A Kiss After Dying
by Luanne Rice
One blustery evening in March, 1990, we drove along the Shore Road on our way to dinner. My fiancée, Henry McDuff, had the wheel, I sat beside him, and his daughters Kristin, 14, and Madelene, 12, rode in back. An early spring snowstorm had quilted the Connecticut tidal marshes, and a crescent moon hung low in the purple sky. In counterpoint to the tranquil scene outside, the car’s atmosphere was electric. Our talk was of murder.
Henry’s friend, Edward Sherman, had just been charged with strangling his pregnant wife Ellen on August 2, 1985. Henry had told the story before, but now amazement entered his voice. He had known Ed was a suspect, but now the man was an indicted murderer. The charge changed everything. After work that August day five years ago Henry, Ed, and three friends—Roger Peterson, Wayne Lebrun, and Steve Rosen—had taken off on their annual sailing trip. At 7:40 pm they had met at Henry’s house, stowed their gear in the back of Roger’s Peugeot wagon, and driven through the night to Rockland, Maine. There they boarded the sloop they’d arranged to deliver to Connecticut. The police were saying that Ellen was already dead, that Ed had killed her on their bed just before leaving the house. Had he acted nervous on the trip? Had he seemed different? the girls and I wanted to know. “Who’d notice something like that? It was vacation,” Henry said, driving along, recalling the voyage. Seas calm, the wind steady, five old seadogs off on a wifeless sea cruise.” Pressures of business and the rocky New England economy fell away. Boat owners one and all, they usually chartered a sailboat large enough to hold them all. But this trip was free: Roger had arranged for them to deliver this boat, an Almon 31, from Maine to Connecticut, at no cost to them. In the twelve months I had been seeing Henry I had never met Ed Sherman, had met the only men only in passing. Henry had explained to me the phenomenon of sailing buddies: a crew of men with nothing much in common could cram onto a small sailboat, go to sea for ten days, and return without learning one single detail about each other’s private lives. Not talking about wives, not talking about family stuff: that was the point. For that August trip, Henry was captain and Ed was navigator. Wanting to clear the heavy shipping lanes north of Boston, they made as quickly as possible for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Except for one stop in Gloucester, Massachusetts, for dinner and a hot shower, they took turns at the helm and sailed nonstop for 45 hours. During that time, off and on, Ed had been trying to raise the marine operator in order to reach Ellen. On the surface, that didn’t seem strange. All five men were fathers, and they understood how Ed might be feeling uneasy about leaving Ellen, pregnant, alone, for ten days. She had had some complications. But as time passed, his attempts became more urgent. Ellen never did answer. Early Monday morning, August 5, while sailing through the Cape Cod Canal, Ed did reach someone at his home in East Lyme, Connecticut. “It was awful,” Henry told us. “I was at the helm, and all I remember is Ed saying ‘What? What?,’ then handing the microphone to Steve. After a minute, Steve came up on deck and told me Ellen was dead.” “Did you know she’d been murdered?” I asked. “Not at all. Some police detective was at the house, and just said she’d died suddenly. We assumed a car crash or something.” “Mr. Sherman killed her?” Madelene asked, incredulous that one of her father’s friends could be a murderer. “I don’t see how,” Henry said. “He called her from our house, just before we left for Maine, and he wasn’t out of our sight from then on. We stood in our kitchen—Mom, Steve, and I—and we heard Ed telling Ellen he loved her, he’d miss her…” Until that moment, Kristin had been silent. Like her sister, she is a delicate Swedish blond with spirit and curiosity. But while Madelene is outgoing and instantly friendly to the world, Kristen possesses a reserve that keeps her quiet until she is very sure of what she wishes to say and to whom she is saying it. I was relatively new in her life, and the trust between us was untested. “He said those things to a ringing phone,” Kristin said. Henry pulled into the restaurant parking lot, not quite hearing. “What?” I asked, turning around to see her in the back seat. “I was listening in. On the extension,” Kristin said, sounding shy and a little ashamed. “He said ‘I love you too,’ but there was no one on the line. The phone was just ringing and ringing.” ****
That moment heralded the start of our family’s odyssey through a murder investigation, the Connecticut judicial system, and the darkest tunnels of human nature. Henry realized instantly that if Kristin told her story to the police she would have to testify against Ed. Henry called Kerstin, his ex-wife, with whom the girls live during the week. She dropped a second bombshell: at the time of the murder, Kristin had told her and a detective about the ringing telephone. Although Kerstin had wondered why the police hadn’t followed up on it, she had felt grateful. Fiercely protective of her daughters, she didn’t want Kristin involved in a murder case. She hadn’t even told Henry about it. No one expects to find her family smack in the midst of murder. She had simply hoped the police would never come back. Henry and Kerstin agonized over what to do. The children had just suffered through the divorce. Adding that to the normal landmines of adolescence had already proved devastating. Kerstin deeply feared the effect a trial could have on Kristin. She had heard what defense lawyers could do to witnesses on the stand, and she was worried about whether Kristin could handle it. But behind it all was Ellen Sherman. Although they hadn’t known her well, their impression was of a warm, vivacious woman, friendly to everyone. Henry had to face his growing feelings of rage for Ed. For five years he had wondered if Ed could have done it. The sailing trips had ended; Henry had seen him around town, but they hadn’t spoken. Suddenly, with Ed’s arrest and Kristin’s account, Henry’s doubts began to vanish. “The guy did it,” Henry told me one night. “He choked the life out of Ellen. And now he’s involved my daughter.” In the end, they left the decision of whether to call the police up to Kristin. Without hesitation she said yes. Henry reached Michael Malchik on his car phone. Malchik, the Major Crime Squad detective who had been working the