A Kiss After Dying

The following is the nearly-final draft of an article that appeared in Glamour Magazine in 1992. It deals with a murder case that involved my family. 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 murde

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A Kiss After Dying: Additional Material

Additional background material for A Kiss After Dying, based on interviews and conversations with witnesses. A Kiss After Dying: Additional Material

by Luanne Rice

At three p.m. on Friday, August 2, 1985, Ed and Ellen Sherman prepared to leave Ad Graphics. Ellen said goodbye to Barbara Lavalley, her best friend, who had recently started working at the company. Their goodbyes were a joke, because they rarely lasted longer than a few hours. Barbara was Ellen’s physical opposite: tall, big-haired, made-up, with a sultry southern accent. When Barbara cast Ed a dirty look, Ellen gave Barbara a warning shake of the head. Ellen and Ed had been having troubles, and they were trying to work things out. Barbara thought Ed should stay home, instead of sailing off with the boys. But Ellen adored Ed, and whatever he wanted was okay with her.

Ellen cleared her desk, made a last round of the office, and looked toward Ed. Gesturing toward the telephone, he indicated that he would be another minute. Ellen whispered that she would see him at home. It was Ed’s forty-second birthday, and she had a few surprises planned. She headed for her Peugeot.

At 4:30 Ed arrived home. Together he and Ellen walked Jessica’s dog, because Jessica had gone to summer camp. They strolled to a nearby field, holding hands. Back at the house, Ellen made a chocolate chip milkshake with the milkshake maker she’d given Ed for his birthday. They shared the shake, then went upstairs. Ed modeled a dress while Ed packed for his trip. They cuddled on their bed. Ed ran a few last minute errands. He made sure he had pulled his dinghy high enough on the beach. He drove to Niantic Hardware again, to hurry Wayne along. Just as he was pulling into Park Court, Roger Peterson arrived in the station wagon they would drive to Maine.

Roger started out of the car, but Ed motioned for him to stay put. Anxious to start vacation, Ed didn’t want any long farewells between Roger and Ellen, who were great friends. Ed raced upstairs, calling, “Honey, Roger’s here!” He grabbed his bag, kissed Ellen goodbye, and ran outside, calling goodbye to Ellen.

Roger felt a little hurt that Ellen hadn’t come out to say goodbye. After all, this was a major sailing trip, offshore, out of sight of land. These men had sailed together before, nearly every summer, but never on such an ambitious venture.

Disappointed, Roger headed toward Henry’s house.

“Wait a minute,” Ed said. “I have to check something on my boat. Let’s go to the Dockominium first.” “After we pick up Henry,” Roger said. “On our way out of town. It’s on the way.” Henry lived right around the corner, but the Dockominium, where Ed and Ellen kept their sailboat, was two miles away—with summer traffic a good ten minute ride. But Ed insisted.

“That’s horseshit,” Roger said, laughing in his rollicking teddy-bear way. “But okay.”

After Ed grabbed his Yankees cap off the boat, they finally got to Henry’s house. Henry and Steve Rosen were waiting in the yard, chomping at the bit to get going. Henry’s two blond daughters—Kristin, 8, and Madelene, 6—were darting in and out of the house.

“Wait a second,” Ed said. “I want to call Ellen.”

Roger and Steve loaded gear into the station wagon while Henry led Ed into the house. Kerstin, Henry’s wife, was on the phone. Henry asked her to get off, so Ed could call Ellen.

“I’m next,” Kristin piped up. “I have to call Courtney.”

When Kerstin hung up, Ed dialed the number. Henry heard him give Ellen the combination to their boat—in his excitement he’d forgotten to check whether the battery had been turned off. Then he said, “Goodbye, Ell. Take good care of yourself, and if you need anything, go straight to the neighbors’. I love you, too.”

Saturday August 3 in Rockland Maine dawned clear and fine. Blue skies, a fresh breeze, great sailing weather. Henry bought provisions at the grocery store. Ed and Steve strolled into a motel lobby to buy postcards and stamps. They unloaded Roger’s wagon and boarded the boat.

