In the pink room - her room - in her parents' home in Landover Hills, the room with the brown-and-orange bedspreads, lie the remains of Ellen Dana Kisacky's life. She was only 25 when the gun went off in her mouth, so the possessions, themselves, are youthful and quite ordinary, really.
A closet containing size 5 clothing ("Nobody wears size 5," says the sisters who marvelled at Ellen's tininess), and shoes with platform heels so perilously high they were in invitation to stumble.
"My height is my biggest downfall," Ellen Kisacky would complain to her tall sister, for she was 5-feet-4-inches, and wanted despite this to be, among so many other things, a model. Or an actress. Or a stewardess. And once she told Liz Severn, her younger sister, that maybe one day she'd be a Sunday school teacher, only that might have just been Ellen Kisacky talking, as she often did, to please other people. And it would have pleased her family, too, because they are all devout Lutherans, and her sister teaches Sunday School.
On the dresser in her old room lies a bottle of Jean Nate and beside it, her jewelry box which still contains her Duval high school graduation ring and a small gold cross which the mother examines impassively.
"I feel that's my only hope," says Erna Kisacky, "She had that faith. Because she was baptized and confirmed. I believe she knew her savior and that she had eternal life. Because that's the most important thing. Because what's happened is past."
But what happened is also present, because nothing in Ellen Dana Kisacky's extraordinary death can remain fixed on the night fixed on the night of Jan. 8. That was the night she attended a get-together police said had "sexual overtones." That was the night that ended with a .357 magnum going off in her mouth. And that, finally, was the night police found her nude body; the night then Raymond Louis Urgo, a Georgetown hairdresser, was charged and booked for the murder of Ellen Kisacky, whom he had been dating for three months. The charge at the time of the trial will be second-degree murder (something the Arlington County Court can heighten to first-degree or reduce or acquit when the case goes to trial). The plea is not guilty.
"I wish," says Raymond Urgo, "I wish you'd express to her parents how badly I feel, how awful I feel. I never wanted to hurt anyone. They don't have to forgive me.I just hope they understand."
Slowly Raymond Urgo shakes his head. "I really don't know," he says.
"That it was an accident," supplies his friend, who happened to be an eye-witness to the incident.
'Apparently," continues Urgo, "I thought the chamber was not loaded. I wasn't in my right state of mind. I just wasn't in my right state of mind. None of us was. Just tell her parents if they want me to do anything for them, I will. Anything."
One thing came out in the early newspaper reports which was frankly puzzling to her sister. Police thought that no apparent force had been sued.
"Knowing Ellen," says her sister, "I don't know how to answer that. I can't imagine her [being around guns] . . . Because she didn't like guns . . . She said one time she had shot a gun and her arm hure and her ears hunt . . .
You know you hate to say, 'My sister was perfect.It was just her friends who were imperfect.' And yet she got with the wrong people . . . I used to get upset because maybe she let her friends take advantage of her. I'd say 'you don't have to prove yourself to your friends. Your family loves you.' And she said, 'Well, maybe it's my insecurities . . . If her friends had been more caring about her, instead of caring about the fun times, I know she could have been a doctor's wife . . ."
Ray Urgo, now out on $20,000 bail, says he, too, is "terrified of guns." Which doesn't explain why he had one that night at his apartment. =Why does anyone buy a gun?" he asks rhetorically. "There's a lot of crime . . . I'll never have a gun again. I get a sick feeling when I see guns on policemen, I don't even want to see a rubberband on a clip."
He pauses, a thin and nervous young man soon to be 33, with dark round face that grows alternately tense and distracted. In his thickly knotted tie, leather jacket and tight slacks he has just been to the Arlington County Court grand jury, and so his voice is strained and his manner subdued, even as he remembers the six days he spent in jail, even as he says:
"Oh God, I've had many nightmares. I had one the other night. I was in prison and being mistreated by the inmates. Someone was sticking a sharp object in my side and then I woke up."
But there was also the other dream. "I dreamt one night about Dana, too. We were on a train or a bus, and I turned around to her and I extended my hand. And she reached over the seats and she took my hand."
