Death at Soho House

An Oscar winner’s son is accused of killing his swimsuit designer girlfriend at a trendy NYC hotel

Produced by Patti Aronofsky and Elena DiFiore

[This story first aired on Feb. 1. It was updated on July 11.]

It was summer in Miami -- two years before her death -- and Sylvie Cachay was on top of the world. From all over the country, top bathing suit designers were vying for attention. But it seemed all eyes were on Sylvie and her swimwear line, Syla.

"You see a lot of stuff. ... but it's rare that you see wow. And that's definitely what we felt," said Sylvie's former publicist, Lesa McHale.

McHale knew she had a hit on her hands.

"It was sort of a PR dream ... The coverage was across the board from InStyle, and Vogue and Lucky and Elle," she explained. "... they were attracted not only to her product, but to her ... as an individual as sort of a style-setter in her own right."

Sports Illustrated chose Sylvie designed bikinis to feature in their swimsuit video.

"She got her clothing in Barneys and all these amazing stores within the first year ... which is unheard of," Ben Baker said. "I shot her look books. I was her photographer."

Ben Baker was a lot more than her photographer. In 2008, he was Sylvie's fiance.

"She's obviously a beautiful woman," he said. "She's the sort of person that, when that person walks in a room, everyone pays attention."

So it was no surprise that a woman like Sylvie would occasionally stay at the exclusive Soho House hotel.

"[It] fit the criteria of what the typical member would be, someone in fashion or film," Bryan Alvarez, the former Soho House night manager explained. "It's ... ah, trendy."

He says Sylvie actually had special status at the Soho House, a coveted membership that meant perks like access to the private club or the pool -- a place so hard to get into that the TV show "Sex in the City" devoted an episode to it.

Her friends say Sylvie understood how important socializing at the club was to her career.

"This is a girl who's in fashion. She's stylish. She's inspired by new and fresh," said McHale.

"She really never thought she couldn't do anything ... she really believed," said Patrick Cachey.

Her brother, an MIT graduate, marveled at how his sister launched her own business at age 29.

"Starting your own fashion line might be a dream of tens of thousands of people. But actually doing it is a whole another world. And she did it," said Patrick.

Sylvie grew up in privileged suburban Virginia; her father a prominent surgeon and her mother an artist. Sylvie understood work ethic -- her parents emigrated from Peru.

"Did you worry about her when she moved to New York City?" Roberts asked the Cachays.

"Not really, not really from day one in New York, she started looking for jobs," said Dr. Antonio Cachay.

"In one week she already had her job with Tommy Hilfiger," said Sylvia Cachay.

No one was surprised.

"You could see her personality at age 3 ... she wanted to walk on the streets of New York with a big ribbon like that and a bow this big. I was a little embarrassed. But she was not at all," Sylvia continued.

It was almost a forgone conclusion that Sylvie would make it in New York, but in 2008, the market crashed.

"That was a terrible time for, you know, many young designers in fashion, just many designers in general," McHale said. "Backers were pulling out."

"She looked for other backers," Patrick said. "... she had to make the decision to close down temporarily."

"It was definitely a death ... it was her baby. It was her dream and so it was very difficult to see it go away so drastically and suddenly," said Alicia Bell, a fellow designer and close friend. "I would say that she was lost."

"You know, it's hard when you have worked your whole life and have built something and then it's taken from you," Bell told Roberts.

"And on the heels of that she broke off her engagement?" Roberts asked.

"Right. With Ben. That ended. It was a very troubling time for her," Bell replied.

Bell says Sylvie ended her engagement to Ben to concentrate on her business.

"It was really tough. I mean, she was down," said McHale.

Cheri Fogelman was Sylvie's trainer at the gym.

"She wasn't eating right. She lost a lot of weight actually," Fogelman explained. "She just was so sad."

"And I said, 'You know, at some point, you do have to get a job because, you know, you need income to survive the crisis,'" Patrick said. "She went and actually got a very good job."

