Murder of Adrienne Shelly
Adrienne Levine (June 24, 1966 – November 1, 2006),
better known by the stage name Adrienne Shelly (sometimes credited as
Adrienne Shelley), was an American actress, director and screenwriter.
Making her name in independent films such as 1989's
The Unbelievable Truth and 1990's Trust, Shelly transitioned to a
writing and directing career in subsequent years. She wrote,
co-starred in, and directed the 2007 film Waitress, which won five
awards and numerous film festival accolades.
On November 1, 2006, Shelly was found dead in her
Greenwich Village work studio. While initially thought a suicide,
police later arrested a construction worker who confessed to murdering
Shelly when she caught him robbing her apartment.
Shelly's husband afterwards established the
Adrienne Shelly Foundation, that awards scholarships, production
grants, finishing funds and living stipends to artists. In her
commemoration, the Women Film Critics Circle gives an annual Adrienne
Shelly Award to the film that it finds "most passionately opposes
violence against women."
Of Russian Jewish descent, Shelly was born Adrienne
Levine in Queens, New York, to Sheldon M. Levine and Elaine Langbaum.
She had two brothers, Jeff and Mark, and was raised on Long Island.
She began performing when she was about 10 at Stagedoor Manor
Performing Arts Training Center. She made her professional debut in a
summer stock production of the musical Annie while a student at
Jericho High School in Jericho, New York. She went on to Boston
University, majoring in film production, but dropped out after her
junior year and moved to Manhattan.
Shelly's career breakthrough came when she was cast
by independent filmmaker Hal Hartley as the lead in The Unbelievable
Truth (1989) and Trust (1990). Trust was nominated for the Grand Jury
Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, where Hartley's script tied for
the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award.
She appeared in a number of films during the 1990s,
and as she segued toward a behind-the-camera career, she wrote and
directed others, including 1999's I'll Take You There, in which she
appeared along with Ally Sheedy. She won a U.S. Comedy Arts Festival
Film Discovery Jury Award in 2000 for direction of the film, and Prize
of the City of Setúbal: Special Mention, at the Festróia (Tróia
International Film Festival) held in Setúbal, Portugal, for best
Shelly also guest-starred in a number of television
series including Law & Order, Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street. She
played major roles in over two dozen off-Broadway plays, often at
Manhattan's Workhouse Theater. In 2005 she appeared in the film
Factotum starring Matt Dillon.
Her last known work was writing, directing, co-set-
and costume-designing, and playing a supporting role in the film
Waitress, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, which premiered at
the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Shelley's daughter, Sophie, has a
cameo at the end of the film.
Shelly, who took her professional surname after her
late father's given name, was married to Andrew Ostroy, the chairman
and CEO of the marketing firm Belardi/Ostroy. They had a daughter,
Sophie (born 2003), who was two years old at the time of her mother's
death. Shelly described herself as an "optimistic agnostic."
The 40-year old Shelly was found dead at
approximately 5:45 p.m on November 1, 2006. Her husband, Andrew Ostroy,
found her hanging by a bed sheet from a shower rod in the bathtub of
the Abingdon Square apartment in Manhattan's West Village that Shelly
used as an office. It initially appeared to be a suicide. Ostroy had
dropped her off at 9:30 a.m. that day, and the building's doorman told
journalists that he had accompanied Ostroy at his behest after Ostroy
had not heard from Shelley that day. Upon reaching the apartment, they
found that the front door was unlocked.
An autopsy was performed the following day. The New
York City Police Department was suspicious of sneaker prints in the
bathtub that did not match Shelly's shoes (she was found wearing only
socks). Shelly's husband also indicated that there was money missing
from Shelly's wallet. He denied allegations that she would have
Press reports on November 6, 2006, stated that
police had arrested construction worker Diego Pillco, a 19-year-old
Ecuadorian illegal immigrant who confessed to killing Shelly after she
complained about the noise he was making in the apartment below hers.
Pillco said that he "was having a bad day". Police said Pillco had
made a taped confession implicating himself in the murder.
