When I was fifteen years old, I lived in a neighborhood with my mom, dad, two sisters, and baby brother. In the same neighborhood, there also lived a man who was deeply troubled. He would later be found to have a number of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, but we didn’t know that at the time. Back then, all I knew was that he was eight years my senior, and he could see into my bedroom window from his.
It all started with a Christmas gift. A teddy bear and a love note addressed to my sister (I hope to meet you under the mistletoe, it said), and a phone call that followed. That was the first, and only time we ever spoke with the man. He said he could see us from his window, and that he admired us from afar. At first, we thought we had a secret admirer, but then he told us he was 23 years old and we told him he was creepy and hung up. At the time, I was 15 years old, and my sister was 13.
From there, I don’t remember the order of things. I know that he started sending me notes as well. I don’t remember the contents, but I remember that they spoke of things I did throughout my day, mentioned that he was aware when my parents were away on vacation, and seemed to think us part of some intertwined destiny. He also left dead rodents on our doorstep, left dead flowers on my car, and hung notes in his window so that we could view them from ours. In his notes, he called himself, “the devil.”
“I am the devil.”
From there, things started to get more aggressive. One night, he stole the door to our home in the middle of the night. Not too long after, he broke into our basement and dismembered our fireplace. Both times we weren’t even aware he was in our home until we woke up the next morning.
All of these things felt like a warning, and yet, when the police came, they were never able to pin anything down. They weren’t able to discover who stole the door to our home, though I remember my parents telling them at the time: “Why don’t you go over to our neighbor’s house, I’m sure you’ll find it there.” But that was only the beginning of a progressively more bold and dangerous campaign against my family.
Around the same time, my sister and I worked as lifeguards at the neighborhood pool. One day, he came down to the pool, sat in the corner, and read the newspaper with his sunglasses on. He never got into the pool but stayed there all day, watching us from behind his shades. Eventually, we had to close the pool for thunder and we told everyone they had to leave.
He jumped into the pool, got out, then walked home. Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang and I picked up. “I’m going to fucking kill you,” the caller said. We hurried home and told my parents what happened and they immediately called the police. Somehow they managed to convince the police officers to visit our neighbor’s house. They did, his mother answered, and she let them dial *69 from her home telephone. It called the pool.
After that, we heard he had been jailed for a couple of weeks, that he was being treated for schizophrenia, and that he had been released to relatives. But nothing much changed. My parents, however, took the hint. They outfitted our home in a high-security system, purchased a police-trained attack dog, and had a detective come talk to us about intuition, and how if we ever felt the hairs rise on the back of our necks, we should assume we were being watched. Needless to say, we felt that feeling a lot.
One night, when my parents were out of town, my sister and I had two of our guy friends over to watch the movie Zoolander, when suddenly, the power went out. My sister and I immediately assumed he was in our house, so the four of us, and our police-trained dog, walked to the security system to arm the motion detectors. There was an error, however, and the system informed us that it was disconnected from a power source and could not be armed.
The cordless phones were also not working due to the power outage, so we all walked through the dark, up the stairs, not knowing where he was in our house, but hearing sounds coming from the basement. Finally, we reached my bedroom where we made our way to a vintage telephone that was the only landline in the house. I dialed 911 and told them there was someone in our house, then the line went dead. He had cut the phone line.
For ten long minutes, we sat in the dark, listening to every noise in the house, and too afraid to leave my room for fear he would be standing right outside it. We sat on my bed with the dog in front of us, waiting for my bedroom door to open. If it did, I was prepared to issue the attack command to our dog, our only defense should he finally make his way to our room.
Finally, the phone rang. As part of the security system we had installed, a backup phone line had been wired into our home in case the phone line should ever be cut. It kicked in, and the second it did the police were on the phone. They were on their way they told us. They had our address and were sending a team. They stayed on the phone with us for five more minutes until lights started flooding through our home.
The policemen who arrived on the scene had completely surrounded our home, lighting it up with flashlights from the outside, and calling out from a megaphone that it was the police, that they had the place surrounded, and that they were about to enter the home. They moved in on every single room until they made their way to us, and finally got us out of there safe and sound.
