Adrienne Shelly: Actress, Filmmaker, Wife, Mother—Illegal Alien Tragedy

by Carl F Horowitz:

Mexican Microcosm: The Unsolved Death Of Kirsty MacColl

One of the more
pleasant film surprises of the last few months, still
playing at local theaters, is

. A coming-of-age drama with comic
undercurrents, it centers on a pregnant,
going-out-of-her-mind young wife (played by

Keri Russell
of TV`s late "Felicity" series)
trying to make ends meet at a small-town Southern diner,
baking pies,

waiting on tables,
bonding with the gals, and

enduring her reptilian husband
. Though a feminist
morality play, the movie doesn`t come off as vindictive
or didactic—and it holds its own against more expensive
predecessors such as

Fried Green Tomatoes

Steel Magnolias.

And yes, our pie-baking heroine gives birth at the end.

That`s the happy

The sad part is
that the movie`s writer, director and co-star,

Adrienne Shelly
, until very recently a real-life
wife and mom, won`t be personally on hand to receive any


Golden Globe
awards that might otherwise come her

And that has
everything to do with America`s ongoing debate over

We`ll elaborate on
that soon enough. But first let`s get acquainted with
the subject.

Adrienne Shelly

a remarkable 40 years.
Born Adrienne Levine in 1966

ancestry, she grew up in Long Island,
N.Y., discovering along the way a passion for acting and
film production. She majored in film at

Boston University
. But ambition burned brightly, and
she dropped out after her junior year to move to


With acting talent
and attractive Ashkenazi-Jewish facial features similar
to those of singer

Taylor Dayne
and author

Elizabeth Wurtzel,
the petite Miss Shelly got her
first career break before the Eighties ended. A young
New York filmmaker, Hal Hartley, wanted her to star in
his first feature-length production,

The Unbelievable Truth.

She would play, memorably, a sharp-tongued high-school
student who finds personal independence in unexpected
ways. The 1989 dialogue-heavy film, shot in the grittier
portions of Long Island, quickly became a cult favorite.
Hartley then quickly shot

(1990), with a bigger accent on black
humor, casting Shelly as a working-class high-school
dropout who early on finds herself in the

family way

performances have worn well. "She lights up the
screen like a bottle rocket,"
recalled Newsweek`s
Malcolm Jones recently. [An
`Unbelievable` Talent,
Nov. 10, 2006] Critics
usually cite Steven Soderbergh`s

Sex, Lies and Videotape
(1989) as the kickoff
point for modern low-budget indie-filmmaking. But one
could make a strong case for The Unbelievable Truth
and Trust sharing the honors.

Shelly went on to
act in about

20 more films,
invariably lacking wide distribution.

Wrestling with Alligators
, and

, the latter a fictionalized take on the
early life and times of writer

Charles Bukowski,
remain among the best-known. She
seemed forever destined to be one of those actresses—Parker
another Hal Hartley favorite, also comes to
mind—tagged with adjectives like "quirky" and

Not that Shelly
minded that much. Film was her life. By the late
Nineties, direction would become her main focus. As a
director, she`d made several movies before Waitress,

I`ll Take You There
(1999), starring

Ally Sheedy
; Shelly also wrote the script and

Adrienne Shelly, in
other words, had become an unobtrusively significant
figure in American cinema by the time she shot
in 2005.

After the wrap, she
returned to her Tribeca loft in Lower Manhattan to be
with her husband, marketing executive Andrew Ostroy, and
raise their preschool daughter, Sophie. All seemed
right, professionally and personally.

Manhattan`s West
Greenwich Village remains a hard place not to love. A
farrago of townhouses, lofts, boutiques,

, nightclubs and parks, with

New York University
nearby, the


fairly radiates
bohemian glory.

But this

, architectural and commercial urban polyglot
has a

. For Adrienne Shelly, that downside proved

Wednesday, November
1, 2006 began like any normal work day. Ostroy dropped
his wife off at her Abingdon Square office-apartment in
the West Village around 9:30 A.M.

By late afternoon,
he had grown concerned, having not heard from her. He
came by her office about 5:45 P.M. to a horrifying
discovery: Adrienne Shelly`s lifeless body hanging by a
bed sheet from a bathtub shower rod.

Her husband called
New York City police. They quickly declared the death a
suicide. But after completing an autopsy the next day,

cops realized their judgment had been premature.
one thing, the sneaker prints in the bathroom failed to
match any of the shoes belonging to the victim, who was
wearing only socks anyway. For another, money was
missing from Ms. Shelly`s wallet. What`s more, she left
no note. And what mother of a preschool child does
herself in like that? This sure didn`t look like a

It didn`t take long
to find the culprit. On November 6, five days after
Adrienne Shelly`s death, the NYPD announced the arrest
for second-degree murder of one Diego Pillco, a

construction worker
—and an illegal alien from

Mr. Pillco had made
videos in which he admitted to killing Shelly. Somehow
police had been tipped off that this was the guy they
were looking for. Pillco was "having a bad day"
(or so he said) when he committed the crime. He was held
without bail.  [Star`s
Suicide Was Killer Cover-Up
| Worker Admits Slay:
By Larry Celona, Murray Weiss And Dan Mangan,
New York Post, November 7, 2006]

An ugly sequence of
events led up to the killing

Diego Pillco was a

for a Brooklyn-based contractor, BCG, which
issued a statement explaining that he`d worked only
part-time "because of his immigrant status." [She
Was Hanged Alive
, New York Daily News,
November 8, 2006] BCG, by the way, also owned the
Brooklyn apartment building where Pillco lived with his
brother in the basement.  

