Pignatelli viewed Hicks as the greatest threat to Doig's survival.
Pignatelli shot this photo of his girlfriend Doig in the 1980s.
"She had further to fall than I did," says the wiry, bearded man, gesturing to his companion on a beat-up sofa. Next to him sits a tall but weathered blond who nods in agreement and asks the man to retrieve a magazine page from the tent they're sharing downtown during the waning days of the Occupy Charlottesville movement.
The picture– a Miss Clairol ad from the mid-'80s– features an exquisite blond, arm around a young girl with matching flaxen locks, and the slogan that launched a thousand home dye jobs: "Does she or doesn't she?"
"That's me," says the woman as she tearfully begins recounting a devastating arc that followed her jet-set life of modeling in New York, Paris, and Milan to the grim reality of homelessness in Charlottesville.
"I had nowhere else to go," the woman, Linda Doig, says softly of her decision to camp out in Lee Park.
"Someone had to take care of her," says the man.
Friends and family say theirs was a toxic relationship at best.
Two weeks earlier and 3,000 miles away, a salesman in California named Rusty Bracho felt desperately worried. In mid-November, having seen Doig's name in a brief online news item, Bracho phoned the Hook.
"She's going to be dead soon if I can't find her," he told a reporter, pleading for help locating his friend.
Less than a month later, Bracho's grim premonition was realized, as the body of the 51-year-old former international model was removed from a cheap motel, where she'd been staying with the very man Bracho and others feared would cause her demise.
How did it happen? This is her story.
Bright lights, big city
Linda Leigh Doig was hardly the only young woman who moved to Manhattan in the late 1970s dreaming of stardom, but she was one of the few who actually found it.
As a child, she'd moved around the country with parents and siblings as her father held various positions including as a steel mill manager. As she told Bracho, the family eventually settled outside Pittsburgh, where Linda, along with her brother and sister, enjoyed a relatively carefree middle class existence, taking vacations, riding horses, and playing sports. That would change in the steel recession of the 1970s when corporate down-sizing left her father unemployed. Suddenly, the once-comfortable family was struggling, and Doig, the oldest at age 16, began working in bars to provide financial support. It was at one such job that a photographer gave the young beauty a simple directive.
"You belong in New York," he told her.
So in 1978, just after high school graduation, Doig followed the advice. Any hopes of instant success, however, were dashed as she was turned down at one audition after another.
"They told her that her eyes were too small, that she was too exotic," Bracho recalls Doig telling him.
Doig told Bracho how, desperate for money during her first months in Manhattan, she would scour pay phones for forgotten change for food money. Determined to succeed, she commissioned a fresh set of photos. A resulting image of Doig styled like a 1940s film star, Bracho says, launched her out of obscurity and into the protective embrace of an industry icon.
Signed by the prominent Wilhelmina modeling agency, Doig moved in with her mentor, Wilhelmina Cooper, took the professional name Leigh Richards (a combination of her middle name and her father's first name), and suddenly found her career soaring.
She became the "savage tan" for Tropical Blend tanning oil and modeled for top designers including Versace. But according to associates, Doig never let stardom go to her head. Instead, she stayed mostly to herself, eschewing the cocaine-fueled late night parties at hotspots like Studio 54 in favor of nights at home reading.
"It was the raging age of drugs and free sex," recalls close friend Federico Pignatelli, an Italian prince and now CEO of a medical laser firm as well as owner of the world's biggest photography studio. Pignatelli says a photographer friend introduced him to Doig, with whom he'd share a four-year romance in the late 1980s.
"She was an extremely down-to-earth person, very simple, with such a captivating smile," recalls Pignatelli. "I immediately had the understanding of being in front of a very educated and very smart person, not just a beautiful girl."
By the time Pignatelli met Doig in 1986, he says, she was at the peak of her career, and in the following year, she was selected from hundreds of top models to be the face of Colgate-Palmolive's Cleopatra soap in what Pignatelli asserts, with a budget of $1.2 million, was then history's most expensive television commercial. For three days' work as the legendary Egyptian queen, Pignatelli says, Doig earned $110,000.
A large paycheck wasn't the only thing Doig took from the role, Pignatelli says.
"She became fascinated by ancient Egypt," he says, "and read everything she could on the subject to the point that she could read hieroglyphics."
