Based on that evidence, and two drugs they found in his body, authorities ruled de Villers's death a suicide. Then, within days, three phone calls to police set in motion a re-examination of the evidence and eventually led to Rossum being charged with murder. Her family insisted that the talented and attractive Rossum, now 26, had nothing to do with the death of her 26-year-old husband, whom they said was despondent about his collapsing marriage. But during the trial, prosecutors presented startling clues that painted a far less flattering portrait of Rossum: that of a homicidal schemer who planned what she hoped would be a perfect crime to cover up an affair with her boss and her own drug use. In the end the jury bought the district attorney's version of events and convicted Rossum, who was sentenced to life without parole on Dec. 12. "This was like a soap opera," says Laurie Agnew, the lead detective on the investigation. "Every time you thought it couldn't get weirder, it did."
Growing up in Claremont, Calif., Rossum seemed destined for great success. Her father, Ralph, 56, teaches constitutional law at Claremont Colleges; her mother, Constance, 54, is a marketing consultant. The oldest of three children, Rossum had a radiance that was striking. She began modeling early on and at age 6 was featured in national ad campaigns for McDonald's. When her interest shifted to ballet, she won, at 14, the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Orange County ballet's production of The Nutcracker. Her life began to go haywire when she suffered a series of injuries. Rossum's dance career ended, and a relationship with drugs—to her parents' disbelief, methamphetamines—began.
Her parents wanted Rossum to get professional help, but Kristin, determined to lick her drug problem on her own, ran away to San Diego. The first night she hit town she happened to meet Greg de Villers, then 21, as both strolled across the nearby border to check out Tijuana. From that initial encounter Rossum, then 18, and de Viliers became inseparable. De Villers, who had been studying biology at the University of California at San Diego, vowed to help her stay clean. He himself had known plenty of turmoil in life. He was estranged from his father, Yves, 67, a prominent plastic surgeon who had practiced in Monaco and California. After a while he persuaded Rossum to return to her family, who were pleased that her new boyfriend seemed to be a good influence in helping her stay away from drugs.
With de Villers's encouragement, Rossum enrolled in San Diego State, where she soon showed a gift for the sciences. But according to Rossum's family, de Villers was also proving far from a perfect beau. Among other things, they say, he was emotionally needy and prone to temper tantrums. Constance Rossum contends that shortly before the 1999 wedding, Kristin confided that she was having second thoughts. Her daughter, she says, worried about her future husband's "growing dependence on her for his happiness."
From the start the marriage seemed rocky. Rossum had gotten her degree from San Diego State and landed a job as a toxicologist at the medical examiner's office. Meanwhile Greg had gotten a job at a biotechnology firm called Orbigen. By early 2000, though, Kristin was telling her family that she had had enough of her husband's controlling personality and that the couple would be splitting up. As her parents tell it, she fretted that her husband would crumble without her and thus wanted to let him down gently. "She was so naive," Constance maintains. "She wanted to leave on friendly terms."
Greg's apparent suicide seemed to confirm those fears. The initial tests on his body showed the presence of only two drugs—Oxycodone, a strong painkiller, and Clonazepam, a sedative also known as a date-rape drug. No one thought it strange that just days after Greg's death Kristin was eager to get his body cremated as soon as possible.
Then came the three phone calls that piqued the interest of investigators. The first was from Greg's brother Jerome, 27, an insurance adjuster, who told investigators that Greg hated drugs and would never have chosen them as a way to kill himself. The second was from Greg's boss at Orbigen, Stefan Gruenwald, 44, who also voiced doubts about the suicide scenario. "Greg was a health nut," says Gruenwald. "We all thought this didn't sound right." The clincher was a call from one of Kristin's coworkers, who informed police that Kristin was having an affair with her boss, an Australian-born toxicologist named Michael Robertson, 32. "That call gave us a motive," says D.A. Dan Goldstein.
Under renewed police questioning Rossum admitted that Greg had threatened to expose to her bosses her relationship with Robertson—and perhaps more significant, the fact that she had recently started dabbling in methamphetamines again. Police blocked the cremation of Greg's body and awaited the results of blood tests at an independent lab. Prosecution witnesses later said that Rossum and Robertson looked shocked when they learned their office wouldn't be doing those tests. The lab report showed Greg had died of a massive dose of fentanyl, a very powerful painkiller, for which no screening was done the first time around. Agnew ordered a thorough audit of the drugs at the San Diego Medical Examiner's office, with telling results. "There were hundreds and hundreds of drugs stored in that office," says Agnew. "Of all of them only meth and the three drugs found in Greg's body were missing."
Two days before the start of the trial in October, one more piece of evidence fell into place. A record from a grocery store showed that on the day of her husband's death Rossum had purchased a single rose. In the end the jury took less than eight hours to convict Rossum. (In May 2001, Robertson, who would later be identified as an unindicted coconspirator, returned to his native Australia.) Rossum's family has vowed to appeal. Even now Agnew, who believes that Rossum first drugged her husband, then delivered the coup de grâce with the fentanyl and waited for him to die, shakes her head over the enormity of it all. "This was not a crime of passion," says Agnew. "It was cold-blooded and premeditated. I think Kristin is a lot scarier than most gangsters you deal with."
Maureen Harrington, Michelle Bowers and Karen Grigsby Bates in San Diego
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