Crazy for You by Michael Fleeman is the true story of the murder of a husband and father from Atlanta and the secrets that spilled out in the wake of his death (available February 3, 2015).
A LOVING FATHER
A typical morning in the Atlanta suburbs: Businessman Rusty Sneiderman drops his beloved son off at the Dunwoody Prep nursery. In the parking lot, a minivan pulls up next to his car. The driver pulls out a gun—and shoots Rusty four times in the chest.
A HEARTBROKEN WIFE
Sneiderman’s devoted wife, Andrea, is devastated by the crime. Who could have done this? She is shocked when police trace the shooting to a man named Hemy Neuman—who happens to be Andrea’s adoring boss.
A DEADLY OBSESSION
The prosecution accuses Andrea and Hemy of having a “forbidden relationship,” and of conspiring to collect $2 million in her husband’s life insurance. But Andrea swears she never intended to kill Rusty—and that it is Hemy who’s “delusional” and obsessed. With the charges against her dropped, and the insurance money frozen, Andrea remains a mysterious character. Only one other person—the man who pulled the trigger—knows the truth about what really happened…
Early one crisp fall day, rush-hour commuters got their morning pick-me-ups at the drive-through windows at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, then slogged down Mount Vernon or Chamblee Dunwoody Roads toward the Interstate 285 freeway that circles Greater Atlanta. Women in brightly colored tank tops and gym shorts power-walked to music from their iPods along the wooded trails that ran next to the traffic-clogged roads. The Dunwoody Village shopping center in the heart of Dunwoody, Georgia, was quiet but for the distant sound of a leaf blower and an impact wrench at the Goodyear store. The Village Barbershop waited for its first customer; a training car from Taggart’s Driving School sat alone in the nearly empty parking lot. The post office would open within minutes, and people lined up outside in front of the glass door with the sign reading WE APPRECIATE YOUR BUSINESS.
Shortly before 9 a.m., on Thursday, November 18, 2010, a silver Infiniti G35 pulled into the shopping center and came to a stop next to a red-brick wall in front of the Dunwoody Prep preschool. Russell “Rusty” Sneiderman, thirty-six years old, boyish looking with glasses, had his three-year-old son, Ian, strapped in the car seat in the back. The preschool run had become the morning routine ever since Rusty lost his CFO job, and his wife, Andrea, took her first full-time employment in the corporate world. Andrea usually took their five-year-old daughter, Sophia, to kindergarten on the way to her office at GE Energy in Marietta. Later in the day, Rusty would pick up both Ian and Sophia and take Sophia to ballet. In between he would squeeze in work on a voice-mail company he was trying to start up.
Rusty brought Ian to his classroom and returned to his car. His schedule this day called for an 11:30 a.m. meeting with a potential business partner. Based on his casual dress, it appeared that Rusty had planned to make the short drive back to his large house on Manget Court and change clothes.
By all accounts Rusty never saw the silver minivan following him into the parking lot, and if he did it didn’t mean enough for him to do anything about it. Nor did he seem to recognize the driver, a bearded man in a hoodie sweatshirt who had waited behind the wheel until Rusty emerged from the school.
Rusty opened his car door, and the bearded man approached. If they exchanged words, nobody heard it. Without any apparent warning or provocation, the man pointed a handgun at Rusty’s head.
The gun was large and chrome-plated, the morning sun glinting off the polished surface.
Four times the man pulled the trigger.
* * *
“Did you hear that?”
Fifty yards across the parking lot Craig Kuhlmeier, a chiropractor with a practice down the street, and his wife, Aliyah Stotter, were standing outside the post office to buy stamps when they heard four popping sounds from the direction of the Dunwoody Prep preschool and saw the silver minivan. Kuhlmeier thought it might have been a Chrysler. A man was “casually walking” toward it, Kuhlmeier would later say. The man stood medium height, between five foot nine and five eleven, and wore blue jeans. He turned and stared at the couple. In his hand was the silver gun, in Kuhlmeier’s estimation a semiautomatic of some sort, definitely not a revolver.
The man started the van but struggled to get it in reverse, the gears grinding, as if he were unfamiliar with how to operate the vehicle. The van jerked away and peeled out of the parking lot, the tires screeching, raced straight down the street, made a U-turn, then continued on Mount Vernon Road into the rush-hour traffic.
On the pavement next to a silver luxury car a man lay dying.
The couple rushed across the parking lot and found the man horribly wounded and barely alive. Blood snaked from his head like a small stream across the parking lot. Brass shell casings lay beside him. The scene was surreal, like a movie scene. Kuhlmeier kept waiting for the director to yell, Cut, do it again.
The man gasped for air. Kuhlmeier checked his pulse. It was weak.
“Are you okay? Can you hear me?” Kuhlmeier asked. The man didn’t respond.
Calling 911 on her cell phone, Stotter told the operator that a man had been shot outside the Dunwoody Prep preschool in the Dunwoody Village center. As a crowd began to converge, the bleeding man struggled for air. Panic overtook Stotter, and she later said she wished she’d had the presence of mind to have started CPR.
* * *
Across the street, Chris Lang had taken his daughter to the doctor at Dunwoody Pediatrics for an 8 a.m. appointment. Returning to his truck, he put the child into her car seat and was pulling out of the parking lot when he, too, heard the popping noises. He U-turned and heard another pop. That’s when he saw the man in the hoodie, and what he’d later describe as a “noticeable” beard, firing at least twice more into the man on the ground before getting in the van and peeling off.
Through the rearview mirror, Lang watched the van exit onto Mount Vernon and race away before he drove up to the wounded man and saw Kuhlmeier talking to him and Stotter on her cell phone. Lang went to Dunwoody Pediatrics for help.
Dr. Terrence Gfroerer had just finished seeing a patient when one of his staff members told him that there had been a shooting in the parking lot across the street. He and a staff member went to the Dunwoody Prep lot, where he saw the victim on the ground slouched on his side, blood pouring from him. Dr. Gfroerer rolled the man onto his back and saw what appeared to be multiple gunshot wounds. He checked the vital signs. The carotid artery revealed a faint pulse. Gfroerer began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while his staff member did chest compressions. The vital signs didn’t improve.
Although not a trauma doctor, Gfroerer had been a physician for ten years. He didn’t think he could save the man.
* * *
Inside Dunwoody Prep, school assistant Colleen McNulty had taken six three-year-olds from a classroom to the playground on the other side of the brick wall when she saw a flock of birds take flight. A fraction of a second later she heard loud noises, four in succession. Peering over the wall to the parking lot, McNulty saw a minivan race away and several people gathered over a man on the ground with blood pouring from his head.
She recognized him as Rusty Sneiderman, a parent whose son, Ian, attended the preschool and whose daughter, Sophia, had been a student a few years previously. McNulty ushered the children back into the classroom and tried to dial 911 on her cell phone but got busy signals. She told another teacher to go into the office and call for help.