Diego Pillco entered his guilty plea on February
He said that, contrary to his original story, Shelly had not
complained about noise, but had in fact caught him stealing money from
her purse after he slipped unnoticed into the apartment. When she
tried to call the police, he grabbed the phone and covered her mouth
as she began to scream. After Shelly fell, Pillco tied a bed sheet
around her neck and decided to strangle her.
claimed he didn't know Shelly was still alive when he hanged her, but
in court he admitted to choking her with a sheet, tying it around her
neck and stringing her up to make it look like she committed suicide.
The medical examiner determined that Shelly was still alive when
hanged. Pillco was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole on
March 6, 2008.
At Pillco's sentencing on March 13, 2008, Shelly's
husband, along with family members, said that they would never forgive
him. Andy Ostroy said of Pillco "...you are nothing more than a
coldblooded killer" and that he hoped he would "rot in jail".
In remembering Shelly, Ostroy said that "Adrienne
was the kindest, warmest, most loving, generous person I knew. She was
incredibly smart, funny and talented, a bright light with an
infectious laugh and huge smile that radiated inner and outer
beauty... she was my best friend, and the person with whom I was
supposed to grow old".
Shelly's husband sued contractor Bradford General
Contractors, which had hired Pillco. The complaint alleged that Shelly
would still be alive if the contracting firm had not hired him. Ostroy
also sought to hold the owners and management of the building liable
for Shelley's murder.
According to a New York Post article, among other
allegations, the complaint stated that "'Pillco was an undocumented
immigrant...' as were his co-workers, and that "it was in Bradford
General Contractors' interest not to have 'police and immigration
officials [called] to the job site' because that would have ground
their work to a halt".
On July 7, 2011, the lawsuit was dismissed by Judge
Louis York. The court determined that Ostroy had not established legal
grounds to hold the contractor liable, writing "While this court
sympathizes with [Ostroy's] loss, plaintiffs have not presented
sufficient legal grounds upon which to hold Bradford ... liable for
Pillco's vicious crime", and that there was likewise insufficient
evidence presented to find that either the building's management
agents or its owners "had reason to believe that Pillco was a
dangerous person who should not have been allowed to work at the
premises" in order to find them vicariously liable. Ostroy was said to
be considering an appeal.
Following his wife's death, Ostroy established the
Adrienne Shelly Foundation, a non-profit organization that awards
scholarships, production grants, finishing funds and living stipends
through its partnerships with academic and filmmaking institutions
NYU, Columbia University, Women in Film, IFP, AFI, Sundance Institute,
Tribeca Film Institute and the Nantucket Film Festival. One of its
grant recipients, Cynthia Wade, won an Academy Award in 2008 for
Freeheld, a short-subject documentary which the Foundation helped
fund. As part of its annual awards, the Women Film Critics Circle
gives the Adrienne Shelly Award to the film that "most passionately
opposes violence against women".
On February 16, 2007, the NBC crime drama series
Law & Order broadcast an episode, "Melting Pot", that was a
thinly-veiled dramatization of Shelly's murder. Shelly herself had
guest-starred on the show in the 2000 episode "High & Low".
Shelly's film, Waitress, had been accepted into the
2007 Sundance Film Festival before her murder. The film, starring Keri
Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith and
Shelly herself, was bought during the festival by Fox Searchlight
Pictures for an amount between $4 million and $5 million (news
accounts on the actual amount vary), and the film realized a final
box-office draw of more than $19 million. Waitress maintains an 89%
"fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Waitress and its cast have together won five film
awards and received other nominations in various categories, including
a Chlotrudis Award for best performance by an ensemble cast; Audience
award for a feature film at the Newport Beach Film Festival, where
cast member Nathan Fillion also received a Feature Film award for his
role in the film; the Jury Prize at the Sarasota Film Festival for
narrative feature; the Wyatt Award by the Southeastern Film Critics
Association Awards; and nominations for a Humanitas Prize and an
Independent Spirit Award for best screenplay.
