Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Arlington, mercifully, has a low crime rate. But when evil does strike our suburban environs, it can produce some harrowing tales.

Among the most sensational, recalls my friend Fred Gosnell, a onetime sheriff’s deputy, was the 1977 trial of Raymond Urgo for the murder of his girlfriend in a Rosslyn high-rise. Gosnell witnessed it.

The case’s tragic details – promiscuity, drugs and irresponsible gun ownership – generated lurid coverage at a time when news media were stretching boundaries that had once limited frankness in discussing crime.

The victim was Ellen Dana Kisacky, a 25-year-old receptionist and aspiring model from Hyattsville, Maryland. Her boyfriend, Urgo, was a 33-year-old Georgetown hairdresser.

According to The Washington Post’s extended coverage, Urgo, on the evening of Jan. 8, 1977, was hosting Kisacky and another woman in a “ménage à trois” in his apartment in Arlington Towers (now River Place). A third woman arrived, and there were exchanges of wine, pot and Quaaludes.

After watching television and listening to music, one of the women drew a bath, and soon all four were disrobed and having sex on Urgo’s bed. As would emerge during the trial in Arlington Circuit Court, Urgo at some point produced a .357 Magnum revolver, one he had been practicing firing at a range, and loaded five shells. One of the women said he was “acting crazy.”

For unfathomable reasons, he placed the barrel up to Kisacky’s mouth. “I just squeezed the trigger,” Urgo would later explain. “It didn’t take much. … It was a stupid, crazy thing to do, I should have known better.”

Photos showing pools of blood on the bed around Kisacky’s nude body were displayed in the courtroom.

The other two women leapt up, pulled on their clothes and fled. One stopped to tell the victim, “I’m sorry. I love you.”

Urgo, to his credit, called the police. He said “it was an accident, he loved her and it never should have happened,” according to Arlington Police Officer Michael Dwyer.

He was charged with murder and using a firearm during commission of a felony by assistant commonwealth attorneys Arthur Karp and William Nunn. His attorney during the June trial was Richard Ben-Veniste, the former Watergate prosecutor. Urgo was not “a choir boy,” Ben-Veniste acknowledged, but argued that Urgo had displayed the gun to “impress” the women, and to add “realism” to a sex game that psychiatrists at the trial would label a fetish.

In taped interviews, Urgo was heard saying, “I want the public to know I’m not a criminal, I’ll pay my dues. Saying, ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough.”

On June 27, the jury convicted Urgo of involuntary manslaughter. He cried and said he’d given up drugs. In September, Judge Charles Russell sentenced him to five years in prison.

The victim’s family considered him insufficiently remorseful. The trial was “just one more game to him,” wrote Ellen’s sister, Liz Kisacky Severn.

The pain never eases. In a 2011 blog, Severn wrote, “Years ago my 25-year old sister – embracing the lures of post-sixties American culture – died in a tabloid-style catastrophe of drugs and sex. Now daily occurrences in my present life mingle with interlocking branches of her story – news reports, trial testimony, police interviews, family discussions. As I enter the web of Ellen’s story, I hope to discover the fabric of my own identity.”