The murder of Adrienne Shelly

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On the night of Halloween in 2006, 40-year-old Adrienne Shelly was busy & distracted, throwing a low-key Halloween party for her almost three-year-old daughter, Sophie, her husband Andy Ostroy & their friends. But under it all, she was also nervous, waiting to see if the movie, Waitress that she wrote, directed & starred in, had been selected for the Sundance Film Festival. If it was, her role as a director would be lifted to the next level. 

Photo from Halloween 2006

Sadly, Adreinne would never know that Waitress was not only selected but became one of the top films of the festival in January of 2007 & that when it was released in theaters in May of 2007, it became a success & a decade later, in 2014 became a Tony-nominated hit musical on Broadway. The movie is about a small town diner waitress played by Keri Russell who bakes amazing pies based on her mood, giving the pie quirky names. The story is about love, lust, abuse & the struggles that can go along with pregnancy. It’s about a woman in an abusive relationship who finds out she’s pregnant & falls in love with her gynecologist. Cheryl Hines, who plays Becky, described Adrienne as “a ball of focused energy” on set, doing everything & doing it really well. Both Andy & Sophie made cameos in the movie, Sophie toddling down the street with Keri Russell in the final scene of the movie.

Adrienne, knowing herself  to be a control freak, decided that she was best suited as a director, the one running the show. She felt like the only way to play good characters was for her to write them herself. Friends laughed and remembered Adrienne & how funny & messy she was; one described her as “an old lady in a hot chick’s body.” Someone who was tiny in size but very large in mind, personality & will, a silly, funny, smart & one-of-a-kind person.

Adrienne wrote Waitress when she was eight months pregnant with Sophie & she was excited & scared of having a baby, not sure how her life would change after the baby was born. The movie was based on those fears. After the fact, realizing that once the baby is born, your life does change in an amazing way & you feel an unconditional love that you could never have imagined. 

The day after Halloween, Wednesday, November 1, 2006, Adrienne’s husband, Andy, found his wife hanging from a shower rod in the Manhattan apartment where she worked & wrote her scripts. Andy, who is a producer & director & previously owned a marketing company for twenty years, remembers that on Halloween, only the day before, their daughter was dressed as a princess, they were so happy, “I went to bed that night the luckiest guy alive. By the next night, I was living the worst nightmare imaginable.” Andy & Adrienne met in 2001 through; Andy’s was the first and only profile that she clicked on. She suggested they go on a five minute date to see if they click; they ended up talking for five hours. Andy proposed the next summer in Paris & got married on December 21, 2002 & welcomed Sophie to the family in 2003. 

Andy remembers the day of his wife’s death; he left home for the office later than usual, grateful for the extra time with his family that morning. They left their apartment at about 9:15am & Andy dropped Adrienne off at her Abingdon Square apartment office & watched her walk into the building, not knowing it would be the last time he would see his wife alive. 

Adreinne was born Adreinne Levine on June 24, 1966 in Queens to parents Elaine Langbaum & Sheldon “Shelly” Levine; she was raised with two brothers. When she was twelve, her dad, Shelly, died suddenly at age 40 of a massive heart attack while she was away at camp. As her professional career began, she took the name Adreinne Shelly in honor of her dad’s nickname, Shelly. The sudden death of her father made her fear dying young & in her high school yearbook, a quote read, “Don’t be afraid of dying, be afraid of never living.” Tragically, Adrienne died at the same age as her father. She was a gifted singer & dancer & began to perform around age ten. She dropped out of Boston University to focus on acting in Manhattan & her breakthrough role was her first film in 1989 in The Unbelievable Truth that led to more indie movies. Her career took off after she starred in the 1990 movie Trust & then went to LA to do more movies. 

As Adrienne worked  her way through Hollywood, it was always important to her that she maintain her integrity despite the expectation that you need to stay hot & relevant. An agent once told her that she had to look “f-able” in order to land a role. When Harvey Weinstein offered to buy the rights of The Unbelievable Truth, his condition was only if more nude scenes of Adrienne were included. The director, Hal Hartley, refused. At one point in her career, Adrienne helped create a theater company & began writing her own material & staging her first short play in 1993 . 

On November 1st, Andy was busy at work, he had clients in from out of town though still managed to notice the unusual lack of communication from Adrienne, describing it as “radio silence”; he had been unable to reach her via e-mail, cell or landline. When he spoke to their nanny, she hadn’t heard from her either.  Andy had a nagging intuition that something bad had happened. 

A close friend had planned to attend an event with Andy that night so they went by the apartment to check on Adrienne in the late afternoon. Their friend Brian remembers that Andy was stressed on the way over & he tried to ease his mind, listing practical reasons why Adrienne hadn’t responded. Brian waited in the car as Andy went to the building. Adrienne didn’t answer the intercom so Andy went upstairs to the fourth floor & found that the apartment door was unlocked. When the door just popped open, he felt panic, noticing how still the room was, CNN playing low on the TV. 

