A talented actress and filmmaker on the verge of stardom is found dead in her bathroom, allegedly from suicide. But New York Police Department investigators, with an eye for detail, turned the investigation on its head and led it to a teenager who almost got away with murder.
On November 1, 2006, at approximately 5:45 p.m., authorities were called to an apartment in the bohemian Greenwich Village district of Manhattan after Andy Ostroy found his wife dead. Adrienne Shelly, 40, was found in the bathroom of an apartment she was using as an off-site office, apparently the result of a suicide, according to Detective John Cantone of the NYPD’s Crime Scene Unit.
“We went into the bathroom where we found a middle-aged white woman with blonde hair and fully clothed hanging from a sheet attached to a shower curtain rod,” Cantone said New York murderAirs Saturdays at 9/8c oxygen.
Investigators believed Shelly had been dead for about five to six hours and noted markings above her right eye and cheeks.
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Family members, including Shelly’s marketing executive husband, were devastated by the tragedy. It was even more heartbreaking because she left behind a two-year-old daughter. However, those closest to Shelly did not subscribe to the suicide theories, a reaction that investigators knew was all too common for grieving people.
“Adrienne was madly in love with her baby,” said her friend and agent Rachel Sheedy.
Relatives deny Adrienne Shelly’s suicide
Friends and family confirmed that Shelly had no history of depression and that her and Ostroy’s marriage was a happy one. She was also excited about the future, especially since her film Waitress“The Movie,” starring Keri Russell, was a contender for the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
Shelly was on the verge of a breakthrough, having already appeared in the film in 1989 The incredible truth and as a guest law and order and HBO’s Ozaccording to her IMDB page.
“I couldn’t imagine a woman waiting on the phone to hear from Sundance feeling like it was time to go,” Sheedy continued.
According to Officer Bill Stanton of the 40th Precinct, Ostroy told investigators that he dropped her off at the apartment-turned-office around 9:30 a.m. on the morning of Shelly’s death. Ostroy found it “highly unusual” not to hear from his wife for the rest of the day, prompting him to leave work and look for her.
A complicated knot and a shoe print raise suspicion
At first glance, it appeared to investigators that Shelly had taken her own life. Still, it was their job to process the crime scene and look for clues that could support or refute their theories. There were no signs of a break-in and the apartment didn’t appear to be in disarray, but investigators found it strange that the knot on the bed sheet used to hang Shelly was quite complicated.
“It just didn’t make sense to me,” Det. Cantone said New York murder. “I felt like there could be something more to this story.”
Sharp-eyed detectives also discovered a latent shoe print on the toilet seat. The pattern belonged to a Reebok Allen Iverson-style sneaker, men’s size 8, which did not match any of Shelly’s shoes. Investigators found no match when they compared the print with Ostroy, authorities and medical personnel who attended the crime scene.
“I immediately thought this would be very important to the case,” Cantone said.
Meanwhile, Ostroy’s alibi of being at work at the time of Shelly’s death has been confirmed. The results of Shelly’s autopsy determined that neck compression was the cause of death.
Possible suspects and a revealing clue
Investigators began talking to those closest to Shelly, including people in her work circle. They learned that a producer claimed that an aspiring writer known as a “wannabe” had been pressuring Shelly to read his script, even though Shelly had not complied with the request.
“It appears that he was very frustrated with Adrienne,” said Ofc. Stanton. “I kept trying to get her attention, but she was having none of it.”
Investigators visited the “wannabe” at his apartment and discovered he had moved out and traveled to another country, investigators said. However, as the flight logs show, the author left before Shelly’s death, leading investigators to look for other possible suspects.
Nobody stood out.
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Days passed without much pause when police visited the Greenwich Village apartment again on November 5, 2006. According to Detective George Boston of the NYPD’s Crime Scene Unit, investigators discovered with fresh eyes and ears that there was a construction project on the floor directly below Shelly’s. When the police entered the specific apartment, there was dusty construction paper with the imprint of a sneaker on the floor.
“I said, ‘Wow, that’s the same pressure; “An Allen Iverson size 8 Reebok,” Boston said New York murder. “The first thought is: ‘This isn’t suicide, this is murder.'”
