It seemed like one of those classic suburban nightmares: A teacher went to school on Monday morning, sent a loving text message to her husband, then vanished on the side of the road. Her husband became distraught, making repeated tearful pleas for her safe return.
But police said Thursday that it was all fake.
They said William Walsh confessed to strangling his wife during a fight over his alleged infidelity, then dumped her body on an embankment and staged an elaborate ruse to make it look like she had been a victim of a random act of roadside violence.
Homicide detectives believe the would-be stockbroker killed 29-year-old Leah Walsh on Sunday after he returned from a trip with a friend to Atlantic City. Lt. John Azzata, commander of the Nassau County homicide squad, said the couple got in a fight and he choked her to death as the dispute escalated.
Azzata, who noted the couple had separated briefly about a year ago, described the killing as "impulsive ... it was a domestic situation gone extremely bad." Authorities promised that the lying heartless killer would never know freedom again.
"Mr. Walsh will not enjoy one nanosecond of freedom for the rest of his life," Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey told the Daily News.
William Walsh, 29, was ordered held without bail after pleading not guilty to second-degree murder. Despite a confession, Walsh's attorney insisted that police had made a "rush to judgment" and insisted his client was innocent.
Azzata said that after the killing Walsh took great effort to cover his tracks.
With his dead wife inside their Bethpage apartment, Walsh went about his business on Sunday, doing laundry at a nearby laundromat, eating at McDonald's "and some various other things that he thought could substantiate his alibi," Azzata said.
After darkness, he loaded her body into her car and drove to North Hills, where he dumped her remains in an embankment 50 feet off the Long Island Expressway, police said.
He then drove back to Bethpage and between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. left the woman's car on the side of the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway, taking the air out of the right front tire to make it appear as if it had broken down, police said. Walsh then walked home, but returned a short time later in his bright yellow Mustang, apparently leaving his wife's purse in a nearby ditch, they said.
On his second trip to the highway, Walsh was observed by the driver of a state Department of Transportation vehicle that assists disabled motorists.
At about the same time, Walsh sent a text message to himself, using his wife's cell phone to make it appear as if it were from her. "Have a great day. Love you bunches. Mwah," the message said.
Later Monday, the School for Language and Communication Development called Leah Walsh's mother, saying she did not show up at her job teaching autistic children.
The mother then called her husband, a school bus driver who happened to be on his route along the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway and saw his daughter's black Ford Focus with the flat tire.
He phoned the missing woman's husband and summoned him to the scene and continued on to deliver the children to their school. Police said the father's happening on the scene was purely coincidental and that he had nothing to do with the crime.
William Walsh soon arrived and called 911, police said. Police helicopters, canine units and officers on horseback began a search that lasted two days. Then Leah Walsh's body was found 13 miles away.
Police said he confessed hours later.
But defense lawyer Karl Seman claimed the confession was the result of "at least nine hours of continuous, nonstop interrogation."
"This is a case that should have taken weeks to work on, not days," Seman told reporters at his client's arraignment.
"If we know anything from recent events, confessions are inherently unreliable, especially when trickery is involved," he said. When asked to clarify what he meant by trickery, he said, "I am saying unquestionably any confession that they obtain is done by tricks."
Dr. Ellenmorris Tiegerman, founder and executive director of the school where Leah Walsh worked, said Thursday that the 29-year-old woman "loved her students and she was extremely dedicated to their families.
"I am most saddened about the fact that it is Leah's potential as a teacher which will be difficult to replace."
Leah Walsh's brother, Josh Hirschel, made a statement outside his parents' Rockville Centre home on Thursday. "Leah always strove to brighten the world around her," he said. "She always lent a hand to those who most needed it. She was a wonderful person."