Girl, Interrupted

Eighteen-year-old Amy Walker was abandoned in a hospital parking lot, slumped over her steering wheel. It was the first time she had tried heroin and the last.

Feb 28, 2001 at 4:00 am
Anthony Bilbrey wished he were home. It didn't matter that he had just started his shift at 11 p.m. -- 10 hours of sleep during the day always felt like five. Stepping around puddles from an all-day rain, Bilbrey, 34, began his night-shift ritual as a security guard for the Washington University School of Medicine. Ten minutes into his hourlong trek through eight parking lots, Bilbrey stepped onto his third lot, at the corner of Taylor and McKinley, and saw two lone cars. Street lights and the university's "Medical Center" sign cast long shadows on a gray GMC Jimmy and a blue Ford Mustang. Bilbrey, a small man with receding brown hair, was used to the dim quiet of the graveyard shift. In 18 months, he had found little more than a sleeping medical student or a car surrounded by broken glass. Walking over to the Mustang, Bilbrey saw a young woman slumped over the steering wheel, her long brown hair covering her face. Her head rested firmly on the driver's-side window. Probably a student, Bilbrey thought, or maybe a patron who had had too much to drink at McGee's, the tavern across the street. He knocked on the window. No response. He tried four more times. The woman didn't stir. Bilbrey called for backup. Moments later, four more guards were knocking on the window. One of them opened the unlocked passenger door and leaned in. "Hey, wake up!" he yelled, nudging the woman.

Her head fell back. There was blood on her nose. "She was absolutely lifeless," Bilbrey says.

The officers checked for a pulse, but none felt the faintest flicker of a heartbeat. While two officers gave her CPR, Bilbrey, who didn't know how, watched. He tried to jot down times for his report but found himself fixated on the rhythmic compressions being administered to the shoeless young woman on the ground. St. Louis police officers arrived and found the woman's driver's license. Bilbrey noted the information for his report: Amy Charlene Walker, 18, of 19 St. Timothy St. in St. Peters. "I watched it all, and I just couldn't stop thinking about how young she was," Bilbrey says, "She looked about my sister's age, and we had no idea how she ended up there." There were many questions the night of Jan. 8, 2000, when Amy Walker was found. The answers would eventually lead to the tip of a needle and a syringe more than 12 hours earlier. It was the first and last time Amy tried heroin.

Even in the midst of a four-year heroin addiction, Dan Marlowe looked like a clean-cut guy from the suburbs, but friends say the tall young man with dark hair and intense brown eyes could hold his own in the shadiest neighborhoods in the city. Marlowe's hunger for drugs had him living without a safety net. Those around him learned the hard way just where they ranked in Marlowe's hierarchy of need. In 1998, 21-year-old Marlowe went to Florida to get a fresh start. He returned a year later, a swirl of trouble hard on his heels. Friends didn't know whether he was running from the law or from debts he couldn't repay. He never told them. He simply said he couldn't go back. Marlowe spent most of his time in the company of people who shared his vices, but even in the surly crowd of heroin addicts, thieves and convicted felons, he stood out as someone who couldn't be trusted. When it came to drugs, Marlowe always got his cut first and often walked away with a little more than his fair share. He financed his drug habit by pawning things he had stolen. The few people who did allow him in their homes would not let him roam too far from their eyes. Things always ended up missing when Marlowe was around. It was this reputation that got him kicked out of Jeff Wilson's party in the predawn hours of Jan. 8 and landed him down the street at Amy Walker's front door.

Amy had just arrived with Lidia Rogers and Joe Schmidt after a night out in downtown St. Louis. Fresh from the Cheetah Club, the three walked into Amy's modest ranch house around 3:30 a.m. Shortly thereafter, Marlowe and a friend, 23-year-old Michael Hallierman, a suspected drug dealer with a long rap sheet, were knocking on the door. They had heard that a few people from Wilson's party were going over to Amy's house. Amy knew Marlowe through her ex-boyfriend Mike Badagliacco, who told her Marlowe's addiction had left him homeless. More than once, he warned her that Marlowe couldn't be trusted. But Amy's trusting nature prevailed; when Marlowe asked to come in, the girl who marked everything she owned -- notebooks, her bedroom mirror, the Bible -- with her motto, "Love, Peace, and Happiness," said yes.

