This is another Sherlock Holmes head scratcher. It is also a well known and often discussed case. Rather than rehash all that has been written I will give a brief description of the circumstances and a few thoughts.
Mr Rey Rivera probably died on 16th May 2006. That was the day that he was working at home in Northwood, Baltimore and took a phone call. It was late in the evening. A business associate of his wife was staying at the place for some reason. She reported she heard the home office chair roll back and next thing Mr Rivera was hurrying from the house.
The 32 year old then got in his car and disappeared. It was a sudden, unscheduled departure. He was dressed casually with flip flops on his feet. In the days that followed this popular man’s family and friends rallied around and went looking for him. From footage I have seen this was done in a highly organised way. By the 22th May his car had been found in a downtown Baltimore car park. It had a ticket on it that placed it there from the night he left the house.
On 24th May his body was found in a room in the Belvedere Hotel a short distance away. This was no hotel room. It was a conference style room and Mr Rivera had entered it through the roof. His body was decomposed and his injuries were extensive. Most of these could be clearly attributed to a fall from a considerable height. The hole in the metal roof was only just big enough for someone to have gone through in a vertical position. On the flat roof were found his glasses and mobile phone. Neither of these had any apparent damage.
It had been family searchers that had spotted the hole by looking from a 20 foot elevation as they checked out a multi storey car park at the rear of the hotel. The theory developed that Mr Rivera had jumped from the roof of the Belvedere which had a drop to the hole of about 177 feet (54m). The problem was he would have had to jump 43ft (13m) out from the roof in order to landed there. That would have taken considerable speed. Not an impossible speed, but it would have taken a lot of doing.
Another possibility was that he ran off the top level of the multi storey car park. This is only a 20ft drop as I said. This would have taken as much speed and besides a fall of that height could not explain his injuries.
Finally, one other jumping spot seemed likely. The hotel was built in 1903. The design had those familiar high ledges we have seen so often. If he had accessed those he could have dropped from a sufficient height to explain the injuries and the trajectory of his fall would have been easier to achieve. Sadly, this third possibility does not give a clear solution. Accessing those ledges was difficult, it is said he would have had to go through either locked offices or apartments. There is no evidence he did this.
Talking of evidence the intrigue continues about the hotel itself. No CCTV picked up Mr Rivera entering the place. It is a busy, yet well staffed, building and no-one saw him. Access to the main roof is difficult with back stairs and locked doors.
Does A Strange Note Keep A Secret?
A note was found taped to the side of Mr Rivera’s computer at home. The contents are a bit on the bizarre side and those that know me would be shocked at my saying so. I, like the victim, have written all manner of random, obscure notes and stories. Still what was on the side of his computer pushed the boundaries between creative and chaotic to their limits.
Mrs Rivera asserts the note was written on the day he disappeared. A Reddit user transcribed the full text. I have left a link at the bottom of this article. Some could say that it was a sign this man was struggling with an illness. The police looked at it and although they admitted it was strange they agreed with the family. Collectively they do not believe it was a suicide note.
When the text was examined by a variety of experts some suggested it might look like the meandering mind of an ill person. It has all the elements of tortured thinking. One investigator put forward the idea that by stepping back it could be viewed as a letter written in code. Many of the references are things that Mr Rivera enjoyed or used often. There is also a list of names of the people that were important to him. Was it written in a way that Mr Rivera thought those close to him might understand?
The final coroner’s verdict was left open. The Baltimore Police officially remain convinced Mr Rivera killed himself.
Some Problems With The Suicide Theory
The victim was an aspiring screenplay writer. He was also very competent with a camera. After trying to break into show business in California he took a job with an old friend. This meant moving to Baltimore. Porter Stansberry was a high school pal of Mr Rivera. He employed the victim to do, among other things, a financial newsletter. It was a sort of information piece that tipped what stocks to buy.
This was all done for the financial dealing firm Stansberry & Associates Investment Research. The pair of friends were described as very close. It was from the Stansberry & Associates switchboard that Mr Rivera took that call that had him leave his house in a hurry. Complications came when the police tried to interview staff at the firm once the victim’s body was found. According to the detective interviewed in a Netflix documentary Stansberry staff were told not to talk to the police without reference to lawyers first. The old school friend was one of them.
