Daily News from New York, New York on January 18, 1976 · 171
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Daily News from New York, New York · 171

Publication:
Location:
New York, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, January 18, 1976
Page:
171
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00 A V. t s . .' A , X .1 X A JUSTICE STORY LU ID (iiiiiMmittiiiiHtrimiitm!itiiHiiiiniiMiuimmi4HHmjittiNi)j!iittJiMiHnii(iiiiiiaiHtiUtiitiuutfMiiiiiiiijttti all" s O o Wh Hecinnie if A at z a z Jf has been almost two years since 77-yeor-ocf Amy Billig blithely set off for a lunch with friends . . . and vanished By KERMIT JAEDIKER DANGER GRAVITATES to those who ignore it. A case in point is what happened, or seems to have happened, to 17-year-old Amy Billig. Amy's fate is a mystery. But there are clues in the murk. A camera lying in a roadway. Intangible clues embedded in character. -And all of them add up to something ominous, even terrifying, because they are linked somehow with danger, which Amy flouted. This is not only Amy's story. It's also the story of her mother, Susan, who has gone through a small hell trying to find her. Mrs. Billig, a little blue-eyed brunette, lost 15 pounds in two weeks. For a time she turned detective. She wasn't very successful at it but one cannot fault her tenacity. Or bravery. In the beginning, she cried often and In the open. She still cries but, to spare hex husband and son, she does her crying early in the morning, when they're asleep, or when she's alone. Half a dozen years ago, art dealer Ned Billig and his wife, an interior designer, left turbulent New York and settled down with their two children in Miami's Coconut Grove section. They sought, as Mrs. Billig told The News the other day, a different "life quality;" quiet, the leisurely pace. It goes without saying they also wanted security for their children. Coconut Grove delighted the Billigs. There was a fine residential area and smart shops and a colony of artists and wri.ers who gave the district an old-time Greenwich Village flavor. The Coconut Grove Theatre presented Broadway plays as well as tryouts of new productions. Whenever Tennessee Williams visited Miami, he stayed in Coconut Grove. The Billigs had long been associated with th arts, Mrs. Billig, who is now 50, had once been a band singer and her husband had played trumpet in a jazz band. They switched to art-dealing because music frequently forced the happiest of couples to temporarly live apart. The Promise of Safety Coconut Grove wasn't as loaded with culture as New York but it had its share. And there, to be sure, was the climate. "I can't stand cold," said Mrs. Billig. And there was the safety angle. No teen-age toughs raiding schools or raising heU on tree-lined streets. And yet, as the Billigs were to discover, danger had many forms and even nice,, quiet, arty Coconut Grove wasn't immune to It. This gets us to Amy. She was attractive, charming, a good student and talented. She played guitar and the flute and, as her diary shows, she had a flair for writing. But she had one bad habit. Hitchhiking. As Mrs. Billig put it, "All the kids here hitchhike." It was a practice that scared Mrs. Billig. "We fought with Amy about it. We told her of the dangers. We even made her look at documentaries about it. But she paid no attention to us. She kept on hitchhiking." Early on the morning of March 5, 1974, Amy, a high school senior only three weeks off from graduation, attended classes as usual at Adelphi Academy, a private school, in, nearby Corai Gardens. Later shj asked, a friend, Myrna Rosenbaum, 18, to give her a lift home. Amy couldn't drive. According to Myrna, "Amy didn't want to hitchhike because she was wearing a miniskirt." Myrna said regretfully she couldn't give Amy a lift because of a scheduled tennis lesson. Amy got home somehow. Her brother. Joshua, 16, wasn't around and neither was her mother. Ary's grandmother from New York was visiting and she and Mrs. Billig had gone to nearby Tahiti Beach. Amy picked up the phone. It was 11:50 a.m. She phoned her father at his Dimension's Gallery on Commodore Plaza. The call was a pleasant common-, place that Amy repeated every weekday, directly she arrived home from school. She told her father she was going to have lunch with a girl named Cathy and a young landscape architect named Kirk Kaplan. Kaplan was a good friend of the Billig family. He lived in a cottage, converted from a windmill, right next to "the Billig home, which was at 3605 Poin-cian.i Ave. sited" Dad for $2 Loan Apparently Amy and her friends were going dutch at lunch because she asked Billig to lend her $2 to cover her tab. He said sure, drop in. The Billig home