Such a Lucky, Pretty Girl
Written by Persia Walker and narrated by Karen White


ADVISORY : This is a crime story that deals with murder, sexual exploitation, and child abuse.

I was fifteen when my stepfather died. I don’t remember much about it. The doctors said I didn’t want to. “Selective amnesia,” they called it. Whatever it was, I thanked God for it. For years, I managed to put that time out of my mind. For years, everything was fine.

Until the Snow case.

They still talk about Chrissie Snow on West 86th Street. They still whisper about how she looked coming down, like a doll, with her T-shirt billowing out and her hair trailing behind her. She didn’t claw at the air or put out her hands in any desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable.

She simply came down. Fast.

It was three o’clock on an icy Saturday afternoon in mid-January. My partner and I caught the call. Chrissie was still warm when we got there.

Even sprawled on a sidewalk, in a pool of blood, she was lovely, with a mass of soft bronze hair and ebony eyelashes that beat any they sell over the counter. She couldn’t have been much more than sixteen — seventeen, at most. She wore a pastel-pink T-shirt with strawberry-colored bows dotting the collar, light-blue jeans, and pale-blue socks. She was on her stomach, her hair fanned out, blood trickling from her ears, her right leg bent at an impossible angle. Stab wounds punctured her chest. Her right hand gripped a panel of curtain. The left side of her face was crushed, but her right eye was good, and it was open. She moved her lips, struggling to speak or breathe, but nothing came out — nothing but a bubble of blood.

Seconds later, her struggle was over.

Such a pretty girl, said an inner voice. The words chilled my soul.

We were standing before an old tenement from the early 1900s. Six floors up, I could see an open window, and a curtain flapping in the breeze.

The emergency medical team declared the girl dead at the scene. The uniforms held back rubberneckers and questioned those on the street. Ellis Bates of the Crime Scene Unit photographed and measured the scene and the body. My partner and I checked her for ID.

Lee went through her pockets. “Found something,” he said, and pulled a note from her back pocket. “It’s got the name of a hotel. Very expensive, very first-class. You’ll recognize it.”

When I saw it, I did.

The place was swanky, all right. Nothing you’d think a kid could’ve afforded on her own.

Lee and I joined Bates in going into the building. The lock on the front door was broken, and so was the one on the inner door. Stylish, it wasn’t, but the place was a rare haven in Manhattan for low-income, rent-stabilized tenants. A narrow, creaking elevator took us up in a jerky ride. We got off on the sixth floor and walked down a narrow, funky hallway, counting doors till we came to the one that seemed right.

It was unlocked.

We entered the apartment to a gust of frigid air. It was a two-bedroom that looked as though it had been cut off of a neighboring unit. The kitchen wasn’t much more than a sliver. The place was austere, devoid of knickknacks. It was immaculate, with the precise cleanliness of an institution.

The apartment ran along the front of the building. I went from room to room, checking the windows. Those in the kitchen, living room, and bathroom were fine; the one in the bedroom was not. There were the gaping window and the flapping curtain I’d seen from the street. Dark-red dots spattered the wall next to the window and the hardwood floor.

A school ID card lay on her desk. It gave her name and birthday. She was all of fifteen years old.

It was not the room of a typical teenager. There was nothing of the sweet jumble of jeans, sweaters, sneakers, photos, posters, stuffed animals, and heart-shaped makeup kits of my niece’s room. Nothing personal here. Nothing childish. There was something very adult about this place, something that said this little girl had put her toys away a long time ago.

Such a lucky girl, whispered that inner voice. I rubbed my temples and tried to repress a shudder.

Bates gestured to the window. “She didn’t go easy, but I don’t think she fought either — didn’t have time. Probably taken by surprise.” He nodded toward the blood on the walls. “Looks like she was driven back and then fell . . . or was pushed. Of course, it’ll be a few days before we know if the blood is hers.”

A search warrant was obtained. Lee and I walked the scene, beginning with her bedroom. He went through her desk. I checked the night table, looked under her pillow, her mattress, her bed, all the usual places. Bates continued his work, systematically checking for trace evidence, fingerprints, a weapon, etc. Lee left to check the roof, and a minute later a uniform ducked in to say, “We got a guy here, says he’s the father.”

“Bring him in,” I said.

He was in his late forties, had short gray hair and thick bags under pale-blue eyes.

“I’m Detective Stone.” I flashed my shield.

“What happened here? Who are you people? Where’s my daughter? Where’s my Chrissie? Downstairs, they said . . . They tried to tell me that . . .”

I stepped outside into the hallway. There’s no way to sweeten bitter news. I’ve found that it’s better not to try. He put a fist to his mouth to stifle a groan.

“Mr. Snow, we need to know where you were when it happened.”

He was mute with shock.

“Mr. Snow?”

“Downtown,” he whispered. “I wanted to buy her a sweater. I didn’t see anything I liked, so I came back and . . . I don’t believe this. It can’t be real.”

Lee returned and answered my unspoken question with a shake of his head. Nothing on the roof.

“Mr. Snow, why don’t we step inside?” I led him into his own kitchen. He sat hunched at the table. Lee followed and leaned against the countertop, and I continued the questioning. We got a description and explained that we’d have to seal the apartment.

“When can I see her?” he asked. “Downstairs, they wouldn’t let me. They . . .”

“You can see her later, sir.” I watched that sink in, then asked, “Where’s Chrissie’s mother?”

“We’re divorced.”

“You got custody?”

“No. Chrissie and her mother fought all the time, and that man Angela married . . . Chrissie hated him.” He clasped his hands to control their trembling. “Chrissie moved here only last September.” A bittersweet smile touched his lips. “She said she was going to take care of me. Can you imagine? She was a child, but she was going to take care of Papa.”

Papa will take care of us if we take care of him. Just give him what he needs, and we’ll be fine.

“How’d her mother feel about her moving here?”

The sweetness left his smile, leaving it bitter. “She was against it.”

“Did anything happen to precipitate Chrissie’s moving in with you?”

“No. I would’ve taken her sooner, but . . . I was in prison.”

Lee and I exchanged looks.

“When did you get out?” I asked.

“In August. I told Chrissie to wait until I got settled and found a job. But she wouldn’t.”

“How’s it been?”

“Rough. I can’t find work.”

“What do you do?”


“What’d you get sent up for?”


Well, that explained that.

I asked him about enemies. Did Chrissie have any?

Snow blinked to hold his tears. “Why would anyone hurt her? She was a great kid.” He put a hand over his eyes and sobbed.

“We’d like you to take a look at her room, sir. Tell us if anything’s out of place,” I said.

“Sure,” he whispered, and dragged himself to his feet.

Bates was still at work. He glanced at the father and gave a polite nod, then kept on working, dusting for prints.

“Mr. Snow, did Chrissie keep a diary?” Lee asked.

“I don’t know.”

“You never seen her scribbling in something?” I asked. “When I was a kid, all my girlfriends kept diaries.”

“Did you?” Lee asked me.

“No . . . but I was a tomboy. So what about it, Mr. Snow? Did she have one?”

“I told you, I don’t know. She was more of a computer person.” He nodded toward the PC and webcam on Chrissie’s desk.

“Maybe she had a blog,” I said. “One of those online diaries. My niece has three of them.”

“How things change,” Lee said. “When I was growing up, a girl would kill you if she caught you reading her private stuff. Now, they put it out there for the world to see.”

“It’s called ‘hidden in plain view.’” To Snow: “We’re going to have to take the computer.”

He nodded.

“This thing’s pretty expensive,” Lee said. “And the cam’s not cheap either. Mr. Snow, how could you afford this if you don’t have a job?”

“Angela married a rich man. Chrissie had the computer when she moved in. She has a friend — Claire. They were always working on it.”

“That reminds me,” I said. “We’ll need the names of her friends.”

“Other than Claire, try Abigail and Susan. I don’t have their numbers, but they go to Chrissie’s school. The teachers’ll know.”

We found Chrissie’s cell phone in her backpack. Numbers for Abigail Dixon, Susan Bradford, and Claire Wilkerson were on her speed dial.

IT WAS EARLY evening when we went to the Dixons’ Upper West Side condominium. By then, we’d knocked on every door in the Snows’ building and gone up and down their street, checking every business, looking for witnesses. We’d stopped by the hotel too and showed Chrissie’s picture around. Nobody knew anything.

The Dixons had a palatial living room, with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked Riverside Drive. Their multimillion-dollar layout was a far cry from the Snows’ tiny low-end rental.

Abigail was sixteen, tall and curvaceous, with dark, watchful eyes and even, white teeth that flashed when she spoke. Also sixteen, Susan was similar in build, but neither were her eyes as dark nor was her smile as bright as Abigail’s. Both favored plucked eyebrows, crimson lipstick, and crimson fingernail polish. The hair, the makeup, the nails: all perfect.

Claire was another story. She was flat-chested, narrow-hipped, and makeup-free, with wire-rimmed eyeglasses and frizzy red hair. Her fingernails were bitten to the quick and her eyes were puffy from crying.

Abigail’s mother hovered in the background, every now and then disappearing into the kitchen, where she was baking muffins.

“Did Chrissie seem worried to you?” I asked the girls. “Or frightened?”