As the detective said it would have taken a task force with grand jury backing to get the authority to compel people to be interviewed. He openly said he was the only one in the homicide unit at Baltimore that thought there had been a murder. Unless someone talked he could get nowhere with the case.
The telling result of this shutdown of co operation is that they never found who made the call from the building. It was said that the telephone system would not automatically record the extension of the phone used.
The flip flops the victim had been wearing were recovered with signs of drag type damage to the toe section. One had the strap broken. A money clip, one the family say the victim always carried, has never been found. Although his wife was out of town on that night he did not text her or anyone else to say he was going out. He literally walked out of the place without a word to the house guest and went to his fate.
Constructing The Suicide Theory
Just to be clear I don’t think the below is what happened. I have tried to put the known events into a scenario where it could be explained.
After reading the ‘note’ I began to think that this man had suffered a mental breakdown. Schizophrenia can take over a person at anytime but often it begins between the age of mid teens to mid thirties. It can be subtle when it starts, it can mean the sufferer hides the symptoms and those symptoms are often seen as normal in creative people. I have generalised and also applied my thinking to an artistic personality like Mr Rivera. Even when the hallucinations and delusions are scary the person going through it can try and hide their ordeal from family.
The note contains the sort of things I have seen many times in the writing of those with this illness. I also look at similar cases like that of Elisa Lam. This was a lady with a diagnosed mental illness who accessed a difficult to reach area on the roof of an LA hotel. She was found drowned in a water tank. All manner of theories bounced about, but in the end it was a case of a terrible illness causing misadventure.
So Mr Rivera goes up to the roof of the Belvedere Hotel in the final, now uncontrollable, grip of a psychotic illness.
It is assumed by several commentators that access doors to the hotel roof and ledge were locked. It was also spoken as if it was a given that suicide victims usually leave notes explaining why they killed themselves. Those convictions are not reality.
If a person is in a delusional state then applying logic to their actions will probably lead you to the wrong conclusion.
To assume that a employee ( I have been one such) will never leave a door unlocked is obviously not sound thinking. An employee might lock a door later but forget they did so. It happens, how many times have you wondered if you locked your own front door or a vehicle? You think about it but you cannot remember if you did or didn’t. It is such a routine activity that we often have no clear memory of doing it.
Such is the case in hotels, office buildings etc. If an employee was asked later, in this case several days later, would they recall for sure if a door was locked or not at the time Mr Rivera MAY have been in the building?
Once on the roof or a ledge this very fit and strong young man jumps to his death. He has either picked out where he intends to land and placed his phone and glasses there first or someone places the items there after he jumped. Why would someone do that? As for the victim, if he was that ill, asking ‘why’ is bit redundant.
Hotels are run on the basis of always keeping an eye out for liability. If a patron chokes on a grape they could be taken to court. If a patron falls on the stairs, they can be taken to court. So how would one react to finding that their unlocked door had allowed a person to jump off their roof?
Say an employee or an apartment owner sees the glasses and phone on the main roof or near an open window leading to a ledge. They see the impact point below. They go onto the multi storey car park level and throw them and they land near the hole.
Of course the problem with this is the items were undamaged and even throwing them to drop 20 feet would cause some. Okay, maybe they go into the room where the body lay and using a ladder place them outside of the hole or maybe they get onto the impact roof and place them there.
That way they have created a mystery and taken liability away from themselves and even the hotel. Is this unlikely? Yes I think it is, but it is possible. People can have all manner of reasons not to want to be involved in a situation that is likely to draw the law to them.
What about the money clip? This was an item the family said the victim always had. Sadly stealing from bodies is not unknown. Equally it could have fallen from the victim and landed anywhere. Imagine someone picks it up. Later it would make sense they might be reluctant to admit they had taken it and any money it had with it.
Last a quick word about the toxicology report. I did think that maybe a cocktail of amphetamine, LSD etc would explain the athletic prowess of the jump and the erratic behaviour. The toxicology report on this poor young man came up with nothing of the sort.
The CCTV Problem
All of my ramblings above cannot get around one hard fact. The whole hotel on that Tuesday night would have to have had a collective loss of memory. No-one recalls Mr Rivera being there. On the face of it this 6’5” man, a good looking man, dressed in casual wear and in flip flops walks off the street and wanders around looking for access to the roof. In addition, none of the CCTV in the hotel picks him up. The CCTV camera on the roof was not functioning. One commentator saw that as suspicious. They might be right but I have worked in many environments since CCTV became the norm. Often cameras are malfunctioning and just as often fixing them is low priority.
