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Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Pleaded self-defense
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: September 7, 1997
Date of arrest: Same day (surrenders)
Date of birth: August 19, 1959
Victim profile: Argentine polo player Roberto Villegas, 38 (her boyfriend)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Warrenton, Fauquier County, Virginia, USA
Status: Sentenced to 60 days in jail on May 13, 1998 and ordered to pay $2,500; she was released after serving 51 days.
photo gallery

Susan Cummings (born c. 1959) was an American who was convicted of killing her boyfriend, Argentine polo player Roberto Villegas.

Cummings inherited her fortune from her father, former CIA agent turned arms dealer Samuel Cummings. She lived a lavish lifestyle, owning a horse farm and being a well known Virginia socialite. Cummings, however, was also a very shy person and did not enjoy partying and was devoted to her horses.

Villegas felt attracted to the young heiress as soon as they met. An avid polo player, he befriended Susan, while at the same time, gaining a spot among Virginia's high society's socialites. Soon, the couple began dating, which later on lead to Villegas and Cummings moving together.

On September 7 of 1997, Cummings placed a call to the 911 emergency service number, claiming that she had shot her boyfriend in self defense. According to her, he had turned abusive towards her, threatening to kill her with a knife.

According to police reports, Roberto Villegas was found with a knife crossing his arm. Susan Cummings presented some minor cuts, which the police suspected were self-inflicted. Cummings received medical attention for her cuts, and was arrested on charges of homicide.

The trial that ensued proved to be scandalous, especially among Virginia's socialite classes. Opinions varied regarding her guilt, as many of her friends and acquaintances could not believe that the usually shy, horse caring Cummings could be a murderer.

The jury found Cummings guilty, but her charge was reduced to voluntary manslaughter. Cummings spent sixty days in jail and paid a $2,500 dollars fine.

In 2004, writer Lisa Pulitzer wrote a book which was entirely devoted to Susan Cummings and the death of her boyfriend Villegas.


Susan Cummings (born August 19, 1959 in Monte Carlo, Monaco) is an American heiress.

Cummings was convicted on May 13, 1998 of voluntary manslaughter in the death of her boyfriend, Argentine polo player Roberto Villegas, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and ordered to pay $2,500; she was released after serving 51 days.

Cummings and her fraternal twin sister, Diana, are the only children of billionaire arms dealer Samuel Cummings (19271998). After the family moved to the United States, Samuel Cummings bought his daughters a lavish estate in Warrenton, Virginia he named Ashland Farms. It was here that Cummings shot Villegas on September 7, 1997. She told the 911 dispatcher and police that he had turned abusive towards her, threatening her with a knife. Villegas was found with a knife crossing his arm. Cummings had cuts on her arm, which police suspected were self-inflicted. She was arrested on charges of homicide.

Ms. Cummings sold the 340-acre (1.4 km2) Ashland Farm estate on the edge of Warrenton in Fauquier County, Virginia for $4.9 million in 2004. She and her twin sister Diana moved to the 450-acre (1.8 km2) LeBaron Farm in Culpeper County, Virginia. Their manor house, designed by the firm of Versaci Neumann Partners, won recognition in the 2006 Washingtonian Residential Design awards.

In 2004, Lisa Pulitzer wrote a book on the case called A Woman Scorned.

A Biography Channel program about the case included an interview with a young Tareq Salahi, who was a friend of Roberto Villegas.

Susan Cummings' case was featured in an episode of "Behind Mansion Walls" on the ID channel (Investigation Discovery).


In Jail, Heiress Has Privileged Existence

By Jennifer Ordonez - The Washington Post

Thursday, May 21, 1998

For Susan Cummings, serving a sentence for voluntary manslaughter in the Fauquier County jail has not exactly been hard time.

Before the arms heiress even showed up Saturday to begin 60 days of imprisonment for killing her Argentine polo-playing lover, other prisoners were cleared out of the women's cellblock so she could pay her debt to society in private. The dorm-style room has its own telephone.

