One-Way Ticket: The Short Life of Cornelia Crilley

“One-Way Ticket”
The Short Life of Cornelia Crilley

In 1971, Manhattan is shocked by the gruesome rape and murder of a beautiful flight attendant in her Upper East Side apartment. Her family destroyed, 23-year-old Cornelia “Michael” Crilley’s death would take over 30 years to be solved.

Please make a small donation to LaGuardia Community College, as a tribute in Cornelia Crilley’s honor:


This is the Big Apple. I loved it. This is where I grew up and I always felt safe here. I never thought I would die here, at least not at age 23.

For over 30 years, nobody knew my killer, except for me. They all thought it was someone I knew, boy were they wrong. When I missed my mother’s phone calls on my big moving day, she knew something was wrong, so did my boyfriend. My family was so distraught. This tore them apart. I would never see them again… and as far as finding my killer… let’s just say that the years melted away into eternity.

My name is Cornelia, well not exactly, but at least that is my first name on my birth certificate. What an old-fashioned name. I prefer my nickname. The year is 1971, I am 23 years old and pretty soon, everyone in New York City will know my name. There will be over 1500 people at my funeral at the big Catholic Church we belonged to in Queens. This is the church where I planned to have my wedding one day. I had my whole life ahead of me. Well, now that wedding dream is not going to come true. My killer made sure of that. And it would take decades to find out who killed me.

I had such a loving family, and a large one at that. Our noisy apartment was always crowded, and always with something exciting going on. My mother and father had five children with me being in the middle. I have two brothers, Jack and Michael, and two sisters, Katherine and Mary. Even after we got big, our family called each other several times a day. We were very close. Someone would put an end to that, forever.

My friends and family, mostly being Irish-American, affectionately called me “Michael”; yes Michael, like a boy’s name. Don’t worry; after my death the newspapers did not get it right either. My middle name is Michelle so don’t ask me why but Michael stuck. I guess I was always so beautiful as a child that it seemed funny or whatever to give me a boy’s nickname. I loved my family so much.

Growing up in the borough of Queens in New York City during the sixties was a marvelous experience for my siblings and me. Our communities were safe, and we lived the idyllic American life, albeit near a big town like the Big Apple. I think that my only real fear was of walking past the big cemetery across the street from our apartment building. This is the same cemetery where I would later be buried.

Although life was happy, I was a dreamer and adventurer. I loved going into Manhattan on the train and shopping with my sisters. I also always dreamed of being a stewardess, and traveling the world, on my own, free-spirited Michael, my mother would say, spreading her wings.

In high school, I had many admirers. But I set my sights higher then just settling down and raising kids. The free love of the sixties and women’s liberation movement made me want more out of life. This was a new world now, and I was going to be independent. I was going to prove that I could make it in a man’s world, so they say. My father hated it, but he helped foster my dream. He loved his little Michael.

After high school, I got a job helping out at a big law firm. I was saving every penny so to afford my enrollment at a prestigious stewardess school in Kansas. At the law firm, it is where I met my prince charming. Leon was his name. He was a few years older than me, but he was handsome and he was a brilliant attorney. A few years later, he would be there when the police found me. He called them, while helping my mother locate me. But my killer would be even harder to find.

The Stewardess Academy was amazing; my mother and father called it “a finishing school” but I hated that term, it sounded too old fashioned. I didn’t like that at all. I was free, I was like a movie star now, and not barefoot in some kitchen with babies. I learned so much about culture and the world, and after graduating, I was working for the world’s most prestigious airline, Trans World. To my fascination, I was seeing the planet; I had money, and all sorts of new friends along with many opportunities.

I was so happy and I was so in love with Leon, we were exclusive to one another. He made me feel special, but he worried about me constantly, my safety. Especially when my girlfriends and I moved to Manhattan and got our own apartment. Leon was working there now too, and by this time he was a big shot assistant district attorney. He even let us stay with him at his apartment for a while, until ours was ready for move in. I was a young independent woman, spreading my wings and seeing the world. I had my entire life ahead of me. What type of new adventures would come my way? I often dreamed. Our fancy new girl’s pad would be just the start.

Moving day. What a pain.
Since my two new roommates have to work, I am stuck here all day on the steps waiting and then running upstairs to listen for the phone. We are on the second floor of a five-story building. It is beautiful. All of our stuff is being delivered but by different movers, and at different times.