"It was almost," he says quietly, "almost like at least she forgives me."
Ellen Kisacky, too, had her dream, and that dream was perfection. "She always wanted to be perfect to the person looking at her," says the sister. "I think Ellen thought that everything should look like a magazine." 'Just Perfect'
When she was little she was Ellen Marie Kasacky - Dana was to come only with a later incarnation, bestowed on her by a man. But when she was still Ellen Marie she was lively and skinny with blonde hair, and the idol of a sister two years her junior.
"I remember one time," says Liz Severn with a smile, "we were being driven to our grandparents' house in Pennsylavania. And we'd been given money by our parents to spend up there.
"Well naturally, Ellen spent all her money right away. And then she turned to me and said, 'Now if you give me half your money, we'll both have the same amount.' And I gave it to her. Can you believe it?"
She was that way, always - spontaneous, an easy spender ("Filet mignon," says the sister, "Halston perfume. And fit wasn't enough, she'd want something even more expensive") overly generous, but exacting the same quality from everyone else. "You have two pairs of black shoes," she pointed out to Liz Severn. "Yeah," said her sister, "and if I give you one we'll both have the same amount."
"If Ellen got her hair cut a certain way," says Liz Severn, "then so did I. If Ellen got a leather coat, then so did I . . . You know she was so beautiful. When she complained about her height, I'd tell her, 'Yeah. But you got [the figure]. Her skin, her teeth - she was just perfect."
At 22, Liz Severn has not yet learned what people around her probably already know; that her sister days of yearning are over, that she is now prettier than her older sister was. Cautious where her sister was impulsive, traditional where Ellen Kisacky was experimental, she can reconcile the difference between them without understanding it in the least.
"Dana was a good person," recalls Ray Urgo, "but she was no angel. She loved life and loved to live it to the hilt. Things just wouldn't get her down. I couldn't believe it. I thought either she was genuinely happy about life or she was stupid, you know."
"How can we come from the same people?" Ellen asked her sister, after they had taken a Glamour magazine test revealing how adventurous one was, and the test concluded Liz Severn was "like the biggest chicken in the world. And Ellen was like Evel Knievel."
The sisters came from people who had first met at Christ Lutheran Church when Erna Kisacky was living in Georgetown. Georgetown was the place they would take the children when they were young. Georgetown was the place Ellen discovered and grew to love only when she left her husband.
And Georgetown is where Ray Urgo cuts hair.
So the mother was speaking metaphorically when whe told her remaining daughter, Liz Severn, "I never thought that when I lived in Georgetown, that Ellen would end her life there." High School Love
They were still in high school when she met Charles Leckliter, the boy who would be her husband; theirs was one of those typical high school romances.
"I'll give you $5 if you go steady with Ellen," Brenda (the best friend) promised Leckliter. And so he did.
These days Leckliter arranges lighting for a band and works as a butcher. He wears his hair down to the nape of his neck and talks still in the truncated, uneasy rhythms of the '60s. But in those days, when he was 17, he hardly knew how to react to Ellen; and she, too, the child of parents who wanted her home by 11 p.m., scarely knew what to say.
"Charlie must have . . . felt sorry for me because I was so embarrassed." Each would write later in their wedding album (entitled "Treasured Memories").
=he got in the car beside me and gave me his ring. I love him so much."
Six months after he was drafted, she in a white mini-dress) married him; but she was, at 19, not in the least prepared for domesticity. Distressed at the thought of being sent to Vietnam, her husband was unhappy in the Army.
"She wanted me to keep my hair long. She used to show me pictures of the Swedish army with their long hair. Then she'd say, "You going to let anyone tell you what to do?" I said, 'Ellen, I don't have no choice.' I think the military had a large factor to do with our break-up. Financially and emotionally. The military really did things to us. The only argument we ever had was over military. She wanted to go to the Mofatorium by the Reflecting Pool. 'She'd say, 'C'mon! Let's go! I'd say, 'I'd be courtmartialed if I went.' And she'd say, 'If you don't like it, why don't you quit?"
