Caputo was born in 1949 in Mendoza, Argentina. In
1970, he moved to the United States and settled in New York City.
Incarcerated at Attica State Prison in New York,
Caputo suffered a fatal heart attack in 1997, at the age of 48.
Nathalie Brown, 19, Flower Hill, New York (1971)
Judith Becker, 26, Yonkers, New York (1974)
Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, San Francisco (1975)
Laura Gomez, Mexico City (1977)
Devan Green, Los Angeles (1981)
Jacqueline Bernard, 64, New York City (1983) -
Caputo was a suspect in this murder but was never charged. A friend of
the victim's, Linda Wolfe, published a book called Love Me to Death
in 1998 in which she conjectured that Caputo was Bernard's killer
His lawyer immediately said he might contest the
decision, but added that if the case goes to trial, Mr. Caputo will
plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Today's decision is based solely on Mr. Caputo's
mental condition now, and has nothing to do with his state of mind at
the time of the killings or when he was originally arrested in 1971.
At that time Mr. Caputo was declared unfit to stand
trial in the murder of Natalie Brown, 19, of Flower Hill, L.I., after
homicide detectives said he had been observed talking to his deceased
victim in his jail cell.
The court then sent Mr. Caputo to a state hospital
for the criminally insane. He escaped in 1974. He said he killed his
second victim, a psychologist who had been treating him, that year, and
later killed a third woman in San Francisco and a fourth in Mexico City.
After living as a fugitive for 17 years in
California, the Midwest, Mexico and Argentina, he surrendered to the New
York State police last week, saying he felt remorse for his victims and
their families and feared that the voices and demons that forced him to
kill two decades ago could cause him to kill again.
Mr. Caputo stood silent and motionless today,
restrained by handcuffs and leg irons, as Judge John Dunne said that a
court-ordered psychiatric examination of Mr. Caputo on Thursday at the
Nassau County Jail had recommended that he was "fit to precede to trial."
Judge Dunne did not comment further on the details of
the examination and cautioned both the defense and prosecution that none
of the report should be made public.
Under New York State law, a defendant must pass two
tests to be ruled mentally competent to stand trial. The judge must
determine that the defendant can understand the nature of the
proceedings, such as the indictment and the roles of the judge, defense
lawyer, prosecutor and jury. And the defendant must be able to assist in
his or her defense.
By contrast, an insanity defense would require Mr.
Caputo's lawyer, Michael Kennedy, to prove that Mr. Caputo could not
appreciate the nature and consequences of his conduct or know that his
conduct was wrong at the time he committed the murder. Lawyer to Respond
After today's ruling, Mr. Kennedy said he needed time
to study the psychiatric report to determine whether to seek further
psychiatric tests and contest the judge's decision.
Legal analysts said the defense may yet prove that Mr.
Caputo, who Mr. Kennedy has said suffers from schizophrenia and multiple-personality
disorder, is unfit to stand trial. "It could come down to a battle of
experts on the question of mental competency," said William Hellerstein,
a professor at the Brooklyn Law School.
"The question is not what his mental state was 20
years ago, but what his mental state is now," Mr. Hellerstein said. "It's
not only a legal issue, it's a psychiatric issue."
In an interview outside the courtroom, Mr. Kennedy
said: "I think the reality of these proceedings is that Mr. Caputo is
not likely to ever to be free, to see the light of day. The real
question is, will he be confined behind bars in a prison hospital, or
will he be confined in a cell?"
Judge Dunne, taking note of the considerable
television and newspaper coverage of Mr. Caputo's surrender to
detectives in Mr. Kennedy's Manhattan law offices last week and
subsequent media coverage of the case, warned Mr. Kennedy and the
prosecution not to discuss confidential portions of the court's records,
including the court-ordered psychiatric examination.
Before Mr. Caputo turned himself in to the police 10
days ago, he spent two hours with a television correspondent and a
network crew, confessing to the four murders and describing the voices
that he said drove him to murder.
Mr. Caputo has spoken to no reporters since his
arrest, and Mr. Kennedy has carefully controlled the flow of information
about his client.
Mr. Caputo's brother, Alfredo, sat alone in the
courtroom today as Ricardo Caputo, wearing the same blue jeans, blue-and-white
striped shirt and leather jacket in which he was arrested, made his
second court appearance this week before Judge Dunne. Alfredo Caputo,
who on Wednesday issued a brief statement about his brother's life and
struggle with mental illness, quickly left the courthouse this afternoon,
referring all questions to Mr. Kennedy.
Ricardo Caputo, who first immigrated to New York in
1970, admits killing his fiancee, Ms. Brown, in 1971; his psychologist,
Judith Becker, 26, of Yonkers, in 1974; Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, with
whom he lived in San Francisco, in 1975, and Laura Gomez, with whom he
lived in Mexico City, in 1977.
Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Caputo had been diagnosed by
psychiatrists in Argentina as suffering from multiple personalities, one
of which is psychotic and drove him to commit the four murders.
Calling him "a brutal and cunning man," a judge today
sentenced Ricardo S. Caputo to 8 1/2 to 25 years in prison for the first
of four murders Mr. Caputo has said he committed more than 20 years ago.
Since his escape from a New York psychiatric
institution in 1974, Mr. Caputo was a fugitive until he turned himself
in last year, saying voices were urging him to kill again.
"I turned myself in to avoid any more killings and to
say to the families of the victims that I am sorry," Mr. Caputo, 45,
told Judge John P. Dunne of Nassau County Court before his sentencing
today. "I did what I did because I was sick, and I hope I can be cured
while I'm incarcerated."
But Judge Dunne was not persuaded.
"Having led a life of murder, mayhem and manipulation
for the past 25 years, it is obviously your belief that a few words of
sympathy and mea culpa will make you a free man," Judge Dunne said. "To
the extent this court can, Ricardo Caputo, your home, to the hour of
your last breath, shall be of stone and steel. This step, today, should
be only the first of two, three or four more jail sentences which,
consecutively and together, shall lead to the end of your life and
In January, Mr. Caputo pleaded guilty to manslaughter
in the death of his girlfriend, 19-year-old Natalie Brown, at her home
in Flower Hill, L.I., on July 31, 1971, after she said she wanted to
He was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial and
was sent to a state mental institution. He has said he killed Judith
Becker, 26, his state-appointed psychologist, at her apartment in
Yonkers on Oct. 20, 1974.
Mr. Caputo then moved across the country before
traveling to Mexico and returning to his native Argentina. He has
admitted to killing Barbara Ann Taylor, 28, with whom he was living in
San Francisco in 1975, and Laura Gomez, with whom he lived in Mexico
City in 1977.
Edward Brown, the brother of Mr. Caputo's first
victim, called on Judge Dunne today to make certain that Mr. Caputo "is
never free again."
"He created a prison of grief for my parents from
which they never had a chance to apply for parole," Mr. Brown said. "I
have met some of the family members of the other victims, and we never
want anyone else to go through what he went through."
Mr. Caputo, 45, looked pale and nervous, his wrists
and ankles in chains. He was dressed in the same blue jeans, brown
leather jacket and white button-down shirt he wore when he was arraigned
here in court on March 10, 1994.
His lawyer, Michael Kennedy, who negotiated his
guilty plea, told the court that Mr. Caputo was married, had four
children and could have remained a free man in Argentina, but "began
have recurring nightmares 15 months ago, flashbacks of these terrible,
"He could have stayed free, but he was afraid he
could hurt somebody again and turned himself in," Mr. Kennedy said,
By Bruce Jay Friedman - The New York Times
February 15, 1998
Ricardo Caputo does not quite make the A list of
serial killers. Nonetheless, his record of four admitted murders, a
great many probables and the manner in which he worked his tacky
continental charm on female victims has led to a starring role in Linda
Wolfe's investigative memoir, ''Love Me to Death.''
The book has its origin in Wolfe's article, published
in 1983 in New York magazine, about the murder of her friend Jacqui
Bernard, a woman much admired for her good works and social activism.
Wolfe remained, as she says, ''obsessed'' with the unsolved crime and
learned, several years later, that Ricardo Caputo had been a suspect in
the case -- and in a number of other murders. But Caputo had vanished
and did not surface until 1994, when he unexpectedly turned himself in
to police and confessed to the seduction and subsequent murders of four
young women -- though not to that of Bernard. (A private investigator
advanced the theory to Wolfe that the murder of a 62-year-old woman
would be unhelpful to Caputo's Lothario image.)
At this point, Wolfe began a three-year investigation
of her own. Her motives for doing so, which she continues to define
along the way, are, for the most part, high-minded: a need to find the
estimable Bernard's killer and to give Caputo's other victims visibility.
