The story's going to disappear at midnight. I thought it was cool, so I'm posting it below.
Mystery in paradise
By Mitchell Zuckoff, Globe Staff, 11/19/2000
RANJESTAD, Aruba - The balconies at the Wyndham Aruba hotel are small and private. They have high steel railings that curve inward at the top, for safety.
After a day of sun and rum, Renee and Roy Tiano of Framingham went to their room on the hotel's 12th floor.
Married for four years, the parents of two small children, Renee and Roy left their bathing suits on the floor near the bathroom. It was a warm March night; a three-quarter moon rose in a clear Caribbean sky. They went naked onto the balcony.
Minutes later, without a sound, Renee went over the railing, falling 80 feet to her death on a ballroom roof.
A witness called the hotel operator. Ten minutes passed. Then Roy called the hotel operator.
Later that night, Roy told Aruban police that Renee had felt ill, so he left the balcony to get her a glass of water. He said he heard a noise, turned around, and she was gone.
Aruban police quickly ruled out suicide and declared Renee's death an accident, never revealing the basis for that finding.
Eight months later, Renee Kennedy Tiano's family remains tortured by questions, tormented by suspicion.
''I've got good reason to believe my brother-in-law's story isn't true,'' said her brother, Michael Kennedy of Hopkinton. ''It's either not true or not complete. I want the truth.''
Why, her family wonders, did Roy wait 10 minutes to seek help, and how did he spend that time? Why did police find no fingerprints on the railing? Why did Roy rush to get off the island, leaving Renee's body behind? Why did Roy refuse to allow an autopsy in Massachusetts? Why wouldn't he talk with the FBI? Were Aruban officials more concerned about tourism than justice?
In a brief telephone interview, Roy provided no answers. ''What do you mean you want to hear my side?'' he said. ''She fell off the [expletive] balcony. What more is there to it?'' Then he hung up the phone.
But there might well be more to it.
Unbeknownst to Renee's family, Aruban authorities and FBI agents who came to the island formed a disturbing theory about how she died.
It is a theory that does not answer all the questions. But it does challenge Roy's story about getting her a glass of water. Instead, it places him at the railing with Renee when she fell.
The theory is based on clues from none other than Renee herself - from her appearance in a hotel security video taken minutes before she fell and from telling marks on her body. It also fits an odd comment Roy made to one of Renee's brothers.
And yet, US and Aruban authorities have tried to bury the theory along with Renee. Despite pleas from family members for information, no official of either government has ever told them about their theory. The family first heard it from a Globe reporter.
Renee was 32, with a big smile and bright blue eyes. People who loved her say she was happy and outgoing. A family video taken two weeks before she died shows her turning cartwheels in the backyard of her parents' Dedham home.
She had asthma but was an athlete nonetheless, running track and starring on Dedham High School's field hockey team. After high school, Renee attended Mitchell Community College in New London, Conn., then Southeastern Massachusetts University.
She was working as an office manager at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge when she met Roy.
It was 1993, and she was sharing a Waltham apartment with her cousin and best friend, Donna MacInnes. Renee had become a bodybuilder, sculpting her 5-foot-8-inch form at the World Gym in Waltham.
Roy, now 40, was a World Gym regular, too. Thickly muscled, 5-feet-9, a Waltham native, he ran his own plastering business.
''When they first met he gave her a lot of attention, fed her ego, said all the right things,'' MacInnes recalled. ''He was very affectionate towards her, almost to the point where it was inappropriate. She was embarrassed by him sometimes.''
Soon after they met, Roy made plans to open a gym in Florida. They moved to Fort Lauderdale with help from the oldest of Renee's three brothers, Edward Kennedy. He found it odd that their apartment was on an upper floor of a high-rise; Renee was afraid of heights, he said, and during his visit would not go out on the balcony.
The gym plan fizzled after several months and they returned to Massachusetts, to live in the basement of Renee's parents' home before buying a ranch-style house in Framingham. In September 1995, Renee's parents threw them a lavish wedding at Lombardo's in Randolph.
In February 1998, Renee gave birth to a son, Brandon; their daughter Katrena followed 181/2 months later. ''She was so happy,'' MacInnes said. ''She had her boy and her girl.''
