THE SUMMER WIND

Thomas Capano and the Murder of Anne Marie Fahey

By George Anastasia

Regan. 256 pp. $24

. . . AND NEVER LET HER GO

Thomas Capano: The Deadly Seducer

By Ann Rule

Simon & Schuster. 479 pp. $25

By Jonathan Groner, an editor at Legal Times

It was a crime made for the true-crime writer. On June 28, 1996, Anne Marie Fahey, the scheduling secretary to the governor of Delaware, was murdered by her lover, the wealthy, well-connected and married Wilmington attorney Thomas Capano. Fahey's body was never located, nor could prosecutors ever establish precisely how he killed her. (Capano had taken careful steps to cover his tracks; as it turned out, he was not quite careful enough.) The case, from the original missing-person report through the painstaking investigation and Capano's three-month trial, quickly drew national attention. Early this year, Capano was convicted and sentenced to death by lethal injection. The appeals process has just begun.

Murder in high places, a crime of passion, extramarital affairs: The Capano trial had it all. And as even the most casual followers of the case may recall, the trial brought sordid tales of sensational matters such as voyeurism and three-way sex, as well as a last-ditch effort by Capano to blame Fahey's death on a "horrible accident" involving yet another of his mistresses. The genteel veneer of society in Delaware's capital, many said, was cracking from the revelations.

If these two books on the case accomplish nothing else, they will serve to put the focus back on Capano's crime and to restore the good name of Anne Marie Fahey. This was not Peyton Place on the Delaware. Fahey was no scarlet woman. She was a victim of her own tragic childhood; when she was 9 her mother died, and her father was a hopeless alcoholic. She struggled with anorexia, and when it came to men, as George Anastasia writes in "The Summer Wind," her life was "a series of bad choices." Still, Fahey was turning her life around, flourishing in a politically sensitive position, enjoying the company of a new boyfriend and trying to put an end to her fatal attraction to Capano, 16 years her senior.

Ann Rule, the accomplished author of a dozen crime bestsellers, and Anastasia, the seasoned Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who covered the trial for his paper, agree on this point and on nearly everything else about the Capano case. They both have to tackle the key question: Why? What induced Thomas Capano, a well-regarded member of a wealthy family, a former counsel to the governor of Delaware, a partner in a major law firm, to brutally murder his mistress, hide her body in a cooler and dump it in the Atlantic Ocean?

In the first place, both authors point out, much of Capano's life of good works was a facade. Decades before the murder, he had harassed another woman--"stalking" would not be too harsh a term--and he had indulged in a series of affairs that seemed to be well known to everyone in town except his long-suffering wife and four daughters. Second, as both Anastasia and Rule point out, Capano suffered from serious personality problems. Anastasia writes that he was "a control freak who had to have everything his own way, and . . . a self-centered individual who wouldn't take no for an answer." In ". . . And Never Let Her Go," Rule says Capano was a man who had everything but "wanted more than that," a man with a "self-pitying, demanding, domineering, controlling side" who "took a young woman's life because she would not submit to his will." Even while in prison awaiting trial, Capano tried to manipulate events, attempting to hire a fellow inmate to burglarize the home of another mistress, Debby MacIntyre, to intimidate her to lie on his behalf.

Anastasia and Rule cover much the same ground: the rise and fall of the Capano-Fahey affair, the dinners at expensive Philadelphia restaurants, the couple's banter in e-mail messages (this was perhaps the first major American criminal investigation in which e-mail formed an important piece of the evidence), an hour-by-hour account of the night of the murder, Capano's diligent efforts to cover up the crime and his enlistment of two of his unwitting brothers in those efforts. Both authors tell the sad story with authority, flair and pace.

Each writer adds some small, unique reporting details. Rule describes a mysterious "timeline" document that Capano wrote and secreted between two books on the shelves of one of his law partners. This was meant, she says, as "a reminder to himself of where he was supposed to be on that day," something that would permit him to lie convincingly to the police. Anastasia reveals the existence of a successful undercover operation run by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, designed to catch Capano's brother Gerry with illegal drugs and weapons, then to persuade him to make a deal with prosecutors and turn against Tom. Rule makes a good deal more of the sensational events of the trial; Anastasia's book seems to lose a little steam as the trial begins.

According to either telling, the Capano-Fahey drama was complete in itself. It didn't say much of lasting value about the great issues of our time or about the American character at the end of the 20th century. It was, at bottom, the story of two people, a victim and a victimizer, and of how their destinies played themselves out inexorably in an unspeakable crime.