Sherman case for five years, listened as Henry repeated everything Kristin had said. “Will this affect your case?” Henry asked. “Yes, it will affect the case,” Malchik said in what would turn out to be extreme understatement. Later, he told us he nearly drove off the road when he heard Kristin’s account. But another mystery emerged: no police detective had ever filed a report concerning Kristin’s story. We began to wonder if the phantom detective had been a private investigator hired by the defense. The police believed that Ed Sherman considered himself a genius. “If you’re a real genius do you brag about being in Mensa? Do you even join it?” I asked Henry. The police considered Ed to be a calculating man capable of planning and executing a flawless murder. Ellen’s body had been left in their bedroom with the air conditioner blasting and the door closed, making it impossible to determine the exact time of death. The house, which, according to interviews with family, friends, and Ed himself, was never locked, had been sealed tighter than a vault. A rape had been staged. This information was making sense to Henry. “Ed loves details,” Henry told me. “He had this arrogant attitude all the time, as if he were superior and we were fools.” “Why did you take him along on the trips?” “He was Roger’s friend. That was good enough for me.” Henry had already explained to me the mysteries of sailing manhood, the code of nothing personal passing among them. When women friends ask me what Henry thought of Ed and I tell them he didn’t like him, they invariably ask how he could have gone sailing, year after year, with someone he didn’t like. Men friends, familiar with the brotherhood of outdoor sports, understand it instantly. I asked Henry to characterize Ed for me. “Here’s the kind of guy Ed was,” Henry said. “One time we were sailing to Martha’s Vineyard. Ed came to relieve me at the helm. The island was dead ahead—we could see it plain as day. Ed said ‘I need a compass heading.’ I said ‘that’s the island right there. Just steer for it.’ Ed started getting furious. He needed numbers. He needed a chart, coordinates. I was stupid, not analytical. So I glanced at the compass and said ‘right there—the number on the compass—that’s your heading. Because that’s the island straight ahead. He’s a condescending son of a bitch.” The police thought Ed had done a good job of covering his crime. It had taken them five years to amass enough circumstantial evidence to arrest him. There had been a secret Grand Jury hearing, at which Henry, the sailing buddies, and numerous other witnesses had testified. But because they had been forbidden to reveal their testimony, the public didn’t know what the police had on Ed. At Michael Malchik’s suggestion, Henry contacted Tom Viens, an inspector with the State Attorney’s office. With that, Henry McDuff, Ed Sherman’s alibi, one of the men who had been with Ed every minute of that August trip, introduced his daughter to the prosecution. At that instant, Kristin became their star witness, the person who had overheard Ed talking to a ringing phone, the young girl whom everyone believed would bring the genius down. ****
Had they known about Ed Sherman’s marital history, most locals would pass judgment on him for his lifestyle alone. In southeastern Connecticut, the legacy of our Puritan forbears lives on. Ed conducted a double life that none of the boat knew anything about. Ed was a sexual Svengali. What people knew: in summer 1985 Ed Sherman, a professor in marketing at Mohegan Community College, had been married to Ellen Sherman for nearly fifteen years. Ellen, tiny at 5’0, had a brilliant, frisky smile that her friends found irresistible. She openly adored Ed. 5’10, Ed was balding, with dark, intense eyes. They had a daughter, Jessica, age 12. The family lived in a modest Cape Cod-style house in Black Point, a section of East Lyme, surrounded on three sides by the waters of Long Island Sound and half a mile from one of the most breathtaking, affluent seaside enclaves in Connecticut. Ed and Ellen put out Showcase of Homes, a real estate magazine, and operated Ad Graphics, an advertising company. Although Ellen seemed to run both companies, everyone assumed Ed owned at least half the shares. They assumed his duties at the college would necessitate Ellen doing most of the office work. Ellen was pregnant, and she was thrilled. She had wanted a second child for a long time. Ed was not thrilled. At forty two, he talked about being old to be a father again. He and Ellen had just bought a small sailboat, they had two successful businesses to run, and they already had a daughter. Ellen’s pregnancy caused a strain on the marriage. In June 1985, the couple separated. Not many people knew about it because they continued to work together. Of the men on the boat, Ed confided only in Roger Peterson. A prime organizer of the upcoming August sailing trip, Roger offered Ed a place to stay on his own boat. Ed took Roger up on it, but not for long. By mid-July he had moved back home, with Ellen. Their baby was due November 23, 1985. What people didn’t know: On November 23, 1984, exactly one year prior to Ellen’s due date, Ed’s long term mistress, Nancy Prescott, gave birth to their daughter Rachel. Since 1977 Ed and Nancy had had a working relationship at the college and a sexual relationship in motels, at Nancy’s home—several towns away from East Lyme—and on trips together. Nancy, an impeccable blond with a quiet, hesitant voice, said Ellen knew of the affair. “I knew that she knew because we had a meeting…it was in the winter, and we talked about her feelings about my relationship with Ed.” At the Lymelight, a coffee shop in Old Lyme, Nancy asked Ellen how she was able to live with the fact that Ed was having a long term affair with another woman. “Ellen said that Ed had always had affairs, since the beginning of their marriage.” While very aware of Nancy’s affair with Ed, Ellen wanted to make sure Nancy realized she was “off the placemat.” At that Ellen moved her coffee cup off the placemat, a gesture Nancy took to mean that while in the picture, Nancy was not the primary relationship in Ed’s life. Nancy’s pregnancy changed everything. One evening in July 1984, around suppertime, Ellen called Nancy, furious. “Didn’t I know Ed didn’t want more children?” Nancy said. “No matter what I thought, it would only make her and Ed’s relationship stronger.” Ellen had wanted another baby for years. One time she did become pregnant, but Ed forced