The Silent Victim – Dana Perry

The first bulletin came on the seven o’clock morning news while I was doing sit-ups in front of the TV. It said there’d been a shocking murder in Central Park. The body of a young woman had been found in a wooded area near the Park Grille Restaurant on the west side of the park. The victim had not yet been identified. Authorities said she had been killed sometime the night before, but no one knew anything else about her, why she was in the park or the exact cause of death. I had a decision to make. Should I stop doing sit-ups and call the city desk right away? Or wait until they called me? I knew that if I stopped my sit-ups, I’d feel guilty all morning. Besides, the office knew where to find me. Sure enough, some fifteen minutes later, my phone was ringing when I came out of the shower. It was Danny Knowlton, the assistant city desk editor at the New York Tribune, the newspaper where I work as a crime reporter. “Listen, Jessie, there’s just been a killing—” Knowlton began. “I’m way ahead of you. I saw the news bulletin on TV.” “Well, we’ve got more details now. This sounds like it’s going to be a big story.

” The victim had been identified as Margaret Kincaid, who worked as a campaign aide on the re-election committee of U.S. Senator Frank Lansdale. Margaret Kincaid was twenty-nine years old and lived downtown in the SoHo area of Manhattan. She’d only been in New York City for a few months – she was originally from Santa Barbara, California. “If you get a cab right away, you can be at the crime scene in ten minutes,” Knowlton said. “What’s the big hurry?” I asked, working a comb through my wet hair. “The big hurry is I’d like to beat the other papers in town on this story.” “Margaret Kincaid’s not going anywhere. I mean, she’s not going to jump up and walk away or anything.

” “But all the other reporters will get there first—” “That’s not what I do, Danny.” “What exactly is it you do again?” Knowlton knew the answer to that, of course. I didn’t use the police as the primary source for my crime stories. I preferred to write about crime from the perspective of the victim. Why did it happen to them? Who were they? What were the consequences and the repercussions of the crime? That was my specialty. I’d made a living doing that. I glanced over at a picture of myself hanging on the wall of my apartment – a framed cover of New York Magazine. The headline said: STOP THE PRESSES – CENTRAL PARK VICTIM JESSIE TUCKER IS FAMOUS! There was a picture of me standing next to a New York Tribune delivery truck, looking very much like a modern-day version of Lois Lane. “Haven’t you heard?” I laughed to Danny Knowlton. “I’m a legend.

” I got dressed then. I put on a pair of Calvin Klein blue jeans, a pink silk Christian Dior blouse, flat Italian sandals and a funky cowgirl-style belt with a big buckle that I’d bought on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village a few weeks before. I put some sunscreen on my face and pulled my wavy, dark hair into a simple ponytail. Then I checked myself out in a mirror. Not too bad for thirty-six, I told myself. Yep, all the sit-ups had really paid off. Of course, I really had no choice in the matter. Those were the doctors’ orders. Even all these years later the daily exercises had to be done, no matter what. But the looking good part that came with it – well, that was a nice bonus too.

I still walked with a slight limp from the injuries I suffered that night. Every once in a while, I even had to use a cane – but never out in public where people could see me. And then there were the minor aches and pains that the doctors said would never completely go away. But, all in all, I was in pretty good shape. The scars on my body were very faint now. But what about the scars you can’t see? The ones inside you? The doctors can’t do anything about them. I thought about Margaret Kincaid lying dead there in Central Park. A woman in the wrong place at the wrong time on a hot summer night. And now she was dead. Nope, it was no surprise that the Tribune had assigned me the story.

I was the ideal reporter for it. I was perfect. TWO The Margaret Kincaid murder was a slam-dunk, open-and-shut case, according to the cops. She had left her job at the New York City campaign office of Senator Frank Lansdale at 5:31 p.m. on the night she died. She made two stops. The first one was at a print shop on Madison Avenue where she picked up a package. The second was to the Park Grille, a trendy new restaurant on the west side of Central Park, near 86th Street, where she was meeting Jonathan Lansdale for dinner. Jonathan Lansdale was the senator’s son and also his campaign manager.

They had been dating for a few months – pretty much the entire time she’d been working for his father. Jonathan Lansdale told police afterward that Margaret had seemed upset by something during dinner, but she wouldn’t say what it was. Finally, while they were having coffee and dessert, he asked her again what was bothering her. Instead of telling him, she began to cry and ran toward the women’s room. She never came back. A parking lot attendant on duty outside remembered seeing a distressed woman come out the front door of the restaurant at about that time. She had her cell phone out and was talking to someone, he said. Then she began striding quickly across the parking lot toward the park itself. The attendant called out after her to see if she wanted him to call a cab. But she waved him off.

She disappeared into the trees, apparently headed toward an exit from the park. She never made it. Lansdale, her dinner companion, waited at the table for a long time hoping she’d come back. When she didn’t, he called her apartment in Soho to see if she was there. She wasn’t, but he kept calling her phone every five minutes or so for much of the night – increasingly desperate to find out what had happened to her. At 3:30 a.m., Lansdale – confused, worried and unsure of what to do next – called the police. Of course, she was long dead by then. But his reporting of her as a missing person was one of the reasons the police were able to identify her so quickly.