Sylvie was the lead designer for Anne Cole swimwear. But friends say she wasn't happy. Sylvie hadn't given up on her own line. It was then, in the summer of 2010, that Sylvie's attention was diverted when she met someone. Nicholas Brooks was just 24 -- almost 10 years younger -- and he had a trust fund.

nick-sylvie-combo.jpg
Sylvie Cachay and Nick Brooks
Ben Baker/Redux; Amanda Brooks

On their first date they walked her dogs.

"She had these two dogs that she was very, very, very in love with," said McHale.

Pepper, her toy poodle, ran into the street and was run over.

"She called me from the animal hospital and it was horrifying. Crying, crying, crying. And, eventually, she had to put him down that night, but that was their first date," said Bell.

"She told me about how Nick was there that night ... and that he scooped Pepper off of the street and hailed a cab, and took her to a vet," Fogelman said. "... stayed all night with her and was there by her side, comforting her. He was a shoulder for her to cry on. And he sounded like this -"

"Knight in shining armor?" Roberts asked.

"Yeah," Fogelman replied.

"It seemed good that this, you know, Prince Charming came in, you know, during this horrible stuff," said Bell.

But there would be no fairy tale ending for Sylvie. Six months later, she was dead in a posh New York City hotel room.

Sylvie's mother was home in Virginia when her husband rushed in.

"I said, 'What happened' and he says 'Sylvie.' I said, 'What happened to Sylvie? ...what is wrong?' And he says, 'Esta muerta.' Which means, 'She's dead.' I said, 'not my baby, no, no, no.' And we fell on the floor. We just fell on the floor. And we were just holding each other, like for more than an hour there. It was just awful, awful," Sylvia told Roberts.

Police were also trying to make sense of Sylvie's death.

Former NYPD detectives Robert Moller and Tommy Jones knew Sylvie's body had been pulled from an overflowing bathtub. They saw an empty bottle of pills on the dresser. But it was the fact that Sylvie was dressed that raised the first big flag.

"When we walk in the room we see Sylvie Cachay, she's dressed in a black turtleneck and panties," said Det. Moller.

"... her watch was on. Her Rolex watch," Det. Jones said. "... normal people don't take baths with their clothes on."

Investigators noted the bruising on Sylvie's neck.

"They were light colored marks but they were marks ... caused by choking," Jones explained. "She also had a cut inside her lip ... could've been caused by ... someone would take their hand and put it over your mouth and push."

It was starting to look like someone had murdered Sylvie.

"We find out she checked in with someone else - 'where is this person, why isn't he here in the room with her?'" said Moller.

Sylvie had checked into the hotel with her boyfriend Nicholas Brooks. Now he was the first person detectives really wanted to talk to. But he was nowhere to be found.

THE LAST PERSON TO SEE SYLVIE ALIVE

It was 5:30 in the morning, nearly three hours after Sylvie's body was found, when Nicholas Brooks walked back into Soho House.

"We were in the lobby -- myself and the rest of the staff," Bryan Alvarez, the former Soho House night manager explained. "We pointed him out to the police officer saying, 'Hey this is -- that's him."

Alvarez watched as an officer told Nick that something happened to his girlfriend.

"His reaction was a little weird in ... he didn't react to like someone who just lost someone close to him," Alvarez said. "His reaction was very blank."

"Flat?" Roberts asked.

"Kinda, yeah," Alvarez replied.

"He appeared to be inebriated," Jones said. "... eyes were bloodshot and smelt of alcohol. Sorta slurred his words."

Detectives brought Nick to the precinct. They wanted to know where he had been all night and what had happened to Sylvie.

"We placed him in the interview room and he basically really couldn't hold a conversation with us. So I said, 'It's late, why don't you take a rest?'" Jones told Roberts. "... and he just laid his head down and went to sleep."

Asked if Nick was alert when he woke, Jones told Roberts, "Yeah, much better."

Nick Brooks was able to write a statement for police and detail his actions that night. He says he met Sylvie at her village apartment in the early evening. They watched a movie, lit some candles and had sex.