We found out later that he had cut the power and the phone line from the outside of the house, and that he had never entered our house that night. I don’t know if the police managed to find any evidence from that night, but I do know that soon after he was placed on an ankle bracelet. He was unable to get within a mile of any of our houses, workplaces, schools, or churches, and if he did, we were told we would be notified.
That night was the last straw for my parents. They sent me and my sister to live with our aunt on the East Coast for the rest of the summer while they bought a new home, sold the old one, and transferred us to new schools.
We spent that summer living in a false comfort. Strange as it may seem, that was the first summer, of my entire high school existence, that I felt safe. We watched scary movies every night in defiance of the fear we felt constantly at home. And when the summer was over, my sister and I wanted to stay. We were too afraid to go back home and resume the trauma that had been so constant there.
But we did go back. We moved into a new home and started at a new school. It was my senior year of high school. Our house was outfitted in every possible security measure, my parents became well trained in target practice, and we were put on police rounds so that our home was being monitored each evening. Then it started all over again.
For a while things were quiet, and I was left to deal with the emotional fallout that comes from living in a constant state of fear. The detective who worked with our family had recommended a book called The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence and to this day, it is one of the most influential books I have ever read. It taught us that when we were afraid, we should pay attention. Because it was probably for good reason.
But I was afraid a lot. I carried mace wherever I went, checked underneath my car before I entered it, and was never alone. I tried to calm myself by taking up yoga, going to church, and reading my bible. I immersed myself in choir and the theater department and spent my time completely surrounded by friends or family.
Then on my 18th birthday, I received a birthday card. It was sent to our new address, and the return address was the home I had lived in during elementary school. “Welcome to womanhood,” it read. It wasn’t signed, but we knew who it was from. Once again, we had received a warning, and this time it was alerting us to the fact that he knew where we lived.
Because he had certain rights, we weren’t able to know the details of his treatment. Or where he was staying. All we knew was that every now and then we would receive phone calls from the security company associated with his ankle bracelet telling us they didn’t know where he was. Then they would call an hour later to tell us that they’d found him.
Not long after, we saw his car sitting on our street. In fact, he drove by our house a lot. One day, the brake lines on my mom’s car were cut. We were constantly living in fear that the security measures we had put in place wouldn’t be enough. It was only later that we learned he had been placed on a less secure ankle bracelet — one he was able to remove — due to budget cuts. We were never informed.
We did what we could to protect ourselves. I went away for college at the end of the summer and was told by the detective working with our family that I should consider changing my name for security purposes. They would be able to reroute my mail if anything was addressed to the name he had known me by. That’s when I became Elle.
I had to give all of my roommates the facts. We had a picture of his car hanging on our bulletin board in case any of us should see him. The RA and front desk of my dorm building also had his picture, and a picture of his car, hanging in plain sight, in case he should ever show up at my school. And I always called campus security to walk me to and from buildings at night. I was that girl.
The summer after my freshman year, I returned home for the summer. I don’t know if things were weird in my absence, but they certainly were upon my return. There were a few times our security system alerted us to happenings in the house, but then nothing seemed to be askew. We’d chalk it up to ominous false alarms and reset the system.
One evening, I had a college friend over and we sat outside in the hot tub. We were laughing and having a good time, but eventually, the wind picked up and we got really creeped out, as if we were being watched, so we jumped out of the hot tub and ran into the house as fast as we could.
A couple days later it happened. At the time I slept in a bedroom on the ground floor, and my parents, sisters, and baby brother slept upstairs. One night, I awoke to the grating sound of metal on metal. It was a terribly loud sound and it startled me awake. I looked to my bedroom window, and I saw his silhouette outlined through my shade. He was tearing the screen off my window.
My window was opened two inches. But there was a security feature installed that saved my life that night. We had bolted all of our windows shut so that they couldn’t be opened more than two inches. He couldn’t get in without breaking the glass, but he didn’t know that and was struggling to open my window. I said, rather loudly, “Who’s there?” And the sound stopped.