As he walked through the room, he recalled the room having an eerie & evil feeling as if a monster had been there. He walked toward the bathroom & found Adrienne’s body. Andy remembers thinking, “Is this really happening?” He only expected & hoped that he would find Adrienne busy & apologizing for not getting back to him. Andy had to figure out how to explain to his two-year old why her mommy was no longer there; he went to a psychiatrist to figure out the best way to tell such a young child. He told Sophie, “Mommy died. Her body stopped working. She’s not coming home anymore.” He remembers that Sophie walked to the window & she turned to him & repeated, “Mommy died, she’s not coming back” & that was it.

By November 3, the media began posting headlines that Adrienne had committed suicide by hanging. Law-enforcement indicated that there were no signs of forced entry or struggle. However, there was no suicide note & sneaker prints were left in the bathroom that didn’t match Adrienne’s shoes. Family & friends were positively stunned; Adrienne showed no signs of being troubled. A family source indicated that  she wasn’t on any medication, she didn’t drink, she was a happy person. No one close to her could accept that she had committed suicide. Mark Levine, Adrienne’s brother, knew immediately that his sister wouldn’t have left her daughter, Sophie or their mom, Elaine Langbaum behind. 

The doorman of the building told reporters that Andy told him that he had dropped Adrienne off at around ten or ten thirty that morning when he arrived back at the building just before 6pm on Wednesday, November 1st, saying he was very worried about his wife since he hadn’t heard from her.  Because her silence was so uncharacteristic, Andy asked the doorman to come up to the apartment with him. The doorman remembers staying back as Andy entered until he heard him begin to scream, “Why, why?” 

In a 2002 interview, Adrienne said that she had “gone through life with this feeling that life could end at any given moment” & how she wouldn’t accept delays in producing her film projects “because my way of thinking, I might not live another seven years.” She only lived four more years.

Andy was sure that his wife didn’t commit suicide; she had a daughter that she adored, she was the happiest he had seen her, on the brink of fulfilling her dream. It was his goal to figure out what happened to Adrienne & to make sure she would never be forgotten, especially for their daughter Sophie. Andy called the police department for updates on the investigation & was told that the detective had left for the weekend. When he asked for the next in line, he was told that no one else was covering the case, the person apologizing though reinforcing that they believed it was a simple suicide case.

Andy knew he had to fight for the truth since his wife wasn’t there to defend herself. There were emails & phone conversations that took place basically up until the moment that Adrienne died; she had been making plans for the weekend, plans to drop supplies off at their daughter’s school. The next morning, Andy got a call from the detective, asking him to come to the station so they could talk. He showed Andy photos of the apartment where Adrienne died & then showed him a photo of a knot, asking if she knew how to make this particular knot & Andy immediately responded that she didn’t. 

Andy also called the pathologist about the upcoming autopsy. After Dr Michael Baden completed the autopsy, he called Andy to tell him that his wife had “fought like an animal” before she was killed; he found bruising on her body & face, mostly the left side & injuries to her hands, indicating a struggle which you wouldn’t see with a suicide. Despite the immense grief, Andy felt a sense of relief, proving that his wife had not committed suicide.

Now it was time to figure out what had actually happened. Andy got a call from detectives & was told that they had made an arrest. Incidentally, it was the same day that they found out that Waitress had been accepted into Sundance. Police arrested 19-year-old undocumented Ecuadorian who had come to America in July of that year, Diego Pillco who had been doing construction in the apartment building. Detectives had noticed a thin layer of construction dust near Adrienne’s door & asked about what was going on in the building & learned that the unit below was undergoing construction. They saw a footprint in her bathroom; when they entered the unit undergoing construction, they immediately found the same print. According to Pillco’s first confession, Adrienne came downstairs to complain about the noise & at some point, slapped him in the face; he said he feared that she would call the police & he would be deported. He said he pushed Adrienne & she fell against a table. He believed that she was dead so he tried to cover up the crime as a suicide. During the trial, this proved to be untrue. The truth was, he had gone into her apartment with the intention of stealing from her; Adrienne found him rummaging through her bag so he strangled her to death & hung her in the bathroom. Pillco was sentenced to twenty-five years without parole & charged with manslaughter

Diego Pillco

In 2019, Andy visited Pilco in prison in upstate New York, hoping to “humanize Adrienne for him” , wanting him to know that she was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend & a sister. He also wanted him to know that she had missed the last thirteen years of her daughter’s life & her daughter was forced to grow up without her mom. It’s important to Andy that Adrienne be remembered as more than just a murder victim. He hopes that maybe when Pillco goes to sleep at night & stares at the ceiling, maybe he’ll feel something he didn’t feel before.

