The Dead Girls
Kabira “Brittany” Rojas, 19, and Nikki Silas, 20, danced at Show World, shared an apartment, dreamed of making it big. Then they were murdered.
By Kathy Dobie, photographs by Andrew Lichtenstein
First Appeared in The Village Voice, June 8, 1993
I IMAGINE THAT I CAN SEE THE AFTERMATH:
A girl lies on the bed; another girl is in the bath. The girl on the bed wears nothing; a comforter covers her face. The girl floating in the bath wears a bra, a black net shirt, and a telephone cord around her neck. She floats facedown; her hair is long. The sink is almost pulled out of the wall—the hot and cold water pipes broken. Water trickles idly from them, pools on the tiles, seeps down … ticks out its own time in the apartment below.
The downstairs tenant complains to the super, and when the super knocks on the apartment door the dog inside barks but no one answers, and then the super goes downstairs and out his window and climbs the fire escape and peers through the window into the bedroom. At that moment a cop car cruises West 109th Street and then the super is yelling to the people down below—“Stop the cops! Someone’s dead in here!”
The bodies of Nikki Silas, 20, and Kabira “Brittany” Rojas, 19, were found at 2:45 on Saturday afternoon, December 19. They’d been dead for almost three hours.
There’s a great hurry then. Phones ringing, cars tumbling down streets. It goes on all night-people wake suddenly from sleep, frightened, and someone’s banging on the door and calling, “Police!” The jolt to the brain, the frantic heart. All night, mothers, fathers, boyfriends, brothers are rushed along toward grief.
AT FIRST, THERE WAS LITTLE MENTION of the double murder in the press. A paragraph in Newsday and one in the Daily News. Strange, since the victims were so young and the murders so intimate. Then it was discovered that both girls worked as strippers at Show World Center in Times Square, and that seemed to be the hook the papers needed. In some press accounts, they became “showgirls” or “exotic dancers.” Certain “facts” emerged that seemed to fit their new public personae. “Nikki kept a record of her dates and was always trying to introduce Brittany to men,” one investigator was quoted in Newsday. “A lot less is known about Brittany.”
Nikki Silas, a student at City College who was from Pembroke, Massachusetts, had appeared in some music videos—Mariah Carey’s, Kool Moe Dee’s, Shabba Ranks’s “Slow and Sexy.” In that video, she strips from a nun’s habit to a G-string, and Hard Copy was, for a moment, ravenous. The show’s reporters found a priest from Nikki’s home town (neither the cops nor Nikki’s family would talk to them) who spoke about what a lovely child she was, a straight-A student, a very religious girl-and then they cut to Nikki stripping off the nun’s robe.
Kabira “Brittany” Rojas was mentioned only in passing. She hadn’t made any sexy videos; she wasn’t a small-town girl come to the big city. She was a Queens girl without visuals.
The Patriot Ledger in Massachusetts sent a reporter here and ran a series of front-page articles—the last headlined, “Nikki Silas: Star struck in a dangerous world.” According to the Patriot Ledger, Nikki Silas wanted “independence, money and glamor in her life, and paid a terrible price.” The paper went on: “The young woman (whom friends) knew from high school musicals and band competitions made her living dancing at a Times Square sex emporium, and lived a fast and dangerous life at the edge of the music world.”
Besides blaming Nikki Silas for her own murder, the article reads like the story of a small-town newspaper that came to the big city and believes it has lived a fast and dangerous life and can’t wait to go home and write about it.
Nikki was last seen walking her dog, a Yorkshire terrier, on her block at noon on Saturday. The cops believe that Brittany was murdered then and Nikki was killed when she returned to their apartment. Shortly after 2 p.m., neighbors saw a man leaving the apartment with a beige minisafe that belonged to Brittany.
At the 24th Precinct, I meet with four of the 12 detectives assigned to the caseDarryl Hayes and Rudy Hall from Manhattan North Homicide Task Force, Robert Geis from the 24th, and Lieutenant George Pagan, who headed the investigation.
At the beginning, there was no shortage of suspects, Pagan says. “They were two very pretty young girls who were engaged by Show World and had a large circle of friends.”
“Just because they were popular doesn’t mean they were …,” and a siren blasts away the rest of Detective Geis’s words.
They have read the diaries, met the mothers, the boyfriends, recovered the Nefertiti medallion and the purple negligeebut what they find themselves saying to the media is: The girls weren’t prostitutes, they didn’t do drugs, they didn’t even drink.
Nikki’s “date book,” where she supposedly kept her list of men, was in fact just a calendar and a diary. And Nikki was introducing Brittany to men, but——“She was trying to help Brittany get into videos, so she was introducing her to people in the business. Newsday might’ve taken that to mean boyfriends.” And, besides, the detectives don’t really think Brittany needed help meeting men.
“It was almost character assassination,” says Geis of the press coverage.
“There’s a positive aspect to this Show World thing-Nikki was putting herself through college,” says Hayes.
But I don’t want to look at the positive side. Nor the negative. I want to know them. To trick death. To leap over that immutable fact and land on the other side-noon on Saturday when Nikki was walking her dog down 109th Street and Brittany was upstairs running her bath.
Nikki’s dog is here, the cops tell me. Do you want to meet him?
He’s tiny and mop-like with bangs over his brown eyes. When Nikki and her girlfriend Pat picked him up from the ASPCA, they were told that his name was “Lucky” and that loud noises made him nervous The girls decided he’d been abused. But they would give him a new life, and a name to start it with “Buster” after both rapper Buster Rhymes and Buster Brown.
Anecdote by anecdote. Can you put a person back together that way? Brittany’s words repeated in broken English. Did she really say to her Dominican mother-“You can’t command me anymore”? Nikki mimicked by an ex-boyfriend-“Just stay out of my life!”-is that really her hysterical, little shriek or is it his anger?
Remembered by people who loved them, by people who have a desire to write themselves a more flattering part in their lives Remembered in grief, in guilt, in pain.
KABIRA “BRITTANY” ROJAS, 22
SHE NAMED HERSELF Brittany. Her family calls her by her given name—Kabira.
The places get mixed up, the dates, the color of the hair. What look was she into then? Hard to pin it down. Her hair was so many colors, they tell me: orange, black, white blond; very long, or very short and all slicked back.
Was she living with her great aunt Themis then or her stepfather, Carlo? Depends on whom you ask. There are no recent photos. In the one that Kabira’s mother, Dalis, shows me, the girl is six.
