Stephen Elliott's five-year-old daughter, Isabel, wanted hamburgers for dinner, and so on April 17 last year, a little after 5 p.m., they headed for Alfalfa's grocery store in Capitol Hill.
The two had spent the warm Saturday afternoon at a birthday party near Sloan Lake. Isabel was still wearing her purple party dress that flared out at the waist and was decorated with patterns of small kittens, along with her dress Mary Janes. Even though they'd eaten well when they'd arrived at the party around noon, Elliott had stayed late with the party's adult hosts, as he was known to do -- talking, debating, smoking a cigar out in the backyard. When they got into his 1991 white four-door Honda Accord, they were the last to leave the party.
Elliott could have stopped at several grocery stores on the way home: the Safeway at 26th and Federal; the King Soopers at Speer and 14th; the King Soopers at Ninth and Corona. But Elliott shopped at Alfalfa's three, four, five times a week. He and Isabel's mother, E.J. Yodder, were regulars at the alternative food market at the center of Capitol Hill.
At about 5:30, Elliott and Isabel pulled into the U-shaped lot and chose a space near the corner on the west side, the side that borders Emerson Street. Directly across from them as they exited the car, on the north side of 11th Street, young hipsters sat out on the patio of the Park Tavern and sipped beers. On the opposite side of the lot, across Ogden Street, customers in a hurry rotated in and out of the 7-Eleven, Big Gulps and Slurpees in hand. And north of the 7-Eleven, renters washed and dried clothes at the Capitol laundromat, which, as usual, stayed busy on the weekends.
Elliott and Isabel spent a few minutes inside Alfalfa's collecting their goods.
As they left the store, Elliot carried two bags of groceries and told his daughter he had a surprise for her later that evening. At age 42, Elliott had recently returned to smoking a pipe, and during the sixty or so paces from the automatic glass doors of Alfalfa's to his parked car, he told Isabel that that night he was going to smoke from "the big pipe" in his collection, the one that she had been pestering him about.
Elliott unlocked the passenger-side door for his daughter, put the groceries in the car, walked around to the driver's side, got in the car and closed his door. As Isabel was about to click in her seatbelt, she turned to her father, who was leaning forward to insert the ignition key.
Elliott never started the engine.
A loud boom came from directly outside Elliott's rolled-up window. Isabel looked past her father -- the window wasn't there anymore; all of it was blown into tiny shards now -- and she saw the torso of a man, from his shoulders to his waist, with a large gun in his hands.
Isabel watched the man run away. She looked at her father's face and noticed his eyes were still open. She knew he was dead. She said, "Daddy, I'm going to miss you."
Isabel climbed out of the car, walked a few steps away from the vehicle and then started screaming.
Within a few seconds, a female shopper scooped up Isabel and dialed 911 on her cell phone. An Alfalfa's employee out on a smoke break also rushed toward the car, as did customers from the patio across the street and several stunned customers who were leaving the store. Within a few minutes, police were on the scene, surrounding the neighborhood with patrol cars. Within a few hours, television crews and print reporters jammed into the area, knocking on the doors of Elliott's friends and neighbors. Within a day, Elliott's murder had made the Sunday papers, and the video clip of his empty car behind yellow police tape led several newscasts.
But within three days, as of Tuesday, April 20, Stephen Elliott was a forgotten man. His murder remains unsolved.
The initial frenzied reports portrayed Stephen Elliott as a simple man -- but he was an eccentric. He grew up in Arvada, the son of a rugged outdoorsman, a gregarious man whom family and friends likened to Ernest Hemingway. An only child, Stephen was nothing like his father -- he was slight of frame but taller than most of his peers, and he was intellectually superior to kids his age. Stephen's father worked for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, but Stephen took to playing the piano and reading. His mother was a housewife -- a generous woman, friends say.
