The boxes of Kelly’s things still sit in the back room; she tried to open them and got through two before she broke down and had to walk away. The car was still being held as evidence when Nancy came to Florida last week. It was time, she said. It was time to get up, put one foot in front of the other, to keep walking and breathing and eating, when every fiber of her being told her to crawl back into bed and wait for the nightmare to be over. It was time to realize that the nightmare was real, the pain so intense it physically hurt. It was time to wake up and fight.
For Nancy Rothwell, this kind of thing is not easy for her. She is a kind and quiet woman, petite and blue eyed, shy and unassuming. She has a serene smile but her eyes are intense and flash when she thinks about her daughter Kelly and what might have happened to her.
“When I met Dave Perry, Kelly had brought him home to Nottingham. I knew that he treated her to nice trips and nice things. I could tell that money was no object for him when it came to her. They certainly didn’t live poorly. But I could also see that he was the controlling type. It worried me, but Kelly was always such a private person and I think she really was in love with him.”
Nancy said she always supported Kelly in the things she did.
“She was always like a free spirit, she loved life and she danced through it. She turned a love of crystals and rocks into a Geology degree from Essex Community College. She was always collecting rocks on hikes she would go on. She has several of the large geodes; those large rocks, cut in half that have the crystals growing right inside them. She said they made her feel connected to the Earth. She loved the mountains and nature.”
Kelly moved out to Colorado with her boyfriend Sean and she was in heaven there. She loved the beauty and wide open spaces. Even though her relationship with Sean faded, she still loved the open country and she stayed there for a while, eventually getting her Masters degree in Management. She met and married a man named Doug, but he seemed indifferent and distant. The marriage didn’t last.
Kelly moved to Florida and worked with the Hilton Hotel organization for several years. Then she met a man from New York named David Perry while he was on vacation. He swept her off her feet; he bought her flowers and presents. He moved into her condo less than a month later. He gave her the attention she hadn’t gotten with Doug. She liked it.
“I think he would cook for her and iron her clothes,” Nancy said. “She thought that was wonderful, that he paid such close attention to her.”
Nancy’s eyes narrow and a look of pain crosses her face. Could she have seen the signs?
“All the time he was doing things for her, he was controlling her little by little. I don’t think she saw it at first. I think she thought it was wonderful to have a man do so many nice things for her. He kept the house clean, he cooked and did laundry. He laid out her clothes for work. They went out to dinner. She seemed happy with him.”
But underneath, something dark was brewing, coming to the surface. Kelly’s twin sisters Lauren and Lindsay both saw some darkness in Perry. They noticed he was quick to anger and seemed to have a real mean streak. But Kelly never told any family members about any trouble she might have been having with him; as Nancy said, Kelly was a very private person.
The week before she disappeared Nancy found out that Kelly had enrolled in the St. Petersburg Police Academy. By then Kelly was almost through with her training and was due to graduate the following month.
“That came as a total surprise to me,” Nancy says. “She had told Lauren about it on the phone. She sounded so excited about it. I wondered what he (Perry) thought about it but figured they had worked it out and that he was ok with it.”
Even though they didn’t speak all the time, Nancy and Kelly stayed connected via email.
“Every day I would email her something positive, a ‘thought for the day’, just to let her know I was thinking about her. She didn’t always respond, but I just thought that she was really busy. I think now that I think back on it, he probably checked her emails. I don’t think he told her when I wrote her…”
During that time, Kelly and Lauren had a short falling out and Nancy feels now that maybe Perry probably got in the way, telling Kelly to just stay away from her family and the drama.
But Lauren and Kelly found a common ground and seemed to be in a better place the week before Kelly went missing.
“I heard in the beginning, Dave thought the Police Academy was a good idea for Kelly, but that towards the end of the training he wanted her to quit. He tried to convince her to take a job in Utah, in Human Resources,” Nancy says. “They were actually scheduled to fly out there the week after she went missing. But Kelly wouldn’t have taken a job that far away from her friends and her family. I think it was his idea to get her away from all of us, so he could keep control over her.”
Nancy thinks that with the Police Academy, Kelly had finally found her voice.
“Kelly was always interested in domestic violence issues and I think she felt that she could really help in that area of police work. She was always a very peaceful person and I’m sure she would have been really good at it...”
Nancy’s voice trails off, the pain evident as she thinks of what might have been.
When Nancy arrived in Florida the week after Kelly went missing, she went to the condo to clear out Kelly’s belongings when it became increasingly clear that Kelly wasn’t coming back.
“I picked up her clothes and books. I looked around the condo. It was just too neat, the kitchen too perfect. The towels in the linen closet were blue and white; they were lined up by color and folded perfectly. I looked inside the kitchen cabinets and my heart just sank. They were lined up everything so neatly, cans lined up all together, boxed things together, it was all too perfect. That’s when it hit me that that this man was such a control freak that he probably hurt my daughter, because she was becoming her own person. She was moving away from him and towards something good for her. It was very hard for me to see that and realize that Kelly had to live with this.”
As Nancy gathered her missing daughter’s belongings she noticed something... Sitting there on a table were the invitations to the Police Academy graduation, a month away.
“She had invitations all ready to send us,” Nancy says sadly.