I hesitated putting this story on this blog because it doesn’t necessarily fit with the subject matter, but there were two very sad and scary comments on Ironfactchecker’s last blog that kind of indicated to me that maybe it needs to be put out there that some of us aren’t strangers to being harassed and stalked “IRL.” I have been through these situations and know how terrifying it can be. Perhaps certain other people have as well, but my experience was such that I would never so casually mention it on a blog for sympathy, that I would never not report it to the police, and that in fact, actions are long colored by threats, before, during and after they take place. Please keep in my that I’m not doing this for sympathy now, rather a statement of fact of how these situations are not simple, they are terrifying and the effects of being truly harassed last a lifetime.
In early 1996, my uncle showed up on my parents’ doorstep claiming he was suicidal because his wife had just left him. Despite this uncle’s long history with mental illness, delusion, malingering, outright scamming and odd behavior (as a frame of reference he sold every MLM product he could get his hands on, fell for every get rich quick/self-improvement scheme there was, claimed he was psychic, had been a Scientologist and scammed people, welfare and unemployment—my experiences with him are probably why I am so fascinated with the subject matter of this blog), my parents took him in.
About this same time my dad finally decided that he had worked long and hard his entire life and was willing to finally make an investment of his lifelong dream of becoming a private pilot. Together, he and I bought a dual seat ultra light airplane, this in addition to his flying lessons on more traditional airplanes. It was a natural fit for me as well, as I was already in ROTC/Civil Air Patrol sponsored flying lessons, and he and I were emerging from a long rocky patch that had put a wall between us since I was about 17. It was truly a great time for us as we would spend long hours flying the plane (we skirted the FAA rules because although the plane was an ultralight, dual seat flying still required a PPL), working on it, talking about it, and bonding over it.
At the house, for the first time in my memory my uncle seemed normal. He was getting through his divorce, he was planning to restart his business, and he would spend long hours cross-country skiing to clear his head. And then one day he burst into the house with manic energy, “There has been an ultralight airplane crash in Arizona!” But as I recall, his tone was not sad, it was not one of concern or warning, but rather just information. Then he started asking odd questions over the dinner table like “How often do ultralights crash as opposed to normal airplanes?” and “Since ultralights aren’t fully regulated by the FAA, who would investigate the crash?” He also was very curious about days I would not be flying with my dad, and in fact I saw him show up at the small airport one day he was not expecting me there. On that day I actually saw him stop at the entrance, watch our activities, and then leave. When I asked him about it later, he said that he forgot he had an appointment and had to leave without saying hello. He was “OK” for a while but, in early March his business again failed and his behavior became as odd as it ever had been. What I remember most is that he began to talk about an MLM “grape seed extract” product he was selling that was supposed to cure everything from Alzheimer’s to athlete’s foot, and he would loudly proclaim that his days of being depressed were over and he had stopped taking his medication. Although I was not privy to the conversations, my parents were again concerned about his actions and made plans with other family members to help move him out.
On March 24th, I was out-of-town with a girlfriend and received a frantic call from my mom that simply said “your dad was just killed in the ultralight.” I drove home as fast as I could, not wanting to believe the news, but when I pulled into my parents’ driveway the massive amount of cars only confirmed what I didn’t want to believe. The house was pure panic, people I hadn’t seen in forever were there—in fact just about every family member I knew was there—all except my uncle. Later I found out he had not spent the night at their house (the first time since he had moved in back in January), he had not been seen the entire morning and later in the afternoon came into the house after most people gone home. I was so exhausted from the events of the day that I have no real memory of his behavior, only that it didn’t sit right with me.
As much as we tried to come together as a family, this uncle did everything he could to divide us. He got drunk and made a huge scene at the wake, actually “firing” one of my parents’ employees while proclaiming “I’m in charge now!” He told my mom flat-out that he was taking my dad’s spot at the business and completely took advantage of her grief and tried to change things they had done for 25 years. In our shock, my brother and I took comfort that someone was doing something but when employees who had worked for the business for 20 years walked out, we shook my mom into reality and forced her to tone down this uncle’s behavior at work. Very fortunately, the employees all came back. Unfortunately my uncle then turned his sights on turning my Mom against my brother, claiming that he had seen evidence of hard drugs in my brothers possession, that a friend of his saw my brother dealing in a bad part of town, and that my brother should be cut from the family.
In the background of all this, the FAA told us they did not have authority to investigate and would have to leave the crash to the NTSB and Tribal police (the crash happened on Indian land north of the city). All the NTSB was willing to do was say that it was “likely wind shear, coupled with pilot inexperience and possible equipment malfunction” but this was only for statistical purposes. So unlike what happens when major airplanes crash, there was no one poring over the crash site, no CID-like analysis on parts, and a very select set of short interviews with other pilots who had been around that day. What always bugged me about the results was that my dad had been flying in a loose formation with about 4-5 other ultralight airplanes, and while the weather was turning bad and they were turning to the airport, none of the others had been affected by the wind shear. My dad had been in tail position so no one actually saw him crash, but after a 25 year involvement in professional and recreational aviation, I still have a trouble accepting wind shear as the likely cause based on the geography of the crash site and the lack of effects on the other airplanes.
