The Model Vanishes

Lourdes Gruart was 46 years old, but she liked to tell people that she had just turned 30. She didn’t look quite that young, but her face was nearly unlined and her slim, five-foot-nine figure as taut as it had been on the Missoni runway almost twenty years earlier. “If that girl is still alive and she finds out that the papers printed her real age?” says a friend. “Watch out, ‘cause there’s going to be a lawsuit.”

In many ways, Gruart lived the life of the 30-year-old she pretended to be. The walk-up that she’d recently moved into on East 83rd Street was the first apartment she’d lived in without a roommate, and the first she’d ever rented that wasn’t a sublet. She had so few possessions that the 500-square-foot space still looked bare, and she had no plans to spruce it up. Gruart preferred to spend her money on other things: dinner at Bond St. and dresses from Bergdorf’s, which she called “frocks.

The slang is a holdover from Gruart’s days in the modeling world. Never able to scale the heights of supermodeldom, she was nevertheless a successful runway model for nearly a decade, working top designers’ shows in cities throughout Europe. Gruart spoke four languages in clipped, elegant tones and looked the part – always dressed in black, flawlessly proportioned, with a long, light stride. Yet success eluded her in New York, where she would spend the latter days of her career. Here Gruart settled for sporadic paychecks as a fittings model for Upper East Side designers and showing off Neiman Marcus’s latest lines to ladies’ groups at suburban country clubs.

Lately, however, even that type of work had dried up, and Gruart had decided to take a real job, in the apparel division of Winston Staffing, a midtown head-hunting agency. On a salary of $45,000 a year, she worried about the $1,500 monthly rent on her new apartment, particularly now that she had her younger brother, Mario, 31, staying with her, though he promised he’d just crash on the couch for a few weeks.

To all appearances, Gruart’s days were full of head-hunting work, browsing at chic boutiques, and pedaling on a stationary bike at Equinox while flipping through fashion magazines; her nights were spent with friends at hotel bars like The Four Seasons and the St. Regis, where she always began the evening with a glass of champagne. Yet, in the late afternoon on Saturday, October 14, Gruart returned from the gym with the news that she was leaving immediately for a modeling job in Europe, says Mario. Happy to see her so elated, and happy that he didn’t have to sleep on the couch for the time being, her brother wished her well. Gruart grabbed a bulging green duffel bag, he says, and headed off.

“Lourdes would say, ‘If you can’t do something for me, I don’t want to know you.’”

It was two weeks before she was reported missing, by a girlfriend more concerned that Gruart hadn’t picked up her last check than that she hadn’t shown up for work. When detectives arrived at her apartment, they found Mario in a cream-colored easy chair, eating Cheetos and watching TV. He seemed surprised to see them, and insisted that he expected his sister back from Europe any day. Police found his demeanor strange enough to begin an investigation, and soon found that much was amiss. Not only had Gruart’s passport expired, but she had also left behind her modeling book, a large black portfolio that no model traveling on assignment would forget. Moreover, Gruart’s couch had vanished. Mario said he put it out on the curb a couple days after Gruart left for Europe, and while police traced the pickup that day to a New Jersey landfill, they haven’t been able to recover it. Mario says that his sister asked him to get rid of it, that there was a new one on the way. The new couch has never shown up.

Assuming the worst, police dragged the East River in a search for her body, to no avail. They called her mother, who flew up from Florida but could offer little new information. They took apart the kitchen sink in Gruart’s apartment, and tested all over for blood with UV spray, which has left large, lilac-colored splotches on her white walls, on her light switches, on the handle of the refrigerator. “It’s nice, I guess,” deadpans Mario, “that they repainted the apartment.”

The case was turned over from the local 19th Precinct to a special task force at Manhattan North Homicide. Hoping to get a confession out of Mario, or at least shed some light on the situation, detectives questioned him for two days before giving up. “I don’t know what happened to my sister,” says Mario sadly. “Unless you want me to make up some crazy science-fiction stuff. If she came through the door right now, I would be hooting and hollering for what was done to me. Because I shouldn’t have had to go through that.”

