By Stephen J. Kotz
The body of Lilia “Esperanza” Aucapina, the Sagaponack woman who has been missing since October 10, was found hanging from a tree in the woods behind her home on Saturday morning.
Colin Astarita, a Southampton attorney who has been representing Carlos Aucapina, the husband of the missing woman, said Saturday afternoon police had told his client that morning they believed the death was a suicide.
In a press release issued Saturday night, Det. Sgt. Lisa Costa of the Southampton Town Police confirmed that finding, saying “the death is not believed to be criminal in nature but is still actively being investigated.” Det. Sgt. Costa said although police had tentatively identified the body as that of Ms. Aucapina, they were awaiting “further testing” from the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office for verification.
The body was found at about 7:30 a.m. by hunters about 500 yards behind Ms. Aucapina’s home at 517 Toppings Path in Sagaponack.
The discovery put to an end a search that began when Ms. Aucapina’s son reported her missing on the night of October 10 after finding her Toyota SUV, with her purse inside, parked at her home.
Over the next week, police on foot and on ATVs scoured the woods in Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Noyac. They brought in K-9 units, called in helicopters and deployed divers to check ponds.
Lt. Susan Ralph of the Southampton Town police said the area behind Ms. Aucapina’s house had been searched in the days following her disappearance. She said it was possible the body was overlooked by searchers because it was hidden by the leaves of the tree and located “in a thicket.” Although K-9 units took part in the search, she said if the wind was blowing the wrong way, it was possible the dogs would have been unable to pick up a scent.
“This is an area behind the home that had previously been searched by the police department with K-9 units. They used all the resources available to them, but they could not find her,” said Mr. Astarita.
Maria Duchi of East Hampton, who is Ms. Aucapina’s niece, said the family had been informed of her aunt’s death on Saturday. “We are waiting for the medical examiner to give us more information,” she said. “We aren’t sure what happened, and we are not speculating.”
Ms. Duchi and Ms. Aucapina’s brothers, Victor and Carlos Parra, held a press conference on October 15 at Southampton Town police headquarters, asking the public’s help in locating her.
Mr. Astarita said he had been in regular contact with Southampton Town Police Detective James Mazzeo about the case. He said he and Mr. Aucapina were trying to arrange a meeting with the detective to obtain the results of a lie detector test Mr. Aucapina took on November 9 in a bid to prove that he was not involved in her disappearance. Police had named him a suspect and arrested him twice on charges of criminal contempt for allegedly violating an order of protection his wife had recently obtained against him.
He said police had not yet turned over the results of the lie detector test, but he did say police approved Mr. Aucapina’s request to organize a community search of the area.
“I was texting back and forth with Det. Mazzeo between 10:30 and 11,” Mr. Astarita said. “He did not inform me that police had found the body until he spoke to the family.”
Ms. Aucapina’s family reported her missing the evening of October 10 when she did not return home. That morning, her husband and brother had confronted her when they met her with another man as she returned to her car, which had been parked behind Meeting House Medical on Montauk Highway in Wainscott.
On Sunday, Mr. Astarita said Mr. Aucapina was now back at home with his children. The attorney said he was confident the district attorney would drop the criminal contempt charges against him and let him get on with his life.
“On behalf of the Aucapina family we would like to thank our community on the East End and its law enforcement officers for their efforts in trying to bring Lilia home,” Mr. Astarita said in a statement. “Please continue to keep her family in your thoughts and prayers especially during this holiday week.”