Read an Excerpt
The call for help was panicked and vague. Caitlin Whiteley, a twenty-two-year-old University of Virginia student, had returned home to her cookie-cutter apartment in Charlottesville to find her roommate unresponsive. It was early Monday morning, the end of a typically hard-drinking “Sunday Funday” on campus, and Caitlin couldn’t grasp what was wrong. She’d walked home with Philippe Oudshoorn, a friend and fellow athlete, to find Yeardley Love facedown on her bed and a hole kicked through her bedroom door. Something about the way Yeardley’s hair lay seemed awkward and unnatural, so Caitlin pushed it aside and gently shook her friend’s shoulder. No response. Then Caitlin noticed some blood.
Oudshoorn hurriedly picked up the phone and told the nine-one-one dispatcher that something was amiss—a message that somehow was translated to “possible alcohol overdose” when patched through to nearby police cars—before lifting Yeardley’s body from her bed and attempting CPR. By the time detectives arrived to the second-floor apartment on Charlottesville’s narrow 14th Street Northwest, the bloody scene looked nothing like the bender gone awry they had anticipated. Medics were bent over the battered body of Yeardley, a pretty and athletic twenty-two-year-old, and were frantically trying to breathe life back into her.
They were failing.
Charlottesville police officer Lisa T. Reeves was among the first to respond, arriving at the four-bedroom apartment in an off-white building at about 2:30 a.m. May 3, 2010. The apartment was on the second floor, the entrance to which was reachable by a staircase in the middle of the building. She hunted for unit No. 9 and entered.
The front door to the apartment was open and untampered, but the door to the bedroom around which all the activity was now centered—Yeardley’s bedroom, Reeves would quickly surmise—was splintered, as though someone had punched a hole straight through it. Reeves spotted Yeardley and immediately saw the blood. A pool had saturated the pillow and sheets beneath the girl’s head, and smears of red discolored the bed’s comforter. Even the bed skirt was stained crimson.
As the officer examined her more closely, she saw bruising on Yeardley’s cheek. The young co-ed’s right eye was swollen shut, and a large bruise spread down the side of her face. Blunt-force trauma, Reeves would soon describe in her police report, her cop voice kicking in. There is a pool of blood on her pillow. The girl’s face was surrounded by long brown hair sopping with blood. Probable cause exists that Yeardley Love was murdered.
Officers arriving at the apartment quickly cordoned off the area. This was no alcohol poisoning; this was a crime scene. Reeves relayed to her superiors the grisly news: The victim, a star lacrosse player on the university’s women’s team, was dead, pronounced while still in her apartment, wearing nothing but the panties in which first responders had discovered her. The death was clearly violent. Officers quickly descended on the scene and began gathering evidence. They started by interviewing Whiteley, Yeardley’s longtime friend, roommate and teammate, and Oudshoorn, a player on the UVA men’s tennis team who was along for the gruesome discovery.
Violent crime was rare enough in Charlottesville, with fewer than 250 cases reported in 2009, but violent death was rarer still, stirring in the police force a mixture of shock and curiosity. Reeves tried to tease details from Yeardley’s inconsolable roommates, one of whom had rushed to the front yard and was wailing on a cell phone to a friend. The story they weaved in between tears was like something out of a Lifetime movie: Yeardley had been in a rocky relationship, they said, and things had gotten progressively worse in recent days; you need to talk to her boyfriend.
Yeardley had been dating twenty-two-year-old George Huguely V, a handsome, six foot two midfielder on the men’s lacrosse team, for about two years. Friends knew their relationship had foundered lately, and some felt Huguely was becoming unhinged. He texted Yeardley often, keeping tabs on her when she was out of town with teammates. Rumors circulated that he had punched a fellow lacrosse player for walking Yeardley home one night, possibly offering a goodnight kiss, and others had to break up a fight between the couple that had gotten so ugly, Yeardley had hit Huguely with her purse.
Yeardley had broken off the relationship a few weeks prior, but to some, it was hard to tell. The two hung out in the same crowd at the same bars, and when one friend asked Yeardley the night before she died how things were with George, Yeardley had replied vaguely that things were the same as always.
* * *
As Reeves set out to find Huguely, Charlottesville Police Sgt. Steve Dillon, a forensic detective, took photos of the scene, a typical bedroom in a nondescript apartment building situated about half a mile from the heart of campus. Yeardley’s room largely looked like any other college student’s, complete with strewn-about clothing. Dillon carefully documented each angle he could think of, taking special care to photograph the hole in the bedroom door, which Dillon noticed had little bits of hair clinging to its jagged edges. Reeves, meanwhile, learned that Huguely lived on the same street, just one building down. The roommates’ story had been a little hard to follow, but what the officer gleaned was this: Yeardley had tried to call off their relationship because Huguely would sometimes drink too much and get violent. Huguely, Reeves gathered, didn’t like that plan.
