Just before 3 a.m. on December 9, 2010 the staff of the exclusive Manhattan club, the Soho House, responding to a complaint about a leaking ceiling downstairs, knocked on the door of Room 20. When nobody answered they let themselves in and discovered 33-year-old Sylvie Cachay, unresponsive and submerged in an overflowing bathtub. She was pronounced dead at 3:33 a.m. that morning.
Last week, on March 22, Nicholas Brooks lost the final appeal of his 2013 conviction for murdering Cachay. The New York State Court of Appeals declared there to be “overwhelming evidence” that he was guilty of strangling and drowning his then-girlfriend.
Cachay and Brooks were an odd match from the beginning. She was 33, a talented and driven designer and entrepreneur. The daughter of successful Peruvian immigrants, she grew up in suburban Virginia and moved to New York after college for an internship with Marc Jacobs. She was an effusive and creative woman who so doted on animals that she once nursed and injured pigeon back to health in her Tribeca studio. One friend and business associate remembered her as “a perfect storm of insane talent, bringing something new, and a sparkling, magnetic personality.”
Brooks, on the other hand was a 24-year-old year college dropout who spent his days sleeping and smoking pot and his nights partying. Friends described him as nice but aimless. He lived off a trust fund supplied by his father Joseph Brooks, who had made his fortune composing advertising jingles and songs for film including You Light Up My Life which earned him an Oscar in 1977. In 2009, Joseph was charged with over one hundred counts of sexual assaults on women aged 18 to 30. The indictment against him alleged he lured women to his apartment through Craigslist, promised them roles in a film, plied them with alcohol, encouraged them to strip, and then raped them.
On their first date, in the summer of 2010, Cachay and Brooks took her dogs for a walk. As they approached a small crowd on the street in the West Village, one of her toy poodles was startled and ran into traffic. Brooks drove with Cachay to to the animal hospital and consoled her as she wept, grief-stricken when the dog was put to sleep later that night.
The loss of her dog was one in a series of recent disappointments for Cachay. After working as a designer for Tommy Hilfiger and Victoria’s Secret, she launched her own successful swimwear line and in 2009 a beaming Cachay, her long dark hair cascading over her shoulders, showed her collection at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Swim in Miami.
But as the bottom fell out of the economy, her investors pulled out of the venture and Cachay lost her funding. She took a job designing for Ann Cole but missed her creative freedom. She joined Soho House, an exclusive club in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan in part as an effort to network and continue to expand her career.
The romance was troubled throughout. The couple fought and made up constantly. Cachay discovered that Brooks was cheating on her with sex workers and stealing money from her bank account. By November Cachay swore to her friends and family that she was ending the toxic relationship. But on December 7, Brooks came to Cachay’s apartment asking for her forgiveness. They fought, made up, and had sex. Brooks gave Cachay a Xanax. At some point one of them knocked over a candle, setting her bed on fire. They extinguished the flames but decided to spend the night in one of the rooms at the Soho House because of the damage and smell.
Video surveillance shows Cachay and Brooks checking in a little after midnight. Drowsy and medicated, Cachay was escorted to the room by an employee while Brooks filled out the paperwork. At 2:18 a.m. the cameras captured Brooks leaving Soho House. Shortly after, a room on the fourth floor reported that water was leaking through their ceiling. Employees entered Room 20 and found Sylvie’s body in the bathtub. She was wearing a turtleneck, underwear, and her watch. When Brooks returned to the room at 5:30 a.m. police brought him in for questioning and charged him with Cachay’s death, alleging that the two fought, that Brooks strangled his girlfriend, filled the bathtub with water, drowned her, and then left to go drinking at the bar Employees Only.
What had this father passed down to his son? For a young man raised to see women as throwaway objects, Sylvie was a woman who demanded more — a lot more. Is this why he wrapped his hands around Sylvie’s throat and held her under the water in the Soho House bathtub?
In 2013 Nicholas Brooks was convicted of the second degree murder of Sylvie Cachay and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Now, with his final appeal exhausted, Cachay’s family hopes to pursue the $12.5 million they were awarded in a civil wrongful death suit.
They believe he’s still receiving royalty checks from the estate of his late father.