her to have an abortion. The news of Nancy’s pregnancy devastated her. She forbade Ed from taking Nancy to the hospital, attending the birth. Ed drove Nancy and their daughter Rachel home, and as they walked into Nancy’s house, Ellen was calling, demanding to speak to Ed. In January, two months after Rachel’s birth, Ellen had her IUD removed. Ed, used to having sex “several times a week” with both women, began to monitor Ellen’s cycles closely. But finally, after dinner at a restaurant in Mystic, Ed made a deal with his wife. Ellen could become pregnant if Ed could continue his lifestyle. This meant that Ellen and Jessica would care for the baby, and Ed could keep seeing Nancy. It also meant that Ed could continue having “side affairs” with women other than Nancy, including his students, and to pursue his penchant for activities such as wife-swapping. Ellen had put up with Nancy and others, had had sex with other men at Ed’s request while Ed watched, swapped with other couples, and generally indulged Ed in his tastes. Why would Ellen, a success in business, an attractive spitfire of a woman, a person known for her warmth and strong personality, submit to such humiliation? Because, in the view of her friends and family, Ed had power over her, and because she loved him. In the trial to come, not one witness would suggest her love ever wavered. Her tolerance for Nancy, however, did. Once Ellen became pregnant, she grew stronger. In the months leading up to August 2, 1985, Ellen found a new sense of independence. She planned to launch a new magazine, and she introduced a new color process into the old one. She gave Ed an ultimatum: choose her or Nancy. If Ed chose Ellen, he would have to start acting like a real husband and father. Ellen wanted him all to herself, with no more running back and forth to Nancy. He could see Rachel—she would never keep him from his daughter. But he would have to end his romance with Nancy. Ellen’s older sister, Maxine Mortenson, lived on Long Island. The sisters talked on the phone a lot. Ellen had told Maxine she had wanted another baby—she had been very unfulfilled, even though Ed had let her take in foster children. He had forced her to have the abortion a couple of years before. But the beginning of April, at their mother’s house for the Jewish holidays, Ellen told Maxine of her pregnancy. “She said Ed didn’t have anything to do with it. It was her baby, and she and Jessica would take care of it.” For a while before her pregnancy, Ellen had had an affair with Len Fredrickson, a man she had met through her business. After they stopped having sex they remained close, and Ellen told him that if Ed didn’t stop seeing Nancy, Ellen would divorce him. She showed Lenny a list of her assets, including the house, both cars, and the businesses. It turned out that Ellen controlled both companies. A divorce would leave Ed with nothing. For Ed Sherman, spring and early summer 1985 was spent running back and forth between the two women. He tried it Ellen’s way, but the pressure was too great. On Father’s Day he cracked. Accounts of this day differ. Ellen’s friends and family say she told them he flew into a rage, throwing the TV out the window. Ed said he had simply carried the TV outside and placed it in the trash. He describes the day as a sort of “mini mid-life crisis.” He said he “pouted.“ There were no witnesses to the fight, but people who saw Ellen later say she was wearing unusually heavy makeup, as if to cover bruises. The next day, she nearly miscarried. Shortly afterwards, Ed decided that he would have to leave, and he drove to Nancy’s. He describes the decision to leave as “cool and rational.” Ellen called Maxine. “She said she and Ed had had a terrible fight, she’d kicked Ed out of the house.” Maxine drove to Connecticut to be with her sister, and Ellen began to pour her heart out. “She said Ed had been verbally and emotionally abusive, that she realized what she was worth. She could take care of the businesses, the house, and the kids by herself, and Ed couldn’t say the same. She told me that although she had made Ed president of the company to feed his ego, she ran it herself.” The worst part was the way Ed would taunt Ellen about Nancy. “Constantly comparing,” Maxine said. He told Ellen details about a special picnic Nancy had made, “Which hurt Ellen, because she was really into doing things like that.” Ed discovered that Nancy had a few demands of her own. She told him to end his marriage or leave her alone. Only then would she let him move in with her. He stayed a few days, then moved onto Roger Peterson’s boat. Roger, knowing nothing of Nancy, knew only that Ed was having problems in his marriage. Thinking himself unable to live without Nancy, Ed found himself unable to live without Ellen. Over the Fourth of July, Ed asked Ellen to meet him on Roger’s boat. He begged her to let him come home. Maxine had returned to East Lyme to be with Ellen, and she said Ellen didn’t get home until 4 a.m. Ellen felt torn and confused. She said Ed had cried, said he really wanted Ellen back, that she was his best friend and he needed her to talk to. Finally Ellen gave in. She called Maxine to say Ed was making all sorts of promises. She was letting him come home, but they both knew it was his last chance—she had made that clear to him. “She said ‘he knows he’ll be out, without anything, if he sees Nancy again.” Ed kept his word until the week before Ellen’s death. Even then he saw Nancy only to give her presents for Rachel. One day he brought a colorful jump-in-the-box and another day he brought a nightgown. The second time Nancy was sick, so Ed felt hotdogs to Rachel and Andrew, Nancy’s son by a previous marriage, while Nancy rested upstairs. As he was leaving, she walked him to the door. He felt awkward, he said—they both knew he was going home to Ellen. “I said I was sorry things were the way they were,” Ed would testify. “I told her I had to work on my marriage for the next six to eight months, and I asked, ‘if things don’t work out, will you be there for me?’ I felt I had to soften things. The situation made me uncomfortable.” By some accounts, his relationship with Ellen was better than ever. They took his cousin Meryl sailing, and she described them as very affectionate, holding hands, “sort of like newlyweds.” Early Friday, August 2, Ellen surprised Ed with a birthday card and a milkshake maker for his 42nd birthday. They went to work together and spent a normal business day. There are no witnesses to their last hours together. Ed contends that he got home at 4:30, shortly after Ellen. Together they walked Jessica’s dog, because Jessica had gone to summer camp. They shared a chocolate chip milkshake, made with his birthday present. Ellen modeled a dress for Ed while Ed packed for his sailing trip. They cuddled on their bed. Ed ran a few last minute errands, and at 7:30 Roger arrived to pick him up. While Roger waited in the car, Ed hurried upstairs to tell Ellen he would call and to kiss her goodbye. It was, Ed would recall for the jury, their last kiss. The prosecution believed that Ed did kiss Ellen goodbye. They contend, however, that she was already dead, that Ed had planned details such as that kiss to help him pass the eventual polygraph, so he wouldn’t be lying to the police when he told the police “I said goodbye to Ellen and then I kissed her.” They charged Ed Sherman with killing his wife between 4:30 and 7:30 on the evening of his 42nd birthday. ****
