Investigation Discovery’s ‘Forbidden: Dying for Love: Broken Trust’ chronicles a horrific murder-suicide that rocked Washington Heights, New York, in late July 2007. Shirley Fontanez, 19, was killed by her jealous ex-lover, and the authorities soon found the perpetrator was much closer to home than their liking. The episode features interviews with the victim’s family and several legal experts and civil rights activists who discussed how the rampant racism with the NYPD ranks ultimately resulted in a grave tragedy that took two lives.
Who Killed Shirley Fontanez?
16-year-old Shirley Fontanez lived in the New York neighborhood of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan in September 2004. A young mother, she had dropped out of high school but was studying hard to get her GED. She and her baby, Sasha, lived with the daughter’s biological father, Angel, and his family. But their relationship was complicated. According to the show, while Angel’s family celebrated the baby, the responsibilities on the young couple’s shoulders were too much to bear most of the time, causing frequent arguments.
Angel’s sister, Katherine Gonzalez, recalled, “It was a lot of responsibility at a very young age, and they were not ready for it.” She added that Shirley did not want to be like her street vendor mother, Maria Espinoza. She had aspirations for her life and wanted to earn and provide for her daughter. The show highlighted how the ambitious Shirley regularly fought with Angel, whom she claimed was not enterprising enough. During one such fight in September 2004, one of the neighbors called the police to conduct a welfare check on the young couple.
However, Shirley was not keen to press charges and sent them away. A few days later, she went on a lunch with a friend and found it was more of a double date. To her embarrassment, she noticed one of the officers who came to her door was also present. According to the show, the ambitious Shirley dreamt of joining the police force, and she quickly developed a good rapport with the police officer, Frederick “Fred” Maselli, then 38. He worked out of Manhattan’s 34th Precinct stationhouse and had been assigned to the Washington Heights precinct in 2001.
Over the following few months, Shirley met with Fred frequently as she initially planned on asking for his help in cracking the admission test for the NYPD police academy. However, she still had to wait over a year to appear for the test as the minimum qualifying age was 17 and a half. But Shirley and Fred’s relationship quickly turned into a romantic affair, despite the senior officer knowing she was a juvenile. The show described how the two even had a sexual relationship, which lawfully qualified as statutory rape and was a gross violation of police conduct.
When Shirley turned 17, she informed her mother about her new relationship. However, Maria reacted angrily after hearing about it and threatened to report Fred to the authorities. Over the years, she had been constantly harassed by cops regarding her selling streetside wares, and she had a growing distrust for law enforcement officials. Reports cited her filing several complaints with the 34th Precinct, but no actions were taken. Maria alleged that “all the cops knew her daughter was underage but did nothing to stop it.”
Shirley soon dropped her studies and started working part-time at Rivera Check Cashing as a clerk. According to Maria, Fred manipulated her daughter into cashing fraudulent checks amounting to $7,000 over the two years they dated. However, Shirley wanted to get out of the relationship by November 2006 after learning about Fred’s alleged drug addiction. But Fred constantly contacted her and even stalked her using police resources. The show described how he physically assaulted her when Shirley tried to break things off.
After Angel’s sister, Keyla Gonzalez, saw the bruises and burnt marks on Shirley’s body, she decided to escort Maria to report Fred to the authorities. Civil Rights Attorney Fred Lichtmacher noted how the NYPD always had a racism problem and did not take two Hispanic women complaining about one of their own seriously. The issue took a more serious turn when Shirley was caught cashing Fred’s fraudulent checks in June 2007. Her manager, Angel Orta, stated she was accused of defrauding the company and indicted on charges of third-degree theft.
After facing criminal charges, a desperate Shirley finally cut all communications with Fred, and her mother stated she began to date another individual in early July 2007. Maria added, “She told me I found somebody, and he is different than Fred.” However, the seven-year veteran officer refused to let go, and reports cited him accusing her of being with another man on July 22. Maria claimed Shirley told her she had to meet Fred in his Henry Hudson Parkway apartment on July 23 because “he was driving her crazy.”
Where Is Frederic Maselli Now?
Maria added Shirley was not keen to go since she had planned to attend a birthday party with her daughter, Sasha, then three. However, that was the last time the mother would hear from Shirley. A jealous Fred, 40, fatally shot 19-year-old Shirley five times — three times in the stomach and twice in the head — with his police-issued 9-millimeter handgun. He then turned the gun on himself, firing a single fatal shot into his head. Even though some of his neighbors heard the shot, the bodies were not found until officers showed up at 1:00 pm the next day.
Fred’s co-workers came looking for him at his apartment after he failed to report at work or did not answer his cell phone. Reports stated the officers went through the killer’s documents to find an old suicide note dated in 2004. Fred had written about murdering his erstwhile girlfriend after discovering she was cheating on him and then killing himself as he did not want to be arrested. He had also second-guessed himself and wrote about killing his girlfriend’s lover. Fred had two sons from prior marriages and was described as a “laid-back guy.”
Maria stated she repeatedly expressed apprehensions about her daughter’s safety after Fred’s alleged death threats. When the mother learned about the 2004 suicide note, she voiced her disbelief by stating, “Oh my God! How is that possible? How could the 34th Precinct not know about him?” She claimed the officers had allegedly told her Fred was being investigated and was suspended before he shot her daughter. However, a police source denied any such suspension or probe. Maria won $1.15 million in settlement after suing the NYPD in 2008.