My mother, always mindful of beauty and appearances, decided to do something about my weight.
She believed that how I looked reflected on her, and she disliked being accompanied everywhere by a chubby child. So she told the pediatrician to prescribe a diet for me. Well, he did better than that: he prescribed diet pills! They were the very latest. Everyone raved about how well they worked. They eliminated my appetite and increased my energy. But I had no idea of their real cost. The pills introduced me to a way of life that would ultimately nearly destroy me.
My performance as a “worker” for my mother, who had decided that keeping house was completely my job, definitely improved. Mother was funny about this. She kept all her drawers absolutely immaculate, with everything perfectly folded and her underwear in plastic bags. But her habits of order were nonexistent. She never made her bed; she tossed used tissues on the floor. She never put anything away except her underclothing. I spent most of my time following along behind her picking up the clutter she generated.
Well, if a parent is working, perhaps it’s reasonable for the child to keep house. And that would be fair if the child had an enjoyable social life. This was not permitted. Mother actively discouraged my friends and activities. I needed to be available to her to carry out the next order she might issue.
My brother was allowed to go where he wanted and do as he pleased with his friends, but I had housekeeping chores and yard work to keep up. What made things really bad was that I never felt well. I was always exhausted and repeatedly afflicted with ear infections and viral type illnesses.
As I said, Mother had given up going to church and now she began dating again. As a business school graduate, she was able to start a bookkeeping and tax preparation service. Years later, I learned that most of her dates were married clients of her service. To my great humiliation, she had an affair with the grandfather of one of my classmates, a girl who was universally liked by everyone, including me.
When the man left his wife of many years, upsetting his extended family, and my mother was named as correspondent, the humiliation I suffered in school from being the daughter of the “other woman” was crushing.
Every day, I needed to walk or ride my bicycle two miles to the bus stop and back, and when I came home I started on the housework. When I was finished, I was expected to stay home, miles away from anything or anybody, until Mother came back, even on Friday and Saturday nights, when most kids my age were allowed to go to the movies or skating, or even to visit each others’ homes. And sometimes she didn’t come home until very late, so I was alone out in the middle of nowhere, with no neighbors, surrounded by the eerie night sounds of the Florida backwoods.
Finally, I rebelled. My close friend Dana was responsible for her four brothers and sisters. She was even expected to do all the cooking for her family! Together, we devised ways to sneak out of the house at night and ride around with our friends until two or three in the morning. Our brothers, Tom and Jerry, were both the same age and “hung out” together. They shared an interest in souped up jalopies, so we often persuaded them to take us out when they didn’t have dates. Though they were obliged to complain loudly to “save face” with other buddies, they did take pity on us occasionally and take us to the drive-in with them.
In rural Florida in the mid-to-late 1960s, options for getting in trouble were pretty limited. We could go out to the waterfront at night and snatch mullet. Build a fire and cook the fish. Drink beer that someone had “appropriated” from the family refrigerator. And maybe drive madly through the orange groves with the lights of the car turned off, seeing how many oranges we could pull from the tree limbs without slowing down and getting completely stuck in the sand. There were lime rock pits to swim in at night, and a friend of a friend was a band singer at a roadhouse, so we often went there to listen to country and western music.
One night we had the idea we ought to have a séance at a graveyard. Since I was the “occult specialist,” I was elected to be the one who knew what to do. I didn’t, but I wasn’t going to say so.
We all piled into two or three jalopies and headed down the road to the Tarpon Springs cemetery.
It was a good size, with many old graves and big marble monuments glowing eerily in the moonlight. (Click the link above to get a good idea of what I mean!) Someone brought a bottle of whiskey and we decided that it would be appropriate to have a few drinks before engaging in our project of calling up the dead. We found a nice marble slab over some poor soul’s last resting place, sat down, and passed the bottle around. For kids accustomed to nothing stronger than a can of beer, it was a fast buzz.
After we finished the bottle, we gathered around the grave in a circle and held hands and began to concentrate. I thought I ought to say a few appropriate words, and I started with something really lame like “Oh spirit come forth and speak…” or similar nonsense.