Rockland Harbor is a busy place. Fishing boats, factory ships, freighters, and ferries ply the waters, making navigation difficult, especially under sail. Henry took the helm calling orders to the other men. Getting underway takes a lot of split-second decisions and great concentration—if you want to avoid being mowed down by a hundred ton trawler.

The boom was slapping, the jib cracking, the halyards humming in the wind. Steve was hoisting the mainsail while Roger and Wayne were setting the jib.

“Where’s Ed?” Henry called, needing Ed to winch in a jib sheet.

But Ed was on the ship-to-shore radio, calling Ellen. Henry couldn’t believe Ed’s timing; he left the wheel, grabbed the winch handle, and did the job himself.

At first the trip was glorious, flying across the waves under brilliant sun. They cracked open beers, and Roger headed below to make lunch. Opening Henry’s deli packages, they discovered they all contained bologna. That was good for an entire afternoon’s worth of jokes.

Ed tried to call Ellen again. She didn’t answer, but that didn’t seem odd. She had plenty of friends in town, and this was a perfect beach day. But Ed seemed concerned. Not really worried, just slightly concerned. Her pregnancy. The bleeding. His friends figured maybe he felt a little guilty for leaving and tried to cheer him up.

Away from land they saw seals bobbing in the waves. They sailed through the North Atlantic all that day through Saturday night, into Sunday. As the time passed Ed’s concern turned to real worry. “I can’t understand where she could be,” he’d say as each call to Ellen went unanswered.

Late Sunday afternoon, another brilliant scorcher, they sailed into Gloucester, Massachusetts, moored the boat, and took a launch to the fishing wharf. They found the public showers, washed off the salt, and ate a big meal at a lobster joint.

Henry and Ed went to a bank of pay phones to call their wives. Henry, very aware of Ed’s worry, asked Kerstin if she would keep trying to call Ellen. Ed borrowed Henry’s phone card to call home. Not reaching Ellen, he tried Barbara Lavalley.

Barbara hadn’t seen Ellen, and she was frantic. She gave Ed an earful and it pissed Ed off. He hung up, frustrated and angry, told Henry he considered Barbara a bad influence on Ellen. She was “a dumb blond bimbo,” he said.

Sailing away from Gloucester, the guys crossed Boston Harbor in time to see the most beautiful sunset of their lives. Shades of deep red and purple filled the western sky while a pumpkin moon rose in the east. Still, they couldn’t completely enjoy it. Ed’s worry for Ellen was contagious, and they all felt uneasy.

Early the next morning, just before dawn, Henry relieved Wayne at the helm. He took the wheel, drinking a cup of coffee. They had just cleared the Cape Cod Canal, approaching familiar waters of Buzzard’s Bay, the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Ed was awake, standing by the ship to shore radio. Roger, close by, heard a male voice squawking out of the loudspeaker. The voice belonged to a Connecticut State Trooper and told Ed that Ellen was dead.

A terrible silence fell over the boat. Ed stumbled away, handing the microphone to Steve Rosen. Steve asked the trooper to repeat his message: “Ellen Sherman is dead. She’s been killed.” The trooper instructed the boat to sail for the Coast Guard station in Woods Hole.

Roger and Wayne tried to comfort Ed, but they knew their words were hollow. There was nothing to say. Henry steered the boat with Steve in the cockpit. Thoughts flew through Henry’s mind, that Ed had just lost his wife, Jessica her mother. The trooper’s words: “She’s been killed.” How? A car crash? Or murder? Henry thought of his own wife and children, possibly in danger from a killer loose in East Lyme. Later, when he and his friends could finally speak, they realized that that had been all their fears.

While the boat sailed for Woods Hole, Detective Mike Malchik was in the state police airplane with two other members of the Major Crime Squad, on their way to the same place. Mike had been on the case all night, since right after Ellen’s body had been discovered by Barbara and Len. At Barbara’s insistence, Len had broken into the locked Sherman home. He had climbed the stairs, opened the bedroom door, and discovered her naked body on the bed. Ellen had been strangled with her panties. The air-conditioned room was cold as ice.