I tiptoed out of bed and ran upstairs to my parent’s bedroom. “He’s at my window,” I told them, afraid that they wouldn’t believe me since by this time I had reported several similar scares to them out of fear and anxiety. My dad got up and went downstairs with his baseball bat while my mom stayed in bed. I think we all thought it would somehow be a false alarm. Even I was starting to doubt the powers of my paranoia.
I stood at the top of the stairs, watching as my dad walked into my room. Immediately, I heard glass shattering, and my dad screaming at the top of his lungs, “CALL 911! CALL 911!” To this day, those two sounds stand out as my most vivid and horrifying memory. I can still recall the shattering, and the sound of my dad’s voice, with perfect recall.
Needless to say, my mom and I were called into action. She ran to the safe to get her gun and I immediately pressed the panic button from my parents’ bedroom. We were both scared. We had no idea what had happened in my bedroom downstairs and whether or not my dad was ok. All we knew was that my dad was downstairs in my bedroom, that my bedroom window had been shattered, and that all my dad had was a baseball bat to protect himself. My mom called down to my dad, but he didn’t answer.
By this time, our alarm system was going off, and the loud sound of a siren was blaring through our house. I ran into my sisters’ rooms. Both of them were awake, but they were laying in their beds staring at the ceiling. I told them both to get up and go to my parents’ bedroom which my mom was defending. My teenage sister grabbed my younger sister and made for the room. Then I ran into my brother’s bedroom, pulled him from his crib and brought him to my parents’ room as well.
There we all sat. Waiting to see what had happened to my dad, and whether or not my mom would have to use her gun if he was able to make his way up to her room. Thankfully, the police made it to our house pretty quickly. When they got there, my dad met them, and we were able to discover what happened. My dad had gone to close my window, and as he was doing so, a hand broke through it, shattering the window into my dad before he bailed.
The police searched our home, then searched the area around our home. They couldn’t find him. They told us he was probably long gone by now so they were going to head back to the station. My father refused to let them leave. How could they think of leaving us, he said, when this guy who was infatuated with us, could not be found, and our window was broken. He called the sheriff.
The sheriff was the shining star of this harrowing scene. He arrived at our house, was briefed on the situation, and immediately berated his team for attempting to leave us. This was a stalker situation, he said, and everyone knew that stalkers weren’t so easily scared away.
The sheriff told his reports that our stalker was probably sitting nearby, waiting for the police to leave so he would have the opportunity to finish the job he started. And the sheriff wasn’t about to let that happen. He tasked everyone to search the neighborhood, and they did. All of our neighbors were outside by this point. It was three or four in the morning and there were several police cars and a fire truck outside our house. And policemen were searching everyone’s yards.
We were standing in the foyer as the sheriff and a couple of his men found him. He had been laying in our neighbor’s yard only five feet away from my window. With a knife. The sheriff brought him out and handcuffed him in our driveway. Then we were asked to come outside and identify him. My sister and I walked timidly toward the man lying in our driveway, but we didn’t recognize him. The truth is, apart from one time at our pool almost five years prior, we had never actually seen him.
He was laying on the pavement on his stomach, with his hands cuffed behind him, and his feet cuffed beneath him. His eyes were closed. It was strange. It was as if he had been drugged or something. My sister asked the cop if he could hear us. Before the cop could answer, our stalker opened his eyes and started toward us, struggling against his restraints. “You fucking bitch! You ruined my life. I’m going to get you. If it’s the last thing I do,” he yelled, as the police began battering him back down with their nightsticks. “I will get them.” he continued to the policemen. “You could have found four dead bodies easy.”
“You could have found four dead bodies easy.”
Note: though I remember him yelling at me, and threatening to kill me, I did not remember his exact words. For the sake of the accuracy of this article, I looked up his words from the police statement from that night, which were read during the sentencing hearing — which I have a transcript of. As a result, the words he spoke are not from my memory but are the exact words he spoke that evening verbatim.
They put him away that night. And I learned something about myself when they did: that when I am under pressure, I will fire on all cylinders until the very end. It’s only afterward that I come crashing down. For five years, I had been waiting for that moment. I had prepared for it. I was always listening for the sound of a footstep too close behind me. I was always waiting for someone who might be standing over my bed. Then it happened. And we survived. For the first time in five years, there was no threat to my life. And the weight of it came crashing down on top of me.