Sheriff Joseph Higgs transferred five prisoners to jails in neighboring communities -- at an estimated cost to Fauquier taxpayers of $40 per prisoner per day -- out of concern for Cummings's safety, a spokesman said. Officials said they feared that Cummings's light sentence might lead to friction with other inmates serving longer sentences for lesser crimes.

Once Cummings was inside, her jailers relaxed the rules. Prisoners generally are allowed no more than three visitors, for no more than a total of 30 minutes, and only on weekend days. Cummings, though, has been permitted to entertain multiple visitors for hours each day, said sheriff's Maj. David Flohr, who administers the facility.

And although other prisoners may eat only jail food, Cummings has been permitted to snack on a sandwich and cookies brought in by her mother and twin sister.

"All I can say is that I work for Sheriff Higgs and follow his orders," Flohr said yesterday. The sheriff, who was traveling yesterday, did not return messages left at his office and home.

The chairman of the Fauquier Board of Supervisors, David C. Mangum (R-Lee), said that he understood the decision to isolate Cummings but that he was dismayed to hear of her other privileges.

"That's not right," he said. "She should be treated like other prisoners."

"I'm outraged," said Nancy Grant, a Warrenton resident who is a receptionist at the Old Town Athletic Club a few blocks from the jail. "That's just not fair. It's because she's an heiress. I think if it was anyone else, we definitely would not get preferential treatment."

Cummings's attorney, Blair Howard, said he had made no special requests for his client. "Let me tell you, anything that they're allowing down there, that's the decision of the jail," Howard said.

Cummings, 35, had been charged with first-degree murder for shooting Roberto Villegas, 38, on Sept. 7 in the kitchen of her 350-acre estate outside Warrenton. She pleaded self-defense. The jury convicted her May 13 of voluntary manslaughter, recommending a 60-day sentence that Cummings readily accepted. "I feel very happy," she said after the trial.

Flohr said yesterday that Judge Carleton Penn ordered that Cummings serve her time in Fauquier. But Commonwealth's Attorney Jonathan Lynn said he was "not aware of any specific orders" to keep Cummings in the county.

"While in jail, the conditions or privileges are entirely up to the sheriff," Lynn said. "I can't second-guess the sheriff as to how he runs his jail. It's neither here nor there, as far as we're concerned."

Women serving time in the Fauquier jail, a low-slung brick building built in the 1960s, generally share a 20-by-18-foot cell with six bunk beds attached to the wall. Maj. Roger Fraser, a spokesman for the sheriff, said the decision to transfer the five female inmates was made after some of them caused "some unrest" upon learning of Cummings's sentence.

"When you have a situation where a woman is serving 60 days after killing someone next to people serving two-year sentences for bad-check writing or forgery, it's understandable that she might not be their favorite person," Fraser said. "And a lot of these people are not in the polite realm of our society."

Fraser said four of the prisoners would have been transferred to other jails eventually anyway. But some of those who were moved said they were angry about it.

"Yes, some people were real mad when they heard about her sentence, but no one would have done anything," said Kimberly Anderson, who has 11 weeks left on an 11-month sentence for forgery and credit card theft. "She's the one serving time for killing someone, not any of us."

Anderson was shipped 25 miles to the Rappahannock jail. "Here I can't get counseling by the same person. My family can't make the trip to see me," she said. "I mean, move everybody out just for one person?"

"We were led to believe that they were afraid we might tease her or something because she's rich and we're just common folk," said Nina Daniels, 31, who was moved to the Clarke-Frederick-Winchester regional jail to finish a 20-day sentence for violating probation.

Mangum, the county board chairman, said he was somewhat mystified by the Cummings case.

"It's a strange sentence in the first place," he said. "When somebody gets 60 days for shooting someone and five years for writing bad checks, it makes you wonder about the influence that wealth has on our judicial system."