"After sex was over, he wanted to take a shower," Jones said. "When he came out of the shower -- the bed had been on fire."

The lit candles had sparked a fire on the bed sheets. Nick says Sylvie was sound asleep -- because she had taken medication earlier. He had to wake her up and rescue her.

They decided to leave her apartment. Nick told police Sylvie repeatedly stumbled as they went down the stairs. Then Sylvie and Nick headed to Soho House.

On hotel surveillance tape, the couple can be seen arriving after midnight, Nick carrying Sylvie's pillow. He says Sylvie was still "too pilled out" to fill out the paperwork, so he did it for her.

Once in the room, he says Sylvie mentioned taking a bath. Nick decided to go to the hotel restaurant to eat. When he returned, Nick says, Sylvie was sleeping.

"He just decided he was too awake ... So he said he woke Sylvie up and said, 'I'm gonna go out for a while.' And he did," Jones explained. "He said, 'The next thing I know, I got back to the hotel and you know all the police were there.'"

To check Nick Brook's version, police interviewed Soho House employees. And it turns out, there's a lot more to the story.

Kristen Stephens was working at the reception desk when they checked in.

"There was tension between the two of them," she said.

Stephens escorted Sylvie to the room. When they were alone in the elevator, Sylvie, she says, explained what was wrong: that there had been a fire at her apartment. And she blamed it all on Nick.

"She told me that her bed ... caught on fire because Nick had put candles on the headboard. And she said, 'Who puts candles on the headboard,'" Stephens said. "She said, 'he's 10 years younger than me. ... What am I doing with him? He's a child ... I should just break up with him.' ... And she said, 'Now, this pillow is all that's left of my $3,000 bed.'"

Stephens says Sylvie was so exhausted that she stumbled in the hallway. "She said ... 'I've already taken my sleeping pills for the night.'"

In hotel video, Stephens can be seen holding Sylvie's hand, guiding her to the room.

sohihouse9.jpg
12:36 a.m. - Soho House employee Kristen Stephens took Sylvie up to Room 20 while Nick stayed behind to complete paperwork. After helping Sylvie onto the bed, Kristen left the room. She told "48 Hours" correspondent Troy Roberts that Sylvie was intent on going to sleep.
New York County D.A.'s Office

Once inside, Stephens helped Sylvie settle into the bed.

"She was in bed when I left her. She was going to sleep," said Stephens.

"She was just going to sleep right away?" Roberts asked.

"Absolutely," Stephens replied.

And then just a little while later, Stephens was in the hall passing Sylvie's room when she heard yelling and what sounded like Sylvie's voice.

"I'm hearing yelling, arguing," Stephens told Roberts. "And as I came around the corner, that arguing ceased, very abruptly."

Using her pass key to open the room next door to Sylvie's, Stephens pressed her ear against the wall, trying to hear what was going on in Sylvie's room.

"I spent a good minute-and-a-half in there, listening, and heard absolute silence. Not even shuffling of feet, not even whispering ... silence, no movement," she said.

Today, Stephens wonders if she heard the moment Sylvie was killed. She wishes she would have just knocked on Sylvie's room door.

"Because if I had knocked, what would have happened? What? Maybe I could have helped her," an emotional Stephens told Roberts. She paused before continuing. "That one I don't know. And I don't ever gonna know that one. I'm sorry."

To police, what Stephens heard sounded suspicious, but it didn't prove Nick killed Sylvie.

Here's what they were able to determine by watching Soho House surveillance video:

sohohouse11.jpg
10) Security cameras recorded Nick coming in and out of the room numerous times that night
New York County D.A.'s Office

Nick came and left Sylvie's room many times that night. Sometimes it seems like he's pacing the halls and other times it looks like he's biting his nails. He did go to the hotel restaurant, but an employee told police that Nick barely touched his food.

At exactly 2:18 a.m., Nick left Sylvie's room for the last time. He heads to the front desk and strange as it seems, he meets and strikes up a friendship with jazz musician David Raleigh.

