Ricardo Silvio CAPUTO
A.K.A.: "The Lady Killer"
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Voices and Visions
Number of victims: 4 +
Date of murders: 1971 - 1977
Date of arrest: January 18, 1994 (surrenders)
Date of birth: 1949
Victims profile: Nathalie Brown, 19 / Judith Becker, 26 / Barbara Ann Taylor, 28 / Laura Gomez, 23
Method of murder: Strangulation / Stabbing with knife
Location: New York/California, USA / Mexico
Status: Sentenced to 25 years in prison in New York, 1995. Died in prison in October 1997
Known to authorities as "The Lady Killer", this suave Argentinian was arrested in 1994 after a 20-year murderous rampage. His first victim was a young woman en New York who he strangled and stabbed in the early seventies.
Caputo was arrested for the murder and placed in a mental hospital from which he subsequently escaped. A smooth-talking con artist, Ricardo left a trail of blood spanning from New York a San Francisco y Mexico City. Although he's only been charged with four murders, it is believed his tally is much higher.
Ricardo Caputo (1949 – 1997) was a serial killer during the 1970s who was known as "The Lady Killer." At times, he was #1 on the FBI's 10 most wanted list. Though he was not definitively linked to any murders after 1977, he remained a fugitive throughout the 1980s, and finally surrendered to police in 1994. Though he is known to have committed at least four murders, he is not considered by many to be a serial killer.
Caputo was born in 1949 in Mendoza, Argentina. In 1970, he moved to the United States and settled in New York City.
Incarcerated at Attica State Prison in New York, Caputo suffered a fatal heart attack in 1997, at the age of 48.
Nathalie Brown, 19, Flower Hill, New York (1971)
Judith Becker, 26, Yonkers, New York (1974)
Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, San Francisco (1975)
Laura Gomez, Mexico City (1977)
Devan Green, Los Angeles (1981)
Jacqueline Bernard, 64, New York City (1983) - Caputo was a suspect in this murder but was never charged. A friend of the victim's, Linda Wolfe, published a book called Love Me to Death in 1998 in which she conjectured that Caputo was Bernard's killer
After 20 Years of False Identities, Man Admits to 3 Killings
By Richard Perez-Pena - The New York Times
March 10, 1994
Telling a tale of multiple personalities, serial murder, repressed memories and nearly 20 years on the run, a man turned himself in to the New York State Police yesterday and admitted to killing women in Yonkers, Mexico City and San Francisco in the 1970's, his lawyer said.
In 1974, Ricardo S. Caputo, now 45 years old, escaped from a state mental hospital -- where he had been committed after being found incompetent to stand trial for the 1971 murder of a Long Island woman -- and a few days later Judith Becker, a psychologist who had treated him, was killed in her Yonkers apartment.
What followed for Mr. Caputo was a life of assumed identities, two more murders, moves to Latin America and back to the United States, a wife and children abandoned and finally a relatively quiet existence as an English teacher with a new family, said his lawyer, Michael Kennedy.
But in the last year he began to remember his crimes and to fear the return of a homicidal alternate personality that he had managed to bottle up in his mind for years, Mr. Kennedy said. Yesterday Mr. Caputo flew from Argentina, his native country, to New York City and went to the Manhattan office of Mr. Kennedy, where he turned himself in to the police.
"This repressed psychotic character within him began emerging, and he feared that he would no longer be able to repress it," Mr. Kennedy said. For Parents, Waiting Ends
For Ms. Becker's parents, Henry and Jane Becker of Bridgewater, Conn., Mr. Caputo's surrender marked an unexpected end to two decades of waiting. "We knew all along that he had done it," said Mrs. Becker, now 74. "But I resigned myself a long time ago that either he was dead or he wouldn't be caught."
Capt. Walter Heesch of the state police said, "He's actively wanted in Yonkers and in Nassau County, and both intend to prosecute him." He said Mr. Caputo would be turned over to Nassau County authorities and arraigned today.
Mr. Caputo moved in 1970 from the town of Mendoza, Argentina, where he had grown up, to New York City, where he worked as a busboy and waiter in restaurants, and, Mr. Kennedy said, as a custodian in the Plaza Hotel. He met Natalie Brown, of Roslyn, L.I., who was a teller at the Marine Midland Bank branch where he cashed his paychecks, and they began dating. Found Incompetent to Stand Trial
On July 31, 1971, Ms. Brown was stabbed to death and soon after Mr. Caputo was arrested. Four months later he was found incompetent to stand trial and was sent to Matteawan State Hospital, part of the state prison at Fishkill.
At Matteawan he was treated for a time by Ms. Becker, a staff psychologist at the prison hospital. Ms. Becker, a graduate of Connecticut State College who held a master's degree in psychology from St. John's University, had little life outside her job, her mother recalled. "She was totally dedicated to her work, to her patients," she said.
In October 1973 Mr. Caputo was transferred to the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Wards Island. He was given occasional furloughs, Mrs. Becker said, and would turn up at her daughter's apartment in Yonkers.
"He just appeared at her door one day," Mrs. Becker said. "Every chance he was allowed out, a few times a week, he would come to her apartment. She tried to befriend him." She said she even met the young man once at her daughter's home.
Mr. Kennedy said Ms. Becker and Mr. Caputo became romantically involved, but Mrs. Becker insisted that the relationship was platonic.
On Oct. 21, 1974, Judith Becker, 26, was found in her apartment, severely beaten and strangled with a stocking. The Yonkers police immediately began looking for Mr. Caputo and for Ms. Becker's 1972 Plymouth Duster, but neither could be found.
Mr. Kennedy said that Mr. Caputo has at least three distinct personalities, and did not immediately remember what had happened. "His first recollection after the killing was being in her car," he said. Killing in San Francisco
Mr. Caputo fled to San Francisco, the lawyer said, where he killed another woman, Barbara Taylor, in 1975. After the beating death of Ms. Taylor, a film consultant, the San Francisco police said their chief suspect was her boyfriend, identified as Ricardo Dunoguier, who disappeared after she died. The police believed that Mr. Dunoquier was either Argentinian or Uruguayan, and a picture of him circulated by the police looks very much like a photo of Mr. Caputo from 1974.
After the San Francisco killing, Mr. Kennedy said, Mr. Caputo moved to Mexico City, where he killed another woman, Laura Gomez, in 1977. Officials in Mexico City could not be reached to confirm that the woman was killed, or that Mr. Caputo was a suspect in the killing.
Mrs. Becker said that investigators had kept in touch with her, informing her of the two killings and telling her that Mr. Caputo had committed them.
Captain Heesch said he had been in contact with the San Francisco police. "They want to talk to him about the Taylor murder, but they don't have an active warrant out for him," he said. He said Mr. Caputo may also be a suspect in the 1983 murder of Jacqueline Bernard, a writer who was killed in her New York City apartment.
After the Mexico City killing, Mr. Caputo returned to the United States and married, Mr. Kennedy said. "He had a wife in the southwestern United States, with whom he had two children," he said. The lawyer refused to name the family or to give their exact location, saying he wanted to protect them. Second New Family
Mr. Caputo left his family in 1984 and returned to Latin America, Mr. Kennedy said, though he would not say precisely where. He began another family, with a new wife and four more children, now aged 5 months to 8 years. They moved to the United States, then back to Latin America in 1992, he said.
Mr. Caputo held various restaurant jobs and worked most recently as an English teacher, Mr. Kennedy said.
In the last year, he said, memories of his crimes began drifting back to him. "It was in bits and pieces, and he couldn't say when, if ever, this psychotic personality would re-emerge," he said.