Heiress Gets 60 Days In Polo Player's Slaying

By Brooke A. Masters and Jennifer Ordonez - The Washington Post

Thursday, May 14, 1998

Arms heiress Susan Cummings was convicted yesterday of voluntary manslaughter for killing her Argentine polo-playing lover, but a Fauquier County jury sentenced her to just 60 days in jail, partially accepting her argument that she acted with justification.

"I feel very happy," said Cummings, 35, who could have faced up to life in prison had she been convicted of the original charge of first-degree murder in the Sept. 7 death of Roberto Villegas, 38.

On the manslaughter conviction, the eight women and four men on the jury could have sentenced Cummings to as much as 10 years in prison. Cummings said she wanted the world to know "how deeply I appreciate the jury's consideration."

She has decided not to appeal and will begin serving her sentence on Saturday after a memorial service for her billionaire arms dealer father, Samuel Cummings, who died April 29 in Monaco.

Defense attorney Blair Howard was visibly elated by the sentence. "It's the lowest sentence [for manslaughter] I have seen," he said. "We will be eternally grateful for the verdict in our favor."

But friends of Villegas said they were horrified by the light punishment.

"Basically, she got away with murder," said Travis Worsham, who had played polo with Villegas for eight years and said the prosecution didn't do enough to show his friend's good side. "The only reason the sentence was so minimal was because of the bad things they said about Roberto."

Cummings had been involved with Villegas for about two years. They met when she took up polo and brought him to her 350-acre estate as the star player on her team. She shot Villegas four times that Sunday morning in the kitchen of the estate she shares with her twin sister, Diana, just outside the county seat of Warrenton, where the trial took place.

During the trial, Howard argued that Cummings had been sorely provoked and acted in self-defense as Villegas came at her with a knife. Witnesses testified that Villegas had punched, hit and publicly berated Cummings in the months before the shooting.

But prosecutors contended that Cummings was guilty of premeditated murder because forensic evidence showed Villegas was sitting at the kitchen table when he was shot. Prosecution experts also said the evidence showed that a knife found beside Villegas's body was suspiciously free of blood and that cuts on Cummings's arm appeared to be self-inflicted.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kevin F. Casey professed to be "happy" with the verdict. "The justice system worked. . . . Ms. Cummings is a convicted felon," he said. As for the sentence, "that was the jury's province to decide after hearing all the evidence," he said.

Other lawyers said they were not surprised by the verdict and sentence, in light of Cummings's spotless record and the parade of witnesses Howard found to describe previous threats and violence by Villegas.

The jury "obviously thought that spending time in jail wouldn't do any good in this case," said Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert. "It was pretty clear that they didn't want to hurt her. It's a domestic killing, and in a domestic situation [juries] get caught up in emotion."

"They're saying, 'If you're a man, you can't go beating and bullying people and expect the community is going to give your life much worth,' " said Fairfax defense lawyer Peter D. Greenspun.

The killing caused deep rifts in Northern Virginia's polo set and drew the foreign media and local television trucks to Warrenton's narrow streets. "I'm glad the court proceeding is over," said Fauquier County Sheriff Joseph Higgs, who had to tie up 40 of his 120 employees to deal with the week-long hoopla.

Cummings, her sister and their mother, Irma, were expressionless as the verdict was read, although members of the defense team wept. But they were all smiles and hugs when the sentence came down an hour later.

Virginia juries recommend a sentence, but Cummings agreed to accept the 60 days and a $2,500 fine without another hearing.

A juror who asked not to be identified said the group gave equal weight to forensic evidence that pointed to Cummings's guilt and to two days of emotional testimony about Villegas's alleged mistreatment of his girlfriend.

"We tried to view everything" during the more than eight hours of deliberations, the juror said. "We went over all of the evidence over and over."

