It has the intriguing headline of "The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail," and the lengthy New York Times story that follows reads like riveting fiction that is unfortunately all too true. The "Jane Doe" here is a 38-year-old Chinese immigrant living in Queens and working in the local sex trade, and the "Ponytail" part of her name comes from the police code for her the night of a fateful raid last November. An undercover vice cop accompanied Song Yang, who went by "SiSi" on the street, up to her fourth-floor balcony and arranged to have sex for money. Song Yang grew suspicious and ushered him out, but she knew he'd be followed soon by other officers. As they pounded on the door, she went to her balcony—and ended up falling to her death onto the sidewalk below, nearly hitting the departing vice cop.
"The balcony was not equipped with surveillance cameras, leaving what happened next to the imagination," write Dan Barry and Jeffrey E. Singer. "It is possible that Song Yang was hoping to escape, perhaps by reaching for a wire that ran vertically past her balcony. It is possible that she was trying to land on the protruding metal sign of the restaurant below. It is also possible that she intended to kill herself." Her family, however, says that suicide makes no sense because she had just bought plane tickets for a visit home. They suspect police were out for revenge because Song Yang had recently accused an officer of raping her. The story gets into all that, plus Song Yang's childhood in China, her journey to America, her hopes to open a restaurant, and the background of the seamy Queens neighborhood in which she worked. Read it in full here. (Read more Longform stories.)