By Jeff Moag
Was it a tragic accident, or a kayak murder plot?
On April 19, Angelika Graswald, 35, made a 911 call from her kayak on the Hudson River near Cornwall, N.Y., reporting that her fiancee Vincent Viafore, 46, had capsized and was struggling in the frigid waters.
When rescuers arrived Graswald herself was in the water, and Viafore was nowhere to be found. New York State Police scoured the shoreline for days, searching for Viafore’s body. They never found it.
On Thursday, Orange County prosecutors filed murder charges against Graswald.
According to the New York Times prosecutors allege Graswald intentionally killed her fiancé, and then attempted to mislead investigators.
"Initially, we believed her to be a survivor of a tragic accident," New York State Police Maj. Patrick Regan said at a news conference Thursday. “Some inconsistencies in the accounts that she gave of those last minutes led investigators to be suspicious."
The Times reports that Graswald called 911 around 7:40 p.m. on April 19 as the couple were kayaking from Bannerman’s Island to Plum Point on the western shore of the Hudson, a crossing of about one and one-quarter miles. The wind had picked up, and Graswald told investigators that Viafore capsized into the 46-degree water. He was not wearing a lifevest.
Graswald, who was wearing a PFD, was picked up by a motorboat and later treated for hypothermia.
"I saw him struggling a little bit," she told News 12 Westchester on April 23. "He was trying to figure out how to paddle the waves. And then I just saw him flip, right in front of me."
Investigators remain tight-lipped about why they suspect Graswald, and police have released few details of the incident. However, it appears they were not properly equipped or prepared for the crossing.
Besides Viafore not wearing a PFD, the paddlers were not dressed for immersion. They launched after sunset into challenging conditions. Though authorities have not confirmed what type of kayak the pair were paddling, a photo Graswald posted to Facebook after her fiancee’s disappearance shows her paddling a sit-inside rec kayak without a sprayskirt. It’s not clear whether they had practiced, or even knew about, assisted kayak rescue or self-rescue techniques.
It will be up to a jury to decide whether Viafore’s death was murder. At the very least, it was a preventable tragedy.