Cummings was a calm and steady witness who showed little emotion as she described the abuse she said she had suffered at her lover's hand. He made fun of her disabled left hand, punched her, and once put a noose around her neck, she said, and later witnesses backed up her testimony.

But her version of the day of the shooting failed to provide strong evidence that she truly felt in jeopardy, the prosecution argued. Cummings said that Villegas released her after cutting her arm and that she shot him when she heard his chair scrape behind her. She never said he had the knife in his hand when she pumped four bullets into his upper body.

"That's the best version she could possibly come up with and . . . at best Roberto looked like maybe he was getting out of his chair," Casey told the jury during closing arguments.

But Howard was able to beat back charges that his client was a premeditated murderer by harping on the prosecution's failure to provide a motive for the killing. "There was no reason for her to shoot this man other than that he had crossed the line" into violence, Howard told the jury during closing arguments.

During the sentencing phase, Howard argued that Cummings was a quiet, nonviolent person who had been pushed beyond her limits by Villegas's abuse.

"All of us have a breaking point," he said. "We all make mistakes. That doesn't mean she's a bad person. That doesn't mean she belongs in the state penitentiary."


Heiress: Fear Made Her Kill Boyfriend

By Brooke A. Masters and Jennifer Ordonez The Washington Post

Saturday, May 9, 1998

Heiress Susan Cummings testified yesterday that she grabbed a gun from her kitchen cabinet, whirled around and shot her polo player boyfriend because she heard his chair scrape and thought he was coming at her with a knife.

Cummings, charged with first-degree murder in the shooting of Roberto Villegas, for the first time publicly gave her full version of what happened the morning of Sept. 7 in the kitchen of her estate outside Warrenton.

Speaking calmly and evenly, Cummings told the Fauquier County jury that is considering her claim of self-defense that Villegas, 38, had held her by the throat while he methodically "slashed" her left arm with a knife. She said he was angry because she had told him that their relationship was over.

On several occasions, she said, Villegas had told her he would never let her go. "He wanted children. He wanted to get married," she said. "I said I had no intention of having his children. He said if I didn't agree he would kill me."

Though Villegas released her and allowed her to walk over to the sink, she testified, "I felt in fear of my life. I thought, 'This is it. This man is going to kill me.'"

Under cross-examination, Cummings said that she was backing up toward the kitchen door as she fired the four shots and that she did not know whether Villegas had already gotten out of his chair.

"I saw his face, mostly his expression," she said, adding that she grabbed for the gun because "I would feel safer if I had a pistol. . . . I need to get this man out of my life."

Those details could be crucial, because Virginia law on self-defense requires a defendant to be in "reasonable fear of substantial bodily injury."

Prosecutors contend Cummings altered the crime scene to make it look like self-defense. "We have a holster that was made for the murder weapon in her bedroom. At some point, Ms. Cummings retrieved the murder weapon," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kevin E. Casey said. "There is no evidence to support [her] claim that he tried to kill her. . . . During all four shots, Mr. Villegas was seated in the chair."

Earlier in the day, the prosecution's last witness -- Sgt. Robert C. Zinn, a Prince William County police specialist on crime scene evidence -- had told the jury that the knife found under Villegas's body had almost no blood on it, which makes it unlikely that he was holding it when he was shot.

"We have all of this wet blood and none of it on the knife. That wouldn't happen," Zinn said. He also told the jury that blood spatters on the wall and on the victim's pants show that he was seated when he was killed.

Cummings spent more than two hours on the witness stand. Her description of Villegas slicing her arm could help explain away one of the prosecution's most powerful pieces of evidence: a dozen wounds on her arm that a forensic pathologist said looked as if they had been self-inflicted. The defense earlier called a Warrenton doctor who said that Cummings's wounds didn't look like the kind of self-inflicted cuts he had seen on mental patients.

The heiress's testimony drew rapt attention from a courtroom that, for the first time since the high-profile trial began, was packed with curious county residents, foreign and American news media and Cummings's supporters. Her mother, Irma Cummings, joined the gallery for the first time yesterday, just nine days after the death of Susan's father, billionaire arms dealer Samuel Cummings.

