By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
On the evening of his retirement party, October 31, 1990, Delray Beach Police Chief Charles L. Kilgore pulled out a pistol, and without much forethought, took aim and pulled the trigger. The result: a direct hit on the forehead of 69-year-old Virginia Snyder. But the shot produced no blood, no wound, no real damage. Kilgore's toy gun squirted out a suction dart that landed squarely on a photograph of long-time Delray Beach resident Snyder, a woman who would appear to be an unlikely target for the ire of the gun-toting (a real bullet-shooting one) boss of a police force. She wasn't a sociopath, a molester, or a murderer. At the time she didn't even have an outstanding parking ticket. Still doesn't. "I haven't had any kind of ticket in probably forty years," she exclaims. "Gosh, I'm a safe driver."
More than seven years later, the cordial, gray-haired, 77-year-old Snyder seems equally harmless. She looks to be the kind of woman who might pass an afternoon sitting on one of the two green rocking chairs on the front porch of her cozy white house on Swinton Avenue, a glass of lemonade in her hand, watching the hibiscus grow. "It doesn't bother me at all," she says, laughing about Kilgore's shot at her. "I think subconsciously he'd like to shoot me, so that's as near as he could come to it."
For the past 21 years, Snyder has been a private investigator, making a name for herself among attorneys and other local detectives. She has worked on more than 100 murder cases, and helped to free six convicted felons from death row. During that time Snyder has also taken a number of potshots of her own at Kilgore, making it her personal mission to ferret out racism, corruption, and what she believes were cover-ups, conspiracy, and criminal activity within the Delray Beach Police Department.
"As I recall there was always a running feud there," explains Lorenzo Brooks, a 23-year veteran of the Delray Beach police force who filed racial discrimination charges with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in August of 1978, but later dropped the charge, "because Virginia Snyder was always looking out for the citizens in the community. She would take complaints with people, and she would investigate these complaints, and there were those at the time who did not like her conclusions. And of course Kilgore didn't like that."
The septuagenarian claims that police have said in reference to her: "Get that bitch Virginia Snyder," "Wring her neck," and "She's a menace."
"There is no doubt in my mind that there have been officers who have wanted me dead," she states matter-of-factly. "I have been warned, and I am cautious.
"You don't think I have reason to be convinced?" she asks.
Many of Snyder's claims against Kilgore's department came to a head in 1989, when she asked the Delray Beach City Commission to request that then-Gov. Bob Martinez appoint an independent investigator to examine her accusations of cover-ups and incompetent investigations. She also asked for an investigation into what she considered a conspiracy against her, alleging that the Delray Beach police planted a spy in her home office to obtain details of her investigations and to steal documents. Martinez appointed Janet Reno, then the State Attorney from Dade County (now U.S. Attorney General), but after months of reviewing the various charges, Reno found no evidence of criminal offense.
Snyder, however, remains convinced that the Delray Beach police were involved in an organized plot to destroy her investigator's business and run her out of town. So in what amounts to the final chapter of a 26-year struggle between two of Delray Beach's strongest wills, Snyder will take Kilgore (and the police department he once ran) to circuit civil court in West Palm Beach this summer in an effort to prove that the cops secretly recorded her conversations, wiretapped her phone line, and pilfered her documents. "They had been worried for years about who had been giving me information [about the police department]," she contends.
These accusations, of course, have not made her many friends among Delray Beach's finest. "You've heard the expression 'You can tell a man by his friends?'" she asks rhetorically. "My belief is you can tell a woman by her enemies. If you don't make enemies, you're not doing anything."
When Snyder tells the story of the alleged police conspiracy against her, it comes out in a torrent of names, ideas, and theories -- digression upon digression in a whirlwind history of the City of Delray Beach. And like most tales of legal woe, the undisputed facts are few. As laid out by Reno's report, published in 1991, they are as follows:
On May 22, 1989, a 22-year-old woman named Nancy Lynn Adams approached Snyder in the hope of learning the private-investigator ropes; Adams told Snyder she was willing to work as an unpaid intern. Snyder, who was friendly with the woman's father, former city attorney John Ross Adams, grudgingly obliged. "I would never have considered hiring her," Snyder now asserts. "I finally said, 'OK, I'll tell you what, honey -- I don't have time to take on another intern, but if you want to come in sometime, and if I have time, I'll show you how to do research.'"