Friends and family say the couple had problems typical of young families: financial pressures when Renee became a full-time mother, arguments over Roy's lack of involvement in child care, and Roy's displeasure at the weight Renee gained during pregnancy.
Last winter took a toll, though, as the whole family fell ill with pneumonia. By spring, Renee and Roy needed a vacation.
`One Happy Island'
In early March, Roy made plans for a three-night trip to Aruba, where 400,000 Americans flock each year for its 80-degree days, turquoise water, and self-proclaimed reputation as ''One Happy Island.'' Renee's parents eagerly agreed to care for the children.
They arrived on Thursday, March 23, and went quickly to the business of relaxing, dining, and drinking at the hotel's bars and restaurants. That first night they ran into one of Renee's closest friends, Sandra Parent, who has a time-share apartment on the island.
''She was her usual happy self,'' Parent recalled. ''She invited me to come meet her at the pool the next day. I said, `You want to be with your honey, and I don't want to be in the middle of two people kissing.' She blushed like a new bride.''
The next day, Roy and Renee had a breakfast buffet, then hit the beach.
''After that we visited several hotels,'' Roy said in his statement to police. ''The whole day we drank rum runners,'' a sweet yet potent mix of rum, blackberry brandy, and banana liqueur. In Roy's words, ''We became drunk.''
They walked a mile on the white sand of Aruba's Palm Beach, past surf shops and hawkers selling aloe vera. Then they returned to their hotel, stopping at the poolside Tambu Bar.
They ordered two rumrunners and four Heineken beers. Roy signed the tab with an illegible scrawl. Below Roy's signature, a waiter wrote in Dutch, ''Drunken man.'' The time stamped on the bill was 7:37 p.m.
En route to their room, Renee and Roy went to the hotel's lower lobby. A security video shows them in bathing suits, drinks in hand. Looking tired and spent, Renee sat heavily on a padded bench while waiting for the elevator.
When it arrived, Renee pressed the button for the 12th floor and the door closed. She walked to the back corner and slumped to the floor in a sitting position. Her arms rested on her knees and her head drooped, face down, the security video shows.
Roy, wearing Speedo-style swim trunks, walked over to Renee and straddled her while she sat. He shook his hips and pressed his crotch against her downturned head. She made no response.
The doors opened and Roy walked out, but Renee remained slumped in the corner. When he realized she wasn't with him, he stopped the elevator doors from closing. After 10 seconds or so, she raised her head slightly and held up her right hand. Roy pulled her up and out to the hall. It was the last image of her alive. The video time-stamp reads 7:53 p.m.
From 8:08 to 8:18
Roy described Renee's last 15 minutes this way to Aruban police: ''We went to the room. When we arrived there we both got undressed. We went and sat on the balcony. On the balcony we started to caress each other.'' He said they did not have sex. Then, Roy said, Renee felt ill and he went to get her water.
They were in Room 1219. Seven floors directly below, in Room 519, was Thomas Dowden of louisiana. He saw Renee plummet.
''I was out on the balcony smoking a cigarette,'' Dowden recalled. ''All of a sudden it sounded like a full piece of luggage landed in front of me. It was like, `whomp!' No scream, no other sound. A whoosh of air.''
He looked down to the ballroom roof below his balcony and saw a naked body, face-down and motionless in a puddle of blood. He phoned for help. The hotel's call log shows it was 8:08 p.m.
Roy's call was logged at 8:18 p.m. He never mentioned a delay to police: ''I looked over the railing and saw her lying on the roof below. I called the receptionist and informed her.''
Roy spent several more minutes in their room, then went to the elevator, security videos show. When the doors opened, he saw people inside and pulled back to wait for an empty one. After several frustrating trips to the wrong floors in search of the ballroom roof, Roy punched the control panel of floor numbers and tore a phone off the wall.
Eventually he reached the correct floor. With no doorway to the roof, he threw a cast-iron bench through a window and climbed out. Dowden, watching from above, said Roy seemed deeply upset as he crouched by Renee's body. He cried out: ''What am I going to do?''