In the office, Donna Formato at first thought it was a bad joke. She had worked at Dunwoody Prep for fourteen years and now was the assistant director, supervising a staff of about three dozen, including teachers, assistants, and support personnel. She went outside to find a crowd gathering around a prone man with what she later described as “very gray” skin. She did not immediately recognize him. Beside the man was an Infiniti, the driver’s-side door still open, as if he had just gotten out or was about to get in when he was shot.
With somebody attending to the man, Formato went back inside the school to first check on the students. None apparently had seen the shooting. If any had heard the gunshots, they didn’t make the connection between the loud pops and something horrible happening. An office worker told her the victim was Ian Sneiderman’s dad, Rusty. Formato pulled the family emergency contact information card and dialed a work number for Ian’s mother, Andrea Sneiderman.
* * *
The 911 call was relayed by the dispatcher at the DeKalb County emergency call center to the patrol car of Dunwoody Police Department officer Brian Tate, who this morning had been cruising around town in one of the department’s gleaming new black-and-white patrol cars. Officer Tate was three hours into a twelve-hour shift that had started with a 5:45 a.m. roll call. Somehow the details of the incident had gotten garbled. The dispatcher initially sent him to the RBC Bank in the Dunwoody Village shopping center for what was described as an armed robbery. The suspect was said to be a Hispanic male, the victim a non-Hispanic white man. According to the dispatcher, the Hispanic male had a gun pointing at the white male, who had his hands in the air. Tate sped to the shopping center. A minute later the dispatcher changed the call to a person being shot at Dunwoody Prep in the same mall.
Tate arrived in just two minutes. It was an impressive response time in keeping with the three-minute-or-less goal of the Dunwoody Police Department. Aliyah Stotter flagged him down and directed him toward the entrance to the school. As he got out of his patrol car, he could hear the siren from the approaching paramedic. On the pavement Tate saw the victim on the ground with what Tate later described as “very serious” gunshot wounds. Dr. Gfroerer and a woman the officer took to be a nurse were performing CPR.
Within seconds, emergency medical technician Rhoda Berkeley from the DeKalb County Fire and Rescue was on the scene. She and her crew took over CPR from Dr. Gfroerer for another five to ten minutes, then transported Rusty Sneiderman fourteen miles to the Atlanta Medical Center.
* * *
It was about 9:15 a.m. when the phone rang at Andrea Sneiderman’s desk. “I told her something had happened at the school, that Ian was okay and that she needed to come to the school right away,” Formato later would say. Formato said nothing about people hearing gunshots or having seen the ashen-faced Rusty, who was Andrea’s husband. She didn’t want to alarm Andrea any more than necessary, presuming she’d be driving to the school. She later recalled, “I didn’t want her to have an accident on the way to the school. I was worried about her safety, too.”
Andrea started screaming into the phone. She demanded more information. Had something happened to Rusty? Formata refused to say more until Andrea got there. Andrea ran out of her office and down to the parking lot and drove off in her black SUV. Going against rush-hour traffic, she likely took Cobb Parkway South to Interstate 285 East—the northern tip of the Perimeter—and exited toward Dunwoody. Along the way, she made a number of calls on her cell phone. She called her parents telling them that she was on her way to the daycare center. She also called her brother with the same message. Her parents and her brother all lived nearby and would meet her. She also called Rusty’s father, Donald Sneiderman, a retired accountant who lived in Cleveland. And she called her boss, Hemy Neuman, on his cell phone. She later said she intended to tell him she had to leave work abruptly for an emergency, but she got only voice mail.
She tore into the school parking lot, flung open her door, tumbled out, and ran toward the crime-scene tape. Behind it sat Rusty’s parked Infiniti.
“What happened?” she screamed. “What happened?”
Detective Jesus Maldonado from the Dunwoody Police Department intercepted her as she headed toward the crime-scene tape. She was in her business attire, long dark skirt, black jacket, glasses. Repeatedly she asked what happened, and Maldonado didn’t tell her anything.
“Calm down,” he told her, leading her away from the crime scene and toward the front door of the daycare center. “You gotta relax.”
Her knees buckled and Maldonado caught her from falling. He had no intention of saying anything about the case while she was in this condition. The crime scene had not been processed; witnesses had not been interviewed. The victim had been taken away by ambulance, condition unknown. Maldonado half carried her to the door where she was met by two women who worked at Dunwoody Prep and another detective, Sergeant Gary Cortellino.
Aliyah Stotter, already shaken by hearing the gunshots and seeing the bloodied man on the ground, had seen Andrea arrive. The screaming grief-stricken woman only made Stotter more upset and she started, in her words, “bawling.” Stotter pulled up her hoodie, shielding her tear-soaked face from the woman.
In the daycare center, a teacher embraced Andrea but neither the teacher nor anybody else would tell her what had happened. “No one was talking, no one was saying a word,” Andrea later recalled. Brought into a glass-enclosed office, Andrea was joined by several other people, including Sergeant Cortellino. The ranking officer on the scene, Cortellino had arrived twenty minutes earlier, after Rusty had been taken away, and he temporarily took charge. He told officers to look for witnesses, called in crime-scene techs to collect evidence, including the shell casings in the parking lot, and sent a detective to the hospital to talk to family members. He later acknowledged being taken by surprise that one of those family members would be right there in front of him. “I really didn’t know she was coming,” he later said. “I wasn’t prepared for that.”
Andrea continued to ask what was going on. Cortellino wouldn’t tell her. Instead he asked if she knew where Rusty had come from and where he was headed. Andrea told him she had no idea, and she’d later express frustration that she had answered questions when nobody would answer hers. She would also claim that Cortellino refused to tell her where Rusty had been taken; Cortellino would say that he wanted a detective to drive her to hospital—“She didn’t need to be at the school,” he said. When it looked like she would get herself to the hospital, Cortellino called a friend who headed security there and “told them the family was coming down and to look out for them.”
At some point while inside the school, Andrea spoke on her cell phone to her parents. They were driving to meet her from their home in Roswell, thirteen miles to the east.
Eventually, her parents arrived, as did her brother. Among the four of them they somehow ascertained that Rusty had been taken in an ambulance to an unidentified hospital after some sort of incident. Any more information—from the school, from the detectives, from anybody—would not be forthcoming. “We were instructed to go home,” Andrea later said, but she couldn’t remember by whom. “A police officer, I presume,” she would recall. “I was in a fairly catatonic state.”
At the recommendation of Donna Formata, Andrea left Ian at the school, feeling it was better for him there while everybody sorted out what had happened to his father. Andrea’s parents drove her to her house, and then her father called all the local hospitals. The Atlanta Medical Center confirmed that a Russell Sneiderman had been admitted but wouldn’t say why or what his condition was. Andrea and her parents piled into the car and headed for the hospital while Andrea worked her cell phone, calling a longtime friend, Shayna Citron, Rusty’s father, Donald, and her boss Hemy Neuman, again.
