By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
At 10:05 p.m. RJ placed a call to Virginia and spoke to his mother. They talked for 26 minutes before he received a call-waiting message. He put his mother on hold and came back less than a minute later. "'Gotta go, I got the girls coming over,'" she recollects him announcing. And then RJ said goodbye.
The last person he called, at 11:32, was a friend named Pete, who was partying at a Miami club. He asked Pete to come over with some cranberry juice, presumably for the vodka. Pete did not return messages, but according to VonFouts, who later spoke with him, he told RJ he was with some girls and couldn't make it.
The telephone log records a final call placed at 11:57 to 911. According to Miami homicide detectives, there are no sounds on the recording, which lasted less than a minute and then ended abruptly. Because the call came from a cell phone, it could not be traced to an address. Neither the police nor phone carrier Nextel can determine if the call ended because someone hung up on RJ's end or because of some other reason.
Silence and the Smell of Death Holidays are busy at an escort service. Kaytlynn was working on New Year's Day, directing customers to the top-shelf girls they'd seen in the numerous print ads Eye Candy Escorts runs in South Florida newspapers and magazines. When she noticed it was 5:00 p.m. and she still hadn't heard from RJ to confirm their arrangements for that evening, she text-messaged his phone (through AOL remote instant messaging) from her computer a couple of times.
"At first I thought something had come up and he couldn't get hold of me," she says. "It's a crazy thing when you think about it. You start to wonder [if] he got cold feet, if he came to his senses. How well do you really know anyone?"
According to Frank Wilt, on Friday morning, January 2, Kaytlynn left a voice message on the cell phone. It was something to the effect of: "Hey, RJ, hope you're not mad at me. Call me on the ground when you get to D.C."
A few days later there was another voice message from Kaytlynn, this time more frazzled. Both she and Wilt recall that she said, "All right, I'm starting to get scared. I want to know that you're not dead in a ditch somewhere."
Then on January 5, a day after RJ's body was discovered, his phone recorded a message from a hysterical woman, talking through sobs: "I'm so sorry I didn't tell you I love you." Kaytlynn says the voice was not hers. Nor did it belong to RJ's mother or sister. "I'm so frickin' pissed at Nextel," Wilt says of the company's policy of purging voice mail after two weeks.
Back at the loft, the artist who had given RJ the bottle of vodka awoke late on New Year's Day. That night he noticed all the lights were on in the loft down the hall. He could hear the air conditioner running as well. (The weather was unseasonably warm at that time, with highs in the 80s.) By the next day, "I started to smell death," he says, speaking to New Times on the condition of anonymity. Two days later, he awoke early in the morning and vomited from the stench emanating from the adjacent apartment. Stefan VonFouts arrived home from his trip a few hours later.
Coronas on the Counter Having gone from being the lively center of black culture in Miami to one of its most depressed neighborhoods, Overtown, especially the area immediately north of downtown, is now contested territory in a struggle between an artist community attracted to its wide-open warehouse spaces and a drug trade that refuses to go gently. But a slow gentrification is trickling down from the Design District and Wynwood, and the Rectangle Art Space -- its faded white paint a drab contrast to the pastel pinks and greens of the small homes adjacent to it on the west -- is one more sign that an economic change for the better may be on its way.
Stefan VonFouts returned home on the morning of January 4. Roommate Christian Webb, who had also been away for the holidays, would arrive later that day. As VonFouts climbed the stairs, he caught a whiff of a very foul odor. "I thought it was putrid gas or a dead animal," he says. The loft's front door was locked at the handle, which didn't surprise him; it was often set to lock automatically when it closed. He unlocked the door, entered the living area, and saw something on the floor. He was momentarily stupefied. "Disbelief, just horror," he recalls. "I didn't even recognize who he was. He had shaved his head. His face was black and bloated. I thought it was a stranger." Then he realized it was RJ.
His friend was dressed in a black shirt and lightweight black jacket, lying face-up on a black rug. It appeared to VonFouts that RJ had fallen backward. "The shooter was either at the doorway to my bedroom or at the kitchen counter," VonFouts theorized later, though at the time he didn't notice any blood or sign of violence. "It looked like RJ might have turned around and got surprised."