FOR TWO MONTHS, the exclusive community of Palm Bay has been obsessed with a murder that many of its most influential citizens actually witnessed. You and your eleven colleagues feel lucky to sit here every day and weigh the evidence against this beautiful, and, some might add, deadly woman of the world.
It was less than a year ago that Anabel Lee moved to Palm Bay, renting a tastefully expensive beach house. A vivacious and stunning woman, Anabel quickly made friends, especially with Victor Ricolah, next-door neighbor and retired financier. They were engaged within two months, married within three. In his opening statement, the district attorney outlines the events of Victor’s final garden party of the season, his last garden party ever.
The festivities were in full swing on that sunny afternoon when the host asked his wife to fetch him a drink. Anabel had just sent the bartender off for more limes; so, she made it herself, expertly mixing the gin and tonic and adding ice from an electric ice cooler plugged into an outlet in the gazebo. She tasted the drink, pronounced it delicious, then handed the glass to Victor, who used a paper napkin to wipe a red gash of lipstick off the rim before drinking.
That was the last contact that Anabel had with her husband. For the next half-hour, Victor sipped his drink, munched on a catered buffet of overpriced delectables, and chatted with his neighbors. At one point he borrowed a cigarette from his best friend and tennis partner, Keith Brown, but smoked only half before stubbing it out.
When Victor collapsed on the lawn clutching his throat, no one even imagined poison, except the poisoner of course. Three plastic surgeons and a dermatologist made vain attempts to revive him. And all this while the servants were busy washing glasses and disposing of whatever evidence might have existed of the murder.
Anabel tried to arrange a quick cremation, but Palm Bay law required an autopsy. The result left no doubt: potassium cyanide, guaranteed to give effective results within a matter of minutes.
The Prosecution will show that last month Mrs. Ricolah drove to Boca Raton to purchase all industrial metal cleaner, a clear liquid composed primarily of potassium cyanide. We will also show that this was not the first time Anabel Lee Ricolah, born Amy Long, and also known as Annie Lyons and Andrea Leon, has lost a husband under suspicious circumstances. In at least two previous instances, she married wealthy men. In both of these cases, her husbands died within a year and in both cases their remains were cremated. Anabel Lee is what crime literature calls a “black widow,” someone who weds and kills with impunity. It is your job, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to see that her crime spree stops here.
Anabel’s lawyer was dismissive.
There is no evidence connecting my client to this crime. So, she bought a metal cleaner. She likes a clean house. As for opportunity. . . cyanide is a fast-acting poison. And yet Mrs. Ricolah and her husband had no contact with each other for the last half-hour of his life. Other suspects abound. The Ricolah housekeeper, Emma Peters, had been the deceased’s mistress for years before he threw her over for the defendant. The deceased’s best friend, Keith Brown, had been an ardent suitor of Anabel’s before the marriage. Both Emma Peters and Keith Brown had motives just as compelling as my client’s and even greater opportunity.
Trial Witnesses & Evidence
Prosecution Witness, Toxicologist
TOXICOLOGIST: Luckily, Green Lady Catering uses distinctively colored garbage bags. We were able to recover all the party trash from the dump and sift through it. We limited ourselves to items Mr. Ricolah was observed ingesting. The videotape helped us in that regard. We also checked containers that might have held the poisoned item.
PROSECUTION: And what did you find?
TOXICOLOGIST: We found liquid traces of potassium cyanide inside a plastic food storage bag-the kind with blue and yellow stripes on top. We also tested a tiny patch of dead grass near the spot where Mr. Ricolah collapsed. Again, we found minute traces of cyanide. In both cases, the chemical composition matched that of a common industrial metal cleaner.
DEFENSE: Objection. Information not asked for.
PROSECUTION: Were the traces of cyanide consistent with the ingredients of the industrial metal cleaner, Exhibit B?
Prosecution Witness, Housekeeper
Emma Peters, the Ricolah housekeeper, had helped the caterers clean up and was observed disposing of several food storage bags.
PROSECUTION: Do you remember what happened with the storage bags?
EMMA PETERS: As far as I can recall, I threw away three of them, all with those blue and yellow stripes on top. That’s the kind Green Lady uses. I buy the same brand for the Ricolah household. One of the bags came from behind the buffet table. I think they were using it for parsley. The other two came from the bar area in the gazebo. One was used to store garnish items for drinks, and the other I found inside the electric ice cooler.
Prosecution Witness, Caterer
CATERER: Mrs. Ricolah’s behavior seemed a little odd that day. For one thing, she insisted on doing many things our staff normally does, things like personally filling the ice cooler and stocking the garnish bins with lemons and limes and cherries. We tried to tell her, diplomatically, that we would take care of those details, but she insisted on doing them herself.
DEFENSE CROSS-EXAMINATION: Did you ever cater for the Ricolah household before?
DEFENSE: So, you never worked for Mrs. Ricolah before. In fact, that was the first time you ever met her.
CATERER: That’s correct.
DEFENSE: So, you have no way of knowing what her normal behavior was and what might have been odd. In fact, she might normally be an independent person who likes to do things for herself.
CATERER: I suppose.
Cross- Examination, Toxicologist
Defense: You’ve told the court where you found traces of poison. But where didn’t you find traces?
TOXICOLOGIST: On everything else
DEFENSE: You tested the paper napkin with the red lipstick smear? The lipstick tube? The cigarette butts? Dessert canapés? Drinking glasses?
TOXICOLOGIST: No, not the glasses. They had all been washed.
DEFENSE: But you tested everything else I mentioned?
DEFENSE: And the results of those tests?
TOXICOLOGIST: No trace of poison on any of them.
Defense Exhibit A, Party Videotape
Victor Ricolah had hired a video company to make a tape of the party, thereby ensuring a record of his own demise. By a lucky fluke, the videotape focuses on Victor in the minutes just prior to his death.
VIDEOTAPE: Victor is in the midst of his friends, nursing the last quarter of his gin and tonic. He stubs out his cigarette in an ashtray as Keith Brown deposits a plate of half-eaten food on a table and walks away. Victor absentmindedly eats a potato chip from the plate. Emma Peters passes by with a tray of dessert canapés. Several guests munch on the little sweets, including Victor. Halfway through his first bite, Victor clutches at his throat and collapses, dropping both the canapé and his glass on the lawn. The videotape continues to roll until the arrival of Mrs. Ricolah and the first doctor.