Rosina Baur is a slight, soft-spoken woman who weaves, plays the violin and enjoys quiet dinner parties in her home. To the best of my knowledge, she has never trafficked in cocaine nor is she wanted in Idaho for holding up liquor stores. Then why, I hear you cry, is the law anxious to see her in hell?
Because, I regret to say, she may have erased a meter maid chalk mark from her tire to avoid a parking ticket. Oh my God! I know what you mean.
This all came to pass in Palos Verdes Estates, an oceanside city of upper-class white people who would rather die than be marched off to jail like common politicians. But that's exactly what happened to Rosina.
It's this way. The 52-year-old woman is office manager for a real estate company in the Malaga Cove shopping plaza, which is always jammed with cars. As a result, there is a one-hour time limit for parking in the plaza's busy lot.
A meter maid who chalk-marks tires to catch time-limit violators thought she saw Rosina erase the chalk mark and reported her to the ever-vigilant Palos Verdes Estates police.
Officer Robert Connor thereupon strode into the real estate office like Wyatt Earp after the Clanton gang, slapped cuffs on Rosina and another woman and took them off to the slammer.
In most cities, it never would have gone that far. The ladies would have been cited and warned not to do it again. In L.A., for example, the cops are much too busy ducking Uzi fire to worry about who is parked where.
But the Police Department of Palos Verdes Estates, possibly fearing a plot by organized crime to take over the city's parking lots, is vowing to make an example of the two women. They have been charged with a misdemeanor and face six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The second woman, Anne Bisco, admitted erasing the chalk mark, but Rosina denies it and has hired a criminal lawyer to fight the charge.
In ancient cultures, one might lose a hand or be boiled in oil for offenses no less serious than stealing an apple or double-parking a chariot. But we have come generally beyond that to accept minor offenses as an element of the games we play to get by from day to day. Erasing chalk marks is one of them.
I wondered therefore what kind of person would stir such police animosity in an area the explorer Cabrillo once compared to heaven. Why would a traffic violation suddenly assume the gravity of urban terrorism?
I drove to the platinum peninsula and found Rosina Baur to be a shy and cultured woman with all the criminal tendencies of a butterfly. She loves God, her husband, Bruno, their two grown children and their dog, Lumpi, in an alternating order of preference tied to their behavior. I didn't ask, but I'm sure she only kills what she eats.
Once law-abiding and conservative, Rosina now trembles at the sight of a police officer because of her one and only run-in with the law. "Who knows," she says in the accent of her native Switzerland, "when they might accuse me of murder?"
Having said that, she and her husband left on a vacation that will begin in Turkey where, as long as she isn't dealing in hashish and erasing chalk marks, she'll probably get out in time to return for her June 6 court appearance in the United States.
Rosina tearfully insists that she has never erased a chalk mark in her life and has a witness to prove it. "Anyone who knows me will vouch I have never done \o7 anything\f7 illegal. I am so pure that when they took me away a friend said, 'They've arrested Snow White.' "
When Snow White was busted, by the way, they searched her thoroughly because, a a policewoman explained, "you might have a razor in your hair." Well, Ma Barker did.
Rather than admitting guilt, paying a fine and chalking it up, I mean marking it up, to experience, Rosina has hired a criminal lawyer to defend her. Bruno, in a burst of intemperance, has compared the Palos Verdes Estates police to the Gestapo. The chief has fired back that the law is the law. Not very imaginative, but then we aren't dealing with graduate students in logic.
I'm not sure why the whole thing has gotten so far out of control and we may never know.
But what's important, I think, is that police overreaction, normally confined to less sanctified areas, has sloshed over into communities where little girls have horses and little boys have Porsches.
That's scary. If they can arrest Snow White in a city compared to heaven, what's going to happen to the rest of us?