Murder & The Message Board

Date Published 03.23.11
3:51PM on March 21, 2011
The police should really make some kind of general comment.
w/o giving anything away.  It's true, what are we to think?  Is
this perpetrator someone we know/see everyday?  or someone
passing through town?

The girl's body was found just after noon on Saturday, March 19, 2011.  This is fact.  Her name was Kathryn Filiberti.  She was 18.  Also fact:  she had been an award-winning gymnast at the local high school.

The town is Hyde Park, New York, 90 miles north of Manhattan.  You come here to see Franklin D. Roosevelt's house, or to visit the Culinary Institute of America.  It's a Hudson River Valley town.

On the town website there's a section about "the legacy of the wealthy."  The Vanderbilt family, among others, built an estate here.  "Although there have been many changes in the area some things remain the same," the town historian writes on the website.  This is a way of saying the mansions are mostly tourist destinations now.

The girl's body was found in Greentree Park, maybe on the baseball field, or maybe along the edge of Crum Elbow Creek.  It's not clear.  The Hyde Park Police Department was tight-lipped from the start.  They released the victim's name 48 hours after her body was found, calling her death a homicide, but refusing to share any other details.

Greentree Park, where Kathryn Filiberti's body was found

6:19 PM on March 21, 2011
This was most definitely done by someone in the area.  I live in
Greentree, and half the people that live in here don't know about
that park, nevermind someone from out of town.

Scrambling in a vacuum, hungry for information, the town began talking.  The verified facts were few but powerfully suggestive.  A girl's body had been found in the park.  Who was she?  What happened?  Monsters were conjured.  People stayed inside their homes.

They turned on their computers.

10:32 AM on March 21, 2011
All you have to do is drive up and down 9G anytime, any day to
see very shady, unstable characters walking the streets, unsupervised,
unkempt and scaring kids, adults and passerby's.  Hang around the
corner of 9G & Crum Elbow and you will bump into someone who could
peel paint with their gaze.

Comments under local news stories are much maligned, said to be the time-wasting drivel of cranks and trolls.  It's true there's a lot of nonsense.  But when a breaking local story occurs, especially a murder, social media can play a fascinating role in stitching together the real story.

"Like a giant game of Telephone,"  law enforcement officials often say derisively about community chatter.  But the thing about Telephone, where the first player whispers a phrase to the next player, and each player successively whispers what that player believes he or she heard to the next person in line, is that each player only has one piece --- the phrase they think they heard.

The advent of social media now allows an outsider to follow the entire game of Telephone, as half-truths, rumors and real-time updates collide.  Accusations can be researched.  Names checked.  A stray observation connects with a rumor 89 posts back; the truth takes shape.

The game Telephone is also known as Whisper Down the Lane.  That small-town feel, the impression of secrets passed among neighbors, is fitting, because what often emerges when examining social media during a local crime is not only the story of a murder, but the character of a town, with all its resentments, self-described heroes, biases, and bad kids.

12:08 AM on March 22, 2011
yea...hudsonvalley news is now reporting that she left the party
after an argument with her boyfriend "allegedly"

The party was the first rumor.  Kathryn, or Katie, as she was called, was at a party Friday night, and had left alone.  The local press reported it as a fact, having verified the account with Katie's friends.

Soon people began posting on about a fight between Katie and her boyfriend.  He went unnamed.

But if the town is small enough, the community tight-knit, the players involved often cannot keep themselves from commenting.

Minutes after the post about the argument, someone identifying herself as Katie's boyfriend's mother began to post.

12:35 AM on March 22, 2011
...she would never have left anywhere alone.  She was smart and cautious;
and verbal arguments happen all the time whether your a teen or adult.

In another post, the mother identified her son by first name.  Katie's best friend had been quoted in an earlier news story; looking at the best friend's Facebook page I was able to find the boyfriend.  His profile picture depicted him and Katie in a loving embrace.

A Google search of his name revealed that he'd been arrested last year for assault, after he and a group of friends attacked two men outside a local McDonald's.

Some posters noted the boyfriend's mother seemed a little defensive.  Another chimed in to support her.  The mother posted again.

7:23 AM on March 22, 2011
Thank you xxLee you are right on the money.  Agree with all...and I know
that her bf is besides himself and continually tries to break this case. 24/7...

Subsequent comments didn't seem to reassure the mother that the community was on her son's side.  She got testy.

1:59 PM on March 22, 2011
I don't care what the rumors say...domestic violence usually results in
a boy has not one, not one mark anywhere on his body...

Minutes later, she lashed out again.

2:20 PM  on March 22, 2011
One last thing, if any of you have teenage boys/girl: where were they
friday night?  Let the investigation find out...

My kid was with his church youth group, one parent replied.  Someone else addressed the mother directly.

4:30 PM on March 22, 2011
If you believe your son is innocent of any wrong doing then exhale
and let the police look elsewhere.  Your posts, however relevant you
believe they are give "off" the wrong impression and in my opinion,
are a futile attempt to point fingers elsewhere.

People began to say they heard Katie had been stabbed in the face and chest.  Police wouldn't confirm the rumor, but that didn't stop online commentators from speculating.

7:34 PM on March 22, 2011
To stab someone in the face multiple times is a sign of anger and rage.
It most likely was somebody that she knew.  Rumor has it, it was
somebody, whom I will not name, that has a history of violence.

Posts began to mention how Katie's boyfriend, who had seemingly emerged as everyone's favorite suspect, had a well-known last name in town.  It was unclear whether or not the name was respected, but several allusions were made to how past wrongdoing had been overlooked.

Kathryn Filiberti

Today, five days after Katie's body was found, the Poughkeepsie Journal ran a story that quoted the boyfriend.  He was sobbing during the interview, demanding that the police find the killer.  He described himself as the last person at the party to see Katie alive.  She's been unhappy, and walked off.

Katie's best friend is quoted as describing Katie's relationship with the boyfriend as "on-again off-again."

The story concludes with details about the boyfriend's arrest for assault.

The message board crackled with replies to the story.  One poster said he knew the boyfriend and his brother.  "Bad news written all over them."

Several posters zeroed in on the contradiction between the boyfriend's account of the party, and his mother's.  She'd said that Katie wouldn't have left the party alone.  But the boyfriend said Katie did leave alone; he allegedly believed she was going "to cool off."

1:35 PM  on March 23, 2011
Talk about sick, the other day, if you went on ****'s FB page he had pics
of Katie, with cute and funny little remarks under them.  This would be fine,
except that he posted them the day AFTER her death.  He was
obviously trying to make it appear that they had this wonderful
relationship.  Now, he has his photos blocked.  Somebody must have
told him that the posting dates are under the pics.

Today searchers from state and police agencies roamed the perimeter of Greentree park, hunting for evidence.  Tomorrow the area is expecting 5 to 8 inches of snow.

The boyfriend's mother has stopped posting to the message board.

As of this writing, no one has been named a suspect, or even a person of interest, in the case.

That hasn't stopped the whispers down the lane. 

Everyone has an opinion, the saying goes, but now they have an opinion, and a computer, and a way to confront the subject of their suspicions.

The boyfriend has an account on Formspring, a question-and-answer-based social website.  People post questions on the user's profile page, and the questions and the user's responses are published for anyone to see.

Today someone posted to the boyfriend's page.  Earlier questions had been juvenile in tone, a little dirty, mostly goofy.

This wasn't a question.  It was a terse declaration.

"You killed her."

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.