Was the Nanny a Natasha?

Manic-depressive and introverted, Jeff Spicer was nobody’s idea of a catch. He didn’t make friends easily, perhaps because he was deeply afraid of losing them. Though he came from a solid San Diego family, he was adopted. Though he had a trust fund, it was the settlement from a car crash that killed his sister. He’d had two girlfriends, but both had left him. Jeff was 27 and worked for Brooke & Co., a Wall Street broker, when he met two pretty young baby-sitters from Brooklyn, Enya Jakubowski, a Polish girl, and her Russian friend Tanya Nuitskaya. Jeff asked Tanya out. Things happened fast after that. Soon, the beeper-equipped blonde was staying in his apartment just off Union Square, turning his world upside down. They’d even started talking marriage, he said. He was so happy, he’d gone off his prescriptions. But friends couldn’t help noticing that he’d replaced them with drink and drugs.

Early one morning six weeks after meeting Tanya, Jeff took the R train to Rector Street and called his parents from a phone on the platform. “I’m sorry,” he sobbed before hanging up. Then he went to Brooke’s twenty-second-floor offices, where he opened a window and jumped. He landed in Trinity Church’s graveyard, where a gravestone severed his head and an arm. On the street, someone who’d seen him fall started shaking the gate, yelling for help.

Three years later, Jeff Spicer’s story is like a matroshka – one of those Russian nesting dolls that opens to reveal more dolls. Just before his death, Jeff told friends that Tanya had snuck into America, and that he had consulted an immigration lawyer on her behalf. He also said he’d developed a roll of film he’d found in his camera. On it was a picture of Tanya removing a dress he’d bought her. He hadn’t taken the picture.

Just after he jumped, Tanya called Jeff’s office and told John Locke, the Brooke partner who answered his phone, that she was worried about him. But she was strangely casual when he told her Jeff was dead. Then she asked if she could see his office. Locke said no; the police were still there. That seemed to concern her.

A few days later, she just showed up. Her hands were filthy. Locke let her wash up. Then she invited him to Jeff’s apartment; she’d moved in and was trying to take over the lease. Locke’s suspicions rose when he got there. She was too fluent, too sophisticated, he thought, as she asked about Jeff’s savings and flipped through his floppy disks. When she turned her back, he snuck a peek in her knapsack. There was a gun inside. Locke adds that a Brooke colleague later found that the hard disk on Jeff’s home computer had been erased. But by then, he claims, Tanya had vanished.

In fact she hadn’t disappeared; she was reaching out to Jeff’s friends and co-workers. She bragged to one that she’d taken him places sexually where he’d never been before. Another co-worker got the feeling she wanted not comfort but, rather, a replacement. Cliff Thompson, who’d known Jeff since college, says she tried to seduce him – in Jeff’s apartment. He also wondered whether she was more than friends with the ever-present Enya.

Jeff’s mother had suspicions, too. When she arrived in New York to claim the body, Tanya handed her a typed suicide note that said very little, signed “Jeffrey.” He’d always called himself Jeff.

Nonetheless, the police say they never suspected Tanya and never had reason to. And they still remember her at Trinity Church, where, weeping and apparently inconsolable, she got down on her knees, scratching at the spot where he’d landed. Tanya’s employer, an international lawyer, hired her as a nanny in 1991 when he worked in Moscow, and when he moved to New York, she came along. Her visa was renewable as long as she remained a nanny. After Spicer died, the family moved to Singapore, but Tanya stayed behind.

“It’s not going to sound right,” Tanya worries when I locate her by phone in Toronto. “I blamed myself for the longest time. I thought I wasn’t sensitive, wasn’t doing enough.” She denies that she needed a green card and that they ever talked about marriage. She didn’t know he had money. And she thinks he killed himself because he’d sent insider information to a friend, though everyone at Brooke says he had no access to any such valuable data.

She admits Jeff did find a picture of her flashing her backside, and that they fought about it. Tanya was angry he’d developed the film in a drugstore where anyone could see her behind. But she says he did take the picture, though he didn’t remember it because he’d been drunk. They all were, she told him – Enya was there, too – and eventually he decided it was no big deal. As to Enya, Tanya says she had boyfriends, too.

After Jeff died, Tanya did go to the churchyard, where she says she found a piece of his skull, which she washed off and kept. And a gun? She laughs, doesn’t deny having one, and admits she knows how to shoot. After leaving her nanny job, she says she got a student visa, but claims that when she went to visit her parents in Canada, she was denied re-entry to America. As I say goodbye, I can’t decide whether I’ve opened the last matroshka doll or not.

Then, a few days later, Tanya leaves an angry phone message for me: “This is Tanya … uh … Tanya Nuitskaya? After I talked to you, I got really, real upset and I figured out – you know what? – I don’t have to prove to anybody who I am or what I am. But if those people said I was after a green card or money, why don’t they answer a question:

“Why do I live in Canada, happily married to a woman?”

Names of individuals and companies have been changed.

Was the Nanny a Natasha?