"A couple of weeks ago, he presented himself at his mother's house in Argentina, intent to turn himself in," Mr. Kennedy said. "She hadn't seen him in almost 25 years. He went there with the intent to turn himself in. She contacted his brother in New York, and his brother contacted me."
"In 30 years as a lawyer," he said, "I've never seen anything remotely like this."
Drifter's Tale of Serial Death: Remorse Prompts Confession
By Robert D. McFadden - The New York Times
March 11, 1994
They remembered him along his deadly way as handsome and terribly charming, a dark-haired young Argentine with a dimpled chin and solemn eyes, a flair for languages and for sketching faces in a bar, too traveled and too proud for the cheap rooms and the busboy's dirty apron.
Ricardo Silvio Caputo had come to New York and was going places. He sought out accomplished women who sympathized with his frustrations and were taken in by the smooth charm, at least at first, women who would later try to break off with him -- and could hardly have foreseen the knife or the brutal knuckles or the nylon stocking at the throat. The Predator Behind the Mask
But behind the charming mask, the authorities say, lay a cunning predator who may have had multiple personalities and who killed at least four women in an odyssey that took him from New York to California and Mexico, leaving a trail of death, grieving families and detectives who never closed their files.
It was a fugitive journey that lasted 20 years, as interviews all along his trail showed yesterday. It saw him adopt 17 aliases and countless personas, and included escapes from a mental ward in New York and an immigration lockup in Texas.
In the last 17 years, as his trail grew cold, he became a bigamist with two wives and four children in this country and South America. He traveled freely and worked as a cook, a salesman, a karate instructor, an English teacher and a restaurant manager in the Midwest and Southwest.
In 1991, he was featured on the Fox television program "America's Most Wanted," but was by then hiding in South America. Then, two years ago, he now says, he began having nightmares, reliving the killings of four women and glimpsing again the killer he says he had suppressed within him for years.
Portraying himself as fearful that he might kill again and stricken with remorse, he says he made arrangements with a brother and a lawyer, flew to New York on Wednesday, surrendered and confessed to four killings. He thus ended his strange life on the run and resurrected a serial murder case that had intrigued and mystified authorities for two decades.
"I have a very seriously mentally ill client," a lawyer, Michael Kennedy, told a judge in Nassau County Court yesterday as the suspect was arraigned on a 1970's charge of murdering his fiancee, Natalie Brown. At the request of defense and prosecution, he was remanded to jail pending a psychiatric examination to determine his fitness to stand trial.
Mr. Caputo, 44, looking pale and nervous, his wrists and ankles in chains, said nothing as he stood in blue jeans, a blue and white striped shirt and a leather jacket before Judge John Dunne, who set a hearing for next Wednesday and sent the suspect to the Nassau County Jail.
Life as a Fugitive
Later, outside the court, Mr. Kennedy called Mr. Caputo schizophrenic and psychotic, a man with three personalities that sometimes and for long periods did not recognize one another's existence, a description that prompted skepticism from some mental health experts. Mr. Kennedy also spoke of Mr. Caputo's fugitive life and the reasons for his return.
Mr. Kennedy said: "The surrender comes primarily because, as Mr. Caputo himself has said, 'I would rather have my body locked up and my mind free, than living as I was, with another identity, with my mind locked up and my body free.' He has lived approximately 17 years without any criminality or any psychosocial behavior of any sort. It is a remarkable story."
The tale of Mr. Caputo, pieced together from interviews with detectives who worked originally on some of the killings and with other people who knew the suspect, began in Mendoza, Argentina, where he was born on May 20, 1949. He grew up there, a short but athletic youth who loved to run and swim and became an accomplished martial arts expert and sketch artist.
Little was known yesterday of his family, but his mother, whom Mr. Kennedy said the fugitive consulted before surrendering, lives in Argentina, and his brother, Alberto M. Caputo, owns a large two-story house overlooking the Hudson River and surrounded by a fence on Palisades Avenue in Riverdale, the Bronx. Mr. Kennedy declined to give details about his two wives and four children.
2 Different Worlds
Ricardo Caputo first came to the United States on a six-month visa in 1970. He had no criminal record or history of psychiatric problems at the time. He landed in New York, took work as a waiter in restaurants and later became a custodian at the Plaza Hotel. At a Manhattan bank where he cashed his paychecks, he met a teller, Natalie Brown, who was 19 and living with her parents on Long Island. They began dating.
The 1969 Roslyn (L.I.) High School yearbook described Natalie as a bright, adventurous teen-ager who loved horseback riding and swimming. Her picture shows a girl with long, dark, shoulder-length hair and a soft smile. She was planning to become a nurse, like her mother; her father was a salesman, and the family lived in a large home in woodsy and affluent Flower Hill, L.I.
The contrast with his life -- menial work, living in cheap rented rooms -- was sharp, and while parents were against the relationship, Natalie was taken with the young man. They dated for a year and in the summer of 1971 went to Europe together, staying in youth hostels and hiking. When they returned, they were engaged, but the relationship was not smooth.
On the night of July 31, the Brown family went out to dinner, and Ms. Brown and Mr. Caputo were left at her home alone about 7:30 P.M. An hour later, Mr. Caputo called the police. William Coningsby, a retired Nassau County homicide detective, remembered it yesterday in an interview from Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"He called the Sixth Precinct and said, 'I think I killed my girlfriend,' and gave himself up," Mr. Coningsby said. Mr. Caputo took officers to the house, where they found the body in the kitchen. The young woman had been stabbed to death and there were indications of "a dispute about their continuing relationship."
Mr. Caputo confessed, suggesting that the quarrel had been over her decision to break off their relationship, and was charged with the murder. But soon afterward, as he awaited trial, Mr. Caputo began "talking with the deceased" in his jail cell, Mr. Coningsby said. He was examined by psychiatrists and the court ruled he was insane and could not stand trial.
He was sent to Matteawan State Hospital, part of the state prison at Fishkill, N.Y. There he began receiving treatment from Judith Becker, a staff psychologist. She had grown up in the small town of Bridgewater, Conn., the daughter of the First Selectman, graduated from Central Connecticut College in New Britain and earned a master's degree at St. John's University in New York. She was dedicated to her patients, her parents recalled yesterday.
A Model Prisoner
In October 1973, Mr. Caputo was transferred to the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Wards Island in New York City, apparently because his behavior was so good that he was not regarded as a risk. Robert M. Spoor, a spokesman for the State Office of Mental Health, said that, while Mr. Caputo was a criminal patient, he had been a model prisoner-patient who worked for a minimum wage at the hospital snack bar and was permitted to roam the grounds freely.
He also began to receive furloughs, sometimes several a week, and on many of these he visited Ms. Becker at her apartment in Yonkers, authorities and Ms. Becker's parents, Jane and Henry, said. Some authorities later said the couple were romantically involved, but Ms. Becker's parents denied this.
In the summer of 1974, Ms. Becker once brought Mr. Caputo to her parents home in Connecticut for a day at poolside in the backyard. "He was very charming," Mrs. Becker said. "He seemed very intelligent, quite personable." The parents, who said they did not learn Mr. Caputo was a criminal-patient until it was too late, said their 26-year-old daughter told him that September to stop visiting her flat, but he continued to do so.
"He was upset," Mrs. Becker said.
His freedom to come and go was so unquestioned in the fall of 1974 that the hospital staff did not even know he was missing until a few days after his disappearance on Oct. 20, 1974. That day, Mr. Caputo has admitted, he went to Ms. Becker's apartment, battered her with his fists and strangled her with a nylon stocking.
He fled in Ms. Becker's 1972 Plymouth Duster, and the next day her parents, unable to reach her by phone, went to her apartment and found her body. "When I realized she had been murdered, I knew it was him," Mrs. Becker said, referring to Mr. Caputo.
