Scripps heiress' accused killer found dead in N.Y.

April 01, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Three months after Anne Scripps Douglas, an heiress to a newspaper fortune, was bludgeoned to death, a decomposed body found on the Bronx bank of the Hudson River was identified as that of her husband and accused murderer, Scott S. Douglas.

The discovery closed a case that had haunted much of the genteel community of Bronxville, where the Douglases lived, and also brought relief to Mrs. Douglas' relatives.

They said at several news conferences and in interviews that they believed Mr. Douglas was still alive and might reappear to hurt them or kidnap the Douglases' 3-year-old child, Victoria.

"It was a surprise, but the nightmare is over," said Anne Devoy Morell, Mrs. Douglas' 22-year-old daughter by a previous marriage, at a Manhattan news conference.

"We don't have to worry about him coming after us or Tori," said Alexandra Scripps Morell, 24, Mrs. Douglas' other daughter by that marriage.

But lawyers involved in the case said there was still a strong possibility of a court battle if the Scripps and Douglas families choose to fight over custody of the orphaned child.

The corpse, in jeans with $507 in a pocket, was found Wednesday by a Metro-North Railroad mechanic on a tide-washed bank of the Hudson near the tracks that run along the shore in Riverdale.

A positive identification by the New York City Medical Examiner's Office based on dental records was announced by Jeanine Pirro, the Westchester County district attorney, who headed an investigation that involved at least five police departments.

Mrs. Pirro said that Mr. Douglas, 38, a house painter whose working-class world clashed with that of his patrician wife's, had jumped off the Tappan Zee Bridge less than two hours after hitting his wife four or five times in the face with a claw hammer on New Year's Eve.

The time of his death was confirmed by one grisly detail: a gold watch on his body was stopped at precisely 12 o'clock. Mrs. Douglas, 47, died six days after the beating.

Law-enforcement authorities had always been open to the possibility that Mr. Douglas might have jumped to his death because his 1982 BMW, its engine still running, was found abandoned on the bridge at 12:02 a.m. New Year's Day. A blood-stained hammer was on the passenger seat.

But the authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on murder charges and pursued an intensive hunt because no one had seen Mr. Douglas leave the car or leap and because the Scripps family argued insistently that he was capable of staging a suicide to throw investigators off his track.

Mrs. Douglas' grown daughters had told authorities of his threats to kidnap Victoria and "disappear off the face of the earth."

In a telephone interview, James E. Scripps IV, Mrs. Douglas' brother, said: "I'm just glad it's over. I expected to feel jubilation, but it's just relief."

Luis Andrew Penichet, who represents the family of Scott Douglas, said yesterday that the discovery of Mr. Douglas' body "only proves what we said all along.

"It was our contention that it was a tragic loss of two lives," he said.

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