In the month since Gruart vanished, she’s merited only a few days of stories in the tabloids and a couple segments on the ten-o’clock news. She is being replaced on her job; her sudden disappearance has not resulted in any candlelight vigils, neighborhood pamphleting campaigns, or offers of rewards. She is one of 1,600 missing people reported each year in the city. “This is like a nightmare,” says Gruart’s mother, also named Lourdes, in broken English from her home in Florida. “Sometimes I think she’s not here and then I think she’s still alive. I don’t know.” She is quiet for a little while, the desperation clear in her labored breaths. “I don’t know Mario so well no more.”

Modeling was Gruart’s life. Self-possessed from a young age, she began in her teens at the Miami International Merchandise Mart, a seasonal fashion show for Florida buyers. The eldest and prettiest of three sisters, by 14 she was already five-feet-seven, with thick brown hair, sparkling brown eyes, and legs that stretched so long, the top half of her body seemed small. The family’s first son, Mario, was named after her father. He was born when Gruart was 15, and she doted on him as she did her other siblings, Gloria and Alicia, conjuring up dinners of navy beans and onions and showing them new ways to fix their hair.

Gruart was born in Havana, to a well-off father who had already been to the U.S. for an architecture degree at Ohio State. Her anti-communist parents abandoned the country as Castro gained power, moving to El Paso in 1960. The family moved several times over the next decade, from Texas to North Carolina to Alabama, before settling in a pastel ranch house in Plantation. Though Gruart complained about sharing a room with one of her sisters, the family lived comfortably – Sunday barbecues after church, a dachshund named Mabel, a neighborhoodwide party on Christmas Eve. Gruart, whose childhood idol was Jackie O., had her happiest moments as a cheerleader and at the prom, where she was in the Homecoming Court.

After high school, she spent four years at the University of South Florida in Tampa, studying international affairs. She modeled for local boutiques and danced in a ballet troupe, with which she flew to New York for the first time. Hooked on the city, Gruart headed back after college, working as a hostess at several restaurants and trying to model.

In the fall of 1983, she was lured to Milan, where it was easier to get work. It was only six years since the top Italian design houses had relocated north from Florence, and the scene was still new and exciting. Gruart moved into a residence hotel in the heart of the old town and was signed by Why Not?, a small yet prominent agency. It was a glamorous life, but not entirely lucrative: Rates were often low, about $200 a show. What she made she rarely saved, splurging on outrageous clothes and accessories. “Whatever was hip, whatever was hot, fierce, whatever, Lourdes had to have it,” says a friend.

Every night was the same for Gruart’s crowd, starting with dinner at Leone’s, a chic yet informal restaurant where they were welcome to stroll into the kitchen and check out what was cooking in the pots. It was all free for models, but Gruart rarely ate. “A little white wine and a pack of cigarettes,” says a friend, makeup artist Donyale McRae. “Lourdes didn’t eat – she perched.” Around midnight, the city’s playboys would show up, adding table after table to the party before escorting the women to discos like Amnesia, Plastique, and La Penta. They came with drugs; Gruart would smoke the occasional joint, but chronic sinus problems kept her away from cocaine. “Lourdes was a party girl, but a party girl with restraint,” says McRae. “She wasn’t sleeping around, but she made herself available to get the weekend at Como, the fabulous dinners, the open door at the club.”

She was still in town a year later as the city was convulsed by scandal when American model Terry Broome murdered Francesco D’Alessio, the son of a rich Italian horse breeder. D’Alessio, a mean-spirited womanizer, had told Broome’s fiancé that she had participated in orgies; when the fiancé demanded his engagement ring back, Broome, wired on cocaine, shot D’Alessio at point-blank range in his apartment. The story made headlines around the world, and American models in Milan panicked as policemen began stopping them to check their I.D. cards, sending home those whose visas had expired.