At that very moment, horrible moans and clanking sounds issued from some bushes behind the large statue at the head of the grave. We all froze. My heart jumped into my throat, the hair stood up on my head, my skin practically crawled off my body, and everyone bumped into each other in the dark trying to get away. It was every man for himself!
We were off and running, hollering and yelling at each other, “Come on! Run!” and other appropriate words that I will pass over in silence. Down the graveyard lane we flew as though the very fiends of Hell were pursuing, to get to the cars and get the heck out of there!
As it happened, some of the graves had little “fences” around them consisting of short metal posts with chains looped from pole to pole. At the last instant, in the dim moonlight, I tried to make the leap but didn’t quite gauge the height correctly in the darkness. The chains caught me right below the knees and I went down like a rocket propelled stone! Fortunately, my face hit the dirt and not the marble, and I had a mouthful of grass and other nastiness rather than a broken nose and a mouth emptied of teeth. I was too full of adrenaline to let a little thing like possibly smashing every bone in my face stop me. I scrambled back to my feet and heard peals of laughter behind me. The laughter sounded awfully familiar, so I paused to listen. Panic was replaced by a slow burn of mortification!
Sure enough: our brothers, Tom and Jerry, were half running, half staggering with hilarity behind us, gasping out between paroxysms of roaring guffaws, holding on to each other to keep from falling to the ground: “Stop! Stop! It’s only us!”
I was going to get them!
Dana’s brother Jerry collapsed on a grave slab, laughing so hard he could barely hold up a tow chain they had snuck out of the car while the rest of us were drinking whiskey and talking about ghosts. They’d slipped behind the bush while everyone else concentrated on our occult endeavors. We’d all been had!
I never forgot how easy it was to produce an effect when people are in a suggestive and expectant state, and to make them believe whatever you wanted them to believe. What’s more, I realized how easy it would be to control people and cause them to do things they would not do under any other circumstances. I also realized that fear was an absence of knowledge, and when you gave into it, and acted without thinking, you very often ended up getting hurt.
If nothing else, I was good at getting the essence of a situation and transforming it into a lesson.
I was about to experience one of the most devastating experiences of my life.
During the several years of journalistic investigation by Tom French for his article about me and my life and work, I was interviewed dozens of times, and very often, the same questions were being asked over and over again. I didn’t realize it then, but this was standard journalistic “truth testing.” The journalist will ask the same questions in different ways at different times in order to ensure that the interviewee is telling the truth.
My thoughts about allowing my life and experiences to be made public were rather mixed. On the one hand, I valued my privacy highly (still do). On the other, I realized that there were many other people who had experienced similar things, and who had been similarly marginalized. The issue became: was I willing to speak publicly for the sake of others? With an enormous sensation of dread, I agreed finally to do if it would help others. I could see no other value to my life at that point in time than that my suffering.
The reader who has also read the Times article knows how differently it all turned out from the way it began. That, of course, led to its own set of problems. It was one thing to be just a housewife with unusual interests and hobbies. It became an altogether different thing when I married a career scientist with a reputation to consider.
At this point, there was an item that Tom French investigated that he decided not to write about for several reasons, not the least of which was simply the space he was allotted in which to tell the story.
However, once his article was published – and possibly even in reaction to it – and as I was initially writing this more in-depth account to balance what Tom could not include, the omitted item came back to haunt both of us. Initially, it was used as an attempt to blackmail me (and by extension, my husband) by individuals who will appear later in this story.
In this book, the name “Frank” is given to one of the main players. The reader can, of course, easily discover that individual’s real name in the St. Pete Times article. It was Frank – in partnership with a man named Vincent Bridges and his associate, Jay Weidner – who was ultimately responsible for the attempt at blackmail, coercion, extortion. Thus, to completely remove this horrifying episode of my life from the hands of those who would try to use it to coerce or control me, it is being set out here in detail.
