Their parents had married at the St. Regis in 1969 in an event that warranted a three-page spread in Town & Country. But Tony Morell, who had worked on Wall Street, was a heavy drinker, and as the couple’s marriage disintegrated, Annie and Alex were sent to the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey. Still, Annie and Alex idealized their childhood, particularly when it came to their mother. “She was just a good-hearted person,” Alex says. “She loved, loved, loved her kids.”
Annie was a high-school junior in 1987 when she learned her parents were splitting up. Both girls sided with their mother, and when Anne met a younger man just a few months after the divorce was final, the sisters were united in their opposition.
Scott Douglas was 33, dark-haired and handsome. He ran a house-painting business out of a small apartment in Greenwich; he and Anne met at a Super Bowl party at a local pub in early 1988, just months after her divorce was finalized. Scott never mentioned the daughter he’d fathered out of wedlock—or his drinking, or his bouts of depression and time in therapy. The couple were married nine months after they met, in a hastily arranged ceremony in the Morells’ living room. The bride’s mother did not attend.
With her daughters away most of the time, Anne wanted more children, and in 1990 she and Scott had a baby girl named Victoria, or Tori, whom they doted on and whom Alex and Annie also adored. But Scott saw Alex and Annie, now off at college, as competition for Anne’s affection and money. He was a dud with the country-club set, too, passing around his business card, unable to make small talk. He spent more and more time at his old apartment and office in Greenwich, not bothering to tell the women he went out with that he was married. He’d come home drunk, throwing furniture, smashing glasses, threatening Anne.
On New Year’s Eve 1993, Anne and Scott were at home. A few days earlier, after suffering a black eye, Anne had gone to family court to seek a restraining order against Scott. (Anne had sought protection from him before—he once tried to throw her out of a moving car—but the couple would reconcile, with Scott promising to quit drinking.) But the judge Anne needed to see wasn’t there that night, and she was told to come back after the holidays.
At home, Scott decamped to his bedroom to watch TV, coming downstairs every twenty minutes or so to refill his drink. Alex was away skiing for the weekend. Annie was on Christmas break from college, and was invited to a New Year’s Eve party. Her mother was planning on staying home with Tori.
“I won’t go out if you don’t want me to,” Annie said. Anne told her daughter to go ahead. “I’ll be fine,” she said. Then she walked Annie to the door and gave her a kiss.
When Annie came home and didn’t see Scott’s car, she knew something was wrong. She knocked on the door (she’d forgotten her keys), but there was no answer. Finally, police arrived. Scott’s brother had called them at 3:50 a.m., a few hours after Scott phoned him from a gas station, apparently en route to the Tappan Zee, saying, “I’ve done something really bad this time.”
Firefighters, who had also been summoned, pulled the front door off its hinges and found Anne lying on Annie’s bed, hammer blows on either side of her head and a gaping hole in the back. She was alive, but just barely. Tori, who was hiding in her room, off to the side of the master bedroom, had clearly seen what had happened to her mother. “Why did Daddy paint Mommy?” she asked.
Police found Scott’s car abandoned in the center of the Tappan Zee, a bloodstained hammer left on the passenger seat. It took three months, until the spring thaw, for his corpse to wash ashore twelve miles away.
For fifteen years, Annie and Alex were each other’s only true reference point in dealing with their mother’s murder—who else could ever really understand?—though they differed dramatically in the way they processed it. By the time Alex saw her mother, Anne’s face was bandaged; she was in a coma. But Annie saw it all. She rode with her mother to the hospital. She watched her slip into a coma, only to die six days later. “Scott took a hammer to my mother’s head and a steak knife to her face,” Alex says. “The intrusions in her head were so big they thought they were gunshot wounds.” She shakes her head. “Imagine finding your mother like that, her head torn apart and her face all ripped up. So my poor sister Annie had to live with that. I just don’t think she ever got that image out of her head.”