Gruart hid in her hotel with her best friends, African-American models who were still a novelty in Italy. Like her, they hadn’t landed editorial jobs or ad campaigns, but their strut on the runway was electric. “All Lourdes’s friends were black divas, and yet she always fancied herself a blonde, blue-eyed, corn-fed-type girl,” says a friend. She idolized big blondes like Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley. In Milan, Gruart denied that she was Cuban-American to all but her closest friends. She told everyone else that she was a Spanish princess.

“I’ll do anything for money,” says Gruart’s brother, Mario. “I mean, I’ve done anything in the past.”

A favorite on the runway of designers like Missoni, Fendi, and Valentino, Gruart soon found herself on the European modeling circuit – Paris, Milan, sometimes even Tokyo. She rented an apartment in Paris in the 8th Arrondissement with Rebecca Ayoko, a popular St. Laurent model from Africa, and gained entrée to the highest echelon of the city’s social world. Through Ayoko, Gruart became part of an “in” clique of black models including Iman, Grace Jones, Guinean model Katoucha, and Coco Mitchell, an ex-girlfriend of John DeLorian who would remain Gruart’s friend for years. Gruart herself is said to have dated a slew of Persian playboys, as well as Gregory Peck’s son Tony, and Stan Dragoti, Cheryl Tiegs’s first husband, who was famously arrested en route to the Cannes Film Festival with 22 grams of cocaine in his suitcase and an ounce taped to his back. “She would never go out with just anybody,” says a friend. “It always had to be a name. She’d say, ‘If you can’t do something for me, I don’t want to know you.’ “

By the late eighties, however, things had started to change. “Photo models started to realize that they could promote their careers on the runways,” explains Michael Gross, author of Model. Mannequins like Claudia Schiffer, Linda Evangelista, and Cindy Crawford started to edge out career runway girls like Gruart. No one cared anymore how well you could swing a blazer over your shoulder or how adeptly you could unbutton a raincoat. Gruart was also keenly aware that she was starting to age, and even started to include tear sheets in her modeling book from another, younger model who resembled her, Patricia Hartmann. Finding less and less work available, Gruart moved back to America in 1988.

Her passport expired that year, too.

Gruart’s apartment is on the fourth floor of a short tenement building on one of those way-east streets with a cleaner’s halfway down the block and a pizzeria on the corner. The apartment is long and narrow, the size of half a subway car. There’s no rug, no dinner table, nothing on the walls except for a dry brown leaf that hangs by a nail. Gruart didn’t even hook up a phone, deciding to save money by using her cell phone instead. The television rests on a makeshift stack of Gruart’s small collection of books: Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus; How to Get the Job You Really Want; The Nutrition Superbook; and Kevin Aucoin’s Making Faces.

The only other book in Gruart’s apartment is Robert Anton Wilson’s The Illuminatus Trilogy, but that belongs to Mario. “The thing I like to do with books,” he explains, “is not really read them. I just open up to a certain page and look at the words there. Then I make up a poem with those words. I find that works better for me.”

Mario speaks in a soft, calm voice as he sits cross-legged on the hardwood floor in Gruart’s apartment, his long legs curled beneath him. He’s a head-turner, with the high cheekbones and doe-eyed look of a model, his long brown hair hanging in a loose ponytail over the shoulder of a bright-orange fleece pullover. When he moved up to New York from Florida six years ago, Gruart sent him to Boss Models, Marcus Schenkenberg’s agency at the time, and though it’s said they liked his tests, he never followed through.

Although Gruart was already away at college by the time Mario was 4, she is said to have had warm feelings toward her brother. When he couldn’t scrape together the money to move out of their parents’ home, Gruart lent him $1,000 so he could move to Miami, then $500 a week later when he had blown it all. “It was always, ‘Oh, Mario, he’s still finding himself,’ ” says a friend. “But she also said that he had the most terrifying temper.”

