November 20, 2006 12:00 PM

Adrienne Shelly had been on Law & Order and Homicide—and her death was as tragic, and surprising, as any plot those shows have devised. On Nov. 1 her husband, Andrew Ostroy, 47, found the actress hanging from a shower curtain rod in the Manhattan apartment she used as an office. The case seemed horribly sad but simple: An actress in New York, perhaps distraught about family issues or the vagaries of her profession, had killed herself.

But there were problems. For one thing, Shelly, 40, had left no note. She adored her 2½-year-old daughter Sophie, and her family couldn’t imagine her abandoning the girl. Oddly, there was an unexplained shoe print in the bathtub. Suicide still seemed likely, but police questioned Andrew for several hours.

Impressed by his insistence, and her family’s, that Shelly never would have killed herself, police kept investigating. Downstairs they found an apartment being renovated. In it they found a dusty footprint. It matched the one in Shelly’s tub.

Five days later, Diego Pillco, 19, a construction worker from Ecuador, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Police say Shelly complained to Pillco about the noise he was making; they argued and she said she would call the police. Fearing deportation, he struck her and, thinking she was dead, hanged her with a sheet to make it look like suicide. (Pillco’s attorney could not be reached for comment.)

“We are incredibly grateful to the New York City Police Department for their dedication,” said Andrew, whose wife had starred in cult hits including Trust and recently appeared with Matt Dillon in the film Factotum. “Some actors have it and some don’t,” Dillon told PEOPLE. “She had it.”

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