Elliott attended the University of Denver on an undergraduate scholarship to study classical piano. Once he got his degree, he enrolled in the master's program for mathematics. He became friends with a student in the English department named Mark Asimus. Like many other people, Asimus didn't like Elliott when they first met. "But by the end of the week," Asimus recalls, "I was having lunch with him every day. And continued to do so for the next ten years."
When Stephen was 22, with no explanation to anyone, his father put a gun to his head and killed himself. Though there'd been an uneasy friction between Elliott and his father, the impact of the suicide drove Elliott into an emotional brick wall. His adult personality reflected a detachment from others; he dripped with cynicism and used stiff witticism to gain response from his friends and enemies. If a friend spoke over Elliott while he was pontificating, Elliott was known to shoot back, "It's not polite to interrupt your betters."
Around this time, Asimus and Elliott became close college drinking buddies -- but sophisticated ones. Asimus called Elliott by his last name only; eventually, that's how all of Elliott's friends would refer to him. They were able to sit at a bar well into the night, stretching out conversations -- usually about literature, music or art -- over several glasses of wine. Elliott was a fierce debater, capable of verbally bludgeoning his competitors. Asimus recalls one time at the symphony when a baby started crying. Elliott turned to the mother and said, "People who can't handle children shouldn't have them." Elliott also confided to Asimus the quirks of his existence: that he hated the physical act of reading; that his intellectual weakness was simple math problems; that he considered himself bisexual.
Elliott's bookshelf still holds tomes on reason, logic and mathematics, and he was also capable of consuming obscure, abstract books such as Alain Robbe-Grillet's The Erasers and Clarice Lispector's The Foreign Legion. (At one point during his late teens through his early twenties, Elliott became entranced by astrology. He eventually debunked it, though, and rarely confessed his youthful intrigue.) He had little tolerance for whimsy, emotion or conversational gibberish; not surprisingly, his skin was thick, too. His prickliness came at a price, though: Few of Elliott's friends think they really knew the man.
"He felt alienated his whole life," E.J. Yodder says. "As he grew older, that's how he actually wanted it. That's all he had known." After Elliott completed his master's degree at DU, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program in computer science at CU. Though he continued to study the piano with great passion, he'd conceded he wasn't going to become a touring musician and would need a "real" source of income. He figured he was good at complex mathematics.
When Elliott spoke, he had a habit of bringing the tips of his fingers together, as if he were grasping an imaginary softball. The gesture was decidedly pretentious. Looser friends, like Ivan Suvanjieff, would pretend to remove the ball from Elliott's hands and pass it around to others in the room. Elliott never acknowledged the joke. "We were openly mocking him to his face, and we wouldn't utter a word!" Suvanjieff recalls. "Which made him the coolest person in the world or the most unaware person in the world. And I'd like to think he was the coolest person in the world."
In 1986, Elliott's mother died, painfully, from cancer. Elliott had commuted between Boulder and Arvada to visit his mother in a hospice and told Asimus he'd been "surprised" at how warm the caretakers were. "He was very moved by their kindness," Asimus says.
And on the other side of Elliott's petulance, there was a sweet generosity. While he continued to work on his Ph.D., Suvanjieff was struggling to publish an art and literary magazine called The New Censorship. Elliott volunteered his copy-editing skills and typeset the magazine at no charge. He often took Suvanjieff out to lunch and purchased several of Suvanjieff's artworks each year. He also bought the editor/artist a dictionary.
Elliott admired friends like Suvanjieff because he saw in them people who were willing to starve for their passion. Elliott wasn't. He was a classical pianist who wouldn't bother sitting on the bench if he couldn't play for more than three hours. He didn't play for friends or at parties, but he'd manipulate the ivories for five, six hours at a time, a smoldering pipe in his mouth and a glass of burgundy close by. If he couldn't work through a piece flawlessly, he'd hammer on it for several hours. He played Ravel, Prokofieff.
But the lifestyle of a gourmand isn't cheap. Elliott knew if he wanted time to play the piano at an international level, he'd have to score big financially. Computers were the ticket. "He wanted to buy time, like everyone else," E.J. says. "He wanted to just play the piano and have a glass of wine -- but what he really wanted was just time to think."