Some may think that Tom French should have included the incident and subsequent fall-out because the fact that women are sexually assaulted, or taken in by psychopaths, with alarming regularity gets far too little attention as it is. But, as noted, his decision was based on the amount of space he had to tell a particular story that interested him, and considering that, his choice to omit it was correct.
When Tom interviewed me, I did tell him everything, even though I was very reluctant to talk about something so distressing. As every other woman who has ever been through a similar experience will agree, it was so unpleasant that I have spent the rest of my life trying to forget it. After consulting with the attorney who acted for me at the time, Tom agreed with us that it ought to just be left in the past.
In the end, that series of events from the past that I am about to recount was rather similar to what “Frank” later attempted to do: coerce, extort, blackmail and control. As one reader noted: “Anyone who would attempt to blackmail you with this incident falls into the same category as the person who committed the initial assault. Such people view others as prey. They assess all those that they wish to prey upon as vulnerable and methodically proceed to search for a weak point and then attack.” And sometimes they take years to do it, as is proven in the case of “Frank”. But some people are covert aggressors, as Frank was/is. They just manipulate and agitate behind the scenes, passing confidential information to full-blown pathologicals like Vincent Bridges and Jay Weidner to utilize on their behalf. Or, the pathologicals worm the information out of weak and wounded people like Frank; it’s hard to tell without being able to get inside their heads.
Anyway, on with the story:
As I noted, my mother was a bookkeeper who had contracted with several local businesses to do their books. One of these businesses was owned by a man who was also something of a local politician. He ran for a State office and was elected so spent much of his time in Tallahassee, the State Capitol. Mother ran his business for him. He was sort of like a local “big wig” who had a home in the county, and an apartment in Tallahassee. When he was in residence here, he would come to the house and discuss the business with mother and drop off and pick up the accounting and checks and deposits and so forth.
During this time, I was spending many hours a day practicing the piano. I would practice in one room while they would spread out papers on the table in the other room. One day mother announced that this man had expressed an interest in me and wanted to send me to school in Tallahassee where he could oversee my advancement. She thought this was wonderful and a great opportunity!
It was agreed that this plan would be put into action, but I had to wait until my eighteenth birthday. At that point, the plan was that I would go to Tallahassee and finish high school there in an accelerated class, and then be enrolled at the University. So, in January I went.
An apartment had been reserved for me in the same building this man lived in when he was there doing his legislative duties, whatever they were. Everything had been arranged. So, I went to school, met new people, and things were fine for a few months – through April. The apartment building had a nice pool, and I enjoyed studying by the pool… or, for me, at least reading. Dana came to stay with me because I was lonely and her mother knew this man also and thought this would be fine for her as well.
One night he came to our apartment and asked me to come down so he could talk to me privately since he had something very special to tell me and it was a surprise.
So, in an hour, when I was done with my homework, I walked down the outside walkway and knocked on the door. He answered wearing a robe and smoking a cigar and with a glass of liquor in his hand.
To make a long story short, it became clear that the man expected “payment” for his help. I was so dumb that I actually thought that he was just being a nice guy with a “fatherly” interest in me. But that wasn’t the case.
When I said “no,” he got rough. When he got rough, I fought back. When I fought back, he became enraged and started choking me. Since we happened to be standing in the kitchen, and I was being pressed back against the counter and was starting to lose consciousness, I threw my hands back to grab the counter to keep from falling. When I did, my hand landed on a heavy object with a handle. I grabbed it and hit him with it. He loosened his hold momentarily, but then started squeezing again and I hit him again, only harder this time since I had been able to get a breath. I hit him again in the head, and it was sort of a nightmare where he was totally enraged and I was totally determined to hit him until he let go of me. The reader might want to remember the incident with my little dog and my stepfather her. If the guy killed me, I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.
At this point, he was bleeding on me, still refusing to let go, so I hit him again. I think I must have landed about 4 or five good ones before he let go to try to protect his head from another, and when I realized he was no longer restraining me, I ran like hell. I was sure that he was after me, and I made it to my apartment, banged wildly on the door for Dana to let me in. She did and was utterly horrified. We were both just hysterical.