The fugitive fled to San Francisco, where he stayed for only three months in the winter of 1975. That was time enough for him to meet Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, a manager for an educational films subsidiary of McGraw-Hill.
Calling himself Ricardo Dunoquir, Mr. Caputo passed himself off as a struggling artist from Uruguay fluent in Spanish, English, Portugese, Hebrew and Italian. He began sketching people's faces in bars to make a meager living. Ms. Taylor was one of his sketch subjects, and he soon was dating her.
'He Was Dead Weight'
Police Inspector Earl Sanders said that Mr. Caputo persuaded Ms. Taylor to let him move into her apartment in Pacific Heights. But by early March, he said, she wanted to break off the relationship "because he was dead weight."
Mr. Sanders said: "He was pretty much sponging off her, that was his game. She was happy at first. He was a very charming man. But her family and friends were skeptical because he didn't have a job and he talked big."
The inspector said Ms. Taylor finally bought Mr. Caputo a plane ticket to Honolulu because he had expressed an interest in getting restaurant work there. "She was probably thinking it was a good investment," he said. "She could get him out of her apartment and he would go away."
Mr. Caputo was gone for two weeks, returning on March 26. She picked him up at the airport, the inspector said, and later told a sister the man wanted to marry her but that she was determined to break off the relationship. On March 30, Ms. Taylor failed to show up for a dinner at her parents' home in Fremont, a suburb in the San Francisco Bay area. The police were called and found her beaten to death in her apartment.
Mr. Caputo, who was seen leaving the apartment with a suitcase on the morning of March 27, fled to Mexico. But he was caught on April 3 at the border near Texas and detained by United States Immigration authorities in El Paso, to whom he gave the name Ricardo Pinto.
With a group of other detainees, he broke out of the barrackslike center on April 7, overpowering guards and scrambling over a chain-link fence. He then disappeared into Mexico. In Mexico City, using various names, including Ricardo Martinez Diaz, he got a sales job in a bookstore, then met and began living with a 20-year-old college student, Laura Gomez.
On Oct. 3, 1977, she was found bludgeoned to death in their apartment. Her father told authorities that her daughter's boyfriend killed her. Mr. Caputo fled again.
His whereabouts over the next 17 years are known only in outline. According to his lawyer, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Caputo returned to the United States in 1977, settled in the Southwest, married and had two children. Seven years later, he left his family and fled to South America.
The reason for his departure was unclear, but New York City police officials said yesterday that Mr. Caputo was a prime suspect in the killing of a writer in New York, Jacqueline Bernard, 62, who lived alone in an apartment at 552 Riverside Drive and was found strangled on Aug. 2, 1983.
"He denies any involvement in that," Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Kennedy declined to say where Mr. Caputo settled in South America in 1984, but said he married again and had two more children, moved to the United States with his new wife in 1985 and then returned to South America several years ago, perhaps in response to his featured appearance on "America's Most Wanted."
He said Mr. Caputo worked in many jobs, as waiter, martial arts and English teacher and manager of restaurants in the Midwest and Southwest, and lived in North and South America, apparently using false papers to establish his credentials and move about.
He used many different names to conceal his identity, Mr. Kennedy said, but never changed his physical appearance. He said Mr. Caputo had children ranging from 5 months to 8 years old by his two marriages, and insisted that his client had led a crime-free life for the last 17 years.
"Normally, what one sees in psycho-pathology and schizophrenia is that the anti-social behavior increases in frequency and magnitude over time, and one just doesn't stop," Mr. Kennedy said. "In this instance, it stopped. Yet he lives -- having committed four horrible murders -- a totally quiescent life, with a wife and four wonderful children."
But for the families of Mr. Caputo's victims, it was his capture that touched the stricken heart. "I'm very glad that they caught him," Mrs. Becker said. "I'm relieved. I always felt he might be murdering other people. It has been very emotional, very draining."
Slay Suspect Was Raped As a Child, Lawyer Says
By Robert D. McFadden - The New York Times
March 12, 1994
Ricardo S. Caputo, who returned voluntarily to New York this week after 20 years as a fugitive and admitted murdering four women in this country and Mexico in the 1970's, was raped by a stranger as a child in Argentina, his lawyer said yesterday.
The lawyer, Michael Kennedy, also said that Mr. Caputo had been physically abused by his mother's companion and that he underwent psychiatric treatment as a teen-ager.
Mr. Kennedy, who contends that Mr. Caputo has multiple personalities and was insane when the murders were committed, said his client was 7 or 8 years old when he was lured with candy and raped by a man he did not know in Mendoza, Argentina.
In addition, Mr. Kennedy said, the boy's mother abandoned the family until his father died, then returned with a man who became "a tyrant" in their household, often slapping the boy.
"This sexual and physical abuse were among the factors that contributed to his diagnosis of schizophrenia," Mr. Kennedy said in a telephone interview last night. The lawyer said Mr. Caputo voluntarily entered a psychiatric hospital in Argentina when he was 18 years old, suffering from depression, and told doctors about the rape and other abuse.
Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Caputo had disclosed the rape and physical abuse in his past in an interview with ABC News's "PrimeTime Live," which was taped before his surrender Wednesday night for broadcast next week. The lawyer said he was merely confirming his client's accounts and denied that disclosures about his troubled past were part of an effort to support a possible trial defense that he was not sane, and thus not responsible, at the time of the murders.
Mr. Caputo, who immigrated to New York in 1970, admitted that he killed four women with whom he had had relationships. The women were his fiancee, Natalie Brown, 19, killed in Flower Hill, L.I., in 1971; his psychologist, Judith Becker, 26, slain in Yonkers in 1974; Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, with whom he was living in San Francisco in 1975, and Laura Gomez, with whom he lived in Mexico City in 1977.
The New York City police say Mr. Caputo is also a prime suspect in the 1983 killing of Jacqueline Bernard, 62, a writer who, acquaintances said, had befriended Mr. Caputo and was found strangled in her apartment.
Mr. Caputo is being held without bail under medical observation in the Nassau County Jail. It is unclear if he will be tried for murder. Psychiatric tests will determine if he is competent to stand trial -- that is, capable of understanding the charge and assisting in his defense. If he is tried, a key question would be whether he was sane when he killed his victims.
In the 17 years since the last killing, Mr. Caputo, now 44 years old, said he has lived a relatively quiet life in North and South America by concealing his identity with many aliases, holding a series of jobs, marrying two women and fathering six children. New Details Emerge
While Mr. Kennedy had previously given only an outline of Mr. Caputo's life as a fugitive, many new details of his movements and activities in the last 17 years were reported yesterday by law-enforcement officials, including some who had worked for many years on cases in which Mr. Caputo was a suspect.
Some of these officials said they were allowed to talk to Mr. Caputo when he surrendered Wednesday night at a New York State Police barracks in Farmingdale, L.I. But Mr. Kennedy said last night that he was not present at any such talks and was shocked that anyone had been permitted to speak to his client.
"This is the first I've heard of it," Mr. Kennedy said. "No one was authorized to speak to him. I left clear instructions with the state police at the time I surrendered him that he was to talk to no one but psychiatrists."
Joseph Surlak, a recently retired Yonkers police detective who followed the Becker murder case for two decades, said several law-enforcement officials had spent half an hour talking with Mr. Caputo. He said he understood only that Mr. Caputo was not to be questioned about the murder cases, but that he was allowed to answer questions about his years in hiding.
"He said that after the homicide in Mexico City he went to the Los Angeles area," Mr. Surlak said. It was unclear what community he settled in, the former detective said, but he apparently remained in the area from 1977 to 1983, eventually becoming a restaurant manager.