Doig's life would be marked by tragedy, says Pignatelli, who notes that death claimed not only her parents but also her mentor and protector, Wilhelmina Cooper.
"It was very traumatic, like losing her mother," says Pignatelli, who notes that Doig possessed a strong cynical streak.
"She didn't trust people," he says. "She would joke about it all the time in the sense that she knew that people were around her to take something away from her."
Even in her heyday, he says, her circle of friends was small.
"She would look for friends, real people who could be very simple in their lives and their jobs," he says. "That's how she lived her life, not hanging around with the supermodels, although she could have."
A private nature did not, however, guarantee privacy, as the couple learned while vacationing off the coast of Italy in 1987. When the yacht carrying Pignatelli and Doig broke down, paparazzi were waiting as the coast guard towed in the woman who was then the face of Birra Peroni, the popular Italian beer.
"It ended up on the front page of the newspaper with the headline 'Birra Peroni Queen rescued in deep sea,'" Pignatelli recalls. "She was a star."
By 1990, as Doig approached 30, her modeling career was winding down, the romantic relationship with Pignatelli was ending, and they each left New York. He went to California and she to Miami, a location she chose for the warm climate. Their friendship, however, would remain strong for the rest of Doig's life, and Pignatelli would act as father to the child that Doig delivered in 1994.
Now 17, Doig's daughter, Ashley Richards, is a poised young high school student. Just two days after learning of her mother's death, she insists the last several tumultuous years shouldn't overshadow Doig's positive attributes.
"She had more than 3,000 books in her library, and she'd read every one of them," says Ashley.
A slim brunette dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt, she meets with a reporter at the southeastern Albemarle home of her guardian, a friend's father with whom Ashley has lived since her mother's problems made home life untenable.
Her early childhood memories are happily full of slumber parties, swimming, and backyard barbecues with a healthy, involved mother, but Ashley traces many of Doig's most serious issues back to Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 storm that ravaged south Florida, including Doig's home more than a year before Ashley's birth.
In the wake of that 1992 monster storm, contractors were in short supply, Ashley says, so her mother decided to attempt a roof repair rather than wait weeks for a professional fix. The do-it-yourself project came with a devastating price when Doig tumbled from the roof to the ground below, severely injuring her back and leading to chronic pain and mobility issues.
Frustrated by additional south Florida hurricanes, her mother decided to relocate to a less intense climate in 2005, the year after Charlottesville appeared atop Frommer's "Best Places" list. Impressed by the reputation of Albemarle County schools, her mother, Ashley says, moved to Central Virginia in time for Ashley to start the sixth grade.
The move was a success for Ashley, who says she quickly made friends and liked her new school, but it was harder for Doig, who Ashley believes began excessive drinking to combat loneliness.
"She had a hard time meeting people," Ashley recalls. "She felt like she didn't fit in."
If Doig wasn't connecting with her new neighbors, she did eventually find a sense of community in an online chatroom. That's where Doig and Bracho first made contact in December 2008.
"I was at the lowest point of my life," says Bracho, mentioning a serious health issue in addition to the loss of his job and the breakup of his marriage. Doig would listen and offer kind words, and soon the two began talking daily on the telephone. In the spring of 2009, Bracho says, he flew to Charlottesville to meet Doig, and in July that year, she traveled to California to visit him. It was during those visits that Bracho became aware of the extent of the alcohol problem, which had grown so severe that Doig's ability to parent Ashley was questioned in court. He says the in-person meetings quelled any romantic interest, but a strong friendship endured.
Both Bracho and Pignatelli say they repeatedly urged Doig to move to California, where they could help her recover and support Ashley during the process. But as both men urged her west, another man was urging her to stay put. This man, Bracho and Pignatelli claim, did not have Doig's or Ashley's best interests at heart.
Nearly two years ago, Linda Doig's health was improving, says her daughter. She'd gone through a multi-year, court-recommended alcohol treatment program for parents with substance problems, and although she'd begun to "slip," Ashley says, she was trying to stay on track when she went to a Fridays After Five concert on the Downtown Mall one spring evening in 2010. That night, a chance encounter with a sometimes-employed carpenter named Carey E. Hicks would mark what Doig's friends and family see as a downward spiral, a relationship that stymied her recovery and set the stage for eviction, homelessness, and death.
