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- November 15, 2004
- Vol. 62
- No. 20
Looking for Love, Finding Tragedy
Elizabeth Lochtefeld Thought She Had Met the Man of Her Dreams. Now He Stands Accused of Her Vicious Killing
Three weeks later, on Oct. 25, Lochtefeld lay stabbed to death on the living room floor of the tiny cedar-shingled cottage she rented on Nantucket. Several hours later on a highway in Rhode Island, police nabbed Toolan, a financial executive, who will be charged with the murder as soon as he is returned to Massachusetts. It is the first murder on the island in more than 20 years. What emerged over the next few days, according to police and friends of the victim, was a cautionary tale of how a search for Mr. Right can go disastrously wrong. "This is absolutely shocking," says Lauren Ettinger, a bartender at American Seasons, a Nantucket restaurant that Lochtefeld often visited. "You don't think something like this is going to happen to her, a strong, bright female."
Lochtefeld, who went by Beth, certainly fit that description. In the 1980s she had started a business in her Greenwich Village apartment called Code NYC, a consulting firm to help builders and architects navigate the city's byzantine regulatory system, and nurtured it into a multimillion-dollar company. Recently she had sold her share of the firm to her associates so that, as she told one friend, she could "get out of the rat race." She settled in Nantucket, where her parents, John, 71, and Judy, 70, and one brother, Peter, 45, live. Her plan: to relax and get involved in nonprofit work. Three years ago she and a cousin in California had started a business to match young people around the country with internships. On Nantucket she attended local events, volunteered for the wine festival, went biking and continued her study of aikido, a form of Japanese martial arts. "She just quickly became a part of the community," says Orla Murphy-LaScola, the owner of the American Seasons restaurant.
Whether it was making homemade cards at holiday time or doting on her nieces and nephews, Lochtefeld radiated a caring personality. One of her former New York neighbors, Brian Porzak, describes how, when an elderly tenant in their building died, Lochtefeld took it upon herself to organize a memorial service at a nearby chapel because the woman had no other family. "There were pictures from throughout the woman's life that Elizabeth had collected from her apartment," says Porzak. "It was very fulfilling and it was all Elizabeth who had done it."
Lochtefeld was also someone blessed with uncommon charm. David Bach, the author of a self-help book, Smart Couples Finish Rich, who had known Lochtefeld for five years, recalls taking her to his book party several years ago and watching her shine. "She didn't know anyone, and within a half-hour she was dancing with my closest friends," says Bach. "Everyone wanted to be around her. From the moment you met her you felt like she was your best friend." And yet the one area where Lochtefeld seemed to come up short was in romance. "She had everything going for her except finding the right guy," says Alan Margolin, a consulting engineer in New York who got to know her through work. According to Margolin, a few years ago Lochtefeld went to London to spend some time with a man she had started dating. "She was in love with this guy," says Margolin. "She talked about him all the time." But shortly after going to Europe, she returned to New York dejected, explaining that it had turned out the man was already married. "She wanted to get married and have a family," says Margolin. "Everyone who knew her was rooting for her." Adds another friend, Kip Cosson: "She wasn't going to settle for just anybody, and I think that may have intimidated a lot of guys."
Around Labor Day Lochtefeld met the strapping 6'3" Toolan, who lived in New York City, through a mutual friend on Nantucket. They started dating, visiting each other each weekend, alternating between Manhattan and Nantucket. "She was giddy with excitement," says her friend Sara Boyce, who owns an art gallery on Nantucket. "She was saying, 'He's so great, he's so smart, he's preppy.' " She gave the same impression to another friend, Nantucket gallery director Robert Foster. "She was really excited about him, no doubt about it," says Foster. "She said to me, 'Keep your fingers crossed.' "
If there was one downside to the relationship, Lochtefeld confided to Boyce, it was that her dapper new beau seemed too eager. Though they had only been going out for a few weeks, Lochtefeld said, "He's already talking rings, and I need to slow it down a bit." There were even more worrisome things about Toolan that she did not know. A graduate of Columbia University, he had embarked on a successful Wall Street career, rising to become a vice president at Smith Barney. But in January 2001 he lost his job after a bizarre incident. While attending a Park Avenue antiques show, he attempted to sneak out a Roman bust that was on sale for $80,000 and was arrested. (He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, and his lawyer contends the incident was nothing more than a "drunken prank.")