When I pick up Dalis in Ridgewood, Queens, she’s waiting outside her ex-husband Carlo’s apartment. “Oh-you’re so young!” Dalis cries when I pull up in the car. With her are Kabira’s aunt Maria and Andrew, a longtime family friend.
Some facts are certain: Dalis was pregnant with Kabira when Kabira’s father died in a car accident. Dalis met and married Carlo before Kabira was born. Carlo’s family is Sicilian.
Some say they didn’t approve of Dalis. Maria, who is Carlo’s sister, says it was because Dalis is older than Carlo. Dalis says it’s because she’s Dominican, and the family never accepted her Kabira.
During her childhood, the girl lived with her mother and stepfather, in the same solid brick house as Carlo’s parents.
“Since she was a baby, she was very well behaved, shy,” Aunt Maria says. “She had these long lashes. She’d say: please, thank you.” When the family went out, strangers used to give Kabira money because she behaved so nice, Dalis tells me.
When Kabira was 11, Dalis sent her to a convent school in the Dominican Republic.
When Kabira was 12, she was living with her mother and her little brother, Joel, in Costa Rica.
When she was 13, her mother was sick, and sent both children back up to the States.
She lived with her stepdad for a little while.
Then she moved in with her great aunt Themis and lived there through most of her teenage years. But in the last year of her life, she often stayed with her boyfriend, Ralph, at his father’s apartment in Jamaica, Queens.
In October of ’91, when Kabira was 18, Dalis came back to the States—“I came here to care for Kabira—to see her behavior.” Two weeks later, Dalis was in the hospital. “When I saw her, it was very hard to accept what she was going through. I get sick-dizzy. Kabira took me to the hospital. I was there for 11 days. I almost died. What happened is I couldn’t control her, she wanted her own life.”
SHE LOVED MADONNA, everybody says so.
When Madonna came on the TV, Kabira would sit right down in front of the screen—“Oh, I love her! I love her!”
“She had studs, chains, and miniskirts up to here. They wanted to throw her out of school. The principal took the chain away. ‘I want my damn chain back,’ she said. That’s how she was. She had to go to school on her terms or she wouldn’t go,” says Andrew.
“That Madonna crap ruined a lot of people,” says Aunt Maria.
She never drank, she never did drugs, Dalis tells me. “To me it was hard to believe.”
She didn’t go to her junior high graduation because she didn’t want to wear the gown.
When she was about 14, she was into metal, loved “that guy with the long blond hair from Poison,” says Andrew. She named herself Brittany—perhaps after a blue-eyed girlfriend from Staten Island. She even changed her last name-to De Ville. She told Andrew, “That’s my father’s name.” But it wasn’t.
SHE USED AN Israeli girlfriend’s address to get into a Forest Hills high school. Carlo used to get called in by her teachers. “Please tell her not to expose her cleavage and her belly button,” they said. “She’s turning all the boys on.”
One time, Andrew and Carlo had to take Kabira home from school. As they walked down the corridor, the bell rang to let classes out. “Shit,” Andrew thought as the kids began to pour out into the hallway. “Kabira! Kabira!” the boys cried. “And they were saying—’Check out her butt! Check out her butt! and so you had to block the view, and I started walking behind her, and I was saying, “Let’s go, Carlo!’”
Yes, I can see the scene-poor, frazzled Andrew playing defense, and handsome Carlo, all unaware. Can see the boys admiring their own attitude as much as Kabira’s anatomy. But what is Kabira thinking?
She dropped out of school after 10th grade. She wanted to make money.
She told Andrew she was offered a job at the Pink Pussycat Boutique. “I’m gonna fake some ID because I want that job!”
“I think she got the job because one day she was wearing a Madonna bra,” Andrew says. A black cone bra with metal tips. “She used to crack me up with her jobs,” he continues. “One time she told me she was going to hand out leaflets in the Village dressed as a chicken-because Madonna did it in the movie.”
THEY WERE SURPRISED to find that she was living on 109th–she’d always loved the Village, they say. Surprised to learn her boyfriend of the last year was black. “She didn’t like Spanish people, she didn’t like blacks either,” says Andrew but that was (if it was) a long time ago.
“She went from one extreme to the other-AC/DC and Poison to rap music, reggae. Silver jewelry to gold,” Andrew says. “She used to be shy to dance. She’d get these fake IDs to go into clubs and I’d say, ‘Show me how you dance, but she wouldn’t. That’s a big transition to be shy about dancing and then to be stripping.” But maybe she just didn’t want to dance in the kitchen for her father’s friend.
She always wanted to be a model, her relatives tell me.
“I told her for that you need money,” her mom says. “We always told her if you don’t have money, you have nothing. You can’t bring love to the supermarket.”
GREAT-AUNT THEMIS stands in the foyer of her apartment building wearing a black fur hat, a cream-colored blouse, a skirt, black shoes. Great-aunt Themis moves gingerly through the frozen air, bends stiffly to get into my car. As soon as we pull away, she grips the door handle, holds it tight during our ride to the mall. Murder has placed her here—in the low, dirty car of a stranger, and then sitting in a greasy spoon, a styrofoam cup of coffee in her trembling hands.
How she loved Kabira! She had beautiful hair, Themis tells me. And the way she did her nails! So clever, so pretty with little designs on them and everything. She always told Kabira to do her hair and her nails herself—“because you do it very good.”
Themis came to the United States 43 years ago, worked as a seamstress in the garment district. She never married; she supported herself. She’s 75.
Themis says: “The way I see it-Kabira grow up with me.”
When her aunt told her she should go back to school, Kabira said: “No way, José!” When Themis suggested she get a job at the new A&S down the road, Kabira said: “I need to make money. There’s no money there.”
When Kabira began to work at Show World last June, she was making between $200 and $400 a shift, Themis says. Kabira bought four gold chains, and put a stone in her Nefertiti medallion. “See, aunt, how nice it looks?”
“She worked hard-she saved a lot,” Themis says. Kabira bought a beige minisafe to put her money in. She wanted her own apartment, a big dog, and a red jeep.
When her boyfriend, Ralph, was locked up in October, Kabira had to stay at her aunt’s all the time. Because of her new job, she was coming home at 2:30 in the morning. It was too much and Themis told Kabira it was time for her to find a nice apartment.
In late November, Kabira said: “Aunt, maybe I’m going to move in with a coworker.”