Raleigh said they decided to go out. He told police they went to a bar called Employees Only, where he and Nick had drinks and did some cocaine.

While Nick was out partying, Soho House staffers were alerted to a water leak. It was coming from Sylvie's room. When they opened the door, they discovered her body in the overflowing bathtub. By the end of the next day, detectives would have Nick Brooks under arrest.

And that's when Nick said something that sounded a lot like an admission of guilt.

"He then asked, 'Well, how much will I get for this? You know, how much time will I get for this,'" said Moller.

"When he said, 'How much time can I get for this,' what was your reaction?" Roberts asked.

"We kinda just looked at each other," said Jones.

"We were a little shocked," added Moller.

But Nick's sister, Amanda Brooks, insists her brother didn't admit to anything. He had no idea what he was saying.

"I don't think Nick completely understood what was going on," she said. "He didn't even know what he was being arrested for."

If her brother really wanted Sylvie dead, Amanda says, Nick could have just let her die in the fire.

"He loved Sylvie ... he saved her when their apartment was on fire. He tried to help her," said Amanda.

Amanda says there's an entire story detectives are ignoring.

"I believe that she wasn't sober," she said.

Nick's high-profile attorney, Jeffrey Hoffman, thinks he can prove that Nick had no role in Sylvie's drowning.

"Sylvie Cachay had a lot of drugs in her system," Hoffman said. "She couldn't even walk unassisted and had to be held in the elevator, out of the elevator, down the hall."

It's a rush to judgment Amanda says. It's all because of their father, the Oscar winner.

"I think that this is a sensational story," she said. "If my brother was not my father's son, this would not be happening."

SINS OF THE FATHER?

It's the song that defined a decade. In the 1970s, the Debby Boone hit "You Light Up My Life" was everywhere. Ten consecutive weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. And the man behind the song is Nick and Amanda Brooks' father. Amanda believes her father's troubled life would lead to the accusation that her brother killed Sylvie Cachay.

Forty years ago, the sounds of composer Joseph Brooks seemed inescapable. Brooks wrote the music for a slew of popular commercials.

"He became like the jingle king of America," investigative reporter and CBS News consultant Murray Weiss explained. "He wrote for Pepsi. He wrote for Dial soap. He came up with one of the most extraordinary jingles of the time was for Maxwell House coffee, 'Good to the last drop.' And that was sung by no less a person than Ray Charles."

Weiss added, "He went from writing jingles to making movies about people who wrote jingles."

Brooks' first Hollywood project, "You Light Up My Life," about an aspiring songwriter didn't attract a lot of studio interest.

"No one wanted to buy it," Weiss explained. "But he had such self confidence that he invested like a quarter of a million dollars of his own money in it. And it wound up making him like 40 million."

The title song would earn him an Oscar.

"People wanted to meet him, and that included women," said Weiss.

At the height of his popularity, Brooks married Sue Paul, a Playboy model and British actress who had a small part in Bob Fosse's "All That Jazz."

"He literally swept Sue off her feet. I mean, it was private jets and designer clothes and jewelry," former model and best friend Lynn Barrie said. "He was much older than her. ... I have to be honest, I didn't care for Joe from the get-go ... He was very, very controlling."

Sue would have two children with Brooks: Amanda, and then five years later, Nicholas. But the marriage ended. Sue won custody, taking the children to live with her in London.

"I think he was very angry and very hurt that my mother left him," Amanda explained. "My father knew that the only way to really get back at my mother was ultimately to take myself and my brother."

When Amanda was 12 and Nick just 7, they went to visit their father in New York. Brooks refused to send them back home to their mother.

"He kept the two children and he fought for custody ... and began a very serious brainwashing campaign against their mother ... making her sound like she's a monster," said Weiss.

"Sue was just floored. And she was coming to America, hiring detectives," said Barrie.

But, by then, Brooks had begun to hide Amanda and Nick. He reportedly moved them from hotel to hotel under assumed names.

"I mean Sue really tried very hard to find them," Barrie said. "It just devastated her. In the end, I think she just gave up. She didn't have the money."