Another detective present at the conversation, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified, quoted Mr. Caputo as saying he was married for the first time while in the Los Angeles area.
The detective said Mr. Caputo told of fathering two children by his first wife, in 1981 and 1983, and admitted that he abandoned his family on the day the second child was born in 1983.
Asked about the account to this point, Mr. Kennedy said it was "reasonably accurate." But he disputed the facts and chronology of much of the rest of what the detectives said they were told.
The detective said Mr. Caputo went from the Southwest to the Chicago area, again became a restaurant worker and manager and, without having obtained a divorce, was married again, this time to an American-born woman, with whom he had four children. He said the couple moved to Argentina in 1984 or 1985 and returned to the Chicago area in 1986, where they stayed until 1992.
Disputing this account, Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Caputo went directly from the Southwest to an unspecified country in Latin America in 1984 and was married there to his second wife. He said they moved to the United States in 1985 and remained until 1992 when they returned to Latin America. Medical-Supplies Salesman
Chicago television reports said yesterday that in the late 1980's and early 1990's, Mr. Caputo worked at Arlington Raceway and as a manager of several Chicago-area restaurants, using the alias Franco Parose.
In 1992, Mr. Caputo and his family moved back to Argentina, the detective said. Since then, he said, Mr. Caputo has worked as a salesman for a medical-supplies company, and in that capacity traveled occasionally to Miami to buy supplies that the company sold in Argentina. He said Mr. Caputo traveled on a false passport.
During his fugitive years, Mr. Kennedy has said, Mr. Caputo led an exemplary life and had repressed the memory of his past as a killer. The lawyer suggested this was possible because Mr. Caputo had three distinct personalities, which sometimes and for long periods did not recognize the existence of one another.
But during his latest sojourn in Argentina, Mr. Kennedy said, Mr. Caputo began having nightmares about the killings, was overcome with remorse and began to feel the personality of the repressed killer in him returning. Fearing he might kill again, Mr. Caputo decided to surrender, Mr. Kennedy said.
Voices and Visions: Diary of a Confession to Four Murders
By Nathaniel C. Nash - The New York Times
March 13, 1994
In the weeks before he returned to the United States and surrendered, Ricardo S. Caputo gave extensive, chilling accounts of the killings of four women in the 1970's to a lawyer and a psychiatrist here in his native city.
In sessions with one or the other of the two men, the 44-year-old Mr. Caputo told of hearing bizarre voices and of seeing hallucinations before and after each murder. He said the feeling of being imprisoned in relationships had touched off his violent behavior. He described the traits of the three distinct personalities he claims are within him. He told of his two marriages, one in Los Angeles and the other in Mexico City, and of his wives and four children.
He detailed almost 20 years of life on the run using false identities. At one point, with a Mexican passport under the name Roberto Dominguez, he said, he obtained a United States visa in Chicago for his wife and daughter, who were in Mexico City at the time.
At the urging of the lawyer and the psychiatrist, Mr. Caputo wrote an extensive account of his life since leaving Argentina in 1970, detailing the killings, his mood swings, the "broad lines" that appeared in front of his eyes whenever his emotional state deteriorated and the voices he heard that were often arguing with one another.
The day after his second child was born in April 1984 in Los Angeles, he said, he took the family's money and fled to Mexico.
"My mood was very depressed again," he wrote in neat and refined handwriting on white, lined paper. "The voices were demanding my blood."
Portions of that account were shown and read to a reporter by the psychiatrist, who had five sessions with Mr. Caputo here.
From Jan. 18, the day Mr. Caputo arrived here from Mexico City, he pleaded with his mother, the lawyer and the psychiatrist to turn him over to an institution for psychiatric help, the lawyer said. He said it took seven weeks to arrive at an effective surrender solution, with Mr. Caputo eventually contacting his brother, Alfredo, in New York City. His brother hired a New York lawyer, Michael Kennedy, who then arranged for Ricardo Caputo's surrender.
Mr. Caputo left here last Monday and turned himself in two days later.
Mr. Caputo, who immigrated to New York in 1970, has admitted that he killed four women with whom he had relationships. The women were his fiancee, Natalie Brown, 19, killed in Flower Hill, L.I., in 1971; his psychologist, Judith Becker, 26, slain in Yonkers in 1974; Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, with whom he was living in San Francisco in 1975, and Laura Gomez, with whom he lived in Mexico City in 1977.
Mr. Caputo is being held under medical observation in the Nassau County Jail on a charge of murdering Ms. Brown, but it is unclear if he will be tried. Psychiatric examinations will be needed to determine if he is competent to stand trial -- that is, whether he is capable of understanding the charge and assisting in his defense. If he is tried, psychiatrists may again be called to determine if he was sane -- understood his actions -- when he killed his victims.
The leading Argentine newspaper, Clarin, reported today that on Jan. 18, the day he left Mexico, Mr. Caputo was questioned by the police there about a separate homicide case. [ Police officials in Mexico City said they could find no information about such an encounter. ]
In Argentina, in any case, he had no criminal record, his lawyer here said, and there was no warrant, either domestic or international, for his arrest. The lawyer, Mario Luquez, said that when he approached the Argentine police and judges about Mr. Caputo's desire to give himself up for psychiatric treatment here, they simply threw up their hands, claiming that since no charges were pending against him, he could not be arrested, no matter how many crimes he confessed to.
"He came to my office and started telling me what he had done, and I just could not believe him at first," said Mr. Luquez, a prominent lawyer here. "I thought he was the greatest storyteller in the world. But he kept coming back to talk for so many days, insisting he wanted to give himself up. He was desperate."
Fernando Linares, the psychiatrist who treated Mr. Caputo, said: "I thought he was a time bomb because he was very calm at that moment, but he could have reverted back at any time and then he would disappear. And then we would have lost control." Dr. Linares says the Caputo case is the most mystifying one he has handled in his 25 years of practice.
Mr. Caputo's mother, Alicia de Pintos, with whom he stayed while he was here, has refused to talk to news organizations about her son.
For this city in the heart of Argentina's wine country alongside the Andes Mountains, Mr. Caputo's story seems not to have sunk in. Perhaps the idea of having a native son who became a psychopathic killer is too much to cope with.
"People cannot take in the dimensions of what he has done," Mr. Luquez said. "This kind of case has never been seen here before." Profile Sheds Light On Inner Torment
Mr. Caputo spent seven weeks here, mostly in hiding, and what he told the two men during that time provides the fullest account so far of the inner torments that might have led to the brutal crimes. It also paints a more complete picture of his two decades as a fugitive from justice.
Both Mr. Luquez and Dr. Linares emphasize that they could confirm little of Mr. Caputo's story and that they had to take his word for what happened. But an examination of the account he wrote reveals a remarkable correspondence with the dates on which the four women he names were killed, with what the police and investigators knew about his various movements and with much of Mr. Caputo's testimony through his New York lawyer.
Still, there are many doubts that linger here among those who tried to help him. Both Mr. Luquez and Dr. Linares describe a man who was "cultured, correct, serene, polite and refined," who maintained a stable emotional state throughout the time he spent in Mendoza, who obeyed their instructions, who was highly punctual and who never wavered from his insistence that he be given over to the authorities.
"I treated him like a child," Mr. Luquez said. "I told him I did not want any trouble and that he was to stay in the house and go nowhere other than coming to my office or seeing the psychiatrist. And as far as I knew, he did that. He said to me, 'I am in your hands.' "
Dr. Linares said he could not reconcile periods of extremely violent, psychotic behavior with longer periods of apparently normal, stable behavior.
He said Mr. Caputo told him that he would become violent when women with whom he had developed intimate relationships demanded more of him, causing him to seek to end the relationships.
Dr. Linares said his provisional diagnosis was schizophrenia -- a mental disorder that often involves delusions and hallucinations -- not multiple personalities. But he did not rule out the possibility that Mr. Caputo is a "psychopathic personality pretending to be crazy." He said he did not have enough information to make a final diagnosis.
It was on Jan. 20, two days after he arrived in Mendoza, that Mr. Caputo showed up at Mr. Luquez's office. After he began to believe that Mr. Caputo's story might be true, Mr. Luquez said, he tried to find a court that would place his client in custody.
Mr. Luquez said that Mr. Caputo wanted to be placed in an Argentine psychiatric institution that would then be able to transfer him to Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Wards Island, where he felt he could get effective treatment and where he was transferred in October 1973 after being found incapable of standing trial for the murder of Natalie Brown, his fiancee.
But not only was the lawyer unable to verify Mr. Caputo's account, he could not find a court that would order him placed in custody. 3 Personalities Contend for Control
In early February he referred Mr. Caputo to Dr. Linares. There followed extensive sessions with the psychiatrist in which Mr. Caputo began to talk of Frank, Richard and Robert, who he said were the three personalities within him.
Frank was the "man who works, brings in the money and the bread," Mr. Caputo said in his sessions with the doctor. "He knows how to handle money."
Robert was strong, healthy, stable, charismatic and a family man.
Richard was "weak and sick, like a kid playing with a ball, playing in the street."
He mentioned frequent conflicts between Frank and Robert.
As a psychological profile of a deeply troubled man, the account Mr. Caputo wrote here is highly revealing, showing periods of intense psychosis and loss of perception of reality, as well as times of relative sanity.
Leading up to his first killing, that of Ms. Brown in 1971, he wrote: "I can't remember clearly what was happening. I was hearing voices, shouting, and saw many wide lines. I don't remember anything else. I found myself walking in the street, and I walked up to a group of policemen. They asked me what I had done, if I had been in a quarrel. The policemen took me to Natalie's house."
After being found incapable of standing trial for Ms. Brown's killing, he was placed in Matteawan State Hospital in New York, where he was a model patient. He was transferred to Wards Island in October 1973, where he claims he was first received with "mistrust" but soon gained the favor of the doctors. He said he had saved one employee's life from a violent inmate. And while there, he asserted, he developed a romantic relationship with Judith Becker, his psychologist, whom he visited at her apartment on furlough, spending several days at a time.
He wrote of undergoing an "extraordinary change" in his first months at Wards Island, returning almost to a "normal mental state."
But soon his relationship with his psychologist put him under too much pressure, according to his written account. "She began to require a lot of sex from me, and that is when I began to change," he wrote, adding that his behavioral changes were noted by the doctors in the hospital.
He wrote that in the fall of 1974, when he killed Ms. Becker, he was again hearing shouting and seeing lines before his eyes.
After the 1975 killing of Barbara Ann Taylor, he wrote, he fled to Mexico City, felt depressed again and was hearing "the voices more frequently."
In 1977, during a relationship with Laura Gomez, he wrote, the voices "did not let me have any peace."
"My depressive state is getting worse, and I am constantly hearing voices, shouting and seeing lines," he wrote of that period. "I am desperate."
Then on Oct. 3, 1977, he bludgeoned Miss Gomez to death and fled. Of his flight he wrote: "When I wake up I see myself traveling to the United States. I don't remember how I crossed the border. I thought that I was a ghost."
He went to Salt Lake City for five months, he wrote, and then to Los Angeles, where he got a waiter's job in a restaurant and met the woman who became his first wife, Jasmine Fernandez. They married in 1979. Mr. Caputo wrote that he was hearing voices both before and after the wedding.
Still, the next year was a good one for him: "This year I was happy. I had no depressions, but the voices disturbed me a little."
A son was born in 1981 and a daughter in 1984. But he left his wife on the day after their daughter was born because he "thought his wife suspected something about his strange behavior and worried that he was talking with a nonexistent person," Dr. Linares said.
Mr. Caputo said that he had talked with his mother-in-law about the voices, but that she attributed the problem to his working too hard. The Voices 'Claiming My Blood'
But he left, taking the family's money, and returned to Mexico, saying that the voices are "claiming my blood."
By June 1984 he acquired a Mexican passport under the name Roberto Dominguez, stayed two months in Mexico City and then moved to Guadalajara.
In January 1985 he met Susana Elizondo, according to his account; he fell in love with the 17-year-old and they married in May.
"I did not have depression, but I had fear of the voices," he wrote.
He then traveled to Chicago as Roberto Dominguez, rented an apartment and began to work, eventually securing a visa for his wife and newborn child to come to the United States, he wrote.
The last entries in the notebook are sketchy because they were written near the time of his departure from Argentina. By that time his lawyer had worked out a plan of return to New York with Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Caputo left Mendoza on March 7 with only a handful of people knowing he had ever passed through.
Dr. Linares said he tended to believe Mr. Caputo's story, saying that both in Argentina and in the United States the accounts seemed to be relatively consistent.
"It is a strange case," he said. "From the moment he arrived he told his mother, his stepfather, his lawyer and his psychiatrist that he wanted to turn himself in. He always had the same expression on his face. It did not change at all. It was one of guilt. He said he intended to repay the damage. And as the days went by he was even more desperate and anxious to give up. He is definitely a very very sick man."
Slaying Suspect's Grim Youth Recalled by His Brother
By John T. McQuiston - The New York Times
March 17, 1994
Ricardo S. Caputo, who surrendered last week and confessed to slaying four women in the 1970's, lived a tortured childhood, struggling in vain to get the help and support he needed, his brother said today.
"He was abandoned as a small boy," the brother, Alberto M. Caputo, said at a news conference. "He was raped. He was beaten. He was ignored when he begged for help.
"Turned away from his home, he went alone to a mental hospital in Mendoza, Argentina, called Sauce, which translated means weeping willow. No one knew how to help him there. He joined the priesthood looking for salvation, but the love and understanding he needed eluded him."
Mr. Caputo did not elaborate on his brother's involvement with the priesthood, and his lawyer, Michael Kennedy, refused to comment late this afternoon. Mr. Kennedy has insisted from the night of Ricardo Caputo's surrender that he is mentally ill, a man with three personalities, one of which was a psychotic killer.
Alberto Caputo's comments came in a written statement and in remarks made outside a Nassau County courtroom where his brother appeared at a pretrial hearing. Judge John Dunn ordered Ricardo Caputo to undergo a psychiatric examination on Thursday to determine whether he is fit to stand trial or should be sent to the a state mental hospital for the criminally insane. He escaped from such a hospital in 1974.
Alberto Caputo and his wife, Kim, sat in the front row in the courtroom, nervously clasping hands, as Ricardo Caputo was led in by guards for a hearing before Judge Dunn. After the judge ordered the psychiatric examination, Alberto Caputo said he was "now confident" that his brother would get the kind of medical and psychiatric help he needed. For 20 Years, No Word
Alberto Caputo, who lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, said that he had not heard from his brother for more than 20 years and thought he was probably dead when he got a phone call from him from the Caputos' native Argentina eight weeks ago pleading for help.
Saying he was racked by guilt and plagued by hallucinations and voices, Ricardo Caputo said he wanted to turn himself in.
Alberto Caputo said he flew to Argentina, picked up his brother and returned to New York with him. He said that on March 9 he sat in Mr. Kennedy's office in Manhattan with his brother, "listening to Ricardo's story."
"Everyone present was moved to tears," he said. "This man was so sick, so sorry and so ready for whatever was to make him and others safe from his horrible nightmare."