They exchanged looks. Abigail answered, “We don’t think so.”

“Did she mention being threatened by anyone? A boyfriend, maybe?” Lee asked.

Claire started to speak but stopped at a look from Abigail.

“Yes?” I prodded.

Claire bit her lip and looked away.

Abigail’s mother spoke up. “Girls, please, if there’s anything you know, then you sh — ”

“We don’t know anything, Mom, so just stay out of it.”

Abigail’s mother blushed, glanced down, and did as her child had told her to. She piped down and backed out of the room. Lee’s face expressed my thought: Who is in charge here?

I was about to press the matter when my pager beeped.

MICHAEL SHIN IS a thin, wiry man, with excellent instincts and a conscientious work ethic. He had just finished the autopsy when Lee and I entered.

“Such a beautiful child.” Shin stripped off his gloves and dropped them into a bin. “Come on, I’ll buy you coffee and give you a rundown.”

We followed him down the corridor to the staff kitchen.

“Three stab wounds to the chest,” Shin said. “A thin, flat instrument. Smooth-edged. The tip broke off in one wound. And the wounds match the tears in the clothing. I also found traces of condom use, foreign pubic hairs, and epidermal cells.”

“Rape?” I asked.

“There was no tearing or bruising. I’d say it wasn’t the first time.”

“A boyfriend? The father?” Lee suggested.

“Get a DNA sample and we’ll see.”

We paused at the kitchen entrance.

“She’d eaten about three hours earlier — pasta with meat sauce — and she must’ve had a snack soon after. Looks like brownies.”

Shin took three cups from a cabinet and poured coffee. Someone had made a fresh pot.

“There’s milk and sugar.” He pointed to the stocked countertop. “Feel free.”

Lee and I took our coffee black.

“Anything else?” I asked.

“She’d been drinking.”

“Beer?” Lee asked.

“No, wine.”

Lee frowned. “A fifteen-year-old who drank wine?”

“Maybe it was there because wine is used to make the sauce,” I said.

Shin shook his head. “Her stomach contained more than could be explained by that. And it wasn’t just any merlot,” he added, “but a rather fine one.”

We checked back with the hotel: room service did indeed serve pasta with meat sauce but no brownies. We asked the manager to check the records. Who had ordered the Pasta Bolognese?

THE NEXT DAY, we went to see Snow. The apartment had been sealed, and Snow had slept overnight in a men’s shelter. He was rumpled, unshaven, and wearing the same clothes. He reeked of whiskey but was steady on his feet. He waved us in. Bates came along.

“We need a DNA sample,” I explained. “Just to keep our records straight.”

He cooperated. Bates took a mouth swab and packed it away. The moment Bates left, Lee asked Snow whether Chrissie had a boyfriend.

“What does it matter?” Snow went behind the open kitchen counter and returned with three glasses and a bottle of vodka. “Have a drink with me, won’t you? Help me toast my little girl.”

“We’d love to,” Lee said, “but that’s not our way.”

“What is?”

“To find out what happened.”

Snow gave a grunt. “You want to know what happened? I’ll tell you.”

Lee glanced at me. We were thinking the same thing: This jack is going to confess. It was written all over him — the need to spill.

“Two days ago, when she was alive, I told her she might as well be dead. That life was shitty and she should go before she realized it.” Snow poured himself a double shot and tossed it back. He stared at his empty glass. “I’m ashamed,” he said. “I’ve ruined everything.” He looked up, his bloodshot eyes leaking tears. “And now, all I can manage to do is get drunk.”

I’ll admit it: I felt a moment of disappointment.

“Help us,” Lee said. “Tell us, did she have a boyfriend?”

“Yes, that was your question, wasn’t it? No. To my knowledge, no. Why?”

“Did she drink or use drugs — of any kind?” I asked.

“Why? Did you find out something?”

“We’re just trying to form a picture,” Lee said.

“No. She didn’t use drugs. Didn’t drink. She was a good girl, a normal kid — with normal dreams.”

“Like what?” Lee asked.

Snow gave a whisper of a smile. “She wanted to be a doctor, work with kids . . . but drugs? That wasn’t one of her problems.”

“What was?” I asked.

“Her mother . . . and her stepfather: she hated them.”

CHRISSIE’S MOTHER HAD a Park Avenue address that looked as expensive as it sounded: doormen in gold braid, marbled entryway, massive floral arrangements, thickly carpeted corridors — the whole nine yards.

“Wonder what happened to make Chrissie give all this up,” Lee murmured.

“Whatever it was, it must’ve been pretty bad.”

Rich wood paneling, beautiful antiques, Chinese watercolors, Tiffany lamps, and gilded mirrors. The apartment fit in too — as did the mistress of the house.

