Adrienne Shelly was born Adrienne Levine in Queens, New York, to Sheldon M. Levine and Elaine Langbaum. She had two brothers, Jeff and Mark, and was raised on Long Island. She began performing when she was about 10 at Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Training Center. Shelly made her professional debut in a summer stock production of the musical Annie while a student at Jericho High School in Jericho, New York. She went on to Boston University, majoring in film production, but dropped out after her junior year and moved to Manhattan.
Adrienne Shelly, who took her professional surname after her late father’s given name, was married to Andy Ostroy, the chairman and CEO of the marketing firm Belardi/Ostroy. They had a daughter, Sophie (born 2003), who was two years old at the time of her mother’s death. Shelly described herself as an “optimistic agnostic.”
The Career 0f Adrienne Shelly
Shelly’s career breakthrough as an actress came when she was cast by independent filmmaker Hal Hartley as the lead in The Unbelievable Truth (1989) and Trust (1990). Trust was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, where Hartley’s script tied for the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Adrienne Shelly also guest-starred in a number of television series including Law & Order, Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street, and played major roles in over two dozen off-Broadway plays, often at Manhattan’s Workhouse Theater. In 2005 she appeared in the film Factotum starring Matt Dillon.
Behind The Camera
During the 1990’s, Adrienne Shelly had segued toward a behind-the-camera career. She wrote and directed 1999’s I’ll Take You There, in which she appeared along with Ally Sheedy. She won a U.S. Comedy Arts Festival Film Discovery Jury Award in 2000 for direction of the film, and Prize of the City of Setúbal: Special Mention, at the Festróia (Tróia International Film Festival) held in Setúbal, Portugal, for best director. Her final work was writing, directing, co-set- and costume-designing, and acting in the film Waitress, starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, which premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Shelly’s daughter, Sophie, has a cameo at the end of the film.
Adrienne Shelly was found dead at approximately 5:45 p.m on November 1, 2006. Her husband, Andy Ostroy, discovered the body in the Abingdon Square apartment in Manhattan’s West Village that she used as an office. Ostroy had dropped her off at 9:30 a.m. He had become concerned because Shelly had not been in contact that day and went to the building, asking the doorman to accompany him to the apartment. They found her body hanging from a shower rod in the bathtub with a bed sheet around her neck.
Despite the door not having been locked and money reportedly missing from her wallet, New York City Police Department apparently believed Adrienne Shelly had taken her own life. An autopsy found she had died as a result of neck compression. Ostroy insisted that his wife was happy in her personal and professional life, and in any case would never have committed suicide leaving her two and a half year old daughter motherless. His protests over the following days caused a more careful re-examination of the bathroom, which revealed there was a sneaker print in gypsum dust on the toilet beside where her body had been found. The suspect print was matched to a set of other shoe prints in the building, where construction work had been done the day of Shelly’s death.
A Murderer Discovered
Press reported on November 6, 2006, the arrest of a construction worker Diego Pillco, a 19-year- old Ecuadorian illegal immigrant who, according to police, had confessed on tape to attacking Adrienne Shelly, and then staging the fake suicide by hanging her. Pillco’s original version of what happened was that when Shelly asked if the noise could be kept down, he threw a hammer at her and, afraid she would make a complaint that might result in his deportation, followed her back to her apartment, where the petite 40-year-old hit him, and was killed by a fall during a struggle.
Subsequently, Pillco gave a completely different account in which he said while on a break he had noticed Adrienne Shelly returning to her apartment and followed her. After assaulting her and rendering her unconscious, he killed her by staging the fake suicide. The second version was consistent with the lack of dust on Shelly’s shoes (which she was not wearing when found) and seemed to be a confession to murder, but prosecutors reportedly thought if charged with murder Pillco might return to his original account and a jury trial could find him guilty of a lesser charge. The medical examiner determined that Adrienne Shelly was still alive when hanged. Pillco pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 years in prison without parole.
At Pillco’s sentencing on March 13, 2008, Shelly’s husband, along with family members, said that they would never forgive him. Andy Ostroy said of Pillco “…you are nothing more than a coldblooded killer” and that he hoped he would “rot in jail”.