"Nick was really close to my mother," Amanda said. "I don't think Nick necessarily completely understood what was going on. It was very difficult."

But a teenaged Amanda had a mind of her own and went to London to see her mother.

"Your father told you not to come back?" Roberts asked Amanda.

"Yeah," she replied. "... he sent me a letter, really just saying -- he didn't want to see me again. ... I don't know if you ever get over that. ... I felt pretty broken. It was the rock in the bottom of my stomach that, to be honest with you, I think never went away."

Over the years, Amanda desperately tried to reconnect with her father and Nick. It would take 14 years for Amanda, now a Hollywood actress, to finally find Nick on Facebook. He was all grown up -- a freshman in college

"From that moment on we've been pretty inseparable," she told Roberts. "It was a very instantaneous relationship. I don't know how else to describe it. ... blood's a very strong thing. We kind of just clicked immediately."

But it was a moment Nick could never tell his father about.

"We had to keep our relationship a secret," said Amanda.

"Nick would lose his inheritance if he contacted you?" Roberts asked.

"Yeah. Me or my mother," Amanda replied. "I think that's the way that my father controlled my brother. ... And ... I've come to realize that maybe I was the one that got away, as opposed to the one that was left."

Amanda knows now what actually happened to her brother while they were separated. Her father lavished an incredible lifestyle on her brother - only to repeatedly threaten him with taking it all away -- including his affection. When Nick was enrolled at a prominent New York prep school, Brooks gave his teenage son his very own apartment.

"He became like you know, the golden boy in school ... he had parties," Weiss explained. "He was so spoiled that ... if he used a plate up and it was dirty, rather than clean it he would just throw it in the garbage and they'd eventually go out and buy new china and plates to use."

But Joe Brooks didn't stop there.

"He introduced prostitutes to his son. He paid for them," said Weiss.

Brooks himself had a long history of frequenting prostitutes, Weiss says. But as Brooks aged and became ill in his 70s, and having spent a great deal of his money, he resorted to preying on unsuspecting young women.

"He still had his ... apartment and his Oscar," Weiss said. "He would go out on Craigslist ... inviting women to come and audition for him."

Loretta Spruell told authorities she answered Joe Brooks' ad.

"I was 22 years old," Spruell said. "I was doing my own booking."

Spruell claims when she went to his Manhattan apartment to audition, he attacked her.

"He laid me down on the bed and he raped me," she said in tears.

More than a dozen aspiring actresses would tell similar stories to the police. And based on those accounts, New York police arrested Brooks and charged him with more than 100 criminal counts. He faced 25 years behind bars.

But before trial, Brooks committed suicide; he put a bag over his head, inserted a tube, and breathed in helium.

"I knew that he'd end his life before he went to jail," Amanda said. "My father's a coward. So that was obviously the cowardly way to go."

"He did not recognize you or Nick in his will?" Roberts asked Amanda.

"No. He didn't recognize me for 15 years. Why was he going to recognize me in his will? I didn't expect anything different. It would have been a miracle had there been some humanity in him when he died. At least he was consistent," she replied.

But the alleged sins of her father, have unfairly, Amanda says, been visited upon her brother.

"I think unfortunately because of who my father was -- and the things he got indicted on and charged with-- the fact that they then had the son potentially too, made this just a whirlwind of a story," Amanda explained.

She says her brother told her every detail of that night. So then how does Amanda explain those marks on Sylvie's neck, the bruising, the clear signs of choking?

"They had rough sex and those bruises happened earlier that night," Amanda told Roberts. "I don't want to in any way embarrass Ms. Cachay or her family ... but my brother's life's on the line. I feel it is important for that piece of information be known. Because it's the difference between them having rough sex earlier and him choking her and killing her."

"Nick never told police that he had rough sex with Sylvie though, did he?" Roberts asked Nick's defense attorney Jeffrey Hoffman.

