Archive for the ‘Media’ category

Illegal Immigration Claims A Cherished Life

May 22, 2007

I am really not sure where to start. Often I have found that my writing is tied to my emotions. When something riles me up I tend to really let loose and the words seem to flow seamlessly. But this is different. I am at once angry, heart-broken, sickened and well, sad. Sad to the point that words seem to be failing me. But obviously I am going to give it a try since you are reading this.

Throughout my life I have always gravitated to the underdog. Whether it was music or sports or life in general. When I was in high school (many, many years ago), my favorite band was Thin Lizzy, an Irish band that scored minimal success in the United States but maintained a huge European following. In some ways I think I felt a bit superior by being able to claim a band as my favorite that most did not even know existed. Popularity after all does not equate with being good. Look at American Idol.

I have always been a sports nut too, especially when it comes to college football and basketball. Growing up in the Detroit area you were immediately expected to root for either Michigan or Michigan State and worship at the altar of the Big Ten. Not me. I found the greatest satisfaction in following the Mid-American Conference, a conference that is forever in the shadows of the Big Ten but whose member schools still scare the bejeezus out of the big boys to the point where they shy away from playing schools of the MAC unless it is on their terms. This led me to start up a website called MAC Report Online (www.macreportonline.com) which today registers over 600,000 hits per month proving that I am not the only one who has a love for the underdog. 

Movie star worship was never my bag though. I couldn’t really ever point to a favorite actor until I saw a movie called “Trust” starring a charming, engaging young actress named Adrienne Shelly. I was completely blown away by this little dynamo whose presence on-screen was such that you could not take your eyes off of her. Of course the fact that she was pretty much a virtual unknown and appearing in low-budget indie films cemented the fact that she would become my favorite actor. She clearly qualified as an underdog.I never understood why she didn’t get bigger roles or become a star. She had the talent and certainly had the presence of a star. But the fact that she received little notice and the general movie-going public had no clue who she was only endeared her to me I guess. 


Adrienne Shelly made appearances in several independent films and I eagerly checked the Internet Movie Database (IMD) whenever IAdrienne Shelly could to check on her latest films. You see, living here in Detroit you really do not get much more than the usual Hollywood pablum of blockbusters so any movies that Shelly made had to be viewed by me either on cable or via DVD or VHS. I have never seen one of her films in an actual theater and she made many that were far superior to the garbage being churned out. Her 2001 effort in “Revolution #9” was harrowing just as her role in “Sudden Manhattan” was quirky and engaging. She really had a special charm and sweetness packed into her slight 5’2″ 100 pound frame. I guess I can concede that I have had a bit of a crush on her. 

So, why do I bring this up?  

The other night I was watching TV when an ad appeared for a movie titled “Waitress.” At first it did not catch my attention as it appeared to be another run of the mill chick flick. But out of the corner of my eye I saw this cute little red-head in the ad and thought ‘hey, that looks like Adrienne Shelly!’ Sure enough it was and even better, at the bottom of the ad it read “written and directed by Adrienne Shelly.” Wow. A movie by my favorite actor that would actually have a nation wide release.

I had lost track a bit of her career after being tied up with my own career change and focusing so much on sports writing. The next morning I decided to check the Internet to get more information about the upcoming movie and was stunned to see that Adrienne Shelly was dead. Not just dead, but murdered. Worse, it had happened over six months ago, on November 1 and I was just now finding out about this horrible news. How did I miss it? Well, it received coverage in the New York press and a brief mention here and there but since she was no Anna Nicole Smith, her passing was no big deal apparently. But the circumstances of her death were truly gruesome.

It seems Ms. Shelly had the misfortune of having a run-in with an illegal immigrant who decided it was better to murder her than risk having her call the police as he was afraid such a call would lead to his deportation. The sniveling little coward, Diego Pillco, a 19-year old illegal alien from Ecuador, now sits in prison awaiting trial on second-degree murder charges. Apparently Mr. Pillco, to quote the New York Post, told police he was “having a bad day,” when he decided to snuff out the life of 40-year old Adrienne Shelly,  a wife and mother of a 2-year old daughter. As best as I have been able to reconstruct it, here is the series of events that led to Ms. Shelly’s murder: 

On the morning of November 1, 2006, Adrienne’s husband, Andrew Ostroy, a marketing executive, dropped her off at a Greenwich Village apartment building where she used an apartment as an office. The apartment below her office was being renovated and the workers apparently were making a lot of noise. Ms Shelly went down to ask for some peace and quiet and Mr. Pillco was the only one present. Pillco reacted by slamming the door on Ms. Shelly, striking her with the door and then pushing her out of the apartment. Ms. Shelly had the audacity to call him a “son of a bitch” and proceeded to head back to her office. 

