The night they first met, Nick and Sylvie ended up talking for hours. She told Nick how Syla had abruptly folded, after her backers had pulled out, just as she was breaking up with her fiancé. She’d had to give up her loft and move into a studio. Now she was working as a head designer for Anne Cole Collection swimwear, in a job she did not enjoy. She described her love for animals, and told Nick how one of her miniature poodles, Jazz, had died. He told her about the case against Joe, about his childhood, about reconnecting with his mother and sister. He loved his father, he told her, but also resented him and was embarrassed by him.
“He came off as this very sensitive, sad guy,” says Alicia Bell, who attended Parsons with Sylvie and remained one of her closest friends. “She likes to take care of people. She has a big heart. I really think he played with that.”
At the end of their first date, Nick and Sylvie were walking home from dinner with her two remaining poodles, Pepper and Lolita. When Pepper darted into the intersection of Hudson and Charles Streets and was run over by a car, Nick took charge, picking up Pepper and hustling him into a cab. They rushed to an animal hospital, where Nick stayed with Sylvie through the night. He was there when the veterinarian put Pepper down. Sylvie disintegrated, and Nick held her. For days, she was beside herself with grief, and Nick was there for her. After that, they were inseparable for much of the rest of the summer.
Nick told Sylvie during their first month together that he loved her and wanted to marry her, according to Bell. He gushed about her to his sister, too. For the first time in a while, “he seemed very happy,” Amanda says. After not meeting a man she liked for years, Sylvie “was finally hearing things from a guy that she wanted to hear,” Bell says.
But their differences were glaring. Nick, who was not working, liked to keep Sylvie out late. She was constantly exhausted as a result. She didn’t smoke pot, but he smoked a lot of it, and she often asked him to quit. What troubled her most, however, was Nick’s history with escorts. Nick was open about it, and they broke up repeatedly over the issue, only to get back together. When Bell last saw Sylvie, in October, Nick was supposed to join them for dinner, but when Sylvie arrived at the restaurant, she announced they’d split again. The issue, again, was escorts. Sylvie last saw her family over Thanksgiving in Cancún, where she told them she planned to end it with Nick for good.
On December 7, Nick and Sylvie were back together, but had another contentious night. The last text message Bell ever received from her friend was sent at 1:30 a.m. on the morning of December 8. “I know ur slpn, but what a night … i will try to call u tmrrw … luv u xoxo” it read. Bell knew it meant that they had been arguing again, and she could guess the reason.
Nick slept at Sylvie’s that night, and they had breakfast at Cafe Cluny before she went off to the Anne Cole offices. On this morning, she did so with a greater sense of excitement than usual. Sylvie and McHale had been discussing the relaunch of Syla. With the economy recovering, she was attracting new investor interest, and in her spare time had been designing a new line. That evening, Nick met Sylvie at her apartment. He would tell police the next day that they rented a movie, had sex, and then had an argument, this one over a letter he’d written apologizing for the escorts. Sylvie wasn’t convinced by the apology. A little after midnight they checked into Room 20 at the Soho House. Its employees were, aside from Nick, presumably the last people to see Sylvie alive.
When news of the arrest broke, Nick’s friends were shocked. “I’ve seen him get dumped, I’ve seen him cry and get angry, but this is obviously something I’d never expect,” his Horace Mann friend says. “We’ve asked each other, ‘Could we ever have suspected he could do something like this?’ No. Definitely not. Of all my crazy friends, I’d not even put him at the top of the list.”
When NYPD detectives drove him to court, Nick didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation. According to police reports, he asked, “How long can I get for something like this?” and “How long have you been a cop? Have you ever shot someone?” Then he thanked them for not parading him in front of the press at the courthouse on Centre Street.