Cummings (born c.
1959) was an American who was convicted of killing her boyfriend,
Argentine polo player Roberto Villegas.
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.
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
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.
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
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
(1927–1998). 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
In Jail, Heiress
Has Privileged Existence
By Jennifer Ordonez - The
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
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
By Brooke A. Masters and Jennifer Ordonez -
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
Staff writer Maria Glod and special
correspondent Sarah L. Greenhalgh contributed to this report.