"I see murder in your eyes, my child -- mother's murder!" -- Aeschylus, The Oresteia .
One piece of the deadly puzzle may be in the books, the Greek tragedies that Sherry Ilene Windt was reading for her freshman college seminar -- plays like The Oresteia, filled with slaughter, with the murder of mother by son and with the agony that followed.
These were stories that closely paralleded Windt's tormented past in the four years since, at the age of 16, she had stabbed her mother to death in their Bethesda home.
Today, two days after the fragile dark-haired woman was found dead of a drug overdose at age 20, apparently a suicide, her dean at St. John's College in Annapolis and her psychiatrist wonder whether the tragedies of Aeschylus played a part in the modern-day tragedy of Sherry Windt.
"It was hard on her, reading those books. It made her think about a lot of things, about her mother's death. . . wondering how she could learn to live with it," said Dr. Nefertiti Labib, her Baltimore Psychiatrist, who remembered Windt telling her about her difficulty with the college reading, particularly The Oresteia.
Windt was assigned to read parts of that trilogy for her seminar Oct. 11 -- within days of the fourth anniversary of her mother's slaying. The scenes focused on the return from exile of young Orestes to avenge his father's murder by stabbing his mother to death. In the third play of the trilogy, the Furies, blood-eyed demons, hound Orestes until he finally is exonerated by the gods.
"A sensitive girl reading that. . ." said Dean Edward Sparrow, shaking his head in sorrow. "It's so close to her own past."
But her psychiatrist does not believe that the college readings alone would have caused Windt to close the door to her dormitory room Monday night, tack up a note written in English and French asking not to be disturbed, and then apparently take her life with an overdose of drugs. Labib said she still is searching for more clues to what set Windt off Monday, which by other's accounts -- was a difficult but not especially unusual day for her.
It had been more than a year since Windt was released from the University of Maryland psychiatric institute, where she had been confined for 15 months of intensive treatment after two years of legal and psychiatric wrangling over her case.
In 1978, a juvenile court judge had found her responsible for her mother's death. A psychiatrist called by the defense testified that Windt committed the murder while in a trance-like state, and compared her to the movie character in "The Three Faces of Eve."
A doctor called by the prosecution argued that Windt planned the murder, carried it out and willed herself to forget it. But all agreed that she was a deeply disturbed young woman.
This was the stormy past Windt was striving to leave behind last September when she applied for admission to the pastoral, scholastically demanding St. John's College in Maryland's capital city.
According to Barbara Leonard, an assistant dean at the college here, Windt told school officials that her mother had died in an accident. Sparrow said Windt, a former student at the exclusive Holton-Arms School in Bethesda, appeared to be "very sensitive and bright" -- fully capable, he said, of handling the unusual curriculum of "Great Books," small seminars and ungraded courses. Windt financed her $6,500 yearly tuition, college officials said, by putting together a package of college grants and outside loans.
By all accounts, Windt had been performing well during her first months on campus. But Monday morning she visited Leonard in McDowell Hall and talked about being worried that she was falling behind in her studies.
"I don't think she really was. But if you're a perfectionist -- and I think Sherry was -- perhaps that's what you'd believe," Leonard said today.
They talked about the young woman's options, Leonard recalled, about perhaps lightening her work load or allowing her to drop out of school and return in January. "She seemed in reasonably good spirits. . . She looked better than she had in some time," said Leonard, who added that Windt had had a bout with the flu. When Windt left, Leonard had the distinct impression that she would be back again to talk about her future.
Windt did not show up for her 11:15 math tutorial that day, but teacher Joseph DeGrazia did not think it all that unusual. She had talked to him the week before about some scholastic trouble, which he attributed to the "normal freshman identity crisis," he recalled regretfully today.
Early that afternoon, Windt drove to Baltimore for a special appointment she had requested with psychiatrist Russell Monroe, who was filling in while Labib was on maternity leave.
Monroe said that she was "teary-eyed and worried" during that visit, but he believed "she was coping." Windt did nothing, he said, to indicate Windt did nothing, he said, to indicate she might be planning suicide. She left his office after making an appointment to see him again next week.
Late Monday afternoon, at about 5 p.m., Eloise Collingwood, a senior who acts as an adviser in Windt's dorm, chatted easily with Windt, who was dressed for the sun-streaked, Indian summer day in jeans and a sleeveless brown leotard.
A short time later, Windt joined a girlfriend for dinner in the college cafeteria. They talked "about normal things, like yogurt and how the college's compared with other yogurt they had eaten," according to Collingwood.
Next, Windt was seen in her dorm, Humphreys Hall, telling a few people she could not be attending her seminar at 8 p.m. because she was tired, Collingwood recalled from accounts other students had given her. The assignment for that night had been to read another Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex, in which a son kills his father.
Sometime that nignt, the do-not-disturb note appeared on Windt's locked door. On Tuesday, around midnight, two friends became concerned enough to call an assistant dean and ask that a security guard check the room.
He found Windt dead in bed in her nightclothes, police said. On her desk was a sealed, handwritten note on brown stationery to the young man she had been seeing for more than two years, Dr. Labib said. But Annapolis police so far have refused to release its contents, even to Labib.
One year ago at this same period so close to the anniversary of her mother's death, Windt had attempted suicide by taking an overdose of pills, Labib said. But that time she was found on the floor of her Baltimore apartment and revived.
"According to Sherry, though, it was a one-time thing. She thought it was a big mistake," said Labib.
Still, the doctor prescribed an antidepressant drug for Windt. She was taking it in modest amounts sufficient to last only one week -- amounts that Labib said were too small to prove lethal.
"She wanted so to make a success of it this time. . . She was a very smart girl," the anguished psychiatrist said today. "I had hoped she would pull through and work it out -- that she would be able to make it."