"Nick was asked what happened that evening and he described having sex with Sylvie," Hoffman replied. "... typically if one is asked, 'Did you have sex?' they're not gonna necessarily describe the nature of the sex, how they had sex. I mean I guess it's possible, but it's not typical. 'Yeah we had sex.'"

So then how did she end up drowning in an overflowing bathtub? Remember that videotape of Sylvie bumping into the wall while Kristen Stephens led her to the room? It's proof, the defense says, of just how out of it Sylvie was that night.

"The defense claims that while she was in this hotel room, that in a somewhat drugged state and it's late, she decided to go take a bath ... And because she's drugged she kind of passes out, slips under the water and drowns of her own volition, basically, somewhat similar to Whitney Houston," said Weiss.

But unlike Whitney Houston, Sylvie didn't have any illegal drugs or alcohol in her system. Just the prescription medications she took for a pain condition called fibromyalgia.

Investigators say the levels in her blood weren't unusually high that night, but Nick's defense argues that somehow the combination of drugs in her body made her disoriented.

What's more, when police examined the handle that turns the tubs water on and off, they only found Sylvie's DNA.

"So, are you telling me Sylvie Cachay was not murdered?" Roberts asked Hoffman.

"The evidence in this case was vastly insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was.," he replied.

THE EVIDENCE

Sylvie Cachay's cousin, Francois Jakobsson, is horrified by Nick's defense -- that after an evening of rough sex, a drugged out Sylvie accidentally drowned herself in the bathtub. The video of Sylvie bumping into the wall is evidence of nothing more than how sleepy her cousin was.

"I mean she's the victim here. ... It's so hard to hear a victim be talked about like that just to try to get your client off," Jakobsson said. "There's not one incriminating piece of evidence, except that she's exhausted."

In pretrial hearings, Nick's lawyer argues the jury should consider the defense theory of how Sylvie died, but the judge won't allow it.

"It seemed that my brother was being railroaded," Amanda Brooks said. "It was incredibly unfair.

Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance argues there's no evidence Sylvie ever participated in rough sex. Her injuries suggest she was choked violently and forced under the water.

"The bruising around her neck was clear evidence of strangulation. The fact that the lungs had twice their ordinary weight, indicated that she was put into the tub alive and breathing," said Vance.

  • Manhattan D.A.: Domestic violence often an invisible crime

What's more, Vance believes he can place Nick at the murder scene. Security cameras show Nick left Sylvie's room to go out and party at exactly 2:18 a.m. But what Nick didn't know was that at 2:11 a.m. -- 7 minutes earlier -- hotel guests in a room below Sylvie's were complaining about a water leak. Water from an overflowing bathtub in Sylvie's room.

"He was in that room when the tub was on, when the tub was overflowing. So if the tub is overflowing and the body's in the tub, he was in the room," said Det. Moller.

"I think that's certainly one of the most damming pieces of evidence that belies any contention that he ... didn't know what happened," said Vance.

Dozens of Sylvie's friends and family crowd the courthouse halls for the opening of the trial.

"She's not here to speak for herself. So we felt it was in some way us speaking for her," said Lesa McHale.

McHale and Sylvie's friends are star prosecution witnesses, because Sylvie confided in them with texts, emails, and phone calls about serious problems with Nick long before that night at Soho House. What started out as a sweet romance quickly turned sour.

"She said that she was dating someone much younger, a kid she called him," said McHale.

Best friend Alicia Bell will tell the jury that Sylvie was bothered by his childish behavior.

"I would get phone calls ... just drama - 'He smokes pot all the time,' 'he has no job.' You know, 'He drinks all the time,'" bell recalled. "It got to a place where every time she would call I'd be like, 'I don't ... why are you dating this guy?'"

Sylvie would tell her friends they were breaking up, but just hours later, they'd made up.

"I knew that there was some kinda chemistry that kept making them get back together," said Bell.

"Did she tell you that? That there was a strange chemistry between them?" Roberts asked.

"Oh yeah, she said specifically, 'We have crazy chemistry.'"

Sylvie, Bell says, knew it wasn't healthy.

