Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2003 | 11:10 a.m.
Stacey Kaplan was a quiet, law-abiding, religious woman who worked for the U.S. Postal Service and lived for her 12-year-old son.
But within the span of 48 hours last week, Kaplan became distraught at work, landed in jail and was found dead inside Titanium Metals Corp., a highly secure plant in Henderson to which Kaplan had no connection.
Kaplan's family is struggling to understand the strange circumstances surrounding her death.
They fear they may never have answers.
"I want the truth," her mother, Virginia Halford, said through tears. "I think Stacey deserves that."
Kaplan, 33, worked as a mail carrier for more than two years, working out of the Garside Station post office. She walked a route in the 89107 ZIP code in the area of Alta Drive and Jones Boulevard.
A native Las Vegan, Kaplan was the oldest of four children. She graduated from a high school vocational program and got married shortly after that. In 1990 she gave birth to her son, Nicholas, described by family as the light of her life.
Her marriage ended in 1998. In the past year Kaplan had rediscovered Christianity because she wanted a strong religious foundation for her son. She loved to cook -- she prepared a salmon dinner the night before she was last seen by her family -- and she enjoyed sewing.
Kaplan lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a complex on Gowan Road, near Tenaya Way and Rainbow Boulevard. Her mother, to whom she was close, lives in the same complex.
She had Prince, Jim Croce, Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin in her CD collection. A teddy bear wearing a postal service visor sits in her bedroom. Chairs and candles are on her balcony.
"It's going to be hard in the summer, because we always used to sit out there," Virginia Halford said.
In the last weeks of her life, Kaplan had been telling family members she was afraid of a man on her mail route. Virginia Halford, who used to be a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service, told her daughter to tell her supervisors she felt threatened and that she wanted a different route.
Kaplan's manager investigated her complaint and found that her allegations couldn't be corroborated, according to Dale Hart, regional representative for the National Association of Letter Carriers, a postal workers union.
A fellow postal worker who wanted to remain anonymous because of fears of retaliation by management said that Kaplan knew her supervisors weren't taking her fears seriously, so on Feb. 1 Kaplan told her supervisors she didn't feel well and wanted to go home. She was given permission to go home, but wouldn't leave.
"She was pacing up and down the aisle and she had Mace in her hand," the postal worker said, adding that this was out of character for Kaplan, who was normally timid. "They gave her 10 minutes to leave, and she didn't go."
Metro Police and two postal inspectors were called. Metro officers arrived at the post office at 8:45 a.m. and arrested Kaplan, a "combative female postal employee," for trespassing and booked her into Las Vegas City Jail, according to the police report.
Kaplan's brother, Kyle, went to the jail to bail her out in the early afternoon. He was told to come back in a few hours to pick her up after the paperwork was complete.
About 3:30 p.m. Virginia Halford went back to the jail and was told Kaplan had been released less than an hour earlier.
"I thought there was a mix-up at the jail," she said. "I was worried. I thought, 'What if I can't connect with her?' "
That night Kaplan was supposed to pick up her son from her former husband's home, but she never showed up. She still wasn't home the next day.
About 6:55 a.m. Feb. 3, an employee of the Titanium Metals Corp. at 800 W. Lake Mead Parkway found a woman's body on the concrete floor of an outbuilding used to store sand. The victim was identified by the Clark County coroner's office as Kaplan.
Her death was initially investigated as a homicide, but it was declared a non-criminal death a few days later and the file was closed, Lt. Tom Monahan said.
The building where Kaplan was found had a 45-foot high ceiling and a catwalk about 25 feet off the ground. Investigators believe Kaplan fell from the catwalk, but don't know how or why. Only one set of footprints -- Kaplan's -- was found in the sand.
"Is it possible she accidentally fell? Absolutely," Monahan said. "Is it possible she committed suicide? Absolutely."
The coroner's office will make a final determination. Coroner Ron Flud said routine toxicology tests are being conducted and results will be available in several weeks.
Her family members are baffled. Kaplan had no history of mental illness and she wasn't suicidal. No suicide note was found.
She didn't have any transportation. When she was released from jail, no one was there to pick her up and she didn't call anyone for a ride, but she somehow ended up about 15 miles away. Relatives had picked up her car from the post office, fearing it would be towed, and brought it to her apartment.
The fact that she was found at the Timet plant is possibly the most troubling piece of the puzzle. Her family said she had no connection to the plant and getting in wouldn't have been easy -- it's protected by security checkpoints, around-the-clock guards, surveillance cameras and an 8-foot fence topped with razor wire.
Craig Wilkinson, manager of health, safety and environmental affairs at Timet, said plant authorities have "a pretty good idea" as to how Kaplan got into the plant, but he declined to elaborate because the problem isn't corrected yet.
"She worked at it," Wilkinson said. "The one big question we still haven't answered is, 'Why us?' With all our security measures, it wasn't an easy target."
Kaplan's cousin, Nicole Harm, said maybe she decided to start walking after she was released from jail and ended up following the train tracks, which end at the Timet plant. But Wilkinson said that's unlikely.
"For her to have walked the rail line, she would have had to go through several other facilities and their security as well, and they're all fenced and locked," he said.
Thrown into the mix is a homicide that happened in 1996. Kaplan, who at the time worked at Pizza Hut at Rancho Drive and Washington Avenue, discovered the bludgeoned body of a co-worker inside the restaurant and later testified at the trial.
Last year the Nevada Supreme Court granted the killer, Larry Bailey, a new trial, which is scheduled for later this month. Kaplan had been subpoenaed to testify. She had the subpoena in a canvas bag she carried.
Her family thought Kaplan's death might be connected to that case somehow, but quickly dismissed it.
"Logically, nobody involved in that knew she'd been arrested, they didn't know where she was," Virginia Halford said. "We think it was just a really strange coincidence."
The family members who spoke to the Sun -- her parents, Virginia and Chris, who are divorced, and Harm, her cousin -- have gone through every possible scenario, and they said none makes any sense.
"We're thinking what we want to think," Harm said. "We don't want to think she'd do this to herself."
Harm suggested that Kaplan was tormented by what happened to her, and climbed onto the catwalk to sit and ponder, then fell.
Chris Halford, who had been out of contact with Kaplan for the past two years, said he hopes her death was an accident.
"The important thing for me is, how did she get in there?" he said. "It's a sad time for our family. Someone needs to find out what happened to that girl."
Virginia Halford said she thinks "abusive supervisors" at the post office "drove her to her death" by demoralizing and traumatizing her. The anonymous co-worker said Kaplan was slow in completing her duties, and supervisors had been "getting on her back about it."
But Hart, the union representative and a strong advocate of mail carriers' rights, said he investigated the situation and didn't find that Kaplan's supervisors acted improperly at any point. Several of Kaplan's co-workers said she wasn't being treated well, but Hart said he couldn't find any contractual violations.
In fact, management and union representatives were trying to help Kaplan become a better employee by working with her on some performance issues, Hart said.
"If we thought management had done something wrong, we would have filed grievances," Hart said. "I can't pretend to be in Stacey's head, but the fact that the union and management were helping to make her a more accomplished carrier tells me there must have been something else going on in her life that put her over the edge."
While her family hopes to someday find out what occurred in the last few hours of Kaplan's life, they realize they might never have closure.
"If anything, her family loved her," Harm said. "I don't know if my family is going to make it through this."