The shoe print matched the one found over Shelly’s toilet.
According to Assistant District Attorney Doug Nadjari, police spoke with the person in charge of the construction project and identified Wilson Pillco as the foreman. Nadjari suspected: “Maybe it was someone from this construction crew who found their way into Adrienne’s apartment.”
The police arrest a 19-year-old construction worker
Investigators visited Wilson Pillco at his Brooklyn residence. Wilson opened the door and detectives quickly noticed there was a backpack on the floor with a pair of sneakers sticking out of it. Wilson said the bag belonged to his 19-year-old brother Diego Pillco – a construction worker who immigrated illegally from Ecuador – who was also in the house when investigators arrived.
The shoes matched those found at the crime scene, which the ADA referred to as the “golden slipper.”
Pillco admitted to being in Shelly’s building but initially denied seeing her. He also claimed that he had never been to Shelly’s apartment, which investigators realized was a lie given the shoe prints.
Pillco, now investigators’ prime suspect, appeared nervous in the interrogation room and was fiddling with a prayer card. Citing Pillco’s religious nature, one of the detectives learned that Pillco was in love with a young niece and used the information to make a confession.
“He said he didn’t want his sins to be placed on the child, and at that point Diego gives up,” ADA Nadjari said New York murder.
Diego Pillco claimed he was alone in the apartment under construction when Shelly came downstairs to complain about the noise. Pillco reportedly slammed the door on Shelly, even though she opened it and punched Pillco in the face. When Shelly allegedly threatened to call the police, Pillco – fearing deportation – followed Shelly back to her apartment and begged Shelly not to report him.
It was triggered when Shelly picked up the phone, causing a strong reaction.
“He said he was a peaceful person, but this was a trigger for him,” Nadjari said. “It flipped some kind of emotional switch in him.”
Pillco told authorities he hit Shelly in the face without knocking her unconscious. Then, inspired by a Spanish-language telenovela he once saw, he staged Shelly’s death to look like a suicide.
As for the staging of the suicide, Pillco was familiar with tying intricate knots, having frequently tied pigs in Ecuador.
“It’s terribly cold. “It’s terribly calculating,” Nadjari said. “He hangs her up and tries to blame her and make her family, her children, her husband live with this lie for the rest of their lives.”
Investigators and relatives dispute Diego Pillco’s statements
Those closest to Shelly, including Rachel Sheedy, were not satisfied with Pillco’s version of events – that Shelly initiated a confrontation. Sheedy said she “knew it couldn’t be true.”
“She was non-confrontational,” Sheedy said New York murder. “She wasn’t one to argue… she just wasn’t.”
Investigators agreed the story didn’t add up, noting that there was no construction dust on Shelly’s shoes (which would have been the case if she had confronted Pillco in the downstairs apartment).
Pillco was charged with second-degree murder and ultimately pleaded guilty to lesser counts of first-degree manslaughter. As part of the plea deal, he was required to make a full confession in court that ultimately revealed what really happened on the day of the murder.
Pillco retracted its earlier statements that Shelly came downstairs to file a noise complaint. Instead, Pillco admitted that he found Shelly in the elevator and decided to rob her, claiming he needed money to send to the people who helped him enter the United States illegally.
“The door was open; it was ajar,” said ADA Nadjari. “He saw the purse on the table and went in to grab money from her purse and ran.”
Shelly allegedly surprised Pillco, surprising him and threatening to call 9-1-1. According to Pillco’s courtroom confession, he physically assaulted her and strangled her before hanging her in the shower.
Pillco was sentenced to 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
“This could have been ruled a suicide and the family would never have been cleared,” said Det. Boston. “Now they know what happened. Now they can finally put her to rest.”
Adrienne Shelley’s film, WaitressOn the same day Pillco was arrested, he was posthumously accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. After being adapted into a Broadway musical and nominated for a Tony Award, it achieved great success.
“She was this little firecracker. She was this little thing, but she had so much power and so much presence,” Sheedy said. “I still wish I could have seen what else she would have created.”
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