Pillco, fearing that she would call the police, then followed her back to her office where he overpowered her, struck her and she fell, hitting her head on a computer table. But she was not dead. Pillco though, in his confession, told police he thought he had killed her and now needed to make her “death” appear to be a suicide. 

The illegal immigrant, who paid smugglers $12,000 to get him across the US-Mexican border, dragged the unconscious Shelly to the bathroom by tying a bed sheet around her neck. He then slung the bedsheet over the shower curtain rod and hanged the still unconscious but not dead actress to make her death appear to be self-inflicted. An autopsy later showed she died from “manual strangulation” and would have survived the blow that had rendered her unconscious. 

Ms. Shelly’s lifeless body was discovered by her husband later that day as he had become worried that he could not reach her. At first police ruled her death a suicide but a footprint from an Alan Iverson Reebok sneaker tied Mr. Pillco to the crime scene and he later confessed. He of course has since pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. 

This horrible tragedy played out because once again we do not enforce our own immigration laws. Now, a talented actress, loving mother and wife’s murder can directly be related to the fact that this Pillco character was here illegally. It was his fear of deportation that led him to murder this lovely person who had never harmed a soul in her life.  

Spare me the bleating and rationalizing about illegal immigrants contributing to our society. This character came here illegally, a businessman, Louis Hernandez, hired him knowing he was illegal and many residents of the apartment building knew of his illegal status. Nobody though reported this to authorities. If one person would have stepped up, Adrienne Shelly would be with us today and her young daughter, Sofie, would be with her mother. All are culpable in this tragedy but that of course does not lessen Pillco’s guilt.  

Sadly, Adrienne Shelly will never know that the movie that she had just completed three days prior to her murder would be accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, receive many accolades and then get picked up for national distribution by Fox Searchlight. Or maybe it was because of her death that recognition will come her way. Sadly, it seems that the plaudits she deserved will only come her way now that she has suffered this horrible tragedy. Such is Hollywood, I guess. 

The entertainment industry can be callous to say the least. The hit series “Law and Order” already aired an episode based on Ms. Shelly’s murder. What makes this most distasteful is that Adrienne Shelly appeared in an episode of Law and Order back in 2000 making her the first actor to have appeared in a series and then be the real-life subject of a murder aired later on that same show.  

Shelly’s husband, Andy Ostroy, has started the Adrienne Shelly Foundation which will award grants to encourage women in film. It has already raised a substantial sum. People close to Ostroy have stated that they don’t know if he will ever get over her murder. In an April interview, Ostroy confided that he still cannot sleep following his wife’s death. The Foundation hopefully will ease some of the pain and Shelly’s legacy will be established for years to come. 

It is bitterly ironic that a subject that I have written on, stemming illegal immigration, would get so intertwined with the death of a little-known movie actor that I had come to admire. I will go see Ms. Shelly’s final film, “Waitress” this week when it opens here in Detroit. I may even shed a tear at the realization that Ms. Shelly will never appear in film again. Or maybe it’s because her daughter makes a cameo in the film and utters the words “bye mommy” on screen. Or maybe it’s because I just cannot fathom why we as a society have gotten to the point where we ignore our own laws to the point where our citizens have lost some of their basic rights, such as a right to live, while we coddle those who have no claim or business being here. 

So, if you are in a Detroit theater this weekend and see some guy with tears in his eyes at a chick flick, well, that’s me. Normally I wouldn’t tolerate such behavior from any guy, but I hope I can be forgiven and won’t have my man card revoked.  

Adrienne Shelly, RIP.  

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The Search for Lizzie Mae Continues

March 29, 2007

It suddenly hit me when  I was standing on the Dix Road overpass outside the massive Rouge industrial complex.

Twenty years ago I was inside that complex, a young punk not too far removed from college, wandering aimlessly through life (actually that part hasn’t changed too much), in search of a career. My job then was to investigate work related accidents reported by Ford employees. There were some gruesome accidents that I really did not care to remember.

Now here I was, standing on the outside looking in, watching members of the Downriver Mutual Aid Alliance cruising the waterway outside of what was once Rouge Steel, looking for clues in another potentially gruesome incident. Except this was no accident that was being investigated. Far from it.

 Life has a strange way of hitting you sometimes.

The search for Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet continues. There was no resolution to her disappearance today. The optimist of course would say that means that hope can still be held out that she may still be alive. The realist knows otherwise.