Mr. Kennedy, in surrendering Ricardo Caputo to detectives a week ago, said his client had confessed to murdering four women in the 1970's. He said Ricardo Caputo had been physically abused by his mother's companion when he was a child and that he underwent psychiatric treatment as a teen-ager.
Mr. Caputo, who immigrated to New York in 1970, admitted that he killed his financee, Natalie Brown, 19, at her home in Flower Hill, L.I., in 1971; his psychologist, Judith Becker, 26, slain in Yonkers in 1974; Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, with whom he was living in San Francisco in 1975, and Laura Gomez, with whom he lived in Mexico City in 1977.
Mr. Kennedy said that Ricardo Caputo had been diagnosed as schizophrenic, that he suffered from multiple-personality disorder and that he could not understand why he killed the four women with whom he had close relationships.
In the 17 years since the last killing, Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Caputo, who is now 44, has lived a relatively quiet life in North and South America, using many identities and marrying twice, having two children by his first marriage and four by his second.
Alberto Caputo said that had his brother "been helped long ago, none of these deaths would have come to pass."
"He begged for help many times and was left alone with his terrible illness and the devices that he created to deal with the pain and abuse of his childhood," he said.
TV Confession Is Seen As Lawyer's Strategy
By James Barron - The New York Times
March 18, 1994
Before Ricardo S. Caputo turned himself in to the police nine days ago, claiming that he killed four women in the 1970's, he spent two hours with a television correspondent and a network camera crew, describing the voices and premonitions that he said drove him to murder.
It was a big scoop: Mr. Caputo has spoken to no reporters since his arrest at the end of the interview.
It was also a strategic coup for the defense, some lawyers not involved in the case said. They saw in it a careful plan by Mr. Caputo's lawyer, Michael Kennedy, to control the flow of information about his client. The idea, they said, was to put the case in the most favorable light before it went on any court docket, or to any judge or jury.
"What the defense team is doing is spin control," said Laura Brevetti, a former prosecutor now in private practice, "trying to define the issues before the issues get defined for them." Mr. Kennedy, she added, had seized some advantage "because he had the time to plan the surrender." Seeking Sympathy
With Mr. Caputo in custody, Mr. Kennedy outlined for reporters Mr. Caputo's mental problems in terms that seemed intended to elicit sympathy. Mr. Kennedy said his client was suffering from multiple-personality disorder and had at least three personalities, one of which was psychotic and pushed him to commit serial murder. Some psychiatrists were skeptical of that explanation, but to many television viewers and newspaper readers, it quickly became a fact of the case.
Eventually, other details trickled out, also in the most positive terms possible, given the circumstances. On Wednesday, for example, Mr. Caputo's brother Alberto issued a statement saying that Ricardo Caputo had been abused and abandoned as a child and spent time in a mental ward in Argentina. But Alberto Caputo asserted that "the pressures of his mental disease grew more and more intense."
And last night, millions of television viewers saw the interview that was videotaped just before the surrender. Gary Morgenstein, a spokesman for the ABC News program "Prime Time Live," said that Mr. Kennedy "contacted us" and that the network did not pay for the interview. It was conducted with what Mr. Morgenstein called the "knowledge and cooperation of law-enforcement authorities."
But Senior Investigator Kevin Cavanagh of the New York State police said, "That's really not correct."
"Arrangements were made for him to surrender," the investigator said. "We had no knowledge of the interview. We were waiting for the attorney to tell us where he'd be. As far as 'Prime Time Live' goes, I was just as surprised as anyone" that the crew was on hand during the arrest.
So were producers at "America's Most Wanted," a Fox Television program that had run three segments on Mr. Caputo over the years. Ivey Van Alley of "America's Most Wanted" said that on March 3, six days before Mr. Caputo turned himself in, "Prime Time Live" asked her for a videotape of the most recent Caputo program "for research purposes." She sent one the next day.
The timing of the request suggests that Mr. Kennedy had been on the Caputo case for at least a week before Mr. Caputo sat down with Chris Wallace of "Prime Time Live." Mr. Kennedy did not return repeated telephone calls to his office yesterday.
In the interview, Mr. Wallace named four of the reported victims and asked Mr. Caputo if he had killed them. "Yes, sir," Mr. Caputo said after each one.
At one point, explaining why he had killed Judith Becker, he said, "I was mentally sick."
Also in the broadcast, Mr. Caputo's second wife, Susana, said tearfully that he had told her about the crimes only shortly before he surrendered and that she would never have suspected him. 'The Cart Before the Horse'
Col. Wayne Bennett, who heads the Bureau of Criminal Investigation for the state police in Albany, said investigators held Mr. Caputo for about an hour after making the arrest, but were under instructions from Mr. Kennedy not to interview him.
Thomas Liotta, a lawyer and the president of the New York State Association of Criminal Lawyers, said that in his handling of his client's mental problems, Mr. Kennedy "has been able to place the cart before the horse."
"The finding of mental incompetence back in 1974 is not really, from what I can tell, going to be relitigated by coming forward in this way," Mr. Liotta said. Mr. Kennedy "has persuaded everyone that Caputo has an ongoing problem that has not been ameliorated by his 20 years of absence. So the finding of 1974 will be the finding again."
Compared with the Caputo case, the Colin Ferguson case presents a tougher challenge, Ms. Brevetti said. William M. Kunstler, who defended Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in the Chicago Seven case in the 1960's and El Sayyid A. Nosair in the killing of Rabbi Meir Kahane two years ago, took over this week as the lawyer for Mr. Ferguson, who is accused of killing 6 passengers and wounding 19 others on a Long Island Rail Road train.
"He's being brought into the case way after the fact," Ms. Brevetti said of Mr. Kunstler. "The client will never be de-demonized, he will always be a demon."
Judge Rules Caputo Is Fit To Stand Trial
By John T. McQuiston - The New York Times
March 19, 1994
Reversing a court decision of 23 years ago, a judge in Nassau County today found Ricardo S. Caputo fit to stand trial in the first of four murders he says he committed in the 1970's.
His lawyer immediately said he might contest the decision, but added that if the case goes to trial, Mr. Caputo will plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Today's decision is based solely on Mr. Caputo's mental condition now, and has nothing to do with his state of mind at the time of the killings or when he was originally arrested in 1971.
At that time Mr. Caputo was declared unfit to stand trial in the murder of Natalie Brown, 19, of Flower Hill, L.I., after homicide detectives said he had been observed talking to his deceased victim in his jail cell.
The court then sent Mr. Caputo to a state hospital for the criminally insane. He escaped in 1974. He said he killed his second victim, a psychologist who had been treating him, that year, and later killed a third woman in San Francisco and a fourth in Mexico City.
After living as a fugitive for 17 years in California, the Midwest, Mexico and Argentina, he surrendered to the New York State police last week, saying he felt remorse for his victims and their families and feared that the voices and demons that forced him to kill two decades ago could cause him to kill again.
Mr. Caputo stood silent and motionless today, restrained by handcuffs and leg irons, as Judge John Dunne said that a court-ordered psychiatric examination of Mr. Caputo on Thursday at the Nassau County Jail had recommended that he was "fit to precede to trial."
Judge Dunne did not comment further on the details of the examination and cautioned both the defense and prosecution that none of the report should be made public.
Under New York State law, a defendant must pass two tests to be ruled mentally competent to stand trial. The judge must determine that the defendant can understand the nature of the proceedings, such as the indictment and the roles of the judge, defense lawyer, prosecutor and jury. And the defendant must be able to assist in his or her defense.
