Longform

Conspiracy, She Wrote

Page 6 of 6

Investigation for Snyder means poring over thousands of pages of legally obtained public documents, newspaper clippings, sworn statements, and testimony that she keeps filed in her home office in the green-shuttered Cathcart House, the oldest inhabited residence in Delray Beach. The picturesque two-story home, built in 1902, withstood two 1926 hurricanes and the 1928 hurricane that destroyed 227 Delray Beach dwellings. It was also the site where a Jif Peanut Butter commercial was filmed. Much of the interior, where Virginia works with her nephew and husband, is a cozy hodgepodge of dark wood cabinets, plush armchairs, and wood floors that Ross restored himself.

Ross Snyder is a tall, white-haired man who wears overalls or a denim shirt with bright red suspenders, spending much of his time working in the yard tending to the hibiscus and a number of fruiting trees that he has planted over the years. (This is the second marriage for both Ross and Virginia. She has no children of her own. A son, adopted at age 28 from Japan, died this past September at age 51 of Lou Gehrig's disease.) "Sometimes I worry about her, because she's a bulldog," Ross says with a smile that implies tacit approval, if not outright admiration. He is carrying a couple of sweet, yellow star fruits that he picked from his garden. "I try to tone it down a little bit when I can, but she's not frightened by anything. She just figures when you're on the side of right, you should just do it no matter what people think."

With that philosophy in mind, Virginia Snyder will bring her contentions to court this summer, despite Reno's 1991 decision not to press criminal charges regarding Snyder's allegations. The report, for instance, found no evidence of a cover-up in the investigation of the Jimmie Shepherd murder, although it termed the investigation "incompetent." And after months of research and interviews, Reno found no evidence that the Delray Beach police conspired against Snyder.

For his part Chief Kilgore didn't wait around for the official vindication. The onslaught of criticism and the cumulative effect of eleven years of charges of racism and intolerance had already taken its toll. Kilgore retired seven months before his department was exonerated. In City Manager David Harden's final report on the chief, he cited Kilgore's reluctance to work with certain neighborhoods, his failure to come down on racism within the department, and his ongoing difficulties working with the public. That last comment noted one person in particular: Virginia Snyder.

With no intention of ever retiring, Snyder still awaits her chance to prove in court that the Delray Beach Police Department orchestrated a plot against her. In a 21-page response to Reno's 22-page report, Snyder lists several perceived inaccuracies and instances of questionable interpretation. The lawsuit that will go to court this summer requests damages in excess of $15,000. Snyder will take as much as she can get, she says, although a final settlement seems unlikely.

For most Delray Beach residents well versed in the police department's storied past, the case will mark the end of an era. But not for Snyder, who will keep all of her unsolved inquiries open. "I was investigated by the police, and I am an upstanding citizen with no record, and they've tried to run me out of town," Snyder asserts, still angry after all these years. "I want to be vindicated.

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Michael Freedman