What happened next is unclear. Lidia says she went upstairs to bed shortly after 4 a.m., but Joe says all the others, including Lidia, were down in the basement when he left around 6:45 that morning. He claims he saw no drugs, except alcohol, but adds that Marlowe was asking whether they wanted to try some "real drugs." Another teenager who was there says everyone played pool for several hours, and, after that, he went upstairs to watch a movie with Lidia. Two things are undisputed: Sometime between 4 and 7 in the morning, at least three people -- Marlowe, Hallierman and Amy -- were snorting heroin, and shortly after 9 a.m., Amy left with Marlowe. None of her friends or family ever saw her again.

The note was still sitting on Amy's kitchen counter.

"Amy, call Melissa, Mike called 5X, Joe called, Crystal called ..." In all, 13 names were squeezed onto the corner scrap of notebook paper. With a flourish and an underline, Debra Buehrle added her own message for her daughter: "Call them. We are all worried. Amy you are grounded. Call me at work."

Debra hadn't seen or heard from her daughter all Saturday. As a single mother of four, she had little choice but to report for her 3 p.m. shift as a dispatcher for the Ladue Police Department. Sitting at work, her focus was elsewhere, shifting from the steady tick-tick of the clock and the nagging sense that something was wrong. Amy and Debra were close, at times even sisterly. When Debra worked nights or evenings, Amy played mother, making sure her three siblings -- Amanda, 16; Joshua, 13; and David, 8 -- were fed and got off to school on time. Debra replayed the last time she had worried and how things had turned out fine. Hearing about a 90-car pileup on the highway, she had called Fort Zumwalt South High School and learned that Amy hadn't shown up. She worried more but found out later that Amy had cut class. "I stopped worrying," Debra says. "Then I took her car away." Amy countered the grounding by "moving out" and in with her father, Ron Walker, who lived blocks away. Amy lived with Ron just long enough to paint her bedroom black and get a black light so she could be surrounded by neon-hued butterflies of red, blue and pink.

Debra had last seen her daughter the night before, but when she came home around 9:30 Saturday morning, Amy had already left with Marlowe. Amy had a busy day planned, but she called in sick to her job at Subway. None of her friends who had plans to go to a concert in Wentzville had heard from her. She missed a 4 p.m. meeting with an Air Force recruiter. The appointment had been a topic of debate and conversation at both her parents' households. " I just didn't want to see her go that far away from home." Debra says. "I told her if she could get her father and grandmother to give her their blessing, I would think about it, but I said that knowing they probably wouldn't."

Ron gave his blessing, but not easily. Amy pointed out the opportunity to travel and how Ron wouldn't have to pay tuition. Ron countered with grumblings about being left with Amy's car payment. "Why can't you just go to school here?" he asked. "Why do you have to go all the way to Germany?"

"Just forget it, Dad," Amy said, and hung up. Ron realized his little girl was a young woman wanting to set out on her own. He called back an hour later.

"I am so glad I did," he says. "I told her I was proud of her and would support her, no matter what she decided to do."

"You're the greatest," Amy said. "I love you, Dad."

"I love you, too," Ron said.

The conversation was their last.

Debra's last conversation with Amy was filled with Friday-night plans. Because her other children were staying the weekend with their father, Debra decided to stay the night with her boyfriend. Amy told her mother she and Lidia were going to the Cheetah club in St. Louis. "Have a good time and be careful," Debra said as she walked out the door. Debra popped in the next morning to make sure Amy was up for work. The moment she entered the house, she found Hallierman sleeping on her couch. "Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?" Debra asked. "Where is Amy?" Hallierman told her his name, adding that Amy had driven his friend Marlowe to the store. Debra walked through the house, calling Amy's name, and met Lidia walking out of the bathroom, wrapped in a towel. "Where is Amy?" Debra asked. "Amy's up," Lidia said. "She just went to the store with some guy, Dan somebody." An hour later, Debra started asking more questions: What store have they gone to? Is Dan cute, and does Amy like him? Debra vacillated between lightheartedness and anger over Amy's absence, but as the minutes turned into hours, she settled on worry and started making phone calls.