Mike knew very well that Ed knew only that Ellen had been killed—not how. He wanted to question Ed himself, see how he reacted to certain questions. A cliché for sure, but the police always start with the husband.

When the boat arrived in Woods Hole, Mike separated Ed from the other men. Ed and Mike, polar opposites: Ed is dark, balding, furtive-looking, with hooded eyes and a cleft chin. Mike is a blue-eyed blond leading man type, with a boyish smile that catches everyone off guard.

Mike had just cracked the Michael Ross case, a serial killer who had stalked young girls in eastern Connecticut, killed them, and hidden their bodies in stone walls. Ed saw life as a chess game. He boasted about his IQ, his mental superiority. Roger let him get away with it, but others like Henry considered him unlikable and arrogant.

Mike had seen the crime scene. Blood from Ellen’s mouth had dried on her sheets in a pattern suggesting her body had been moved after death. He believed that she had been strangled face-down, then rolled over and posed, as if the killer wanted to make it appear that she had been sexually assaulted. There were no signs of a struggle. Nothing, not even her jewelry, had been taken. Mike believed Ellen knew her killer, and that he had known what he was doing. He had strangled Ellen, staged a rape, turned the AC on high, and locked all doors on his way out.

Standing on the dock at Woods Hole, Mike read Ed his rights. Standard procedure. When asked if he wanted a lawyer, Ed hesitated, then waived his rights. He would answer any questions. Ed wanted to know whether police still put bags on the hands and feet of a victim to preserve possible evidence. He seemed to care more about details like that rather than who might have killed Ellen. He didn’t even ask about Jessica, who was away at summer camp and would need to be told about her mother.

Ed admitted he was having an affair with Nancy Prescott. Yes, Ellen knew. They had an open marriage; Ed was always encouraging Ellen to have affairs of her own. They had couple-swapped. Ed was happy to give Mike the names. No, not his sailing buddies—they were all straight-arrows. In fact, of the pack, only Roger knew that Ed had been having trouble in his marriage. But not even Roger knew about Nancy or Ed’s “other life.”

After hearing Ed’s side of the story, Mike said, “I think you killed your wife.” Ed immediately denied it. He said he was incapable of such violence and requested a polygraph to clear his name. That afternoon they flew back to police headquarters in Meriden, Connecticut, where Ed passed the polygraph.

That night Mike left Ed at his home. He asked if Ed would mind rolling up his long sleeves. When Ed did, Mike observed two scratches on his arm. Mike asked if Ed would mind if he took a picture; Ed said go ahead. The two Polaroid shots didn’t come out, so Mike said he would be back the next day with a 35 mm camera.

When Mike returned, the Sherman home was vacant. Ed had left that morning for Long Island, to join the rest of Ellen’s family for Shiva, the long period of mourning that follows a funeral in the Jewish religion.

Ed hired James Wade, one of Connecticut’s top defense lawyers. Wade stalled a Grand Jury investigation. Months, then years passed.

Ed would call Malchik to ask how the investigation was going. Mike had the feeling Ed was taunting him, daring him to discover the truth. Mike viewed Ed as hostile, arrogant, self-assured.

Henry shared this view of Ed, but Henry, a Bob Dylan-loving sixties progressive, felt cautious toward police. He hadn’t liked it when Malchik, back in the early days of the investigation, had asked him, “Do you think Ed Sherman killed his wife?” “No,” Henry had answered. “Have you ever looked into the eyes of a killer?” “I don’t think so.” “Well I have, and Ed Sherman is a killer,” Malchik said.

From the trial: 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.” Barbie and I met in the ladies’ room. She stood in front of the mirror, dabbing at deep black mascara tracks running down her cheeks. Although we didn’t know each other, she started talking to me right away. “I haven’t been back north since I moved to New Orleans, and it’s only November, but it’s snowin’ out. It’s a sign, a sign from Ellen,” she said in her Southern accent. “That beautiful white snow driftin’ down from heaven, helpin’ me get through this.”

We hugged. After sobbing for a moment, she fixed her makeup again. When we left the bathroom, we found a group of sheriffs, hulking young guys who kept order in the courtroom, gathered in the corridor. Barbie straightened up, gave them a warm smile.