* * *
The paramedics continued to perform CPR as they wheeled Rusty into the emergency room to attending physician Dr. Mark Waterman. A quick assessment told him the prognosis was grim. The man had suffered multiple gunshot wounds to his neck, near the carotid artery, and chest. It would later be determined that the first bullet entered the left side of the jaw, traveled through his jaw, and hit his right shoulder, ending up just below the skin in his back. The gunman fired at point-blank range; Rusty had stippling burns to the face from the gunpowder grains that shot out with the bullet. The second bullet came from farther away, probably while he lay on the asphalt. It entered the right side of his abdomen at the bottom of his rib cage and pierced his liver, diaphragm, and right lung, lodging itself just under the skin of the back, causing serious internal bleeding. Two more bullets went into his abdomen, slicing through his intestines and exiting from his back, causing more internal bleeding. Rusty also suffered a graze wound to his forearm, either from a separate fifth shot or more likely from one of the other bullets hitting him just below the elbow as he tried in vain to fend off the shots.
Dr. Waterman checked his patient’s pulse and breathing. All vital signs were flat.
Within minutes he declared Rusty Sneiderman dead.
The parking lot where, just minutes before, parents had delivered their children to preschool had become a staging ground for patrol cars and other emergency vehicles with lights flashing. Men and women in uniform could be seen inside and outside the school. Crime-scene techs spray-painted orange circles around brass bullet casings and set up little yellow markers; they took measurements and snapped photographs. A pool of coagulating blood was still visible from beyond the crime-scene tape. Police officers fanned out looking for witnesses.
The first newsperson to arrive was Dick Williams, publisher of the weekly Dunwoody Crier, whose offices were across the street from the preschool. A phone call to his home got Williams to Dunwoody Prep minutes after the paramedics took away the victim. “It’s unheard of,” he said later. “I’ve had this paper for sixteen years and that’s probably homicide number four in all that time.” A former writer and editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a news director for several TV stations, Williams had seen his share of crime scenes, but nothing like this. “There was a chalk outline,” he recalled. “The real impression it made on me was how much blood the human body had. The blood was still there. It covered a large area. There was a slight incline and the blood ran down fifteen feet and four feet wide.”
Soon the parking lot was teeming with reporters. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the region’s leading daily newspaper, is located in Dunwoody, its office a couple of miles away from the school. News helicopters circled over the preschool, and vans from Atlanta’s local TV stations rolled into the parking lot, telescoping up their transmission poles for live satellite reports. Somewhere in the newsroom of CNN’s world news headquarters, producers at crime-centric HLN took first notice of a story fifteen miles away that one day would be a big part of their programming.
The early coverage was breathless.
“A father shot and killed minutes after dropping off his children at preschool,” the anchor of Channel 2 Action News (“Live. Local. Late-breaking”) announced to lead the afternoon newscast. The co-anchor added: “We talked to worried parents,” then tossed to reporter Erin Coleman in the field. “I just got off the phone with Dunwoody police. They tell me right now they are out actively searching for the man that shot this father.”
“And now—panic outside a preschool,” began Fox TV affiliate anchor Tom Haynes on that night’s telecast. “A man murdered after dropping off his young son … Tonight a shooting suspect is still at large.” The account in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution echoed the tone of disbelief. DUNWOODY MAN WAS UNLIKELY VICTIM, read the headline over a story that began, “Russell ‘Rusty’ Sneiderman didn’t see it coming.” It called the murder a “sensational crime” that “offers few obvious avenues for investigation.”
* * *
Quiet, leafy Dunwoody represents all that locals savor about life Outside the Perimeter, where suburbs, shopping centers, and office parks dominate the landscape. The world within the I-285 Perimeter loop is considered more urban—downtown Atlanta’s gleaming skyscrapers are at the center—with closer access to corporate offices, fine restaurants and bars, the theater and college and professional sports. Georgia Tech is ITP (Inside the Perimeter) and so are the stadiums for the Falcons and Braves. Much debate rages on whether one should live OTP or ITP (that is, if one has a choice), and in many places the differences are not distinct. Dunwoody and neighboring Sandy Springs, with their sprawling office complexes and the large Perimeter Mall anchored by a Nordstrom, are said to have an “ITP feel”; the mansions and estates of ITP Buckhead that the pro athletes and music stars call home could seem OTP.
Carved out of farmland beginning in the 1970s, Dunwoody’s residential streets wind through old groves of pine and oak. The houses are built on large wooded lots set back from the street in the “five-four-and-the-door” design: five windows on the top story and four windows on the bottom with a door in the middle. Nearly every subdivision has tennis courts, and the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association is located here.
“There’s a joke here,” says Dick Williams, the Crier’s publisher. “What do you wear to a funeral in Dunwoody? A black tennis dress.”
Dunwoody is symbolized by its favorite son, Ryan Seacrest, who grew up here and developed his broadcasting skills by giving morning assemblies over the PA system at Dunwoody High School before working at a local radio station. Seacrest has lost none of his boyish good looks from his 1992 senior high school prom picture, and he maintains local ties. An old high school friend, now the assistant principal, arranged to fly a Dunwoody mass media class to the American Idol set in 2011 for a backstage visit with Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson, and Steven Tyler.
It’s the kind of place that people want to get transferred to. “Dunwoody was the first suburb of Atlanta essentially created by Yankees,” says Williams “I’ve never figured out the chicken-and-egg part of it, but for some reason it became the suburb of choice for business executives transferred to Atlanta from other places.” IBM, which has offices all over Atlanta, has drawn many people, as has GE in nearby Marietta. The schools are top-notch, the mall the best in the region, the weather never too cold in the winter, and the brutal southern summer heat and humidity are tempered by the shade from hundred-year-old trees and the air-conditioning in every home. With several churches, a large Jewish community center, and a powerful homeowners’ association, life in Dunwoody is dominated by God and city planning. A tree can’t be cut down here unless a new one is planted to replace it. Trash and recycling pickup comes four times a week.
Residents follow community issues with the zeal of the recently converted. A fiercely fought incorporation battle raged to unshackle Dunwoody from sprawling DeKalb County government—and what locals long complained were DeKalb’s unresponsive bureaucrats and ineffective police who ignored Dunwoody’s concerns over higher-crime areas to the south ITP. Dunwoody was accused of siphoning off tax revenues, particularly from the lucrative Perimeter Mall, from other DeKalb County communities, and every argument seemed to be shaded by the issue of race. Dunwoody is 80 percent white while the rest of DeKalb County is a majority African American.
Incorporation ultimately prevailed—and a city and a police department were born in 2008. With incorporation came great promises of a better and safer Dunwoody. Now, after a few short seconds of gunfire, Dunwoody Prep had become that all-too-familiar American tableau: the school-shooting scene.