Officers had no trouble finding Huguely just a building away, in his apartment inside a brick building on 14th Street Northwest, near its T-junction with Sadler Street. It was still dark outside, still the middle of the night, when he agreed to answer questions at the police department. He wore a black T-shirt ironically adorned with a police logo on the front and back, his brown flip-flops and blue Nike shorts appropriate for the spring Charlottesville weather. It had reached 82 degrees the day before; even when bar hopping after sunset, the college kids often left their jackets behind and simply wore T-shirts. After reaching the police department less than two miles from his house, George waived his Miranda rights, saying he was willing to talk. Police secretly set up a video camera to record the conversation. He acknowledged that he had the right to an attorney and the right to keep silent; he invoked neither, Reeves would report. He seemed shaken and distressed, and as he began to tell his story, he admitted that he had been to see Yeardley. As he described the night’s events, he used the passive language that cops so often hear from culprits—damning enough to admit some culpability, but distant enough to shirk full blame.
Yes, he’d fought with Yeardley, George told Reeves. He said the couple had ended their relationship of about two years, and the last few days they had chatted primarily over e-mail. George said he had gone to Yeardley’s apartment and kicked her bedroom door in, but he had just wanted to talk. Things got out of hand. He shook her, and her head hit the wall. He noticed blood pouring from her nose. He pushed her onto the bed and left. He didn’t know she was seriously hurt, he said. He had been injured himself, he said, motioning to scrapes along his right leg—the type that one would get by kicking in a door. Reeves noticed some other scrapes and bruises on George’s arms and hands. He shook those off—they were from lacrosse, not the fight, he claimed. It was impossible for Reeves to know if George was being completely forthcoming. When confessing, criminals often downplay their crimes, turning intentional acts into accidents and using slippery language to minimize their involvement. George could have been doing the same. He didn’t bang Yeardley’s head against the wall; rather, her head “repeatedly hit the wall” as he shook her. George did, however, admit to stealing an Apple laptop from Yeardley’s room and tossing it in a Dumpster. Reeves asked him where, so officers could retrieve it when the interview was over.
Huguely repeatedly asked Reeves how Yeardley was, defense lawyers told a judge months later. An hour into the interrogation, Reeves finally told him that Love was dead.
“She’s dead, George,” Reeves said, according to the lawyer. “You killed her.”
Huguely was shocked, his attorney said, and replied, “She’s dead? She’s not dead … You guys said she had a black eye. I never did anything that would do that to her.”
With his statement, Reeves knew she had plenty of probable cause to arrest George Huguely V on suspicion of murder. By the interview’s end, she likely sensed, too, that the case seemed tailor made for media consumption. Reporters had already gotten word about the story, and local scribes had gathered down the street, trying to interview neighbors over the sirens and wails that shattered the early-morning calm. Yeardley’s friends clutched each other and cried in disbelief.
The first news release on the death was distributed by the Charlottesville Police Department before sunrise. Its contents were sparse:
On the morning of May 3rd, 2010, at 0215 hours, City Police were called to 222 14th ST N.W. apartment number 9 for a possible alcohol overdose. Officers arrived and found a female University of Virginia Student unresponsive in the apartment. Police Officers and Rescue personnel who were called to the scene attempted to revive the victim but were unsuccessful.
Police are treating the case as a homicide investigation at this time.
Victim identification is being withheld at this time pending notification of next of kin. Further information will be released later today. Until such time, no other information will be made available to the public or the media.
The release ended with a bolded plea for people with information to either call police or the Crime Stoppers tip line.
Local reporters with Charlottesville outlets got that initial word and headed straight to 14th Street Northwest. A reporter and photographer from the C-VILLE Weekly, a 24,000-circulation alternative weekly largely dedicated to arts and entertainment in the lively college town, but whose reporters kept readers abreast of breaking news online, were quickly on the scene. Reporter Brendan Fitzgerald wasn’t sure what type of story the paper would want when he joined the coverage by mid-morning. The sketchy information released by police so far raised far more questions than answers.
“It’s hard to predict what kind of coverage you’re gearing up for, but it raises a different set of questions that inform possible stories when you hear it’s a homicide rather than an alcohol overdose,” Fitzgerald later recalled.
The ambiguity didn’t last long. Shortly after noon, the media received an update: George Huguely V had already been questioned and was in custody. That news release had more information—including Yeardley’s name and standing at the school:
Regarding the death of a University of Virginia student occurring this morning at 222 14th ST N.W. Apartment Number 9, the victim has been identified as 22 year old, Yeardley Love. Ms. Love was a fourth year University of Virginia student from Cockeysville, Maryland and is on the University’s Women’s Lacrosse Team.
Preliminary investigation by detectives revealed that Ms. Love is the victim of an apparent homicide. She suffered visible physical trauma, however the specific cause of her death is undetermined pending an autopsy.
George Huguely, 22, a fourth year student at the University of Virginia from Chevy Chase MD has been charged with First Degree Murder and is in custody at the Charlottesville/Albemarle jail. He is a player for the University’s Men’s Lacrosse Team.
According to witnesses, Huguely and Love had a past relationship.