“Y’all waitin’ for me?” she asked, then linked arms with two of them and headed back to Courtroom 3.

During one recess, Mike Malchik and I talked. “What is it about Ed Sherman? What does he have that would make two women do what they did for him?”

I’d been asking myself the same question. Not simply unattractive, Ed was ugly. He had a blunt intensity that made you want to either escape from or stare at him. Often I found myself unable to look away from him. He would catch my eyes and watch me, not smiling, not flirtatious, but mesmerizing. It was peculiar and riveting and in some atavistic way drew me in. I have to admit that, even though I found him repulsive.

In the hallway during one afternoon recess, Ed approached Irene, a woman with whom he and Ellen had had a business relationship. At first she pretended not to see him, but it was too late. He asked about her husband, her sons. Irene asked about Jessica. Then Ed asked how she thought the trial was going.

“It’s looking kind of bad,” she said. He appeared shocked. “You think so?” “Oh, Ed. All that business about your girlfriend, the cheating…” Ed gazed at her for a long time. His agitation settled down as he seemed to assess her, put her in a pigeonhole. Perhaps, I thought, watching him, he wouldn’t expect her to understand the issues. He sounded cold.

“I’m not up on a moral’s charge, Irene. I’m being tried for murder.” Then he walked away.

Mike Malchik took the stand. He recounted his investigation and the laundry list of oddities he had discovered. He outlined Ed’s alibi. Sherman had stated that he got home at five on Friday and that he and Ellen had walked the dog. They’d gone home and made milkshakes then went upstairs to relax. Ellen had tried on clothes for an upcoming social event. Ed read and they took a quick nap.

Malchik pointed out inconsistencies. Ed claimed that he’d gone out to walk the dog with Ellen around 5. But a witness later testified that he saw Ellen walking the dog alone at 4. Ed stated that he and Ellen both had milkshakes on their return. But there was only one glass in the dishwasher when the police investigated the crime scene on Sunday. The autopsy revealed no trace of ice cream, which can generally be detected long after its comsumption. They did however note remnants of linguine with clam sauce, which generally passes through the stomach quickly. Mike surmised that Ed probably had a milkshake to settle his nervous stomach before killing Ellen. Ellen, on the other hand, probably had a quick pasta dinner—leftovers from lunch she was known to have eaten—and that dinner was still in her stomach when Ed strangled her minutes later.

Malchik also indicated that Ed’s supposed first stop at his boat before Roger picked him up had actually been his second of the day. This second trip seemed to suggest that Ed was looking for an excuse to get out of the house. For one thing, he probably wanted to avoid any visitors between the murder at 6 and his final departure at 7:30.

When Ed got back to the house to wait for Roger, he probably realized he wouldn’t be able to see Roger’s car from the house. Ed needed to make sure Roger didn’t knock or attempt to come in, so he drove back up the street, “to check his boat one more time.” He stopped to chat with his neighbor, which had apparently been very unusual for surly Ed Sherman. The neighbor later testified that the conversation had been bizarre. When Roger arrived, Ed’s car conveniently blocked the dead-end street, prohibiting Roger to get to the house before him. Ed backed down the street, ran in to get his stuff, and come out to leave with Roger. Roger later stated that Ed told him specifically to stay in the car. He noted it was unusual Ellen hadn’t come to say goodbye—a first as far as he could remember. Malchik said that Ellen hadn’t been able to come to the door because she’d already been strangled by her husband.

As for the stop at Sherman’s boat on the way to Henry’s house, Mike guessed that Ed probably unlocked the boat to make it look as if Ellen went down there over the weekend. He clearly made a big deal about calling her with the combination to the lock from Henry’s house to establish that possibility.

Mike’s theory was bolstered when he learned that Barbara had been down to the boat with Ellen on more than one occasion. Barbara testified that Ellen had opened the lock on her own. And the man who sold the Shermans their boat testified that the boat’s lock combination was the same as the four digit registration code painted in big numbers on the hull. Clearly Ellen knew the combination. So, Mike wondered, why would Ed need to call her with it before leaving?

