Conspiracy, She Wrote

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Complaints regarding discrimination within the force persisted throughout Kilgore's eleven-year tenure as chief. Less serious complaints, often leveled by Snyder, tainted the department's credibility. "She has questioned some things over the years that the average person might have heard about and not done anything about," explains Delray Beach City Commissioner David Randolph. "That's why I feel she and Charles Kilgore didn't like each other, because she stayed on Chief Kilgore's back."

For example, in 1984 Delray Beach City Manager James Pennington ordered Kilgore to stop accepting contributions for a "flower fund," a pot of money collected from police department staff that purportedly went to buy flowers in the event that an officer's family member died. The fund contained $8700. According to a published report in the Miami Herald, the money was used instead for lavish parties and gifts. A year later Pennington ordered Kilgore to stop selling vitamins to city employees out of the back of his truck -- no one, it seemed, ever dared to say "no" to the chief. And in 1989 City Manager Walter Barry told the chief to stop moonlighting as a rent collector for landlords.

In 1989 Snyder provided evidence to the Boca Raton News that the Delray Beach police had "fixed" 400 traffic tickets. She still has a copy of a ticket that reads "Void for Chief." The Palm Beach County state attorney's office investigated the charge in May of that year, ultimately exonerating Kilgore's department four months later but citing the department's sloppy record-keeping.

Earlier that year Snyder had appeared on the short-lived Fox Network tabloid news-magazine program The Reporters to tell the story of how the Delray Beach police allegedly protected a known felon, Omar Galvez, from prosecution. "I thought the show was totally misleading and totally biased," then-Delray Beach police officer Richard Lincoln told the Delray Times, a weekly community newspaper, after the show aired. "The report is insulting to the members of this department. I think the reputation we have is unfair."

Galvez, who had been convicted in 1982 of using a sawed-off shotgun to try to force a fifteen-year-old boy into his car to have sex with him, served as a paid informant for several Florida law-enforcement agencies throughout the Eighties. He was also a suspect in the June 1982 murder of sixteen-year-old Delray Beach resident Jimmie Shepherd, a case that remains unsolved. When police officers found Shepherd's body decomposing in a mangrove thicket near Linton Bridge in Delray Beach, they observed marks on his wrists and noticed that his underpants were pulled down around his knees and that his pants were pulled up over his underpants. When Galvez was interviewed by the Delray Beach cops as a suspect in the case, he indicated that he worked as a paid informant of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Galvez denied killing Shepherd. Police found insufficient evidence to charge him or anyone else with the murder.

On The Reporters Snyder called it a cover-up. "No matter what happened," she said from her office, "no matter how many people made complaints, they [the Delray Beach police] covered up."

Two months after the broadcast, Nancy Adams appeared, as if from nowhere, at Snyder's door. Snyder believes a connection exists. In another four months she would discover that Adams had collected hundreds of pages of her documents. "I was just totally shocked," Snyder now says of the incident. "I couldn't believe it, I couldn't understand. Once I found out it was the police department doing it, it made sense. Well, it made a lot more sense."

If you ask around Delray Beach, the jury remains undecided about Virginia Snyder. Is she a "crazy old lady who's got a vendetta against the police," as Snyder herself jokingly puts it, or a crusader fighting for people's rights backed by solid evidence?

"The town was somewhat divided," notes Doak Campbell III, a Delray Beach attorney who served as the city's mayor in the late Eighties. "If you were on Charles Kilgore's side, you thought that Virginia Snyder was a quack. And if you were on Virginia Snyder's side, you thought Charles Kilgore was a misplaced, redneck police officer that was as backward as she said he was."

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Michael Freedman