Gary Crockett / Police handout
SUFFERN, N.Y. --- The pressure of being caught stealing from a relative, along with other issues, may have been too much for a village couple who plunged from the George Washington Bridge to their deaths on Monday after apparently killing the uncle earlier in the day, police said.
Gary W. Crockett, 41, and Nickie Hunt Circelli, a 40-year-old mother of four, allegedly stole $1,600 from Circelli's 70-year-old uncle, William Valenti, with whom they had been living, Suffern Police Chief Clarke Osborn told The Journal News on Wednesday.
"Mr. Valenti had uncovered the fact that they took money and forged checks from him," Osborn said. "They promised to pay him back and didn't. We're told he planned to go to the police department to make a report. Shortly thereafter, we believe, they killed him sometime on Monday."
Crockett, who worked for a moving company, was already under investigation in the March 19 theft of an AR-15 assault rifle from a Mahwah, N.J. home. The weapon was believed to have been stolen by a moving crew he was part of. Mahwah police visited Valenti's home on Friday to ask Crockett about inconsistencies in his story, but Circelli told them Crockett was at work.
"When you look at the totality of the circumstances from their prospective, it appears that the walls were closing in on them," Detective Craig Long said of Crockett and Circelli during a Village Hall press conference Wednesday. "There's the issue of owing money to Valenti, there's the issue of the illegal weapon - the AR-15 - of which Crockett was a suspect, and there's a possibility of illegal substance abuse. There appeared to be no way out for them."
Sal Circelli, Nickie Circelli's former brother-in-law, said she and his brother Michael Circelli were married for about a decade before her drug problem drove the couple to divorce about three years ago.
Circelli said his brother had been awarded custody of the four children, girls ages 11-14. The girls are aware of how their mother died, he said, and were likely to seek counseling. Michael Circelli could not be reached.
The couple jumped from the bridge about 11 a.m. Monday and were seen in the water by workers on the lower level of the span who had seen something falling. They were pulled from the Hudson River by emergency responders and died at St. Luke's Hospital. Police said the key to Valenti's car was found in Crockett's pocket; the car has not been recovered.
Valenti, widely known as "Uncle Billy," ran Thunderbird Catering in the village for decades. His body was found in his house by a nephew, who called police about 1:15 p.m.
The Rockland Medical Examiner's Office has ruled the death a homicide by asphyxiation. It is not yet clear whether he was strangled, choked or smothered.
Police said notes found in the house included one written by the couple that implicated them in Valenti's death and another, written by Nickie Circelli, saying they planned to kill themselves.
Another, on a door, said Valenti had been taken to the hospital.
"We believe the note on the front door was a distraction," Osborn said. "A friend of his saw the note when he went to pick up Uncle Billy for work on Monday morning."
Long said Nickie Circelli left a number of long notes to her children that apologized to them for what they went through as children and described what she went through as a mother.
He said one was addressed to "the 4 most amazing kids this world has ever seen or ever will," and ends "I love you. Love, Mom."
In another note, she writes: " I'm sorry. I beg you to remember that Nickie that I used to be. Before I was introduced to heroin."
She later continued, "You would not understand how much it would hurt for me to wake up every single day without you. I do know that I am taking the cowardly way out. I just don't want to hurt people anymore."
Nickie Circelli's former brother-in-law said drugs ultimately proved to be a factor in the children's custody.
"She wasn't supposed to communicate with (the girls), but maybe some letters may have been passed back and forth. It was a drug problem. She was doing heroin," he said.
Sal Circelli, of Suffern, said his brother had tried repeatedly to get his wife help with some success at times.
"She tried to hide it from him. She was doing OK for a while. My brother was trying to help her, but she would lie."
Nickie Circelli's brother, Joe Hunt, who works for the village Department of Public Works, was at Wednesday's news conference but declined to comment.
Osborn said authorities linked the suicide leap and Valenti's murder on Monday night when Suffern Police Dispatcher Jeremy Kaufer heard media reports about the bridge jump and noted that the couple's general description matched that of Crockett and Nickie Circelli. Kaufer told Officer Lou Venturini, who contacted village detectives. On Tuesday, Suffern detectives identified the couple at the New York City morgue.
Osborne said both Crockett and Nickie Circelli had criminal records. Crockett had a number of drug arrests and Nickie Circelli had been arrested on theft and forgery charges in Orange County.
Don Hayek, a retired police sergeant and organist for the Lafayette Theatre in Suffern, said he often saw Crockett and Nickie Circelli there, watching a movie and cuddling. He said he and many in the community were shocked by the couple's suicide and Valenti's death.
"It's unbelievable. It just doesn't make sense," he said.
The deaths of Crockett and Nickie Circelli were the sixth and seventh confirmed suicides this year done by leaping from the bridge. Last year, 15 people committed suicide while another 29 were stopped in the effort, said Joseph Pentangelo, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The Port Authority takes several measures to prevent suicides, including phones to a suicide hotline, police patrols and a security force.
But people who jump off bridges or choose similarly painful methods to commit suicide are generally more psychologically disturbed than others who intentionally kill themselves, said Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology in Washington.
"Jumping from a bridge is a very traumatic death," Berman said. "The reality is the major cause of death is blunt force trauma. It's disfiguring (and) it's painful."
(Contributing: Ken Valenti)
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Read the original story: George Washington Bridge jumper left note to her 4 kids