Angela Snow was the proper lady in Chanel, with her heavy eighteen-karat-gold charm bracelet, her legs crossed at the ankles, and every hair in place. She jabbed out her cigarette in a heavy crystal ashtray.

“I should’ve known better than to send her to him. I should’ve known he wouldn’t take care of her. When can I have her back?”

“Soon,” Lee said.

“The fall . . . did it mess up her face?”

She couldn’t be serious. It was the shock talking.

“Mrs. Snow — ” Lee began.

“O’Donnell,” she corrected. “I’m now Mrs. O’Donnell, Mrs. John O’Donnell.”

“As in Assemblyman O’Donnell?”

“Yes,” she said with pride. “So I do hope you’ll show discretion. No one’s connected John with this mess so far. We would like it to stay that way.”

Maybe it wasn’t shock. Maybe she was that cold.

“Mrs. O’Donnell,” Lee said, “did Chrissie have a boyfriend? An older man, perhaps?” Wine. Expensive hotel. We were thinking an established man with money.

“I wouldn’t know. She and I had no contact after she moved out.”

“And why did she leave?” I asked.

She lifted her chin. “Chrissie felt sorry for her father. He was coming out of prison. She didn’t want him to be alone.”

“We’ve heard that she didn’t get along with your husband,” I said.

“He told you that, didn’t he?”

“Is it true?” Lee asked.

She hesitated. “Chrissie was difficult. She . . . said things.”

“What kinds of things?” I asked.

“Nothing worth repeating.”

“Mrs. O’Don — ”

“I won’t repeat those lies. Not now, not ever.”

Inside my head, I could hear a young girl pleading. Mama, can I talk to you? Talk to you right now?

“We’d like to speak with your husband,” Lee was saying.

“He can’t help you. He doesn’t know anything.”

Mama, can I talk to you? He hurt me — hurt me real bad — and I can’t stand the pain.

“How long have you two been married?” I asked.

“Five years.”

“We need to talk to him,” Lee said.

Another chin lift. “Well, you can’t. He’s in Albany. He won’t be back for a couple of days.”

“Have him call us when he’s in.” Lee gave her his card.

THE HOTEL MANAGER had phoned in the names of guests who’d ordered the Pasta Bolognese that Saturday and the time they’d ordered it. The list had nineteen names. One of them was “Jake” O’Donnell.


Lee’s smile was grim. “What do you think?”

I picked up the phone and dialed the Park Avenue number. “Mrs. O’Donnell? Detective Stone here. Have you spoken to your husband yet?”

“I told you — ”

“I strongly suggest you get him on the phone . . . now.”

“Detec — ”

“Let me put it like this: it’s better you call than me.”

A worried silence.

“All right. He’ll be back by tomorrow evening. I’ll make sure of it.”

“You do that.”

OUR SHIFT OVER, we stopped at McKinley’s bar on 17th Street. Lee ordered whiskey and soda. I usually did too, but that night I took it straight. Lee noticed.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

He played with his stirrer. “It’s always lousy when it involves a kid.”

“I’m handling it.”

“You don’t look like it. You look like shit . . . beautiful shit, but shit.”


He’s the only one I’d let talk to me like that, and he knew it. We’d grown up around Cathedral Parkway on the Upper West Side. Now it’s up-and-coming. Back then it was Cocaine Central. After my stepfather died, I moved away, and Lee and I lost contact. Years later, I looked up and there he was, at the academy. We’d been partners ever since.

“Look,” he said, “I remember what happened with your stepfather — ”

“Don’t go there.”

“All I’m saying — ”

“I said — ”

“ — is that if you want to talk about it, I’m here. That’s all. I’m here.”

But it hurts. It hurts so bad. And the blood . . .

Hush, child.

But —

You let him do what he’s got to do, ’cause he’s our bread and butter.

The mirror behind the bar reflected my image. Lee was right. I did look like shit. I turned away and pressed my glass against my cheek. It felt cool and refreshing.

“Sometimes, I feel like I’m a ghost, you know? Sometimes, I wonder who really died that night. Him or me?”

“That’s crazy.”

“I’ve been hearing things, Lee. Don’t tell the captain, but I’ve been hearing my mother’s voice. Haven’t thought of her in years. Don’t know if she’s alive or dead. But ever since we caught this case, she’s been whispering to me.”

“What’s she saying?”

“Same things she used to say, to get me to cooperate.” I set the glass down. “You think I’m crazy?”


“Got any advice?”

“Tell her to leave you alone. Next time she says something, tell her to get the hell outta your head and leave you the fuck alone.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

I thought about it. He was right.

Get the fuck outta my head, Mama. It sounded fine to me.

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