards, or sell them to a guy he knows, but now they will be flagged, immediately.

The important thing here, is that he does not touch Mrs. Ostroy.  There is no reason to turn a pissant property crime into something much more serious.

And that is probably the situation Adrienne thought she was in when she surprised Diego Pillco in her office.  She couldn’t know that the teen, not much bigger than herself, had this oppressive debt hanging over him.  That he was desperate to make some extra cash, but more desperate not to screw up his one chance.  If he is arrested and deported he would default on his loan, and then who would ever vouch for him again?  This woman seeing him dooms him to a long life of penury or the short life of a gangster in his native Ecuador.

When Ms. Shelly reaches for her phone he has to stop the call, and then she screams so he must stop that also and then she passes out.  He could just leave her on the floor and flee, but police will soon find him.  He has no place to go, and no real money saved up, that would allow him to escape New York and live somewhere else. 

The woman has seen his face.  If he kills her, police will still eventually arrest him, but if he makes it look like an accident or suicide he can continue to work and stay in the United States.  He lets himself out and goes to another jobsite to work the rest of the day there. He doesn’t want to be around when the body is discovered.

Rather cold blooded behavior for such a “good kid.” You see, to really strangle a human, to cut off the blood supply to the brain completely, long enough to kill, you have to apply steady pressure for a few minutes.  Diego would have had to kneel over her unconscious body and twist the sheet until his arms ached, all the while terrified someone might walk in on him.  He has to get away before he is seen so he hangs her up in the bathroom.  She is dead, or soon will be.

Are you a “good” person?  Do you know some “good” kids?  Suppose one of your friends or the son of a friend made a big mistake and got in trouble and was looking at ruination and dishonor.  Would you, could you, could your friend’s son straddle an innocent unconscious defenseless mother and slowly throttle her?

Would you do such an evil thing for a million dollar debt?  For double that?  For any amount?  Would you do it to avoid going to prison for a year?  Two years?  Ten years?

I am thinking, down deep, Diego had some rather felonious habits that were not acquired suddenly upon his arrival in the big apple.        

I’m thinking the first story Diego tells the police of being harangued and slapped and how he responded in kind and thought he had killed the actress, displays some rather savvy criminal thinking, for such a boy scout. 

The law provides for severe punishments for killing someone while committing another felony.  Like sneaking into an apartment to steal and killing the renter when she catches you.  It’s considered Aggravated Murder and warrants the Death Penalty in some states, or life in prison without parole in others.   

Not so if you kill another while in the midst of a fight or heated argument.  So that is the lie Pillco told the police, and he only told the truth after sentencing, as agreed, when it couldn’t be used against him, so instead of life he gets twenty-five years, no parole and a free ride back to the border.

I am telling this to you because I believe that lax border enforcement led to the death of Adrienne Shelly.  The fact that Pillco incurred a debt and was here illegally made him desperate and dangerous.  If he were here legally and temporarily only as a tourist to Disneyland and picked someone’s pocket and were caught, do you think he would have killed to cover up his crime?  Or say he was on a guest-worker visa and snatched a purse?  Same perp, same amount of money, but different circumstances and an entirely different outcome.

Was there anything Mr. Pillco could have done differently when he was discovered, to avoid arrest for stealing, other than murder Shelly?

After he handed back her bag he should have also given back the stolen cash and then got down on one knee, put his palms together, as if praying and pleaded with her not to turn him in.  He didn’t speak English, but the posture of supplication is universal and she would have understood what he was saying.

She was said to be a kind-hearted generous woman.  I don’t know.  She should send him on his way and after he is gone, if she doesn’t call the police, she should still have a talk with the doorman and super and contractor, to insure Pillco doesn’t ever come back into the building, for the protection of the other tenants.

Besides keeping her door locked, was there anything Shelly could have done differently to avoid being murdered?

Three things, perhaps. 

  1. Upon seeing a strange man in her office she could have about-faced and locked herself in one of the rooms.  If she has her cell phone she calls for help, if not, there may be a landline phone in the room—it is an office.  Fax machines often have a handset.  Or if no phone she could fake a conversation with the police dispatcher.  Or she could start screaming and breaking windows and throwing objects out onto the street.  Or climb out on a fire-escape, if there is one.  Anything to get attention and to get out of her apartment.  Noise, in a populated area, really gets criminals nervous.  They never know if someone has heard and is summoning the police.  They flee to live and pilfer another day.

  1. Or she could have turned and looked into one of the rooms and called out a man’s name as if summoning him to battle, (“Jerry, get in here!”) and then turned and attacked Pillco, screaming and pushing and breaking things.  This sows confusion and would have made noise to cover for the fact that there is no one else in the office coming to help.  Noise, crazy lady, possible second person…  Pillco will likely flee.

  1. Or, after Pillco gives her back her bag and she finds the cash missing, instead of grabbing her phone, she holds out her hand to the thief for the stolen cash.  He gives it to her.  She then peels off two twenties and gives them to Pillco tells him to go and locks her door when he leaves.   Then she calls the police, and doorman.

The cell phone is what killed Shelly.  It is never a good idea, if you are alone in the presence of a criminal, to whip out your phone and start calling for the police.  It will likely cause the criminal to interfere with you, violently.

We have a border problem, and an illegal alien problem, and pretending that people that sneak into our country are harmless, and handing out lollipops to them is not the way to handle it.  

1 comment:

  1. Are you going to mail the rep a copy of your opinion?