On this sunny afternoon nearly three weeks after Gruart’s disappearance, Mario has been sleeping in her bed, an unmade queen-size with beige sheets that hardly fits in her tiny bedroom. In fact, he’s made quite a mark on the place. Among many changes, Mario has moved Gruart’s glass coffee table into a corner of the living room, covering the surface with a tableau of 50 or so of his knickknacks: Buddha figurines, slate-gray rocks he collected from the Central Park lake, a knotted lock of his hair. “I put all that out to please my own eyes,” he says by way of explanation. Anything personal of Gruart’s, like her modeling book, he’s stuck underneath the kitchen sink.

The only part of the apartment that seems to be intact is Gruart’s closet, which is packed with designer clothes, most freshly dry-cleaned and in their plastic wrapping. On the top shelf of the closet are dozens of white Tupperware bins of shoes with masking-tape labels on them reading strappy gold glitter high-heeled sandal and low bendel’s black. But there’s no underwear or lingerie, and no makeup in her medicine cabinet. In fact, the only sign of life in the bathroom is a Japanese porn magazine. “I like Asian food, and culture, and girls,” shrugs Mario. “I especially like Asian girls.” Mario is unclear on what was in the apartment originally, what exactly Gruart took with her, what items of hers he may have thrown away. “I’m just living here and trying to make my own self more comfortable,” he says. “Because this is the place that I am.”

He may not be for long. November’s rent hasn’t been paid, and Mario has about $75 right now, so his plan is to stay only until Gruart’s security deposit and first-month’s rent run out. “I have to meet someone with whom I can become involved in a relationship,” he explains matter-of-factly. That’s the way he’s survived in recent years, living with a series of women, and men. The only reason he moved in with Gruart at the end of the summer was because his benefactor at the time, an elderly man on Barrow Street, died of a liver disorder, right after Mario was arrested for possession of marijuana and resisting arrest. “He was an old man who drank two or three bottles a night,” explains Mario. “He supported me in many, many ways. And I took care of him in what he needed.”

In case he doesn’t meet a new patron right away, Mario scans the help-wanted ads in The Village Voice, chewing on a yellow highlighter. “I got to figure out what to do; otherwise, I’m going to be on the street, or in a shelter,” he says, running the pen over an ad for a dog-walker. “I’ll do anything for money. I mean, I’ve done anything in the past. But my specialty is reptiles.”

Mario’s dream is to work on a breeding farm for snakes; he once had a collection, he says, of more than 30 turtles, some of which made their way into one of Gruart’s earlier apartments – she took care of them for a year even though she complained about the stink. In lieu of real reptiles, Mario has strategically placed a few reptilian figurines around the apartment, on the arm of the easy chair, on top of the television. A snakelike Darth Vader, holding a red neon laser, stands watchfully on the window ledge next to Gruart’s bed.

Gruart didn’t have the savings to rent her own place when she returned from Europe in the late eighties, so she hopscotched around town, living in sublets with models she’d known from Milan and Paris or their friends. She first moved up to West 95th Street, into the apartment of Brenda Jordan, a model turned born-again Christian, who was often away doing missionary work in Guatemala. Gruart found work on the Greenwich circuit, modeling department stores’ new lines at evening events in suburban towns. She was jealous of the new breed of supermodel, however, and was angriest about Linda Evangelista’s success. Evangelista, she felt, was her “type,” and she’d cut and color her hair to resemble the model’s newest style.

“Is it weird that your sister disappears and you throw her stuff out? Yes. Is it a crime? No.”

In 1989, at a party prior to the Met Costume Institute ball, according to friends, Gruart met Bob Marx, the son of the Marx Brothers’ Zeppo and the stepson of Frank Sinatra. They began to date, although she didn’t believe it was exclusive on his end, and she’d often fly to Palm Springs with him on a private jet to visit his mother, Barbara Marx Sinatra. “She’d talk about how she came upon a trunk of Barbara’s jewelry, thousands of things all mixed together,” says a friend. “She said, ‘You can’t imagine the life Barbara has.’ ” After Marx, an entertainment lawyer, gave her a pair of Cartier earrings, Gruart told her friends that she was about to be engaged, though she also complained that she wasn’t sure Marx’s bank account was big enough for the lifestyle she wanted. (Marx did not return calls for comment.)