Ostroy produced Serious Moonlight, a film written
by Shelly and directed by Hines. The film stars Meg Ryan, Timothy
Hutton, Kristen Bell and Justin Long. It premiered at the Tribeca Film
Festival in April 2009 and was released later that year in December.
In one scene of the film, a married couple are robbed and tied up with
duct tape by a gardener.
Ostroy also spearheaded a move to establish a
memorial to his wife. On August 3, 2009, the Adrienne Shelly Garden
was dedicated on the Southeast side of Abingdon Square Park in NYC at
8th and 12th. It faces 15 Abingdon Square, the building where Shelly
Husband of Actress Tells Killer to Suffer
By Anemona Hartocollis - The New York Times
March 14, 2008
At first, Andrew Ostroy, the husband of the
murdered actress and filmmaker Adrienne Shelly, sounded as if he were
reading from a police report.
He gave a clinically cold recitation of the
circumstances of her death, culminating with her being hanged from a
shower rod, similar to “the way you strung up pigs back home in
Ecuador,” in the words of the laborer who killed her.
Even when telling of her flowering career — her
film “Waitress” was about to make its debut at the Sundance Film
Festival — and his relationship with her, he spoke in a flat,
unemotional voice, even as he thrust his hands in the pocket of his
gray suit and called her “the love of my life.”
But when he moved to the last part of his prepared
remarks, he gave vent to all his grief and fury as he talked about his
daughter, Sophie, who never imagined, when she said goodbye that day,
that she would never see her mother again. That girl, he said, had
been raised with “love and tenderness.”
Cocking his head toward Diego Pillco, who has
admitted killing Ms. Shelly, he said, “You sentenced that little girl
to a lifetime of anguish and sadness and questions and feelings of
what could’ve been.”
“No sentence,” he added, “would be enough for you.”
After Mr. Ostroy spoke in State Supreme Court in
Manhattan on Thursday, Justice Carol Berkman sentenced Mr. Pillco to
25 years in prison, as part of a negotiated deal in which he agreed in
February to plead guilty to manslaughter. He will be eligible for a
reduction of a maximum of 3 ½ years of his sentence for good behavior,
but not for parole.
Mr. Ostroy found Ms. Shelly, 40, hanging by a sheet
from the shower rod in the bathroom of the Greenwich Village apartment
she used as an office on Nov. 1, 2006. Although her death was
initially thought to be a suicide, Mr. Pillco, now 21, was arrested on
Nov. 6, after the police matched a sneaker print on the bathtub to his
Mr. Pillco initially told the police that Ms.
Shelly had complained about noise in the apartment below, where he was
working on a renovation, and that he had followed her into her
apartment to stop her from making a complaint because he was afraid of
being arrested and deported.
When he punched her and accidentally knocked her
unconscious, he said, he thought he had killed her and decided to fake
a suicide. The medical examiner ruled that she had died as a result of
Last month, Mr. Pillco changed his story during a
plea hearing, saying that he had sneaked into Ms. Shelley’s apartment
while the door was ajar so that he could rob her. When she saw him and
threatened to call the police, he covered her mouth, and when she fell
to the floor, he decided to choke her and stage the hanging.
Law enforcement officials said they accepted the
plea to manslaughter because if Mr. Pillco had gone to trial, he was
likely to stick by his first confession, in which he described the
death as an accident, and a jury might not have convicted him of the
original charge, second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 25
years to life.
Justice Berkman told Ms. Shelly’s family that
although she could not offer them comfort, she hoped that they would
find some comfort in her child. “I hope that the task of raising that
child and raising her as a healthy, wonderful person like her mother
will at least comfort you,” Justice Berkman said.
Ms. Shelly’s mother, Elaine Levine, also spoke,
sighing repeatedly as she said with a slight Queens inflection — her
daughter was born Adrienne Levine in Queens — that she suffered the
bottomless ache of a mother who had lost her child. She, too, spoke of
the baby her daughter “had waited so long to have.” Saying she could
not forgive Mr. Pillco, she said she wished only that he would be
forced to serve every day of his 25-year sentence.
In his anger, Mr. Ostroy, a marketing executive,
called Mr. Pillco an animal and a beast for, he said, taking the life
of a “loving woman who, unlike you, had so much to give to society.”
