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Mary Vincent Speaks Out: 'He Destroyed Everything About Me.'

The scars are etched too deep. A marriage failed. Book and movie offers fizzled. With his attack, Lawrence Singleton erased her life, her future.

February 25, 1997|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — Lawrence Singleton, say his Florida prosecutors, killed a prostitute with a dozen enraged stabs of a boning knife.

Mary Vincent is not surprised. He took her life 19 years ago.

"He really did," she says with a slight shudder, with awful pain in her words. "He destroyed everything about me. My way of thinking. My way of life. Holding on to innocence . . . and I'm still doing everything I can to hold on."

Singleton also devastated a young dream.

"I'd have been lead dancer at the Lido de Paris in Las Vegas," Vincent continues. "Then Hawaii and Australia. I'm serious. I was really good on my feet and my dance instructor had it all worked out.

"But when this happened, they had to take some parts out of my leg, just to save my right arm. After that, I wasn't able to dance any more."

Lawrence Singleton. Mary Vincent. Mutilator and victim. Names made indelible by an old, horrible crime that rewrote California laws, saw towns and states rise against the release and relocation of sex offender Singleton--and created incessant echoes that have unbalanced Vincent's privacy, schooling, marriage and countless restarts.

In 1978, Singleton, then a 50-year-old ex-merchant mariner, picked up Vincent, then a 15-year-old hitchhiker running from Las Vegas and her parents' divorce, and raped her. He hacked off her forearms with five swings of a hatchet and stuffed her, unconscious, to die in a concrete culvert near Sacramento.

A court document described the indescribable: "The next morning, two individuals found Mary Vincent wandering nude . . . she was holding up her arms so that the muscles and blood would not fall out."

Under the lenient laws of that time, Singleton received concurrent sentences totaling 14 years for rape, attempted murder and sex offenses--the maximum allowed. Singleton, to the anguish of activists and the anger of communities where he was headed, served just eight years and four months.

Had the rapist been sentenced under today's tougher statutes--ironically stiffened in large part by his early release--he would have drawn multiple, consecutive 15-years-to-life sentences. The burly, balding alcoholic would still be in San Quentin. Roxanne Hayes, a 31-year-old mother of three and the prostitute Singleton was recently charged with murdering, might still be alive.

And Mary Vincent would have the seclusion she has nurtured; the protective friendships of her neighbors in the trailer park where she lives; and days of normalcy without besieging media and the beseeching of Oprah and "Hard Copy" and their checkbooks.

She is hesitant about any public exposure because she is confused, afraid again, regressing. When she is able to sleep, old nightmares return. She lost seven pounds to the stresses of last week.

"I'm starting to come out of it," she said Sunday. "But for those first three days [following Singleton's arrest], I was a big bag of emotions. I was grieving for the woman [he is charged with killing]. I couldn't stop thinking about it."

She described the replay effect: "It was only recently I stopped having my nightmares. Now they're back again. It starts off with my attack, and then I end up seeing all these other people and worse things happening to them."

Her boyfriend and live-in bodyguard of five years, Bob Clayton, 56, breeder of Neapolitan mastiffs and practitioner of the sometimes illegal and marginally ignoble art of bare-knuckle fighting, knows her screams. The nightmares are so violent, he says, Vincent is thrown out of bed.

Vincent, 34, is the mother of two boys she calls her "little men"--Luke, 10, and Alan, 8--the children of one failed relationship and one bad marriage. She will only meet with selected writers with whom she has dealt before and trusts.

Sunday she talked at length for the first time, accompanied by Mark Edwards, the Santa Ana attorney who, pro bono, has represented Vincent in a damage suit against Singleton.

*

For once, the quick-witted Vincent isn't quite so confident. She always used to say that by never talking about past horrors, she could concentrate on future happiness. Yet, suddenly, she can't see too far ahead: "For the first time I'm drawing a blank. Too many hopes have been raised, only to fall. I feel I'm in the bottom of the barrel again."

Coping with the past pulled her family apart. Her marriage failed because the new husband couldn't tolerate public intrusions. There were book deals that failed and movie offers that went nowhere. Vincent tried the catharsis of assisting others, visiting high schools with an intensely personal message: "It doesn't matter what you think. You're not 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I used to think that. . . . But look what happened to me. Because there's always somebody who can take you down if you don't stay aware."

Even that inspirational campaign failed. A boy in one audience yelled obscenities at Vincent. It was a personal, dark attack she no longer risks by continuing school appearances.

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