Dunwoody Prep promotes itself as a mini-Ivy, a first literal baby step to Harvard, promising “an environment where students are exposed to a rich balance of academic and social skills that afford them a bright future in an increasingly competitive world.” Infants receive care in “small developmentally appropriate groups” with a “home-like atmosphere where babies are rocked, cuddled and surrounded by love.” Toddlers then are nudged to “make the transition toward independence” and begin the “language experience” through creative movement, art, outdoor play, music, and singing. By age two, students “begin the preparation for the academic skills needed” to advance to the older levels. They develop “their individual self-help skills while promoting self-worth and self-esteem.” By preschool—ages three to five—they’re immersed in a dizzying array of experiences: math, “pre-reading and pre-writing activities,” science, social science skills, art and music, computers, Spanish, sports, and “social and play skills.”
The school assures parents that “the safety and security of our students and staff is something we take very seriously.” It installed what the website calls a “state of the art security system” with “cameras monitoring every classroom, every entranceway, all of our playgrounds and all over the exterior of our buildings.” Security locks protect every entrance.
Within minutes of the shooting, school staff scrambled to clear the premises. Parents receiving calls off their emergency cards converged on the school—or sent their nannies—to pick up their children. One of the few parents left by the time the media arrived was a woman named Natalia Kelly, who was interviewed by several stations while she carried her young child, who was wearing a paper hat. “The last place you’d think that a child may be in danger is at a school, especially a preschool,” she told reporters. “There are children there that are only three months old. And the fact that any parent could just happen to have been dropping off their child in a car seat and could have been hit by accident, or a child on the playground. And so I don’t understand even if this was intentional.” Another parent, Katie Ackerman, told a TV reporter, “I was terrified to think that something could have happened to a child. It’s very scary.”
The Dunwoody Police Department whisked its public information officer to the school to offer what little investigators knew. Sergeant Mike Carlson said that shortly after 9 a.m. a bearded man opened fire with four shots on a parent dropping his son off at school, then fled in a silver minivan heading west on Mount Vernon Road. He stressed that no children were harmed. By evening, the victim was identified as Russell Sneiderman of Dunwoody.
Within hours, interviews with Rusty’s friends and colleagues and a scan of social networking sites, online databases, and company and government websites produced a glowing biography. Rusty was by all accounts a successful man of business with a background in finance and insurance. Raised in the Cleveland area, educated as an undergraduate at the University of Indiana before pursing a graduate degree, he came to Dunwoody from Boston to take a position as the CFO of a large Atlanta company. He’d recently struck out on his own as an entrepreneur. He had no known enemies, no criminal record, was active in local charities and in the Jewish community. Nearly every media account took note that he possessed a Harvard MBA.
“It’s like everybody lost a brother,” a former schoolmate, Abby Stadlin, who attended kindergarten through high school with Rusty, told the Cleveland Jewish News. “Many of us have taken similar paths [in our lives], and we’re all connected. That’s why it’s so shocking.” Words like kind,caring,professional,focused, and thoughtful filled the early news reports. Rusty served on the boards of the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation, a medical charity in Atlanta, and the Autism Society of America–Greater Atlanta. “For someone as young as him, that was unusual and impressive,” ASAGA president Claire Dees told a reporter. “He definitely had a heart for other people.” Ken Finkel, a former board president of the OI Foundation, added: “Some people walk into a room and carry themselves in such a manner that you know they are well educated, sharp, attuned and soak up information quickly. That was Rusty.”
“None of this makes any sense,” Rusty’s friend Jonathan Ganz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Another friend, Matt Davidson, who was Rusty’s college roommate, added, “I can guarantee you no one would have predicted this was going to be the way his life would end.”
The early speculation was that Rusty was the victim of some sort of hit. Casey Jordan, a criminologist and professor at Western Connecticut State University, told Pete Combs’s radio show AM 750/95.5 FM News/Talk WSB not long after the incident that the shooting looked like “an organized hit”; the killer was either somebody who had a vendetta against Rusty or a shooter hired by somebody who did. Everything about the murder said professional assassin, she said, from the nondescript attire to stymie identification, to the getaway vehicle without plates, the firing of multiple shots to make sure the job was done, and the fact that the victim’s luxury car was left at the scene. “This man took precautions to make sure he fit the description of thousands of people and thousands of cars,” Jordan said.
The Dunwoody Crier also saw the possible work of a professional assassin. “The person who did this wanted this guy dead,” a source told the paper, “and he made sure that he did the job.” Publisher Dick Williams later said, “My personal theory was that it was a mob hit. I looked at Rusty’s business background—he started a lot of companies, and I could see maybe some disgruntled investors could have been there. And look at the way it was done: the two shots at close range, the van engine still running, the guy jumps out of the van and bam! Bam!”
The crime scene offered few answers and little evidence: a dead body and four brass shell casings scattered on the blacktop near Rusty’s car. This told police the shooter used a semiautomatic, either a .40 or a .44 caliber, but ballistics couldn’t narrow it down to a make or model of gun, much less where or when it was purchased. If a murder weapon was ever found, the casings and slugs could be compared to make a positive ID. Rusty’s car wasn’t stolen.
Eyewitnesses all told a similar story: a man, a van, and a gun. Nobody caught a license plate number, and most believed the van didn’t have plates. Nobody recognized the shooter though most agreed the beard looked fake. Security cameras trained on the parking lot captured the van entering and leaving but didn’t show the actual shooting. The footage went to a private technician for analysis, but a quick viewing showed the same thing the witnesses had already described. The van had no license plates; the shooter’s image was obscured through the vehicle windows. An alert went out for the van, but with Interstate 285 so close, the vehicle could be anywhere by now, either hundreds of miles away or blending in with thousands of family vans just like it in the Atlanta suburbs.
Shortly after 9 a.m., Detective Andrew Thompson of the Dunwoody Police Department heard the original radio call mistakenly alerting police to an incident at the bank. When word came across the radio that the getaway car was a silver van heading down Mount Vernon Road, he drove farther ahead and parked at an intersection in the hope of intercepting the suspect. But no silver vans appeared, and Thompson was relieved by police from neighboring Sandy Springs. He then went to Dunwoody Prep. His boss Sergeant Cortellino handed the case to Thompson, making him the lead detective, while Cortellino went to the impound lot where Rusty’s car was being processed by crime-lab techs.
Previously an officer with the Atlanta Police Department for eight years, Thompson had only two years’ experience as a detective, working narcotics, before coming to Dunwoody. This was his first turn as lead investigator for a homicide. He was pacing around the crime scene, getting the lay of the land, when he saw Andrea arrive. He didn’t know her then but assumed she was close to the victim. He would recall her behavior as “very loud, very dramatic.” Her mother and father later drove up and were about to go under the crime-scene tape when Thompson directed them inside the daycare center. “I told them that Rusty had been hurt,” he would recall later in court. “That was the extent of what I told them.” He hadn’t spoken to Andrea, who by now was inside with Cortellino.