Susan's twin, Diana Cummings, who shares the 350-acre estate with her, testified that she heard shots less than 10 minutes before she walked in on her sister's call to 911. That was aimed at showing the defendant might have had very little time to alter the crime scene.

During Susan Cummings's turn on the stand, she described the verbal and physical abuse she says she received at the hands of the man she killed. In early July, she said, he punched her and tried to pull her out of her car when she wanted to go home alone instead of having sex after a dinner date.

In August, she said, she told him several times that if he was unhappy with her, he ought to leave.

That kind of comment, she said, made him so angry that he put a horse's leading rope around her neck and pulled, while saying: "I'll put you out of your misery. I'll kill you. I'll never leave you."


Va. Heiress to Claim Self-Defense

By Jennifer Ordonez - The Washington Post

Tuesday, May 5, 1998

On a sunny Sunday morning in the kitchen of her stately brick manor house, Susan Cummings pointed her 9mm handgun at her polo-playing Argentine lover and pulled the trigger four times. Then she called 911 and softly told the dispatcher, "I need to report a shot man, and he's dead."

That much is not in dispute. But when Cummings goes on trial this week in Fauquier County on a charge of murdering Roberto Villegas, the jury will hear two vastly different versions of what led to that fatal moment last September.

The defense will paint the 35-year-old international arms heiress as a woman who acted out of a rational fear that her life was in danger as Villegas lunged at her with a knife. Defense witnesses will testify that Villegas was abusive, and Cummings's lawyers say they will raise a 1987 battery charge against him -- later dropped -- by a former girlfriend in Illinois.

Cummings had told authorities two weeks before the shooting that Villegas, 38, had threatened her. When she shot him, she acted "in defense of her castle," said her lawyer, Blair Howard. "In Virginia, if you are violently attacked in your own home and your life is in danger, you do not need to retreat."

But prosecutors will try to show Cummings to be a jealous lover and calculating murderer. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kevin Casey said autopsy reports indicate Villegas was shot as he sat at the kitchen table. He said he will argue that Cummings only went to deputies before the shooting to set up her defense strategy. "I think the early involvement with the police was laying the groundwork" for what she knew she might do later, Casey said.

The case has cast an unwelcome spotlight on Fauquier, a rural county of 53,000 that is home to some of the country's wealthiest families, as well as farmers and middle-class commuters. Minor bar brawls, property damage and petty larceny usually fill the court docket, and until 1997, when an unprecedented five slayings were committed, it was unlikely for more than one homicide case a year to land on the desk of detectives.

According to friends, Cummings began dating Villegas after she joined the Great Meadows Polo Club in The Plains and began keeping a string of polo ponies at her estate.

Cummings, daughter of billionaire arms dealer Samuel Cummings, was raised in Switzerland and Monaco, and moved to the United States about 15 years ago. In December, Cummings received court permission to travel to Monaco to visit her severely ailing father, leaving the $2.3 million estate as collateral. Her father died last week at his home.

Villegas, born and raised in Argentina, traveled the U.S. polo circuit and in the off-season sometimes earned money doing farm work. Not long after Susan Cummings met him, she became his patron, supporting him financially. He played on her polo team and went home with her after the matches.

His friends say Villegas was good-natured and had an easy smile. Even when dealing with difficult horses on the field, he rarely let his frustrations get the best of him, said Richard Varge, the former president of the Great Meadow Polo Club. Though he could sometimes be recalcitrant and had a known aversion to monogamy, he and Cummings seemed happy and spent much of their time together, Varge said.

They dated for two years. Then, just before 9 a.m. on Sept. 7, the Fauquier sheriff's department received the call from Ashland Farm, the 350-acre estate just outside Warrenton that Cummings shares with her twin sister, Diana.