Dana was frantically trying to get all the blood off of me to see where I was hurt, and I was trying to explain that it wasn’t my blood. It would be almost impossible to try and describe my state of mind. I was crying, shaking, terrified of further assault, completely stunned by such betrayal, horrified at my own response, even though I knew I had been as close to being murdered as anybody ever comes and survives. I wanted nothing so muct as to get this horrible blood off of me and make the whole nightmare disappear. Neither of us knew what to do. Dana was certain that he was going to appear at the door any second and try to force his way in, and the only thing we could think of to do was to keep him out until we could escape. Dana was insisting that I take my bloodied clothes off and take a shower while she guarded the door. She was going to faint if she had to look at the blood any longer.
While I was in the shower, still shaking with the thought that the man could force his way into the apartment, Dana came to the door and announced in hysterical tones that police cars and an ambulance were in the parking lot outside. Apparently the man had crawled (walked? He was still standing when I ran away) to the balcony and called and someone heard him and called the police. I was dressed and shaking violently when the knock came at the door. He had made a statement to the emergency crew that I had attacked him for no reason after coming on to him sexually!!
I went with the policemen to the station and told the whole story right there and then. They were satisfied but told me not to go anywhere for a while until they investigated further.
And, seemingly the incident was closed. But, three days later, I was called out of my English class to find a message that the police department wished to ask her a few more questions. So, after school, I took the bus to the police headquarters. When I walked in, expecting to answer questions, handcuffs were immediately placed on me and I was arrested for “Assault with a Deadly Weapon With Intent to Commit Murder.”
And I was taken and locked in a cell.
There is no way to describe such a transition. None. If a person is of a nature that they deliberately break laws, there is some idea in their mind that this could be a result. But, for a person who has, essentially, done nothing wrong but be stupid and naive, someone who has been betrayed by someone she trusted, who has been viciously attacked, and then, instead of anyone realizing that I was the VICTIM, I was put in jail on the word of a psychopath and charged with trying to murder him! All women who have suffered this way understand that such an event is in a class by itself especially when the realization comes that grandfather cannot fix it, mother cannot fix it, no one can fix it.
A week later I was taken, in handcuffs, to court and stood before a judge who read the formal charges. I was just 18 years old, and I had to walk down a public street, between two policemen, in chains.
The judge asked me if I had legal counsel. I started to cry and said no. He started the process of assigning a public defender, and a man sitting in the row of attorneys jumped to his feet and came forward and said: “Yes she does, your honor! I am offering my services!” He then asked me if I would accept him as my attorney and I said yes. So that was settled. I had an attorney. His name was Brian T. Hayes. He was assisted by a really neat and funny Private Investigator, Joseph Aloi, and both of them were literally Knights in Shining Armor as far as I was concerned.
What these two (attorney and PI) discovered about my “benefactor” was shocking. It seems that I had been the prey of a very sharp operator who had been trying to gradually draw me into a very ugly operation of prostitution and pornography and extortion aimed at government officials. My instinctive refusal to be used had saved me, though it had also plunged me into a somewhat serious problem, as it has repeatedly in my life. The Powers of Darkness don’t like it when you resist their attempts to control you or draw you into their plans. It is the same now as it has ever been.
All of the evidence of this little “business” that my “benefactor” had going on was discovered by Brian and Joe who had the presence of mind to view a few of the movies discovered hidden in a bottom drawer of the “benefactor’s” apartment while the guy was still in the hospital desperately trying to lie his way out of the mess that was coming to light. He even tried to get the charges dropped by changing his initial claim that I had assaulted him for no reason; he was desperate to avoid scrutiny. But it was no go. Once the State decides to prosecute, it doesn’t matter if someone who formerly claimed to be a victim has now changed his mind. The State is a juggernaut, and the trial DID take place.