Thompson spoke briefly to the eyewitnesses—Craig Kuhlmeier, Aliyah Stotter, and Chris Lang—and the pediatrician, Terrence Gfroerer, who had attempted to resuscitate Rusty. He took down their contact information for longer follow-up interviews. He called in the crime-scene technicians to take measurements, photograph the scene, and collect evidence. Rusty had few personal effects when he died—an envelope in his jacket, a wedding ring, and a watch. Nobody could find his wallet. The witnesses hadn’t seen the gunman take the wallet—the presumption was Rusty had raced out to drop off his son and perhaps go to the post office and had simply forgotten it.
A call to another detective at the Atlanta Medical Center confirmed that Rusty had arrived in grave condition. After spending an hour at the crime scene, Thompson made the half-hour drive south to the hospital. In the family waiting room he met Andrea and her family—her parents and her brother Todd. By now they had been notified of Rusty’s death and appeared in no condition to speak to police. Thompson asked Andrea a couple of questions, seeking any information to tell him where to begin the investigation. She said only that Rusty had planned to have a lunch meeting with his partner in a business venture. She gave Thompson the partner’s name.
Thompson returned to the Dunwoody Police Department and drew up two search warrants, one for Rusty’s car, the other for his house.
It was dark when Thompson and Cortellino pulled up to the Sneiderman house on Manget Court. The Sneidermans lived on a cul-de-sac in a nine-hundred-thousand-dollar house that a Realtor would later describe as an “impeccable luxury home in a great Dunwoody neighborhood.” It sat on a half-acre wooded lot against a forest traversed by walking paths. When they rang the doorbell, a couple who identified themselves as Andrea’s parents opened the door. Thompson told them he had a search warrant and wanted to come in.
“We are a house in mourning,” said Andrea’s mother. Andrea’s father told them they couldn’t come in, according to Thompson.
Thompson told him that police had a warrant and to get out of the way or go to jail for obstruction when Sergeant Cortellino interjected. Cortellino said they would come back tomorrow. In the paramilitary culture of police departments, a detective on his first murder case would never argue with a supervising sergeant. Thompson would later leave little doubt that he disagreed with the gentle handling of the family.
“I don’t normally tell them I’m coming out to serve a search warrant to preserve the integrity of the case,” he said later in court. “If you give a person notification, [it] gives them the opportunity to destroy or hide or move the evidence.” (Later, Cortellino would say he didn’t remember going to the house at all that night; he also said they never had a warrant until the next day.)
Dunwoody has a special relationship between its citizens and police, one born from the founding aspirations of the city. Under DeKalb County rule, Dunwoody residents complained about what they saw as a law enforcement agency distracted by higher-crime areas to the south. A Dunwoody resident reporting a burglary or stolen car radio could wait an average of seventeen minutes or more for a patrol car, if one showed up at all. Many reports were taken over the phone. Paying more taxes than others in DeKalb County, Dunwoody residents found this unacceptable, and after incorporation made the police department the centerpiece of the city plan. More than a third of the initial fourteen-million-dollar budget went toward a department with thirty-five sworn officers and five civilian assistants and technicians. “We are committed to developing a top-notch Police Department that interacts daily with the residents and businesses of Dunwoody,” the newly hired chief of police, Billy Grogan, said at the time, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “People need to see police cars out there.”
The former deputy chief in Marietta, Grogan was a perfect fit for Dunwoody. Even-tempered and politically astute, he worked well with the new city council and business community. He had his pick of officers and his selections won praise from the locals—among them many officer-of-the-year recipients and veteran cops who had avoided any taint of the scandals that seemed to plague Atlanta-area departments. The Dunwoody jobs paid better, the department had the best and latest equipment, the cops could take their official cars home. The department was housed in a nondescript office building with dark-tinted windows in an office park hidden among the pines, not far from the Perimeter Mall. Even after the department’s performance in the Sneiderman case would raise questions, the town’s newspaper publisher, Dick Williams, says support remained high at home. “I think people in Dunwoody were pretty certain of this: They loved their cops.”
* * *
The next day, Thompson and Cortellino again rang the doorbell at the Sneiderman house in the late afternoon or early evening on November 19, 2010, a copy of the search warrant in hand. The detectives were welcomed into the dining room, where they took their seats at a long table. The house was spacious and modern. It had five bedrooms, four bathrooms, walk-in closets, a sitting room, fireplace, gourmet kitchen, deck off the back porch, and three-car garage with a remote-operated door. Andrea was at the table, along with her parents, Bonita and Herbert Greenberg, Rusty’s mother and father and, in time, Rusty’s brother, Steven. A tape recording of the interview picks up more voices in the background. Andrea and Rusty’s children would be heard on the tape; at one point, the interview would be interrupted by Ian crying and Sophia saying she was going to take him for a walk.
The detectives later said they wanted to build rapport with the family, gather information about the case, and search Rusty’s computer and other belongings. Throughout, the detectives would treat them with deference. “Part of my job for this interview is I need to get to know you and your family, like a relative,” Thompson said at one point. “Your family,” he went on, “is a very prominent family.” He called them “very well known” and assured them he had no doubts that he’d find evidence that Rusty was, as Andrea and the rest of the family insisted, “very well liked.”
The problem, Thompson was trying to impress upon the Greenbergs and Sneidermans—people unaccustomed to dealing with police or crime—was that not everybody might be inclined to view Rusty and his family so positively. “When it comes time to make an arrest, a defense attorney is going to want to paint a very bad picture about his life,” Thompson said, “and we want to be able to counter anything he has to say.”
For the next two hours, the detectives got to know the Sneiderman family—and its secrets.
* * *
She was born Andrea Greenberg and grew up with her brother, Todd, in the northern Ohio city of Sylvania. A bright student with an aptitude for math and science, she went to the University of Indiana in Bloomington, majoring in computer information systems and technology. In September 1994, she visited the campus’s Hillel chapter, the “Jewish home away from home” as the Helene G. Simon Hillel Center calls itself, with a big-screen TV, pool table, gym, and, according to its website, “lots of comfortable couches to relax on,” plus an “open refrigerator policy for students to grab a snack or a to-go box.” The Hillel offered a weekend retreat twice a year. “It’s just a time for the Jewish kids to get away,” Andrea would later say. There were activities, religious services, and socializing with other students. She started talking to a junior named Rusty Sneiderman whom she’d seen before on campus but hadn’t spoken to until now. Rusty asked her about her sweater—it had the logo of the summer camp she had gone to with her brother, Todd, for years. Rusty had a friend who also went.
Later that evening, with the retreat over, Rusty called Andrea. They went out together for the first time that same night.