Earlier in the day, Detective Lieutenant Robert Grant of the Brownstown Township Police Department met with the members of the team of area police, fire and rescue personnel that comprise the Downriver Mutual Aid Alliance. They were there to search for any clues in the disappearance of Lizzie Mae who has not been seen since her house in Brownstown Township burned down January 8. Her husband, Roger Sweet, remains the primary suspect in her disappearance and remains jailed in Oakland County on other charges which include the murder of his first wife in 1990 and the sexual abuse of a minor. Sweet guy indeed.

“We know Lizzie Mae was last seen by friends in Lincoln Park at 9:30 pm the night before the fire,” Lt. Grant briefed the assembled crews. “Her husband told us he last saw her before he went to work at around 4:30 am. When we asked where she was, he told us ‘she is probably in the woods after burning the house down’.” Grant clearly doesn’t buy Sweet’s account. “There were accelerants throughout the house and a delayed incendiary device was likely used,” which allowed Sweet to show up at work at 5:00 am as usual the morning of the fire.

“We know he (Sweet) is not a physically imposing person and if he was disposing of a body, he likely did not carry it far, ” said Grant, the disdain for the man he considers a murderer clearly evident in his voice. If the body of Lizzie Mae was to be found, it was hoped it would be in the nearby waterway, a likely disposal area.  

A jailhouse informant had given vague indication that Sweet may have disposed of his wife’s body somewhere near his place of work. A thorough search of the area was not posssible until recently when the weather brought about enough of a thaw to allow public safety crews to search the waters near the Rouge complex. But today’s search was not limited to the waters.

“We have about 50 people all together working this project today from throughout Western Wayne County,” Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans explained to me. “My role is to coordinate and offer help in any way we can to try to solve this,” he said when asked if his office would be taking a larger role in the investigation, “But this is Brownstown Township’s investigation and they are taking the lead.”

Today’s effort was a massive search that included the surrounding waterways, tributaries and creeks. Nothing was ignored. Searches were conducted via boat, horse and air. Even freeway entrance ramps and exits were searched for any clues and answers.  

I followed the water based search from the start point, behind the Melvindale Ice Arena and up and past the Rouge complex. The dedicated search crews came up empty however. It was a longhsot for sure and much akin to trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. They searched for any clues, from jewelery to clothing and anything else that the imagination could conjure up.

So another day passes without answers. At least no concrete answers. Will she ever be found? It is becoming less and less likely that Lizzie’s exact whereabouts will ever be known short of a confession from her suspected killer.

There was one bright spot though to today’s events as it appeares that the media has rediscovered this case. TV crews, newspapers and radio were all over the scene.

Let’s see how long their interest remains.

Dreading The Dredging: Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet Follow-up

March 29, 2007

Since I posted my first story on the Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet story (March 26, 2007), I have found myself becoming increasingly drawn to the story.

This blog also appears on the Fox2 News website and my column has generated several comments there. I have also received several emails since that time and one in particular was rather surprising. It was from my uncle. Turns out he was Lizzie Mae’s supervisor at her former place of employment. I met with him and found some troubling information. I will reveal more later, but it turns out that Lizzie had confided, before leaving her job to go on a medical leave in early December, that she had purchased a shotgun because she had become fearful of her abusive husband.

I have also since spoken with the lead investigator in the case, Detective Lieutenant Richard Grant of the Brownstown Township Police Department. I am meeting with him further on Friday, one day after the scheduled dredging of an area of the Rouge River nearby Ms. Collier-Sweet’s, and her husband’s, former place of employment. The river will be dredged on Thursday based on an informant’s tip that Ms. Collier-Sweet’s body may lie there. I plan to be there, but it is with a bit of uneasiness that I will be attending.

On the one hand you know if the unthinkable becomes reality, and her body is found, at least that part of the mystery will be solved. But it also would extinguish the sliver of hope that Ms. Collier-Sweet’s family holds out that she may still be alive.

Louise Collier, Lizzie Mae’s sister, told me that while the family is realistic, they still hope beyond hope that maybe she is “in Paris, France or on a beach somewhere.” Don’t misunderstand, Louise understands and expects eventually to have to deal with the most unwanted of news in her sister’s disappearance. But it doesn’t make it any easier and the unknown is taking its toll on the family.