My sophomore year of college was my darkest year. I cried heavily, almost every day. I awoke from every shadow that crossed my face, convinced my murderer was standing over me. My panic attacks took the form of death, causing my heart to give out for beats at a time. I would lay on the floor gasping for air, convinced each moment was my last. I constantly reminded myself that I was safe, but I remained more tortured now that I was than when I wasn’t.
During that time, my family received a lot of news coverage. Every station called our house, and every one was turned down. As a result, we saw blurry images of ourselves and our home on the news. It was surreal to see reporters standing in front of our house, talking about the events that had occurred there. The attention placed on my family, and the burden we felt bearing it, caused many of our friends to disconnect from us, and, during our darkest hour, they dropped us entirely. They weren’t willing to put up with our chaos, I realized. We would have to do that alone.
That year we also learned more about the man who had been stalking us for so many years. We learned that he had visited our home several times in the two weeks prior to that night. When they were finally able to search his parents home, they discovered photos of our every move and a series of journals detailing his every fantasy. He had been sitting in my backyard watching the night my friend and I were in the hot tub. He wrote about it. That and every other thing I had done during the previous five years. “Charles Manson had the right idea,” he mused in one of them.
These pieces of my life whirled around me. Suspended like tattered pages from a journal, fluttering around in the wind. And all of it was leading up to my turning point, the sentencing hearing. When all of the pages would finally settle, and I would be able to sweep them all up, and put them all away.
That night, he had left a suicide note for his parents, stolen a neighbor’s car, removed his ankle bracelet, and driven to our house. In his note, he explained that he could not overcome his obsession with us, and that he had planned to rape and kill myself and my sister in front of my parents before he finally killed himself.
Because he had been very forthcoming with the officers — he told them that he had planned to kill us, that he promised he would do so, and that he should be sent to prison so he couldn’t carry it out — there was no trial to speak of. There was, however, a hearing to determine how long he would serve time.
The sentencing hearing took place during the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college. Reporters tried to get at us as my dad held a jacket over our faces. But in the courtroom, there was a silence. I remember his parents speaking on his behalf. Asking for leniency and mental health treatment. And I remember the court quoting what he said. That he himself wished to go to jail because it was the only way my family would be safe.
Most of all I remember the statement I had to make. I remember writing it in my college dorm room, with tears streaming down my face as the fear and anger of the previous five years poured itself onto the page. I told the court I was tired of carrying mace in my purse and having people check my trunk before I drove anywhere. I told them that I was tired of imagining my murder.
I was sobbing by the time I finished my statement and was escorted from the room. It was only in reading the transcript from that day, thirteen years later as I sat down to write this article, that I discovered what happened during the rest of hearing. Excerpts from his journal and recordings from his discussions with detectives and psychologists detailed the twisted entrails of his thoughts.
At one point he wondered whether he had been one of the Columbine killers because reading about them had been like reading about his own life. Learning about the killers, he said, was the first time that he felt understood. That he felt a kinship with someone. The only difference between them and him, he mused, was that they had weapons, and he didn’t.
At another point, he became melancholy, admitting that the reason he wanted to kill us was that he wanted my parents to experience the pain he felt, in never being able to have us. “I got all this evil inside me and no one really knows about it,” he told the detective. “Homicidal thoughts, suicidal thoughts, thoughts of raping people, thoughts of, just, yeah, hurting people… like hurting [this family] to the point of killing their daughter so they can be in pain for the rest of their lives.”
He also discussed his infatuation with rape. “You have control over the person and they’re at your mercy. That’s a feeling I really enjoy.”
Finally, he made a case for himself. “I’m beginning to believe that possibly the only safe place for me is jail. Only here can I guarantee not to abuse illegal substances. Only here can I guarantee not to hurt myself or others… Isolation might just be my only hope for stopping the harm I feel I will inevitably cause in the future. No one can understand what is in my head better than me, and what I experience in my thoughts and dreams frightens me.”