The son of an accountant, Russell Sneiderman was, like Andrea, from a close-knit Jewish family in northern Ohio, just 125 miles to the east of Sylvania, in Cleveland. An overachiever still well remembered at Beachwood High School, Rusty served as the editor of the school newspaper and played on the golf team. His good-bye column his senior year, reprinted in full after his murder more than fifteen years later, revealed the traits that would later serve him well in business: He was self-deprecating, charming, funny, optimistic. He reminisced about his hapless freshman year in which his locker was “already assigned to a very popular senior girl who was not interested in a ‘four-eyed’ freshman,” his golf team won only a single match, and he got the three hardest teachers three periods in a row. He joked about speaking before a thousand people at the North American Invitational Model United Nations only to have a stink bomb go off (“My partner, from the class of ’91, said, ‘Maybe it was just your breath’”) and how he finally got his groove by his junior year. “I had figured out how to get good grades without working too hard and could devote my remaining time to after-school activities,” he wrote.
Both bright and ambitious, the young couple explored the quaint towns surrounding the university, Rusty’s obituary would say, and soon found they shared a family history—their grandparents on both sides had founded the same synagogue in Florida.
Rusty graduated in 1996 and returned home to Cleveland to work at an accounting firm; Andrea followed him there for the summer after her junior year, living in an apartment and visiting Rusty and his parents frequently. Donald and Marilyn Sneiderman were fond of their son’s girlfriend, and Donald later remarked that they seemed very much in love. For the next two years, they had a long-distance relationship. When they weren’t putting thousands of miles on their cars going back and forth between Cleveland and Bloomington, the technologically savvy couple used early incarnations of social networking sites and experimented with a videoconferencing precursor to Skype—“not an inexpensive thing at the time,” Andrea would recall.
After Andrea graduated in 1998, they found a small apartment in Chicago, both working at Deloitte Consulting, which helps businesses improve management practices and technology. Andrea’s parents frowned on them living together before marriage but Andrea was certain it was only a matter of time before they were husband and wife. “I wasn’t going to move in with him unless I knew we were getting married,” she later said. At Deloitte they worked in different divisions of the company, Andrea in technology, Rusty in finance. “The stock market was doing well then,” she said and Rusty set aside money regularly in what they called their “ring fund,” watching it grow until it reached the right amount. Andrea picked out a design for an engagement ring and Rusty ordered it. The only surprise for her was when it would happen and how the ring would turn out. She found out when Rusty proposed in 2000 while they vacationed at a resort in Laguna Niguel in Orange County, California.
Over the next hectic months they planned a wedding while Rusty applied to business schools. In rapid succession, Harvard Business School accepted him, and on December 30, 2000, they tied the knot in a ceremony in that same Florida synagogue co-founded by their grandparents. The newlyweds settled into an even smaller apartment in Boston—the closet was so tiny they couldn’t use hangers—while Rusty attended business school and Andrea worked at a struggling start-up company. When the company went under, Rusty found a posting for a job at the business school in the information technology department. Andrea was hired as a liaison between the technical people who wrote the software and the Harvard professors and faculty who used it. She saw Rusty every day, and they socialized with his classmates.
Andrea was in the midst of a major project when Rusty, after graduation, got offered a business development position for Siebel Systems’ offices in Atlanta. He had worked previously in wealth management and insurance in Boston but, wanting a less expensive place to live and more house for their money for when they had children, the couple agreed he should take the position. After three months in a comfortable company apartment at the San Mateo, California, headquarters while Rusty trained, they moved to Smyrna, Georgia, northwest of Atlanta, into a neighborhood with other young couples who would become their longtime friends. Andrea telecommuted from her home for her job with the Harvard Business School, traveling to Boston about once a month for meetings. She later became an independent contractor for the business school’s publishing unit, billing hourly.
After their first child, daughter Sophia, was born in August 2005, the Sneidermans sought a new neighborhood with better public schools. They found it in Dunwoody. Rusty would move to another company, this time doing wealth management at J. P. Morgan in Atlanta. Their two incomes and savings got them a nine-hundred-thousand-dollar house on a quiet cul-de-sac. As members of the Congregation Or Hadash synagogue, they were active in Atlanta’s Jewish community. Dunwoody was home to the new site of the Marcus Jewish Community Center—named after its major donor, Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus. Sophia would be enrolled in Dunwoody Prep preschool, and when son Ian was born in October 2007 he stayed home with Andrea while she worked out of the home. The Sneidermans made extra payments on their home to build equity and earned enough to buy a second house on Lake Oconee, in Eatonton, Georgia, an hour-and-a-half drive away, where they spent weekends boating and waterskiing with family and friends.
Their lives as busy young professionals with small children were not always easy. As the country sank into a recession, Harvard had less work for contractors like Andrea. Soon her remaining duties—developing online courses—dwindled. Then in late 2007, Rusty was laid off from J. P. Morgan, a victim of the hit on financial institutions. Property values throughout the Atlanta region plunged, including the mini-mansions of Dunwoody, where some residents found themselves owing more than their houses were worth. Unemployment inched up, and so did crime. This was when Dunwoody’s drive to break away from DeKalb County built steam. The Sneidermans now had two mortgages and two children and neither Andrea nor Rusty had a full-time job. But they had time and resources.
“We’re savers, always have been,” Andrea later explained. “Whenever everyone else was going out to fancy dinners we were eating peanut butter and jelly at home so we saved our money. We had a lot of money saved up in the bank. I worked many successful jobs myself, Rusty has made a lot of money over the years. We saved it. Our financial situation was just fine. We work and live based on what we earn. That’s our style of living. We don’t live beyond our means. So the times Rusty was unemployed, I was always making consulting income at that time or he himself was making consulting income.”
Even during the worst of the recession they had nearly a million dollars in the bank in cash and retirement accounts. Characteristically self-confident, Rusty set out to find another job without having to settle for the first opportunity that came along. He explored several ventures—businesses he could purchase or start up—but none panned out. He eventually took another salaried position, this time as chief financial officer for Discovery Point Child Development Centers, a daycare chain based in Duluth, Georgia—fifteen miles from Dunwoody—with schools in Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida (Dunwoody Prep was not part of the chain).
Almost immediately, Rusty clashed with the owner. His days at Discovery Point seemed numbered. By late 2009, with Rusty on the brink of unemployment and Andrea’s contract work with Harvard petering out, she ventured into the job market. She commiserated with a friend, the wife of one of Rusty’s college roommates who was trying to return to the work world after having children. She led Andrea to a woman in her book club named Ariela Neuman who was married to a top-level manager at GE Energy in the same technical/computer field as Andrea. Andrea didn’t know Ariela or her husband, Hemy Neuman, but they had mutual acquaintances. Andrea’s friend got Hemy’s contact information, and Andrea sent him a resume.
After an interview Hemy hired Andrea in March 2010 as a quality systems manager in the product creation department. The engineering teams developed complex integrated systems in the aerospace, healthcare, and energy industries. Job descriptions were so technical that a person unschooled in technology and engineering would struggle to understand what anybody even did at GE Energy. But for Andrea it meant a solid job in a rough economy, full benefits, and a salary of $125,000 a year.