“Yes, that’s good. That’s what I wanted. You take a nice place.” On December 13, Kabira came over with Nikki to get some of her things. “A very nice girl,” Themis says of Nikki. Kabira took some clothes, cassette tapes, and a small cuckoo clock. She came back four days later and took a winter coat, a pair of thigh-high boots, and the minisafe. That was the last time great-aunt Themis saw her.
“They killed her for nothing, for nothing. And Kabira so smart, so smart—why do they do it like that? Maybe I was wrong because I say, ‘Take a nice place,’ but never I think she gonna take an apartment and they kill her.”
THEY REMEMBER how she expressed astonishment: “Get the fuck out of here!” How she jolted them into laughter. She was her own entity, cut from a different cloth, surprising. Except for Themis, her relatives seem to have regarded her as a force of nature—anxiety-provoking, then exhilarating, always worth watching.
They remember her on Myrtle Avenue, cars honking, boys calling. Sometimes, she’d yell, “Screw you!” Sometimes, she’d go over to the car, lean in and talk. When she came from her great-aunt Themis’s to visit Carlo in conservative Ridgewood, the neighbors would talk. All those square houses, tricycles squeaking on the sidewalk.
“She’d have bare shoulders, tight miniskirts, and the cowboy boots-people would go wow!” Andrew says. “They weren’t crazy for the way she dressed. They thought it was like a prostitute ”
“The makeup was really too much,” Maria says. Maria has a heart-shaped face and her long blond hair is in barrettes-Maria doesn’t seem old enough to have lost a husband. Maria raises her two daughters in her parents’ house now. (When I go there, she tells her mother I’m a girlfriend from night school. Her mother smiles approvingly.) But Maria is suddenly, tremulously brave—“They talk about everybody on this block. They act like their lives are so perfect,” she says.
“Kabira didn’t care,” Andrew says. “She used to say, ‘Fuck them.’”
Maria wishes she’d been a better aunt, and she remembers how Kabira came to the house and said “give me a kiss” to Maria’s daughters and fussed over them; how she told Maria that she was making “good money” now and showed off her jewelry and Maria told her be-very-careful now and Kabira said for the hundredth time: “Don’t worry.” And how it happened to Kabira makes it much worse because Kabira wasn’t scared of anything. “She was used to the streets and taking the trains at night,” Maria says. “And then it happens in her own apartment.” Maria is crying, her doll’s face streaked with tears because Kabira is the one who went out at night, all alone, the one who traversed the city, handled the boys, swept aside careful manners, rigidity, loosened tongues. She’s the girl who refused to suffer.
THE ONLY WAY Dalis recognized her daughter—the cops showed her a photograph at the morgue—was by her long lashes. Her face was bloated. She was covered with bruises. “There’s no justice in this world,” Dalis says. “You’re a piece of sand. You are nothing.”
Carlo says: “She was an outgoing person and she had her own life. She wasn’t into drugs, into drinking, and I was very surprised … I’m not saying she was a perfect kid. We got along but she wanted to have her own life. She knew what she was doing most of the time.
“I remember her going to the library and getting books on AIDS. From there, I knew she was going to be okay. She always said, ‘Dad, I’m not like that-see a guy, go to bed. I know people might look at me that way but I’m not like that.’ ”
OUTSIDE THE FAMILY, she was Brittany. And Brittany seems happier than Kabira, though far more vulnerable. Now, she is seen through the eyes of boys—they make her come alive.
“She was always like this—” begins a boy who was in love with her as, biting his nails and jiggling his legs, he acts her out. “Eating her nails—always thinking-putting the music really loud. I could see she needed help. She was crazy … not crazy, but many, many dreams in her head.”
She pulls her hair up tight and high—see? the way it makes my eyes slant up? like Madonna does—she tells her boyfriend’s cousin Damon. She and Damon went shopping and she had 800 dollars on her. “She brought a purple negligee at McCory’s,” Damon says.
She often discussed her beauty and seduction strategies with men. They were charmed to be let into the powder room. If she grew her hair really long, so it covered all the right parts, and she was naked underneath … wouldn’t that be sexy? she asked another boy.
She must’ve felt abandoned when her boyfriend, Ralph, was put away in Rikers in October. She visited Damon, talked nonstop, gave him some Show World tokens, explaining what each size was for—the small gold ones for a quick peek of a girl dancing onstage; the heavy silver ones for a private audience. The silver ones cost five dollars and you get three minutes with the girl in one booth and you in the other, a big window between you and a telephone. What are you going to show me? the guys ask. What do you want to see? the girls reply.
Brittany told Damon to come see her there. Ralph’s mother almost had a heart attack, but Damon thinks Brittany just wanted to feel connected to somebody. Anyway, Brittany wouldn’t have thought much about the being-naked part of it. Damon gives me the tokens—”I don’t have any use for them anymore.” He’s very deliberate in his smile, in the gesture of holding out the tokens to me-it seems to be his letting go, his own little funeral service.
“I never had no steady girl before. I cried like a baby,” says Ralph, when I meet him at Rikers juvenile detention center. He’s in for selling drugs. He’s 18, very tall, and hasn’t filled out to his height yet; the smooth face would be boyish except for the sensuality there. “Gorgeous” is his grandmother’s description, and I think that’s the right word.
Before he talks, he pauses … then the words tumble out of him, he stops abruptly. Is he done? Is he starting again? The normal indicators are gone—the speech artless and somehow innocent; words emptied of their usual connotations. He’s going to put a scrapbook together when he gets out of here, he says. He has three photos of her, a World’s Best Lover certificate, and “a lot of sex cards.” There’s no grin, no wink-wink or shyness. He might’ve said “postcards.”
Ralph met Brittany on the train-January 15, 1992—his friend was talking to her but she and Ralph were looking at each other. “I cut his throat,” he says. They began to live together in his father’s apartment. She called Ralph “papi.”
They had lots of “little love fights,” he says. They’d steal each other’s beepers so they couldn’t get calls. Usually, she took his when Ralph was asleep and he found out when he woke up and read the note she’d left for him-“If you want me, just beep me.” He laughs remembering that.
“When I used to go outside she always follow me-‘Where are you going? Where are you going?-like a nag,” Ralph says, but he says the word nag as though it simply meant someone who follows you around a lot. Sometimes he made her cry. “I treat her messed up. I used to ignore her sometimes.” She was afraid he was going to leave her, “but I was afraid she was going to leave me.”
