Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Washington Social Diary: The Darkness and the Light

The Savolpoulos home on Woodland Drive. Police said the suspect held the victims hostage, tortured them, murdered them and then set the house on fire.
by Carol Joynt

On what was probably the prettiest evening of this spring season, the 23rd annual Tudor Place Garden Party convened on the mansion’s lush green lawn overlooking Georgetown, down to the Potomac River and beyond. It was a most of all bright and happy occasion, but with Washington being the small and tight community it is, the conversation couldn’t help but be about the home invasion and murder of four people in a home on Woodland Drive, only a mile away.

How can I write about a fine spring party and such dark evil in the same diary? Perhaps because the victims, Savvas and Amy Savopoulos, both young and vital in their mid-40s, could so easily have been at Tudor Place, sipping cocktails, catching up with friends. Through their neighborhood, Woodley Park, and their clubs, such as the Metropolitan, and their daughters and son’s schools, National Cathedral School (where they gave a gift of at least $100,000) and St. Albans, and charities, and their church, they would have been among people they know, many others listed in the Washington social register, and thus in their world.  In that world, this doesn’t happen, until it did.
The image of Savvas and Amy Savapoulos that has been broadcast and published all over the world.
Savvas and Amy were held hostage, tortured, apparently forced to provide $40,000 in ransom, and then killed, along with their 10-year-old son, Phillip Savopoulos, and the housekeeper, Veralicia Figueroa in what’s been reported as 19 hours of unthinkable horror. The teenage daughters, who had left NCS, were away at their boarding schools – Mercersburg and Peddie – with the oldest scheduled to graduate this week.

Police have arrested a 34-year-old man who at one time worked for Savopoulos at the company where he was CEO, American Iron Works. The suspect, Daron Wint, was arrested within days, and is being held in the D.C. jail, but the case is still young, there’s a lot of mystery and unanswered questions. For example, were their accomplices and, if so, where are they?
Philip Savopoulos.
Veralicia Figueroa.
The guests at Tudor Place couldn’t shake from their minds what had occurred in Woodley Park.

One friend of Amy’s called her a “wonderful mother.” Another said the couple “met at the University of Maryland.” Savvas was described as a colorful personality who “liked cars and stuff.” A Woodland Drive resident called them “good neighbors.”  Another was dismayed, “shook up,” because the neighborhood pays “extra for a private security patrol.” According to those who knew them, Savvas and Amy were “not socialites,” more private and family than that scene, but they were social, involved in school life, community life, generous with their time and home for causes, and their church, St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral; places and events that mattered to them.

News reports said Savvas had another business, Sigma Investment Strategies, a hedge fund based in Puerto Rico, and the family considered pulling up stakes in DC and relocating to the Caribbean island as their home.

Savvas Savopoulos and Jim Shelton in a 2007 photograph.
I did not know Savvas and Amy. I went through the New York Social Diary archives to see whether we ever crossed paths in that context. There he was, looking into my camera, in a 2007 diary about the annual Nutracker performance and the after-party at the Willard Hotel. In the photo, standing next to Jim Shelton, Savvas is wearing a Black Watch plaid sports jacket, a red tie, looking pleasant enough with a shy smile but, most of all, so young. He would have been perhaps 39 at the time.

If I had more to say I would, but I can’t tell much about people I didn’t know personally. But I can attest their murders have had a chilling, even traumatic impact on the community, near and far, with people sharing talk of nerve-rattling anxiety and nightmares, and grieving for them because it's the right thing to do. A funeral service is planned for June 1 at St. Sophia.

The Woodland Drive horror came only days after the deadly AMTRAK derailment that also had a frightening impact on the Washington metro area. Eight people died, 200 were injured. That particular 7:10 evening train to New York, #188, is a regular ride for lots of locals who commute back and forth. One of my colleagues at Foreign Policy magazine, Seyward Darby, was on the train and thankfully survived, but suffered a hurt back and ribs. She wrote about the experience for The Washington Post, with a particular focus on coping with trauma.
The horrifying scene of the Amtrak wreck. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Let me return to Tudor Place, and the beautiful garden party. It deserves special mention because it was such a good party this year, in fine form, with just the right tent, setting, food, drink, flowers and minimal speeches. The credit for its specialness goes to this year’s chair, Elizabeth Powell. She fretted about getting it right, and she got it very right.
Tudor Place, at twilight on Wednesday May 20th.
Every year the Garden Party honors an individual and this year it was Ellen MacNeille Charles – friend, neighbor, owner of thoroughbred race horses, award-winning show dogs, tireless traveler, and, as the tribute to her noted, “a groundbreaking advocate for museums,” including Tudor Place, where she has been a trustee, board president and campaign co-chair in its “formative years,” and also Hillwood, the museum home of her grandmother, Marjorie Merriweather Post.
Ellen Charles, star of the party and the receiving line at Tudor Place.
Elizabeth Powell, in the brown dress, also on the receiving line.
Ellen and Elizabeth ...
For several years Elizabeth and Ellen were across the street neighbors in Georgetown, where a friendship started and continues strong. Elizabeth knows what can bring a smile to Ellen’s face, and she arranged to have a horse drawn carriage pick her up at home and drive her up the hill of 31st Street to Tudor Place. She also tapped into her past, with a performance by The Foxcroft School Chorale - Ellen is a graduate and a dedicated trustee – and highlighted her passions in other details. There was topiary of a horse head and of standard poodles, and poodle grilled cheese sandwiches, too. Because, you know, why not?
The receiving line delivered guests to the party tent, and from there a hilltop view of Georgetown.
Elizabeth Powell talks with David Deckelbaum
Leslie Buhler, Executive Director of Tudor Place, and Ellen Charles
A fine feast from Susan Gage Caterers included grilled cheese sandwiches in the shape of standard poodles.
The Tudor Place Garden Party is much more than a reception. There's good drinks, wine, dinner and dessert.
Beautiful flowers are a standard of the Tudor Place Garden Party. Mini-strawberry shortcakes for dessert.
Swooping in for a closer look.
Guests relaxing on a lovely spring evening.
Christopher de Paola, in his "most photographed" pants, and David Deckelbaum.
Ellen Charles friends and family. L. to r., Chris de Paola, son David Iverson and wife Tara, George Floyd and son Andrew Iverson. 
... and the most photographed shoes.
Smiling for the party photographer.
Standard poodle topiary.
Horse topiary.
The Tudor Place gardens ... a must stop while at the party.
Endnote: Before the Tudor Place party, some of Ellen’s immediate neighbors gathered to see her off in the carriage but to also have a drink to toast the recent marriage of long-time partners Marcia Carter and Robin Hill. It was at the home of J.T. Taylor and the group included John and Jean Lange, Fred Schwab, Sara Mashek, Chris de Paola, Myra Moffett and, of course, Marcia and Robin.
The group of Ellen Charles neighbors who got together before heading to Tudor Place. Host J.T. Taylor, plus Jean Lange, Sara Mashek, Fred Schwab, Judy Leon, Christopher de Paola, John Lange, newlyweds Marcia Carter and Robin Hill, and Myra Moffett. 

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt