It started with one of those random acts of kindness you read about on bumper stickers and Facebook walls.
Anita Jacobs-Royer’s life first intersected with that of Audelis Cruz sometime last winter, when the jewelry maker met the homeless ex-con as he was panhandling at Kingston’s traffic circle. Over the next few weeks or months — cops don’t know exactly when they met — she brought food to his room at a local welfare motel and tried to get him a job caring for a disabled neighbor. It was, friends say, the kind of thing the longtime New Paltz resident did all the time, offering a helping hand to the down and out. On Friday, Feb. 1, that kindness was repaid with brutality when Cruz, who stands 6 feet tall and weighs in at over 300 pounds, strangled the 5’2”, 105-pound woman in her downtown Kingston home, grabbed a few possessions and embarked on a drug binge.
“The way he committed that crime, on a woman one third his size was definitely the most violent act I’ve ever seen,” said Kingston Police Detective Eric Van Allen. “He’s probably one of the most violent people we’ve ever come in contact with.”
On Friday, Oct. 4 a six-man, six-woman jury convicted Cruz of second-degree murder and petit larceny following a three-day trial in Ulster County Court. Cruz is likely headed back to prison, for good this time — the 49-year-old killer faces a maximum 25 years to life at sentencing Nov. 6.
But with testimony concluded, the verdict in and the case closed, Jacobs-Royer’s friends and family are left wondering how Cruz came into her life and why he ended it.
As the last days of her life played out in late January, Jacobs-Royer was 45, living alone in a three-story home at 56 Third Ave. in Kingston and going through a divorce. She moved to the city about 12 years ago from New Paltz where she was had lived since arriving in town as a college student. Friends describe her as a gentle, creative woman with a fondness for cats and a soft spot for hard luck stories.
Cruz, meanwhile, was a case study in hard luck and bad decisions. He’s originally from New York City, but it might be more accurate to say Cruz is from the New York State prison system. He first appears in prison records in 1986 at age 22 when he was sentenced to five to 15 years for a robbery in Manhattan. Paroled in December 1993, he was busted the same month on a felony drug charge and sent back to prison. In December 1998, he was released to what would be his longest stint on the streets — 15 months — in his adult life. In March 2000 he was back in prison, again for another robbery in Manhattan. During his last prison stint, he racked up 10 disciplinary infractions for drug use, fighting, vandalism, contraband and, in 2009, forging paperwork to steal money from other inmate’s accounts.
During his stay at Napanoch Correctional Facility, he also met and married Tracy Ball-Douglas of Highland. When he was paroled in July 2012, gave officials a Highland address. By November, however, he was living at the Budget 19 motel on Route 28 and, cops say, spending his days panhandling and mingling with Kingston’s homeless population.
Under a pile of clothes
On Monday, Feb. 4, police went to Jacobs-Royer’s home after her sister, alarmed that she had been unable to contact her for the past few days, called the cops. Jacobs-Royer’s body was discovered beneath a pile of clothes. A bootlace taken from a shoe in the bedroom had been wound twice around her neck and tied in a loop at the back. Cops found a tip torn from a latex glove beneath her body and talcum powder sprinkled around the room. Her 1998 Isuzu Trooper was missing from its customary spot in the driveway.
A receipt found in jacket flung over a kitchen chair gave cops their first break in the case. The scrap of paper led cops to the Burger King at the corner of Broadway and East Chester Street, where security camera footage showed Jacobs-Royer meeting Cruz in the parking lot around 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 1 — the day police believe she was killed — and leaving with him. Cops say other surveillance camera footage established that he arrived downtown from the Budget 19 via a UCAT bus. On Monday, Feb. 4 — the same day the body was found — cops got another lead when a request for tips on the KPD’s Facebook page led to the discovery of the Isuzu Trooper partially concealed behind some brush at a vacant property adjacent to the Budget 19.
By then, Cruz was already a fugitive. That Monday he was due to appear for a parole appointment in Poughkeepsie. He skipped it and a warrant was issued. He would remain on the run pursued by Kingston detectives and U.S. Marshals until Feb. 10 when he was arrested on a Manhattan Subway platform. Cops say that after selling a camera stolen from Jacobs-Royer’s house to his wife for $25, he’d made his way to Manhattan. There, cops say, he got money by selling Jacobs-Royer’s laptop on a Harlem street. He got more money by using his food stamp benefit card to go shopping at a Manhattan supermarket and selling the food for cash. Friends believe Cruz also stole and sold numerous items of jewelry from Jacobs-Royer’s home. Police also suspect that there were other items stolen besides the laptop and the camera, but could not develop evidence to prove it.
Drugs bought with death money
Whatever the proceeds from the robbery, Cruz appears to have spent it on a week-long drug binge. Cops say he spent his time on the run sleeping in doorways and rooftops and getting high. In an interview with Van Allen and partner Rick Tierney recorded after his arrest, he tells the detectives that he had planned to buy a bottle of liquor, get drunk and jump off a rooftop later that day.
Instead, he was hauled into a Queens police precinct where he gave Tierney and Van Allen his version of Jacobs-Royer’s murder. Van Allen testified that when he informed Cruz that he would be taken back to Kingston for questioning, the suspect insisted on giving a statement on the spot. In the 45-minute interview, he tells the cops that Jacobs-Royer drove to Uptown Kingston where she picked up him and another homeless man, Joe Manello. The trio went to her house after a stop at Burger King. Manello, Cruz told the cops, remained downstairs while he went to Jacobs-Royer’s bedroom to look through her collection of CDs and DVDs. In the bedroom, Cruz said, the pair drank liquor (an autopsy found Jacobs-Royer had a blood alcohol content of 0.24 percent at the time of her death) and talked about getting him a job. Then, Cruz told the cops, he donned a pair of latex gloves, grabbed his benefactress from behind in a chokehold, lifted her off the ground and dropped her. Asked about the bootlace found around her neck, Cruz tells the cops he did it “just to make sure.” Under questioning and in calls to Ball-Douglas and a daughter, Cruz repeatedly admits that he killed Jacobs-Royer. In a car heading back to Kingston later that night, Van Allen testified, Cruz even made light of his crime. When asked by the detective if he’s concerned about trouble from fellow inmates at the county jail, the prison-hardened killer quipped “If I do, you’ll know about it ‘cause it will be my second murder.”