In 1989, Elliott, Asimus and a group of tight friends began hanging out at Footer's, a fine Italian restaurant located just across the street from the gourmet food store that would become Alfalfa's in Capitol Hill. The spot became the center of Elliott's social circle. He and several friends sat at the bar almost nightly, stringing together rich conversations, sometimes taking on strangers who made the mistake of sitting next to them.
E.J. was Footer's wine manager, overseeing some 400 bottles. She had grown up in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, attended Penn State and earned a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. She'd lived in Spain for a year, then Washington, D.C., before coming to Colorado on a whim. She had a sister here but knew no one else. When she arrived, she sold wine for three months, then took the job at Footer's.
"He was my first barfly," E.J. says of the man she initially knew only as Elliott. She didn't like him at first. His edges were too sharp. When Elliott spoke to her, he usually complained about his consulting job or was too quick to debate current affairs. But over time, E.J. was drawn to him -- his intellect, his bone-dry humor, his honesty. The two became close, close friends: E.J. and Elliott.
On Thanksgiving 1992, E.J. and several friends spent the evening at Elliott's home, where he served salmon instead of turkey. The following Sunday, Elliott called E.J. and asked her to help him finish off the leftovers. The two stayed up late, talking and drinking. E.J. didn't go home.
When she left in the morning, E.J. felt as if she had just lost her best friend. "I was thinking he wigged, it's over, he can't take that," she remembers thinking. A few nights passed before E.J. hesitantly called him.
An excited Elliott surprised her. "You wanna go out to dinner?"
"It was a shock," says Mani Powers, a close friend of E.J.'s "Not that they weren't compatible. But nobody expected them to get together. Elliott didn't seem to be the 'family man' type."
Elliott had once described himself to E.J. as asexual. When he'd told Asimus he was bisexual, he had offered no evidence. For all of his talking on grand subjects, Elliott spoke little of his past romantic relationships. He had mentioned only one girlfriend from DU, a relationship that lasted all of two months. Another relationship was via telephone, with a woman from Singapore.
He tended to intellectualize his relationships and ignore romance. "Holding hands for Elliott was pushing it," E.J. says. When they cooked together, she used a cookbook like a good suggestion; Elliott read it like a map. He enjoyed making sauces, if only because that's where precision was rewarded. Intuition, gut feelings, capriciousness -- those traits never led Stephen Elliott.
The following January, E.J. had an even bigger surprise for their friends: She was pregnant with Elliott's child. "I knew what he felt about life, I knew what he felt about death, I knew what he felt about marriage, and I knew how he felt about kids," she says. "This was not in the game plan."
Their friends were stunned. Suvanjieff and other friends teased Elliott. "We said, 'Elliott, that involves you having a sexual relationship with somebody.'"
The idea of fatherhood didn't knock Elliott over with a wave of emotion, either. "It was just too much," E.J. says. "After his parents' deaths, he wasn't going to do any more risks. He was done with pain. He was done with that."
"The nine months was a long haul," she adds.
E.J. gave Elliott plenty of chances to walk away. That summer, E.J. went to her family's vacation home in southern New Jersey. Before she left, she asked Elliott if he'd like to join her -- she knew better than to give him an ultimatum. He did follow her, though he spent his days at the beach reading An Introduction to Logic. As E.J.'s pregnancy wore on, Elliott agreed to attend Lamaze classes, grudgingly investing himself in the relationship. "I took him to his limit," E.J. says.
What Elliott feared most was having a boy. "I wouldn't know what to do with one," he told E.J. What he wanted out of their child, he said, was "someone who is interesting to talk to." The birth of Isabel in 1993 held their union together as closely as it could.