The twenty months between Ed Sherman’s arrest and his trial marked a period of apprehension for our family. Henry and Kerstin (pronounced “Shestin” in the manner of her native Sweden) stayed close to exchange information about court dates and Kristin’s fears about testifying. Often Kerstin would call to talk to me. We were preparing for something for which we had no idea what to expect. “If Ed murdered his wife, will he come after Kristin?” Madelene wanted to know. Ed was free on bail, and both girls imagined him lurking just around the corner. Henry contacted Kristin’s school and briefed them on the situation. We reassured each other that she was in no real danger, but the State’s Attorney had told us she was his key witness, a real threat to Ed. Many nights one or both of the girls would call Henry, hysterical over some seemingly minor event: a borrowed Champion sweatshirt, one refusing to get off the phone when the other wanted to use it, sister stuff. Henry would listen to his daughters and try to soothe them, and many nights the calls would end with an outpouring of their anxieties about Ed Sherman, the trial, Ellen Sherman, what was going to happen to Kristin. Their concerns often focused on Jessica, Ed and Ellen’s daughter. Jessica had babysat for one of Kristin’s best friends, and Kristin was well aware of the role she was about to play in Jessica’s life. Since the murder, Jessica had been sent to live with relatives. During the Shiva period after her mother’s death, some of Ellen’s relatives turned against Ed, believing that he had killed her. Jessica, then twelve, began to scream, “If you believe he could do it, you might as well believe I could do it.” Henry feared deeply for Kristin’s emotional well being. He felt guilty for bringing Ed Sherman into his family’s life. We walked a fine line, wanting to encourage his daughters to express their fears while, at the same time, not constantly focusing on the upcoming trial. One night in August, four months before the trial would begin, Kristin asked if Connecticut had a death penalty. We told her yes, but that it wouldn’t apply to Ed Sherman. The state had considered prosecuting him for double murder—Ellen and the unborn child, a boy Ellen had planned to name Russ in honor of her mother Rose. In that event it would have been a capitol case, and Ed could be sent to death row. But because the baby was too young to have lived outside the womb, the most Ed could get was life in prison. “I could send him there?” Kristin asked anxiously. “Not you alone,” Henry said. “You are just one witness. All you have to do is tell the truth. Other people will testify before and after you and then it will be up to the jury to decide whether he is guilty or not.” That explanation seemed to reassure her—that she was one person among many telling the truth. How the evidence stacked up was not her responsibility. The trial of State v. Edward R. Sherman began on November 4, 1991. The evening of that first day Henry said that he had just talked to Tom Viens, the investigator for the state. “Kerstin and I will be called as witnesses, so we won’t be allowed in court to hear any other testimony. Not even Kristin’s,” he told me. “When will Kristin testify?” I asked. “Could be any time,” he said. “I wish she could sit in a few times, get a feeling for what to expect.” “Maybe I could do that for her,” I said. ****
Courtroom 3, Superior Court of New London, was a windowless room with two rows of benches separated by an aisle. The judge’s bench sits dead ahead, facing all. The jury occupied two rows in their own box, off to the right. The prosecution team sat closest to the jury. Ed Sherman, flanked by his defense lawyers, had a table on the left. My first look at the accused: a sturdy man with piercing dark eyes, protruding jaw, and single thick black eyebrow that merges over the bridge of his nose. Balding, his dark hair is shot with gray. He wears glasses that darken with the light. He looks scary. He stared at me, as he did at everyone who entered the courtroom that day, with frightening intensity. I sat in the last bench on the left. I had expected the place to be packed for such a sensational trial, but there were only two court-watchers—elderly women who had brought their own crocheted pillows to cushion the hard benches. Both turned to glare at me, and their stares seemed so perjorative, I realized they thought I was with Ed, sitting on his side of the room. Friend of the groom. The day’s session had not yet begun. The lawyers milled around together. Chief Prosecutor C. Robert Satti, Sr., has the expression and stature of a silver-haired bulldog. He stood approximately chin-high to James A. Wade, a renowned defense attorney. Ruddy, slightly rotund, with languid, handsome eyes, he bears a resemblance to the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Surrounded by associates from both sides, the men were laughing, back-slapping, telling old war stories. One wondered what Ed Sherman, alone at the defense table, thought of his lawyers being so chummy with the people trying to put him away. But suddenly the sheriff’s gavel came down, the judge entered the courtroom, and the huddle broke. Each rushed to their own table, opponents prepared to compete. The sixteen jurors filed in. Detective Scannell, one of the first officers to arrive at the Sherman murder scene, took the witness stand. Mr. Satti began to offer photographs into evidence. He held them up to the jury, but I was able to see: a toilet seat in the upstairs bathroom