Police were summoned to the Econo Lodge at 400 Emmet Street just after 3:30am on December 5.
Friends say Linda Doig was dominated by Carey Hicks.
File photo by Courteney Stuart
In the wake of the mysterious death of a down-on-her-luck former supermodel, authorities are claiming that they handled her death according to protocol, but questions remain about whether the death scene should have been investigated as a potential crime scene– and why Charlottesville Police never notified next of kin.
"They treated her like a dead dog on the side of the road," says Federico Pignatelli, a long-time friend of Linda Doig, whose tragic life and death were the subject of the Hook's January 5 cover story.
Charlottesville Police claim they tried to call Doig's daughter, but the daughter disputes that account.
"If they'd left a message on my phone telling me it was about my mom, I would have called back immediately," says daughter Ashley Richards, adding that she didn't see any unknown numbers on her phone in the days after his mother's death.
To Pignatelli, a well-known California-based photography studio-owner and businessman, the lack of notification is just one painful part of police inaction. More ominously, he asserts, was a failure to investigate, particularly with the death scene presence of an alleged serial abuser and control freak.
Pignatelli says the presence of allegedly abusive boyfriend Carey Hicks should have launched a serious investigation. Instead, as Police acknowledge, they concluded– and they say they have the medical examiner's report to back it– that death resulted from the 51-year-old woman's heavy drinking rather than anything sinister.
"She had broken ribs and blood in her lungs," says the outraged Pignatelli, citing injuries for which Doig was allegedly treated about two weeks before her death, and which he believes were inflicted by Hicks. A reporter photographed Doig one week before death with a large bruise on her cheek– something she attributed to a fall. The reporter's recent repeated attempts to reach Hicks, a 47-year-old unemployed carpenter, have been unsuccessful.
As detailed in the story, "Broken beauty: The lofty life and tragic death of Linda Doig," the woman Madison Avenue knew as "Leigh Richards" soared to modeling fame in the late 1970s and became the public face for some of the top brands of the day. However, friends say that a serious back injury in 1992 helped push Doig into a drinking problem; and after moving to Albemarle County in 2005, she became involved with Hicks– a relationship, Pignatelli asserts, that only exacerbated her woes.
Over the past year-and-a-half, Albemarle and Charlottesville police have been summoned on numerous occasions to quell altercations between the two. Three times since June, Hicks, who has a history of violence against women, violated a court order to stay away from the Stone Creek Village apartment complex where Doig lived, and an August incident nearly turned deadly when Doig stabbed Hicks, she claimed, in self-defense.
Most recently, according to numerous witnesses, Charlottesville police were summoned to Lee Park on November 21 for an incident involving the two. Less than a week after the city's November 30 clear-out of the Occupy Charlottesville protesters, Doig would be dead.
So what did happen in the wee hours of December 5 in room 115 of the Emmet Street Econo Lodge?
"They didn't find anything suspicious at the scene," says Charlottesville Police Lt. Gary Pleasants, who describes what police encountered when they arrived around 3:45am on December 5.
"It appeared she was preparing the bath when she passed away," says Pleasants, revealing that Doig was found disrobed and lying in an empty tub. There were no signs of violence in either the bathroom or motel bedroom, Pleasants says.
According to Pleasants, both Hicks and Doig had been drinking. Hicks told police Doig had gone into the bathroom around 9pm, and he'd gone to sleep. When he awoke, more than six hours later, he told police, he discovered her body and sought help.
That account is at least partially confirmed by the 911 call that followed his appearance at the motel office.
Placed at 3:36am by a female clerk at the Econo Lodge, the recording was obtained by the Hook in a Freedom of Information request.
"A guy just walked up to the window and asked to call a rescue squad for room 115," the motel clerk calmly tells the emergency operator. The clerk gives no indication of the man's demeanor or whether he indicated anything urgent.
"He just said it," says the clerk, "and walked off."
The alert 911 operator, Margaret Bamford, offers an extra precaution.
"I'm probably going to send P.D. up there too," says Bamford, "because we don't know exactly what's going on."
Five minutes later, at 3:41am, an ambulance arrives. At 3:46am, just three minutes after police arrive, the would-be rescuers declare "priority black"– the emergency code for death.
According to call center records, at least five Charlottesville officers responded, and the last two appear to have remained until shortly before 7am, about three hours total. Pleasants says police were prepared to conduct a full investigation if circumstances warranted.
Legal analyst David Heilberg says police must have made a judgment call.
"I don't know how much physical evidence there was," says Heilberg. "Knowing her self-destructive background," he notes, "human nature is you're not going to work that one as hard."
Doig's friends and family, however, say that Hicks' history of physical abuse and his presence at the motel should have been evidence enough.
"They had a duty to investigate what happened here," says attorney Richard Armstrong. "It's what the taxpayers pay for."
Armstrong says an investigation should include interviews with loved ones and any potential witnesses. That would mean interviewing residents of surrounding motel rooms and friends and family such as Pignatelli and Doig's daughter, Ashley Richards.
Pleasants concedes, however, that there's nothing in the record about canvassing other motel guests. And even a month after Doig's death, none of Doig's friends or family have been interviewed by Charlottesville Police. In fact, Pignatelli says, if it weren't for the actions of another friend, he and Doig's daughter might still be searching.
On December 14, Doig's friend Rusty Bracho had his bags packed and was preparing to fly from his home in California to Charlottesville to search for the living Doig. He contacted Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding for help.
Agreeing to help Bracho on his Pignatelli-funded mission, Harding spoke with Charlottesville Police and checked the computer database to see if Doig might have been arrested since her disappearance from Lee Park. She'd been dead for nine days. Harding made the painful call.
"I was devastated," says Bracho, who notified Pignatelli that their rescue attempt would be futile; and Pignatelli, who has been a father figure to Ashley since her birth, shared the tragic news with the high school student.
"It's insanity in its purest form," Pignatelli says of the Charlottesville Police's failure, noting that his credit card was on file to pay for the room.
Although a previous report says police had no identification for Doig, Pleasants says Charlottesville police did, even if they didn't recover her wallet, know Doig's identity that night. However, Pleasants says that when the file was handed over to the lead investigator, Detective Lisa Reeves, the incident report failed to make sufficient note of Doig's daughter and any unsuccessful effort to reach her.
"Unfortunately," says Pleasants, "the detective did not know that until later on."
Ashley says she spoke briefly with Reeves after learning the fateful news but says her follow-up calls to the detective have gone unreturned. The teen has additional concerns that include an allegation that several of her mother's belongings have gone missing– among them a laptop computer and cellphone, both purchased for her by Pignatelli.
If police saw no obvious crime signs, they did send Doig's body to the medical examiner's office. Pending final toxicology results, Ashley plans to acquire a copy of the full autopsy report as well as copies of her mother's medical records that might show the extent of injuries she allegedly described suffering at Hicks' hands.
Pignatelli says he is in the process of retaining an attorney to determine any role Hicks might have played and to investigate police response.
"There has to be something we can do," says Pignatelli.