According to court
documents, on the day of the murder, Pillco had been

renovation work
on the apartment directly below the
filmmaker`s fourth-floor office. In the process, he was
making a noise. Shelly went downstairs to complain. He
responded in a less than congenial manner. A shouting
match ensued. Pillco suddenly threw his hammer in the
direction of her face, but missed.

Shelly immediately
went back upstairs, and threatened to call the police.
Fearing deportation, he chased after her and followed
her through her door. . [`Bad
Mood` Led To Lethal Rage
|Alien`s `Actress
Slay` Tale
, By Leonard Greene, NY Post,
December 14, 2006]

Once inside, she
slapped him (good for her). In response, Pillco punched
her in the face at least once, knocking her out. The
backward motion of the blow caused her head to hit a
table. Unable to detect a heartbeat, sources said, he
dragged Shelly into the bathroom in order to stage a
suicide. Pillco "then got a sheet which was on the
bed and tied it around her neck and dragged her by the
other end of the sheet from the hallway to the bathroom"
court documents said. [Bittersweet
 By Norma Meyer, Copley News
Service, May 11, 2007]

He then allegedly
climbed on the toilet, pulled her up and knotted the
sheet to the shower rod—a technique he`d learned

tying up pigs
on a farm in his native Ecuador.

The autopsy
indicated Shelley was still alive at the time
Pillco strung her up.

But, during the
time that Pillco stood on the toilet seat, he left an
imprint of his sneakers—apparently a rare brand. That
proved to be the smoking gun.

Pillco said nothing
at his arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court, and did
not enter a plea. But the evidence against him—he has
yet to stand trial—appears overwhelming. Assistant
District Attorney Marit DeLozier told the New York
Daily News
that the medical examiner "made it
clear, crystal clear, that this victim died from
compression to her neck"
. Pillco was the only person
who could have applied it.

Personality defects
aside, Diego Pillco had

no business being in America
—a fact downplayed by
much of the Mainstream Media. The New York Times
for Solace in a Slice of Pie
, by Julia Moskin, April
18, 2007) and, a month later, Copley News Service (May
18, 2007) both referred to Pillco as "a 19-year-old
construction worker."
The Syracuse Post-Standard
30, 2007
, pay archive)
wrote of him as "the worker." But, on the plus
side, the New York Daily News (November 9, 2006)
called Pillco a

"19-year-old illegal immigrant."

In death, Adrienne
Shelly has achieved a degree of superstardom she did not
attain in life. Very soon after the murder, Waitress
was accepted for airing at the Sundance Film Festival in
January 2007. It played to favorable reviews—so
favorable that Fox Searchlight Pictures only hours later
bought the distribution rights for nearly $4 million.
The NBC-TV crime drama Law & Order on February
16, 2007 aired an episode,

"Melting Pot,"
that closely paralleled the
from the headlines,"
as they say. And Shelly`s
husband, Andrew Ostroy, has set up the

Adrienne Shelly Foundation
 to provide funds for
aspiring female screenwriters and directors.

But, beyond the
bittersweet reminders that Adrienne Shelly has not died
in vain, is the context of the national debate.

Presumably, as
mass-immigration enthusiasts might spin the narrative,
Diego Pillco came here to do a

job that Americans won`t do.
If only he had

obtained legal status beforehand,
he would have had
no fear of deportation, and hence no incentive to
permanently silence anyone likely to

call the police.

And he was
hard-working. Fellow residents of his Brooklyn apartment
building told police that he worked every day of the
week except Saturday—not even including the time he put
in as the building`s unofficial super. Neighbor

Delmi Restituyo said
Pillco earlier had admitted to
her that he paid a

$12,000 in July 2006 to get him into the
country. "He worked so hard to support his family and
pay off his debt,"
she said.

enthusiasts may find comfort in such words, as they lend
credibility to the view that massive Hispanic
immigration is

crucial to our nation`s economic survival;
it`s just
a few bad apples, you see, who give the process a bad
name. And even they work hard.

The problem with
this rationalization: we don`t know how
newcomers are going to behave before
they arrive

If they have

criminal intent
or a

sociopathic personality,
they`re certainly not going
to reveal anything in advance. 

Our immigration
enthusiasts, including those in

and the

White House,
would rather focus on the virtues of
versions of Diego Pillco than on the need to
preserve this country`s




is "the unbelievable truth."


immigration cheerleaders
a message this summer: See

and remind them of who made it, and her
terrible end.    

Carl F. Horowitz (
him) is a Washington, D.C.-area policy researcher who
specializes in immigration, labor, welfare and housing
issues. He has a Ph.D. in urban planning and policy
development and has taught in the urban and regional
planning program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.