As their family life was still being defined, in 1995 Elliott attempted to make the big score. With four other investors, he started a business called MarketScape, a company that specialized in portable computer technology. MarketScape's initial mark on the industry was the creation of a technology called Web CD that allowed Web sites to be downloaded onto CD ROMs. Elliott was the designer, the brains of the group. "He was an exceptional engineer," says Bob Pinna, MarketScape's CEO. Elliott had done consulting work for Pinna's first business. "He was very, very, sharp. He could be a bit of a challenge to work with, but everyone respected his work because he was so brilliant."
Elliott commuted each day from his Capitol Hill home to Colorado Springs. He left home early and didn't get home until 8:30 or 9 p.m. Then he'd make dinner with E.J. and Isabel. At one point, as Elliott became busier with work and E.J. began teaching Spanish at Metro College, he asked her to stay at home with Isabel full-time -- and offered to pay her.
He took his job, and his investment, very seriously. Elliott didn't socialize with his co-workers. He didn't care for the twenty-something slacker chic that was so pervasive in the computer industry. "We're here to work," he'd say. "To make money." Elliott's cutting sense of humor did, however, allow him to post a few Onion clippings on his office door.
By 1998, with MarketScape still riding through its bumpy years, E.J. and Elliott decided to split. Elliott stayed at their home on York Street, near Cheesman Park, and E.J. moved into a condo at Race Street and 23rd Avenue. But they continued to eat together every night and to meet for weekend activities together, just like a family.
From the start, Elliott and Pinna had planned to turn MarketScape public or sell it off to an industry giant for a large profit. After struggling through the first two years, the Web CD began to turn into a success. In a memo to investors last year, MarketScape officials proudly announced that it was filling 1.1 million orders for its product. In addition, it was gaining big clients: Microsoft, Cisco, Bell, Lucent. But after four years, the company was in a peculiar position: The Web CD was intriguing enough to keep an all-star list of clients, yet Wall Street perceived the CD ROM as a dying technology, giving MarketScape no hope of getting on the market. The big companies -- potential buyers -- viewed it as certainly capable of making the best Web CD, but they weren't threatened enough by the niche technology to want to buy the smaller firm.
Elliott and the other company heads decided to concentrate on creating portable support technology for field businessmen. Like the technology that supports a Palm Pilot, it offered a way to load up on memory in order to "connect" to the Internet when no modem was available. The redesign was a major undertaking, one that consumed Elliott's time.
Elliott didn't wake up well on the morning of April 17, 1999, and he was frazzled when he arrived at E.J.'s condo to pick up Isabel. E.J. invited him in for tea. He spoke of the new direction his company was taking, and they discussed what he should buy as a gift for their friend's child. E.J. decided that a plastic food set from Kazoo & Company in Cherry Creek would be a good choice.
When Elliott and Isabel were ready to leave, an excited Isabel pulled her mother out to the car to show her a plastic pager that contained bubble gum. Then E.J. waved and watched the two drive away.
A little before 7 p.m., E.J. returned from a day's work catering a wedding.
As she walked in the door, the phone was ringing.
At the moment the gun went off, an Alfalfa's deli employee named Bob (he asked that his real name not be used) was outside smoking, sitting on the cement loading dock on the west side of the building, about eighty feet from Elliott's car.
When the shot sounded, Bob stood up. As he did, he watched the shooter turn from the car and begin a slow trot directly toward him. "He looked like this wasn't a new thing for him. He looked like he had done this before," Bob remembers.
Bob's mind raced for reason: Was that a gunshot? A stick of dynamite? Why is no one moving a muscle? Did that man's gun accidentally go off? In that moment, he was also able to get the best description of Elliott's murderer, who passed him just five feet away. The shooter wore a generic blue hooded sweatshirt, dark blue or black nylon sweat pants, and red, white and black leather sports shoes. Bob saw that the shooter kept his hair pulled back in a ponytail. As he moved still closer, the shooter kept eye contact with Bob as he calmly worked the shotgun into a medium-sized duffel bag, one just big enough to carry a tennis racket, and zipped it up.
Aside from the shotgun, which could have been sawed off, the bag drooped as if it were empty.
