On the morning of Friday, April 17, Topper Mortimer flew to Palm Beach. One of his oldest friends, Ware Sykes, was getting married that weekend on Jupiter Island, and Mr. Mortimer, a 33-year-old rainmaker at a wealth-management firm with a boyish smile and thinning red hair, was hoping the wedding revels might put some much-needed fizz back into his marriage. His wife, Tinsley, 34, blond and delicate, a Virginia-born debutante turned New York fashion and society fixture, would be arriving later that afternoon to accompany him to the rehearsal dinner. He was also counting on her to bring his shoes.
Romance had always been something the couple could fall back on—it was part of their tradition. Tinsley had won his heart in the hothouse Wasp enclave of Lawrenceville prep school in New Jersey; in a much-told story, a fairy tale that happened to be true, Topper had seduced young Tinsley Mercer by throwing her onto a snowbank, and soon thereafter planting a kiss. And the kissing continued, up until just recently. “At night [at Lawrenceville],” Tinsley told me earlier this month, “when we both had to go back to our dorms, we did this little thing where we’d kiss each other on the eyes, and then on the cheek, and it became something. It became like our protection: If he’d go on a plane without me, or I would—and it started at Lawrenceville, underneath this one tree.”
Topp and Tinz embodied an haute-Wasp dream, as if they’d just walked out of a Slim Aarons photograph—and they were truly in love. Tinsley had his initials (well, they’re also her initials) tattooed in a place most often covered by fabric. But by the summer of 2008, the fairy tale was fracturing. Their friends had long known that, for all the conspicuous romance, they were not constantly at each other’s sides. Between Topper’s long nights at Dorrian’s with the old boys, and sometimes girls, and Tinsley’s constant—and solo—presence on the circuit, rumors inevitably began to circulate. And then, Tinsley confirmed them. Last Christmas, she told a mutual friend that she’d become involved with Prince Casimir “Cassi” Wittgenstein-Sayn, a 32-year-old London-based banker whose family reportedly has a castle in the Rhine Valley.
The dalliance, and subsequent all-too-public squall, would have mortified their ancestors, with the ancient, inviolable rule: In the newspaper three times—at birth, marriage, and death. “They are separated, but they haven’t filed for divorce,” Women’s Wear Daily hissed in January, citing an anonymous source. “Splitsville?” gloated “Page Six,” quoting a source close to the couple and suggesting that Tinsley had gone awol because she’d been tired of Topper’s violations of their don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. Tinsley maintained that no such policy was ever in place, and would only allow that in recent years they’d been leading increasingly separate lives.
The couple fired back in their favorite venue: the society press. “We have felt our way through some difficult times and transitions, but we love each other very much,” Tinsley told Avenue magazine. “We look forward to being together and having a wonderful, exciting, yet, at times, challenging life together, and want to start a family,” Tinsley told the magazine. Topper added that Tinsley was “the love of my life.”
So Topper had cause for optimism as he boarded the plane for Palm Beach. Indeed, the guest list at the wedding was sure to bear a strong resemblance to his and Tinsley’s own nuptials seven years prior. But before the rehearsal dinner, Tinsley texted Topper to say she couldn’t come. Mr. Mortimer was devastated.
“The guy was emotionally bottomed-out,” said a lifelong friend who was at the wedding. He had to borrow shoes. He kept luring people away from the party, off to side rooms and corridors at the Jupiter Island Club, to ask their opinion on the situation. People he hardly knew. “I guess at one point he called Tinsley and he got the weird European delayed-ring sound—so he knew she was with this other guy. Then up on the altar he was gazing off into who the hell knows where. It was ridiculous.”
The friend was so concerned, he sent out an e-mail to Topper’s closest friends after the weekend: “We’ve got to have an intervention. He needs our help.”
A week later, Tinsley was back. Topper e-mailed his friends to explain: “I know I have involved you guys in our problems and that was wrong. Tinsley is at fault of course but Casi [sic] never gave her a chance to breathe even when I asked him to give us space. He was manipulative and overbearing. I love my wife and we are going to do what we can to salvage this marriage.”