"When the police come, what are you going to say?" Gordon asked Pileggi.
"I don't think they're going to believe it was an accident," he remembered her saying.
"Because there's a bullet hole in him."
Gordon stepped out to call 911. He sounded calm on the phone but had a hard time explaining things to the dispatcher. "We need a detective at 101 Coconut, Fort Lauderdale, please."
"OK, what's going on there, sir?"
"They had an accident."
"What color vehicles are involved?"
"There's no vehicles, ma'am. It's a person... a person fell down the stairs."
"OK, do they need paramedics?"
"So you just found him at the base of the stairs?"
"No, ma'am. It's a little more complicated than that."
Pileggi was a young heartbreaker: At 17, she was a contestant in the Miss Columbia County Cattleman Beauty Contest in rural Georgia. Don Zeh, who says he became her coworker and close friend a decade later and "would have liked to date her," remembers that "she had guys falling for her all over the place."
Pileggi came from a close-knit family in Grovetown, Georgia. Zeh, who says he and Pileggi met while working as lab technicians at a Veterans Administration hospital in Augusta, remembers her fondly. "She was a typical Southern girl," he says. "Beautiful smile, very, very attractive, an outgoing personality."
But the ponds and farms of her hometown must not have been enough for Pileggi, who found a way to fly to the far reaches of the country. In the 1980s, she left the VA hospital to become a flight attendant.
Somewhere out west, she would meet Ron Vinci, who had built several successful car dealerships. He started out with a little motorcycle shop by the water in San Diego, then turned Pacific Honda into one of the biggest dealerships in California, recalls J.P. Bo, who began working there in the 1980s and is now the senior salesman. "He hired me over the phone," says Bo. "I came in and started working the next day." In his new boss, Bo saw "a hell of a character, an interesting man, motivated, strong-willed."
Vinci was a couple of years out of a brief marriage to a woman named Pamela, who left him with his only son, Kerry. After the divorce, he spent his money on expensive toys.
An aviation enthusiast, Vinci used his new fortune to collect planes and helicopters as well as cars. He bought a hangar in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. "He'd fly the helicopter from his house to the dealership and land on the roof," recalls Bo. Bo says Vinci sold the dealership just a few years later, apparently earning a huge profit.
Pileggi, by contrast, worked for about $20,000 a year flying with Delta. She mixed drinks, buckled seat belts, and almost certainly knew the old flight-attendant trick of using spent coffee grounds to cover up foul smells. When she started dating Vinci sometime around 1990, they shuttled between San Diego and a house in Aspen. Pileggi loved skiing.
Ten years later, though, the relationship deteriorated. Pileggi moved back east and was spending time in Florida, hoping to meet someone new.
Duilio Corigliano, a retired insurance consultant who is now 72 and lives in St. Maarten, says he met Pileggi in April 2001 through a mutual friend who was dating her sister. "She seemed like the sweetest person I had ever met," he recalls. "Quiet as can be, never said anything, never ate much."
After Pileggi started dating Corigliano, she told him that Vinci had verbally abused her after drinking too much; she grew tired of it and cut off the relationship. She said that Vinci would make crude comments about fucking women over dinner with friends. He had also refused to marry Pileggi, who by now was in her mid-40s. "She was kind of sad because she had never been married before. Her family didn't believe she was ever going to get married," says Corigliano.
Corigliano was smitten, though, and asked her to be his wife. In May 2001, they wed in a five-minute ceremony at the courthouse on Miami Beach. "We were living in South Beach at the time," recalls Corigliano, who is 18 years older than Pileggi. "She was so easygoing. She never complained about anything. It was kind of like having a little pussycat."
He recalled one time when they flew to St. Maarten, but she wouldn't get in the water, and another time when she took a flying lesson but returned looking pale and frightened.