The phone calls fueled her concern. She learned that Marlowe was 22, four years older than Amy. It was the same amount of time he had been addicted to heroin. She heard the concern in Mike Badagliacco's voice when she told him Amy had left with Marlowe. She called everyone Amy knew, a long list that included both cheerleaders and social outcasts. No one had seen her daughter. Word had spread that Amy was missing, so Debra found herself answering an endless stream of calls, none with Amy on the other end. She finally got the number for Marlowe's parents. His brother answered the phone.

"My daughter is missing, and she was last seen with Dan. Do you know where he is?" she asked.

"The last time I saw him was at Christmas," his brother said. "He had checked into rehab, then signed himself out. He wouldn't come here because my father disowned him."

"I heard your brother is bad on drugs," she said.

"My brother is a doper, but he won't hurt your daughter."

The call, just before midnight, from the social worker at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, brought a small measure of relief. At least now Debra knew where Amy was. On the way to the hospital, she called Ron, who, along with his fiancée, Cher McIntyre, was out checking ditches and underpasses for Amy's car. Debra screeched to a stop at the emergency department and saw two paramedics. She asked about Amy. "They didn't know what to say," she says. "They just looked at me as I walked by."

Inside, Debra was met by a social worker and a police officer, who told her Amy had been found unconscious in her car. They asked if Debra knew whether Amy used any kind of drugs. Debra wasn't naïve; she knew Amy sometimes went to parties and occasionally drank alcohol. At most, Debra says, Amy may have tried pot a few times, but never anything harder. Debra didn't have time to answer all the questions. A team of five doctors came out to speak with her. They told her they had been unable to save Amy. Debra felt her legs give way and sank to the floor. In the background, she could hear her own sobbing screams.

When Ron and Cher arrived, the doctors delivered another blow. Amy had three puncture wounds in her right arm -- reason enough to believe she died of a heroin overdose. The family tried to connect the word "heroin" with their daughter, who had been a Girl Scout until her senior year, who loved bell-bottoms and butterflies and who had a Bible with her favorite passages on love underlined. "Heroin -- oh my God, in a million years I would have never thought about that," Debra says, shaking her head. "For me, it was a drug actresses and rock stars did in the '70s. 'Amy' and 'heroin' didn't even belong in the same sentence. I know my daughter. She was scared to death of needles. Even when she went to go get blood drawn, I had to go with her and hold her hand. There is no way she would have done this to her herself."

Dan Marlowe showed Amy how to use the seat belt as a tourniquet to get a good vein. It was noon, and they were sitting in Amy's car. An hour before, Marlowe had paid a woman named Denise $60 for a half-gram of black-tar heroin at the intersection of Belt Avenue and Delmar Boulevard. He and Amy then drove to a Taco Bell on St. Charles Rock Road. Marlowe went into the bathroom and shot up. He told police that when he came out, Amy wanted to try shooting up. Marlowe prepared the syringe. He says Amy tried to inject herself three times in her right arm. It is a claim her family questions, because Amy was right-handed. Marlowe says he thought she had missed the vein, so he showed her how to drop the black liquid into her nose. By the time Marlowe pulled out of the parking lot, Amy had passed out in the passenger seat. Marlowe knew where to get help. When he arrived 45 minutes later at 4532 Chouteau Ave., it was pouring rain and Amy had to be carried into Richard Smith's house.

Smith is a small, wiry 54-year-old who looks much younger than his age or even his criminal record, which dates back to 1967. Smith spent 20 years behind bars on three felony convictions for robbery, possession of heroin and cocaine. Smith says he isn't a drug dealer now, although he candidly admits he has sold heroin in the past but never to women. "I just don't think it's right," he says. "If a guy wants to buy, that is fine, but I won't sell to the girls." Marlowe was one of the guys and one of his regular customers.

When Marlowe carried Amy up the steep steps of the small two-bedroom apartment and plopped her onto the futon in the dining room, Smith wasn't home. His roommate, Joyce Ababio, was.

Ababio, 51, is a mother and grandmother who used to work part-time helping disabled adults. She is a plump woman who rambles when she gets nervous. She has known Smith since they were children and hints at a past romantic connection. Now, she insists, they are just friends and roommates. She is just as adamant that she knew nothing of Smith's rocky past. "All that time he was in prison," she says, "I was living in California. I knew there were some incidents, but I had no idea about all the other stuff." Joyce always seems to know a little bit more than she lets on. Still, it seems, she is kind, even to people she doesn't really trust.

Ababio was lying on her couch when she heard the door open and someone coming up the steps. Doctors had given her Tylenol with codeine to help ease the pain from hip surgery. Marlowe's voice was reason enough to get up. "Marlowe was not a person I felt easy around," Joyce says. "He is more worldly and would turn on a person if it would get him something he wanted."

When Joyce walked into her dining room, Amy was slumped over on the futon, her head resting on her knees and her long brown hair dragging on the floor. Marlowe told Joyce that Amy had asthma and that her parents had kicked her out. "He said they had been partying all night and she didn't have anywhere to live," Joyce says. "He wanted to use the phone so he could call for her medication." While Marlowe was on the phone, Joyce got a closer look at Amy. "She seemed like a nice girl, not someone you would just pick up on the street," she says. "She was dressed in that cute way like my granddaughter does -- you know, jeans and a little top. I was wondering how this girl ended up with someone like Dan.

"Dan isn't a bad guy," Joyce adds. "He's just like Richard, only he's white. He's street-wise. He could hold his own around people we would be scared to meet." Joyce paged Richard at work, not because she was worried about Amy's condition but because she was concerned that Marlowe was in her house.

When Richard walked in, around 2 p.m., he overheard Marlowe talking on the phone. Still on probation for a drug charge, Richard wanted no part of the trouble he found lying on his futon. "He was talking to someone in St. Charles," Richard says. "Dan said, 'Man, she's loaded. I don't know what to do.' I told him to get off the phone, that's what you do, and take her to the hospital. This ain't the Dew Drop Inn, Dan. Why you got this girl in here?"

Joyce felt a wave of pity. "If it had been just Dan, I would have told him to get on his way, but she obviously wasn't feeling well and it was pouring like a black Texas rain, so I let them stay," she says.

Marlowe's concern for Amy disappeared soon after. He made a few phone calls, then said he had some errands to run. With Amy passed out on the futon, Marlowe didn't need to ask whether he could use her car. He was gone for several hours -- long enough to run Joyce's 16-year-old son to the cleaners and for the two to stop for haircuts at a barber shop along the way. "Didn't seem like he was concerned about Amy at all," Joyce says with a rueful shake of her head. "He seemed really interested in her car."

While Marlowe was out, Joyce tried to sleep on the couch but could hear Amy snoring in the next room. "It was really loud," she said. "I was surprised such a loud sound could come from such a little girl." She got up, went to the bathroom and checked on Amy. She put a wet towel on Amy's face in an attempt to revive her. Amy turned her head, wrinkled her nose and mumbled something. Joyce thought she was doing a good thing by letting Amy stay. "I knew if Dan took her, he would take her someplace bad," she says. "I thought at least she would be safe here and could sleep it off. She didn't look like she was all that bad. She still had color. She looked like she had just been out partying all night and was wiped out."

When Marlowe returned, around 4:30 p.m., it had stopped raining, and Amy was still passed out. "I didn't want to send her out unless she was walking on her own two feet" Joyce says. "But I knew Richard was coming home soon. I told Dan, 'Maybe if you give her a shower it will wake her up enough so you can leave.'"

The next time Joyce got up, Marlowe had put Amy in the shower stall, but with all her clothes on. "Dan, take her clothes off," Joyce told him. "What is she going to put on, because you guys got to leave." Despite her hip pain, Joyce decided she had better supervise. "Amy was mumbling someone's name, Mike somebody. I helped wring out her hair, and she winced and kind of scrunched up her face." Joyce sent Marlowe to the other room while she got Amy dressed in a pink-and-gray flannel shirt, blue jeans and socks. She says she chided the teen: "Amy, I bet you learned your lesson. I bet you ain't ever going to do anything like this ever again."

Marlowe didn't just leave the room; he went and picked up Ben Hudson, who lived near Kingshighway and Delmar. Hudson was a heroin addict but held down a job and was always polite. "I always liked Ben," Joyce says. "Out of all the guys Richard knew, Ben was the nicest."

When they got back, Marlowe and Hudson argued. "All I could hear," Joyce says, "was Ben saying, 'What the fuck did you call me for?' It was strange, because I had never heard Ben raise his voice before." Richard came home minutes later, shortly before 6 p.m., and the shouting escalated.

"Dan, get that girl the fuck out of here," Richard said. "She needs to go. She's sick. Take her to the hospital. Drop her off at the door if you have to, but get her out of my house." Amy groaned as Marlowe lifted her over his shoulder and carried her out the door.

The parking lot where Marlowe and Hudson took Amy -- and where she was later found -- is just three blocks from Richard Smith's house, but it took them almost two hours to get her there. Hudson told police that Marlowe was scared to take Amy to the hospital, so they drove around until he could decide what to do. Ron Walker says he heard from others that Marlowe drove Amy around with her head hanging out the window so her hair would dry. Hudson had seen people overdose on heroin, but never anyone in Amy's condition. She was coughing every five or 10 minutes and was having trouble breathing. He felt her hand, which was starting to get cold. They parked the car. Marlowe moved Amy over to the driver's seat. He and Hudson sprinted four blocks to a pay phone. Hudson, panicked and breathless, paid a man 35 cents to hang up so he could use the phone and dial 911. The dispatcher's transcript shows the call came in at 7:47 p.m.:

"Uh, yeah, I am here to report somebody passed out in the car."

"Where at?"

"On Taylor in the Washington University medical parking lot."

"Is it on Taylor?"

"Yeah, it is right on Taylor, yes. It is on Taylor. And it is right by a gray Jimmy."

The dispatcher tried three times to get Hudson to give her a cross street, to no avail. Hudson told the dispatcher the lot was one street south of the Forest Park Parkway when it is actually four. He emphasized again that she was in a blue Mustang on the Washington University Medical Center parking lot.

The dispatcher responded but confused the location by making it North Taylor, something Hudson never said:

"OK, it is on North Taylor, one block south of Forest Parkway. It's on the right side of the Washington University Medical. It's on Taylor. OK, she doesn't look hurt or anything, does she?"

"No, her eyes were blue, she just looked like she was passed out for a while. Like a oxygen-type thing. Right next to Children's Hospital," Hudson said. The dispatcher told him somebody would be sent.

Police never found Amy Walker. The dispatcher may have sent them to North Taylor, if anyone was sent at all. The St. Louis Police Department refuses to release the dispatch logs, which would shed light on why police never found Amy. In any case, nobody notified the Washington University Medical School of the 911 call. Police never called to tell them that on one of the surface lots, parked next to a gray Jimmy, was a blue Mustang that might have in it a dying girl. Security guards, including Anthony Bilbrey, say that if someone had notified them, it would have taken no more than an hour to check all eight parking lots.

Because no one did, Amy spent the last hours of her life sitting in the freezing cold in a car with Barnes-Jewish Hospital visible from the back window. By the time Bilbrey found her, Amy Walker had been slumped over the steering wheel of her car for three hours.

A young, pretty girl from the suburbs found dead in the city with needle marks in her arm is no ordinary incident. Police reaction was swift and aggressive. By noon Sunday, Richard Smith and Joyce Ababio were at the police station. Ababio was being questioned in another room. Smith was handcuffed to a chair. "The police kept on calling me a goddamn baby-killer," Smith says. "I kept telling them I had nothing to do with it, that it was all Dan."

By Monday, Marlowe himself contacted police. Because he didn't have a car, he walked from Hudson's house to the Schnucks at Delmar and Kingshighway, where police picked him up.

