The Horrific Crime Scene Of Adrienne Shelly's Murder

Mother to a 2-year-old and in a happy marriage, actor and screenwriter Adrienne Shelly was on the cusp of fame when she was found dead in the Greenwich Village apartment she used as an office. Though she was murdered on November 1, 2006 at the age of 40, a 2023 episode of the crime series "New York Homicide" brought new attention to the case. When Shelly's husband, Andy Ostroy, hadn't heard from her all day after dropping her off that morning, he finally went to her apartment office at about 6 p.m. to check on her, according to CBS News. That's when he made the devastating discovery — Shelly was hanging from a bedsheet tied to the shower rod in the bathroom. She'd been dead for several hours.

Initially, investigators assumed the death was a suicide, but Shelly's friends and family, particularly her husband, disputed this on the basis they couldn't believe she would take her own life and leave her young daughter. Upon further investigation, two major clues were found: A dusty man's size eight footprint on the toilet in the bathroom, and the fact that the knot used to hang Shelly was tied in an unusually intricate way. She also had obvious marks above her cheeks and her right eye. Police matched the footprint to the ones found downstairs on a construction site and discovered that the lead of the project was a man named Wilson Pillco.

The murderer's initial confession was false

Upon visiting Wilson Pillco at his home, police spotted men's Reebok sneakers that looked a similar size to the footprint discovered in the bathroom. The shoes turned out to belong to his brother, Diego Pillco, who had illegally immigrated from Ecuador and had also been working on the construction project. At first, Diego was hesitant to talk, but he eventually confessed. He told police that Adrienne Shelly had confronted him regarding noise from the construction and that she had threatened to call the police. Fearing the worst as an immigrant, Diego followed Shelly to her apartment, where he pushed her and she knocked her head. He then assumed Shelly was dead and staged a suicide to shift the blame.

However, the version of the story Diego originally told the police turned out to be false. He later revealed the truth: Shelly caught him sneaking into the apartment and taking money from her purse before saying she would call the police. Terrified of being deported back to Ecuador, he attacked Shelly inside the apartment. During Diego's initial bail hearing after the arrest, Assistant District Attorney Marit Delozier said (via CBS News), "He said he fought with the victim, tied a sheet around her neck and dragged her to the bathroom and hung her from the shower rod." 

After Diego Pillco's confession, everything fell into place, including the fact he was able to create such an intricate knot due to his experience with tying pigs in Ecuador. Per The Guardian, it was later revealed that neck compression was Adrienne Shelly's official cause of death, which could have been from either the strangling or the staged hanging.

Adrienne Shelly's legacy lives on

Astonishingly, Diego Pillco pleaded not guilty upon being convicted of second-degree murder. He received 25 years in prison without parole. Adrienne Shelly's story didn't stop there, though. In a bittersweet twist of fate, her film "Waitress" was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival after her death and later became a hit Broadway musical. Coincidentally, the acceptance occurred when Pillco was arrested. In 2006, her husband Andy Ostroy created The Adrienne Shelly Foundation, which offers female filmmakers much-needed financial support. "Adrienne Shelly was a one-of-kind person," the non-profit organization says on its website. "Funny, silly, smart, cool and a naturally gifted actor, writer, and director. A kind, generous, beautiful soul whose infectious smile illuminated everything around her."

Additionally, in 2021, Ostroy made a documentary named "Adrienne" that showed some of Shelly's career highs and lows and her drive to make women-led stories. In one part of the movie, the actress talks about her fear of motherhood and how it drove the creation of "Waitress." "The actual fear of how your life is going to change, it's not spoken about," Shelly said (per Business Insider). "So, I wanted to write a movie about those fears and give those fears a voice." Within the episode of "New York Homicide," her friend and agent Rachel Sheedy reflected on the actress, saying, "She was this tiny little firecracker. She was this little thing, but she had so much power and so much presence. I still wish I could have seen what else she would have created."