Case III: Chapter 5: Death in the Stairwell
Monday morning, on his way to the second floor, Dudley discovered Carmine lying in the stairwell, at the bottom of a flight of a dozen stairs between the second and first floors. She appeared hurt. Dudley called her name with no response. He decided to check for a pulse and discovered that Carmine was actually dead. Millicent Branch, who was coming down the stairs, noticed Dudley knelt over Carmine’s body, screamed and fainted.
Dudley quickly called Lieutenant Garcia to report the accident. Garcia asked Dudley to remain with the body and make sure that nothing was disturbed at the scene. “I will remain here but I need to notify Isabella as soon as possible. And, Mrs. Branch has fainted here as well. ”
After what seemed like a very long time, Frank Garcia arrived and was followed shortly by George Hernandez, the Medical Examiner.
Garcia shook his head and turned to Dudley, who was standing a few feet away so as to not interfere. “I can’t figure it, Doc. I certainly hope this turns out to be another accident. It is difficult to think about multiple deaths and that business with the drugs here at La Vida Aureo. I had always planned to try to get my aunt in here when we were no longer able to care for her at home. This is troubling.”
“I agree, Lieutenant.
“You seem to have your finger on the pulse around here. Is there anything you can tell me? Are there people you think I should talk to? This may turn out to be just an unfortunate accident, but I want to gather as much background information as quickly as possible while things are still fresh in people’s minds.”
“You should certainly talk to her friends. She plays cards with three other women residents almost daily and I think they are all friends. And, I hesitate to say this, but you should probably talk with Cesar Ramirez, another resident. I’m not sure of his relationship with Ms. Felcio, but I saw the two of them arguing just last week. In fact, the argument ended when Ms. Felicio slapped Mr. Ramirez. If you don’t need me here, I’m going to talk to Isabella and let her know what’s going on. I would appreciate it if you would also talk with her before you leave today and let he know what you plan to do.”
“Thanks, Doc, as always. I’ll make a point to talk to those people this afternoon or tomorrow at the latest. I’ll stop to see Isabella on my way out. If you think of anything else, please give me a call.”
Hernandez looked up from the body and said to Garcia, “There don’t appear to be any extraneous marks on her that would indicate foul play. It looks like she fell and landed wrong, broke her neck and likely died instantly, probably sometime yesterday evening. I’ll do an autopsy to see if that tells me anything more and I’ll do a full toxicology screen just to be complete.
“You know, Frank, I’m beginning to have my doubts about this place. I always knew that hospitals are very dangerous places, but I always thought that these fancy retirement facilities were pretty tame. I may have to reconsider my retirement plans; Scottsdale is looking better all the time!”
The next day, Lt. Garcia arrived at La Vida Aureo about mid-morning and stopped at Isabella’s office to reiterate his plans for the day regarding interviews. “I plan to talk to Ms. Felicio’s three female friends and to Cesar Ramirez. I thought I’d question the three women at one time and see how that goes. If necessary, I can question them individually in more detail at a later date. Can you tell me anything about this Mr. Ramirez? I understand from Doc that he had a recent argument with Ms. Felicio.”
“That approach sounds reasonable. Mr. Ramirez is our resident Romeo. I’ve heard some rumors about his romantic escapades, but only rumors. I’ve heard nothing about him related to Ms. Felicio. I’m sure you can understand that I am very upset by this development and hope it turns out just to be an accident. I have already called a friend of mine who specializes in preventing falls with older people. If there is something we can do regarding the stairs or railings, etc. to minimize the potential for falls, we’ll do that immediately. Is there anything I can do to help? Are there any results back from the Medical Examiner?”
“I agree, Isabella; I hope this is just an unfortunate accident. No word back yet from the ME, but I’ll let you know if I learn anything significant.”
Garcia entered the dining room and paused briefly to say buenos dias to Señora Angostura. He found Carmine’s three friends, Mary, Dolores and Estelle sitting together at a table in near the window. As expected, they are a sad looking lot.
“Good morning, ladies.” As Garcia tried to open the conversation, he was met with an expected silence, but pressed delicately forward. “I understand you were all close to Ms. Felicio and I am sorry for your loss. I will try to be brief, but would appreciate anything you could tell me about your friend that might shed some light on my investigation.”
“Why is there an investigation?” offers Estelle. “I thought Carmine fell down the stairs and broke her neck.”
“This is only routine procedure. At this point, there is nothing to suggest any other explanation. I’m just trying to be thorough.”
Mary was quiet, but told Garcia that Carmine was a jogger. Dolores added that Carmine took muscle relaxants for the pain so she can run every day and that she got “grumpy” if she missed a day. Estelle sniped something about “a day without a new boy is a day without sunshine” for Carmine. “That’s the real reason she runs, to troll for young boys to bring here to screw.”
“Show a little respect, Estelle”, said Mary, angrily.