Ellen Leckliter had two passions: football and cars. "She loved anything fast," says the former husband. "I had a Camaro 228 and a Mustang and she'd drive it fast and I'd drive it fast. And maybe this guy on the road wiuld rev up his engine, and she'd say, 'Get him!"
He pauses, then says abruptly. "Do you believe a hairstyle can change someone's personality? Ellen used to have really long hair; then she got into a sypsy shag. I mean all the guys were telling her how pretty she was . . . Ellen was the type of girl who'd put on her makeup before putting on her clothes. I mean Ellen was a fair lookin' chick. And one day this guy walked into her office where she was a secretary . . ."
And he told her he was a free-lance photograhper. And he told her she should be a model. And that's why after two years of marriage Ellen Leckliter split from her husband and went to Florida to become a model, with the photographer. Behind her she left an uncomprehending mate and an 18-year-old sister who felt betrayed, as if something had been stolen from her.
"She was so much of my ideal of what a woman should be like," mourns Liz Severn. "When she left I was crushed. I kept thinking, 'What would Ellen do? What would she say?' Now I have to face it, you know. Now I'll never walk with Ellen to the health food store again."
"All I ever asked her," says the ex-husband, "was, 'You have to give me a reason why.' And she kept saying, 'I'm still finding out.'"
"This guy," he persisted, "this free-lance photographer. How do you know he's for real?"
"I trust him," Ellen replied.
Charles Leckliter, who didn't, called the Better Business Bureau. "I don't the Better Business Bureau, but there were no complaints against the photographer. "I don't know," says Liz Severn, "maybe she just listened to one guy too often saying, 'I can do this or ghan for you.'"
It was the times, says Charles Leckliter, it was the era that did it to them. "Back then, the mid-60s," he says finally, "Back then was a very controversial era. It was the era of the sun-signs."
The day after Ellen Kisacky's death was the day he found out she'd divorced him, something she'd purposely neglected to tell him.
("How can I break it to him gently?" she'd asked her sister. And Liz Severn had replied, "Ellen, just tell him. There's no way you can break it to him gently.")
"I think," the ex-husband says slowly, "I think she was very much in love with me until the day she died. I still love her sure . . . I think that's why she could never tell me she divorced me. If she didn't love me, she would definitely have told me, don't you think?"
They put her wedding ring on her finger when they prepared her for the coffin. "That was for Charlie," says the sister. Florida Life
When she left with the photographer, she did, in fact, model hats for a while in New Orleans. But mainly she stayed with him in Florida, especially on Sa??? Island. There were four years of this - years during which she worked as a bar waitress in Busch Gardens, at Avis, and tried to launch a T-shirt business with her boy friend ('He had these big plans," the mother says). Those were the years during which she wrote her family about the '65 Cadillac she bought for $295 ("And it is the nicest car I've ever owned. Now we are a two-car Cadillac family. He has a '69 Caddy too.")
Intermittantly she came back to Landover Hill - two years ago, for her sister's wedding, for the sister, like Ellen, was marrying her high school boyfriend. "Don't look too beautiful," Liz Severn cautioned her, "after all, it's my day." But Ellen primped herself up, anyway, and emerged (after almost making her sister late for the wedding) in a jean-skirt.
"Don't worry about it," Liz Severn told her father, "At least she's here." And from that day onward, as the family photo albums show, Ellen kisacky liked to hold onto her younger sister's arm.
"I have a lot of pictures of Ellen holding onto my arm and it seemed to signify a lot. Ever since (her death) I've been thinking about the things like Ellen being the brave one and then me being the brave one, and then her holding onto me."
And then - almost as suddenly as it had begun - Ellen Kisacky decided it was over. with Florida. With the photographer. Ellen Kisacky came home a day before her father's birthday. It was October 1976.
The first person she asked to see on her arrival here was Charles Leckliter. "We talked about five years, man," he says, "five years. She had partied quite a bit, learned a lot, seen a lot, and felt it was time to get a job. She came up here broke, which took a lot of courage. One day she called me up and says, 'Man, I got this job making $176 a week. How about giving me a car.' I had three cars, but I said, 'Man, i can't give you a car,' thinking I've been burned once, but I'll never be burned again . . . But I could have given her a car and maybe this might not have happened . . .