Afraid, in part, because when they walked down the street, guys honked their horns, guys followed them. “Like they never seen a pretty girl before.” He remembers one car full of guys trailing them until he and Brittany had to duck into a deli. The guys came inside and Brittany ran behind the counter. “They said they wanted to get a look at her. They said—’She look good, you better take care of her.’
“She used to take me to Manhattan, the Village,” says Ralph. “I like to stay in my own little borough—but she showed me a lot of places. Pizzeria Uno, Sixth Avenue where they play basketball, Pink Pussycat-she liked to buy exotic underwear but all she wore were my boxers. It hurt me a lot. I cared about her a lot.”
She wanted to get an apartment with him—“she was just tired of shifting between families.” They had already picked out their dog-a Rottweiler puppy in a pet shop at Green Acres mall. It was he who always wanted a Rottweiler but Brittany would’ve named it. “She was possessive,” he says with pleasure.
“Me and her used to play-fight a lot, hug and kiss. She was just sweet. The cops told me she put up a real good fight. She could fight.” The two of them used to go to St. Albans Park late when no one was around and he’d teach her how to box.
“If I had been out there, she probably woulda been alright. I always knew where she was. She’d never be far from me. When I left, she was by herself. I was the closest thing to her-she’d tell me everything. She used to come in tired after work, I’d give her massages and everything. Some days she’d have things together, I wouldn’t. Some days, I would, she wouldn’t-we were a perfect match.”
RALPH’S MOM, CYNTHIA, didn’t like Brittany. Felt like Brittany led her son off the straight and narrow. Ralph’s grandmother loved the kid.
Well, at first, Cynthia found her adorable. But when her son told her about Brittany’s job at Show World, her heart began to turn. You don’t know Brittany, Cynthia says, that kid was just too much.
One night, she called the house at 11 and asked for Ralph. Cynthia told her, “My son is in bed. He has school to go to tomorrow.” Brittany said, “Fuck that shit. I’m gonna talk to my man.” Cynthia says she just stood there in shock, hand on her heart. Grandma had picked up the other phone, and, with much amusement, said, “Listen-let this kid talk to her man so we can get some sleep around here.”
Cynthia says, “She used to write him all these letters, send him sex cards—’My pussy wussy misses your dicky wicky.’ Oh my God!” she cries theatrically, clutching her heart, and Grandma roars with laughter, slaps the table hard, “That’s why I liked that kid so much-she was straight out.”
And, Cynthia must admit, her son was crazy about Brittany. “That kid just ran amok-that’s how much he was in love.”
“She makes good money, mommy,” Ralph told her. Ralph wanted to catch up to her, says Damon. “They both had Nefertiti necklaces on layaway and Brittany got hers out and Ralph didn’t have enough money to get his.” They say he started selling more.
Cynthia told him and Brittany: you two are going too fast. Told them: Bad money comes to bad ends. She told her son you better be thinking about what she’s doing there at that job, you better be thinking about AIDS. She tried to get Ralph interested in another girl: a pretty black girl who went to his high school and had a 90 average. “But no matter what I said it was him and Brittany.”
“You can’t stop love,” Grandma says. “People are gonna love who they love, black, white, Chinese.”
“They were perfect for each other,” Damon smiles calmly. “They were both wild.”
In church, Cynthia began to pray that her son would get locked up.
On Saturday the 19th, at 10 p.m., the detectives came to Rikers with a photo of Brittany. Ralph recognized her hair, the sexy shirt they’d argued about, but her face was “blurry.” When the detectives left, he called his mother, crying wildly: “Mommy, mommy, they killed them!”
“My son had to identify the body!” Cynthia says, sounding indignant as though, even in death, Brittany continued to steal her son’s innocence.
Still, who would do something like that to her?—Cynthia muses—“She was only yea-big, only yea-big.” And a very beautiful kid. Very beautiful. The whole family thought so. And she loved Ralph’s grandmother, yes she did. “She would run to my mom and kiss her and hug her. Called her “Grandma.’ She knew she couldn’t talk to me,” Cynthia adds with a harrumph. Brittany seemed to get along well with children and old people, I say. Yes, she did, yes, she did, Cynthia agrees. “Well, everybody has their little ways,” she says.
Cynthia went to the wake with most of her family. It was open casket. “They really did a job on that kid-whoever killed her. She didn’t even look like herself.” Cynthia kissed her on the cheek. “This is for Ralph, Brittany.”
“A TEENAGER LEAVING home for the first time can get lost in New York City. Nikki Silas never found her way home,” begins the last article in the Patriot Ledger.
Nikki wasn’t lost in New York City. The trajectory of her life was not toward “home”—that is, as the reporter meant it, her parent’s home in Pembroke. It was toward adulthood. She wanted to be in New York. She wanted to be a performer. And she couldn’t wait to leave Pembroke; that slow, white town.
Nikki’s mother is white; her father’s black. Nikki was born in Pembroke, but her father was in the Air Force and Nikki grew up on military bases—first in San Diego and then in Oklahoma. The bases were mixed ethnically, Nikki’s mother, Karen, says. In the summer of 1988, the family moved back to Pembroke. Nikki was 15.
“First of all, there’s nothing to do around here unless you have a car,” her 17-year-old brother Damon says. “And Nikki felt out of place-in the school there’s no more than 10 minorities out of a thousand.”
The “Wonder white bread school” Nikki’s girlfriend Sherry called it. “And you and Damon are the only pieces of rye.”
Once, in the locker room, a girl said something to Nikki about going back to her ancestors, about throwing spears.
Once Nikki spoke to her favorite teacher, Mrs. Christian, about how difficult it was being a spokesperson for a race. Nikki talked in general, not personal, terms.
But mostly it was loneliness.
Nikki was “bubbly,” “kind,” “friendly,” “popular with the teachers and other students,” but Nikki, in the context of Pembroke, didn’t go much deeper than that. “I always felt that she put on the happy face, always felt there was more complexity there,” Mrs. Christian says. “I think it was very important for Nikki to keep a stiff upper lip. I think the Silases instilled in their children a desire to do well.”
She was a very pretty adolescent on the verge of beauty—or was she, in Pembroke, where blond is queen?
“I think we were each other’s best friends, definitely,” Damon says.
On weekend nights, teenagers fill up the Howard Johnson’s off Route 3, empty the ketchup bottles, stiff the waitresses. “We go to dances, hang out at each other’s houses, play games,” Damon says. “Play pool, go bowling, go to the mall—all of it gets monotonous and boring after a while.”
