Wonderful, adventurous and trusting,” is how Wendy Albano’s close friend Gail Appel describes her, as she recalls their friendship of 15 years, the times they shared together and the shock of dealing with the news of her violent death, speaking to Newsline on the phone from Miami.
Wendy (52), a native of South Tampa in Florida, was found stabbed and smothered to death in a room in the Fraser Suites hotel in Sukhumvit, Bangkok in February 2012. On Monday, September 29, the suspect in the murder, Mumbai resident Ritesh Singhvi, was arrested in a joint operation by the Mumbai Police Crime Branch and the Mumbai Police Extradition Cell. He was picked up from the Parbhani district in Maharashtra, where he was staying and running a cell phone repair store under an assumed name. A warrant issued by the special extradition court in Patiala House, New Delhi had been pending against him since 2012 for the murder of Albano.
Gail (54), who now lives with her husband, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and two daughters in Miami, Florida, worked with Wendy for 15 years in South Tampa. The two close friends, who shared the same birthday as well as a love for art, started a small interior decoration business shortly after they became friends and went on to design the homes of celebrities such as New York Yankees player Derek Jeter.
“Wendy loved the exotic, as did I, and this often reflected in the décor that we designed. She loved to travel and explore the world, and would often travel alone to far off places. She was also very trusting by nature, and this worked against her a lot of times. She trusted people too easily,” says Gail.
To Gail’s eternal regret, she and Wendy had parted ways shortly before she was found dead. “I guess we both just wanted different things in life,” she reflects.
In January 2012, Gail got to know that Wendy was planning a trip to India through a mutual friend. “A friend of ours, Dr Ram Sharma, called me up to tell me about Wendy’s intention to travel to India alone, and that he was apprehensive about it. He asked me to talk to Wendy about it, but we were not in regular touch by then, Gail recalls.
After Wendy’s body was found by a maid in the hotel, and Singhvi was identified as the suspect, Gail was not told about it immediately. While Gail’s daughters learned about the incident from Wendy’s daughters, they hesitated for several days before they finally told her, as they knew it would come as a massive shock.
“I never even got to say good bye to Wendy,” she says. Gail doesn’t know much about Singhvi, just that she met him once in India and once in Thailand. “I’m not sure whether they really met on Facebook or whether she met him while on her trip to India,” says Gail.
Ask her about the punishment she feels is fit for Singhvi and there is no hesitation. “He should get the death penalty. No one should get away with something like this,” she says.
Wendy’s mother, Ellen Greenwald, declined to speak. “We request the media to respect our privacy. There is nothing that we wish to say,” she said.
Singhvi was produced in the Esplanade court on Tuesday and the Mumbai Police Crime Branch were granted transit remand till October 3. He is to be produced in the special extradition court in Patiala House, Delhi during this time, officials said. Singhvi has told Crime Branch officers that the murder was committed in a ‘fit of rage’, as he wanted to leave for India after meeting Wendy at her hotel room and she wasn’t letting him leave.