"She told me he got in the backseat of her car and refused to get out," says Ashley, who says once her mother agreed to give Hicks a ride, he never left her alone again. The relationship launched with heavy drinking, Ashley says.
"He's been arrested in front of me more times than I can remember," says Ashley.
Worse, she recalls her mother's explanation for her frequent visible bruises.
"She'd say she fell," says Ashley, who suspected her mother's injuries were caused by Hicks, although she only witnessed him push her once. "I yelled at him to stop," she recalls.
Bracho and Pignatelli say Doig told them about abuse at the hands of Hicks; and this past June, desperately worried about Doig and hoping to avert her imminent eviction after repeated altercations disturbed neighbors and violated the terms of the lease he'd signed for her, Pignatelli flew to Charlottesville.
On June 11, he says, he and Ashley went to the Stone Creek Village apartment complex where Doig lived. Doig, he says, didn't answer the door, so Ashley and Pignatelli used the daughter's key to enter. Inside, he says, he encountered a devastating sight: Doig was mostly unclothed, covered by a blanket on the couch. When she arose, he saw to his horror that her face was covered with blood and bruises, and one of her sides was covered by massive bruising from her shoulder to her hip.
"I started crying when I saw her that way," he recalls. "I couldn't believe it."
When Doig claimed that she'd fallen in the bathtub, Pignatelli says, he didn't believe her. He called police, who arrived, searched the apartment, and found Hicks hiding, although he'd been court-ordered to stay off Stone Creek property at property management's request.
"I begged the police to convince her to go to the hospital because she refused to go," he says, noting that Doig eventually consented to medical treatment.
Hicks was arrested that day, but the charge was trespassing, because Doig, Pignatelli says, refused to press charges for what he believes was a recent and severe beating.
"I asked her why she was being like that," he says. She quickly responded that Hicks had threatened to kill Ashley and him, says Pignatelli. "She was terrified," he adds.
Experts say threats are common in abusive relationships and help explain why someone would stick with an abuser.
"There's tons of fear," says clinical psychologist Peter Sheras, noting that victims "develop an image of the world as a not very hospitable, hostile place."
When a victim has substance abuse issues, as Doig did, Sheras says, "it inhibits the ability to do something, so you get immobilized and do nothing."
A tipping point in the Doig-Hicks relationship took place this past August when police announced they were investigating an incident in which Doig stabbed Hicks. Doig told Bracho it was an act of self defense.
"She said he was dragging her into the woods with a knife and that he was going to kill her," Bracho recalls. "She said she got the knife and stabbed him to get away."
Albemarle police chose not to press any charges. According to Albemarle Police spokesperson Darrell Byers, that's likely because it wasn't clear who initiated the violence.
But that August incident was just part of an escalating pattern according to Pignatelli, whose assertion is confirmed by court records. Hicks was convicted in Albemarle County District Court of trespassing at Doig's apartment for the June 11 incident witnessed by Pignatelli and convicted again for incidents on September 14 and October 26.
After the final arrest, he was held for 20 days, and was released November 15. Although he was due to appear in court that day, he failed to appear and was sentenced to 30 days for the third trespassing incident. According to Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail spokesperson Kay Coiner, he earned credit for time served. That means he was free to find Doig; and within a week, they'd arrive in Lee Park.
In court records, a misdemeanor trespassing charge is a minor infraction– the same charge given to UVA students who take a shortcut over the railroad tracks to get to class. Pignatelli says such a classification masks the true terror Hicks inflicted, and records in Charlottesville Albemarle Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court reveal that two other women have taken previous legal action against the 47-year-old Hicks.
In 2001, according to a warrant, Hicks violated a protective order. Contacted for comment, the woman declines and asks not to be identified, citing an ongoing fear of Hicks.
Several sources say Hicks has a history of violence.
"He'll wield weapons and threaten," says one source, who also asks to remain anonymous but who describes a pattern of behavior that, she claims, follows after a violent outburst.
"He'll get suicidal, stop drinking, and be very apologetic and sweet," says the source, noting that sobriety only lasts a short time before Hicks begins drinking again.
A former wife would share a tale of terror.
"We got married young," says the woman. Known two decades ago as Julie Hicks, she spoke on condition that her current last name not be published. At the time of their relationship, she says, both she and Carey Hicks were drinking frequently.
"We were young, and I thought it was pretty normal," recalls Julie, describing Hicks in his early 20s as "a kind, sweet guy who'd do anything for you." As his drinking progressed, however, Julie says, a frightening side emerged.
They separated, and Julie moved from the small house they'd shared in the town of Crozet into a tiny single-room cabin in Western Albemarle "out in the middle of nowhere." One October night in 1992, not long after their separation, she recalls, Hicks came to the cabin, appearing inebriated and banging on the door.
"I told him to go away and kept the door locked," she recalls. As she turned to walk away from the door, she says, Hicks circled around to the back of the cabin and found a way in.
"He came flying headfirst through the window over the kitchen sink," she says. Covered in broken glass, Hicks allegedly chased her through the house threatening to kill her.
"I got to the phone and dialed 911," she says. "I thought I was going to die, and I kept thinking about my mom."
Before she could describe the incident to the emergency operator, Hicks allegedly swatted the phone out of her hand, but Julie says the line remained live, so authorities could hear the incident unfolding.
"He was standing over me with his fist pulled back telling me I was going to die," says Julie, who was pleading for her life. Before any blows could be landed, however, police arrived.
"They were there in two minutes," she says, calling the speedy arrival "a miracle."
Hicks, she says, fled into the woods where, Julie says, a canine police squad tracked and eventually captured him. He was convicted of assault in the incident, but, as with some of his other charges, he was ordered to complete counseling and the charge was dismissed a year later.
Three days after the attack, Julie says, her father, who'd recently moved to California, showed up at the cabin with a moving truck and a plane ticket.
"He said, 'You're done here.'" Although she initially resented the demand, Julie, now 46 and still living in California, says she's grateful for the intervention by her parents.
"I think they saved me," she says.
Rusty Bracho had a similar rescue planned for Linda Doig. Unfortunately, he arrived a few days too late.
Following the August stabbing incident, Linda Doig was hospitalized at UVA. Because of the frequent altercations at the apartment complex, Ashley says, and after Hicks was found hiding in her apartment and charged with trespassing, Doig was evicted from the complex. Ashley says social workers told her that Doig couldn't be released from the hospital until alternate housing could be arranged in an assisted living facility or rehab center.
"We were working on that," says Ashley, citing Pignatelli's involvement.
However, in early November, according to Ashley, Doig quietly checked herself out of the hospital. She did not answer her phone, and neither Ashley, Bracho, nor Pignatelli would learn her whereabouts until her image appeared in the Hook story about Occupy Charlottesville.
Seeing her accompanied by Hicks in a photograph published December 1, their fears hit a boiling point. In an email to the Hook that evening, Ashley pleaded for more information about her mother's condition and echoed Bracho's dire prediction.
"It is vital to Linda Doig's health and well-being that we find her and have her social worker talk to her," Ashley wrote. "Because if she is with [Hicks], she very well may be dead soon."
Unfortunately, the Occupy protesters had been evicted a day earlier.
Doig and Hicks arrived in Lee Park on November 21, when a community comprised of protesters and dozens of homeless individuals was well established. Colorful tents dotted the one-acre landscape, and a fire pit circled by chairs served as a central meeting place for nightly "General Assembly."
Although the new arrivals were hardly the only park denizens suffering from substance abuse issues, their problems were apparent.
"She was pretty wasted," says Sara Tansey, an Occupy founder who recalls speaking to City Council the evening Doig and Hicks arrived. Tansey discovered the police had been summoned to deal with a heated dispute with Doig drawing Hicks' ire for fleeing to another tent.
"She just wanted to be alone that night," Tansey recalls. "She was trying to reassure us that Carey was a good guy."
Tansey says she immediately had doubts.
"He was exhibiting super controlling behavior that night," says Tansey, recalling Hicks excoriating a man in whose tent Doig had sought refuge.
Talking through a tent's thin fabric wall, Tansey says Doig spoke of the lingering pain from a recent fall. Tansey suspected physical abuse, but says during the couple's time in the park, she never saw Hicks strike Doig.
Other Occupiers say they, too, suspected domestic violence when Doig manifested a facial bruise– something evident in a Hook photo– and talked of broken ribs incurred from a fall. But in a moment of candor or frustration, Doig told one Occupier that Hicks had stolen her last $20 and revealed a darker story about her injuries.
"She told me he broke the ribs," writes Lee Ann Kinkade in a tribute posted on Occupy Charlottesville's Facebook page.
Kinkade recalls that on another occasion, Hicks was loudly singing "racist songs," and as she walked across the park to inform him of "core values" she tripped and fell. Doig, sitting nearby, leapt to Kinkade's defense, although Hicks hadn't touched her.
“Don’t hit her, Carey. If you hurt her… I swear to God,” Kinkade recalls Doig shouting.
"She thought he’d knocked me down and was about to get started," Kinkade writes. "I saw the mama cat in her; fearless and strong. I knew she had to be somebody’s mother."
If anyone had been battering Doig's body, Kinkade and Tansey contend that Lee Park provided some refuge because any cries of pain or shouts of anger would be heard by dozens.
"Tents have thin walls," Kinkade notes. "She could decide not to see him until the morning or ever again. She’d had a community which was committed to both respecting her autonomy and supporting her."
That community wouldn't exist for long.
On November 30, Charlottesville police enforced a city-ordered ouster from Lee Park. Police arrested or summoned 18 protesters who peacefully resisted the order. Doig and Hicks, however, had already departed.
"They didn't want to lose their stuff," says Tansey.
Kinkade says she last spoke to Doig earlier that day as she drove them to a campsite several miles away, leaving the couple with a meal of fast food and a gift card for more.
"I drove back to what was left of Occupy Charlottesville’s encampment, knowing I had just taken a disabled woman into the woods with a man who abused her," writes Kinkade, expressing frustration that Doig stood by her man. "Had it been up to me," she writes, "I would have come up with a different plan, but it wasn’t my plan to make."
By December 3, Doig had made phone contact with Ashley, who, with Pignatelli, arranged for a stay in the Econo Lodge on Emmet Street while she and Pignatelli continued to seek more permanent housing and addiction recovery. They wouldn't have time.
In the early hours of December 5, an ambulance was summoned to the Econo Lodge, room 115. There, according to Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo, Hicks reported finding Doig unresponsive in the bathtub. Her body was removed.
An autopsy found the cause of death as "complications from chronic alcoholism," according to the state medical examiner, who declined to release the report. According to Chief Longo, there were no signs that an injury led directly to death.
"We're always open to new information," says Longo, urging anyone with information about Doig's death or injuries to contact police.
But while Bracho, Pignatelli, and Ashley concede that Doig's health had been ravaged by years of heavy drinking, they contend that injuries she allegedly sustained at the hands of Hicks– if they didn't directly cause it– expedited Doig's demise.
"She had broken ribs and blood in her lungs," says an anguished Pignatelli. "I have no words other than rage for him."
There are few crimes harder to prosecute than domestic violence, says attorney David Heilberg, who says victims are often too intimidated to press charges– or they change their mind out of guilt, embarrassment, or fear.
"Typically, there are no witnesses," says Heilberg, noting that an incident like Doig's August stabbing of Hicks probably confronted police with conflicting tales.
"She's visibly been assaulted; he's visibly been stabbed," says Heilberg, noting that the decision not to prosecute her means "somebody believes her story."
Ashley, who turns 18 in February and plans to serve as the executor for her mother's estate, is working to collect her mother's medical records including the full autopsy report in an effort to uncover the full story. Adding to her suspicions is her mother's alleged claim that Hicks robbed her.
Among the things Ashley says went missing: a laptop, the leopard coat her mother wore in Lee Park, and $1,000 cash which had been personally delivered to Doig around December 2 by a tenant in the half-million dollar southeastern Albemarle County house Pignatelli had purchased for Doig and Ashley, and which Doig had rented out after losing her driver's license to a DUI.
"There was no money with her when she was found," Ashley asserts.
Heilberg notes that prosecuting someone for a crime– assault or theft– after the victim is deceased is an uphill battle.
"If the missing money was in cash, you can't prove anything," Heilberg says, since there's no way to know if Doig herself spent it before her death. If someone forged her checks, something Pignatelli believes may have happened, there's a greater possibility of prosecution.