By contrast, an insanity defense would require Mr. Caputo's lawyer, Michael Kennedy, to prove that Mr. Caputo could not appreciate the nature and consequences of his conduct or know that his conduct was wrong at the time he committed the murder. Lawyer to Respond
After today's ruling, Mr. Kennedy said he needed time to study the psychiatric report to determine whether to seek further psychiatric tests and contest the judge's decision.
The judge adjourned the hearing until March 30, when Mr. Kennedy is to respond.
Legal analysts said the defense may yet prove that Mr. Caputo, who Mr. Kennedy has said suffers from schizophrenia and multiple-personality disorder, is unfit to stand trial. "It could come down to a battle of experts on the question of mental competency," said William Hellerstein, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School.
"The question is not what his mental state was 20 years ago, but what his mental state is now," Mr. Hellerstein said. "It's not only a legal issue, it's a psychiatric issue."
In an interview outside the courtroom, Mr. Kennedy said: "I think the reality of these proceedings is that Mr. Caputo is not likely to ever to be free, to see the light of day. The real question is, will he be confined behind bars in a prison hospital, or will he be confined in a cell?"
Judge Dunne, taking note of the considerable television and newspaper coverage of Mr. Caputo's surrender to detectives in Mr. Kennedy's Manhattan law offices last week and subsequent media coverage of the case, warned Mr. Kennedy and the prosecution not to discuss confidential portions of the court's records, including the court-ordered psychiatric examination.
Before Mr. Caputo turned himself in to the police 10 days ago, he spent two hours with a television correspondent and a network crew, confessing to the four murders and describing the voices that he said drove him to murder.
Mr. Caputo has spoken to no reporters since his arrest, and Mr. Kennedy has carefully controlled the flow of information about his client.
Mr. Caputo's brother, Alfredo, sat alone in the courtroom today as Ricardo Caputo, wearing the same blue jeans, blue-and-white striped shirt and leather jacket in which he was arrested, made his second court appearance this week before Judge Dunne. Alfredo Caputo, who on Wednesday issued a brief statement about his brother's life and struggle with mental illness, quickly left the courthouse this afternoon, referring all questions to Mr. Kennedy.
Ricardo Caputo, who first immigrated to New York in 1970, admits killing his fiancee, Ms. Brown, in 1971; his psychologist, Judith Becker, 26, of Yonkers, in 1974; Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, with whom he lived in San Francisco, in 1975, and Laura Gomez, with whom he lived in Mexico City, in 1977.
Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Caputo had been diagnosed by psychiatrists in Argentina as suffering from multiple personalities, one of which is psychotic and drove him to commit the four murders.
Ex-Fugitive Pleads Guilty in a 1971 Killing
By John T. McQuiston - The New York Times
February 1, 1995
Ricardo S. Caputo, who had said that he suffered from multiple personalities that made him kill at least four women in the 1970's, pleaded guilty today to manslaughter in the death of his first victim 24 years ago on Long Island.
Mr. Caputo, who surrendered last March after 20 years as a fugitive in North and South America, said that as part of a plea bargain, he was abandoning his original plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
His arms and legs in shackles, Mr. Caputo, stood before Judge John P. Dunne in Nassau County Court and confessed to fatally stabbing his 19-year-old fiancee, Natalie Brown, at her home in Flower Hill on June 31, 1971.
"I stabbed Natalie to death, and I was very emotionally disturbed at the time," Mr. Caputo said.
Judge Dunne scheduled sentencing for April 5, saying Mr. Caputo would face 8 1/2 to 25 years in prison, the maximum sentence for first-degree manslaughter. Mr. Caputo could have been sentenced to 25 years to life had he gone to trial and been found guilty of the original charge of second-degree murder.
Mr. Caputo was accompanied by a court-appointed translator, Margarite Halikias, who stood at his side and rendered everything the judge said into English. When Mr. Caputo spoke, he spoke in English.
Legal experts said that Mr. Caputo's plea served both the prosecution and the defense. While it reduced his sentence, it enabled the prosecution to avoid trying a case that is more than 20 years old.
"This all happened 24 years ago, and there may be questions about whether all of the original evidence still exists," said William Hellerstein, a professor at Brooklyn Law School. "Records and memories can fade. It's a good deal for the defense, but the prosecution knows that other cases are still pending against the defendant."
After he is sentenced in Nassau County, Mr. Caputo faces another murder charge in Westchester.
Mr. Caputo, 45, could be eligible for parole in eight and a half years. If given credit for the three years he served in a state mental institution after he killed Miss Brown and was found incompetent to stand trial, he could be released in five years.
But that is "highly unlikely," said Elise McCarthy, the prosecutor in the case, who said Miss Brown's family had agreed to the plea.
"He has already, in effect, confessed to several other murders, and considering his past history of flight, I can't imagine any parole board releasing him from prison," Ms. McCarthy said.
The judge sent Mr. Caputo to the Nassau County jail until sentencing. After that, he is to face second-degree-murder charges in Westchester County in the killing of Judith Becker, 26, his state-appointed psychologist, at her apartment in Yonkers on Oct. 20, 1974.
Mr. Caputo has also been charged with killing Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, with whom he was living in San Francisco in 1975, and Laura Gomez, with whom he lived in Mexico City in 1977.
Michael Kennedy, the lawyer who has represented Mr. Caputo since his surrender last March, declined to explain why he was dropping the insanity defense, saying only that Mr. Caputo continued to undergo psychiatric care at the Nassau jail and was taking medication. Mr. Kennedy said he would not be representing Mr. Caputo in Westchester.
Mr. Caputo was first arrested in 1971 after he reported the death of his fiancee. He was found incompetent to stand trial and was admitted to a state hospital for the criminally insane, where he was eventually given permission to come and go freely. He killed his psychologist, Miss Becker, at her apartment, then fled to California, the Midwest, Mexico and his native Argentina.
During his flight, he used many identities. He worked in restaurants, married twice and had four children. On surrendering last March, he said he felt remorse for his victims and their families, and feared that the voices and demons that forced him to kill two decades ago were returning and could cause him to kill again.
The Nassau County District Attorney, Denis Dillon, renewed the murder charges against Mr. Caputo, and Judge Dunne found him competent to stand trail, in that Mr. Caputo understood the charges against him and was able to assist in his defense.
Judge Sentences Ex-Fugitive In First of 4 Deaths of Women
By John T. McQuiston - The New York Times
April 6, 1995
Calling him "a brutal and cunning man," a judge today sentenced Ricardo S. Caputo to 8 1/2 to 25 years in prison for the first of four murders Mr. Caputo has said he committed more than 20 years ago.
Since his escape from a New York psychiatric institution in 1974, Mr. Caputo was a fugitive until he turned himself in last year, saying voices were urging him to kill again.
"I turned myself in to avoid any more killings and to say to the families of the victims that I am sorry," Mr. Caputo, 45, told Judge John P. Dunne of Nassau County Court before his sentencing today. "I did what I did because I was sick, and I hope I can be cured while I'm incarcerated."
But Judge Dunne was not persuaded.
"Having led a life of murder, mayhem and manipulation for the past 25 years, it is obviously your belief that a few words of sympathy and mea culpa will make you a free man," Judge Dunne said. "To the extent this court can, Ricardo Caputo, your home, to the hour of your last breath, shall be of stone and steel. This step, today, should be only the first of two, three or four more jail sentences which, consecutively and together, shall lead to the end of your life and beyond."
In January, Mr. Caputo pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of his girlfriend, 19-year-old Natalie Brown, at her home in Flower Hill, L.I., on July 31, 1971, after she said she wanted to date others.
He was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial and was sent to a state mental institution. He has said he killed Judith Becker, 26, his state-appointed psychologist, at her apartment in Yonkers on Oct. 20, 1974.
