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DANA PARSONS

Fear Becomes a Lifelong Companion for Stalking Victims

May 09, 1993|DANA PARSONS

I'll give her the alias of Sheila, because even though the threats have subsided in recent months, she still isn't sure she's completely safe.

The worst part is, she's only in her early 50s and can't be sure that she'll ever be completely safe. What a way to spend the rest of her life.

Happy Mother's Day, huh?

The good news is that this year will be a happier Mother's Day for Sheila, an Orange County junior high school teacher who's been living for the last several months with a permanent restraining order against her ex-husband.

Until she got the order late last year, she knew what it was like to get the threatening phone calls in the middle of the night, see him intercept her in his car on the way to work, try to vandalize her car in the school parking lot, write her unwanted letters.

So when Sheila saw the news this week about accused killer Mark Richard Hilbun, described as being obsessed with a female co-worker, it brought back all the feelings of her own vulnerability.

I asked Sheila if she'd seen the reference to Hilbun's letter to the woman he allegedly harassed, in which he wrote: "I love you. I'm going to kill us both and take us both to hell."

"I have a suitcase full of letters," Sheila said. "It is scary and, basically, unless I'm willing to move someplace else, I'm going to have to adjust to it, I guess."

Sheila and her ex-husband married young, when she was still in her teens. They were married for more than 35 years until their divorce last year. She had moved out in 1991.

"I didn't let him know where I was. He always said if I left him, he would kill me. But when I moved out, he got my new address. There's always some helpful friend who thinks you ought to get back together, which is what happened to me. He got my phone number and began to call me in the middle of the night, 2:30 in the morning, and say, 'You're going to die.' "

He would also monitor her comings and goings, Sheila said, then send her notes "saying he saw this or that, just so I knew that he was always watching me."

One night, she said, he stood outside her apartment bedroom window and fired a gun. On another occasion, he threatened to distribute at the school where she taught a nude photograph he had taken of her when she was 18.

Through it all, Sheila never knew how far he would push it.

"I thought that someday, after he tired of the cat-and-mouse game, he was going to do something. And I was terrified."

The permanent restraining order requires that her ex-husband stay 100 yards away from her at all times. She's hanging her hopes on the fact that her ex "does have respect for the law," although, she said, he's always carried a gun with him and has an extensive collection at home.

"I've finally calmed down and been able to live a more or less normal life," Sheila said. "I'm not really sure, though. I still keep things I do more or less a secret. I think if there was anything that was emotionally upsetting to him, he'd start in on me again."

I've written columns before on obsessive or threatening ex-boyfriends or husbands. The county's domestic violence program in recent years has been receiving about 200 requests a month for restraining orders. The officials also lament that it's probably impossible to stop the truly deranged person from getting to someone.

The new state anti-stalking law may improve that scenario, but it's not going to stop everyone.

Mark Hilbun apparently is the latest proof of that. Sheila doesn't consider herself at daily risk but is tired of living in even a mild state of fear.

"My job is here, I'm really too old to start over again," Sheila says. "My (new) husband's job is here, I'm going to stay. That may be wrong, but enough is enough. I've run, I've hid, I've tried everything, and now I'm just going to say that I'm staying here and he's going to leave me alone, one way or another."

I remember talking to a psychologist about why men react this way. Not surprisingly, she said, it's wrapped up in their belief that their worthiness is challenged if they're left by a woman. They see the woman as a valuable possession and, therefore, take drastic means to keep her.

Many times, the psychologist said, the men's feelings vacillate between suicide and homicide. Many who have committed murder over obsessive relationships had written suicide notes but didn't carry through and murdered instead.

That's something Sheila has pondered, more than once. "I think he's the type that should he decide to end it all--that at that time, I felt that if he did--he'd take me with him."

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