left up; the air-conditioner’s setting (“Incidentally, what were those settings?” Mr. Satti asked. Wade objected, but it didn’t matter. Mr. Satti had planted the suggestion that the jurors notice on their own, and so they did: both dials were set on high.;) windows throughout the house closed; the milkshake maker on the kitchen counter. As Mr. Satti removed from the envelope photographs of Ellen’s body, the room grew tense. All except the defense table: Mr Wade whispered to his associate Dan Sullivan and to Ed, and then he put on airs of boredom by yawning, plucking threads off his tweed jacket. Ellen Sherman. The photographs show her lying dead, naked on her back, her pregnant belly curving toward the camera. She had large breasts. One close-up shows a white bead pressed into her slightly open eyelid. In another, the ligature marks looked like gashes in her neck. One scratch on the inside of her thigh. Torn blue panties, her bra, a white half-slip—its waistband stretched and frayed from her pregnancy—lying on the floor. I felt myself shaking. I had never seen crime scene photos. Because they are real, they are worse than the goriest movies. Watching the jury, I noticed some of them glancing at Ed, then quickly away. Ed, with his sulky mouth, and his dark, brooding eyes behind photo-sensitive glasses, sat still, nodding slightly at whatever Dan was whispering to him. Some of the jurors stared at the floor. A curly red-haired woman in the back row had her mouth open in apparent horror. Ellen Sherman. Now Mr. Satti offered into evidence the panties, bra, and slip. The panties, royal blue, ripped at both side seams, had been used to choke her. Detective Scannell removed the bra from its envelope. He stared at it. It appeared discolored, pinkish off-white, as if Ellen had thrown it in with a load of colors. “May I examine the instrument?” Mr. Wade called, striding toward the witness stand. He held the bra in his hands, looked it over, handed it back. When Detective Scannell brought forth Ellen Sherman’s slip, I felt my initial sadness and shock replaced by rage. Wade and Sullivan were clasping forearms, chuckling about something. You can get murdered, and six years down the road, while your white slip is being held up for the courtroom to see, your husband’s lawyers will be laughing. A recess was called. The lawyers for both sides cam back together, catching up on more news. Maybe it had been a while since they had faced each other in a case. Ed lingered in the background, conferring with Dan. At that moment it didn’t seem like a murder trial. It seemed like a sporting event, with men in suits playing the game. Except for the underwear, the photographs of Ellen’s nude body, you could forget that someone had died. ****
I spent every day from 10 a.m. until 4:45 p.m, from that day until the trial ended, in the last row of Courtroom 3. The testimony unfolded. Police officer followed by police officer. An EMT worker. The State Medical Examiner. The defense’s case was simple: Ellen had lived an adventurous sex life, like Ed, and had been murdered by one of her many partners. Or a rapist. James Wade occasionally suggested that, five and a half months pregnant, she had held an orgy after Ed’s departure on the sailing trip. Dr. Henry Lee, the famous forensic pathologist, testified for the State about the lace of Ellen’s panties leaving marks in her neck, about UV light illuminating fifty semen stains on the satin sheets, and other details. Mr. Wade raised the possibility that Ellen had had sex with many men after Ed’s departure. Or perhaps there was only one man—a rapist. Or a lover. “Can one man leave that many semen deposits at one time?” Wade asked. “Maybe you, Mr. Wade,” Dr. Lee replied. “Not me.” Lee explained that under UV light the stains could be visible even after repeated washings, that the semen could have been left there over a long period of time, during the relationship of a married couple, but the suggestion of an orgy had been raised. Once source close to the case told me that they had explored the possibility that Ellen had participated in her own death. Perhaps she and Ed, or one of the imaginary orgy participants, were into eroto-asphyxia, where people nearly choke themselves to enhance orgasm. Or perhaps Ed had gotten her to submit to sexual role-playing (“Let’s pretend I’m the rapist and your car just broke down on the side of the road.”) There was a courtroom culture. Spectators drifted in and out. Many came every day. One, a pretty blond woman with large, expressive eyes, took intense notes. Sometimes, during recess, Ed would talk to her. The elderly court-watchers with their crocheted pillows were torn between thinking she was a reporter or one of Ed’s girlfriends. One day she spoke to me. “I k knew Ellen,” she said. “My husband and I have a business similar to hers, and we often worked together.” “And Ed?” “I’m trying to keep an open mind,” she said. “It’s hard to believe he…I’ve known him a long time. “ Her name was Irene. She told me that her sister was strangled in 1987, just two years after Ellen. “They never caught her killer,” she said. “This is good for me, coming here. I never got to see justice done in my sister’s case. The police never charged anyone. There’s never been a trial. This is therapy for me.” One morning Ellen’s mother, Rose Cooper, arrived in the courtroom. Very tiny, she tottered on high heels to the witness stand. Staring at Ed until she was sure he wouldn’t look at her, she turned her head in disgust. She told of Ellen taking in foster children to fulfill her need of more children. “Ellen got hysterical when she found out Nancy was pregnant. Ellen wanted Ed’s baby so bad,” she said, starting to cry. She told of the fight on Father’s Day, when Ed hurled the TV out the window. Ellen told her that they sent Jessica away to be with friends, and whatever went on between Ed and Ellen caused Ellen to bleed so seriously, she thought she was having a miscarriage. She last spoke with her daughter on the Wednesday before her death. She tried to call Ellen on Friday night after work, and also on Saturday. Just back from a wedding, she tried again on Sunday, and a detective answered. “He asked was there anyone home with me. I said yes, my husband. The detective said ‘put him on,’ and then I knew. Then I knew,” she said, sobbing gently. In the hallway I watched Mrs. Cooper putting on her coat. She stood with a lovely, dark-haired woman who looked like photographs of Ellen—she had to be Ellen’s sister, Maxine