"She tells me in an email, 'Remember what I've told you about the boy I'm hanging with. Very bad influence, very bad.' And -- then she texts, 'he makes me nuts and I don't need it.'"

Her friends say Sylvie was paying all the bills and was tired of it.

"She wanted him to step up like be a man and pay for stuff and treat her and spoil her," Sylvie's assistant, Heather Ditson, said. "I don't think she wanted to be, like, his sugar mama. That was definitely not what her plan was."

And at times, it seemed like Sylvie was trying to raise a child. Prosecutors recovered a to-do list Sylvie drafted for Nick - five pages of instructions: Nick was to wake up, be out of bed by 10, clean the bathroom, get a job, stop smoking pot, stop drinking. And after intimacy, Sylvie really wanted Nick to say sweet things to her.

"He was disconnected," Sylvie's family attorney, Susan Karten, said. "His love-making was disconnected ... And she said, 'Hold me. Cuddle with me.' You know. He was detached."

So detached that Sylvie texted one friend upset that Nick wanted something she wasn't comfortable with in bed.

"He wanted porn sex. And-- what that was we really never really knew. But it wasn't something that Sylvie thought was loving," Karten said. "She wanted to be held. She wanted to be cared for."

Nick wrote Sylvie several apologetic letters promising to change, only the trouble escalated.

Read two of Nick letters to Sylvie:

One friend testified that Sylvie told her Nick even threatened her life one night.

By Thanksgiving 2010, her friends say they thought the relationship was over.

"It was done. As far as she said," said McHale.

But Sylvie never really ended it. On Dec. 5, court documents show she wrote Nick:

"Nicholas, i am so in love with you."

Four days later she was dead. Sylvie's brother, Patrick, thinks he knows why. He believes he found what may have been Nick's motive to kill his sister.

"It was clear that someone was stealing from her," said Patrick.

While sorting through Sylvie's personal effects, Patrick found ATM statements that suggest his sister believed Nick was making unauthorized deductions from her account.

"She began a project to identify which ATM withdrawals -- were fraudulent," said Patrick.

Asked how much money all together, Patrick told Roberts "over $30,000."

"Wait, Nicholas Brooks stole $30,000 from your sister?" Roberts asked Patrick.

"That's what it appears," he replied.

Prosecutors say, shortly before she died, Sylvie also learned something about Nick that really upset her. Nick visited escort service web sites and had used prostitutes. Around 1 a.m. the day before she died, Sylvie sent a message to Alicia Bell.

"The last text message that I got says, 'I know you're sleeping, but what a night,'" Bell said. "And that was on - Dec. 8, 2010."

Just hours later, Sylvie sent another message --this one to Nick. Prosecutors call it the "F-U" email.

nick_letter.jpg
Sylvie's email to Nick
New York County D.A.'s Office

It reads:

"Nick - For the past six months I have supported you financially and emotionally. The fact u cheated on me makes me sick and you will f***ing pay. 'I am speaking with the credit card company and the police and I am going to tell them that I never allowed you to use my card. I don't care. Have fun in jail."

But Nick's defense says Sylvie's angry threat meant nothing. She never called police. Instead, that very night, she met Nick at her apartment and was intimate with him.

A JURY DECIDES

"I know my brother is innocent and he did not harm Sylvie Cachay," Amanda Brooks said. "My brother would never hurt anybody ... I know my brother inside and out."

Amanda and Nicholas Brooks' mother is too emotionally distraught to attend her son's trial, but Amanda's godparents, Lynn and Richard Barry have relocated from Florida to be here.

"The truth is he didn't do it. He did not murder her," said Richard Barry.

"And you're confident as well of his innocence?" Roberts asked.

"Oh, I'm 100 percent confident." Lynn Barry replied. "I've heard the whole story. He's told me every single detail. We believe in him so much we would not have stood up for him like this."

Fifty-six prosecution witnesses testify against Nick. The defense calls just one: a former New York Medical Examiner who suggests there was no murder that night; Sylvie died from too many prescription pills.