In the 2021 documentary Adrienne,  which Andy directed, Andy asks a now teenage Sophie which holidays she finds hard; Halloween because it was the last party they had together as a family & also Mother’s Day. Sophie said she feels jealous all day long; that she was robbed of having a mom, it hitting hard that it’s such a permanent thing, the fact that she’ll never have a mom in her life.

Andy remembers being at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2007, only a couple of months after Adrienne’s murder as one of the hardest things he had to get through, the fact that a woman who struggled as a filmmaker to get to this point of success & this was her moment, but she wasn’t there to see it & celebrate it. Andy took a little vial of Adrienne’s ashes & scattered her them early in the morning on the street of the festival; he also brought them to the premier of the movie. 

Towards the end of the documentary, Adrienne, Andy goes to the prison to meet Pillco face-to-face which happened in 2019; not to forgive him but to learn the truth about what he did & make him know how special Adrienne is & for him to acknowledge what he did & who he took from so many people.  His first words to Pillco as he sat across from him at a table in a small room was, “Thirteen years ago, Adrienne died. Part of me died that day.” Pillco whispered back, “sorry, I wish I could go back & change things but I can’t.” He said he had never been an aggressive person, he had never hurt anyone. Andy wanted to understand then, how he managed to kill Adrienne that day. Pillco explained that he came to America, owing $13,500 & that his mother put her house in the bank so he could have money; he was trying to figure out a way to earn money, working on apartments to start. One day, he saw someone come out of an apartment & he had the idea to go in & look for money. He had been doing it for a while at the time that he murdered Adrienne; not just at her building, but anywhere he could, where he was working. That particular day he was sent to work at Adrienne’s building; he put his ear to her door & it opened. He was afraid that he was going to get caught but saw Adrienne’s bag sitting there; he went inside & took the money from the bag & put the bag back down. That’s when Adrienne came out & ran after him; she started yelling & saying that she was going to call the police. Pillco didn’t speak English & only understood the word “police”. As Adrienne went to grab the phone, he got behind her & covered her mouth & told her not to call the police, he said he lost his mind & began to choke her with his hands while covering her mouth to stop her from yelling. He removed his hand, let her go & saw that her lips were blue & realized that he had killed her. This was when he brought her to the bathroom & hung her with a bedsheet fastened to the shower rod, hoping it would look as if she’d committed suicide.  

Andy showed pictures to Pillco, explaining how much he had taken that day & showed him a picture from Halloween, the day before he had killed Adrienne. He showed him pictures of all of Sophie’s birthdays & milestones that both Adrienne & Sophie had missed. 

Andy explains that even to this day, he struggles with the concept of closure & that his life will always be about grief & that the love he had for Adrienne at that time didn’t go anywhere, it just froze & that it feels like Adrienne is just frozen in time. Sophie is now nineteen years old; she started participating in interviews with her dad for the movie Adrienne starting at age fifteen. She starts by saying that she hadn’t cried about her mother in years. Having the camera present & sifting through all of Adrienne’s things that allowed her to be more vulnerable & by the end, she was more open & allowed herself to cry. 

Sophie recreating her mom’s pose in front of Moulin Rouge

He’s since started the Adrienne Shelly Foundation to help women filmmakers & board members of the foundation include Paul Rudd, Cheryl Hines, Michelle Williams & Keri Russell. The foundation has awarded one hundred production grants, including one to Cynthia Wade in 2007 who went on to win an Academy Award for her documentary, Freeheld. Andy feels, “I have seen that out of tragedy, something really good can come, otherwise it’s all in vain. Her murder didn’t stop her from going on, even if in name only.” Andy doesn’t believe in the idea of closure which to him, means something has ended & that there’s a difference between not having closure & being able to move on, be happy again & find love again. “That doesn’t mean you have to close out the past. Everything from our past is part of our future. That’s what shapes us as we grow & mature.”


  1. Insider: 15 years later, ‘Waitress’ stary Cheryl Hines reflects on how the groundbreaking film ‘captures the heartbreak of living’
  2. New York Post: Indie-Film Star ‘Suicide’ Stunner – Hubby Finds Gal, 40, Hanged In Village Apt
  3. New York Post: Adrienne Shelly’s widower confronts her killer in new doc
  4. The Guardian: ‘She’s more than just a murder victim’: the life and death of filmmaker Adrienne Shelly
  5. People: The Heartbreaking True Story of Murdered Actress Adrienne Shelly – and How Her Legacy Lives on With Hit Broadway Musical ‘Waitress’
  6. The Times of Israel; HBO doc ‘Adrienne’ is a husband’s loving tribute to murdered wife and rising star

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