He also scared at least one woman he went out with. "People ask me what my worst date story is, and I tell them this story," says Becky Hammonds, a bartender at Blondies Sports bar, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, who says she went out with Toolan once four years ago after meeting him on a plane. He showed up at her apartment with flowers, then they went out for a nice dinner and then drinks. At the bar, says Hammonds, things started to get strange. At one point she left for a moment to see about the check. When she got back, he grilled her. "Where were you?" he asked. "What were you doing?" Shortly afterward, when she struck up a conversation with the bartender, he suddenly asked her, "You're being awfully lascivious, don't you think?" When he allegedly tried to grope her in the cab home, she fled from the taxi. "He is a Jekyll and Hyde," she says. "It's creepy."
That was not exactly the impression his neighbors had. David Heilbroner, a former prosecutor who lives next door to Toolan, says he had no problem with him: "He was always gentle and nice and thoughtful." But Heilbroner does recall one encounter a few years ago when Toolan was playing loud music late in the evening and he went to ask him to turn it down. "I knocked on the door and asked, and in a scary voice he said, 'Get out of here.' He was hollering, 'Get out of here, go away.' " Toolan was known to frequent several bars in his neighborhood. "Sometimes he would be with a couple of guys, sometimes alone, sometimes he would have a girl with him," says RL. Haney, who renovates apartments and got to know Toolan from the bar scene. "He liked to talk sports a lot and seemed to know a lot about movies. He was never out of hand or obnoxious." Toolan also caught the eye of Patty McGreevey, one of the owners of Blondies. "He was a happy-hour regular," says McGreevey. "He looked like he made a good living—he was always well dressed—but he was always walking out without paying his tab." Toolan had stopped coming around in the past two years.
It is not clear what soured Lochtefeld on Toolan. According to her martial-arts instructor, she was a health nut and turned off by his drinking and smoking. "Her father told me she started to see oddities in him she hadn't seen before," says Hal Gomeau, one of John Lochtefeld's friends. In any case, three days before her murder she went down to New York to break things off. According to her brother Peter, when she tried to tell Toolan that they were through, he became violent and kept her from leaving his apartment. She apparently managed to slip out at 4 a.m. the next day, Oct. 23, when he was asleep, and fled back to Nantucket. She made a stop at the police station on the island to inquire about a restraining order but didn't pursue the matter. "She said she had broken up with him and wanted no part of him," says Nantucket police chief William Pittman. "The officer said she was creeped out by the guy but also that he could be a sweet guy too."
Fearing that Toolan might come after her, she initially went to her brother's home to stay for a couple of days. Meanwhile that Sunday night, Toolan, who had been drinking, say police, tried to board a flight to Nantucket but was temporarily detained and given a misdemeanor summons when he was found carrying a kitchen knife. Undeterred, the next day he caught another flight and went to a local boating supply store, where he purchased a 5-in. diving knife. By then Lochtefeld had gone to her own home, which is set on a secluded plot of wild brush and moors. She packed up some of Toolan's belongings and went to a local mailing center to send them back to him. She told the clerk at the center—who recalled that Lochtefeld looked "stressed and anxious"—that it was her ex-boyfriend's stuff that she was shipping, explaining, "He's a psycho, I just want to get rid of him." She then returned home. She told her landlady Barbara Kotalac, who lived next door, that she planned to pick up her nephew at school at 1 p.m., then went inside. Shortly afterward Kotalac spoke to a man resembling Toolan who approached the house. It was just after l when Kotalac noticed that Lochtefeld's car was still in the driveway, and remembering that Lochtefeld's nephew needed to be picked up, she called Peter Lochtefeld. After the body was found, a law enforcement source says that there was evidence of a struggle, and blood stains were found on the walls. "I didn't hear a thing," says Kotalac. "That's what bothers me the most."
Toolan was later arrested in Rhode Island, allegedly driving drunk in a rented car. At the funeral mass for Lochtefeld, hundreds of mourners packed the 19th-century church on Nantucket. "She was so happy to be back here," says her friend Mahon. "She was looking forward to her whole life. She was waiting for it to come to her."
Bill Hewitt. Jennifer Longley on Nantucket and Diane Herbst, Courtney Hazlett and Stephen Erwin in New York City
- Jennifer Longley,
- Diane Herbst,
- Courtney Hazlett,
- Stephen Erwin.
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