They found her on the bathroom floor, one hand clutching a toilet plunger. The handle of a 14-inch kitchen knife protruded from her neck.
Soon, her lifeless face was staring from tabloid covers all over Mexico City. At least that's what friends told me. I couldn't bring myself to look.
Alejandra Dehesa had been my assistant in the Mexico City bureau of Newsweek magazine. She worked from my house, and died there.
Sergio Dorantes, a noted news photographer who was once my colleague and friend, was charged with her murder. A crime of passion, investigators called it. After three years as a fugitive in Northern California, he returned to Mexico last fall to face the charges. He is in a Mexican prison, waiting for a court to decide his guilt or innocence.
Sergio insists he is the victim of an "infamous fabrication," and his cause has been taken up by human rights advocates and one of the country's most prominent defense attorneys.
"The false accusation destroyed my career, wrecked my life and is sending me into bankruptcy," he wrote me recently.
There is no smoking gun or even convincing physical evidence against him. I doubt such a case would ever get to trial in a U.S. courtroom. Yet I have found it difficult to shake the feeling that somehow I set in motion this whole chain of tragic events. Sergio and Alejandra knew each other only because of me.
During my four years in Mexico, I spent more time with them than with almost anyone else.
I realize now that I never really knew either of them.
I met Sergio in 1998 in New York. I was preparing to move to Mexico to take over the Newsweek bureau, and he dropped in to introduce himself.
I was 27. He was 52, a freelance photographer in Mexico City. His work had appeared in leading newspapers and magazines. He had covered revolutions and earthquakes and hobnobbed with heads of state.
Now, he was laying on the charm, looking to secure his flow of Newsweek assignments. He told me he was godfather to the children of a colleague who once held my job.
In the beginning, I needed him: He translated in addition to taking pictures. But even after I trusted my Spanish, we worked together all the time.
We once rented a Cessna to deliver us to a rocky mountaintop airstrip in the Sierra Madre to retrace the path of a slain American journalist. We hiked more than 10 hours to the cliff-side village where the alleged killers had once lived. We slept in their empty straw beds.
On the way back to the airstrip, Sergio became so dehydrated that I had to rent a mule to carry him.
The plane arrived on schedule to pick us up, and after we climbed above the mountains, the pilot gave me a few instructions and briefly handed over the controls.
"Look, I'm flying," I said, turning toward Sergio. A look of fright crossed his face, followed by a smile. I knew then that we were friends.
Up in the mountains, Sergio made a point of telling the Indians we met that his roots were indigenous. Back in his native Mexico City, it was a part of his identity he struggled to transcend.
He was the son of a bus driver and a maid. After dropping out of college in the late 1960s, he moved to Europe and worked as a mechanic on Formula One race car teams.
He wound up in England as a chef, all the while pursuing his first love, photography. Eventually he became a paparazzo. He told me that he once sneaked into Rod Stewart's house dressed as a British Telecom worker and that he'd been punched by Mike Tyson.
In 1981, he joined a throng of photographers trying to snap a picture of Prince Charles' bride-to-be at a primary school. Unable to get a good vantage point, he crawled through people's legs to the front of the pack and shot from ground level.
The next day, a tabloid editor called to congratulate him: His shot captured the outline of Diana's legs as the sun beamed through her skirt.
Sergio's big break came after he moved back to Mexico City. A 1985 earthquake killed at least 10,000. His photos of the devastation appeared in publications around the world.
He cast himself as a bon vivant, going on about wine and French food and his Burberry raincoat. He favored foreign women. In England, he had married a Scot. They divorced after six years, but he wound up with a British passport.
"I'm British," he would insist, displaying the passport as proof that he had escaped the circumstances of his birth.
Sergio never quite fit into the world he aspired to join.
His insecurities could make him hard to be around. I'd seen him berate waiters, airline attendants and other compatriots he felt he had risen above.
When I'd compliment the work of another photographer, he'd respond like a wounded child: "What about my pictures?"
In late-night conversations in remote hotels, he lamented his failed relationships. Once he was engaged to a Canadian woman, he said. They split up after he canceled their wedding to go off on an assignment.
He advised me not to let a good woman slip away if I was fortunate enough to find one.