Authors: Gregg Olsen
Tags: #Biographies & Memoirs, #True Accounts, #True Crime, #Education & Reference, #Schools & Teaching, #Education Theory, #Classroom Management
IF LOVING YOU IS WRONG
OUTSTANDING ACCLAIM FOR GREGG OLSEN
If loving you is wrong
“Gregg Olsen's IF LOVING YOU IS WRONG is a wonderfully researched book that makes the tabloid stories about Mary Kay Letourneau and her forbidden love sound like comic-book stuff. Everyone who wants to understand the back story of the child-woman and her o'erweening passion for a man-child must read IF LOVING YOU IS WRONG. Olsen's book is both gossipy and sympathetic, searing and brilliant. If Mary Kay is the Humbert Humbert of the female sex—and she is—this book is her
. A must-read for both true-crime aficionados and students of abnormal psychology! I read until 3 A.M.!”
The confessions of an American black widow
“Here are all the ingredients of a great crime story—murder, infidelity, greed, nymphomania... A must-read! Gregg Olsen's standing as one of America's finest crime journalists will rise ever higher with THE CONFESSIONS OF AN AMERICAN BLACK WIDOW.”
—Jack Olsen, bestselling author of
Hastened to the Grave
“Gregg Olsen introduces the reader to a character so mesmerizing, so frightening and so evil that one has to keep reminding himself that his amazing and fast-paced story is true.”
—Carlton Stowers, bestselling author of
To the Last Breath
For June Rose Wolfe
June 19, 1996
THE NIGHT WAS a pinpricked blanket over the dull sheen of Puget Sound. Errant seagulls—feathered rats, really—teetered on the edge of a Dumpster. In an instant, they slid inside looking for food before fluttering out and sending white droppings into Jackson Pollack splatters on grungy asphalt further marked by oil stains and melted bubble gum.
Music wafted from one of the boats in the guest moorage section of the marina in Des Moines, Washington, a suburb just south of the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. In its setting and size, Des Moines, Washington, held little in common with its Midwestern counterpart. The western-most Des Moines was on Puget Sound, facing west to the Olympic Mountains and Vashon and Maury islands. It was suburban, yet with the feel of a neighborhood place where people gathered in crime watches and fed each other's pets when vacations came.
Even the name wasn't pronounced the same in Washington as Iowa. The Washington Des Moines was pronounced with the
sound at the end, which gave most everybody not from there great difficulty when learning to say it so incorrectly.
That June night something very disturbing was taking place in Des Moines. And from the moment Dave Shields, 27, began his walk a very personal story started moving slowly from tragedy to the stuff of sleazy supermarket magazines and sordid tabloid television reports. In time, lawyers, writers, friends, and family of those involved would all lose sight of the one thing that had caught their concern and interest in the first place. It was a woman and a boy.
A mother, a teacher, a wife. And a boy
Dave Shields had never wanted to be anything but a cop. Not really. Though it was true that he had enlisted in the Coast Guard and had given most of his family and friends the impression that he had a career as a cop of the sea, he wanted nothing more than to be a police officer with his feet on dry ground. Both his grandmother and a close high school friend had died in accidents caused by drunken drivers. The idea that he could be part of a solution to a terrible and senseless problem led him to law enforcement. The former San Diegan came to Seattle with the Coast Guard in 1989; two years later he left in pursuit of his dream. It wasn't easy going. He worked his way up from a fire department job in Des Moines to the marina security job. By the spring of 1996, he was also a reserve police officer in Buckley, a town in the foothills of Mount Rainier, some forty-five minutes away. At the marina he worked graveyard, which he loved.
Even if the evening is dead, it is almost always resuscitated around one in the morning. Shields and other cops of the night knew that. The last hour before the bars shut down the exodus of the drunk begins. The hardy party folks make their woozy attempts at demonstrating sobriety—direct steps to their car, the key ready, the door pulled open without a false move. All police officers, from the parking-lot rent-a-cop to the seasoned veteran called back into late-night patrol, know that although it may be the dead of the night, things happen after one in the morning.
At the Des Moines marina, Shields was used to the after-midnight revelers who leave the bars and are drawn to the waterfront to continue the night. Sex and drugs are the usual reason. Kids come down to the water to maraud, smoke, and screw while their parents drift off to sleep in front of the soft blue glow of television sets that never seem to find a respite from use. Sticky, spent latex condoms sometimes pockmark the parking lot like the remnants of a water-balloon fight.
The tide was way out and in the warmth of the June evening Dave Shields could smell the salty, rotting mud that passes for a Puget Sound beach. He barely needed a jacket; the air was warming. His uniform was a light blue shirt, with a “City of Des Moines” patch on the shoulders. His pants were black and a duty belt dangling with a radio, flashlight, and pepper spray hung around his waist. Dave Shields looked the part of a cop.
He parked his silver and blue security-issue bike and followed the source of loud music down the ramp to the guest moorage in front of the harbormaster's office. When the tide was out, it brought the boats low and widened the beach. The music—some eighties junk—played from a stereo and bounced off the bank of condominiums that fringed the east side of the parking lot. Dave Shields knew the partiers—“old guys, some in their late thirties, even forties”—hadn't meant to be a nuisance. The sound carried across the black water and hung in the still air. They turned the volume way down and apologized and Shields headed back up the ramp to his bike.