Left a day early
Summoned by hotel security, two Aruban police detectives secured the scene and, several hours later, took a statement from Roy. At the time, police were unaware of the 10-minute gap. They had not seen the video. They did not interrogate or detain him. He was agitated, so they sent him to Aruba's only hospital for psychiatric observation.
Roy returned to the hotel the next morning and called Renee's family and made plans to leave the island. It was a day before his scheduled return, and Renee's body was in the morgue.
Through their shock and grief, her brothers begged him to stay with her. He refused, trusting Renee's body to an Aruban mortician, Eugene Maduro, until her brothers could fly down.
''While I was in the [hotel] room he was on the phone with someone,'' Maduro said. ''I heard him say, `What am I going to do now with the damn kids?' That stayed with me. And he leaves without her?''
With little investigation, police allowed Roy to change flights and leave that day for Boston, effectively closing the case. ''It looked like it was an accident, and we couldn't prove that the other person had something to do with a crime,'' said prosecutor Elivia Lugo.
The next day, Renee's brothers Michael and John flew to Aruba to retrieve their sister's body. They began asking questions of hotel officials and authorities; they began to doubt Roy's story and the competence of the Aruban police.
They won help from Barbara Stephenson, the US consul general to Aruba. Troubled by what they told her, Stephenson arranged Aruban approval for an FBI evidence team to fly to the island later that week to work with Aruban authorities.
FBI officials have refused to comment about what they found. But both US and Aruban officials involved with the case said in interviews that evidence from the joint investigation suggested Roy's story was false.
From the outset, it seemed implausible that Renee had simply fallen over a 44-inch-high safety railing whose top bar would have nestled under her rib cage. No one had ever fallen over the railings; the only known balcony death at the Wyndham was a suicide several years ago. A new theory began to form.
Protecting the children
The first clues came from the Aruban medical examiner. All of Renee's injuries were consistent with a fall, except two: On her back and behind her right knee were scrapes that contained grit from the hotel's outer wall. The investigators concluded that she fell backward over the railing, from a sitting position, scraping her back and leg on the way down.
Then there was the elevator video, which suggested that both Roy and Renee were intoxicated and that Roy was focused on having sex. Those images fit with the waiter's note on their check that Roy was drunk and with witnesses who saw them dancing sensually at the Tambu Bar.
In fact, the medical examiner concluded that Renee had had intercourse in the hours before she died, and had a blood alcohol level of .196, more than twice Massachusetts' legal driving limit.
The evidence began adding up this way: Renee and Roy were together on the balcony, naked under the moonlight. Renee was seated on the rounded top bar of the railing, facing Roy. Roy held her on the railing as they had sex.
Then something awful happened: somehow, Roy lost his grip. Renee fell backward, scraping her legs and back, falling past one balcony then another, plunging past Dowden on the fifth floor, then slamming head-first into the balcony roof.
The investigators thought the 10-minute gap could be explained as time Roy needed to react to the shock of his wife's death. The theory also might explain why he was in a hurry to leave the island, why he refused her family's requests for a second autopsy in Massachusetts, and why he refused to speak with the FBI.
It might also explain a remark Renee's brother Edward said Roy made two days after she died. After telling Edward his drink-of-water story, Roy suddenly added: ''She had baby oil on.''
''I said, `What are you talking about?''' Edward recalled. ''He didn't answer. He started telling his story again.''
An Aruban government official said authorities refused to disclose their conclusions to the family in part to protect Renee's children.
''It's bad enough the kids don't have a mother,'' said Henry Baarh, Aruba's director of foreign affairs. ''But to not have a mother because she was having sex on the balcony with your father and she fell, well, that's another thing entirely.''
Renee's family reacted angrily when a Globe reporter told them the investigators' sex-on-the-balcony theory.
''How the hell do the FBI and the Aruban authorities get into the business of making up stories for people?'' said her brother Michael. ''What they should say is, `What you told us is not true. Now we have real problems with you as a person who was there at the time of this death. You have anything else to say?'''
Was she aware?
Although the investigators' theory fits key pieces of evidence, troubling questions remain.
Aruban authorities said they closed the case in part because both were drunk and seemed amorous at the bar, leading them to conclude that both participated in dangerous balcony sex.