Susan Cummings, in her French-accented voice, told the dispatcher that Villegas "tried to kill me."

While on the phone, Susan tried to calm Diana. "Don't go in the kitchen . . . Roberto is dead," Susan warned her sister. "The cops are coming right away, Diana. . . . Sit down . . . sit down."

Howard, Cummings's attorney -- best known for his successful defense of Lorena Bobbitt, who sliced off her husband's penis -- maintains that Villegas was jealous and mentally abusive.

Asked whether Cummings had been physically assaulted by Villegas before that day, Howard declined to answer but said, "There is no question that he threatened her directly and in front of people. I think there was a lot of psychological abuse."

Other lawyers say Howard is counting on the fact that Virginia's laws on self-defense make that strategy one of the most effective ways to fight a murder charge. For example, two years ago, a Loudoun County jury acquitted Leesburg resident Robert G. Lorenz, who argued he acted to protect himself when he shot his drunk but unarmed neighbor on his porch.

"Everyone can relate to it, and when you have a man and a woman, [jurors] are going to have some sympathy for a woman dealing with aggression," said Leesburg defense attorney Alex Levay, who has tried murder cases in Fauquier.

Under Virginia law, Howard needs to prove that Cummings had a "reasonable apprehension of serious bodily harm," not that Villegas was about to kill her.

However, for the strategy to work, defense lawyers have to prove with "clear evidence" to the jury that self-defense was the motive. Usually that means putting their clients on the stand. "A jury is going to want to hear how upset and frightened she was," said Lorie O'Donnell, public defender for Fauquier and two other counties.

Howard would not say whether Cummings will testify.

Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence, Howard said, is the statement Cummings filed with Fauquier deputies two weeks before the shooting.

In it, she described Villegas as "overpowering, short-fused and 'the crazy type.' " She wrote that she had tried to break up with him but that he "refuses to let go."

"In the last month he has [begun] to show signs of aggression," Cummings wrote. "His words are 'I will put a bullet in your head and hang you upside down to let the blood pour on your bed.' "

Casey, the assistant commonwealth's attorney, questions the motive for the statement. He said Cummings did not get a restraining order or put 'no trespassing' signs up at her farm as deputies advised her to do. Instead, she scheduled another meeting with deputies for Sept. 8, the day after Villegas was killed.

Casey said the physical evidence runs counter to the notion that Cummings acted in self-defense. Cummings said she shot Villegas as he came at her with the knife, using a gun she keeps loaded in her kitchen -- but Casey said that can't be true if the bullets hit Villegas at the kitchen table. In addition, he said, police found an empty holster and open boxes of ammunition in a upstairs bedroom.

In Casey's theory, Cummings was a jealous lover who wanted complete control over Villegas.

The day before the killing, the pair attended a polo match in Pittsburgh. Casey suggests the trouble came to a head when they quarreled over whether to take the horses to another match the following day, as Villegas wanted to do.

Staff writer Brooke A. Masters contributed to this report.


Slaying Throws Spotlight on World of Polo

By Jacqueline L. Salmon - The Washington Post

Sunday, September 14, 1997

THE PLAINS, Va. The moist Virginia air hung over the Great Meadow Polo Club as the six ponies raced up and down the field, their helmeted riders swinging mallets down in an arc toward the ball bobbing amid hooves. But the player getting the most attention from the crowd wasn't in the match. Only snapshots of him were there, being passed around the arena.

He was Roberto Villegas, star of the Friday night tournaments, a magnetic Argentine professional polo player who dazzled the crowds with his horsemanship and skill. Last Sunday, Villegas, 38, was shot to death in the kitchen of the Fauquier County mansion he shared with his lover and employer, Susan Cummings, the daughter of an international arms merchant.

Cummings now stands accused of murdering him, and her attorney says she was acting in self-defense.

The sensational crime has stunned the affluent circle of polo-playing friends with whom Susan (pronounced like Suzanne) Cummings, 35, and Villegas rode and socialized.