"Our expert witness - testified ... that the combination of drugs in her system ... resulted in her ... passing out and slip under the water," said attorney Jeffrey Hoffman.

And the defense expert testifies there's no way to tell when Sylvie suffered her injuries.

But since the judge won't allow Nick's lawyer to tell the jury his rough sex theory, he's resorted to hinting at the idea.

"At every turn the defense tried to show that there might've been this rough sex, that there might've been some type of sexual activity before, some erotica sex," Cachay family attorney Susan Karten said. "There was absolutely no basis for it."

"In my mind this was a very thin defense. It was a bogus defense," Karten continued.

But Hoffman isn't done. He asks the jury to consider this: after Nick left Sylvie and went out partying, he returned to Soho House. Seeing all the police cars outside, he didn't run away.

"If he believes he'd kill somebody, in this instance Sylvie Cachay, seeing all that would he walk into it? The answer is no," said Hoffman.

"You know what's a head scratcher is he leaves the Soho House, goes and parties with a stranger, and returns to the hotel," Roberts commented to Manhattan D.A. Cy Vance.

"Very odd, unless you are trying to create the illusion of some form of quasi-alibi," he replied.

Vance believes coming back to the hotel was all part of Nick's plan. And, he says, the defense can't explain away the timeline that puts Nick Brooks in the hotel room when Sylvie took her last breath.

After five weeks of testimony, the jury finally gets the case and they seem to be struggling.

"After the first day, the second day, then I started to get a little worried," said Karten.

Hoffman's suggestions seemed to have raised some questions for jurors.

"There were a number of read backs that the jurors wanted," reporter Murray Weiss explained. "They wanted to hear more about their sex life -- whether there was some rough sex."

But the judge tells the jury since there was no evidence of rough sex -- they should not speculate about it.

Then, on day three, the jury returns. Nicholas Brooks is found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years-to-life.

"[Sighs] It's hard to put into words-- it's very overwhelming. It's heartbreaking," Amanda Brooks said of the verdict. "It's pretty unbearable for all of us."

With Nick's guilt no longer in question, all that remains for Sylvie's loved ones is trying to understand why she stayed with him for so long.

"No one can grasp it. Nobody. I think she felt bad for him because he gave off that like I am a little puppy dog, a stray, lost dog that needs help in life," Sylvie's best friend, Alicia Bell, said. "She was very motherly like that. And I think she saw somebody that she could help."

To the district attorney, Sylvie's death is a classic case of domestic violence.

"She obviously was conflicted ... with a desire to get out, but the inability to get out. And that is what we see in domestic violence cases again and again and again," said Vance.

While it's too late to save Sylvie, Vance is committed to helping other victims. His office is heading up a new family justice center in Manhattan that provides services to rebuild their lives.

"This center will provide a safe haven, we believe, for domestic violence survivors," Vance told reporters.

Sylvie's family has set up a foundation which will also assist victims. They'll raise money, in part, by relaunching Sylvie's line of swimwear.

"We have plenty to last at least 50 years or more," her mother, Sylvia said.

"For a long time---this was her dream come true," cousin Francoise Jakobsson said standing among a display of of Sylvie's swimsuits. "This was, you know, everything she did. This is what she loved ... now this is the staging for us to be able to see what exactly is left of Syla, which is so much."

Helping others is a way for them to honor Sylvie's memory and compassionate spirit.

"To me, my daughter is an angel. A real angel-- an angel of kindness, of good," said Sylvia.

"She had this personality that was just really caring and alive. And I think you felt alive when you were around her, " Jakobsson said. "And I'm gonna miss that. And I miss the opportunity that she had. I mean, she was gonna be somebody huge..."

Nick Brooks is appealing his conviction arguing the jury should have heard his "rough sex" allegation.

District Attorney Vance`s domestic violence center opened in March 2014. His office says, the center has already helped more than 700 people.

For more information:

  • Sylvie's love of animals inspired the Conedogs project.
  • Troy Roberts

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"

More From 48 Hours

Comments