The most harrowing, to me, was his admission several times over that despite therapy, drugs, and incarceration, he was never able to stop thinking about us, about wanting to rape us, and about wanting to kill us. “I cannot promise that I will never think or dream or fantasize about the [girls],” he said. “In fact, I’m quite certain they will be in my thoughts throughout my life.”
“I’m quite certain they will be in my thoughts throughout my life.”
The day after the hearing, my family and I moved to a new state, I transferred to a new university, and we started over. My first day there, I remember sobbing in the shower of our new apartment. I was just so sad and so exhausted from it all. It was the summer before my junior year, and as I had three months before school began, I decided I needed to use that time and space to do whatever I could to heal.
In the past, I had relied on therapy, yoga, and church, but this time I didn’t want to try so hard. I decided to give myself permission to do whatever it was I needed to do that summer, and then I’d pick myself up after that. At the time, the only thing I wanted to do was watch Friends. So I did. For three months, all I did every day was cuddle up with a blanket, eat warm bowls of tomato soup, and watch Friends.
By the end of the summer, I had watched all ten seasons more than once, and that cocooned period of safety and comfort left me feeling better than I had felt in a long time. Once school began, I picked myself up and moved on. I lived with my family, went to yoga classes with my mom, found a counselor I enjoyed, and got back into the rhythm of life.
I still had the occasional panic attack and I wasn’t very social. But I didn’t need to be anything other than what I was. I stuck to hanging out with my family, and visiting my boyfriend, and spent my spare moments watching Friends. Slowly I began to feel that everything was going to be ok.
I actually remember my last panic attack. An Ayurvedic practitioner had told me I might conquer them if I stopped being frightened by them. Don’t let the panic attack win, she said. So the next time I had a panic attack, laying in my bed, my heart seizing up as though I were dying, I decided to not be afraid anymore. I’m dying, I thought. And that’s ok.
I didn’t die. And I never had a panic attack again.
From there, the healing process was a gradual thing. I studied abroad in France, I graduated from college. My boyfriend and I moved in together. And all the while I was very diligent about the healing I knew I needed. I practiced yoga regularly, saw a therapist when I needed one, and watched Friends when I needed to. I knew what I needed to do to feel happy, and I kept those things on repeat as part of my regular self-care rituals.
Over time, I needed those things less and less. My boyfriend and I moved to the west coast. We got married. Then one day, I realized that I hadn’t just reached baseline, I had far surpassed my baseline. I was happy. Far happier than I had ever been in my lifetime. That day, my husband and I had spent the morning running a car wash for the local Young Life group I was leading, then we took off for Sonoma in the afternoon to do some wine tasting.
We were still covered in soap and bubbles by the time we reached the vineyards but I remember telling my husband over dinner that I never really knew how depressed I was until I had experienced the happiness I was capable of. I knew I had felt that kind of happiness in my youth, but as most of my adolescence and early adulthood had been spent in fear, I had never really known how truly happy I could be.
That was in 2009, and I have been truly happy ever since.
Sure there are some residuals. I still don’t sleep well. I still awake at every sound. I am afraid of what will happen if he is released from prison, and I plan my life with that date in mind — especially now that that date looms closer. But for the most part — with the exception of the time I spent writing this article — I don’t really think about it anymore. Those pages of my life have been packed up and put into a photo album. Ready to review when necessary, but most of the time they remain tucked away and out of sight.
I feel comfort knowing that he is locked away and that I am safe. And I feel complete joy and happiness in my life. The kind of joy and happiness I think is only available to those who have experienced the absence of those things. But I know that I have many to thank for that happiness.
I am particularly grateful for the judge who sentenced my stalker 50 years in prison, allowing me a long period of safety during which I could move on with my life and enjoy a more normal existence. I am grateful for my family and my husband who have always been my strength, and my source of so many happinesses. And I am grateful for myself, for being the sort of person who always seeks that happiness out, no matter what kind of darkness attempts to prevail against it.
My stalker was sentenced to 50 years in prison, but he will be up for parole in 2024. Having experienced the ordeals mentioned above, and a great many unmentioned others during a period of five years, I harbor no fantasies that prison will have cured it all, especially considering his own statements to that effect. So I thank you for your prayers, that he continues to stay incarcerated, and that my family continues to be safe.
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