Yet when Marx broke up with Gruart a year later, she was devastated. She began attending Mass at Unbroken Chain and Times Square Church, and shopping at an even more frenetic rate. “I knew the Lord would not be happy with me in low-cut dresses, but Lourdes would buy beautiful things,” says Jordan. “She’d say, ‘I’m going to wear this to such-and-such party and make Bob crawl.’ ” Gruart wanted to be a member of the class of people who lived expensively, got their names in the papers, and did little else. She had tasted this life in Europe, and she knew that in order to get it for herself, she needed to marry a rich and famous man. But for the first time, she was realizing that it might be more difficult than she thought. “She started to think that she wasn’t going to end up a Park Avenue lady,” says a friend. “Much less Jackie O.”

In 1991, Gruart began to spend winters at her parents’ home in Florida, commuting to Miami for trunk shows at department stores. She was well liked professionally and became part of the burgeoning social scene, going out to Thierry Mugler’s parties at the Century restaurant and to Gianni Versace’s first party at his new mansion. She tried to book catalogue or print work, to no avail, and resisted advice that she try to break into the Spanish market. “She had a $40,000 confirmed booking for a Coke commercial for Spanish TV, and she canceled at the last minute,” says model turned actor Erik Fletcher, Gruart’s best friend in recent years. “She was like, ‘Eww, it’s Spanish!’ I was like, ‘It’s TV!’ “

When she returned to New York full-time two years later, Gruart started working as a fit model for Upper East Side designer John Anthony. Though she’d remain there for three years, Gruart hated the job, and quit in a huff after the designer cut her wages and refused to include her in his runway show. (John Anthony would not comment.) She kept working here and there: an ad for Hackensack’s Riverside Square mall, a fitting for Vivienne Tam, a few showroom bookings. “She really gave it 100 percent,” says Ken Metz of NMK Agency. “Always kept her book current, did tests for new photographers. Most girls don’t want to get out of bed for an unpaid test, but Lourdes was always willing.” Without a regular source of income, however, Gruart began to grow desperate. “She even approached one of my best clients,” says a model who had been friends with Gruart since the old days in Milan. “Told them she’d work for less than me.”

It had been three years since her relationship with Marx had ended, and Gruart had started to obsess over past mistakes she’d made with men. She decided that she shouldn’t have resisted the advances of one of Marx’s friends, Mohamed Khashoggi, the son of Arab oil magnate and arms dealer Adnan. He’d once asked her to his home in Paris, she recalled; now she tried to follow up on the invitation, in vain. “Lourdes wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with – she invented the word high-maintenance,” admits Fletcher. “But once this Mohamed thing started, she became unbearable.”

Panicked that she had missed out on her last opportunity to marry well, Gruart became obsessed with winning Khashoggi’s affections. With Fletcher in tow, she would spend afternoons in Barneys looking for the perfect frock to make him fall at her feet. She’d plot for hours at Indochine, where she ate a light supper of egg rolls and champagne once a week. She even began calling her aunt in Miami for tarot-card readings – Khashoggi loved her, said the aunt, but someone was “standing in her way.”

Soon she had an idea of who that person might be. A couple of sublets after she left Jordan’s apartment, Gruart moved into Murray Hill with a redheaded Midwesterner who she thought was into Santería, the African-based religion that some of her Cuban relatives practiced. Convinced that the woman was performing rituals to prevent her from obtaining Khashoggi’s love, Gruart forced her out of the apartment. She liked her next roommate even less. This one, she was certain, was a lesbian who was in love with her. Sick with nervousness about why things were going wrong in her life, Gruart no longer trusted anyone. “All these bitches are bringing me down,” she’d say. “They’re after my man, my frocks, my head.”

