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Death of a Manhattan cover girl disillusioned by success

SCANNING Natasha Duncan's last photo spread in the latest issue of Mode magazine it is possible, with the benefit of hindsight, to divine an air of melancholy in the model's dreamy, green eyes.

There she is, cavorting with other beautiful young things in sportswear by Tommy Hilfiger.

But while the other models seem to be engaged with each other, Duncan appears to be lost in thought.

Just days after the magazine hit the newsstands, the curvaceous cover girl was found lying face up in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor of her flat in midtown Manhattan.

Her neck had been slashed and she had puncture wounds in her chest. A 12-inch kitchen knife lay near by. Duncan, who was considered a rising star in the booming field of full-figured modelling, was dead at the age of 21.

A post-mortem examination concluded she had died by her own hand.

Her story - as her diaries reveal - is not the typical New York tale of shattered dreams. For her the torment seemed to be the insecurities inflicted by success.

An awkward teen who had always been a little overweight in high school, she had worked hard to get into shape. But once she scaled the heights of her chosen profession, she became disillusioned with its shallowness.

Searching for the "big break", she submitted a book of snapshots to the Wilhelmina modelling agency last year. To get her foot in the door, she took a job there as an accounting clerk.

When Susan Georget, a Wilhelmina agent, saw her in the office, she remembered the photos that Duncan had sent in and arranged for a photographer to shoot another set. "We were just blown away by them," said Georget.

The agency signed up Duncan as a plus-size model. Before long, she got that elusive big break, landing on the cover of last April's issue of Mode.

Since then, she had been working steadily.

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Last Saturday night, however, things went drastically wrong. Her flatmate found her sprawled in blood on the kitchen floor with her neck gashed.

She was taken to the nearby New York Weill Cornell Medical Centre, but pronounced dead on arrival. The examination of her body suggested she had pricked herself tentatively in the neck several times before plunging the kitchen knife into her chest with such force that it punctured her lung.

The chest wound had been the fatal blow.

It soon emerged that Duncan had been battling with demons. A neighbour recalled that he had seen her "crying like crazy" on the stairs two weeks earlier.

Relatives told police that she had been suffering from bouts of depression for some time and, at one point, had visited a therapist. Although she left no suicide note, her personal diary - found in her flat - was laced with doubts and sadness.

It was her diary that eventually convinced her brother, Alec, that the police were correct in believing his sister had killed herself. "She felt that a lot of people in the industry and New York were fake," he said.

"The president of Wilhelmina said that, usually, when women get into modelling and start to see themselves in magazines, they finally realise just how beautiful they are and become comfortable with their bodies.

"Just the opposite happened to Natasha."

(The Times, London)

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