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The cooler wouldn't sink.
It was floating out there in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, bobbing on the water. Mocking him.
Tom Capano looked at it for a long time; then he turned to his brother Gerry. Gerry looked away. He had made it clear that he wanted no part of this. But Tom needed him. Maybe for the only time in his life, he needed his younger brother's help.
They were out there together, and they had to finish what they had started.
The cooler was an Igloo marine model, a fisherman's ice chest. It was about four feet long, two feet high, and two and a half feet wide, made of heavy-duty white plastic. Tom had wrapped a large metal chain around it and secured it with a padlock, but that and its contents still weren't enough to make it sink. The cooler stood out against the blue-green sea, floating calmly about thirty feet away from them.
They were standing on the deck of the Summer Wind -- which was the name of Gerry's sports fishing boat, and also the title of a melancholy Frank Sinatra song of fleeting romance and the heartache of lost love. But that was an irony that would have been lost on Tom Capano as he stood staring at the damn ice chest, willing it to go down.
"I can't fucking believe you did this," Gerry Capano shouted. "Why did you get me involved in this? I can't fucking believe it."
They were about sixty miles out, southeast of the southernmost tip of New Jersey. It was late on a hazy Friday morning at the end of June in 1996, the kind of day sailors and fishermen described as "snotty." There was a slight wind blowing out of the southeast. The waves were two to fourfeet. The sun was trying to break through the heavy mist.
During the ride down to the shore that morning, Tom had assured his brother that everything would be all right. "I'll never let anything happen to you," he had said. But now, as he stood at the back of the small boat, he had nothing more to say to his brother.
Gerry cut back on the dual engines that powered the twenty-five-foot Hydra Sport. He reached for the shotgun he kept in the boat's small wheelhouse: a twelve-gauge Mossberg, silver with a black stock. Gerry kept the gun on board to kill sharks. He used deer slugs. They were more effective than buckshot.
Gerry aimed at the cooler and fired once. There was a dull thud as the slug pierced the plastic. The brothers looked at one another.
Now blood was seeping out of the bullet hole. But the cooler was still bobbing on the ocean's surface. It wouldn't sink.
Gerry cursed in frustration and anger. He powered the engines and swung the boat around toward the cooler, gently pulling alongside. Tom reached over and grabbed for the chain, pulling the ice chest hard against the Summer Wind.
Gerry cut back on the engines and allowed the boat to idle. He reached down, grabbed the boat's two anchors, and brought them to his brother.
"You're on your own," he said.
Tom was fighting to get the chain and padlock off the cooler. Gerry walked away, toward the bow of the boat. For three or four minutes he stood there, looking out at the sea. In the distance, he could see another small fishing boat, but otherwise they were alone.
He heard chains and anchors clanging and Tom struggling. Occasionally his brother would pause and vomit over the side. Gerry didn't know if this was because he was seasick -- Tom had a weak stomach; he hated boat rides -- or because of the work at hand.
"Are you done yet?" Gerry yelled at one point.
Tom did not answer.
He had gotten the chain off and had the lid of the cooler opened. And he was sickened by what he saw inside. It was the body of a woman. She was tall, with long, thick hair and a large, oval face. Once she had been beautiful, but now her features were distorted. She had been dead for several hours, stuffed inside the cooler before rigor mortis had set in. Along the side of her head, above her left ear, her hair was matted and discolored where the blood from a bullet wound -- a wound Tom had inflicted several hours earlier -- had coagulated. Her hair, which was auburn, had turned a dark reddish purple around the small head wound.
Using nylon rope he had found on board, Tom Capano secured the anchors and the chain to the body. Then he tilted the cooler and allowed the remains of the woman he had once loved to slip out into the water. Gerry turned when he heard the splash. He saw part of a calf and a foot disappear into the ocean as the now-anchored body began its slow descent. It would take several minutes to reach bottom. They were at a depth of about 200 feet, Gerry knew; he often fished for shark there.
The area was known as Mako Alley.
"I can't fucking believe you got me involved in this," he said again.
Tom Capano didn't hear him. He was throwing up over the side of the boat.
The brothers said very little else that morning. Gerry got a Philips-head screwdriver out of his toolbox, took the lid and one of the handles off the Igloo cooler, and threw them into the ocean. Next he got a hose and washed out the chest, rinsing away the pools of blood that had settled on the bottom of the plastic container.
Minutes later the Summer Wind was heading due west, toward shore, at about twenty-five knots. At that point, Tom Capano flung the cooler -- now missing a lid and a handle, and with a bullet hole through its side and bottom -- into the water...
Posted August 19, 2001