Friends attribute Gruart’s increasing sense of paranoia to a bigger problem, one that she could not make go away: Her modeling career was coming to an end. “People started to say, ‘Now, how old is Lourdes really?’ ” says a friend. “Mama ain’t 26 no more, and she ain’t 36 neither.” She had started to worry about her looks, complaining about age spots, saggy skin on her elbows, and spending hours putting herself together. No longer always able to afford her favorite salon, Warren Tricomi, Gruart settled for haircuts at places like Vidal Sassoon’s training school, and she was often unhappy with the results. “She was so self-absorbed, but so insecure!” says photographer and ex-model Yvonne Allaway, a friend. “It was really sad. Girl needed to get a grip.”

Allaway helped Gruart write a résumé, her first, and through an old contact she landed a job with a head-hunting firm, the Saxon Group, in 1998. Remaking herself called for a new name, and Gruart rechristened herself “Lori.” “She was so excited,” says Fletcher. “She kept saying, ‘I’m going to work on Wall Street,’ even though the office was on Lex and 52nd.” Her salary was $25,000 a year, though Gruart thought she’d make $70,000 with bonuses; but the work was harder than she’d imagined, and she became despondent. “Anything I told her to do, she was giving me a frown and a fight. She’d say, ‘Whatever, whatever,’ ” says Stephen Sacks, president of the Saxon Group. “Finally, I said, ‘Lori, it’s obvious that you’re not happy. Would you like to leave?’ ” Gruart cleaned out her desk, but not without telling friends she’d sue for her 70 grand.

Increasingly sure that she needed a man to put things right, Gruart began visiting an elderly Spanish woman off Fordham Road who practiced Santería. She asked the woman to put a spell on Khashoggi or her newest crush, Barneys scion Gene Pressman, whom she’d started to fixate on after she applied for a job as a greeter at Barneys in 1998. “She felt that if Mohamed didn’t come through, she always had Gene,” says a friend. After the visits, say friends, Gruart would buy herbs and candles at a nearby botanica for her nightly rituals to appease the goddess of love and beauty. She would burn a yellow candle with the men’s names on a slip of paper underneath it while drinking a glass of wine.

Gruart’s trips to the Bronx became a monthly event, and then a weekly one. Even after she found a new job, at Winston, she’d insist that friends like McRae accompany her on her days off. Afterward, they would return to McRae’s Harlem brownstone for a powwow about Khashoggi, trolling the Web on his computer for new information. “She’d print out a picture of him from some Website and say, ‘Didn’t he look good, he had lost weight, he’s wearing funkier clothing,’ ” says McRae. “She had the idea that Adnan was going to send him to do a venture in Cuba, and she’d help out down there.” Yet several days after one of their marathon rap sessions, Gruart called a mutual friend in Spain to complain that McRae was not being supportive of her interest in Khashoggi because he wanted him for himself.

“And here I am in this seven-year relationship,” says McRae, a good-looking, well-built black man with long dreadlocks. “But I want Mohamed for myself. Right.” He lights a cigarette and leans back on a red damask couch in his gingerbread mansion of a home, with purple walls and a signed photo of Esther Williams on the mantelpiece. “Lourdes just didn’t understand that it wasn’t ‘83 and she wasn’t on the runways,” he sighs. “She wasn’t the center of attention, and she couldn’t take it.”

McRae’s roommate is a beat cop, and after he changes from sweats into his uniform he comes over with a book in his hand, Gay Talese’s The Overreachers. He points to a passage: They make the same mistakes, the same stupid, reckless, dramatic, wonderful mistakes. They take that extra step; dive too deep, climb too far, get too grabby with the gods. “Read this,” he says. “And you’ll understand Lourdes.”