She was to report to work in April. That same week, Rusty was fired from Discovery Point. “I asked him to quit Discovery Point,” Andrea would later say. “We realized that it was really just making him unhappy to work for other people and he really was an entrepreneur in spirit and needed to do it on his own.” Rusty seized the moment with characteristic enthusiasm, putting his schmoozing skills to work to strike out on his own as an entrepreneur. “He was probably the best networker that this city has ever seen,” Andrea would say.
Rusty finally had the freedom to fulfill his dream of building a company that he could pass on to his children. Meetings were held and funding was sought. He explored buying a company that installed radios in police cars, but his group’s offer came in too low for the sellers. Then at a party he met a man with an idea for a voice-mail service with a celebrity twist. In a filing with the Georgia Secretary of State, Rusty named the business Star Voicemail and described it as a service providing “custom voicemail greetings featuring notable sports, movie, music and TV personalities. He registered a domain name and began building a website. Andrea helped with the technical side and became one of its most enthusiastic supporters.
“Imagine if you were to call someone else’s phone who didn’t answer,” she would later say. “Instead of saying, ‘Hi, this is Susie’—and if Susie was fifteen, you heard, ‘Hi, this is Justin Bieber. Susie is out with me shopping. She can’t get to you right now, but, hey, have a great day.’ So it’s Justin Bieber’s voice for example, saying Susie’s name.” Software programs made it possible for a celeb’s voice to utter any number of names, and the service would be sold as an app with a celebrity menu. “So you could purchase the George Clooney or the Justin Bieber or whomever your favorite star was and that person was giving a quippy message,” Andrea would say. “It’s their voice instead of yours. That’s the business.”
The start-up showed promise. Meetings were held with investors. They got interest from Bieber’s manager. But with Andrea now holding down a full-time office job, Rusty had taken over the bulk of the childcare duties. “It was a difficult transition,” Andrea would acknowledge. At times Rusty “would be annoyed with the situation,” she said, particularly when home life cut into the time he wanted to spend on the voice-mail start-up. Complicating things were Andrea’s unexpected travel demands for GE. “That was an issue of mine when I took the job,” Andrea later said. “I didn’t want to be away from home very often so we came to an agreement that it would only be about 20 percent of my job. It turned out to be more than that. But it was pointed out to me that I should visit all of the sites that I manage and that it was important for me to meet the people in those locations and for some reason it was important for me to do it soon.” Within days she was on the road, and her travel schedule would call for one trip a month on average.
When she wasn’t on the road or staying late at the office, she had to take work home with her. Rusty saw the demands on Andrea and began to feel guilty. “He was supportive of me working,” she would later say, “but he didn’t want me to feel the pressure to work.” Out of the tension came a solution. They hired a part-time nanny to give Rusty more time for work. Andrea became the “science parent” at Sophia’s elementary school. They played softball in a cystic fibrosis fund-raiser. They traveled with the children to Washington, DC, for the ninety-fifth birthday party for Rusty’s grandmother; then Rusty and Andrea left the kids with relatives and the two of them took a five-day cruise, returning on November 15. Rusty’s parents planned to spend Thanksgiving with them in Dunwoody, and the six of them were to travel to Disney World in March. “They had a happy, hectic life,” a lawyer for Andrea would later claim. “They were enjoying each other. They were enjoying their kids. It all came crashing down on November 18, 2010.”
* * *
Most of these details came out in Andrea’s interviews with police, some later, but the story represents the substance and tone that emerged in the days after the murder. The Sneidermans looked like just about any other two-salary couple in Dunwoody, their challenges shared by thousands of families in every subdivision Outside the Perimeter. As the media had reported, nothing on the surface suggested why Rusty would be targeted for murder.
Thompson asked Andrea if anything unusual had happened recently. Minutes into the interview, she pointed to two events that had left her and Rusty shaken. The first occurred a month earlier on October 20 when she was upstairs at home with Rusty and heard the garage door open.
“I panicked,” she said. “I screamed that the garage door opened, somebody opened the door.”
They called 911 and a Dunwoody police officer took a report. Nothing had been stolen, and it didn’t appear that anybody had entered the garage or house. Police suggested that it may have been a technical glitch—somebody with the same garage remote code activating the Sneidermans’ opener by mistake.
Three weeks later they got a second scare. Around 8:30 a.m., on Wednesday, November 10, Rusty was getting ready to take Ian to Dunwoody Prep when he thought he smelled gas. Walking around to the side of the house to check the meter, Rusty saw a man lying facedown on the ground near the air-conditioning unit.
“He thought he was sleeping,” Andrea told Thompson and Cortellino. “But then the person stood up, and Rusty asked him some questions. One, he asked this person, ‘Are you okay?’ And two, ‘Are you supposed to be here?’ Like he would ask a two-year-old. There was no response. Rusty got smart, ran into the car in the garage, backed up the driveway into the street, and called 911.”
Andrea was at her desk at GE at the time, having dropped off Sophia at the elementary school on the way to work. Recounting what Rusty later told her, she said that the man appeared to be Hispanic. The man fled across the lawn and into the woods behind the house. As he ran, he held something in the small of his back. Rusty didn’t see it but feared it was a gun.
Their concern was deepened by the fact that the man seemed to know the layout of their property. Had the man run down the other side of the house, he would have plunged into a deep gully. Instead, he went toward a pathway so secluded that only people who lived there knew it existed. Rusty later took Ian to daycare and returned to talk to police and firefighters who had come to make sure there was no danger from the leak. Gas had in fact been released, though it appeared to a gas company employee that the meter had only been falling apart through age and manufacturing defect and not from tampering.
“The gas guy, when Rusty told his story, said the [man] was probably not just looking for a place to sleep but was stealing copper,” Andrea said.
Thompson asked if her neighbors had a similar problem with a suspicious person.
“The neighbors didn’t even know it happened,” Andrea said. “I don’t talk to these neighbors. I’m not a chatty individual. I didn’t go out that night and say, ‘Guess what happened.’”
Assuring Andrea that he’d follow up on the reports, Thompson next asked Andrea about Rusty’s business dealings.
“From what I understand Rusty decided to stop working for a paycheck so he could focus solely on getting his own business started?”
“That’s not what happened,” Andrea said. “Rusty was fired from his last job.”
“Which job was that?”
“He worked at Discovery Point.”
“What was he fired for?”
“The bosses were assholes,” said Andrea. She spoke at length about Rusty’s rocky stint at Discovery Point—how the owners didn’t appreciate his ideas, how he clashed with them over the future of the company, how the bosses came to distrust Rusty. He was let go in April but able to collect unemployment. Thompson took down the names of the bosses and other contacts at Discovery Point. Andrea portrayed the firing as a blessing in disguise.
“He finally agreed he can’t work for anybody else,” she said. “He’s the kind of guy who needs to do it for himself. He’s tried many times to work for companies and it’s never really worked out for him.”
Rusty spent the next several months looking for a business to buy, including the police radio company deal, before plunging himself into the Star Voicemail project. Andrea spoke about the project, saying it had the usual fits and starts. One potential investor didn’t work out, and Rusty and his business partner were pursuing other money sources. Rusty and his primary partner also parted ways with another partner.