"Her death was like going into a room and telling a joke with everyone in the room mesmerized, and then walking out on the punchline. It leaves you saying, 'Wow!What's the punchline? You know? Why did she come home? I don't know."
"Don't call me Ellen," daid the prodigal daughter to Liz Severn, "Dana is going to be my stage name." Like the Himalayan cat she brought home, the new name was gift from her old boyfriend. The name she stuck with; the cat, she left often as not to her father's care, for she was frequently away from home.
She got a job as a receptionist at the downtown office of a union, which is also, as it happens, where her sister works. And she had, after all, met Ray Urgo. The family, believing it sensed in her new feeling of responsibility, a steadiness and a maturity, at first attributed this to her new boyfriend.
"Her sister mentioned that to me," says Urgo. "She said, 'Ellen just seem a little more straight, a little more responsible.' They (the family) assumed it was due to me."
Together the two watched football. "She didn't make dinner for me," Urgo says now. "I made it for her and I liked doing it. Dana and I were semi-living together. She was slowly moving all her clothes into (my apartment) and I was saying. 'Fine.' we were talking about actually living together one day . . ."
"I loved her," he says, "I really did."
How Dana Kisackt felt about him is another matter. At one point, she told her sister she wanted to slow down the relationship. "I have a date with someone Friday night. What can I tell Ray?" she asked.
"You don't have to tell him a thing," Liz Severn replied. "Don't tell him a lie. Just tell him you don't want to see him."
"I have to think about that," said Ellen. But the sister doesn't know if she ever told Ray Urgo about her reservations, and Urgo says he was never aware of them. Certainly Liz Severn wasn't at all times pleased with Ellen's new boyfriend, he having once described her as "tall and lanky"; he having (she suspected) kept Ellen away from the family get-togethers.
"She always said, I do think I have to go back to Mom and Dad for R and R.' She said Ray wanted her to move in with him. And she said she didn't want to. She said, 'Am I right?' I told her she was right."
"I feel guilty about not being at home with Mom and Dad," Dana Kisacky would confide. "Don't feel guilty, Ellen," the sister would retort. "Just come home."
"I used to get upset at her for doing things she didn't believe in, but did them to go along with the crowd. And Mom would say, 'Just be patient. I think you're the best thing that can happen to her right now' . . . Once Ellen said, 'I know my friends don't jave me always as their main concern. They're not always out for my own good.'"
And there was another aspect of Dana, Liz Severn found disturbing: the name-dropping. If you liked her earrings, she'd immediately tell you they were Pierre Cardin earrings. "Oh I know I drop nems," Dana Kisacky would agree contritely, "but I guess there go my insecurities again."
"See," says the sister, uncomprehending, "she was perfect, but she had these insecurities . . ."
Ray Urgo's girl friend died on his mother's birthday. "Happy birthday, Mom," he says bitterly. He knows how hard it must be on her, his own father having died a few years back, the same year Ray Urgo's best friend died. "There was just too much death," he remembers.
He is a New Yorker, from Queens to be exact, and he says that his father (who was a contractor) instilled in him "a great respect for life. "As a kid," he remembers, 'me and my cousin used to go around and find dead birds and bury them. We used to have 75 funeral a week, and we used to put crosses or little rocks and inscribed their names on them."
Unlike Ellen Dana Kisacy, Ray Urgo seems to have had a rough time of it in childhood. At grade school, the kids taunted him about his Italian origins ("I remember one time, the kids were dancing around me shooting water guns"), and after he switched schools he got left behind in two different grades. He got as far as the seventh grade, then got left back a third time.
"I really grew up thinking I was very stupid," he says. "I flunked everything in high school, but I was great in gym and track and field. It's all foolish now. Now (if I had to do it over) I'd get heavy into math and science. I guess if I had to do it over I'd become a doctor or a scientist or possibly a zoologist."