Late on November 14, exactly a month after Gruart’s disappearance, Mario is hanging out in her apartment, padding around in white socks, running shorts, and the same orange fleece jacket he was wearing a week before. Though his Star Wars figures are still vigilant on the window ledge, he’s moved all the rest of his tchotchkes to the kitchen counter and fanned out Gruart’s collection of Bloomingdale’s catalogues and old Allure magazines on the coffee table, the way it was before she left. “I’m trying to get things ready for when my sister comes back,” he says. “It’s probably soon. She said several weeks.”

Several weeks sounds quite different from the couple he had initially told the police. “Oh, I don’t know about words,” says Mario. “Words don’t mean anything to me.” He gets upset when asked more questions, and refuses to let a photographer take any pictures of the apartment, himself, or Gruart’s modeling book, which he promised he would allow earlier that day. “The police were here last night, poking around,” he complains, a flicker of anger crossing his face. “My sister said she was going to Europe on a job opportunity. That’s all I know. Now could the lot of you roll out of here?”

The idea that Gruart could have actually done as Mario says, however, is little solace to their mother. “We talked each week,” she moans. “She never went anywhere without telling me. I was visiting her for Thanksgiving – what, she forgot it? No.” Nor is it much comfort to her friends. “Job opportunity?” cries McRae. “What job opportunity was there for a 46-year-old model in Europe?” No one can believe that Gruart would have gone anywhere without picking up her last check from Winston: “That girl would fly back from Paris to get a penny if she was owed it,” claims a friend.

Other friends, former models, point to her delusions about men and her depression. They talk about how a working model called her in early October to offer her some clothes she’d been given by a designer, but Gruart, who would normally “pounce” on such things, never returned the call. She acted odd a few months ago at an informal modeling gig at Bergdorf’s, “lethargic, not herself, like she was on something.” They say she seemed so blue that she could have simply up and left town, deciding either to start over or end it all.

Another theory that has been floated is that Gruart’s desperation had led her to another line of work: prostitution. She would sometimes go out until extremely late, says Mario, and the fact that all of her underwear, bras, and makeup are missing supports the notion that she may have led a double life, with an apartment somewhere else that she worked out of. She was aggressive in courting attention at hotel bars like the St. Regis, says one man, to the point where she nearly humiliated herself. A friend who did her makeup for one of her last test shots points out that he was asked to leave during the shoot, and suggests that something sexual might have been going on. “It happens,” he says, shrugging.

“No way,” says Fletcher, aghast. “That girl was collecting cobwebs waiting for those fantasy guys. I was telling her, ‘Bitch, you need to buy a dildo or something because you got to get laid!’ It’s not that she wasn’t into kinky sex – she wasn’t into sex.” He sighs. “What a mess. Maybe Mario fed her to the snakes.”

Mario, at this point, is no longer a suspect. He might’ve been wrong about Europe because he was too out-of-it to understand what Gruart was really saying; the police have even stopped looking for the couch, deeming it “irrelevant.” “Is it weird that your sister disappears and you move around her stuff, maybe even throw stuff out?” asks a detective. “Yes. Is it a crime? No.” He sighs. “At this point, we got nothing. A total mystery.”

There’s always one other possibility: Gruart could have found the man she was looking for, the one who would make up for all the disappointments of the past years, who could give her the jet-set life she’d always craved. Unsurprisingly, Mario is willing to buy into this theory. “In my mind, I’m thinking she’s gone off with one of her rich boyfriends,” he says. “Manhattan is an opportunist world, people coming from all over the place looking for entertainment, for a companion, for all things that are pleasing. Maybe she met one of them.” Perhaps she’s off with him right now, sailing the Greek Islands in a big white yacht, lingering over a ten-course dinner with a group of dashing, fascinating people, their chatter spreading out over the sea as the sun goes down.

“You go, girl,” says a friend, weighing the possibility that Lourdes might be out there somewhere, finally living the high life. “Whip ‘em all.”

If you have any information about Lourdes Gruart, please call 800-577-tips. Anonymous calls are accepted.

The Model Vanishes