Mortenson. Suddenly Irene approached them. I stood back, watching the scene unfold like a play. In a quiet tone, as if she didn’t want to intrude, Irene told them that she had known Ellen, and she told them about her sister. “We’re the two women whose sisters have been murdered,” she said to Maxine. That instant Maxine and Mrs. Cooper embraced her, and they stood that way for a long time, even when Ed and his lawyers passed silently behind them. I thought of my own sisters and how much I love them. Never, at any moment during the trial, did Ellen seem as real, as loved, to me. Wayne LeBrun testified about the day they left for the sailing trip. Ed, stopping by Wayne’s hardware store that morning, seemed anxious to leave for Maine earlier than they had planned. Wayne agreed to call the other guys and try to leave at 7:30 instead of 9:00 that night. Ed shared with Wayne’s daughter Heather a passion for movies, and that morning they discussed Blackout, an HBO film they had just watched. Mr. Satti showed Blackout to the jury. Starring Richard Widmark, Kathleen Quinlan, and Keith Carradine, it tells the story of a man named Ed who kills his entire family and leaves them in an air-conditioned basement to confuse the time of death. Roger Peterson testified about picking up Ed for the sailing trip. He said Ellen would always come downstairs to say hello and how strange it seemed that she did not that last time. He explained how, long after the murder, Ed attempted to change his recollection of the events. “Ed said ‘you didn’t hearing the air-conditioner going that evening, did you? Remember you commented how quiet it was?’ But that never happened.” Ellen’s two best friends testified. Adrianna Clifford, with a shy, Italian accent and the face of a Raphael Madonna, told of Jessica spending Father’s Day with her daughter Simona because she was so afraid of the violence going on in her home. When Adrianna drove Jessica home, Ellen collapsed into her arms, crying, her face covered with thick makeup. Barbara Lavalee had moved away from East Lyme. Now called “Barbie Lane” for her lounge act in New Orleans, she took the stand in a fringed white leather suit and a voice tinged with the bayou. She had met Ellen when their daughters swam on the same team. Called by the prosecution, she was there to say Ed had called her from the boat trip and gotten her to check on Ellen. Unable to enter the house, she had raised the alarm. Full of love for Ellen, she was constantly admonished by the judge to “answer only the question asked of you and wait for the next one.” In the hallway, Assistant State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said, if we could just get her to sing her testimony, we’d be all set.” Barbie told of trying to call Ellen repeatedly the weekend of August 2. Finally Ed, also unable to reach Ellen, phoned Barbie. She drove straight to the Sherman house and couldn’t get inside. She called Lenny Frederickson, Ellen’s ex-lover and close friend, who broke in through a window and discovered Ellen’s body. “Miss Lane,” James Wade began on cross-examination, his voice full of sarcasm. “Isn’t it true that you hate my client?” A long cool stare. “Can’t say that I hate anybody, sir.” “Then isn’t it true you strongly dislike him?” “I don’t dislike the man, sir,” Barbie said. “I dislike what he did to my friend.” On November 27, Jessica Sherman, home from college on Thanksgiving break, took the stand. Resembling her mother, she is tiny with thick dark curls. Although she didn’t look at her father, she seemed hostile to the prosecution. She spoke in a flat monotone throughout questioning about her mother’s housekeeping, her father’s genius and member in Mensa, the fact that at the time of her death her mother was writing a murder mystery. Her voice softened only when she spoke of Shelly, her dog back in 1985. Piles of dog feces had been found all through the first floor. Witnesses had testified that Shelly was always walked “morning, noon, and night.” Several days worth of feces had accumulated, and the State maintained that Ellen, an impeccable housekeeper, would have cleaned it up if she were alive. “We put newspaper on the floor for her when no one was home,” Jessica said. “When did you get Shelly?” Mr. Satti asked. “Around Mother’s Day. She had just gotten old enough to be taken from her mother,” Jessica said, and I thought of Jessica at twelve, certainly not old enough to have her mother taken from her. For days court watchers had been buzzing, wondering whether Ed’s mistress, Nancy Prescott, would testify. Finally, on December 5, she appeared. A peaches and cream blond in angora, she began her testimony by saying that she and Ed owned a house together, but that he had moved out in September. She seemed nervous, her voice tremulous. Constantly licking and biting her lips, she looked everywhere but at Ed. She described one night in June 1985, after the fight on Father’s Day, when Ed had temporarily moved in with her. About midnight, she and Ed were in her bedroom, when the phone rang. It was Ellen asking to speak to Ed. Ed motioned Nancy to say he wasn’t there, but Ellen was very agitated and said, “I know he is. Put him on the phone. Did Ed tell you I’m going to have a baby and he’s due the same day as Rachel’s birthday?” At that moment Nancy handed the phone to Ed. Ed was mostly silent, listening to Ellen. When he hung up, Nancy said, “Why didn’t you tell me Ellen was going to have a baby?” Ed said he didn’t know. Nancy wanted him to stay, but he said if he didn’t leave, Ellen would arrive and make a scene. On the witness stand, recounting this, Nancy held her head down, her left hand on her temple. Mr. Satti asked her to refer to her statement. She stared at it for a moment, laughed a little, and turned to Judge Leuba. “May I borrow your glasses?” she asked. “Want to borrow my middle-age glasses?” Mr. Wade asked. Mr. Satti offered her his magnifying glass, the one given to him by his mother-in-law. “But I’m sentimentally attached to it,” he said. “I’ll want it back.” He then asked, “Do you usually use glasses to read?” “No, it’s stress,” she said. Her eyes darted to Ed, then quickly away. People vilified Nancy, called her Ed’s motive for murder, but I could only think of how nice she seemed, how normal. Like Henry, like Kristin, she had probably never expected to wind up as a witness in someone’s murder trial. She had probably never wanted to fall in love with the wrong man. On the stand, she seemed helpful to the