She and Damon hung out together, amused themselves. They entered an amateur dance contest. They performed for the old people in the nursing home where Karen works. Around the house, they made videos-commercials for made-up products like “World of Curls,” dancing to a boombox in the basement laundry room. One day, in some fit of boredom, they videotaped everything in sight. Their parents had black friends in from San Diego and Nikki and Damon taped them eating lobsters. At the end, Nikki chirps: “And I want to thank you for raising the black population in Pembroke to nine!”
NIKKI WORKED HARD to sell her parents on letting her go to Pace University. “I really didn’t want her to go to Pace,” her father, Ernie, says. “I didn’t want her to be in that city at all.” They agreed reluctantly. She studied performing arts. The family couldn’t afford the tuition after a year, and Nikki didn’t like Pace, anyway. She took a year off and started attending City College last fall. Nikki told her father she liked it more than Pace but that the black students there were “narrow-minded” in a different way than the white kids in Pembroke. They’d never lived around white people, and they said they never could. In class, one girl said she had and they weren’t that bad, and the other students jumped all over her. Nikki was working up the courage to say her mom was white when the class ended.
The last time Ernie saw his daughter, over Thanksgiving break, she told him she was switching her major from performance arts to childhood education and Ernie was very glad to hear it. She told him that one of her professors reminded her of him— “When I get to talk, I get on my soapbox .. and I also drift,” Ernie explains.
The family knew nothing about Nikki’s job at Show World until after her death. Nikki told Damon about the Shabba Ranks video when she got the job and told her mother after it was made. No one ever told Ernie. “They keep everything from me,” he complains bitterly, but Karen and Damon change the subject.
He doesn’t want me there. “I can’t believe that you call up on the phone and now you’re sitting here in my living room and I’m talking to you about my daughter. Never in a thousand years would I have thought I’d be doing this,” he says.
Karen shows me Nikki’s bedroom by the low light of a table lamp—the white, fourposter bed, the Russian figurines on the white dresser, the Monet postcards carefully tacked to the wall, the ruffled curtains. A room spun of ice cream and sugar, of a parent’s love for girlhood. They’ve turned the heat off in this part of the house now. Frost etches the window. In the dark, the turreted bed is luminous, solemn.
During her year off from college, Nikki was working at Show World, interning at a small record company in Queens (that’s the job she told her parents about), and beginning to meet people who could get her into videos.
Damon says: “She had met everybody. She was telling me most people would brag but she didn’t want to seem like she had a big head so she was playing cool—but she was excited.” She told him about one time when she was on the phone with Fab 5 Freddy, who directed the Shabba Ranks video, and how Freddy got another call and it was Spike Lee. “She told me how it felt to be on the same level with Spike Lee.”
ON THE SHABBA RANKS set, it was Nikki, out of all the beautiful girls there, who got to wear a dozen costumes. She, who the camera loved. Nzingha, the stylist on the set, tells me: “For one shot, we had her in an I Love Lucy red wig and a black boa and the room was full of smoke and I looked at her and said to Freddy, ‘Do you see that? She looked like a black, light-skinned Marilyn Monroe.”
Nzingha adds—“Of course all the men on the set had their eyes hanging out of their heads.” But Nikki seemed supremely unaware of them, caught up in the excitement of the shooting.
She had a tiny, sweet, breathy voice, Nzingha says. And a round little face and perfect skin that Nzingha loved to work on. When she asked Nikki about her family, Nikki said her father was “really strict.” She said she was the only girl and her family was Catholic. Nzingha said: Girlfriend, what are you doing this for? Is this your rebellion? She can’t remember Nikki’s reply. “They’re gonna bug out when they see you in that nun’s outfit,” Nzingha said.
Something about Nikki—the voice, the freshness, the lack of “ego-ing” and “viperishness” that she’s used to seeing on sets made Nzingha hope she’d get out of the business.
After Nikki’s death, one of her high school girlfriends rented the Shabba Ranks video and watched it. “It hurt a lot. I said, ‘Wow, Nikki.’ I was just very sad,” the Patriot Ledger quotes her as saying.
Ain’t nothing sad about Nikki’s performance in the video. If anything, you could find the nun-becomes-stripper concept kind of silly, kind of old. Unless you grew up a Catholic girl. In the video, Nikki’s kittenish looks are transformed. The robe unfurls and a different creature emerges- smokyeyed and sinuous. Here was the Catholic daughter, daddy’s little girl flexing her sexuality, stepping out of childhood. Nikki’s best friend, Pat, watches it all the time “Because I know she was happy then.
SHE USED TO ASK friends: Did I look pretty? Do you think I looked sexy?
She got to escort Shabba Ranks to the party for his video. She wore a black leather bra and poured-on pants. How she looked and who she was were “like night and day,” says Dwight, a friend from Sony Music. He gave her his phone number that night, like a lot of guys, and was surprised to get a call a few days later. “I wasn’t going to call anybody,” Nikki told him. “Because everybody there seemed so sleazy.”
Talking to her was like talking to “a high school student,” Dwight says. Other girls might brag about the rap stars they’d been with, play this or that game; other girls, you might talk with them about politics or movies. But Nikki talked about her family. She worried incessantly that her parents would see the video, that they would find out about her stripping at Show World. “Nikki hated lying to her mother.”
“All the things around her she managed to block out. She still managed to keep her innocence in a way. She hated to talk about sex because she was around it all the time, because that’s all guys wanted-so she just avoided the subject.”
He went to her apartment on West 109th Street once—couldn’t believe where she lived, and that she paid $800 a month for it. “I was born and raised in the Bronx, but I wouldn’t live there.” He thinks Nikki was a small-town girl living in a rap record. They sat outside in his car talking and the guys on the stoop watched them the whole time: “Nikki’s fan club,” he laughs. They weren’t such nice guys, in the legal sense but the thing about Nikki was, she talked to everybody with the same sweetness.
“Were you in love with Nikki?” I ask and he laughs: “Good question.”
THE FACADE OF Show World is a cliché of neon light and triple X’s. Inside, spangly puppets and animals dangle from the ceiling. The lights are bright, the music loud. There’s a guard, a man selling tokens at the booth, stairs lit up and blinking, and promises everywhere that what’s ahead is both “live” and “nude.”
