CARY — Their trucks still are parked on Carbon Hill Court, his red and hers white, as if everyone’s home.
A week ago this tiny cul-de-sac was overwhelmed by police and emergency crews. The swarm of sirens drew neighbors to their stoops, ensuring half the street saw the stretcher emerge from No. 101 – perhaps the most attention the neighborhood ever paid to the quiet family who had lived there for eight years.
It’s all gone now: the crime-scene tape, the roving investigators – and questions of the killer’s identity, according to police. If they’re right, the case’s mystery is its simplicity: four decades of marriage, a culture-crossing romance that had survived economic troubles and the loss of a child, ended by suffocation in the family home.
Dottie Amtey, 61, confessed almost as soon as two Cary police officers reached the western Cary residence late on May 8, a warrant states. She and her husband, Sharad Amtey, 77, had argued just before 11 p.m. She strangled him in their bedroom, his last words audible to witnesses outside a closed door, according to statements by her and witnesses recorded in the search warrant.
Before daybreak, he was pronounced dead, and she was jailed on a murder charge. Police entered the home with a search warrant that morning, looking for photos, videos and forensic evidence. And their neighbors and friends began to ask what could have changed between the marathon-running woman and her intellectual husband.
“I know they were good people. They were good people. Very good people,” said Michael Sherer, their landlord of eight years. “The kind of people you’d want as a friend or a neighbor.”
As of Friday, Dottie Amtey remained in jail, with bail set at $1 million. She had seen at least one friend, but the visitor has declined to be identified. Amtey’s court-appointed attorney was not available for comment.
A social butterfly
Most people know the Amteys because of Dottie. Most often, they had seen her running.
When she ran, “she wasn’t fast, but she was happy,” said Christine Harney, a next-door neighbor.
She had endurance too, seeming to take the family on her shoulders through a hard few years. She had come home to their rented three-bedroom house after 6 p.m. most days, and she would usually haul the trash cans to and from the curb herself, her neighbors said.
Even as she approached retirement age, she remained a training leader with her marathon group – she ran 11-minute miles. She was a “social butterfly” in the group, seeming to delight as much in the friendships as the mileage, according to director Ron Wahula.
Dottie Amtey brought her husband into the circle, too. Sharad would gamely attend their parties, even dressing in costume alongside his wife. She also brought him on cycling rides late into his 70s, Harney said.
“They had a good time with each other,” Wahula said. “Dottie would be the more outgoing, the extroverted of the pair. Sharad always had a smile on his face.”
She obliged him, too, giving names from his native India to each of their five children. They’d met in the 1960s, just after Sharad Amtey’s arrival from India in 1964. He was a Fulbright Scholar at Vanderbilt, one of his grad students recalled. She was a nurse.
Within 15 years, they had four children, setting them on a path that would crisscross the country and bring Sharad Amtey to the upper echelons of his work.
A top-flight scientist
The Amteys juggled their family between long, busy careers, living across the decades in West Virginia, Texas, Kansas and South Carolina, according to property records.
Sharad Amtey’s career in medical physics included stops at Vanderbilt University and West Virginia University, where he taught. He was a systems engineer for Rockwell Space Operations Corp., which did billions in business for NASA’s shuttle program, and he supervised radiation safety at the massive federal Superconducting Supercollider project.
He was increasingly homebound in his later years, but he continued to teach at an online university. He reveled in conversation.
“The two-car garage with the high ceiling was filled to the top with books,” said Sherer, the landlord. “Sharad could comment on just about any topic, if you wanted to talk about Libya, Afghanistan, space travel, deep sea.”
Dottie Amtey also pursued her ambitions, beginning with the nursing school that she attended in her late teenage years in Pennsylvania. While she and her family shuffled across the country, she earned degrees in business administration and computer information systems, opening up a series of increasingly prominent jobs in the Triangle.
Her work in the past decade included a technical trainer post at Wake Technical Community College, three years at Credit Suisse, contract work at Quintiles and, most recently, IT coordinator for drug safety at UCB Pharma, according to her LinkedIn profile.
“She worked her butt off,” Harney said. “She was a hard-working lady, and nobody can take that away from her.”
Dottie Amtey left her UCB Pharma job last year for undisclosed reasons, according to the company; her online resume does not list a more recent job.
Financial and family troubles, records show, came with those years of professional success.
From 2005 to 2007, the Internal Revenue Service filed three tax liens against the couple’s property ranging from $626 to $81,131. The federal government refuses to say how much of the debt has been paid, but all three liens remained active as of Friday.
The family had paid off a 2006 lien of $21,000 to the state of North Carolina.
Neighbors and friends said they were unaware of any financial troubles. Sherer declined to comment on the topic.
It’s unclear what, if any, effect the debts had on the family during their decade in the Triangle. But public records show at least some signs of stress for the family. The Amteys weathered one daughter’s rough relationship with the father of her young child, court records show, and the death in 2009 of another daughter, then 34, of cancer.
A 2010 police report also indicated some violence against Sharad Amtey. He reported that a member of the family other than his wife had slapped him; Amtey didn’t press charges.
Family stress leaked out during Dottie Amtey’s long training sessions with running friends. Dasa Raghavan would listen through long miles on the American Tobacco Trail as Dottie Amtey talked about her children’s problems – but she seemed as if she would cry if he asked about the details, he said.
“She came across as a person who was emotionally vulnerable,” said Raghavan, 45. “I was always concerned about the fact that she was like this.”
‘She just killed him’
The voices on the 911 tape sound emptied by the shock of the scene. Sharad Amtey lay unmoving on an upstairs bed, his wife still in the room as an unidentified woman called for help.
“She said that she just choked her husband to death,” the caller slowly told the dispatcher, sobs audible in the background. “He was very sick and old, and she said that she just killed him.”
Still, the emergency dispatcher walked the witnesses through a resuscitation attempt as emergency vehicles sped toward the western Cary residence.
When the scene finally cleared, neighbors and family members were left to search for an explanation. They talked about whether it could have been an assisted suicide for an elderly man or an argument that pushed a stressed woman too far. The family had troubles, but their friends saw love in them, too.
“People can just snap, but Dottie never looked like the type,” said Sherer, who stressed he didn’t know what happened. “She never had an angry word.”
Christine Harney’s teenage son worries about it. He texts her from school, asking what could have happened. Harney and her husband wonder, too, as they pass the empty trucks on Carbon Hill Court.
“It’s just terrible to see that both their cars are there,” Sean Harney said, “and neither one of them are coming back.”
Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary