From the start, it was a bad case.
A battered 21-year-old woman with long blond curls was discovered facedown in the weeds, naked, at the western edge of Miami, where the neat grid of outer suburbia butts up against the high grass and black mud of the Everglades. It was early on a winter morning in 2005. A local power-company worker was driving by the empty lots of an unbuilt cul-de-sac when he saw her.
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And much to his surprise, she was alive. She was still unconscious when the police airlifted her to Jackson Memorial Hospital. When she woke up in its trauma center, she could remember little about what had happened to her, but her body told an ugly tale. She had been raped, badly beaten, and left for dead. There was severe head trauma; she had suffered brain-rattling blows. Semen was recovered from inside her. The bones around her right eye were shattered. She was terrified and confused. She bent English to her native Ukrainian grammar and syntax, dropping pronouns and inverting standard sentence structure, which made her hard to understand. And one of the first things she asked for on waking was her lawyer. That was unusual.
Miami-Dade detectives learned that she had been living for months at the Airport Regency Hotel, eight miles from where she was found. It is one of those crisply efficient overnight spots in the orbit of major airports that cater to travelers needing a bed between legs of long flights. She was employed by a cruise-ship line and had severely cut her finger on the job, so she was being put up at the hotel by her employers while she healed. The assault had begun, she said, in her room, on the fourth floor. She described her attackers as two or three white men who spoke with accents that she heard as “Hispanic,” but she wasn’t certain. She remembered one of the men pushing a pillow into her face, and being forced to drink something strong, alcoholic. She had fragments of memories like bits of a bad dream—of being held up or carried, of being thrown over a man’s shoulder as he moved down a flight of stairs, of being roughly violated in the backseat of a car, of pleading for her life. Powerful, cruel moments, but there was nothing solid, nothing that made a decent lead. When her lawyer soon after filed a lawsuit against the hotel, alleging negligence, going after potentially deep corporate pockets, the detectives thought something was fishy. This was not your typical rape victim. What if she was part of some sophisticated con?
I wonder how many times this story has been played out on Law and Order, CSI or Criminal Minds.