At the back, seven booths face a stage. You sit in the dark so the girl can’t see you. You slip a gold token in the slot and a screen the size of a notebook goes up on the window. There’s a girl, a pole for her to drape herself around, and a mirror. The girl might take off her shirt. Fifteen seconds later, the screen falls. This is the quick peek, the taste, the tease …
The girl comes off the stage and walks up to her “fantasy” booth. If you like what you saw back there, you follow her. Put in your silver token; pick up the phone. “The guys don’t use the phone for that long,” says one girl who works there. “They usually hang up and fondle themselves until they come and then they leave. They come all over the glass—it’s disgusting.” Two Mexican men with “Maintenance” on their shirts are called to come clean up. The house takes a percentage of the token money. The girls make most of their money from tips.
Nikki started working at Show World while she was still at Pace. Nikki knew why she made good money—“Because I look like a little girl and men like that.” She hated getting couples in her booth. They were so cold-blooded, so pure in their voyeurism—they always said: “Well, do your thing.” And then waited. It was the couples, not the men, who made Nikki squirm.
When Pat, her best friend from Oklahoma, moved in with Nikki, she had trouble finding a job. Nikki supported her, but after a few months and no job, Pat went to work at Show World and hated it. Nikki helped her but who would understand that? She told Pat: Don’t look them in the eye. And: Pretend you’re somebody else.
Pat couldn’t bear to walk up on that stage the first time so Nikki went with her.
Every night before work, Pat and Nikki washed down their booths in alcohol, put newspaper on the floor, garbage bags over the seats. After each client, they would wash their phones off with Baby Wipes— even though no one touched their phones but them. After a month, Pat found a job at Hertz. Nikki applied but didn’t get hired.
Cooley, her boyfriend then, found out about the job. He went into Show World and sat in one of the seven booths, waiting. When Nikki came on “wearing just heels and a smile,” Cooley went crazy-banging on the glass and screaming. Nikki walked up to the window, peered in … froze. And then mouthed: “I’m sorry.” Whatever their relationship had been like up until then—and Cooley says it was “heaven”—everything changed. Cooley began to fly into rages, he began to hit her. One time he remembers taking her money and throwing it on the street and Nikki crying: “My money! My fucking money!” and crawling around trying to gather it back up.
He constantly threatened to call her mother and tell.
“Everybody needs somebody,” Cooley told her. “Your parents are in Pembroke, you’re all alone here. I am that link. Anything happens, I’m there for you.”
And Nikki said: “And who’s gonna protect me from you?”
She’d tell him to stop acting like he was her father and Cooley would say, I am your father. “I’d get mad at what she was wearing. That would end the whole night. You should’ve seen us—we were at each other like man and wife,” he says proudly. It’s a certain take on relationships. It’s what the cops call no blood, no love.
Sometime last fall, Nikki went to a priest friend and talked about it. “She was at the point where she wanted to stop and change,” Pat says. “He told her it’s not too late and that her parents can forgive her.”
Nikki hardly went in to work anymore.
Just when bills were due. In early November, Pat’s mother flew in from Oklahoma to see what was up. The girls owed three months of rent. Pat’s mother was taking her home. Nikki began to work like mad so Pat wouldn’t have to go.
On December 1, Pat, her suitcase packed, was saying goodbye to Nikki. “All she kept saying was: ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ Like it was her fault I was leaving. Both of us couldn’t pay the rent. She was crying. I was crying. And that was it.”
Pat only worked at Show World for a month but she wishes she could take that part of her life and make it vanish, she tells me. Their friends in Oklahoma were shocked by Hard Copy and began to care less about Nikki being murdered. They don’t know that Pat worked there, too. Pat tells me about it so I can see Nikki’s life. She’s brave. She calls me one day and says she’s thinking about telling Nikki’s parents, who consider her a second daughter.
Cooley and Nikki broke up many times but they split for good last February. They stayed friends. He got another girlfriend; he treated Nikki better. However, he remained jealous of any man involved with her. The fact that he had hit her and even threatened to kill her made Cooley a prime suspect after Nikki was found dead.
By Thanksgiving, Karen had found out Nikki was having money trouble. Over the break, she and Nikki discussed her coming back to Pembroke. She could enroll in college there, get a job, live at home, save her money. “If I do, will you make me stay here?” Nikki asked. Karen told her, No way. You can go back whenever you want. Nikki cried; Nikki decided to come back. “It was one of the best times we had together,” Karen says. “We’re both bullheaded, but this time we were just figuring out what was best for Nikki.” She had an exam on Saturday, the 19th of December. She decided to return to Pembroke the following Tuesday. She told friends she’d be back in New York in six months.
“Hopefully, I would’ve convinced her to stay,” Ernie says.
LATE INTO THE NIGHT, after a bottle of wine and dinner, Karen starts to talk to me about Pat working at Show World. Remembers that Ernie doesn’t know. “I forgot to tell you—Pat called last night. She called to say she used to work at that place with Nikki.” Nikki’s parents never say “Show World.” Ernie’s just looking at her from across the dining room table. “Ernie, she was worried that we’d be angry at her—that we wouldn’t love her anymore. She’s still the same person, Ernie.” Ernie cries out: “What the hell happened down there?” He rubs his face-looks to me, looks to her. Much later he enters the conversation. “You know what our problem is?” he says to his wife. “We live in another era. Time has passed us by. We’re still in the ’50s.” Ernie, Ernie, it’s not your fault, she tells him. Ernie, don’t think about it that’s the best way—just forget about that part-remember the good things.
The good things. The bad things. Those Catholic categories. Karen wants to know why the newspapers didn’t use Nikki’s graduation photo instead of the head shot from her portfolio. She looked for Nikki’s college report card so she could show me that Nikki was keeping a 3.5 grade average; her grades weren’t “slipping,” as the Patriot Ledger reported. I give her Nzingha’s message: “Nikki behaved like a lady throughout.” But if she didn’t? “Why am I defending my daughter?” Karen asks angrily.
But sometimes I think, she’s not defending Nikki so much as finding her again on the other side of incongruous fact, of newspaper characterizations. She and Ernie. She used to tell Nikki: Don’t lie to me. I’ll feel angrier for what I find out than what you tell me. Used to tell her: lies come back to haunt you.
She tells her husband: Nikki made a mistake, Ernie. Ernie turns to me: “Mistakes don’t happen-do they?”
Nikki didn’t hurt anyone, her mother and I agree. We move at that point from the Catholic cosmos.