Well, the bloodbath in the courtroom was actually worse than the one at the time of the incident in some ways. His attorney, in concert with the prosecutor, worked very hard to keep the topic of his little “side business” out of the trial. He had a secret camera set up in an A/C vent and he apparently had a string of “girls” he used to make movies. These movies would then be used to extort money, favors, and probably even for a special brand of “lobbying.” In fact, in retrospect, it almost seems as though there was agreement that the State would put on a very weak prosecution, the defense had plenty of evidence of his perfidy without going into the tapes and hidden cameras, and the only reason I can see for this is that some of those tapes must have included highly compromising information about high level officials. The guy, like all true psychopaths, lied himself black in the face, even when confronted with hard evidence of his intention, his actions, his perfidy – in his own writing – even if it appeared to me that he wasn’t very enthusiastic about his lies. He obviously had so much to hide that he just put on a “show” of testifying and actually allowed himself to be led into admission of unsavory intentions. The end result was a resounding return of the verdict of “Not Guilty By Reason of Self Defense.”
I went to live with my grandparents. I no longer trusted my mother, and neither did they. Repeatedly, her choices in regard to my welfare had been disastrous.
My grandfather had retired and was declining rapidly. I could finish school and be there to drive them to do their errands and help my grandmother with the house. Both my grandparents doted on me. They gave me practically anything I wanted or needed, and my grandmother was always cooking things that she knew I especially liked. In Tampa, I was also closer to the doctor who prescribed the diet pills and I went to him for another prescription. My grandmother’s house was pretty spotless as a result.
I did spend some time with my mother and, while there, did some baby-sitting for a local artist. In addition to her painting – which didn’t bring in much money – she had a sideline “coloring” portraits for a well-known photography studio in Tampa. It looked like fun and she taught me to use the transparent oil colors to transform sepia photographs into color portraits. In just a few days I mastered the technique. She was so proud of me that she sent samples to the studio and the studio art director called and asked if I would be interested in doing this for money! Well, it was fun and easy and it sounded good to me, so I said “yes” and there I was, with my first “real job”. At 18 years old, in 1970, I was making $20 an hour!
I was rich!
A few blocks down the street from the photo lab, a big sign advertised a gypsy palm and card reader.
Now that I had money to spend on whatever I liked, I decided that it was time to do some in-the-field research.
I had read enough literature about various fraudulent mediums of the past, and how they did “cold readings,” to know that clients usually give information away by their responses, facial expressions, or body language. Even where no fraud could be detected, some other element of deceit might be involved. Now I could test it myself. At the same time, although many psychics were playing on the gullibility of hurt or lonely people, I did think real talent existed somewhere. I wanted to find out who had it. But my search for true psychic ability all over central Florida for the next few years had abysmal results.
I deliberately misled the psychics to see how far they’d go. If they suggested a jealous blonde or dark stranger in my life, I’d nod vigorously. They built on every response I gave until, in the end, they were pronouncing advice on a situation that bore no resemblance to my life at all. Of course, in nearly every instance, my “problems” were declared to be a “curse” put on me by someone jealous. For a few hundred bucks in cash, small bills please, wrapped in newspaper, I could be freed of this dire situation. Naturally, failure to remove this curse would result in even more dreadful consequences!
I never let on what I was doing because I most definitely did not want the word to get around. I was utterly shameless in this activity! But I kept thinking that eventually I would find someone who was truly psychic!
People my age were getting married and starting families. My brother joined the Navy and married soon after, and I found myself drifting alone again. No one encouraged me to think of college. Having a job and taking care of my grandparents seemed to be the limit of my horizons. Everything was fine on the outside, but something was stirring inside.
I compared the lives of my former schoolmates and felt overcome with emptiness and sadness. I wanted a husband and family, too. I yearned to be like everyone else, simply to be normal. But I could relate to no one at a deep level, much less form a relationship that might lead to marriage. Heck, what am I saying? I had never yet met anyone in my milieu to have a real conversation with unless I dumbed myself down. What in the world was wrong with me?