But at the top of the ramp, something caught his attention. Bursts of red, then white. Dave Shields fixed his clear hazel eyes into the darkness, and in an instant he saw lights flash on a blue Plymouth Voyager with Alaska plates parked in one of the darker areas of the parking lot. The van was facing west. The brake lights tapped again.
Some guy's getting a blow job
, he thought. It happened a lot at the marina. Shields and other officers well knew the shadowy form of a man leaned back from the wheel, touching the brakes with an errant foot, while a head popped up into view.
From the top of the moorage ramp, he watched it for a second, and the van started up, backing into a landscape island planted with junipers and Saint-John's-wort before rolling a tire up over the curb. The van rolled forward, but when it backed up once more it hit the curb and ran into the island again. The driver was a slight figure, a young boy, Shields thought, though later he was not so sure.
By now, Shields was suspicious. He watched the van, sure that it was a DUI. The van rolled forward and drove slowly, walking pace, through the parking lot. He cocked his head to his lapel microphone, called dispatch with a possible DUI, and walked along the bushes, not wanting to lose the van by returning for his bike.
The young officer continued walking in the shadows thirty or forty feet behind the van as it crawled south along the edge of the parking lot abutting the cliff of condominiums. The van turned right, followed along the docks, then turned left again, toward Anthony's Home Port. The restaurant was closed and the parking lot nearly empty. The pace of the van was odd, because it was so slow. The officer wondered how the van had enough momentum to make it over the speed bumps that interrupted the asphalt every few yards.
The van stopped for a few seconds, and went around the restaurant's waterfront eating deck before circling back around once more.
What are they doing? he thought. Did they see me?
The van pulled into a spot in front of a cyclone fence on the edge of the restaurant parking lot and its lights went dark. On the corner of the lot, just in front of the condos, Dave Shields waited for Des Moines's finest to show up.
Blond-haired, light-complected, Rich Niebush arrived first and checked in with the young security guard. Niebush was a favorite of Shields's, the kind of officer that he aspired to be: direct, professional, and even-keeled. Dave filled in the officer on what he had seen. As Rich Niebush and another officer, Bob Tschida, approached they fixed a spotlight on the van. Niebush could see a woman move from the back and slide into the driver's seat. By then Sergeant Robert Collins was there, too.
The officers pulled closer to the van and turned on their flashing lights. Niebush got out and walked toward the woman driver. A swipe of light from his flashlight also revealed the figure of a boy under a sleeping bag. The officers exchanged glances. Bob Tschida went to the driver's side to talk with the woman. Niebush stayed on the passenger side.
“Get out of the van, please,” Tschida said.
Niebush went around the van to open the driver's door and called to the boy in the back. But there was no answer. The light filled the interior and the officer could see that seats were folded down as if to form a kind of bed. The boy lay motionless, feigning sleep.
“What is going on here?” the officer asked.
The blond woman offered no answer. It was as if she didn't hear his words. After some prodding, she gave her name as Mary Letourneau. She was a schoolteacher from Shorewood Elementary in the Highline School District. There was no problem; there was no reason to interrogate her.
“Why were you in the back of the van with the boy?” Sergeant Collins asked.
Mary Kay said she was watching Vili overnight because his mother worked a late shift. She told the officers that she and her husband, Steve, had had an altercation less than an hour before and she and the boy left.
“I decided to teach him a lesson,” she said, “and not return until after he went to work in the morning.”
She explained that Steve left at 3:30 A.M. for a job handling baggage for Alaska Airlines.
“We're just trying to get some sleep before returning home after my husband leaves for work,” she said.
Sergeant Collins radioed for the Normandy Park Police to check the Letourneau residence to see if Steve Letourneau would be able to back up his wife's story. A bit later, Des Moines radioed back that no one answered the front door.
Next, the sergeant asked Mary Kay what she was wearing. His flashlight washed over her to reveal a layering of four T-shirts and a beige skirt. She had on a thin jacket, no socks, and sandals. (Later officers would differ on what the woman had on that night. Niebush thought she was only wearing a T-shirt. “I did not notice a skirt,” he wrote later in his report.)
Sergeant Collins told Mary Kay that they were taking Vili into protective custody.
“You're blowing this out of proportion,” she protested. She was a teacher, a friend of the family's. There was nothing improper going on in the back of the van. She told them she taught at Shorewood Elementary. She said she was thirty-two.
The officer didn't seem too concerned, telling her that her story made sense, but there was an appearance of impropriety. The woman was wearing a nightie or a T-shirt and, as far as Shields and the officers could see, nothing else.
What's she doing dressed like that coming down here? Shields wondered.
By then Dave Shields had moved closer to the van. Whatever was happening was not dangerous and, without a doubt, far more interesting than lingering back by the condos. The woman was very pretty. Even years later, Shields said he remembered thinking, “Boy, she's got great legs.”
It was Tschida who spoke to the marina security guard. The cop's dark eyes appeared mystified.
“This kid's like only twelve or thirteen years old,” he said, his voice trailing off. “And I think he was putting his clothes back on.”