Sex, death and a Governor's secretary

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THE MYSTERY has gripped the small East Coast state of Delaware for more than two years. What happened to Anne Marie Fahey, the former scheduling secretary of the Democrat Governor Thomas Carver?

For months after her disappearance on 27 June 1996 there was no clue. Billboards went up on the highways begging for information about her. Was she still alive? Had she been murdered?

Nobody was more anxious for answers than the Governor himself, who appealed finally to President Bill Clinton for some federal assistance. And he got it when a team of FBI agents was dispatched from Washington to join the hunt for the woman. We have answers now, and they are just as grisly as everyone had feared. Ms Fahey, a vivacious and pretty 30-year-old, is indeed dead.

We know too that her body was bundled into a large Igloo cool box and dumped into the Atlantic Ocean, 70 miles off-shore. But with a trial in the case now under way in Wilmington, the state capital, the key piece in the gruesome jigsaw is still missing. Who killed her and why?

State prosecutors and the FBI think that they know that too. The man who stands charged with the killing is Thomas Capano, a bond lawyer and the eldest son of one of Wilmington's wealthiest and most powerful of families. Married with four children, Mr Capano had a steamy affair with Fahey, which had been concealed even from some of her closest friends.

He is accused of killing her when she tried to end their illicit relationship. It is not just the position of Ms Fahey in the Governor's office or the social standing of Mr Capano, a former deputy state attorney-general, which has propelled the trial into the headlines. There is also family intrigue. Mr Capano, 49, has been betrayed by two of his brothers, Louis and Gerard. Their arms twisted by the FBI, both agreed to testify against him. Their stories, indeed, are the crux of the prosecution's case.

Even as the trial started, lawyers for Mr Capano changed tactics. In anticipation of the story that Gerard would tell about how he helped his brother take the cooler and body out to sea on his boat, they acknowledged that Ms Fahey's body had been inside and that their client knew it.

This grossly contradicted a number of previous statements from Mr Capano. For months, he had insisted he knew nothing of the fate of his ex-lover, even though the last time she had been seen alive was with him at a restaurant in Philadelphia - on the night she vanished. But Mr Capano, the lawyers still insisted, did not kill her. She had died in an "outrageous, horrible, tragic accident". What accident, they have yet to say. It was a manoeuvre designed to draw the sting from Gerard Capano's expected testimony.

It may have been effective. But when Gerard finally took the stand this week, his story was more vivid and ghastly - and compelling - than any horror film script.

Several months before the night of the alleged crime, Thomas had come to his brother with a story about two people attempting to blackmail him. He might need to kill one of them, he told Gerard. If that happened, could he borrow his boat, the Summer Wind, to dump the corpse in the ocean? Though perplexed, Gerard said nothing to the police. He did not, he said, take his brother seriously. According to Gerard, it was on 28 June 1996 that his brother turned up at his house saying that he had "done it".

The next morning, they set out from shore, with the cooler on deck. When, finally, they heaved the icebox overboard, it refused to sink. Gerard said he then took a hunting rifle that was on board and fired a shell into the cooler. Red liquid oozed from the hole, but still it would not sink.

Next, Gerard testified, the pair hauled the cooler back on board. At that point, he handed a heavy anchor to Thomas and told him "he was on his own". Gerard went forward and stared out to sea. He turned round just in time, however, to witness part of a leg and foot slipping beneath the waves.

Gerard Capano's testimony transfixed the courtroom. At the back, the mother of the Capano brothers, whose family had once been one of the proudest in Wilmington, wept quietly. In another sat the mother and brother of Ms Fahey. To add to the drama, the prosecution placed a large cooler, complete with bullet holes, on the courtroom floor.

It was, it must be said, not the cooler in question. That is to be submitted as evidence later. By a stroke of luck for the prosecution, the cool box turned up after a fisherman heard about the case on the news. He had found the cooler while out at sea and, ignoring the strange holes in its sides, put it to good use - storing fresh fish in it for sale to customers.

The FBI was able to trace the cool box to a supply shop and determine it had been bought with one of Thomas Capano's credit cards.

Before the prosecution rests, it will also bring forward Louis Capano. He will testify how some days later he helped his brother dispose of furniture from his house that was stained with blood. The FBI also had luck there.

While Ms Fahey's body will never be recovered, a DNA sample was obtained from a medical facility. There was a positive match between that and the blood on the furniture. But the jury, the Governor and all of Delaware are now awaiting the defence.

Could there be another explanation for Ms Fahey's demise? If Thomas Capano has a convincing story about an accident - outrageous and horrible - he may yet be saved. If convicted, he could himself face death.