The shooter ran south along the Emerson side of the store, passing Bob, then turned east into the back alley. Bob was still factoring the strange reality when he heard Isabel's scream and saw her. He ran toward the car. When he got to Isabel, she was already in the arms of a shopper.
He was the first person to approach the driver's side of Elliott's car.
Bob looked inside and saw Elliott's eyes were still open, looking at the speedometer. Bob spoke to him, asked him if he could hear him, if he could blink or move a finger. The questions were a formality. The hole in Elliott's neck was as big and clean as if it had been gorged by an ice-cream scooper. "It looked surgical," Bob remembers. There was surprisingly little blood on Elliott or in the car; most of it had dribbled down Elliott's body and pooled between his feet. Elliott's hands lay limp in his lap. "He looked like he never saw it coming," Bob says. "He looked surprised."
When a paramedic arrived on the scene, he draped a blanket over the windshield. Minutes later, half a dozen patrol cars were setting up a perimeter and a helicopter circled above. Some witnesses had reported sounds of tires squealing away, suggesting perhaps a getaway car was waiting or strategically parked, and K-9 dogs were dispatched.
Other witnesses, like Bob, had heard nothing. The difference was important to officers -- were they engaged in a foot search or a car chase? Where should they focus their efforts? They decided to divide up their efforts and began knocking on doors and patrolling streets.
Then the ambulances came. One took Elliott, another took Isabel.
When E.J. answered her telephone, she heard a female voice ask her, "Are you Isabel Elliott's mother?"
"What's wrong?" E.J. asked.
"She's fine," said the voice. The woman told her to stay where she was and a police officer would come to pick her up.
E.J. asked if Elliott was dead. The voice said she wasn't allowed to release that information. E.J. envisioned a car accident. "Look," E.J. pleaded, "I need to know if he's dead so I can know what to do with my daughter."
"He's dead. She's alive."
E.J. still assumed it was a car accident. A clarity came over her. She hung up and called their friend Mani Powers, who arrived at the condo at the same time as the police did.
The cops didn't allow Powers and E.J. to stand alone in the same room. They also didn't allow the two to ride together to the police station. "After only a few minutes, it became very clear as to what they were thinking," Powers says of the officers.
When E.J. was led into the homicide division at police headquarters, her escort pointed a finger over her head and announced, "Here's Mom." An investigator led her to an interrogation room, where she spent the next four and a half hours.
Downstairs, Powers was being questioned by another investigator. Was Elliott involved in any illicit deals? Did he do drugs? Did he and E.J. have a tumultuous relationship? Was Elliott gay? Was he having an affair that E.J. had learned about?
At the same time, investigators were rifling Elliott's home at York Street, confiscating his computer and business papers.
Detectives continued their interrogation of E.J. They offered her something to drink: coffee, tea, a soda?
E.J. responded, "What I'd really like is a glass of good champagne."
Her questioners took interest. One said, "You know, champagne is a celebratory drink. Could you be...celebrating something?"
"You don't understand," she said. "This is the business I'm in. If Elliott were here, that's what he'd ask for."
When the police were through asking questions, at about 10:30 p.m., Powers and Isabel were allowed to visit E.J. upstairs. They hugged, let themselves cry. Two officers had questioned Isabel and taken her out for pizza. They told E.J. she was charming and smart.
When Isabel crawled into her mother's arms, some five hours after crawling out of her father's car, she told E.J., "You know, Mommy, Daddy's gone."
"Yeah, he is," E.J. said.
"No, Mommy. Daddy's dead."
As E.J. held her, she saw blood spots on her daughter's socks.
On the way out of the police station, Detective Don Vecchi stopped E.J. and said, "You know, you're going to have the media bothering you."
"The media? Why?"
Capitol Hill residents who opened their newspapers on Sunday morning, April 18, and read the 305-word blurb that announced Stephen Elliott's death were taken aback. Thousands of people who lived in the area crossed through that intersection at least once a day by foot, car or bicycle. It seemed incomprehensible that a man had been shot in the Alfalfa's parking lot -- unless he was involved in something.