A passerby spotted the body a little after 5:00 a.m., when the sun was just starting to come up. The police at the scene reported that Margaret Kincaid had been bludgeoned to death with a rock. The bloody rock was found on the ground a few feet away from the body. Her death was not instantaneous, according to the medical examiner’s office. Their theory was that the first blow had struck her on the left temple, just above the eye – and stunned her enough to prevent her from fighting back. But she was probably still conscious. There were several other blows from the rock, and much of her face was crushed in. She took a few minutes to die, the ME’s report said.

Her skirt was pushed up and had been ripped, but there was no further evidence of sexual assault. It wasn’t clear why – maybe her attacker heard someone coming and needed to get away in a hurry. But he took her purse, a pearl ring, a pair of earrings – and her cell phone was missing too. Investigators also found three cigarette butts at the crime scene, which they figured the killer had smoked while he waited there for a likely victim. Sometime the next day, police – acting on a tip – raided the hotel room of a man named Joseph Enrico, who was staying at a cheap flophouse called The Stanton on Amsterdam Avenue. They said his fingerprints matched fingerprints found on the bloody rock. They also found Margaret Kincaid’s purse, earrings and ring in his room. When they attempted to handcuff him, he pulled a gun from his pocket and opened fire. The police shot back, killing him instantly. Enrico had a rap sheet dating back twenty years for burglary, forgery and auto theft.

I put all this in my story for the Tribune. There was a picture of Margaret Kincaid that ran with it. We’d gotten the picture from the Lansdale campaign office, and it showed her standing next to her desk there. She was blonde, beautiful and looked full of life. That haunting last image made her violent and senseless murder seem even more tragic. The death of Margaret Kincaid was like too many New York City crime stories – just an innocent person in the wrong place at the wrong time. If Margaret Kincaid hadn’t left her boyfriend and run out of that restaurant, she’d be alive today. Or if she’d turned around in the parking lot and waited for a taxicab. Or if the path of a career criminal like Joseph Enrico hadn’t crossed hers at exactly that moment… We all make a hundred decisions like that every day without ever suffering any real consequences from any of them. And then one day there are consequences.

But by then it’s too late. A lot of my stories are very complicated. They take days from the time of the crime until the arrest and eventually the trial. Or, they go unsolved without anyone ever knowing all the answers. But this one wasn’t like that. Margaret Kincaid was murdered, the obvious perpetrator shot to death during the arrest and the case cleared off the books – all in less than twenty-four hours. It was easy. Maybe too easy. I had some problems with it. First, what was Margaret Kincaid so upset about in the hours before her death? The woman had jumped up in the middle of a restaurant, burst into tears and ran outside alone into the woods.

Didn’t that mean something? Of course, it could just be a coincidence. But I wondered how extensively the police had questioned Jonathan Lansdale. Lansdale was the last person with her, which normally would have made him a prime suspect. But he was immediately cleared. Of course, he was the son of a U.S. senator. And there was no evidence linking him to the crime. Besides, he was still sitting inside the restaurant waiting for her to come back when she disappeared from sight. Second, who did she talk to on her cell phone outside the restaurant? Was she calling for a taxi to take her somewhere? Probably not, because the parking lot attendant offered to get her one, but she waved him away.

Whoever was on the other end of that phone – assuming she actually reached someone – was the last person to talk to Margaret Kincaid. So who was that, and why hadn’t he or she come forward with their story yet? Third, why didn’t she accept the offer of a taxi? It certainly was better than walking all the way out of the park to wherever she was headed. What if she had been trying to get away from Jonathan Lansdale? He could have come out of the restaurant at any moment and caught up with her. But, if she’d just gotten in a cab, she’d have been long gone. Fourth, Joseph Enrico seemed to be an odd person to have committed this murder. It didn’t seem to be his style. None of his previous crimes – burglary, forgery or auto theft – included random street attacks like this. That wasn’t his MO. So why did Enrico stand there in the woods with a rock in his hand waiting for someone like Margaret Kincaid to walk past? Also, it turned out Enrico didn’t smoke. So where did the three cigarette butts at the crime scene come from? The cops decided they’d probably been left there earlier by someone who had nothing to do with the murder.

Of course, none of this meant anything if you accepted the obvious conclusion the way the police did: that Joseph Enrico killed Margaret Kincaid in a simple case of robbery, attempted sexual assault and murder just because she happened to be there on that particular night. Because then all the rest of it – the crying scene in the restaurant, the cell phone call, the refused taxicab – was clearly irrelevant to the way she had died. That’s how cops solve most of their cases. They focus on a likely suspect – the person they believe did it. Then they accumulate evidence that could back up this version of how it happened. The police don’t particularly care about any evidence they happen to run across which takes them in a different direction. That only complicates things. Not that there is really anything wrong with this approach. Most of the time it works. On the other hand, if you started out with the hypothesis that maybe Joseph Enrico didn’t commit the murder, then all these other questions become very important to the case again.

The crying. The taxicab. The phone call. The lack of any apparent motive for a career criminal like Joseph Enrico to kill Margaret Kincaid. And what about the shootout at the end that killed Enrico? Why did he pull a gun when they came to arrest him? He must have known that he was signing his own death warrant. Enrico had been to jail plenty of times. He knew the score. He’d never done anything like that before. None of this bothered the cops. Or the District Attorney’s office.

O r a n y o f t h e p e o ple c o v e rin g t h e s t o ry fo r t h e o t h e r n e w s p a p e r s a n d T V s t a tio n s a n d n e w s w e b sit e s in t o w n. But it bothered me.

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