With many of you, I have been extremely troubled by the murder of Arkansas television newswoman Anne Pressly. She was found in critical condition from a beating in her Little Rock home Monday, October 20, after she didn’t respond to a regular morning wake-up call. She died October 25 of her injuries. Her purse was missing and there are reports that one of her credit cards was used at a
nearby gas station following the crime. She may have been the random victim of a crime. She may have been the victim of a stalker.
People on television have long been high profile targets for unstable people. And though women seem more vulnerable to this than men, don’t say that to David Letterman who was stalked for years by a woman who later also stalked retired astronaut Story Musgrave in Kissimmee, Florida. .
What bothers me in looking back at my own career, is how during all the years I was on television, no one ever briefed any of us on routine measures we could take to protect our safety. Nearly all television stations have security guards to keep bad people from getting inside, but nothing, that I know of, is done to protect the station’s human assets once they go out the front door. One of the first things I noticed in the video of the Pressly crime scene was that the home the young anchorwoman rented had a carport instead of an enclosed garage. I’m not blaming Anne Pressly for this. But an enclosed garage with an automatic garage door opener and an entrance directly into the home is much safer than a carport for a high-profile woman who lives alone.
Early in my career I had several frightening incidents of stalking. I was co-anchoring our 11 o’clock news and when we wrapped up near midnight the few of us remaining in the building walked to our cars in the unfenced, poorly lighted parking lot and headed home. One night, as I turned out of the lot onto the street, I noticed the lights come on on a parked car that then pulled in directly behind me. Once on the freeway, the car continued to follow me and I was able to get the license number of the vehicle. I didn’t drive directly home that night, but drove instead to the home of some relatives who lived nearby. The next night it happened again. When it happened a third time, I told my news director and we called the police. They took the license number from me, reminded me that the person driving the car had broken no laws, and then said they would see what they could do.
A couple of days later an officer came to the station and told me they had run the plate and one of their officers had visited the driver. The driver had denied following me—and promised it would never happen again. But the officer was laughing and I asked him why. “Well, Miss Chapman, this stalker of yours … it’s a woman!” I didn’t think it was as funny as the officer did, but apparently the warning worked and I had no further trouble from my female fan. But I did have more stalkers.
Once, a local judge began writing me weird love letters. When I didn’t respond he stopped by my house one night and knocked on my door asking to be admitted. I pretended I wasn’t home. This particular judge later got in trouble for following women jurors home, so I can’t say his fixation was entirely on me.
One stalking incident is still too frightening for me to write about.
But I’ll tell you about another that took place shortly after I got married. I began to get regular letters at the TV station from a fellow I’ll call John Smith Jr. The letters were hand printed in very small print on both sides of the paper and often went on for many pages. They spoke about messages he was getting through the television from the CIA and he wanted my help in passing this information on to the government. I recognized these letters as coming from a mentally ill person, and began to keep them in a file, just in case. Eventually I had enough of them to show to my boss, so that he would know about them, just in case. It turns out that John Smith’s family had been trying to admit him to a facility so he could get some help and asked my news director to testify at the young man’s competency hearing. When he returned from the hearing with the information that John Smith Jr. was now in a secure facility I was much relieved.
Then, one Friday night, just before the 11 o’clock news, the telephone rang at my desk. It was my boss who told me that the police had called him to say that John Smith Jr. had escaped from his so-called secure facility and had threatened to kill him (my boss) and me. “Don’t spend your weekend worrying about it,” he said. “Just take normal precautions.”
Normal precautions? What are normal precautions in a case like this?
I went home after the news that night and briefed my husband. The bad news is that our house backed up to a forest which, that weekend, began to take on very creepy proportions. The good news is that we had a really nice, really loud black Labrador retriever. That night in our bedroom overlooking the creepy forest, we slept with the dog and a baseball bat by our bedside.
It wasn’t an easy weekend. The dog, sensing our nervousness, barked at every crack of a twig. I was relieved when it was time to return to the secure environment of the newsroom on Monday.
I was writing copy for the 6 o’clock news when the telephone rang at my desk. “Hello Robin?” the voice said. “This is John Smith Jr.” I took a deep breath. “How are you, John? And by the way, where are you?”
“I’m downstairs in the lobby,” he said. “Can you come down?”
“I’ll be right there,” said I. I then hung up the phone and called the police. Last time I saw John Smith Jr., he was headed out the door of the station with two uniformed officers. I hope he continues to take his meds.