In late 1970, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. A radical mastectomy was performed. This was, in the plainest of terms, a butcher job. The surgical wound extended from about halfway up the inside of her upper arm, all the way to her navel. They had taken everything, including most of the muscle tissue of the upper inside arm, and everything on the chest right down to the bones. She suffered terribly and it was months before she was healed. She was never able to wear a prosthesis because the sensitivity of her scar tissue remained for the rest of her life.
I couldn’t understand the mechanics of this issue of cancer. Why was it that the most loving and giving of people were stricken?
In October of 1970, a terrible thing happened in New Port Richey, the town where I attended school, and it cut very close to home. The brother of one of my classmates was murdered by some guy who picked him up hitchhiking. The murderer had apparently, just left a local restaurant, Dorn’s Hideaway (where my mother used to go with her friends), and where he had murdered four people, including the owners of the restaurant, one of the waitresses, and her husband.
Richard’s death, and the fact that mass murder had come to the quiet, small town, was shocking in the extreme to all of us. Many of the kids I grew up with had been quite accustomed to hitching rides because, generally, someone you knew stopped to pick you up. But it was clearly no longer safe to do so; to assume that people were friendly and, for god’s sake, NOT a mass murderer!
I drove aimlessly at night that winter. I turned on the car heater and drove with the windows down and the cold air hitting my face, not knowing where to go or what to do. This silly habit resulted in an almost deadly case of pneumonia. I was unconscious for almost a week and woke up considerably reduced in weight which was okay by me!
I drove up to Aripeka and sat on the bridge and stared at the water flowing underneath, and then I drove home again.
There was another person who was there regularly, apparently doing the same thing. He had a huge, droopy mustache and was smoking a pipe and sitting on the bridge rail and, eventually, we struck up a conversation. What a surprise! He was well read and interesting to talk to! And I was starved to talk to someone about my real interests, shoved to the background in all my relationships.
His name was Tom. We became good friends, played tennis once a week, and he never seemed inclined to cross the line of brotherly relations. I remarked one day that I wished that ten-speed bicycles had been made when I was a child (I thought of the serviceable second hand one I’d had to ride to the bus stop all those years living at the Farm). For my 21st birthday he gave me a white one. No one had ever given me such a gift without expecting something in return, so it was quite a puzzle to encounter a person who was simply interested in me because I was me. We discussed philosophy, religion, politics, science, history, and all the subjects that were loaded into my mind, just waiting for discussion and comparison.
I also kept in touch with my friend, Dana and the old crowd from the cemetery haunting days. But most of them were drifting away – moving to distant places. After Richard’s murder, nothing was the same.
One night I was driving home from a visit with Tom very late along a back road with my usual excessive speed. A car approached me flashing its lights. I had no idea this was a warning of trouble on the road ahead. I passed a wide turn, traveling now at about 80 miles an hour. Directly ahead was a vehicle stalled right in the road. There were deep ditches on both sides, and coming toward me in the other lane was a big truck. I had absolutely no options. I would crash going into the ditch, I would crash hitting the stalled car and kill the people standing there, or I could move into the oncoming lane and hit the oncoming truck. No matter what, I was going to die.
I felt something shift inside me with the realization of what was coming. I think I said: “Oh shit!”… and found myself past the stalled car… driving in the correct lane, and the oncoming truck had disappeared even from the rear-view mirror.
That put an end to fast driving. But I have never figured out what happened there. One thing we can observe is that it is the intent and not the words of the prayer that count!
Tom was also a science fiction fan. There were several authors whose stories he admired greatly, among them a certain Keith Laumer. One day, he excitedly announced to me that not only had he discovered that this esteemed person lived in Florida, but that he lived near The Farm in the wilds of Weeki Wachee. Further, Tom had driven over to visit him and had been invited back; did I want to come?
I never really cared to read science fiction, but I agreed to go because it seemed like a sort of holiday outing, and I was curious to meet a real writer!
This meeting signified the opening of the door to a series of profound, life changing events. And twenty years later, another meeting with Keith, though he would then be on “the other side,” opened the door to the most profound experience of all.
But at the moment, Keith Laumer was my introduction to a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.