So many questions surround this case. Not the least of which is why was Roger Sweet allowed to even walk the streets for these past 17 years. The 1990 death of his first wife, Marlene Sweet, is now widely believed to be a homicide but the investigation, thanks to mistakes by the medical examiner, allowed Ms. Sweet’s death to be classified as an accident. It took Lizzie Mae’s disappearance to bring this fact to the light of day. Also, Mr. Sweet is now accused of child molestation. So we not only have potentially another homicide victim in Lizzie Mae but a child has been allegedly harmed at the hands of Mr. Sweet when he should have likely been behind bars. 

These are areas I intend to address and get more answers in my investigation and it is gratifying that the media seems to have suddenly regained some interest in the case.

But right now my thoughts are on Thursday’s dredging of the Rouge River. I dread what may be found but I also wish nothing more than for Ms. Collier-Sweet’s family to begin to get some answers.

I know Louise waits by the phone. I don’t know however if any answer can begin to ease her pain.

Who Speaks For Lizzie Mae?

March 26, 2007

Tara Grant is being buried today in Escanaba, MI. The attractive, upwardly mobile young mom’s disappearance and the subsequent horrific discovery of her body parts (her torso was found in the garage of the family home and the rest of her was scattered througout a Michigan park) garnered nearly around the clock television news coverage.

In the days following her disapperance, and then with the the subsequent arrest of her husband in her murder, people across Michigan and the nation were mesmerized by the case. How could they not be? The media, from TV to newspapers to radio and yes the Internet, hammered away at the story. The Macomb Sheriff held numerous press conferences updating us on the search. Her telegenic sister became the family spokesman.

We followed the manhunt for her accused murderer, and husband, across the northern Michigan wilderness and watched him being arragined from a wheelchair, recovering from frostbite which was a result of his attempted escape through the frigid north woods.

Fox News picked up the story. America’s Most Wanted was ready to feature the case until Stephen Grant’s arrest on the very day AMW was scheduled to air, scuttled that plan. A tragic story played out in front of our very eyes.

But what about Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet? Who you ask? Well, it’s understandable if her case does not sound familiar. But it is also a very sad indictment of our media that most people have not heard about her case yet sat transfixed by the gory soap opera that played out in the Grant case.

You see, Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet’s case apparently just isn’t sexy enough for the press. But it is equally disturbing, if not more so than the Grant case.

But why has there not been the same degree of coverage? Where are the press conferences and constant “breaking news” updates. Breaking news being a pejorative term here of course.

Lizzie Mae has not been seen or heard from since the home she shared with her husband, Roger Sweet, in Brownstown Township, MI went up in flames on January 8. Strange thing was that police found her car with luggage packed inside, including her dentures. But no Lizzie Mae. Neither her credit cards nor her cell phone have been used since her disappearance. Her husband escaped injury, but oh, by the way, he has now been charged with murder. Not Lizzie Mae’s murder however.

Roger Sweet, age 58, has been charged in the 1990 death of his first wife who died under mysterious circumstances and thanks to a botched medical examiner’s report at the time of Mrs. Sweet’s death in 1990, no charges were filed. Police now indicate that the first Mrs. Sweet died from an apparent beating which they allege came at the hands of Roger Sweet who is currently being held in jail without bail. 

Pretty salacious stuff, right? So why has the media essentially buried this story to maybe a 20-second soundbite on TV news or sub-section newspaper coverage?

I am not one to play the race card, but did I mention that Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet is black? Should that matter? Of course not. But when it comes to news ratings, even in death, it apparently matters greatly. 

To this day, Lizzie Mae, now presumed dead by her family, has not been found. We have not been treated to hourly updates on the status of her case, we do not have anybody speaking for her on the local news. We barely even know she existed. But she did,  just as Tara Grant existed. She is apparently dead, much like Tara Grant, a probable victim of domestic violence.

Tara Grant will be buried today in Escanaba, MI. TV crews from around the state and the country will flock to the funeral home for a final farewell to somebody who had so much more life left in her save not for the apparent actions of a sociopathic husband.

Today a body of water will be dredged near Brownstown Township in the search for Lizze Mae Collier-Sweet based solely on a tip from a jailhouse snitch. That fact received 15 seconds of coverage on the TV news.

Ms. Collier-Sweet, just like Mrs. Grant, was loved by family and friends. Unfortunately she or they may not be telegenic, may not be upwardly mobile, and are probably not wealthy . They are probably just ordinary, blue-collar folks. But of course we wouldn’t know for sure because we have not really been allowed to get to know her family.

We grieved for Tara Grant because TV brought her into our living room.

Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet is more than another potential victim of domestic violence. She is also a sad representation of our unbalanced news coverage.

Who speaks for Lizzie Mae Collier-Sweet?

Shame on our media. Shame.