They booked him on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors upped the ante, and last March a grand jury indicted Marlowe on a charge of second-degree murder. The charge is generally used when someone is killed during the commission of a felony -- for example, a bank robber runs over a pedestrian during a getaway. Marlowe's case was the first Missouri case in which someone was charged with second-degree murder in connection with a drug overdose.

Ken Schwartz, Marlowe's lead attorney, felt the charge was a reach from the start. "They had a guy they felt was responsible for the death of someone, and their knee-jerk response is that a crime had been committed," Schwartz says. "They wanted to find something, but come on -- second-degree-murder? It just doesn't fit. It was trying to shove a square peg into a round hole."

Assistant Prosecutor Dwight Warren disagrees: "We felt that the charge was appropriate. There was no stretch about it. Amy Walker died because Dan Marlowe gave her heroin." Warren argues that Amy died during the delivery of a controlled substance, a felony, and that therefore the charge fit. Nevertheless, in December, Warren signed off on a plea bargain in which Marlowe agreed to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Circuit Judge Philip Heagney, in part because of pressure from Amy's family, rejected the plea. "I felt this was just a tragic circumstance that was complex," he says. "I felt it was important enough that it should be decided by a jury."

At the trial, Schwartz argued that Amy asked for the drug, making her responsible for her own death. He pointed out that she also had methamphetamine in her system. He noted that police didn't tape-record statements Marlowe made, even though everyone else had been questioned on tape.

Wright argued that Marlowe prepared a heroin dose that would get a veteran addict high but that would be deadly for a first-time user. He told the jury it was unlikely that Amy, who was right-handed, would inject herself with heroin for the first time using her left hand.

Schwartz wanted the jury to have the option of an involuntary-manslaughter verdict, but Judge Patricia Cohen ruled against that, leaving jurors the choice of a second-degree-murder verdict or acquittal. It took the jury only three hours to make their decision. Amy Walker's family gasped when they heard the words "Not guilty."

Schwartz says the jury's verdict was the only measure of justice throughout the case: "Dan Marlowe sat in jail for a year, waiting for this trial. What he did was stupid and irresponsible, but it wasn't illegal."

Debra Buehrle says she felt as if her daughter was on trial and not Marlowe. "They dragged her through the mud and made it seem like she was a rich girl and it was all her fault," she says. "He heard her gurgling and gasping, and he did nothing. Why didn't he take her to the hospital? What was he trying to hide?"

"I don't know if she asked for the drug," Ron Walker says. "Only two people know what happened, and one of them is dead. Even if Amy did willingly inject herself with heroin, does that mean she deserved to die?"

Brad Kessler, who also represented Marlowe, says the charge was an attempt to criminalize personal behavior and was a response to the fact Amy was left in the parking lot. "There is no legal responsibility for anyone to call 911," Kessler says. "So the state had to argue that only one person is responsible for Amy's death, and that was Dan Marlowe, because he provided her with the drug. They simply didn't want to look at the fact that Amy Walker wanted that drug. They wanted to hold just Dan responsible, but when you look at it, Dan, Ben Hudson, Richard Smith, Joyce Ababio, the St. Louis Police Department and even 911 -- every one of those people are responsible for her death as well."

Joyce Ababio wonders what she could have done to save Amy's life. She is bothered by things she cannot change. "I wish I had let them leave her here," she says. "If she had stayed, I would gotten her to the hospital somehow. I wish I would have put myself more on the line and got her some help. I should have made Ben promise me he would get her help. Ben's good at keeping a promise. But Dan said he was taking her to the hospital, and I wanted to think positive. I wanted to trust him. I wanted to believe that he wouldn't be that hard. I should have listened to my second mind."

Ron Walker acknowledges that Ababio and others could have saved his daughter's life. But when it comes to blame, Walker keeps coming back to the same name.

"I blame Dan Marlowe and no one else," he says. "If he had just given her drugs and got her help, I would have been angry, but at least she would be here for me to tell her, 'Don't ever do that again.' Dan Marlowe's biggest crime is that he knew Amy was dying and didn't get her help. How could something that wrong not even be against the law? Because it isn't, I wake up every day knowing my daughter isn't here and that Dan Marlowe is out walking the streets."