The massive Tappan Zee Bridge spans the Hudson River just north of New York City. For Alex Morell, it's a bridge of tears because of what happened there to her sister, Annie Morell Petrillo, 38, last September.
Alex, 40, vows she will never cross the bridge again. "Never. Too painful," she said.
We first met Alex and Annie back in 1994. The look-alike sisters had distinct personalities; Alex outgoing, Annie more sensitive and shy. But, Alex said, they were inseparable. "It was never Annie or just Alex," she said. "It was always Alex and Annie."
The sisters had a carefree childhood, growing up in the wealthy New York suburb of Bronxville. Their mother, Anne, an heiress to the Scripps newspaper fortune, was just a regular mom. "She didn't think of herself as having a lot of money," Annie said back in 1994. "She just thought of herself as a normal person."
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But when the sisters were teenagers, their parents divorced. Anne Scripps Morell was left vulnerable, hurt and lonely. Soon, however, she seemed to find happiness again in the arms of Scott Douglas, a handsome man nine years her junior, who described himself as a successful contractor. The two were married after less than a year.
"We were surprised," Annie said in 1994. "We couldn't believe it. But we were also happy because my mom, we thought, was happy."
Alex, however, was more suspicious of their new stepfather. Over time, it became clear her suspicions were justified. Rather than a successful contractor, Scott Douglas was more like a struggling house painter. He expected Anne to support him in style, her daughters said.
"He would scream at her to buy him cars; that he wants new clothes, new shoes, new everything," Annie told ABC. "He said he deserved it."
The fights got worse and worse but Anne, her daughters believe, didn't want to admit another failed marriage to her friends. Instead of a divorce, she and Scott had a baby, Victoria, called Tori, in June 1990.
"I think my mother thought that once Victoria was born that everything, the violence, would just end," Alex. said.
It didn't. Anne told her daughters that Douglas threw her down the stairs, and even tried to push her out of a car on the highway. He would threaten to take Victoria if Anne tried to get a divorce. It got so bad, the sisters said, that Anne sometimes slept in her daughter Annie's room with a drawer blocking the door -- and a hammer by the bed for protection.
Finally, Anne decided on divorce. A family court judge granted an order of protection but Douglas was allowed to remain in the house. In December 1993, Anne called police three times to complain about Douglas but, with no evidence of violence, he wasn't arrested.
In late December, Anne returned to court, hoping to force Douglas out of the house. But with the judge on vacation, she was told to come back after New Year's.
Then came New Year's Eve. Alex was going away on a ski trip and Annie was planning to go to a party. Earlier in the day, Anne and Scott had had another fight. "She kept crying, so I said I'm not going to go out," Annie said.