There’s nothing anyone can tell Nikki’s father to make it better. The night is rushing by him at a tremendous pace. He is numb. He pulls his brow together; he looks at us from behind his glasses; he cannot cry. His manhood—that demanding, protective force—has now become a cage where feeling paces alone. They are talking about Pat again but they end up talking about Nikki. “I’m not angry. I don’t feel any differently. I feel …
“Pain,” Karen finishes for him. He puts his head in his hands. Comes up dry-eyed. His daughter is dead.
“Tell her what you told Nikki once,” Karen urges him softly. He looks at her blankly. “About loving her,” she nudges him. “I said no man in the world is going to love you more than what I do.”
NIKKI AND BRITTANY
I’VE GOT IT WRONG, of course. The sweet naïveté, the vulnerability of Nikki is too pat. What of this: Nikki on a subway platform, helping a man who was having an epileptic seizure, Nikki yelling at people to call 911, yelling, precisely: “You don’t have to touch him, just call an ambulance!” Her level-headedness, her scorn for the timid, the gawking—that was Nikki, too. And the Show World business—so sad and frantic. What of Cooley admitting: “She changed a lot when she started working there. She became more assertive, more confident.” Eventually Cooley’s temper tantrums had no effect on Nikki. When he began to pry into her personal life, Nikki would say firmly: “I think we’ve seen enough of each other for a while.” With some friends, she referred to Cooley as her “slave”-he would do anything for her if she asked.
I’ve tried to avoid sentimentality—but shouldn’t a portrait of a 19- and a 20-year-old girl be plastered with hearts and exclamation points? Like the kisses and hugs Brittany wrote as “XXOO” to Ralph, and the big teddy bear holding the baby teddy bear that she gave him. Or the friendship plaque from Nikki to Pat—“My life has been touched because we walked a special walk together, because you matter to me…” Or Nikki’s favorite poem: “Let me begin again as a speck of dust caught in the night winds sweeping out to sea. …” She liked all the flying parts in the poem, Mrs. Christian told me. Yes, hearts and exclamation points and wheeling birds and wind.
One day Cooley tells me that Nikki used to talk to her dog Buster—“I wonder what she was saying to him that morning.” And against all logic, I think that if I can get to know her well enough, get closer to that day, I can guess at what she said to Buster.
Nikki didn’t like being alone. Everybody mentions that at one time or the other. When Pat moved out on December 1, Nikki asked Ken to stay with her.
Ken had met Nikki two years ago when his friend took him to Show World. “My friend had liked her. He had seen her for a prostitute but I had seen her different,” he says. He’s slung low in the chair, his voice low-key with a trace of West Indian lilt. His face gives nothing away. We talk at his aunt’s house and he’s an interesting contrast to the stuffed animals crowding the couch and the velvet pictures of Martin Luther King and the Last Supper hung high on the wall.
Everything about him suggests a deep self-assurance. It masks his deep feelings for Nikki, the continued disbelief that she’s dead. The only memento he has of her-a Daily News article about her murder—is carefully folded in his wallet.
That night at Show World, Ken didn’t let his friend know that he liked Nikki. His friend said: “I want to go in the booth and see what she does.” Ken didn’t. He already knew that Nikki wasn’t that girl in the booth. “I never did get what the thrill was for men—watching a girl,” he says, sounding like he’s spent his life surrounded by excitable boys. Ah, Nikki. Dwight was wrong. So was Cooley. When I tell Ken that Cooley says Nikki didn’t like sex, Ken laughs. Maybe Nikki didn’t like Cooley, he suggests.
When friends ask him if he’s ever slept with a white woman, Ken says yes because he thinks Nikki’s pretty close. “But she leaned more toward the black side of life.” Music, guys. He asked her once what kind of guy she liked and Nikki said not guys who wear suits, but guys who wear Timberlands or sneakers or denim suits … “Oh, you like a street kind of guy,” Ken said.
“I wouldn’t call Nikki for a few months. I was bad. I’m always on the street-I guess that’s why. But then I’d call her and everything was okay. She never gave me any trouble.” He doesn’t say it casually. Nikki gave him the idea that love might go differently. Maybe it didn’t have to be so combative—a hurt-for-a-hurt, a cheating game.
Ken and Nikki disagreed on Shabba Ranks, who Nikki thought was the greatest reggae singer ever. “No, I don’t think so.” Ken told her, and even now the dry authority in his voice is crushing. She thought he was gorgeous; he thought Shabba was ugly as a box. Which made Nikki mad. He also thought that the video producers use girls like Nikki-paying them next to nothing because they have stars in their eyes, and making a lot of money off their flesh.
“Her father talks like that,” I say to him. And he says—Yes, Nikki used to say I’m too much of a father figure.
He stayed with Nikki on December 1, but canceled the next night. Had things to do. Told her, “I’ll make it up to you.” And he called December 3, ready to come over—“But by then she had a roommate.” And he doesn’t know why, but Nikki never wanted him over after that. Whenever he asked, she told him no, Brittany’s here. Or she told him, breathlessly, I’ll call you later, Ken, Brittany and I are going out.
The girls slept together in Nikki’s bed. “That’s kind of strange,” Ken prodded Nikki. Nikki said-she keeps me company.
BRITTANY’S HAIR was thick, glossy, long enough to cover her breasts, and Cooley just had to touch it the day he met her. “I know you from somewhere,” he told her, puzzled and insistent, as he ran his fingers along the edges of her hair. It was late Sunday afternoon, December 6.
Cooley and his cousin Khalid were visiting Nikki at the apartment.
Khalid was a little wary, a little bowled over by his first glimpse of Brittany lying on Nikki’s bed. “She was just wearing boxer shorts and tank top, and she was lying there. She said, ‘Take off your coat, make yourself comfortable.’” There was no place to “get comfortable” but the bed, and he sat there.
Soon, they were talking about the cartoons on the TV, and when Daffy Duck broke into “My mama done tole me …,” they sang along. “Usually I have a little caution when it comes to conversation, but for some reason it was just flowing.
“She told me she was on her own since she was very young—12 or 13—and this was the first apartment that would be hers—totally hers.”
Khalid asked slyly: “Uh… so where do you work?” Brittany looked him dead in the eye—you know where I work.
There was some air about the girls that day…. “It was jovial, a partylike atmosphere,” Khalid says. “Carefree,” Cooley says. “Nikki would not let me go. She would hug me and kiss me and act like we were back together again. She just kept standing on my feet. She wouldn’t get off me.” She made him walk around the room with her on his feet.
“I was so curious,” Cooley says. “They were so happy and giggling about certain little secrets and shit and I don’t like that.” It began to get under his skin.
