Adrienne Shelly’s death and the Virtual Obituary


I’m a big fan of Hal Hartley’s films, especially Trust. If you don’t know it please seek it out. While it isn’t on DVD yet the cable/satellite channel IFC often shows it. It’s a wonderful small film about an unlikely couple. The lead actress was Adrienne Shelly, not a huge star but well known to independent film fans. She often popped up in guest roles in some of my favorite TV shows – Homicide, Law & Order, and Oz. She’d also moved on to writing and directing.

I won’t rehash all that is easily found elsewhere. Last week she was found dead, in an apparent suicide. A bedsheet around her neck tied to shower curtain rod. Something didn’t seem right, and it wasn’t. A few days later her death became stranger than fiction. Arrested was a construction worker, who has since confessed to her murder and faked suicide. Adrienne had complained about his construction noise, so he killed her. Go figure.

I was upset to hear of her death, so I began searching online to learn more. The interesting stuff turned out to be in blogs, not news sites. Not so much information but perception and connection to Adrienne or her story. Most blog entries were of fans, but I found entries of those who knew her, making the whole experience more personal.

Two people wrote small stories of knowing her as a college student. One author spent some time with Adrienne in her dorm room before going to a party. Two more knew her professionally, although to a minor degree. Another met her at an ATM. I liked this story the best, just a random meeting of an actress by a fan, striking up a great conversation.

I enjoyed these stories so much more than a formal obituary. Through these minor anecdotes she become more real. Not just an actress. Without the internet and blogs we’d just have a formal obituary, perhaps commentary by a professional writer or two. Instead the world has an infinitely more interesting “virtual obituary” written by regular folks.

I ran across two unexpected sites, also unique to our digital era.

One blogger discovered her husband, Andy Ostroy, has a blog of his own. As of this writing the site has no postings since his wife’s death. But site visitors have added many comments to his most recent posting offering condolences. I find that uncomfortably strange, complete strangers adding random notes to a widower’s post on Iraq policy. Maybe this isn’t a good use of the internet.

Once it was announced the killer was an illegal immigrant I quickly found a blog posting of the murder on an anti-immigration blog. Would he have killed her any less if he’d been a citizen, or would the story be any less tragic? Although I’ll have to admit, the worker’s status may have played a role in the coverup; the creep faked the suicide because he didn’t want to be deported. To make matters worse (?) it turns out she was still alive after he punched her. He thought he’d killed her then. Her death was caused by the faked suicide. Not only in politics is the coverup worse than the crime.

So the point? There’s more to the story than what you’ll find on the front page. If you’re curious to learn more about a story, search the blogs. Technorati and Google Blog Search are good places to start. I promise you’ll find the unexpected.

My only other comment is how this story begs to become a Law & Order episode. I wonder if they’ll do it, and if so, I hope the pay some tribute to Adrienne as a former guest star.

So, I’ve got a blog

So here it is,, the blog for Mitch Cohen of Douglas, MA. It’s not my first blog – that would be What I think I’ll do is use that for family and personal stuff, and use this one more for commentary. I’ll certainly include info and thoughts about the great town in which we live – Douglas, Massachusetts. You’re also likely to see ramblings on politics, technology, film, and whatever else comes up. It’ll be an opportunity for me to write, which I enjoy. I’m not sure if I’ll get any regular readers but that’s not the point.

To start things off I’ve added, in addition to this post, the text from the original site which I created a few months back as I ran for the Board of Selectmen here in Douglas. The voters were kind enough to elect me, and I’m six months into a three year term.