It also has provided a glimpse of life inside the rarefied world of competitive polo, which has emerged as the sport of choice among one element of the county's high society -- not the old money but the younger and newly affluent professionals who have followed the rich to the rocky hills of northern Fauquier.

In this world, wealthy players hire expert players such as Villegas and pay tens of thousands of dollars for horses and equipment.

It also is a world where love affairs between the circuit's professional polo players and the women they coach are not unknown. But the relationship between Cummings and Villegas went deeper, and in recent months there was talk of marriage.

Now, if convicted, Cummings faces life in prison and the loss of her affluent lifestyle in the Virginia countryside. And Villegas's friends and family are left to cope with the violent death of a man who had struggled out of poverty to reach the international ranks of polo.

On Thursday, about 100 mourners turned out for his funeral at St. Stephen's Catholic Church in the tony village of Middleburg in neighboring Loudoun County. At Friday night's polo match, participants held a moment of silence and dedicated the fourth chukker, or period, to Villegas.

Match announcer Tom Monaco, also Great Meadow's general manager, groped for a way to explain the tragedy. "They were always together," he said. "They seemed to be so happy. I have no idea what happened."

Although only 50 miles west of Washington, Fauquier is still 90 percent rural. Its southern end has farms and a few middle-class neighborhoods; its northern end is home to some of the wealthiest families in the United States.

Among the 300 estates (residents prefer to call them farms) that sprawl across northern Fauquier are those owned by Paul and Bunny Mellon, Jack Kent Cooke's estate (now inhabited by his widow), developer John T. "Til" Hazel Jr., Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham and actor Robert Duvall.

Cummings and Villegas socialized with a small but burgeoning group of younger Washington area professionals with money to burn -- telecommunications executives, doctors and executives at federal contracting companies.

Many in this crowd shun the sports enjoyed by the tweedy, old-money horse set -- fox hunting, show jumping and steeplechase. For them, weekend life revolves around the four-year-old Great Meadow Polo Club, started by Peter Arundel, 37, the publisher of the Fauquier Times-Democrat and several community newspapers in the area.

Cummings and Villegas were regulars at Great Meadow polo events and, friends say, important members of the organization. Cummings had pledged to build a polo field for club members on her property. And, club members say, Villegas was a main factor in attracting the increasingly large crowds -- as many as 300 -- that gather every Friday night in the summer at the club's arena.

"He was the star, our best arena player," said Richard Varge, the club's president.

Friends say Villegas excelled in the fast-moving game of arena polo, which is played in an enclosed outdoor arena about the size of a football field. Fans say it is a more exciting game and cheaper (relatively speaking) than "field" polo, which is played on a field the size of six football fields and requires more horses and equipment.

Villegas "could ride like the wind," Varge said. "He was an unbelievable horseman. He could ride horses that nobody else could."

It was easy to see why Cummings was attracted to Villegas, friends say. Wiry and compact, like most good polo players, Villegas had thickly muscled forearms and dark hair that dipped over his forehead. He had a wide, warm grin that seemed to touch his ears.

He was part of a nomadic group of foreign polo players, mostly Argentine, who travel from polo club to polo club in the United States. In the winter, they play in resort towns in Florida. They gravitate north in the summer, hiring themselves out to wealthy amateur polo players who become the players' "patrons" (pronounced paTRONES). The professionals play on their patrons' teams, coaching them and training their horses.

The annual price tag for such an operation starts at $15,000 and can run into the millions, polo devotees say.

"I've always said it's an addictive game," said Bill Ylvisaker, 63, a Chicago businessman who owns a Middleburg estate and was Villegas's patron until Cummings took over. "People never give it up unless they die or go broke."

For Villegas, polo was a ticket out of his poor farming village in southern Argentina. In that country, the game is second only to soccer in popularity, and Villegas began playing on neighbors' horses when he was 15. He came to the United States as a groom at age 20 and apprenticed himself to a top-ranked Argentine player. He rarely returned home, although friends say they believe he regularly sent money to his family.

