I Was Stalked for 2 Decades Before It Was a Crime

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As told to Marnie Goodfriend

During my Thanksgiving break from college in 1982, I received a strange phone call from a person I didn’t know. He asked me if I was still driving a yellow Capri and dating my last high school boyfriend. I told him I didn’t know who he was, and he hung up the phone. His slight speech impairment jogged my memory. Flipping through my high school yearbook, I realized it was John, a boy I’d been on the track team with.

Later that day, I was startled to see him driving next to me in a pickup truck with a rifle hanging in a gun rack. As my boyfriend at the time, Bryan, and I returned home from dinner, John appeared from behind the bushes in my parents’ front yard. I remember seeing no emotion behind his eyes, which chilled me to the bone. Bryan stood between us and asked him what he was doing, and John ran away. Later, he called the house and threatened to kill Bryan. The police chased John across town and retrieved a loaded clip and bullets he had stuffed into cassette tapes. They arrested him on a 5150 psychiatric hold, the California legal code for involuntarily admitting a person who poses a threat to himself or another to a psychiatric hospital — and that was the last we heard of him for a while.

With a heavy course load, sorority life and dancing on UCLA’s cheer team, I was a busy undergrad, safe in my bubble, and I brushed off the incident as a one-time event. Three months later, though, John returned to my parents’ house, looking for me with a gun tucked behind his back. My parents called the police and they arrested him again, this time finding 180 rounds of ammunition, a semiautomatic weapon, bullets and a police scanner in his car. He confessed that he intended to kidnap me and take me to the Trinity Mountains. My family and I were shocked and dumbfounded. I barely knew John, but it became clear that he was obsessed with me. He went to jail for a few weeks and was put on probation for three years. The detective urged me to get a restraining order, which I did.

After that incident, I was constantly looking over my shoulder in fear. For three years, nothing happened. After graduation, I moved to my own place in Los Angeles, hoping to become a famous female newscaster. I knew how to work with the police, filed a restraining order, and showed them and my neighbors a photo of John so they could keep an eye out for him. Again, he found me. The police caught him during a stakeout, and he served 60 days in jail for violating the restraining order — a misdemeanor. At the time, the legal definition of “stalking” did not exist. It was called “harassment,” and I was told there was nothing I could do until he laid a hand on me. My roommate’s parents made her move out because they felt living with me was too dangerous, and I decided to return to Northern California to live with my parents.

While I was back, I began dating Greg, a football player I’d been friends with during college. After just three months, he was recruited by the New England Patriots and asked me to move to Boston with him. Greg made me feel safe, and that’s all I thought about — living without feeling terrified every day. I left everything — my career, my hopes, my entire life — because I’d been robbed of my sense of peace and comfort.

For six years, Greg and I moved around the country as he was picked up by several NFL teams. In January of 1990, we were living in Menlo Park, California, close to where I grew up, and I let my guard down since nothing was in my name and I kept a low profile. One day, I opened my door to retrieve a pizza from a delivery guy — and it was John. He said nothing and drove off in his car as I stood there frozen. I called the pizza parlor and they confirmed that he was one of their employees. There were no limits to him tormenting me and nothing I could do to stop him. I’d see him driving in the neighborhood or parked outside my house. Each time he was caught, he’d spend a few months in jail and be released, and then the cycle would continue.

When Greg left for spring training, I decided to stay in my house. If I heard a noise outside, I slid out of bed on my stomach and crawled down the hallway to the back window to see if John was there. I was always thinking of his next move, even as I slept. One night, I dreamt that he was in my house with a gun, and the next afternoon, I turned around to find John standing behind me in my house with a knife. As terrifying as it was, I’d been preparing for that moment for eight years. I was done living like a hunted animal.

“We need to talk,” I said. That immediately threw him off balance, and he became very nervous. I knew my way out was to talk to him like a friend. When my phone rang, I told him, “Everybody knows you’re missing, and they’re calling to check on me. You need to let me answer.” He let me pick up the call. It was my mom, and when she’d ask me a question, I’d say something completely different so she’d know something was wrong. “Is John there?” she asked, and I said yes. She hung up and called 911.

A police officer then called me, and a divine power guided me as I talked to her like she was a real estate client I was trying to sell a house to. She instructed me to coax John out of the house to avoid a hostage situation, so I told him I would go away with him. In my garage, John tied my hands together. As the police swarmed the outside of the house, I saw an officer waving to me behind the fence. I shut my eyes, sprinted and hurdled the fence. I was in shock but finally safe.

In the months after the incident, I had extreme anxiety and developed a fear of flying. I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and worked hard to regain control of my life. John took a plea and was sentenced to eight years and 10 months for attempted kidnapping. I gave a victim impact statement at his sentencing. I didn’t want him to know how much he had affected my life, but I wanted the judge to change the sentencing from attempted kidnapping to kidnapping. Since he had held me in my house, he was charged with the lesser crime based on a technicality. Halfway through my statement, the judge cut me off and said, “The sentence stands.”

Weeks later, I was contacted by U.S Representative Ed Royce, who was a California state representative at the time. He had seen me on the news and asked if I would tell my story to help pass the first anti-stalking laws. When I read my speech in front of the state senate, you could have heard a pin drop. The law passed unanimously. That day was a turning point for me. I became the spokesperson for the anti-stalking laws, appearing on daytime talk shows and training first responders on how to work with victims of stalking.

In 1992, I launched my company, SafetyChick Enterprises, to teach women and girls about personal safety from a female perspective. My mission is to change the way that personal safety is marketed to women.

Today, I live a full life as a public speaker, businesswoman and mom to three grown boys. And instead of constantly looking over my shoulder, I’m now looking ahead.

Resources:
The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, & Resource Center
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline

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