Three years ago Ms. Shelly, who was 40, was killed in her New York apartment by a construction worker bent on robbery
That wasn't the story I remembered, so I did a three second search, and came up with this contemporaneous account of the crime from Gothamist, which includes a quote from the New York Times:
Yesterday, the police announced that the death of actress-director Adrienne Shelly was murder, not suicide. Shelly's husband had found her body hanging from a shower rod in the Greenwich Village apartment she used as an office last week, leading the police to initially suspect she committed suicide. But they did find an unknown shoeprint in the bathroom, and the shoeprint turned out to belong to a construction worker doing renovations on a downstairs apartment
Diego Pillco, an Ecuadorean immigrant, was confronted by Shelly about the noise he was making. They apparently got into a physical fight where Shelly slapped him and Pillco punched her unconscious. Worried that he would be deported, he dragged her body back to her apartment and staged the hanging. From the NY Times:
Detectives from the Sixth Precinct in Greenwich Village were particularly troubled by an unexplained footprint found in the bathroom. They examined the shoes of everyone who had entered the apartment, including police officers and emergency workers, but found no match for the print.
They canvassed the building, and found that renovation work was under way in some apartments. The detectives matched the footprint from Ms. Shelly’s bathroom to one they found at one of the work sites, and then used the match to track down Mr. Pillco, the authorities said.
Newsday reports that Pillco was 5 feet, to Shelly's 5 feet 2, and "had trouble trying to situate her body to fit a suicide scenario, so he had to step on the toilet, leaving behind the sneaker print."
Pillco, not seen at the 15 Abingdon Square building since the killing, was arrested at his Brooklyn apartment and charged with second degree murder. He confessed to the police, "I was having a bad day. I didn't mean to kill her. But I did kill her." The ME's office is still looking into the cause of death (from the punch or the hanging).
Shelly's family was doubtful she would kill herself, and husband Andrew Ostroy said, "We are incredibly grateful to the New York City Police Department for their dedication, professionalism and tenacity in following up on every lead in this case. We hope everyone will respect that this is a difficult and private time for our families."
Update: Commenter "frailingminda" on Ta-Nehisi Coates's Atlantic blog brought this New York Times article to my attention: "In Guilty Plea, Actress’s Killer Changes Story to Robbery". Excerpt:
His original confession had the ring of truth: He was an illegal immigrant working on a renovation job in a Greenwich Village building when the imperious woman upstairs confronted him over construction noise.
They argued. She scratched him. Panicked that she would call the police and that he would be deported, he punched her and pushed her to the floor. Mistakenly thinking he had killed her, he hanged her from the shower rod of her bathroom, in a staged suicide.
But in a courtroom on Thursday, the construction worker, Diego Pillco, 20, told a very different story of how he killed the woman, Adrienne Shelly, a filmmaker, on Nov. 1, 2006. Ms. Shelly, who was 40 and the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, had just finished a film, “Waitress,” which opened to warm reviews after her death.
Mr. Pillco, a short, boyish-looking man, speaking softly through a Spanish translator, told a judge in State Supreme Court in Manhattan that the argument had not been over noise, but over a robbery.
He told the judge that Ms. Shelly had caught him stealing money from her purse after he had slipped into the apartment at 15 Abingdon Square that she used as an office.
When she picked up the phone to call the police, he said, he grabbed it and covered her mouth as she started to scream.
“When she fell to the floor I saw a sheet and decided to choke her, and that’s what happened,” Mr. Pillco said.
The judge, Carol Berkman, prodded him: “And you tied a sheet around her neck and strung her up?”
“Yes,” Mr. Pillco replied, “and I made it look as if she committed suicide on her own.”
So, long story short: Stephen Holden's original description of the murder was correct. I stand corrected.