That same morning, E.J. received 46 messages on the answering machine at her condominium, about a third of them from reporters. They had blanketed her neighborhood. One female television reporter had contacted one of E.J.'s college buddies in Buffalo, New York, then knocked on E.J.'s door and engaged her with "I think we have a mutual friend." She offered her sympathy, then identified herself as a reporter.
"You certainly are industrious, but goodbye," E.J. said, and closed the door.
Uncertain reporters left stammering phone messages that conveyed sympathy (for E.J. and Isabel), desire (to get the story) and guilt (for themselves). One Rocky Mountain News scribe was confused by E.J. and Elliott's non-marital status. The reporter left a rambling message hoping to confirm the estrangement, ending with, "We're calling about the murder of Stephen Elliott. We think you might be an acquaintance of his."
The messages and the attention gave family members who were gathering at E.J.'s home a therapeutic laugh. "They didn't know what to do with us," E.J. says of the media. "We weren't giving them anything; that's why they were getting things wrong."
The first blurb that appeared in the Sunday Denver Post reported that a man had been shot in the neck, that his daughter, who had been with him, was safe, and that residents were doused in fear. By April 19, the facts had changed: Elliott had been "shot in the head," and "witnesses thought the girl also was dead after seeing her covered in her father's blood."
More accurately, however, Isabel's skirt had been splashed by her father's blood, a fact that was conveyed by eye witnesses. There was also blood on her left arm, and there were speckles of blood on her socks. Isabel was hardly "sitting there covered crimson in her daddy's blood" as one News columnist surmised. Witnesses also saw Isabel crying outside the car, so there was little reason to believe she was dead.
On April 20, 1999, the daily newspapers hit the racks, and hard facts were left at the curb. Though Elliott had been described as the "nicest, nicest man" by a neighbor, the Post hinted that there was more to his murder: "The mystery surrounding a Capitol Hill killing deepened Monday as police searched for leads in the shotgun shooting of a man whose 5-year-old daughter was sitting beside him."
"We're checking all the angles," said Denver police lieutenant Frank Conner. "We don't know if it's a hit, a carjacking that went bad, or what." The quote was meant to assure the community that the cops were doing everything they could without making a rush to judgment, but the we're-looking-at-everything angle emphasized their efforts to create a rationale for the crime. Befuddled by the apparent randomness of Elliott's murder, residents and reporters hoped there was more to it. Councilman Ed Thomas, whose district includes Capitol Hill, chipped in with, "I pray that it's not a random crime, but anyone who would execute someone in front of a 5-year-old girl, well, it's unconscionable."
After all, no one wants to believe that men go around shooting people in the neck on Saturdays.
But they do.
E.J. didn't mind the misinformation; she understood that her silence had allowed the facts to be garbled. On each of the days following the shooting -- Sunday, Monday and Tuesday -- the requests for interviews mounted. E.J.'s silence provoked reporters. Eventually she did talk to them, on the condition that they wouldn't use her name or pictures of her daughter. She didn't know if the shooter could identify Isabel, and she didn't want her daughter to be forever known by strangers in Capitol Hill as the girl who saw her father get shot. E.J. talked because the story could turn into leads.
But less than 72 hours after the murder, E.J.'s phone stopped ringing. Two teenage students had walked into Columbine High School and killed twelve of their classmates and one teacher. Consumed by the tragedy in her own life, E.J. didn't hear much about the massacre. "I didn't really know what happened," she says. "There was a kid, a shooting, a school. It didn't register.
"All I knew is that it swept everybody off my doorstep."
And with them might have gone the best chance of finding the suspect. Bob, the Alfalfa's employee, had met with police artists at 2 a.m. on April 18 to draw up a composite of the shooter. Fliers reached Alfalfa's and Capitol Hill lampposts late that day. Why the composite didn't make it into either daily paper by the next day is unclear -- but after April 20, newspaper space was hard to come by. On April 27, a full ten days after the killing, the Post printed the drawing. Detective Don Vecchi was quoted as saying "He may still be in the area."
