'Til Death

Why did a gay-rights activist stab her wife with a screwdriver 222 times?

When Carol Anne Burger called police just before 1 p.m. October 23, 2008, she sounded panicked.

"I... I don't know if this is an emergency, but it could be," she told the 911 operator. Carol was breathing heavily. "My girlfriend didn't come home last night." She immediately rephrased her statement: "my roommate."

Carol stammered on: "And... um... I... you know, that's very unusual — she went to the gym... about 8:30 to 9 or something, and she didn't come home. I woke up this morning, and she wasn't here. And I just got a call now from a woman at Pyramid Books... somebody turned in her wallet and her car keys." Carol's heels clicked rhythmically in the background as she paced around the house. "I don't know where she is!"

Jessica Kalish
Newscom
Jessica Kalish
Carol Anne Burger
Newscom
Carol Anne Burger

The operator asked for her address, and Carol gave it, but she sounded hesitant, as though she wasn't quite prepared for the reality of investigators showing up at the house. "Now... you know... I don't know what what's... that's not... that's —"

"Hold on, ma'am," the operator interrupted. "I have to ask you some questions."

Carol said she wasn't sure about her roommate's age. She said she drove a gray BMW but didn't know the license plate. The cadence of her clicking heels picked up.

"I'll send someone over to meet with you," the operator told her.

"Oh," Carol said. "I can't — I'm supposed to be at the unemployment office." Then she relented: "I guess I'll call them."

Officer Evelyn McCoy arrived at the pink and yellow Boynton Beach house minutes later. Carol, age 57, was wearing makeup, a pantsuit, and three-inch heels. She repeated her story to McCoy: Her ex-girlfriend — they were separated but still living together — had left for the L.A. Fitness around 9 the night before and hadn't been home since. Carol said she'd tried calling to ask her to bring home milk but that the call had gone straight to voicemail.

"I don't know where she could be," Carol told the officer. "This is so unusual." McCoy briefly looked around and saw no signs of a struggle.

Police issued a missing-persons alert by 4 p.m., just in time for the evening news. The story aired on every local TV channel that night and was on the front page of every daily newspaper the next morning.

Jessica Kalish was a gregarious software executive who used to host AlterNet, a gay and lesbian radio talk show in Miami. Her wife, Carol, was a writer covering the presidential election for the Huffington Post. To outsiders, it seemed they were the embodiment of contemporary domestic bliss: two smart, professional women living in an immaculate house replete with screened-in pool, a cabana bathroom, and plenty of room for their two adopted racing greyhounds. Soon, though, all of South Florida learned the unsettling truth.

Just after 11 that night, a woman driving on Congress Avenue spotted Jessica's BMW sedan between two dumpsters, around the block from a police substation. The driver's-side window was smashed. There was blood splattered on the left side of the car. On the back tire. On the undercarriage. There was more blood — and hair the color of Jessica's — along the rear bumper. At the edge of the trunk. On the upholstery of both front seats.

And there, on the floorboard, stuffed headfirst beneath the back of the driver's seat, her legs bent awkwardly across the back seat, was the body of 56-year-old Jessica Kalish.

Lead detective Alfredo Martinez arrived within 20 minutes of the discovery. He knew immediately this was no indiscriminate robbery or random act of violence. "When I looked in the back seat, at first glance, you could automatically see that this was an emotionally driven crime," Martinez would recall. "Somebody was in a rage."

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Jessica spoke four languages, had a black belt in karate, and prided herself on being a tough, strong woman. She was tall and lean, with short, dark hair and eyes like tiny flames. She liked fine single-malt Scotch, expensive cigars, and smart, passionate women. She grew up in a quiet neighborhood in Queens, in a traditional Jewish home with both parents and a younger sister, Sibyl. As a child, Jessica would disassemble kitchen appliances and put them back together. She had an intense fascination, her family would later say, with the way the world fit together. She knew very young that she liked women, and at 17, she left her parents' house in Forest Hills to live a bohemian life in Greenwich Village.

"It was the 1960s, and Jessica epitomized the new kind of fearless lesbian," Sibyl Kalish remembers. "She wasn't really butch, and she wasn't a fem. Jessica always defied any label anyone wanted to put on her, but everyone around her fell in love with her energy and her desire to get the most out of every moment in life."

Jessica earned a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was one of the first women enrolled in the esteemed engineering department. To pay the bills, she lied about her age and began working as a bartender in a lesbian bar and driving a taxi at night.

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