Heiress Sasha Bruce Dies, Her Husband Is Accused: There the Riddle Begins
When she married Greek businessman Marios Michaelides in the late summer of 1975, Alexandra “Sasha” Bruce seemed to have made an elusive peace with herself. A brilliant but unsettled young woman, she was the daughter of U.S. diplomat David K.E. Bruce, a servant of Presidents for two generations. Though she had graduated magna cum laude in art history from Radcliffe in 1969, she had been casting about uncertainly ever since, incurring her parents’ unconcealed disapproval. Finally, in April 1974 she returned to live on the family’s 293-acre estate, Staunton Hill, outside tiny Brookneal, Va. Marios, whom she had met in London, followed soon after, and their romance intensified. By early 1975 he was seeking a divorce from his first wife, and even before he and Sasha were married she had willed her entire fortune to him. “She was very much in love with Marios,” says her close friend Marie Harper, a bank teller who once lived in a cottage on the estate. “She didn’t want to do anything to disappoint him, to make him unhappy. She wanted to do all the right things.”
Sasha Bruce’s fragile idyll ended in tragedy. One afternoon three months after their wedding and just two weeks after they returned from a European honeymoon, Marios found his bride lying unconscious under a giant cedar by the swimming pool. She was bleeding from the right temple; his .22-caliber pistol was beneath her. Ambassador Bruce was summoned to his daughter’s bedside from Brussels, but she died the next morning without regaining consciousness. She was buried that afternoon, in her wedding gown, on the grounds of Staunton Hill. She was 29 years old.
After a two-week investigation, Sasha’s death was ruled a suicide. But this year the case was suddenly reopened, and a Charlotte County grand jury accused Michaelides of murdering his wife. (Other charges include bigamy, embezzlement and theft.) The Bruce family—Sasha’s socialite mother, Evangeline, and brothers David, 30, and Nicholas, 28—will not discuss the case. But Michaelides, 33, who is living in Greece with his first wife, has launched a bitter counteroffensive aimed particularly at Sasha’s mother. “My wife was not an unbalanced person,” he wrote prosecutor Edwin Baker in a letter, charging that she was a “mistreated and unhappy person.” Though Michaelides cannot be extradited to the U.S., he could eventually be tried in Greece. If he is, his fate may hinge on the character and background of Alexandra Bruce, and of the family that shaped her troubled life.
Sasha was a remarkable student both at boarding school and later at Radcliffe, but her vulnerability was always apparent. “She overworked herself,” remembers a college friend, “and she was the kind of person who took on other people’s troubles and agonized over them. Sasha just had more hills and valleys than other people.” Invariably, friends say, she reacted to things too personally. “When Adlai Stevenson died,” one remembers, “she shut herself up in a closet for three days.” Her opposition to the Vietnam war was just as deeply felt, though perhaps for different reasons. Her father for a time was chief negotiator at the Paris peace talks. Once, while marching with demonstrators in Washington, she watched him drive by in a government limousine. It was a symbolic encounter. “She was so wrapped up in the image of her father,” a friend says, “she went to the opposite extreme. She deliberately formed relationships with impossible men—unacceptable to her family’s country club standards.”
During college she plunged into social work and toiled at archeological digs in Turkey and Mexico. After graduation she moved to London, where she and a married lover, also Greek, lived together in high style—and reportedly at her expense. When the relationship foundered in 1974, she returned to Staunton Hill, which her father had sold to his children for $100,000—a fraction of its actual value. Her brother Nicholas lived there, but he was given to sleeping away the mornings and spending the rest of the day in his father’s 16,000-volume library. David was at school, and the daughter of the family took charge of the estate.
Sasha had hardly been trained to play homemaker, but she threw herself into the role. She learned to raise chickens—500 of them—and sold eggs to the local grocer. She asked the servants to teach her to cook, clean and iron. She washed her own clothes, made her own bed and breakfast, and cared for her sheep dog, Aesop. “Sasha was always busy,” says Emma Elam, a part-time maid in the household for 10 years. “She worked on the books in the library, rearranged the house, went to market, every sort of thing.” Unfailingly generous, the young woman lavished gifts on the employees, on the grocer who bought her eggs and on the tenants who rented cottages. When she became depressed, one of her outlets was driving too fast—”Rachel Petty,” a friend’s son called her—and singing along at the top of her lungs while Linda Ronstadt played on the tape deck. “Once Sasha told me she got so bored she drove to Lynchburg three times in one day,” says a neighbor. “It’s an hour each way.”
Marios was a man of some mystery. By various accounts, he was a raisin exporter, a miller, a brewer, a stockbroker, an art dealer or a supplier of additives to Greek bakeries. Whatever, he seemed a typically unsuitable choice on Sasha’s part, and he made little attempt to win over her friends. “He didn’t try very hard to be charming,” as one puts it. “But she loved him, so he was all right with us.” Friends recall her fumbling efforts to knit a sweater for him and her gift of a Jaguar, which they wrecked on their honeymoon. “He had the upper hand in their relationship,” says a friend. “No question. She obviously adored him.”
But not even love could ease her bouts with depression. In college, friends say, she tried to kill herself by driving her car off the road. Then, on Mother’s Day 1975, she took a drug overdose, and Marios rushed her to a hospital to have her stomach pumped.
Was Sasha’s death, then, by her own hand? Police thought so at first, and Marios insists that a pathological family life drove her to suicide. Her relations with her parents were often strained, especially with her mother. Friends say Mrs. Bruce openly criticized her daughter’s plans to marry Michaelides. In an angry mood, Marios wrote the Virginia prosecutor that Sasha was subjected to a “vicious and dehumanizing verbal assault” by her mother.
In the same letter, Marios charged that brother Nick gave large amounts of money to a religious group “to detach himself from the ties of his family” and—bizarre as it seems—that David, now a student of classical Chinese in Taiwan, “cut off the head of his mother” in pictures in his photo album.
Yet if Sasha shot herself, why did she bother to bake a cake that morning, and why did she leave no note? Why, on the other hand, would Marios kill the young wife who loved him, and then sign away all claims to her $1.5 million estate, as he did two weeks after her death?
Even the late Ambassador Bruce, who himself died in 1977, may not have believed Marios was a murderer, although he hired the private detective whose investigation is the basis of the prosecutor’s case. “Mr. Bruce told me he just wanted to get enough on Marios so he would be deported and never be able to come into this country again,” says Marie Harper. To her, the most telling evidence in Marios’ favor is his behavior the night before Sasha’s funeral. “He had about three drinks,” she remembers, “and then he got to crying. He was falling apart, talking about Sasha. He took me upstairs to her room and pulled out the wedding gown and it was like he was in a trance, stricken with grief. Then he put the veil on me and said, ‘I want you to see what it looked like on my Sasha.’ ” How does Harper believe her friend Sasha died? “I don’t know,” she concludes sadly. “And even if there is a trial, no one will ever know the truth.”