prosecution. Her pain obvious, she was telling the truth. The long Thanksgiving weekend interrupted her testimony, however, and when she returned, her attitude was quite different. During recesses she and Ed sat together on a bench in the hallway, heads touching, whispering. Perhaps she said she was cold because Ed rushed down the corridor and returned minutes later with her white mohair coat. When she returned to the witness stand, her hostility to Mr. Satti was apparent. Ed had somehow reined her in. She described everything as rosy. She presented Ellen as accepting of the situation. There was no conflict between Ellen and her, Ellen and Ed, at all. Out of the presence of the jury, Mr. Satti argued that Nancy should be required to testify about Ed’s prior violence toward women. He had kicked her in the face and beaten her; although charges were never pressed, the police investigated. When they arrived at her house, Nancy said wildly that she was in danger because Ed had killed his wife and she knew it. Mr. Satti said that he had choked another girlfriend and one of his students, stopping just short of killing them. Judge Leuba refused to admit this evidence on grounds that its prejudicial effect would outweigh its probative value. The jury would never hear about it. Another story of Ed Sherman’s violence toward women would never be heard in court. A source involved in the case learned that he had been married, very briefly, to a woman before Ellen. Investigators tracked down Ed’s first wife, and she told them that she had had the marriage annulled. She moved home with her family. Ed, unable to accept her rejection, flew to Chicago where he begged her to reconsider. She refused. Needing a ride to the airport, Ed asked if she would mind stopping at his motel to get his things. Up in his room, he tried to seduce her. She resisted, but his advances grew insistent. An epileptic, she felt a grand mal seizure coming on. She passed out cold, and when she came to, she found herself naked. Ed had taken her clothes and left. “I think he raped me,” she told the investigator. “You think he raped you?” he asked. After a long silence she said, “If you have ever seen anyone having a seizure you would find it impossible to believe that anyone would want to have sex with her at that moment. But that day I was having my period, and when I woke up, I discovered Ed had taken out my tampon.” One of the most chilling stories I have ever heard, one the jury would never hear. ****
Our family’s day arrived. I had asked Mr. Satti why Henry would have to testify, considering he would give essentially the same account as the other men aboard the sailboat. “Because he was the captain,” Mr. Satti said, with his knowing twinkle. Kerstin testified about being on the telephone with Henry’s mother at 7:43 p.m. on August 2, 1985, when Ed Sherman burst into the kitchen, demanding to use the phone. It had seemed strange to her, his urgent need to call Ellen when he had just left her five minutes before. To be honest, it had annoyed her. Her mother-in-law had been giving her the upsetting news that Henry’s great-aunt had just broken her hip, and Kerstin didn’t want to rush her off the phone. But Ed insisted. Puttering around the kitchen, Kerstin heard snatches of Ed’s end of the conversation, but all she really remembered, after all these years, was Ed saying, “Goodbye, I love you, too.” When Henry’s turn came, I felt so nervous. I had watched James Wade badger witness after witness. I had no doubt Henry could hold his own, but Wade, like a magician, could twist a person’s words into strange and absurd meanings, then say “No further questions before the witness had any chance to explain. Henry, handsome with a new haircut, a trimmed beard, blue blazer, and a paisley tie I’d bought him on our honeymoon, strode to the stand and took the oath. Henry has a great voice, and he’s a wonderful storyteller. Before long the judge was telling him to answer only the question asked of him. Henry did his best. He told of leaving the house for Maine, the car full of the men and their gear, of stopping for beer at the package store. “Whose car was it?” Mr. Satti asked. “Roger’s wife’s car.” “What did you do after you stopped for beer?” “We put gas in the car.” “Where did you stop for gas?” “The cheap gas place.” Mr. Satti gave Henry a good long look. “Roger put cheap gas in his wife’s car?” he asked, feigning amazement. “And he made us pay for it,” Henry said. It was one moment of levity in a long, horror-filled trial, and the jury loved it. Henry described the drive to Maine, of being in charge of stocking the boat’s galley with provisions. With great self-effacement he described standing at the deli counter in Rockland, ordering pounds of ham, bologna, Swiss cheese, turkey breast. Then, on board the boat, he was making sandwiches for everyone and discovered that every package contained bologna. Ten pounds of bologna. He described Ed’s repeated attempts to call Ellen, once when all the other guys were focused on sailing the boat through a busy port, inappropriate times which, in retrospect, seemed designed to call attention to themselves. Wade, recognizing that the jury liked Henry, chose to go easy on cross-examination. I breathed easier. Finally the moment arrived for Kristin to testify. It was the week between Christmas and New Years, her Christmas vacation. That morning we all drove to court together: Henry, Kerstin, Kristin, Madelene, and I. Walking into the courthouse, Kristin seemed to grow younger with every step. Wearing her best dress, Kristin followed Chris Nowak, the body-building sheriff known through the courthouse as “the Huge,” to the witness stand. In her pocket she had lucky pennies from her father and sister. Court clerk Mike Jule administered the oath; sitting down, she answered questions as Mr. Satti took her through the sequence of events: her mother talking to her grandmother on the phone, Kristin asking if she could use the phone as soon as Kerstin was through, hearing her mother say “goodbye,” running into her parents’ room to call her friend on the extension, hearing Ed Sherman speaking to a ringing phone. After all that had gone before, it seemed amazing how little time it took Kristin to give her account. All our fears and apprehension had led up to this. Wade asked her a few quick questions about her age and memory, and then he took his shot. “Why, if you had heard Mr. Sherman ask if he could use the phone, would you pick up the extension?” “Because back