As Andrea appeared frustrated at the extent of the questions, Cortellino said, “We’re going in every direction we possibly can.”
“I want you to do that,” Andrea said, “but I want you to understand where I’m coming from and this is: I think you’re barking up the wrong tree. The people that Rusty deals with and the way we do business is not what you’re thinking, it’s not what maybe the movies have in it, or all this other shit is.”
Instead, she reminded them of “this Mexican,” as Andrea described the man whom Rusty saw behind the house. “This man on the side of my house, yes, I could see that man wanting to kill Rusty because he saw his face and he was worried that he might get in trouble. I can see that. That makes sense to me,” she said. “Do you understand? I have no problem with you looking into all this [business]. That’s lovely. You want to ask fifty people looking into our business dealings, great. It kind of makes me feel better. Rusty has done such great work.”
“We’re going to look into that,” said Cortellino.
“I see you sitting there,” Andrea continued, “and I want to help you, but I want to know that that other thing is being investigated with the same amount of—”
“Energy?” offered Cortellino.
“Energy,” Andrea agreed, “because if you’re not then I think you’re barking up the wrong tree and you’re wasting time. So you understand where I’m coming from?”
Thompson said, “Yes, absolutely.” He told her that “everything is being done at the same time” in the investigation and warned her against drawing conclusions based on their questions. It was at this point that Thompson spoke of how her family was prominent and how he wanted to get to know them to thwart a smear by a defense attorney later on. He assured her another detective was well positioned to follow up on the mysterious man lead.
“Our gang officer knows a lot of good snitches … He’s going to help out with anything with the Hispanic side of it.”
Andrea repeated that the man “had to know” the neighborhood, had to “have been here before.” She suggested it may have been a construction worker from a project on a house behind theirs. Thompson said her information was helpful and he’d pass it on to the gang officer, then asked her more about Rusty’s businesses. They talked more about his wealth management jobs, Discovery Point, and Star Voicemail.
“Is there anybody in Rusty’s past that you could imagine would want to do this to Rusty?” Thompson asked. As Andrea paused, he added, “Even if you can’t imagine that person doing it himself or hiring someone?”
“I understand,” she said.
“He had a lot of wealthy clients—someone with that kind of money?”
“I understand, but Rusty had the best relationships with all of these wealthy people he’s worked with. Really, I can’t think of one person. I will definitely think about it, but there’s not one—not one—person that comes to mind that could—in his life—that he’s ever rubbed the wrong way like that.”
As Thompson asked who would know about Rusty’s daily routine, Andrea drew a blank. In the background, a family member said, “We do,” but nobody else came to mind. Then her phone rang.
“By the way, this is my Baco exterminating guy,” she said reading the number. “He comes into my house frequently, sprays for bugs. I mean I love him, he’s actually great, but I’m telling you that he knows our schedule.”
Thompson spoke on the phone with the exterminator and set up a time to talk to him before hanging up.
They were more than an hour into the interview when Thompson broached a subject he had stayed away from because of its sensitivity. The group at the table had now grown to include Rusty’s brother, Steven, a civil lawyer from Ohio. The voices of children and adults could still be heard in the background.
Thompson asked, “Has there been anybody recently, and when I say recently, within the past year, that has expressed interest in you?”
“Yes,” she said without hesitation.
“What’s his name?”
“Hemy,” she said, and she began to cry.
“How do you spell it?”
She spelled his name and Thompson asked, “You know what his last name is?”
“Neuman,” she said, and spelled that.
“How old is he?”
“Forty-six. I have no idea. In his late forties.”
“What does he look like?”
“Shortish,” she said. “Todd’s height.” She gestured to her brother, who gave his height.
“How much did he weigh? Is he fat or is he thin? Is he healthy looking?”
“Todd’s size,” she said.
“Does he have white hair, black hair?”
“Gray and black.”
“Is he balding?”
“Does he wear glasses?”
“Is there anything real distinctive about him?” She shook her head. “No? Now, how is he trying to—”
“He expressed his feelings for me,” she said.
“Has it been as a flirtation or has he specifically said: ‘I’m interested in you’?”
“He specifically said that, yes.”
As Andrea became upset, Cortellino asked, “You want to continue in private?”
“No,” she said. “It’s fine. Go ahead.”
“Has there been anybody else?” asked Thompson.
“Has there been anybody that’s been interested in Rusty in the same way?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so,” Thompson said. “Okay, anything else to add?”
Andrea’s mother said, “You didn’t ask if that was reciprocated?”
“Was it reciprocated?” asked Thompson.
In a quiet voice barely audible above the household din, Andrea said, “I made it clear that I am not an individual that would do something like this.”
After Andrea gave Hemy’s title as an operations manager, her mother added, “I just want to explain that she [was] one of the only females amongst a group of males.”
“That’s not necessarily true,” Andrea told her mother, appearing embarrassed by her interjection.
Her mother continued, “She’s conducted herself aboveboard. She’s extremely professional.”
The detectives looked at the woman questioningly.
“This is Andrea’s mother,” she said, identifying herself for the tape recorder. “I just need for you to know that as soon as that happened she said that to me. She said: ‘I made it very clear to him that I wasn’t interested in him, that this wasn’t going to go anywhere.’”
Cortellino asked, “You knew about this?”
“I’m close,” said Andrea’s mother. “She said, ‘I’m going to handle this.’ What are you going to do? Go to someone in HR?”
A man’s voice, apparently that of Andrea’s father, said, “We don’t need to talk about it as a family now, okay?”
Her mother continued, “She was just a professional.”
“I’m not judging,” her father said.
Thompson made a mental note to continue this line of questioning in a follow-up, one-on-one interview with Andrea at the police station later.
Thompson and Cortellino segued to the search warrants. The detectives were authorized by the courts to seize the family’s computer and personal and financial papers. Andrea’s mother became particularly animated about it, as did Andrea. They worried about losing the computer and everything on it, including family pictures. They acknowledged that overnight they had already taken some pictures off the hard drive. The detectives said this would be a problem—one that that could be exploited by a defense attorney—and told them they’d have to sign a document saying that the photos were the only things removed.
Rusty’s attorney brother joined in the discussion, saying that while he wasn’t a criminal lawyer he remembered from his law school classes that the search warrant did provide the power to take everything listed in it even over the objections of the owners. He suggested that the best course of action was for the family to cooperate. They grudgingly agreed, and the house was searched. As the detectives went through the couple’s papers in the upstairs office, they found a document that Donald Sneiderman—as the family accountant—recognized. It was for Rusty’s life insurance policy in the amount of nearly two million dollars, payable to his beneficiary, Andrea.
When her father, Herbert, saw the bill, he told Donald that Andrea had no idea Rusty was insured for that much.
Copyright © 2015 Michael Fleeman.
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Michael Fleeman is a Los Angeles-based writer and former People magazine editor and reporter for the Associated Press.