is about half a mile from the art gallery, a trip of only a few minutes by car. The family fears that, miniskirt or not, Amy went to nearby Main Highway to thumb a ride, or try to. She never showed up at the gallery. Her busy father wasn't unduly alarmed, Sin could have borrowed the $2 elsewhere. Mrs. Billig and her mother returned home from the beach in the afternoon. The Billigs' son, 16-year-old Joshua, arrived. Billig got there shortly before dinner, but there was no sign of Amy. It was quickly established that she had failed to show up for her luncheon date. Shaken, Mrs. Billig phoned the Miami police and reported the girl missing. She described Amy as being 5 feet 5, weighing 102 pounds and having brown hair and eyes and said she believed the girl was wearing a blue denim miniskirt and high clog shoes. Sh9 added that Amy had long legs "and looks rangy and handsome." - The Miami police files, like those of iiiost cities, were filled with runaway girl cases and they figured Amy was just another runaway. The cop to whom Mrs. Billig spoke said reassuringly, "Wait and see. You'll hear from her." "No, I won't!" Mrs. Billig retorted. "Amy would never do a thing like that. We're too close. And especially with her grandmother visiting." Two confusing reports reached police to the effect that Amy had been seen not long after she phoned her father. One was that she was seen alighting from a yellow Cadillac outside the art gallery. The other was that construction men working on a large home on Main Highway, not far from the Billig home, said they saw Amy get into a green jeep. Both reports, Mrs. Billig said, lacked confirmation... She. herself checked with the construction workers. They had got-" Although her parents had cautioned her of the perils of hitchhiking, Amy Billig -:; apparently accepted one more lift . . .and the destination might have been oblivion. ten to know Amy by sight. She had often in passing given them a smile and said, "Have a good day." But when Mrs. Billig pressed them, they admitted they weren't sure just what day they saw Amy board the jeep. Runaway girls are generally troubled and moody but Amy definitely did not fall into that category and that heightened the mystery. A diary of hers was found and studied for leads but there were no leads, except to her character, which was marked by a warm zest for life. "There is too much for me," ran one excerpt of the diary, "and I want to know it all, feel it, smell it, touch it, taste it, jump right into it, roll around in it and say, 'I love you' to everyone I see, and then just lay back and feel the sun on my body, and smile." The police, after a careful check of hospitals, jails and Amy's friends failed to yield a clue, got off the runaway girl kick and announced they now believed she had been abducted. Amy Wasn't Runaway Type "We are seriously concerned," said Detective Sgt. Mike Gonzalez, "because the girl would not have gone off by herself." The community itself got into the find-Amy act. A benefit performance, designed to raise ransom money in case she had been kidnaped, was staged. Vincent Martin and Oz Bach sang before an audience of 400 and $850 was raised. It wasn't much but it was a starter. Subsequently a big rally was staged in Peacock 'Park' at' which 'Ideal".' artisti.. and artisans donated their wares for sale and a fund was set up in a bank to defray the expenses of a private investigation, as well as the cost of printing special posters giving important statistics on the missing girl. .... ; Cranks Had a Field Day Many of these posters were issued to passeraby by young people at key traffic crossings. The Billigs themselves, when they could get time off from the gallery, passed out copies. Joshua help.-ed. The Billig phones, at home and gallery, rang incessantly now with tips, which were passed on to police or at times probed by Mrs. Billig. And there were crank calls, some of them down right obscene. The police inquiry turned up an ominous discovery. A hitchhiker named David Fleming reported finding a camera in the roadway at the entrance to the Florida Turnpike. The camera was quickly identified as Amy's; for one thing, it had her name on itr Could she have thrown it from a car in thd hope that it would provide a clue? Adelphi Academy held commencement exercises and Amy was remembered. She was graduated in absentia and a certificate of graduation was sent to her parents. . - .' One night a woman who seemed. frightened phoned the Billigs with a tip' and repeated her information in another call to police. She refused to give her name. ,. ..She "said she knw what- had .-hap- Deried to AmyThe sun was beinz."hejdl.

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