Authorities from both countries acknowledged, however, that they would have pursued the case if they thought Renee had been unconscious, unwilling, or unable to get onto the railing on her own.
However, Roy was never asked those questions in Aruba. And when FBI agents went to his house in Framingham a week later, armed with a list of 52 questions, Roy turned them away. Among their questions, ''What was her state of consciousness? Was she awake?''
By refusing to cooperate, Roy also spared himself from being asked about evidence relating to those questions: Renee's drowsy appearance in the video, her fear of heights, and Dowden's recollection of a silent ''piece of luggage'' falling.
Mary Ames, a Boston lawyer hired by Renee's brothers, said Aruba's failure to aggressively pursue the case, including the questions of Renee's consciousness, reflects their concern about the country's tourism industry.
''The Aruban government is digging in their heels and insisting on the correctness of their position, and the American government seems powerless on their own to go down and conduct their own investigation,'' Ames said.
''We're caught in this crazy Catch-22,'' she added, ''without answers to find out what happened to this young mother, daughter, sister who went down for this four-day vacation and never came back.''
At the request of Renee's family, Senator John F. Kerry has pressed Aruba to reopen the investigation. In a letter to Aruban diplomats, the Massachusetts Democrat cited unanswered questions that ''intenstified when Mr. Tiano refused to cooperate with any further investigation of his wife's death.
''Mrs. Tiano's family is very concerned that troubling details about the case raise serious questions about the possibility of foul play and merit further investigation,'' Kerry's letter said.
But Aruban officials remain unmoved. ''We have already closed that case,'' insisted Lugo, the Aruban prosecutor.
In response to Kerry's request, Baarh, Aruba's director of foreign affairs, drafted a letter that says a new investigation would require new evidence and a formal request from the US Justice Department. Neither seems forthcoming.
The federal prosecutor in Boston handling the case said there are no grounds for the United States to investigate Renee's death further and no way to force Aruba to act. ''I have tried to rack my brain for ways to find jurisdiction, and I can't. We're not punting this without thought,'' he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
He acknowledged, however, that federal or state authorities could seek fraud charges on US soil if it were shown that Roy made ''material misrepresentations'' to collect life insurance. Lies by a beneficiary about the circumstances of an accidental death could meet that standard, the prosecutor said. But he declined to say whether he would pursue it.
On June 29, three months after Renee died, Roy collected $500,000 from her policy with New York Life Insurance Co. A company spokesman declined to comment about what claims Roy made about her death.
''Absent any court action or legal authority requiring our involvement, this matter is closed for us,'' the insurance company spokesman said.
A headstone and a cross
In the eight months since Renee died, Roy has gone on raising their children in their Framingham home. He has traded in the family minivan for a Cadillac Seville.
He has never wavered from a line from his police statement: ''I don't know how my wife fell from the balcony.''
Renee's family, meanwhile, stews in frustration and pays regular visits to St. Joseph's Cemetery in West Roxbury.
Renee's grave has a red eternal light and a pink granite headstone surrounded by flowers. Her family asked Roy to include her maiden name on the stone, but it says only ''Tiano, Renee Charlene, 1967-2000.''
But someone has placed a small wooden cross at the base of the headstone, with a laminated photo of Renee and her name in white paint. Only her maiden name.
''We're not going to let it go,'' said Renee's brother Edward. ''If we have to go stand in front of travel agents or the Aruban embassy or whatever, we'll do it.''
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 11/19/2000.
"Wisdom comes with winters."--Oscar Wilde
The baby oil reference really bugs me for some reason. Did Renee put it on as a sensual rub? Or, like every woman I know: she'd been out on the beach all day, skin was feeling dry, come into the hotel room and lather up?
The other thing that bugs me: Why did the Boston Globe put something so *trashy* on its front page?
"Wisdom comes with winters."--Oscar Wilde
quote:Originally posted by Agoust: Roy, wearing Speedo-style swim trunks, walked over to Renee and straddled her while she sat. He shook his hips and pressed his crotch against her downturned head. She made no response.
"Wisdom comes with winters."--Oscar Wilde