By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
"The Internet is the only medium I have," Forte explains. "Sometimes I put in a 12-hour day between my own job and working on Lilly's disappearance."
So far she hasn't had much success. But that could change.
The kitchen window of the Villages of Dadeland condo where Lilly vanished was open during a recent evening visit. The place was desolate and trashed. Someone had ripped out the refrigerator and the dishwasher. Garbage lay all over the floor and the countertops. Empty bottles of beer and hard liquor sat on a table.
Another place Christen owns, a three-bedroom house at 16030 SW 101st Ave., also appeared abandoned. The front yard was overgrown with grass and weeds. The living room had no furniture except a torn-up sofa. The back yard was a complete wreck, with bicycle parts strewn over the ground. Empty Busch beer cans filled a shopping cart, and an empty ice cooler floated in the murky green swimming pool.
Christen, who has moved to Florida City, adamantly refutes Forte's accusations. "I'm only guilty of loving that girl," he says. "To have someone blatantly accuse me of harming her is horrible."
Alicia Garcia, a short, plump woman who lives next door to the Kendall condo, was walking three miniature Dobermans nearby on a recent day. She said Christen hasn't been around since this past June. "Chris went downhill after Lilly disappeared," she said. "When I last spoke to him, he said he was just going to let his unit go into foreclosure."
He acknowledges he has abandoned both of his properties. "Those places have such bad memories," he says. "I just don't want them anymore."
Christen graduated from Bishop O'Reilly High School in Kingston, Pennsylvania, in 1992. He enlisted with the Marines and spent the next nine years becoming an expert computer systems engineer and rifleman. He moved to Miami in 2001, when he was hired as a technology director for the local office of the global consulting firm Sapient. The same year, according to Miami-Dade criminal court files, he was arrested on a battery charge. The case was dismissed and no details are available.
In early 2004, Christen met Lilly and her friends Lamaso and Starling. They began hanging out together. Starling alleges the former Marine began doing crack cocaine then. "He never did drugs until he joined the crew," she remembers. "He had never been exposed to our lifestyle. He thought it was cool that we would squat in a house and be out in the streets."
Christen's descent into drugs began just as his career ascent was peaking. Just a year earlier, he had purchased the house at 16030 SW 101st Ave. for $168,000. In 2005, he bought the Dadeland condo for $150,000. He rode around in a 2006 black Cadillac Escalade and a $30,000 motorcycle, his neighbor Garcia says.
Starling contends Christen let his druggie pals crash at his Dadeland pad. "His place was the address I was using on my driver's license," Starling says. "Christen would do so much for us. He thought we were the coolest kids in the world."
After Lilly and Lamaso broke up in late 2006, Christen began courting her. "He would take Lilly out to eat," Lucely says. "When they really got serious, I remember him telling me that he always loved her."
She moved into the Dadeland condo in late January 2007. The couple even got an application for a marriage license and discussed relocating to Arizona, recalls Lilly's mother, who noticed a change in her daughter's personality. "She seemed more vulnerable," Lucely says. But things weren't perfect. Lilly began using crack again, and "Christen would insult her constantly. She took a lot from him."
The couple often argued and constantly had visitors over for late-night parties. "On a few occasions, she would ask me to watch her baby for her," Garcia recalls. "But it got a little too much for me. She would leave him with me until 3, 4 o'clock in the morning."
Starling, who was living with Christen and Lilly at the time, also witnessed the couple's volatility. "Lilly is one of those people who can sit there and poke you until you just snap," Starling recalls. "Christen didn't know how to control his temper. After he did drugs, he would blow up."
One day — Starling cannot remember the exact date — Lilly made a comment about cheating on him and "he lunged at her and shook her," Starling says. "I had to pull him off her and remind him that there was no excuse for going at her like that."
Indeed police were called at least twice to break up brawls. On February 19, 2007, Christen told cops about an argument. He complained to a 911 operator that Lilly was talking about an ex-boyfriend. When officers arrived, "both parties were calm," according to the incident report. Christen said he would sleep on the sofa for the night.
A month later, on March 23, county patrolmen again responded after a report about "the couple's dispute over their living conditions." According to the incident report, Christen's place was "in disarray as there was broken glass, old food, garbage, and dead insects scattered throughout the home." One of the two officers contacted the Florida Department of Children and Families. The couple was "in no condition to currently care" for six-month-old Palden.