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I remember clearly the day -- it was over a dozen years ago -- that I first heard the name Ricardo Caputo. The person who mentioned the name to me was a private detective who'd been hired to find out who had murdered a New York writer, a woman noted for philanthropy and social activism. The detective had been on the case for a year and a half, and on a February afternoon in 1985 he informed me t
I remember how relieved I was to hear the name. It didn't mean anything to me -- any name would have done. And the feeling of relief didn't last long. In a few minutes, it would dissipate, then vanish altogether. But before I get to that, let me explain why I was at least momentarily relieved. It was because I'd known and admired Jacqui Bernard, the dead woman, and had long been hoping that the mystery of her death would be solved.
I'd even tried to solve it myself. Amateur sleuth that I was, after Jacqui was killed in the summer of 1983, I spent weeks interviewing people who might be able to shed light on her murder and published my findings, such as they were, in an article in New York magazine. At the time, I was relatively new to crime reporting. I was also shy, not the kind of person to whom asking questions of strangers came easily. Still, I managed to turn out a fairly decent piece of work about Jacqui, and because of this I'd gotten to know McEwan. He'd looked me up after my article appeared and we'd become friends of a sort. Phone pals, mostly, though occasionally we got together for a talk, a meal.
I enjoyed knowing him. Writing about Jacqui, I'd become obsessed with discovering who had killed her, and McEwan shared that obsession. Our reasons were different. He was on a job. I was just intensely curious. I think it was because Jacqui's murder had spoken to a particular fear of mine and, I believe, of many women. She'd been killed not by a stranger but by someone she knew, someone who hadn't had to sneak into her home or force his way into her room. She had let her killer in. Or come home with him. She had been killed by an intimate.
I hadn't known this at first, and neither had the police. Indeed, at first they hadn't even believed that Jacqui had been murdered. Her body had been found by her sister and brother-in-law, who'd been expecting her for dinner. When she failed to show up, they went to her apartment to see if anything was wrong. They got a key from a member of the co-op board, let themselves in, and saw Jacqui lying facedown on her bed, her head leaning against a small velvet pillow. She didn't stir, and they realized she was dead.
Nothing suggested foul play. When the police arrived at the spacious co-op, they observed that it hadn't been broken into -- not just the door but all the window locks were still intact. They noted, too, that the rooms showed no signs of disarray. No drawers had been dumped, no closets ransacked, and the bed on which the dead woman lay wasn't rumpled or disturbed. The only odd thing was that she was wearing a long-sleeved bathrobe -- odd because it was an exceedingly hot night and her apartment had no air-conditioning. But strokes and cardiac arrests weren't altogether uncommon in women of Jacqui's age, which was sixty-two. Maybe, the police reasoned, she'd put on the robe because a sudden chill had presaged an incipient heart attack or stroke.
This view was shared by the medical examiner the police summoned to look over the body. The ME pronounced that Jacqui had died of natural causes.
But of what sort of natural cause? Jacqui's sister wanted to know if she'd been sick or had a coronary, and she asked to have an autopsy performed. The body was taken to the medical examiner's office, and one of the doctors there undertook the slow, careful examination of every inch of flesh and expanse of inner organ. Not long after this second medical examiner began his autopsy, he noticed something the original ME had not. Jacqui's larynx had been fractured. She had been strangled to death by someone with strong, deadly fingers.
It was at this point that Gordon McEwan had entered the picture. Having lost confidence in the police, Jacqui's sister had enlisted him to look into what had happened to her. He and his partner had gone to her apartment, searched the rooms, and found something, a clue -- a yellow towel or bedspread, a close friend of Jacqui's told me -- though exactly what the clue was and what its significance might be, I certainly didn't know. Not when I wrote my article. At that time, given that the cause of her death was a mystery and few facts about it were at my disposal, I wrote as much about Jacqui's life as about her death.
It had been a remarkable life. Although Jacqui's father was a French count, she'd been raised in America, where she had grown up to eschew the aristocratic and champion the rights of the disconsolate and disadvantaged. She'd cofounded the famous organization Parents Without Partners. She'd raised money for the historic black-voter registration drive in Mississippi. She'd taught remedial reading and writing at a college designed to educate minority students. She'd done volunteer work for an association devoted to stopping human rights violations. She'd started a foundation to help illiterate Southern women record their oral histories, using her own money to fund the grants. And she'd published two well-received works of nonfiction, Voices From the Southwest, a collection of profiles of Native Americans, and Journey Toward Freedom, a biography of the black abolitionist and early feminist Sojourner Truth.
In the period before her death, Jacqui's interests had shifted toward Hispanic politics and culture. Just before her murder, she had joined an organization that supported the left-wing regime in Nicaragua and had spent two weeks in Cuba at a health conference.
Jacqui's passion for social action was paralleled by a tireless devotion to her friends. The divorced mother of one child, a son, Jacqui had never remarried, but instead she'd surrounded herself with friends, men and women alike, lavishing on them a maternal and inspirational affection. She'd had scores of friends, but she'd always been open to meeting just one more.
Copyright © 1998 by Gayle Hallenbeck Lynds