When my Mom started to recover ever so slightly from her grief, she took an authoritative stance with my uncle and said he could work at the business but that she was the boss. This actually sent my uncle into a rage, and one evening he physically attacked my mom, throwing a plate at her and choking her with two hands. I happened to be driving up the house with a family friend just as I saw my mom come screaming out of the front door saying “he’s trying to kill me, he just attacked me!” Our friend and I rushed into the house, subdued my uncle as best we could, and got him to his car while my mom called 911. I have never seen such rage and hatred in one person’s eyes. As he was fighting us he kept screaming “you’re going to know the truth white boy, she did this, she brought all this on.” Once it was clear the sheriff was coming, he got into his car and raced off. They put out an APB because he may have had a gun and he was likely under the influence, but to this day I don’t know if they arrested him. A sheriff’s deputy spent the night parked at the entrance to the semi-rural dirt road and he never came back that night. My brother and I and other family friends insisted on an immediate restraining order but my Mom’s other brother and sisters talked her out of it saying they would take care of it, they would get him church counseling and they would make him apologize. A long simmering split with my mom’s family erupted that night as I was utterly flabbergasted at what they were suggesting. My mom agreed with them, but I told them I never wanted an apology and never wanted to see him again, and after I was hit in the face with a steel door stopper he threw on his way out, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to defend myself.
Then the phone calls started…
Hang ups, heavy breathing, laughter at first. All from pay phones made to my apartment, my mom’s house and my brother’s dorm. I hastily moved home with my mom and we again called the sheriff, but since they couldn’t prove it was him they couldn’t do anything. Their advice was to simply wait… someone like him will always mess up because we weren’t giving him the reaction he wanted by hanging up.
And sure enough, the messages started…
“Your boys are going to HATE you when I reveal the truth about you!”
“An ultralight crash in Kansas, so sad, but stupid don’t you think?”
“How are the dogs feeling? You know they still trust me right?”
“How is your fag son doing? You know tract marks never go away. Wonder if it will be the dealers to kill him or someone else?”
“I saw your girlfriend coming out of her apartment; she always liked me you know.”
Finally we had more than enough evidence to get an immediate, but temporary restraining order for my Mom, brother, girlfriend and myself. Because of the threatening nature of the calls, the magistrate fast tracked it to a judge. I don’t remember the exact timeline from temporary restraining order to the hearing, but I do remember hoping he wouldn’t have the balls to show up. But he did, with my mom’s other brother. The judge hit “play” on the phone recorder, listened to just one of the messages, and said she had more than enough evidence to issue a permanent restraining order. My uncle then began howling in the judge’s chambers that my parents’ business had been promised to him, that he had done so much, that the calls were being taken out of the context, and that it was actually my brother and I that had been threatening him “all over town.” The judge told him to be quiet, which he did, and asked us to leave and wait out in the hall so she could talk to both parties individually about the consequences of the restraining order. As he came out of her chambers. he began screaming at us. My “IRL” stalker and harasser had a permanent restraining order for 15 minutes and had already violated it. The bailiff arrested him on the spot, but I have no idea what happened after that because we were never asked to testify against him. That was the last time I saw him.
He was apparently able to calm himself down with regards to us and we didn’t hear anything about him for about a year. In fact I’m not even sure how we found out that my uncle took his own life with a shotgun. We had become almost completely estranged from my mom’s side of the family and I remember feeling no remorse for him being gone then, as I feel no remorse for it now. It was and is a sense of ultimate relief.
A few years later, I had two very chance encounters. I happened to see a cousin from my Mom’s side at a restaurant who sat with me and caught up for a while. He was sad about my uncle, and probably didn’t know all that had happened between us. I was little taken aback when he asked me something like “Don’t you wonder what he confessed in his suicide letter?” I told him I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and he said “Oh yeah, apparently there was note where he full-out confessed all the terrible things he had done but that Jack (the oldest brother) had thought it was so damaging to the family he destroyed it without letting anyone see it.” That piqued my curiosity of course, but not nearly enough to re-initiate contact with my Mom’s family—my Mom had tried to talk to my other uncle after my Grandma died but was accused of just coming around for money—to this day she deals with issues of closure, guilt and a sense of abandonment.
The other time I ran into a very nice member of the airport flying club my dad and I had belonged to. He remembered me well and said he missed all of us; “you, your dad and your brother who used to come help me work on my plane but never flew with us.” I told him I doubted it was my brother because he had been on our university lacrosse team and didn’t really have time for flying, but did he remember his name? When he said my uncle’s name all the coincidences and circumstantial happenings immediately began to stack up in my brain. And it stuck in my head that my uncle killed my dad. He had a method and access, he gambled there wouldn’t be a thorough investigation, he wanted me away, and he had been absent from the house the day prior. He had a motive, his business had failed, and his actions in the mere days after my dad’s death showed that he fully expected to be given control of my parents’ business. To me his harassment after he was kicked out of the house indicates he has some extreme misgivings about how his plan didn’t work, and was really trying to stick the knife in and make it hurt worse in his psychotic way of self comfort. And he possibly confessed, but his brother who had always been his savior chose to keep the horrible truth away from the rest of us. My mom and I spoke with the tribal police who did agree to open an investigation but once they found out my uncle was dead they said there was no real evidence remaining and the only possible suspect was dead anyways. The truth died with him and the destruction of the possible suicide letter, but all these years later the possibilities play in my head daily. I waver back and forth still, but I typically stand at about a 60-40 chance that my uncle murdered my dad.
THAT is what it is like to live “IRL” with a person who stalked and harassed you.