93RD STREET APT #8I
It all happened Saturday, Feb. 7, after the police forced their way into the apartment next door. Somebody claimed they heard loud bangs, “like gun shots,” around 8pm the night before. We were away and missed it. But around 5pm, on Saturday, when our neighbor, Debra Silver, did not emerge from her apartment for her usual Saturday routine: synagogue service and the gym, the building’s superintendent finally called the cops. By the time I came home Saturday, late afternoon, our building was cordoned off by yellow police tape, besieged by cameras and press. Our floor was teeming with policemen and detectives. Through the open door of our neighbor’s apartment, I could see dozens of Crime Unit detectives. Apartment 8I had become the scene of a crime. Debra, as we learned, was killed by Michael Ruiz, her new boyfriend. He was a married man from Glen Ridge, NJ. I have never met him. Debra was having dinner with her old boyfriend, New York photographer/actor, Daniel Tedlie. Michael Ruiz shot both of them and than sat in the armchair nearby and killed himself. Suddenly, I felt I was part of the kind of gruesome murder stories one reads in the tabloids. “This is a big one,” said one of the many NYPD detectives who were in and out of apartment 8I, or milling around our door in the narrow landing. This was the first shooting in memory in our quiet, middle class building. TV cameras and the tabloids were swarming around trying to convince tenants to talk to them. It could have been the kind of story you would read in this month’s execution schedule (http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/scheduledexecutions.htm) with only one exception: the murderer killed himself.
In the coming days, more information came out. Debra, whom I knew but barely talked to, as she always seemed shy and a bit distracted, was a 46-year-old lawyer. She also pursued an acting career under the stage name of Coco Silvera. Her homepage reveals a stunning new look for the shy, introverted, Debra. “Coco” was a very attractive, some might even say glamorous, woman. Her website featured several of her acting roles in commercials and theater. She claims to have spoken a few languages fluently and played the music for some of her performances. She and her old boy friend, Daniel, shared a passion for swing dancing. Debra became pregnant using in vitro fertilization, wrote the NY Post, citing unnamed police sources.
Michael Ruiz, the killer, was a family man and father of two grown children. His wife had served him divorce papers eight days earlier. I asked our doorman how Michael seemed when he let Michael upstairs. (Debra had notified the building staff that Michael was a friend and that he would be a regular visitor.) “Calm” he said. And then, after a pause, added, “calm and calculated.”
I indulge in all these details since Debra, Michael and Daniel took the secrets of what had happened to their graves. The police claim it was “a jealously case.” Somehow, I think there is much more to it. I have a hard time imagining a 55-year-old man loading his 9mm, semi-automatic handgun and then proceeding, in a “calm and calculated” manner, to kill his girlfriend, her old boy friend and then himself. There must be other secrets in the story besides “just jealousy.” This is the stuff great novels are made of—a novelist using what seems like a banal murder case to journey over hundreds of pages into the mysteries of the human heart.
One can only imagine ( if instead of killing himself he chose to live and was apprehended.) In Texas, the prosecutor would have asked for the death penalty. After all, you cannot claim that it was a crime of passion if the killer comes armed with 9mm, semi-automatic gun and proceeds to shoot two people. And why shouldn’t Michael, had he chosen to live, have to pay with his life for the double tragedy he caused? Debra, who at the age of 46, could have become a mom, something she obviously desired but for many reasons could not have achieved at a younger age. And what about her former boyfriend Daniel, a sweet, tall man? I remember when the two were still living together. He was leaving NY after 32 years, going home to Colorado to be with his mom in her last years.
But then I think of Michael ‘s dark secrets—a suburban husband and father, who suddenly self-destructs in such a violent fashion. Why was he pushed to commit such a desperate act? Did he mean to kill himself as he marched “calm and calculated ” into our building or did he decide to do it when he sat in the armchair looking at the two bodies sprawled on the floor by his side. Did he, anticipating his trial, the cries for revenge, the press and family, and his future life in prison (he was unlikely to be executed in NY State) calmly lift the gun to his temple and shoot himself?
As I read this month’s list of Scheduled Texas Executions , I think of Michael Ruiz. The crimes committed by these condemned prisoners are as senseless, some would say banal, as a robbery gone awry, a boyfriend killing his kids as revenge. “90% of crimes,” the detective told me, are of this nature. Who knows what broke inside Michael Ruiz, a successful executive in the Human Resources Department at the Philips Corporation. He, who built a family, a career in an affluent NJ suburb, suddenly imploded.
All these question keep swirling in my head as I pass the next-door-apartment-turned-crime-scene, a taped sticker on the door: “These premises have been sealed by the order of NYPD.”
Yes, every crime deserves a punishment, but who are we to claim to understand the human mind and heart, and to declare that some criminals deserve to be executed? Michael had the right to take his own life but who are we to feel so superior to claim the right to take someone else’s life? Would killing someone like Michael bring his victims back to life, or more importantly, bring peace to Debra’s devastated family? A few days ago, I saw her aging father and sister in the lobby of our building looking lost and forlorn. In her father’s eyes you could see a wounded soul that will never heal. I know that from now on, every time I pass apartment 8I, I am doomed to remember Debra and her slain, former boy friend, but I will be haunted by the mystery of Michael Ruiz and the dozens scheduled to be executed across the United States for similar crimes.