As Mike pointed out, Ed also said he tried to reach Ellen all weekend, which Barbara confirmed. But what Barbara added was that Ed’s efforts were extremely unusual. In the past he had never called Ellen from out of town. He had never seemed to care enough to do so.

Ed on the witness stand. 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 DISAPPOINTMENT 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. Over and over Mr. Satti took him through his last day with Ellen, the sequence of events, highlighting inconsistencies. At one point Ed told of lying with Ellen on their bed. “We lay in the spoon position.” Mr. Satti looked shocked. “The WHAT position?” Many of us who felt fond of him laughed. Perhaps he’d really never heard of the spoon position and thought it sounded like something unspeakably perverted—his tone suggested so. On the other hand, Mr. Satti had some Columbo in him, acting naïve and a little bumbling for the jury and to catch Ed out. Ed’s direct testimony and Mr. Satti’s cross-examination lasted eleven entire days.

During the long trial I had gotten close to three reporters: Kathryn Kranhold of the Hartford Courant, Rosanne Simborski of the New London Day, and Steve Maguire of the Norwich Bulletin. All were unfamiliar with the geography of East Lyme. I offered to show them around, so after closing arguments we embarked on “The WHAT Position?!!?!” tour. We drove down Main Street. “There’s Dad’s Restaurant, where Ed and Ellen took his cousin Meryl for dinner.” “Where they were acting like ‘honeymooners,’” Rosanne said, recalling a line from the trial. I showed them the Dockominium, where Ed had stayed on Roger’s boat during his brief separation from Ellen, and where he and Ellen later kept their own sailboat; Carmine’s Package Store, where the guys had bought beer on their way to Maine; the cheap gas place; Henry’s old house, where Ed had used the phone; Wayne’s hardware store; the Ad Graphics office; 13 Park Court—the Sherman’s old house and the site of Ellen’s murder. The reporters and I were slightly elated by the closing arguments and the fact the trial was ending. A brilliant, sunny winter day, and we were glad to be out of the dark courthouse. But soon the drive turned somber. We thought of Ellen. I had grown up summering one town away, and I loved the area so much. Suddenly all of these landmarks I had known my whole life seemed different. I saw them in the context of murder. The train trestle where Ed and Ellen had met, in separate cars, the night Ellen had called him, furious, at Nancy’s house. The marsh, rich and golden with cattails, wending its way out to the Sound: I drove by it to get home, and so had Ed, and so had Ellen.

The jury deliberated for four days. During that time I had milled around the hallway with my friends the reporters, Ed, and his lawyers. Ed had talked of Jessica’s childhood, the time a deer had run right in front of her bike, frightening her. Speaking of the deer made him think of a earlier sailing trip he’d taken with the same guys. “One time we were sailing to Martha’s Vineyard, moored for the night off Cuttyhunk,” he said. “Henry and I were on deck, watching the sunrise, when we saw two big logs floating toward the boat. We started to push them off with the boathook, but they were deer, swimming.” Ed turned to me and smiled. “Did Henry ever tell you about that?” “Yes,” I said. It was the first time, in all our face-to-face meetings, that Ed had ever acknowledged my relationship to Henry. And therefore to Kristin: witnesses against him. Ed told of a trip he took just before the trial began: he drove all along Route 1, from the tip of Maine to Key West, Florida. He talked of things he had seen along the way, of con men he watched in Key West. On the fourth day, sensing a verdict might be imminent, Mike Malchik appeared in the courthouse. His senses served him well. As a witness, Mike had been barred from the courtroom during the trial. But he had been allowed to hear closing arguments, and he was here for the verdict. He sought Ed’s eye as he entered the courtroom. Ed quickly looked away. I sat directly behind Ed, next to Steve Maguire. “If the jurors look at Ed as they file in, it means ‘not guilty’,” Steve whispered. They didn’t look at Ed. They stared at the floor, at the judge, everywhere but at Ed. Some were crying. The foreman read the verdict, “Guilty,” and Wad, his voice slightly tremulous, asked that the jurors be polled. One by one, they all said the same thing: Guilty.