Mr. Caputo then moved across the country before traveling to Mexico and returning to his native Argentina. He has admitted to killing Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, with whom he was living in San Francisco in 1975, and Laura Gomez, with whom he lived in Mexico City in 1977.
Edward Brown, the brother of Mr. Caputo's first victim, called on Judge Dunne today to make certain that Mr. Caputo "is never free again."
"He created a prison of grief for my parents from which they never had a chance to apply for parole," Mr. Brown said. "I have met some of the family members of the other victims, and we never want anyone else to go through what he went through."
Mr. Caputo, 45, looked pale and nervous, his wrists and ankles in chains. He was dressed in the same blue jeans, brown leather jacket and white button-down shirt he wore when he was arraigned here in court on March 10, 1994.
His lawyer, Michael Kennedy, who negotiated his guilty plea, told the court that Mr. Caputo was married, had four children and could have remained a free man in Argentina, but "began have recurring nightmares 15 months ago, flashbacks of these terrible, terrible homicides."
"He could have stayed free, but he was afraid he could hurt somebody again and turned himself in," Mr. Kennedy said, urging leniency.
Serial Slayer Pleads Guilty To a Murder
The New York Times
June 29, 1995
In a move that surprised prosecutors, Ricardo S. Caputo, the serial killer who turned himself in after 20 years as a fugitive, pleaded guilty today to strangling his psychologist in 1974.
"There is no real way to know why the defendant pleaded as charged," said Jeanine Pirro, the Westchester County District Attorney, who had been preparing to fight Mr. Caputo's claims of insanity at a trial in August. "We haven't been negotiating with him. We found out when we walked into court this morning."
Mr. Caputo, 46, a native of Argentina, flew from his home country to New York in March 1994, held an interview with the ABC news magazine "Prime Time" and then turned himself in to authorities, saying he had killed four women in the 1970's and was afraid of voices that were telling him to kill again.
In January, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 1971 stabbing death of his fiancee, 19-year-old Natalie Brown. After a judge in Nassau County sentenced him to 8 1/2 to 25 years, he was extradited to Westchester for trial in the murder of Judith Becker, 26.
Ms. Becker was a psychologist at the Matteawan State Hospital in Fishkill and had briefly treated Mr. Caputo. When Mr. Caputo was transferred to the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Wards Island in 1973 he was given occasional furloughs and would sometimes show up at Ms. Becker's apartment in Yonkers.
A Real Lady-Killer
A true-crime reporter recounts the search for her friend's murderer.
By Bruce Jay Friedman - The New York Times
February 15, 1998
Ricardo Caputo does not quite make the A list of serial killers. Nonetheless, his record of four admitted murders, a great many probables and the manner in which he worked his tacky continental charm on female victims has led to a starring role in Linda Wolfe's investigative memoir, ''Love Me to Death.''
The book has its origin in Wolfe's article, published in 1983 in New York magazine, about the murder of her friend Jacqui Bernard, a woman much admired for her good works and social activism. Wolfe remained, as she says, ''obsessed'' with the unsolved crime and learned, several years later, that Ricardo Caputo had been a suspect in the case -- and in a number of other murders. But Caputo had vanished and did not surface until 1994, when he unexpectedly turned himself in to police and confessed to the seduction and subsequent murders of four young women -- though not to that of Bernard. (A private investigator advanced the theory to Wolfe that the murder of a 62-year-old woman would be unhelpful to Caputo's Lothario image.)
At this point, Wolfe began a three-year investigation of her own. Her motives for doing so, which she continues to define along the way, are, for the most part, high-minded: a need to find the estimable Bernard's killer and to give Caputo's other victims visibility. (''They were ciphers. Several newspapers had written about them, but they'd been allotted just a short paragraph or two apiece.'') There is also her fascination with sleuthing and the work of private eyes (''It seemed such an exotic way to earn one's livelihood''). Farther along in the book, Wolfe's mother moves into the picture, a ''phobic'' woman who kept sending her daughter cautionary pictures of female rape victims. With luck, the writing of the book would address Wolfe's own needs.
Much of the book is taken up with a re-creation of Caputo's seduction and subsequent killing of each victim. He had extended affairs with each woman, which separates him a bit from the usual run of serial killers. Since the scenarios are based on police reports and interviews, they have a shakiness to them; ''perhaps'' and ''might have'' are qualifiers that are used abundantly. But the stories do have the force of women-in-jeopardy dramas that form the backbone of much television programming. The victims are young, attractive, educated and emotionally rudderless. Each is described as being a nurturer. This characteristic would have made them easy prey for the self-pitying Caputo, with his story of having been highborn in Argentina, deserted by his mother, reduced to doing janitorial work in the United States and suffering humiliation as an illegal immigrant. The reader wonders in frustration (or at least this reader does) why Caputo's victims were not put on alert by his jealous fits, demands for money, violence and -- most telling of all -- his writing of bad poetry.
Those looking for the freshly minted phrase will not find examples in ''Love Me to Death.'' A woman is ''raised in the lap of luxury''; a detective is a ''fountain of information''; a woman smiles, ''her eyes crinkling''; characters repeatedly ''eschew'' courses of action. The editor who is praised in the acknowledgments for getting Wolfe to ''stretch'' as a writer might have encouraged her to stretch a bit more. (To take a more generous view, it's possible that stock phrases are soothing to some readers -- like fast food.)
But Wolfe has tenacity as a reporter, and if a story of this kind can be said to take wing, it does so when she travels to Argentina to investigate Caputo's origins. The language flattens out and her descriptions of the right-wing political landscape and the macho culture that fed into Caputo's feeling that he had ''ownership'' of women (and could dispose of them as he wished) are effective. Wolfe spends some time with Caputo's brother, Alberto (''I'm not a killer. Except in business. Where it's O.K.''), and his accomplished family, raising the question of why Ricardo Caputo alone followed a malevolent path. His mother had been put forth (by Ricardo) as the villain of the piece, having abandoned the family when he was young, then returning with her lover, who raised the boy abusively. But surely there are cases of young men whose mothers behaved unattractively and who did not take up the strangling of women as a career.
When Alberto was asked why his brother became a killer, his reply was, ''I don't really know.''
Ricardo Caputo pleaded guilty to two of his admitted murders and was sentenced to a prison term of 25 years to life. (In 1970, he had been judged mentally incompetent to stand trial for his first murder and was eventually placed in the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on Wards Island in New York, from which he escaped a few years later -- to kill again.) Last October, he suffered a fatal heart attack in Attica. He was 48 years old.
Wolfe eventually conducted a series of interviews with Caputo in prison, which, given his history and her various apprehensions, must have taken courage. These sessions with the once-handsome Caputo, now ''paunchy, balding, glassy-eyed'' (with surprisingly small hands -- for a strangler), are the strongest feature of the book. Caputo, Wolfe writes, gave her ''that creepy sexual stare, and leaning close to him the way I was, hanging on his lips, his words, I suddenly experienced his evil energy.'' But when she asked if Caputo killed her friend Jacqui Bernard, he said: ''Name doesn't ring a bell. . . . I never knew the woman.'' Why Wolfe felt Caputo would confess to her, when he failed to do so to the police, is not made clear. Somewhat defensively, Wolfe assures us that she has her man: ''To my mind, the killer was Ricardo, it had to have been Ricardo.'' Still, his denial would seem to indicate that her three-year investigation came to very little. That is not quite the case. Despite her earnest, Nancy Drew, let's-play-detective style -- or perhaps because of it -- Linda Wolfe has somehow put us as closely in touch with the manner and sensibility of a serial killer as we are ever likely to be.