Earlier this week, the New York City medical examiner ruled ex-Playboy Playmate Stephanie Adams’ death a suicide. Adams, who appeared as Playmate of the Month in November 1992, first pushed her 7-year-old son, Vincent, from the 25th floor window of a Midtown Manhattan hotel before jumping after him, according to officials.
Vincent’s death, as such, was ruled a homicide.
Adams is said to have been despondent over a nasty divorce battle with her husband, Charles Nicolai, with whom she shared custody of their son. The two had reportedly filed at least 10 domestic incident reports with the NYPD since they married in 2009.
In the months leading up to Adams’ death, things had become so bad between the two of them that they had to hand Vincent off to one another for visits at the local police station, according to a lawyer for Adams. A friend of Adams’ told the New York Post she was distraught a judge had denied her permission to take Vincent to Spain for the summer.
Former Playmates interviewed by The Daily Beast described a range of emotions they’re currently wrestling with. Some said Adams was a good woman, who was completely devoted to her son. Others are furious Adams killed her child.
“We are all devastated,” said Tylyn John, who was named Miss March 1992. “Most of us are moms. We just don’t understand it. Some are angry, but she obviously had mental health issues. It doesn’t make it less painful for us.”
John, who now runs an animal rescue in California’s Central Valley, told The Daily Beast that Playboy alumna keep in touch in large group texts, and the community, which John called “a sisterhood,” has been especially active since Adams’ death last week.
Although she hadn’t seen her in 20 years, Adams’ death is “still painful” to John, who described her as “sweet,” “soft-spoken,” and “stunningly beautiful.”
“It’s really sad and tragic she took her son’s life, as well as hers,” John said. “She was obviously not in a balanced state of mind.”
Barbara Moore was 1992’s Miss December, the month following Adams’ appearance in the magazine, and the two roomed together at the Playboy Mansion.
“No normal person can kill their child,” Moore told The Daily Beast. “When I heard about this, I couldn’t wait for my child to walk through the door so I could be with her.”
Moore has been a single mom since 2008, when her partner was killed by a drunk driver. Their daughter was 1-and-a-half years old at the time.
“To hear that somebody would just throw their kid away, your own child that came from your own self, it’s so selfish and sick,” Moore said. “Just to get back at him? Like, if he’s going to make it miserable for me, then he can’t have him either? I know she was Playmate in my year, but no—I don’t have a loss, I feel so sad for her boy.”
In 1990, a little less than two years before Adams became Miss November, Peggy McIntaggart appeared in Playboy as Miss January.
She spent a lot of time at the Playboy Mansion over the years and McIntaggart said she crossed paths with Adams there on a number of occasions.
“I feel sad for what she went through,” McIntaggart told The Daily Beast. “But the bottom line is, that was an innocent child’s life that was taken. Is part of me pissed off? Of course I am, the kid didn’t get to have a decision.”
McIntaggart, who did some acting—Baywatch, Beverly Hills Cop II, Lady Avenger—in the years following her appearance in Playboy and now works as a photographer and life coach in L.A. She said she understands what it feels like to be backed into a corner during an acrimonious breakup.
During her 2007 split from Olympic pole vault champion Bob Seagren, McIntaggart said things turned ugly and overwhelming.
McIntaggart said she felt like “the black spider because I was a Playboy centerfold.” There were times McIntaggart thought to herself, I just want to check out, but insisted it was “not near anything I ever would have done.”
Said McIntaggart, “Nobody’s perfect, I don’t care what anybody says. But as far as the kid thing... shame on her, you know? Shame on her.”
Although they weren’t particularly close, Tina Bockrath, the former Miss May 1990, told The Daily Beast she can “hardly talk about [Adams’ death] without crying.”
“It’s heart wrenching to think that someone was so distraught and didn’t have any help,” Bockrath said. “A friend of mine said, ‘You don’t love your child if you do something like that.’ But this has nothing to do with love, this was clearly mental illness. It’s just sad that she felt this was her only choice.”
Some might view Playboy centerfolds as little more than photographs on a page or computer screen, but Bockrath said, “At the end of the day, we’re just normal people trying to get through life.”
One of the first Playmates Echo Johnson met when she started working with Playboy was Adams. When Adams died, a friend texted her the news, but Johnson, who appeared as Miss January 1993, almost didn’t believe it. When she looked it up online, Johnson, who has a 7-year-old of her own, said her knees nearly buckled.
“I’d heard that she had some issues within her marriage, and I’ve heard different stories about her in terms of how the divorce happened,” Johnson told The Daily Beast, “but at the end of the day she was getting a divorce and she was told she couldn’t take her son to Europe for the summer and that was her response? It was a cop-out on her end, and I just think it’s horrific.”
One of Adams’ ex-girlfriends, writer and comedian Marga Gomez, spoke openly about their relationship.
Gomez described Adams as a “childlike” and “fragile” person who “maybe didn’t have the best way of sorting out her feelings.” At the same time, she was a confident, professional woman who was a prolific self-publisher of books and owned her own business.
“I wasn’t above looking at her and going, Oh my gosh, I’m dating a Playmate,” she told The Daily Beast.
Adams makes specific mention of her relationship with Gomez on her website, which is still accessible as of this writing. After Adams came out in 2003, she became what Gomez described as “this lesbian spokesmodel.” However, she said, “I don’t think she was particularly gay or straight or sexual at all. The women that she dated valued her, maybe more than any man she got into bed with, and she appreciated that. Whether she was that into sexually, from my experience, I don’t know. But she was sweet as could be.”
Until she wasn’t, which happened occasionally. Adams’ temper revealed itself to Gomez one day when they were out and Adams blew up after someone accidentally referred to her as Miss September instead of Miss November.
To Gomez, like everyone else, what Adams did to herself and her son doesn’t make much sense.
“It seems like she actually grew as a person and deepened and it sounds like she really loved her kid and was obviously not well if that really was her own doing. It just seemed like what she wanted was more life, and more good stuff in life. I know it seems clear cut [that it was suicide], but was there something else going on that we don’t know about?”
Before Adams began homeschooling her son last year, he attended a nearby public school near the family’s apartment in Manhattan’s Financial District.
There had never been a crossing guard at the school before Adams spearheaded a campaign to get one said the parent of another child at the same school.
The parent, who asked for anonymity, remembered Adams as a caring mother who “was always there at drop-off and pick-up, she was present and involved.”
At the same time, there was a lot of envy among other moms based on Adams’ looks and past as a Playboy model, the parent said. Although they could be unfriendly at times, it didn’t appear to bother Adams, who was always unfailingly kind and polite in return.
“When I last saw her, she gave no external indications or any internal turmoil or problems,” said the parent. “I remember seeing her dressed up in a sexy cop uniform at school one day, she was interested in past lives, holistic beauty care, she was gun enthusiast. She was a woman of varied interests, but her number one driving force was her son.”
“It seemed like she was normal, and then... boom,” Moore said.
Since 2008, at least 631 children in the U.S. have been killed by a parent in the middle or a divorce or custody battle, according to the Center for Judicial Excellence. There are still many more questions than answers about what drove Stephanie Adams to kill herself and her child.
Tina Bockrath, for one, “would urge anyone reading this to not judge.”
“Mental health is not something to joke around about or play Judge Judy,” she said. “You have no idea what someone else is going through.”