He said he was “haunted by the image of you walking
this earth, a free man 23 ½ years from now, as a man with much of his
life still left to live.” (The 16 months that Mr. Pillco has spent in
jail since his arrest is considered time he has already served.)
“I want you to suffer like she suffered,” he said,
“to live a life of fear, the same fear she felt when she realized she
was about to die.”
Speaking through a translator, Mr. Pillco responded
to Mr. Ostroy by saying that he, too, had never imagined his life
turning out this way.
“I came with a purpose here, to work and help my
family out,” he said. “But my life has changed.”
He said that he accepted the justice of his
punishment. “I left my house with the purpose of working, not to hurt
anyone, and this is what I deserve,” he said.
Adrienne Shelly's killer pleads guilty, gets 25
By Laura Italiano - NYpost.com
February 14, 2008
A construction worker admitted in chilling detail
today that he strangled indie-actress Adrienne Shelly in her Greenwich
Village apartment because she caught him trying to rob her.
In his courtroom confession, Diego Pillco, an
illegal immigrant from Ecuador, recounted how he choked the wife and
mother with a sheet, strung her body up from a shower rod and fled —
hoping to make the murder look like a suicide.
Pillco, 20, will get 25 years in prison — almost
certainly followed by deportation — as a result of today’s Manhattan
Supreme Court guilty plea to first degree manslaughter.
The confession differed radically from what Pillco
had long told cops — that he sparred verbally with Shelly after she
came downstairs to complain of construction noise.
Pillco had been doing construction one floor down
from Shelly, renovating an apartment where the floor was covered with
gypsum dust, and was caught after cops matched his gypsum dust-caked
boot bottom to a perfectly-preserved print on Shelly’s toilet lid.
He admitted that robbing Shelly of her purse as she
arrived home was his real, more sinister motive — although
investigative sources believe rape may have been an original motive as
well, though thwarted by the violence that followed.
Shelly screamed when Pillco reached for her, he
“So out of desperation, I got scared and I covered
her mouth,” Pillco admitted.
“When I noticed she fell to the floor, I was very
scared. When she fell to the floor, I saw a sheet, and I decided to
choke her — and that’s what happened.”
Here, the judge interjected: “And then you tied the
sheet around her neck and you strung her up?”
“Si,” Pillco answered. “Yes, and I made it look
like it was suicide.”
The plea brings some closure to the tragic, Nov. 6
murder of Shelly, an actress, writer and director who’d lived on
Abingdon Square with her husband, Andy Ostroy, the CEO of a
Manhattan-based strategic marketing service, along with his teenaged
daughter, and the couple’s 3 year old daughter.
Her last movie, “Waitress” which she wrote,
directed and acted in, would wind up triumphing at the Sundance Film
Festival, going on to garner warm reviews and big ticket sales at
theaters nationwide last summer.
Pillco, a small, roundish man, rendered yesterday’s
plea without emotion. But for the row-full of Shelly’s family and
friends in attendance, it prompted waves of tears, sad sighs, and even
bitter laughter at one point, when Pillco, speaking through a Spanish
translator, asked for forgiveness.
One of Shelly’s brothers broke into angry laughter.
“No! No!” the victim’s mother, Elaine Langbaum,
hissed from her seat, her fists clenched at her throat and her eyes
“I don’t think you’ll get that sir,” Manhattan
Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman told Pillco of any absolution.
Actress’s Death Is Ruled Murder, and Worker in
Building Is Charged
By Thomas J. Lueck - The New York Times
November 7, 2006
When Adrienne Shelly, an actress, was found dead in
her Greenwich Village office last week, the police suspected suicide.
Her body, with a sheet tied around her neck, was hanging from the
shower curtain rod in the office bathroom.
But family members and friends were skeptical. Her
show business career was thriving, they said, and she was a devoted
mother to her 3-year-old daughter. They insisted that she would not
have taken her own life.
And some investigators were skeptical, too.
Yesterday, the police charged a 19-year-old construction worker with
murder, saying her death was the horrific result of a chain of events
set off by a complaint common to New York City residents: construction
The police said that after Ms. Shelly argued with
the worker about the noise on Wednesday, he struck her in the face.
Then, suspecting that the blow was fatal, he hanged
her from the shower curtain rod in an attempt to make her death look
like a suicide, investigators said.
“We have felt adamantly that what happened was not
the result of suicide,” said Rachel Sheedy, Ms. Shelly’s agent, when
informed of the arrest yesterday. “It is a great relief knowing that
the police have taken us seriously.”
It was unclear whether Ms. Shelly died from the
blow or from being hanged. Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the city
medical examiner, said an autopsy had been conducted but the manner
and cause of death had not been determined.
The construction worker, Diego Pillco of Prospect
Avenue in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, was charged yesterday with
second-degree murder, the police said. A native of Ecuador who arrived
in the city in July, Mr. Pillco had been working in a third-floor
apartment directly beneath the one Ms. Shelly used as her office at 15
Abingdon Square, in Greenwich Village, the authorities said.
Ms. Shelly, 40, lived not far away on Varick Street
with her husband, Andy Ostroy, and her daughter, Sophie. She used the
Abingdon Square apartment as the base of a career that included
leading or featured roles in two dozen Off Broadway plays as well as
movies and television shows.
She first gained recognition for her film roles in
Hal Hartley’s dark comedies “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust.” She
was featured last year in the movie “Factotum,” starring Matt Dillon,
and she had recently finished directing “Waitress,” which is under
consideration for inclusion in the Sundance Film Festival.
Ms. Shelly, born Adrienne Levine, was a Queens
native who started performing as a child in arts camps on Long Island
and upstate. She dropped out of Boston University after her junior
year and moved to Manhattan.
Several investigators said Mr. Pillco admitted to
Ms. Shelly’s murder yesterday.
“He admits to hitting her, believes he had killed
her and wanted to fake her suicide,” said one investigator, who asked
not to be identified because the investigation was continuing.
Ms. Shelly’s body was found Wednesday by her
husband. At the time, the police said, they found few signs of trauma
“It appeared to be a suicide — he staged it as a
suicide,” the investigator said. But he said investigators “never just
accepted it for what it was staged to be.”
Detectives from the Sixth Precinct in Greenwich
Village were particularly troubled by an unexplained footprint found
in the bathroom. They examined the shoes of everyone who had entered
the apartment, including police officers and emergency workers, but
found no match for the print.
They canvassed the building, and found that
renovation work was under way in some apartments. The detectives
matched the footprint from Ms. Shelly’s bathroom to one they found at
one of the work sites, and then used the match to track down Mr.
Pillco, the authorities said.
Mr. Pillco was picked up Sunday night and taken to
the Sixth Precinct station house, where he made his admissions early
yesterday, investigators said. He was escorted from the station to a
waiting police car last night wearing a Yankees cap low over his
forehead, partly obscuring his face from photographers and television
Neighbors at Mr. Pillco’s apartment building said
he was hard-working and respectful. He lived in a basement apartment
with his cousin and held a variety of odd jobs, they said.
“He sent money home to his mother and father,” said
Frank Lingo, a neighbor. “He minded his business. He never bothered me
or anyone else near here. He seemed like a good kid. I’ve never seen
him hang out.”
Chris Pannhorse, another neighbor, said: “He was
always respectful to me and my wife. He’s a good kid. Because that is
what he is to me, just a kid.”
The arrest came after a memorial service for Ms.
Shelly on Sunday that drew hundreds of mourners.
According to The New York Post, Mr. Ostroy spoke at
the service, repeating his insistence that his wife would not have
“There’s no way on this planet that she would have
left that child,” he said. “Nobody is ever going to tell me that woman
walked away from Sophie.”
Reporting was contributed by Al Baker, Kate Hammer,
Daryl Khan, Colin Moynihan, William K. Rashbaum and Emily Vasquez.
Adrienne Shelly was an actress and filmmaker who
starred in 2007 film Waitress (above, Shelly in the film).