From the start, police had easily narrowed down the killing to a robbery gone bad, says Lieutenant Jon Priest. But residents and reporters were having none of it. In an effort to dispel the idea that the murder could have just easily happened to anyone, speculation mounted.
Suspects and theories include:
E.J.: After the police interrogated her for four hours, she complied with their request to take a lie detector test, which she passed. E.J. figured she was a suspect. By the questions the cops asked her, she realized that her alleged motive was money, or revenge for a relationship gone bad. But Lieutenant Priest points out that E.J. is financially sound and that she and Elliott had a relatively comfortable family life even after the breakup.
MarketScape: Investigators sealed off Elliott's York Street home and spent three and a half weeks thumbing through his papers and belongings (they finally allowed E.J. and Isabel back in, but only after E.J.'s lawyer got involved). They also confiscated his personal computer -- which they still haven't returned, citing the fact that the case is still active. ("It's my understanding you can download what's on the computer and then return it," E.J. says. "I'd like the computer back.") The fact that witnesses had made note of the killer's coolness suggested a hired man had done the job. But, Priest notes, Elliott was considered nothing less than a brilliant computer engineer, a one-in-a-million talent. His stake in the company wasn't up for grabs; it was willed into a trust for Isabel.
Gang initiation: E.J. and some of Elliott's friends believe that a wannabe gang member selected Elliott as the target for his rite of passage into a gang. Alternatively, the killing was a result of a game called Unlucky Seven, wherein wannabe gangsters play a game of dice to determine the fate of the nearest man: Roll a seven and kill the seventh person who exits the building. But, Priest notes, the suspect was in his late twenties to early thirties; gang initiation usually takes place earlier.
Most likely, Priest says, the shooter targeted the Alfalfa's parking lot for a robbery. "There's people with money in that parking lot, they're not paying attention -- it's a no-brainer." In a lot usually dotted with Mercedes and Jaguars, Elliott became an attractive victim since he was distracted: He had two bags of groceries in his hands, he was talking with his child and, Priest says, "Elliott had his wallet in his hands."
But the gunman never got Elliott's wallet. "When a murder like this takes place," Priest says, "with no rhyme or reason, you tend to believe it was accidental." And that's been difficult for Elliott's friends to accept.
Suvanjieff: "With that much money sitting there, it had to be in someone's head. Someone had something to gain by Elliott being killed."
Powers: "Elliott's death was a gang initiation. It was random, yet it was calculated."
Pinna: "I think it would have been too hard to hide if he was involved in something else. I heard the insinuation that somehow this company was involved, but I don't think anybody at this company was offended. People are going to say what they are going say."
E.J.: "I'm not comfortable with random. I'm okay with it, but I'm not comfortable. But I believe it's the truth."
One friend speculates that Elliott could have had himself killed: "He could be that miserable sometimes."
E.J.: "Steve was truly, truly, very unhappy on this earth. He was a very smart man who didn't know how to fit in here. Maybe his own karma had something to do with it? I don't know.
"But not everyone would agree with that."
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Last Monday, the one-year anniversary of Elliott's death, passed without any notice from the reporters who had so eagerly hounded Elliott's family when he was killed. Around 5:30 p.m., E.J., Isabel, Powers and two other friends stood in the Alfalfa's parking lot with a few mementos: some cards from Elliott, a book, some drawings of the murder Isabel had made in therapy sessions.
One of the friends was the shopper who had picked up Isabel after Elliott was shot; she'd arrived at the parking lot unaware of any planned observance.
They burned the cards and drawings in an albacore seashell, and Isabel let go of two balloons. When the ballons got tangled in a web of tree branches across the street," she said, "Daddy will have to come get them."
Every man who walked out of the store with bags in his hands, oblivious of his surroundings, was a potential Elliott.