“Well, it’s true. And, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if one of those stallions pushed her down the stairs after discovering that she couldn’t satisfy him; young boys are like that!”
Garcia noted this exchange and could not decide whether there is any truth in it, or just women being “catty”. But, he knew he must follow up on these comments. “Can you tell me where Ms. Felicio typically ran?”
“Up near Albuquerque Academy; I think there is some sort of track or path around the perimeter of the property.”
“Thank you. On another matter, do any of you know of any connection between Ms. Felicio and a man named Cesar Ramirez?”
“That man is always pestering the ladies and is often quite rude,” offered Dolores. He has shown particular interest in Carmine judging by the way he tries to put his hands on her, even while we’re all sitting here together.”
“Oh, Dolores, you’re just jealous because he pays more attention to her than you”, added Estelle.
“I worked with him at Sandia Labs,” says Mary. He was in a different Department, but there were rumors about him throughout the Labs. I know several women personally who complained about his unwanted advances. He left Sandia rather suddenly and I was quite surprised to see him show up here. I didn’t think he could afford a nice place like La Vida Aureo.”
“Ladies, ladies, ladies, can any of you suggest any kind of physical altercation between Ms. Felicio and Mr. Ramirez?”
“I doubt it. He was too interested in Carmine and was pursuing her quite a bit”, said Dolores with bitterness in her voice.
“Thank you, ladies, for the information. That will be all for now, but I trust I can call on you again if necessary.”
“You’re most welcome, Mr. Policeman, flirted Estelle. Come back any time.”
“Oh, Estelle, stop it,” said Mary.
As Garcia looked for Cesar Ramirez, he realized that Ms. Felicio’s friends had given him several things to follow up on. He definitely wanted to look into Ms. Felicio’s daily running routine and thought he had the ideal way to pursue that topic. The women had also given him some additional insight into this Ramirez character which supported Dudley’s comments. He would have to approach that interview with caution and also see what he could learn about the situation at Sandia Labs.
Garcia caught up with Cesar Ramirez in the main lobby. “Mr. Ramirez, my name is Lieutenant Frank Garcia and I’m with the Albuquerque Major Crimes Unit. I’m looking into the recent death of Carmine Felicio and would like to ask you a few questions. Perhaps we could we sit at that small table over by the window?”
“Certainly, Lieutenant. I would be happy to help. I was upset to hear about her accident.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ramirez. Let’s start with how you came to know Ms. Felicio.”
“I first met her here at La Vida Aureo, probably in the dining room with her friends. They gather almost every day and that’s probably where I first met her, with them.”
“I just had the opportunity to meet those ladies myself. They seem like a congenial bunch, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I really don’t know that much about any of them, except to say “Hello” in the dining room.”
“I see. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with Ms. Felicio; were you friends or just acquaintances?”
“As I said, Lieutenant, I really don’t know any of them very well, including Ms. Felicio. We may have exchanged words about the weather, or some such, but really nothing more.”
“OK, just one more question. Can you tell me where you were on Sunday evening, say, after dinner time until about midnight?”
“I had dinner in the dining room and then went straight to my room and watched TV alone until I went to bed about 10 o’clock.”
“Can anyone confirm that you spent the evening alone in your room?”
“No. Are you implying that Ms. Felicio’s death was NOT an accident or that I had anything to do with it?
“Certainly not, Mr. Ramirez. I’m just trying to do my job and be thorough about gathering information. One final question, if you don’t mind. I’ve started looking into retirement places for my aunt and am considering La Vida Aureo. Can you tell me how you came to choose this place over all the other ones available in Albuquerque?”
“OK. I’ll consider your question just part of being a good cop. For your other question, I chose La Vida Aureo because it absolutely has the best facilities around. ”
“I’ve heard it has an excellent reputation, but that it’s also very expensive.”
“It is expensive, but as a former senior manager at Sandia Labs, I have a good pension. And, they offered me a nice package to take retirement early, which allowed me to move here.”
“Thank you, Mr. Ramirez for your time and the information. I assume that if I have any additional questions, I can easily find you here?”
“I’m always here, but I doubt if I can add anything else.”
Garcia stopped at Isabella’s office on his way out. Dudley was there. “Doc, I’m glad you suggested I talk to Mr. Ramirez. He was very evasive in his comments and cannot account for his time for much of yesterday evening; he says he was alone watching TV. He also said he barely knew Ms. Felicio, which is different from what you told me, Doc. He told me he moved to La Vida Aureo after his early retirement from Sandia Labs where he was some sort of mid-level manager and I’ll need to check that out.”
“I can help there, offered Isabella. I know the Human Resources Director at Sandia and I’ll call here to see what I can learn about our Resident Romeo’s time there, particularly whether there were any complaints about his behavior. If she’ll tell me, I’ll also see what I can learn about the situation surrounding his “early retirement.”