After he went to hairdressing school, he took the high school equivalency then in '65 ceme to Washington where he worked for Hair Inc. Three years later he was back in New York - this time at the Mannes School of Music where he majored in classical guitar and studied musical theory.
"I never knew," he says, his face brightening, at the memory, "how fascinating musical theory would be. I used to sit at the piano for hours memorizing Bach chorales, and I hadn't known how to play it before. My music teacher told me he didn't know anyone in the school who worked as hard as me. I really had these fantasies of being the next 20th-century composer.
"This was me! Stupid Ray Urgo."
The expression on his worried boyish face is deeply earnest as he says, "I've been working all my life. I even had a paper route as kid . . . I'm more scared of being incarcerated than anything else. Because all my life I've been nothing but a working citizen, paying taxes. I'd much rather pay back the people of Arlington County in some human way.
"To be in a place with a quote-unqoute criminal element who've been there before - well, like I say, I have nightmares about it." The Last Day
"Like Mom says," Liz Severn, "Ellen never wanted to talk about crime. She always wanted to believe the world was perfect too . . . I think she knew she should be cautious of evil and, let's say, things that go bump in the night. But she also wanted to live life like nothing bad could happen to her."
Saturday, Jan. 8, 1977.
Dana Kisacky spent the day with Ray Urgo at Hains Point, made tentative (but unrealized) plans to eat pot roast at her parents either that night or the next, painted a friend's apartment at Arlington Towers, and finally went to Urgo's home, along with two other women - one of whom arrived later on.
It was around 9 p.m.
"There was sex, yes. But that doesn't mean there's an orgy," says Urgo. He denies having made love to the other women present.". . . I've never been to an orgy in my life and that's the gospel truth . . . half the time I walk around horny . . . there's a lot of women in D.C., but a lot are already hooked up with guys; and the remainder are a bunch of dykes.
"There is no way I can explain the whole thing to you," says a witness. "The whole thing is so bizarre - the senseless tragedy. I know those two words have been used to death, but it was so purposeless, so bizarre.
"Sometimes you see yourselt in a situation and it's like a set-up. Like some power is playing games with you."
"I think," says Richard Ben-Veniste, who is Urgo's lawyer, "a terrible problem is created by a society which allows people access to guns and powerful drugs whose effects they may not have the competence to understand." My only statement is that at the appropriate time it will be established that this was an accident."
"It just should never have happened," says Ray Urgo, shaking his head."It just never should have happened, that's all."
Ray Urgo called the police. "I called them immedaitely. I wanted some help immediately. The best I could do was dial the operator and she connected me with the police.
But the two women went home, and spoke to the police only later. And one of the witnesses - another hairdresser - no one can find. "She freaked out," is how the other witness explains this sudden departure. But before she left she phoned the Kisackys. To say how sorry she was.
And when they picked up Dana Kisackt's clothers which had been hanging at Ray Urgo's apartment, the sister, brother-in-law, and church pastor found a note that read, "Tell Dana's parents I'm hurting too." But that, says Urgo, "didn't hardly express what I wanted to say."
And when they collected Dana's mail, her parents discovered Delta airlines wanted her to return for a second interview.
"See, Ellen wanted to be a stewardess," says the mother. "She used to say, 'If I don't get the job there must be some reason why God doesn't want me to get it.'
And yet - look what happened to her!" One Red Rose
It was an open casket, Liz Severn not wishing to deprive friends and relatives of a last look at Ellen's beauty.
"The man at the funeral parlor," she says, "let me put a red rose in Ellen's hand. Later I said, 'it's too bad it had to wilt, So they put a pink carnation in her hand.
"And then the Rev. Carlson from our church gave me a red rose, with a note that said, 'Love from Amy and Laura Lee,' his two little daughters.
"And it was like Ellen's rose was wilted and mine was fresh from a child.It was like, 'Carry on! Ellen would have wanted you to be glamorous' And she would have, too. Ellen expected glamor in this world."
She will be buried in her mother's family plot in Minnesota when the spring comes and thaws the frozen earth.