Charlottesville Police are continuing to investigate the case and will provide more details as they become available
About 12:30 p.m., an update was posted to C-VILLE’s Web site, including a photo of city police vehicles surrounding the scene at 14th Street Northwest. Fitzgerald, who had been helping to weave coverage at a desk, left to join colleague Chiara Canzi at the scene soon after. The local media had long been gathered, chit-chatting as they waited for the scant updates.
“There were a few camera crews awaiting across the street from Yeardley Love’s apartment building,” Fitzgerald recalled, “and we all made a couple of attempts to speak with people on the street, people walking by. Not a lot of people were talking.”
Fitzgerald didn’t know then just how silent the campus would become.
* * *
While reporters awaited word, detectives behind the scenes were beginning to fill out the obligatory paperwork for search warrants, using the stilted language in which officers are trained to write. In a court request asking for permission to search George’s black Chevrolet Tahoe, Reeves wrote: Your affiant knows from training and experience that persons involved in crimes of domestic violence often view property that was given to a partner being forfeited back to the giver at the termination of the relationship. Reeves wanted to check inside the SUV to see if George had any of Yeardley’s belongings inside. The request was quickly granted. George’s apartment was searched, as was Yeardley’s bedroom. By day’s end, officers had collected dozens of items as evidence, including swabs of red stains in Yeardley’s bedroom, her cell phone, and her digital camera. They bagged a note on Yeardley’s bureau in which Huguely apologized for an earlier fight and wrote, “You are my best friend.” They also recovered her laptop from the Dumpster where Huguely said he had tossed it, and from Huguely, they took DNA samples, fingernail scrapings, his clothing, and his keys.
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo and Lieutenant Gary Pleasants tag teamed to field the dozens of media queries that flooded the police department, a small force housed in a brick building connected to the district court on Market Street. When appearing on television, their updates were brief and heartfelt. Clearly, the discovery of Yeardley’s battered body was unlike anything the officers had seen before.
Asked by reporters if he had experienced a death scene like Yeardley’s before, Longo somberly answered, “In the nine years that I’ve been privileged to serve as chief of police in this community, I have not.”
The questions reporters posed were predictable: Why had Yeardley’s roommate reported that she might have passed out from heavy drinking? Did alcohol play a role in the death? Why would George have attacked the young woman? Were there any warning signs that went unheeded? Longo and Pleasants answered obliquely, citing the early stages of the investigation and their desire not to screw it up.
“We’re not going to go into any specifics,” Pleasants told reporters. “There are too many accounts, and we have half a dozen detectives working on it.” Longo, meanwhile, told a Baltimore radio station that he couldn’t speculate on why Whiteley first reported alcohol overdose when she found the body. Yeardley’s injuries were obvious to officers who responded, he said, but he added that by the time officers arrived, Yeardley’s body had been moved. It was no longer face down in a pillow, and there was no hiding the bruises and blood on her face.
By early afternoon, the story already had reached far beyond Charlottesville. Interview requests came pouring in from national media outlets, and television personalities such as Nancy Grace and Dan Abrams were beginning to opine about the case. Charlottesville police were inundated with questions wanting to know whether Huguely could be characterized as cooperative, remorseful, or reticent.
“He was upset by the situation he found himself in but was cooperative with police,” a department spokesman told reporters.
Reporters tracked down the phone number for Yeardley’s family home in suburban Baltimore, where a woman identifying herself as a designated spokesman politely repeated that the family had no comment. Sharon Love, Yeardley’s mother, immediately drove to Charlottesville with daughter Lexie, Yeardley’s older sister. Longo told reporters that Sharon was in a state of shock.
“She was very gracious and thankful to investigators,” he told one New York–based reporter. “The family wants to be left alone to grieve and mourn … I can only imagine what Ms. Love is going through.”
Huguely’s parents were also believed to be headed to Charlottesville, so reaching them by phone would be next to impossible. But the Washington Post managed to reach his grandfather, George Huguely III, by phone. “He was a wonderful child and he was going to graduate,” the elder Huguely said. “Hopefully he will be graduating. That’s all I can tell you, OK? I’m sorry.”
John Casteen III, the university’s president, released a heartfelt statement that described the anger welling in many at the senseless death. He described Yeardley as a student with “uncommon talent and promise.”
“That she appears now to have been murdered by another student compounds this sense of loss by suggesting that Yeardley died without comfort or consolation from those closest to her,” Casteen said. “We mourn her death and feel anger on reading that the investigators believe that another student caused it.”
Yeardley didn’t deserve it, he continued.
“However little we may know now about Yeardley Love’s death, we do know that she did not have or deserve to die—that she deserved the bright future she earned growing up, studying here, and developing her talents as a lacrosse player,” he said. “She deserves to be remembered for her human goodness, her capacity for future greatness, and not for the terrible way in which her young life has ended.”
By Tuesday, as reporters packed a cramped courtroom to catch their first glimpse of a young man charged with first-degree murder, this much was clear: Yeardley Love’s death would impact far more than her family or even just the thousands in and around Charlottesville, Virginia. Her name and her story were destined to reverberate throughout the country.
Copyright © 2011 by Amber Hunt