Early evening, all four of them fell asleep on Nikki’s bed. Brittany woke them up with: It’s so dead in here! Everybody lying around-we gotta make it alive!
Cooley woke up in a sour mood. Thinks he dreamed the future of that room. Brittany turned to him: “And what are you still doing here?” Cooley couldn’t believe her! “And then she’s saying—’If you all don’t like it, you can all get out because this is my apartment now.’ She was talking nasty,” Cooley says. He decided he’d been wrong about knowing her from somewhere. He didn’t know her from a can of paint.
Khalid and Brittany went to the grocery store. While they were out, Cooley and Nikki got into a fight. Cooley was mad because she wouldn’t make love to him after hugging him and walking on his feet all day. “Just stay out of my life!” Nikki finally yelled, and Cooley stormed out of there. Meanwhile Khalid had fallen in love. “You were walking on air!” Cooley crows.
And it was funny to think Khalid had met her only once. He called her up every day after that one, but Brittany wouldn’t go out with him. Only once—and there he was getting picked up by the cops for questioning a few hours after they’d taken Cooley. He was a suspect, too. “They were just sure you did it,” Cooley laughs. “They even had me believing you did it.” Met her only once ! and was mined for the details of that day by the cops, by me.
He ended up being an essential part of Brittany’s story. In fact, the last entry in Brittany’s diary was about Khalid, Cooley tells me, as his cousin smiles, serene and amused. “Khalid is really getting on my nerves,” she wrote.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19
Ken thought it was strange when Nikki called him around 2 a.m. and asked would he please come stay with her. “She was almost begging me.” Ken was still sore at her: “Isn’t Brittany there?”
“No, Brittany’s not here. She went out.” He and Nikki talked on the phone until four, Ken says.
It’s one of the last glimpses of Nikki. “The reason I’m thinking about the death so much is if I was there, it wouldn’t have happened,” Ken says. “That’s why it’s hard to forget about it.”
LATER THAT MORNING, Cooley called. It was a little before 11. He wanted to see her one more time before she left for Pembroke. She told him she’d come over after she took her exam. At 11, Ralph called from Rikers. Nikki answered. When Brittany came to the phone she sounded sleepy. “Did I wake you up?” he asked, and then a corrections officer started yelling at him to get off the phone. Damn—“I’ll call you right back.” None of the callers ever knew the girls had visitors there.
Ralph called at noon. And the phone rang and rang.
ON JANUARY 4, 16 days after the murders, Kevin Ladson, 22, and Antoine Atterbury, 21, were charged with second degree murder and possession of stolen property. Both suspects are from Queens—and also roommates. Ladson has three prior convictions for selling drugs and guns. Atterbury has no record. The two have pled not guilty to both charges.
Ladson knew Brittany, the cops say. “They were very casual acquaintances. They exchanged phone numbers. Ladson called the night before and asked if he could come over and bring a friend.” The cops say that was about 1 a.m. Saturday, and that he arrived at the apartment with Atterbury not long after.
A telephone call from the girls’ apartment Saturday afternoon was traced to Ladson and Atterbury’s address. When the detectives arrived there, Atterbury answered the door. Behind him, in clear view, was the beige minisafe. Some of the girls’ possessions were found in the apartment, including the Nefertiti medallion and the purple negligee. In the middle of a taped interrogation, the cops realized that Atterbury was wearing Nikki’s sweatshirt. The witnesses identified Ladson as the man carrying the minisafe full of Brittany’s jeep money out of the apartment building.
The cops think robbery was a “secondary motive.” When they speak of a primary motive, their language becomes cloudy: “Maybe they were there, maybe wanted it to go a little further than a date and if this didn’t pan out, it just escalated into something else, got to the next stage-murder.”
Ralph says Kevin Ladson had a thing for Brittany, that she never talked to him, and his desire had turned ugly. Ladson hung out in front of Themis’s apartment complex. When Brittany passed him on the street, he’d call her a “bitch,” tell her she was stuck up. “She be mad. She’d come home and and tell me,” Once, she told Ralph she wanted Ladson hurt. “Probably after I left, he started being nice to her. Coulda been like that,” he says laconically.
Only the killers know exactly what happened on Saturday. Still, they could not know what Nikki was saying to Buster as she walked him that afternoon. Would not know the rhythm, the exact clicking of Brittany’s thoughts as she undressed for her bath, the hatching of plans, perhaps—the Rottweiler, then the jeep … nor the thoughts that blasted in Brittany’s brain as she fought them, knocking the sink from the wall. Would not know the images, the names, the colors, the faces, the feelings that occurred to Nikki, to Brittany that Saturday.
And who knows why they were killed because they were girls, because they had secrets, because they were “jovial” and “carefree,” because they slept together in bed, because they wouldn’t have sex, because Brittany always said what she thought … Sometime that night after Ladson and Atterbury arrived, Brittany went out with somebody else to get something to eat. And when Brittany left, Nikki told Ladson—“See? You don’t know how to treat girls right.”
Maybe it was because the girls had their Saturday plans and woke up intent on the day ahead. Nikki had an exam to take. Brittany was going out with a friend to get her dog. Maybe it was the idea of Brittany slipping out of her shorts—in order to take a bath. Maybe Nikki only got killed because she walked in while Brittany was being killed. Or maybe the killers waited for her.
“Sometimes, I want to see the men who killed her just to ask them why,” says Karen Silas. “But I know there’s no reason they could give me that would answer that question.”
They left Kabira “Brittany” Rojas in the bathtub, floating facedown, the telephone cord still around her neck. They left Nikki Silas naked on the bed, a comforter over her face.
NIKKI WAS BURIED on Christmas Eve. It was a windy night and, for a strange moment, Karen felt like Nikki was not in the box at all. The priest gave the usual funeral mass-pieties about death as a release from the suffering of this earth. Nothing was said about the violence of Nikki’s death, about how to live with the murder of the young.
For the open-casket wake, Dalis picked out a long-sleeve ivory dress. It needed to be long to cover the bruises on Brittany’s arms. It needed to cover her neck, too, but they couldn’t find a dress like that. They bought a thick gold necklace but it wasn’t thick enough. “Do you think you could just get a scarf and I’ll pay?” Carlo tearfully asked the funeral director. They tied Brittany’s hair back, put pearl earrings on her, and draped the gold necklace over the scarf. After the wake, they flew her to Santo Domingo where Brittany is now buried in Dalis’s family plot.