Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ann Rule: Revealing the Strangers Beside Us

Breaking a Pattern

Ann Marie Fahey (AP)
Ann Marie Fahey (AP)

In 1997, a case emerged into public consciousness that soon shocked the nation. Anne Marie Fahey, a 30-year-old woman missing in Delaware since June of the previous year, had been linked to a wealthy and married lawyer with political connections. His name was Thomas Capano. He admitted that he'd had dinner with "Annie" shortly before she had disappeared, but denied any knowledge of her whereabouts beyond that. He thought she had gone "to the beach" — a remark that would come to have cruel irony.

Annie's diary indicated that a man she'd been seeing whom she referred to as "Tomas" was manipulative, controlling, and jealous. She was currently involved with another man whom she loved, and she wanted to break off all connections with this Tomas. It soon became clear to everyone that she meant Capano. The waitress who had served them that summer evening Anne Marie vanished recalled that neither had looked very happy.

Still, with no body and no evidence of foul play, investigators were at a dead end. They learned about suspicious activities carried out by two of Capano's brothers, but they could prove nothing until Gerry Capano was caught in illegal behavior. Under pressure, he confessed that Tom had asked him for help.

On June 28, 1996, Tom had arrived at Gerry's home with a large and heavy fishing cooler and they had taken it out to the ocean on Gerry's boat. In a spot off the New Jersey coast that they believed was sufficiently deep and isolated, they had dumped the cooler. Instead of sinking, it floated, so Gerry had shot a hole into it. He saw red liquid seep out, but the cooler still did not sink. They pulled it aboard and he walked away. He heard Tom struggle with something and then returned in time to see a foot disappear into the water. It was an image that would give him nightmares. As he learned about Annie's disappearance, he began to realize what Tom had asked him to do.


Capano was arrested and while they still had no body, the cooler was found by a fisherman and turned in. Capano tried to defend himself by accusing another girlfriend of shooting Annie, but ultimately his arrogance did him in.

It was a difficult case with many angles and a lot of ambiguity, but on January 17, 1999, the jury convicted Capano of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to die.

Thomas Capano, mugshot
Thomas Capano, mugshot

Although Rule tends to stay away from stories where media attention is high and other writers crowd the field, this was her kind of case. She prefers those stories where the killer is someone with a lot going for him or her but where success, beauty, or wealth just isn't enough for them. Her editor thought she should try it so she ended her book tour for Bitter Harvest, and set off for Wilmington and the Capano trial.

"That was the only case I ever did that was high profile," she explains. "It was uncomfortable in a sense, because when I went there, the three writers who were already there were very resentful. The rest of the press was unfriendly, too. I'd never run into that before, but I decided, well, I didn't come here to make lifelong friends, I came to get a story. I had my credentials worked out with the court clerk, but people came up and said, 'We don't think there's going to be room for you.' There was plenty of room, yet I'd sit down in one spot, and someone would say, 'We don't think you should sit there because that belongs to someone else.'"

Obviously conspicuous as a best-selling writer, she stuck it out, and in the end, she supplied much more of a story about who Annie had been than the other writers did.

"They were men, and they had an entirely different view of Anne Marie Fahey than I did. With them it was tsk, tsk, and wink, wink, and the implication that she was a bad girl who asked for it. I thought they didn't understand the female psyche at all. One thing that's important to me is to make the victim come alive. The killer usually is giving interviews and getting all this exposure, but the victim has no voice and unless an author tries to tell their side, they become almost cardboard characters."

Even after that experience and the success of her book, which outpaced the others in sales, she still preferred the "sleeper" cases, the ones that most people haven't heard or read about.

"I don't want the reader to know the ending before they pick up the book."

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