While playing for Ylvisaker's team two years ago, Villegas met Cummings, who was just learning the game. They dated for a while, and last year, Cummings decided to form her own team. Villegas moved to Ashland Farm, the 300-acre estate just west of Warrenton that Cummings has shared with her twin sister, Diana (pronounced Dee-YANA), since 1984. The sisters, who were raised in France and speak with accents, are the daughters of Samuel Cummings, a former CIA agent who made his fortune selling arms throughout the world.

Cummings and Villegas "planned to get married and have children," said Villegas's best friend, Omar Cepeda, 33, also an Argentine professional player. "He had big plans with her."

If so, it would have meant a major life change for Cummings, who despite her great wealth, couldn't seem to find anything or anyone to engage her interest.

She lavished her attention on animals -- adopting several dogs from the pound and building an elaborate doghouse -- but had few friends and seemed lonely, flitting from hobby to hobby, said Amy Worden, who boarded her horse at Ashland Farm from 1987 until 1994. Cummings dabbled in art for a while and was interested in steeplechasing for a time. But those infatuations soon faded.

"She always had plans, but she was definitely slow on the follow-through," Worden said. "It seemed like every time I went out there, there was a new project."

When Cummings embraced polo, she began taking lessons at Great Meadow. After Villegas moved to her estate, he sold her his horse trailer and the half-dozen or so polo ponies he had accumulated and, in the winter, skipped his usual tour in Florida to stay with her.

Despite his relationship with Cummings, Villegas never seemed flush with cash. In the winter, while living on the estate, Villegas worked at an orchard in Rappahannock County to make extra money, friends say.

In the spring, Villegas showed up at Edward "Skeeter" Hembry's tack shop in Warrenton with an old saddle he wanted repaired, but he changed his mind when he learned the job would cost about $400. A few hours later, Cummings called, Hembry said, and had him do the job so she could surprise Villegas on his birthday.

In recent months, subtle signs of tension in the relationship began to emerge. Friends say Susan appeared to be growing possessive of Villegas, telling him when he could play polo and with whom. She was jealous of any attention her easygoing boyfriend paid to other women.

Cummings's attorney, Blair Howard, who defended Lorena Bobbitt, who in 1993 sliced off her husband's penis with a kitchen knife, says Cummings was growing increasingly afraid of Villegas. She ended their relationship and, about two weeks before the shooting, met with a Fauquier County investigator. At the meeting, Howard said, she expressed her fears about Villegas. She scheduled another meeting for last Monday, during which, according to Howard, she planned to ask about a restraining order against Villegas.

But friends say they saw no signs that Cummings feared her boyfriend or that they had broken up. The couple planned a trip to Montana to check out 2,000 acres Cummings was getting ready to buy, Great Meadow general manager Monaco said.

Friends do recall that the couple had argued that week about whether to play in a fund-raising polo match in Pittsburgh that was scheduled for the day before the shooting. In the end, they did go and seemed happy at the event, friends say.

But Sunday morning in the stone mansion at Ashland Farm, something went terribly wrong.

Howard said Villegas attacked Cummings, scratching her on the arm and cheek with a sharp instrument. Fearing for her life, she shot her lover in self-defense, Howard said. She then called 911.

When police arrived a little before 9 a.m. Sunday, they found Villegas in the mansion's small kitchen, dead from shots to the neck and chest. Cummings was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. She was released on $75,000 bond.

The final, saddest part of Villegas's long journey from a small farming village to the highest ranks of polo took place Friday. That's when his body was loaded onto American Airlines Flight 1567 at Dulles International Airport and shipped back to his mother and sister in Argentina. He will be buried tomorrow.

Staff writer Maria Glod and special correspondent Sarah L. Greenhalgh contributed to this report.



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