All William Cronan wanted was for his life to remain the same. He wanted to continue sipping Southern Comforts each evening with his wife in their Clifton home and spend the rest of their days together.
Sigrid Cronan, however, had other ideas. She lost a great deal of weight, bought a fancy new wardrobe, fantasized about an affair with movie star Russell Crowe and told her husband she was heading to California to begin a new life without him.
But two bullets to the head ended all her plans. They also resulted in William Cronan, 54, being sentenced Friday in Fairfax County Circuit Court to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder.
Although a slew of witnesses testified on his behalf — in essence calling him a good-hearted man and his wife a nagging, abusive shrew — Judge Dennis J. Smith said her behavior didn't even justify divorce, let alone death.
"The taking of a human life is abhorrent to society," he said. "It's immoral, it's illegal and it robs someone of their ultimate possession — their life. It also shakes the bedrock of society — the idea that we can live in a community in safety."
The deed was done Dec. 15, around 9:45 p.m., while Sigrid Cronan, 49, was e-mailing someone on her computer. Distraught over the thought of his wife of 21 years leaving him, William Cronan walked up behind her and shot her. As she fell off her chair, he shot her a second time. Then he called 911 and told police he'd just killed his wife.
Police arrested him that night, after finding Sigrid's body in an upstairs bedroom of their home at 13209 Twin Lakes Drive in Clifton. The grand jury indicted him March 18 and, on April 30, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Cronan returned to court Friday for sentencing, and his attorney, Blair Howard, said his client couldn't remember details about what happened that night, since he'd been drinking, nor the particulars about a disagreement he and Sigrid had just had.
But, said Howard, "He remembers that, for the first time, she told him that he was not 'man enough' for her and she had found someone else." Howard then called several witnesses who created a portrait of the Cronans' life together. First was Clifton resident Susan Claremont who'd known them since 1985.
"Sigrid tended to be a relatively aggressive, strong personality — in charge of everything — sometimes intimidating," she said. "One did not cross Sigrid; she would not suffer any criticism or interference. Bill remained quiet and somewhat humbled in her presence. He was always calm and placid."
Clifton's Victoria Kirby, a former humane society investigator, said Sigrid contacted her in the early 1980s for help rescuing some horses. Later, the Cronans provided these horses a foster home.
When Kirby visited, she said, "I heard [Sigrid] yell at [Bill], belittle him and cuss at him, and I saw her physically abuse him. [But] he'd just walk away, say he'd get to it or 'yes, dear.' I never saw him abuse her in any way."
From 1996 until last year, Sigrid was office manager for attorney Sheryl Beitsch's law partner. She and Beitsch became friends, and Beitsch noticed several changes in her, the past year.
"Around November 2000, [Sigrid's] father died, and in January 2001, her mother died, so she was under a lot of stress," explained Beitsch. "She went from a size 12 to a size 4, shortly after the first of the year , and started wearing more expensive clothing — and jewelry that was out of character for her."
Then, said Beitsch, Sigrid told her that rescuing animals and taking care of the house no longer made her happy: "Her 50th birthday was looming, and she wanted to make a change in her life."
Fairfax attorney David Jones hired Sigrid in May 2001 and he, too, saw the Cronans interacting. "She was in control of things, bossed him around and was demeaning toward him," he said. When she talked to Bill on the phone, "it was confrontational and almost openly hostile." Jones said Cronan's reaction was "duck and cover — he'd do what she wanted and then get out of the way."
He said she bought a new car and dramatically changed her appearance. "She often wore plain, frumpy-dumpy dresses," said Jones. But after her parents' deaths, she wore "Ralph Lauren, designer pantsuits — far beyond what she could afford on what I was paying her. She said she was in fashion shows in Crystal City and in New York and sometimes they let her keep the clothes."
He also described her "fixation" on Russell Crowe. "She fantasized that she was having an affair with him," he said. "She had a new ring with a black stone and 15-20 diamonds — very expensive — and she said it had been given to her by Mr. Crowe."
Jones said Sigrid spoke, many times, of not only having spent the weekend with the actor, but gave specific details — more than Jones wanted to hear — about what they'd done together. She told him about a teddy bear Crowe supposedly bought her and about how much Crowe enjoyed driving her Jaguar. "It was a very detailed fantasy," said Jones. "Now I realize how ludicrous it was."
He said Sigrid was planning major changes in her life. "She talked about becoming a songwriter and perhaps moving to California, and she was going to resume the use of her maiden name," said Jones. "She was having an attorney draw up divorce and property-settlement papers and was figuring out how much she'd have to pay Bill to go away."
Patrice Smith of Aldie testified about a phone call she and Sigrid had, shortly after Sept. 11. "It was a bizarre conversation," she said. "She told me she was down to a size 2 and was spotted in Macy's and was modeling for Ralph Lauren."
Continued Smith: "She talked about going out with men and drinking; she said she met some members of Janet Jackson's band and they wanted to buy some of her poems and turn them into lyrics. She said she was going to Burbank, Calif., to live and was going to leave Bill."
He changed, too, but sadly, and friends and those for whom he did carpentry work noticed it. "When I first met him, he had a brightness about him," recalled Margaret McHugh of Mount Vernon. "He [once] stood straight up like a flagpole — you could balance stemware on his shoulders. But by last October, he seemed like a burdened man. He had a hunch to him — almost defensive-looking."
Sigrid told Alexandria's Ann Whitford that she was Hollywood-bound to be a screenwriter. "None of her plans seems to include Bill," said Whitford. "He was saddened — he wanted things to remain as they always had been. "They last spoke, Dec. 12, and she said he "didn't seem like himself."
Bill's sister, Layla Jocelyn; said that, by December, he phoned her almost daily, sounding strained and remote, puzzled by "his wife's bizarre behavior." Earlier in the year, she said, "He was concerned when [Sigrid] ingested hormones meant for their horse. Then she was amorous toward him and he was confused about it; then she withdrew from him."
Bill did carpentry and remodeling projects for the Duggans of Clifton, and Christine Duggan said he always "saw the finer side of Sigrid and [beamed] when he looked at her. He was so proud to have her by his side — he radiated when he was with her." But by fall, she said, "He was disturbed and couldn't figure out what he had to do to keep her from leaving."
Before going home, Dec. 15, he helped Jim Duggan construct a wine cellar. Duggan testified that, once Sigrid's parents died, "she lost her anchor [and] became unhinged. She spent a huge amount of money on designer clothes and exhausted their credit cards — including Bill's business account."
Duggan said he advised him to get his finances in order and leave her, but "he still loved her [and] couldn't bring himself to do it. He never expressed anger — it was more sorrow, regret, puzzlement."
Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Alec White examined Cronan in jail and described his "confusion and helplessness" regarding Sigrid's dramatic changes. "He didn't know why she wanted to change," said White. "He loved her the way she was. There was an increasing sense of hopelessness about him. " White diagnosed Cronan as depressed and said he even planned to kill himself in jail by sticking some wire into an electrical outlet.
Noting "the precious right we all have to live," Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. said Cronan took that from Sigrid: "He decided, on his own, to remove her from the earth." Agreeing, Judge Smith said Bill's lifestyle would have changed once Sigrid left him, but he still would have existed.
Before sentencing him to 25 years prison, Smith said shooting her twice "wasn't an impulsive action. Part of living in a civilized society is putting aside your [dark] impulses and behaving properly — or you have to pay the price."