then, whoever asked first got to use the phone first.” There were no further questions. Ed Sherman took the stand in his own defense. He had refuted the testimony of nearly every witness who had gone before. When shown a photo of his own refrigerator, he denied every item in it: the carton of milk, a casserole dish, a bottle of Pepto Bismol. He denied putting paper down for Shelly. The contrast between Sherman and Satti was extreme. Mr Satti, an old-fashioned family man, had a hard time concealing his bewilderment over Ed’s lifestyle. “Was Ellen upset to learn about Nancy’s pregnancy?” Mr. Satti asked. A long pause while Ed considered the question. “More disappointed, I would say.” Mr. Satti stared at Ed for a minute, as if not believing his ears. As he would do again and again, he turned Ed’s own ridiculous answer against him. “How long did her DISAPOINTMENT last?” “A couple of weeks.” “Her DISAPPOINTMENT lasted a couple of weeks? That’s all?” “Yes, sir.” “And she was DISAPPOINTED, not angry?” “If she was angry, it was with Nancy, sir. Not me.” Regarding Ellen’s pregnancy, Mr. Satti pursued the theory that it made Ed miserable. “A new baby was going to interrupt your lifestyle, wasn’t it?” A shrug. “It wasn’t that…it was some of the everyday details.” “Details like changing diapers?” Ed laughed. “I don’t suppose anyone enjoys changing diapers.” You could see Mr. Satti’s ears turning red, and his voice boomed out. “Then I don’t suppose you’ve ever been a grandfather, Mr. Sherman!” Photographs of Mr. Satti’s children and many grandchildren fill his office, and his chagrin at Ed was genuine and absolute. The most chilling moment came when Ed described his last day with Ellen. Over and over, Mr. Satti took him through the sequence of events, highlighting inconsistencies. Finally they came to the last hours with Ellen, at heir home, in their bedroom. “I asked if she wanted to lie down, and she did lie down, and we cuddled,” he said, and I thought how similar the words “cuddled” and “killed” sounded, and it flashed through my mind that he was describing the moment he murdered her. Then he told of Roger’s arrival, of the things Ed said to Ellen, and it seemed striking that he described only his actions, his words. Because for Ellen, by then, there was only death. After eleven days on the stand, Ed Sherman stood down. Mr. Satti and Mr. Wade presented closing arguments. Judge Leuba issued his charge to the jury. He explained the difference between direct testimony and circumstantial evidence and explained reasonable doubt. “The evidence in this case has at times been very emotional,” he said. “You must not permit yourself in any way to be moved by sympathy for the victim.” The jury deliberated four days, and 3:40 p.m. on February 7, 1992, they filed back into court. Mike Malchik, the Major Crime Squad detective, managed to position himself in Ed’s line of vision, but Ed refused to make eye contact. For the first time all during the trial I sat right behind Ed. When the jury read their verdict, I felt my hands shaking. “Guilty.” I turned immediately to look at Malchik. He nodded in my direction, but he wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t gloating with victory. Ed bowed his head, clearly shaken. I heard someone at the defense table crying. Ed? Wade or Sullivan? I wasn’t sure. At the sentencing, Judge Leuba said to Ed, “You have to consider the finality of murder, the life being choked out of another living person. This was an offense committed with cunning and planning against a victim, who because she was pregnant, was perhaps less able to defend herself.” He sentenced Ed, forty-eight, to fifty years in prison. Ed had killed Ellen on his forty-second birthday, as well as their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Right after Ed’s conviction, I spoke to several jurors. It had been a long trial, filled with emotion. For months we had stared at each other from across the courtroom. Not knowing their real names, some reporter friends and I had invented nicknames for them: the mother hen, Major Dad, the Russian Lit professor, Danny Kaye, the lifeguard. Seeming exhausted, some of them were crying. “Now we can feel for Ellen,” one young man said. “The judge told us we couldn’t let sympathy affect our verdict, so we didn’t allow us to feel for her up until now. We took a vote at three o’clock and came up guilty, and just before we went into the courtroom, we said a prayer. For Ellen and the baby.” Immediately after Ed’s conviction I watched Mike Malchik run out of Courtroom 3 to find a telephone and call Ellen’s mother, Rose. I used the same telephone, when he was done, to call Henry and Kristin. ****
Postscript: While in prison, Ed became best friends with another of Connecticut’s notorious murderers: Richard Crafts, the woodchipper killer. He had murdered his wife Helle and fed her body through a rented woodchipper. I learned this, while attending one of Ed’s post-trial hearings, from Chris “The Huge” Nowak, sheriff on duty. Ed had gained weight. His once dark hair, obviously dyed during the trial, had gone pure white. He had a cauliflower ear. “What happened to his ear?” I asked Chris. “Ed got lumped up in the van on the way down. He was being a know-it-all and one of the other prisoners let him have it.” “How do you know he and Richard Crafts are friends?” “They’re inseparable. Everyone talks about it.” “What do they say to each other?” “They sit around talking about how they did their wives. The other sheriffs hear them, all day long.”
“Ed is dead.” One day I received a call from Kathryn Kranhold, the Hartford Courant reporter who had covered the trial. She and I had become very close friends. Ed had taken a shine to Kathryn. One day she and I had been eating lunch at Two Sister’s Deli on State Street, a table away from Ed and Wade. Ed bought us chocolate chip cookies and had them sent over. Later; while the jury was out, we’d all been milling about the courthouse hall, and Ed had asked her out on a date. “Why don’t we wait for the verdict to come back?” Kathryn had said to him—wry, because obviously she’d had no intention of ever going anywhere with Ed. Anyway, she called me. “Ed is dead,” she said. It was true; he’d died of a heart attack, just two years into his long sentence.
After Mr. Satti retired, Kevin Kane became State’s Attorney for New London County. He is currently Chief State’s Attorney for all of Connecticut.
Henry and I divorced but remain very dear friends. We never talk about the case.