A sex romp gone wrong may have led to the death of a 53-year-old homeless woman at the Budget Host Inn in Riverside last week, according to a signed statement given by the man charged in her killing.
Cleaning staff discovered the lifeless body of Henrietta Sholl — a woman said to live a life marred by drugs and alcohol — on a bed last Thursday at the trouble-plagued motel. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office soon ruled the death a homicide. Two days later, Suffolk Police arrested 44-year-old Douglas Rico, who is also homeless, at police headquarters in Yaphank and charged him with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death.
According to Mr. Rico’s statement to police, he may have caused Ms. Sholl’s death when he placed a pillow over her head while the pair was having sex.
“I had sex with Henrietta and put a pillow over her head,” the statement reads. “I must’ve made her stop breathing. I am sorry.”
Suffolk Police Chief of Homicide Lt. Gerard Pelkofsky said that soon after Ms. Sholl’s body was discovered, investigators found that Mr. Rico, who later admitted to knowing Ms. Sholl for the past three years, was the last person to see her alive.
Lt. Pelkofsky declined to say whether or not police saw surveillance footage of Mr. Rico leaving the scene, though signs advertising the presence of security cameras are posted on the motel’s doors. One guest told a reporter that those cameras feed clear images to a monitor located behind the motel’s front desk. Although Lt. Pelkofsky would not say where Mr. Rico was picked up, he noted that the suspect did not turn himself in.
On Saturday, with his feet cuffed together and a dingy white inside-out T-shirt on his back, Mr. Rico pleaded not guilty to charges at a court appearance in Southampton Town Justice Court. He stood wide-eyed as Southampton Justice Ed Burke sent him to the county jail without bail.
Dan Russo, Mr. Rico’s court-appointed attorney, had met his client only briefly before the arraignment.
“He was just saying it was an accident,” Mr. Russo said, adding that Mr. Rico could soon be indicted by a grand jury.
Last week’s arrest was not Mr. Rico’s first run-in with the law. Court records show he had been arrested on drug charges in Brooklyn last December. He is not due back in court on that matter until early next year.
Police said Mr. Rico had stayed at the Budget Host before, though it was not clear if he had rented the room where Ms. Sholl died.
Ms. Sholl had legal and personal problems of her own. She had been living in Mastic when she was arrested at the Kohl’s shopping center in nearby Shirley for shoplifting last November, according to police and her former landlord. She had been released from county jail April 14 after pleading guilty to petit larceny and serving a 90-day term.
Ms. Sholl was evicted from her home on Forestall Drive in Mastic after her arrest. The landlord, Rosemary Merrill, said she even had to get a restraining order to keep her former tenant away.
“She had problems,” Ms. Merrill told the News-Review Friday. “She drank too much. She did too much drugs, and so did everybody else around her.”
When asked why she had Ms. Sholl evicted, Ms. Merrill said, “She was just uncontrollable when she drinks.”
Ms. Sholl has a 27-year-old son who has been living in a group home in Elmont, the landlord said.
Ms. Merrill would not say how she had come to meet Ms. Sholl.
After her jail term, Ms. Sholl somehow found herself living at the Budget Host Inn. The motel, located near the Riverside traffic circle, is a frequent scene of police calls for robberies, assaults and drug-related incidents. At least one convicted sex offender is currently living there, according to the New York State Sex Offender Registry.
On Friday, less than a day after Ms. Sholl’s body was discovered, Southampton Town Police were at the motel again on an unrelated call.
A worker in the motel’s lobby, where a snarly English bulldog stares down incoming guests, declined to comment when asked about the woman’s death.
A female guest who has been staying at the motel with a boyfriend for the last few weeks said she didn’t know the victim. Still, she said, “I cried. I felt unsafe” upon hearing that someone had been killed there.
There are “a couple of girls that hang out here,” she added.
“This place was filled up with cop cars when we got here,” said a White Plains man who checked in last Thursday afternoon. “I heard somebody got killed. I didn’t ask any questions though.”
When asked if he was considering switching motels, the man, who gave his name only as Willie, said, “It doesn’t bother me none.
“I’ve been through worse.”
Additional reporting by staff writer Tim Gannon.