(''They were ciphers. Several newspapers had written about them, but
they'd been allotted just a short paragraph or two apiece.'') There is
also her fascination with sleuthing and the work of private eyes (''It
seemed such an exotic way to earn one's livelihood''). Farther along in
the book, Wolfe's mother moves into the picture, a ''phobic'' woman who
kept sending her daughter cautionary pictures of female rape victims.
With luck, the writing of the book would address Wolfe's own needs.
Much of the book is taken up with a re-creation of
Caputo's seduction and subsequent killing of each victim. He had
extended affairs with each woman, which separates him a bit from the
usual run of serial killers. Since the scenarios are based on police
reports and interviews, they have a shakiness to them; ''perhaps'' and
''might have'' are qualifiers that are used abundantly. But the stories
do have the force of women-in-jeopardy dramas that form the backbone of
much television programming. The victims are young, attractive, educated
and emotionally rudderless. Each is described as being a nurturer. This
characteristic would have made them easy prey for the self-pitying
Caputo, with his story of having been highborn in Argentina, deserted by
his mother, reduced to doing janitorial work in the United States and
suffering humiliation as an illegal immigrant. The reader wonders in
frustration (or at least this reader does) why Caputo's victims were not
put on alert by his jealous fits, demands for money, violence and --
most telling of all -- his writing of bad poetry.
Those looking for the freshly minted phrase will not
find examples in ''Love Me to Death.'' A woman is ''raised in the lap of
luxury''; a detective is a ''fountain of information''; a woman smiles,
''her eyes crinkling''; characters repeatedly ''eschew'' courses of
action. The editor who is praised in the acknowledgments for getting
Wolfe to ''stretch'' as a writer might have encouraged her to stretch a
bit more. (To take a more generous view, it's possible that stock
phrases are soothing to some readers -- like fast food.)
But Wolfe has tenacity as a reporter, and if a story
of this kind can be said to take wing, it does so when she travels to
Argentina to investigate Caputo's origins. The language flattens out and
her descriptions of the right-wing political landscape and the macho
culture that fed into Caputo's feeling that he had ''ownership'' of
women (and could dispose of them as he wished) are effective. Wolfe
spends some time with Caputo's brother, Alberto (''I'm not a killer.
Except in business. Where it's O.K.''), and his accomplished family,
raising the question of why Ricardo Caputo alone followed a malevolent
path. His mother had been put forth (by Ricardo) as the villain of the
piece, having abandoned the family when he was young, then returning
with her lover, who raised the boy abusively. But surely there are cases
of young men whose mothers behaved unattractively and who did not take
up the strangling of women as a career.
When Alberto was asked why his brother became a
killer, his reply was, ''I don't really know.''
Ricardo Caputo pleaded guilty to two of his admitted
murders and was sentenced to a prison term of 25 years to life. (In
1970, he had been judged mentally incompetent to stand trial for his
first murder and was eventually placed in the Manhattan Psychiatric
Center on Wards Island in New York, from which he escaped a few years
later -- to kill again.) Last October, he suffered a fatal heart attack
in Attica. He was 48 years old.
Wolfe eventually conducted a series of interviews
with Caputo in prison, which, given his history and her various
apprehensions, must have taken courage. These sessions with the once-handsome
Caputo, now ''paunchy, balding, glassy-eyed'' (with surprisingly small
hands -- for a strangler), are the strongest feature of the book. Caputo,
Wolfe writes, gave her ''that creepy sexual stare, and leaning close to
him the way I was, hanging on his lips, his words, I suddenly
experienced his evil energy.'' But when she asked if Caputo killed her
friend Jacqui Bernard, he said: ''Name doesn't ring a bell. . . . I
never knew the woman.'' Why Wolfe felt Caputo would confess to her, when
he failed to do so to the police, is not made clear. Somewhat
defensively, Wolfe assures us that she has her man: ''To my mind, the
killer was Ricardo, it had to have been Ricardo.'' Still, his denial
would seem to indicate that her three-year investigation came to very
little. That is not quite the case. Despite her earnest, Nancy Drew,
let's-play-detective style -- or perhaps because of it -- Linda Wolfe
has somehow put us as closely in touch with the manner and sensibility
of a serial killer as we are ever likely to be.