Sylvie Cachay, the rising swimwear designer murdered in December 2010 at a members-only New York City club, had two passions.
The first was spotting trends. That talent earned her magazine spreads and a slot at a Miami fashion show, where she debuted the first collection from Syla, her swimwear business, before it shuttered amid the 2008 economic downturn.
Her other great love was for animals, particularly the frail and wounded. It was a tragedy involving one of Cachay’s dogs that set in motion the events leading to her death at SoHo House, in the city’s trendy Meatpacking District, in the early hours of December 9, 2010. That’s the night her partially clothed body was discovered in an overflowing bathtub, flooding the rooms below.
Suspicion quickly fell on her boyfriend, Nicholas Brooks, an aimless son of privilege who had checked into the room with her, just a couple of hours before.
Cachay and Brooks had met on a warm evening six months earlier. On their first date, the pair went for a walk with her toy poodles, Pepper and Loli, short for “Lolita.” A group of revelers startled Pepper, who ran into Hudson Street traffic and was severely wounded. Brooks soothed Cachay later that night, when Pepper was euthanized.
It was the worst of beginnings to a story with an awful ending.
The Ambitious Daughter of Peruvian Immigrants
“(Sylvie) had ferrets, hamsters… She was a really kind person,” Patrick Orlando, Cachay’s half-brother, told The New York Times just after her death. Indeed, one friend told police the designer had recently taken in a sick pigeon, the omnipresent bird cynical city dwellers call “flying rats.”
Cachay, 33 at the time of her death, was no cynic. Despite Syla’s collapse, she was networking among the downtown creative class, angling to reignite her career. That was one reason she bought a membership to Soho House, a private club with hotel rooms and a swimming pool once fawned over in a “Sex and the City” episode.
Raised in suburban Virginia, Cachay was the daughter of well-off Peruvian immigrants. Her father was a doctor; her mother, an artist. Growing up, Sylvie attended private schools near Washington, D.C.
The Unemployed Son of an Oscar-Winner
Brooks, 24, was directionless and out of work—a trust fund kid, it was reported, who used royalties from his father’s songwriting to fund evenings with escorts. Nicholas was the son of Joseph Brooks, who won an Oscar for the 1977 hit “You Light Up My Life,” popularized by Debby Boone.
At the same time Nicholas was accused of strangling Cachay, his father was indicted on charges of raping or assaulting 11 women. Joseph Brooks committed suicide in 2011, while awaiting trial.
On the day Nicholas was arrested, the front page of the New York Post screamed: “Beauty in the Bath: Oscar-winner son grilled in club tub horror.”
By all accounts, the relationship between Cachay and Brooks was rancorous, and had been for some time. The night of the designer’s death, a downstairs neighbor in her West Village building told police she heard fighting. Brooks had yelled: “You really hurt me,” the neighbor said. She also told police she heard Cachay crying.
The Soho House Crime Scene
Brooks would tell cops there had been a small fire in Cachay’s apartment. At 12:30 a.m., to escape the lingering odor, they checked into Room 20 at Soho House, on the fifth floor.
Club security video recorded footage of Brooks leaving and returning to the room multiple times during the next two hours. He left for the last time at 2:18 a.m.—a detail that proved critical in the case’s ultimate outcome: It was seven minutes after the first complaints about a water leak were called into the front desk from the rooms below.
The timeline proved Brooks was in the room when Cachay went into the bath.
Club staff discovered Cachay’s body, with marks visible around the neck, a half-hour later. Brooks returned to Soho House just before dawn. He was taken in for questioning and arrested.
The city medical examiner ruled that Cachay died from strangulation and forcible drowning, based on the neck injuries and burst blood vessels around her eyes.
At Brooks’ trial in 2013, the prosecution called the graphic discovery in the bathroom “a staged crime scene.” The defense, meanwhile, argued that Cachay must have climbed into the tub and drowned after Brooks had already left the room. The frequent arguments between the two, mentioned by neighbors, were simply “standard fare” in the relationship, said Brooks’ lawyer, Jeffrey C. Hoffman.
Jurors learned that Cachay had sent Brooks a note not long before her death, asking him to take her on “real dates,” stop smoking pot, help with housecleaning and find a job. “If you can’t do all these things, then this likely won’t work,” she wrote.
They also learned that Brooks’ DNA was found on a bathtub fixture during forensic testing.
After two days of deliberations, the jury found Brooks guilty of second-degree murder. An army of family members and friends had attended the trial to show their respect to Sylvie. The one person supporting Brooks during the trial was his sister, Amanda.
At sentencing two months later, the court heard from Cachay’s mother, Silvia, who spoke about applying makeup to her daughter’s face before burying her: “I knew she liked to be pretty.” On the same day, Brooks, who had not testified during the trial, read a statement: “The loss of Sylvie is the most devastating thing that has ever occurred in my life… Not a moment goes by where I do not miss her.”
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Bonnie Wittner handed down the maximum, 25 years to life, emphasizing that it was “richly” deserved.
Where Is Nicholas Brooks Now?
Brooks lost his final appeal in 2018 when members of the state’s top court agreed that the forensic evidence against him was “overwhelming.” The decision allowed Cachay’s survivors to begin the process of collecting millions awarded in 2014 as part of a wrongful death suit.
Brooks is currently imprisoned at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York.