Also as I wrote the above and tried to fit facts to the suicide theory I had problems with the explanation regarding the phone and glasses. If you are running off a roof why leave those things? Why would anyone take them afterwards and place them near the hole instead of throwing them near the hole?
To my mind there being no witnesses or camera shots of Mr Rivera is a big problem if you are trying to make this death a suicide or a misadventure.
This Case As A Murder
Mr Rivera’s wife says she believes he was murdered as does his brother. The cop I mentioned certainly thinks his death was a likely homicide as do many reporters. Let us try putting that together.
You first encounter the witness and CCTV issue. Next if the hotel was the scene you have another problem. It was possible for Mr Rivera to run and jump that distance. I mean technically possible, yet difficult. What is highly unlikely is anyone could throw a 260 pound (117kg) man that distance.
So came the theory that Mr Rivera was dropped from a helicopter. Again possible and it would explain a lot of logical issues. Like the suicide theory has the bizarre note that indicates a possible mental anguish, the helicopter drop explains a great deal. However neither the note nor the helicopter fit in perfectly with self harm or a murder.
A helicopter explains why there are no sightings of Mr Rivera in the hotel. It explains the physical issues of the killing fall itself and presents other elements that make sense.
The autopsy (post mortem) flagged up that there were breaks to Mr Rivera’s shins that were not consistent with a fall. The other injuries seemed to look right, just not those injuries. A helicopter theory allows for the victim to have been hurt and incapacitated elsewhere. All you need is to wonder why anyone would do that to him?
In the world of finance big money won and lost gives plenty motive for murder. The newsletter Mr Rivera had been involved with tipped big money stock. It had got it wrong before. Also the firm had run foul of financial regulations and been fined in the recent past. One account said Mr Rivera had been brought onboard in part to repair damage to Stansberry’s reputation.
So were big money dealings behind a rather elaborate plot?
The call came from the Stansberry switchboard yet no-one ever came forward to claim they made the call? I mean I get the reputation/liability aspect. I went through it regarding the hotel and suicide theory. This was no ordinary employer though. The guy who ran the firm had been a high school friend of the victim. Why would a gagging order be placed on employees? Why would Mr Stansberry not return calls to the cops. This is not my take on it, the cop who was on the case says so on the Netflix documentary. I’m simply asking the question. If anyone reads this and knows the answer tell me and I will print it.
We still have the glasses and phone left over at the end of the helicopter theory however. Say for a moment they do the elaborate drop from the helicopter. They then return to the scene of the assault and see they have overlooked the items.
Do they then risk returning and climbing around on the roof to leave them near the hole? If they did they totally ignored the fact they would look undamaged. On top of this they took a real risk of being seen.
Imagine we flip this around. Imagine the killers wanted to cause doubt about the manner of the victim’s death. Well they achieved that. What if they also wanted to leave a clear yet subtle message to anyone else who stepped out of line that they were behind it. The glasses and phone would do that.
At this point I am really going all over the place.
Very simply put something else happened to this young man other than a straight suicide. Something else happened to this young man other than a straight murder too. Some element is wrong. To be frank I would have gone happily for the theory that the hotel covered up a suicide if it was not for the strange Stansberry silence. It would be the only theory that fitted 90% of the evidence.
The cop said he was the only one of the detectives to believe it could have been a homicide. It was also said, without much explanation, that he was moved from homicide to other duties. That could be seen as he was too close to some ‘corrupt’ truth. It could also be that his theory did not hold water and he had annoyed everyone by being blindly stubborn. I mean I don’t know how good a detective he was. When I was in the police I met a few really good detectives, many mediocre ones and a few lousy ones. Like any job you have a large spectrum of ability in CID.
If any of the above is different than the accepted account then finding an answer on Reddit or here becomes impossible.
On the face of it it appears Mr Rivera was killed. The note indicates mental illness for sure but there are too many issues to make a suicide fit. An accident looks even more unlikely. The only possible, out of a range of improbable explanations, is a murder.
What do you think?