The accused "is going to claim he had permission," Heilberg explains. "That may or not be a defense that flies."
Even the people to whom Doig reportedly confided abuse allegations– Bracho, Pignatelli and members of Occupy– probably can't offer courtroom testimony.
"That's hearsay," says Heilberg, noting that the only exception would be so-called "deathbed testimony." Although Doig's death was imminent when she allegedly told Kinkade about Hicks' alleged rib-cracking assault, Doig couldn't know she was doomed, and therefore, that testimony, Heilberg believes, would be excluded.
With funding from Pignatelli, Rusty Bracho already had a plane ticket and was set to arrive in Charlottesville on December 16. Believing Doig and Hicks were living somewhere in the woods near Charlottesville, he says he'd already spoken with a law enforcement official to commence a one-man search of shelters and homeless camps.
On December 14, with his bags packed and his hopes high that he'd find his friend, he received word that his mission was futile. He traveled to Charlottesville anyway, to try to make sense of the loss, he says, and to see if he could help Ashley.
"It's so hard," he says, tears revealing the tormented thought that if he'd moved faster, the outcome might have been different.
For Ashley, news of her mother's death was equally slow to come. It was nine days after Doig's body was removed from the Econo Lodge that officials began breaking the news. Why so long, if Hicks was present at the motel?
"It's insanity," says Pignatelli, who says his credit card had been given to the motel and should have been readily available for a police investigation. Chief Longo claims that police didn't have any identification, an assertion that rings feebly with Pignatelli.
"They should be investigated," Pignatelli says of the Charlottesville police.
"I'm trying to stay positive," Ashley says two days after getting the news and noting, sadly, that there would be no memorial service.
"I don't know who'd come," she says. "It would be depressing."
In the park
In Lee Park, however, a small group gathers on Sunday, December 18, to remember the woman they knew only briefly but who, they say, left an indelible mark in their memories.
"She was coming back to life," says one man, as a group of less than a dozen hold candles in Dixie cups in the shadow of a statue of General Robert E. Lee. Someone wonders aloud if they could have prevented it, recalling an evening hospital trip in which Doig had allegedly been diagnosed with broken ribs and blood in her lungs– and then promptly released.
They'd seen a positive change during her time in the park, they say, and they reflect on her growing involvement in the movement. She'd attended several of the General Assembly meetings, and at one of the group's last meetings, on Monday, November 28, they recall she'd spoken up to support the idea of providing business cards and email addresses for the homeless, to help the unemployed find work.
One person who wasn't present at that service: Carey Hicks. No one present knew his whereabouts, and even his Crozet-based family claims they don't know where to find him. A reporter's call to his father, Edward Hicks, supplies no comment on the son, although the father agrees to pass a message if he calls.
Hicks' third wife, Wanda Hicks, from whom he appears to be separated, did not welcome the Hook's inquiry.
"You're not allowed to contact me at all, and any further contact will be considered harassment," she said, before hanging up the phone.
How do you remember a woman who once had everything but who lost it all? Bracho says he clings to memories of Doig's kindness and support during his own personal difficulties, and he struggles to cope with feelings of having failed her in her own time of need.
"She was unique, a free spirit," he says.
Doig's daughter says she'll focus on the good memories of her mother while working to create an adult life for herself that her mother never found. An avid photographer, Ashley plans to spend a year working in the field after high school, then move to California, near Pignatelli, to attend college for graphic design.
For Pignatelli, Doig will be remembered as "Leigh," the intellectual and courageous young woman with whom he fell in love– a woman whose illness robbed her of her potential while an abuser, he asserts, robbed her of her life.
He's enraged by the system that he says failed her, from the hospital that released her into the cold with broken ribs to police and prosecutors, who, he says, didn't save Doig from her abuser when she was alive. But most of all, he says, he wants to see Hicks held accountable for harming Doig.
"I saw her broken, completely broken," he says. "What this man has done to her is beyond me."
Correction 1/10/12: Contrary to an assertion in the original version of this story, it was a police lieutenant and not Police Chief Tim Longo who asserted that officers didn't find identification papers for Doig. And it turns out that lack of ID wasn't the reason officers failed to notify the family. A new story about the case has more.