John Chaffetz had helped deliver the guilty verdict, but something nagged at him. Just knowing the defendant was out of circulation didn't seem enough. He thought women needed to know what he'd learned during the 5 1/2-week date-rape trial of the normal-looking man who'd just been sent to Soledad State Prison for 22 years.
So, Chaffetz, an investor and retired businessman, decided to turn his jury experience into his debut as an author.
Published online a month ago, "The Personals Predator" amounts to Chaffetz's warning cry to women: Be careful when answering personal ads.
"I wrote this book, and I know it sounds syrupy, with the hope that I could save one woman out there," Chaffetz, 65, says. "People can be skeptical about that, but I know it's going to save a lot of women."
What amazed Chaffetz was how ordinary and unthreatening Dick Hunt seemed, starting with the fact he was 71 years old as his trial got underway in January 1999. Hunt was convicted of drugging and then sexually assaulting four women, although investigators believe the number probably is higher. He testified in his own defense and said the drugs he gave the women were meant to enhance the sexual experience, Chaffetz says.
Hunt, a retired Air Force colonel who had been widowed after 39 years of marriage, took out ads in both major Orange County newspapers. He informed would-be respondents he was in his 50s, fit, financially stable, a golfer and adventurous.
There was no shortage of replies, Chaffetz says. "He'd call in and listen to their voices and their responses. He'd call them and if they hit it off on the phone, they would have coffee. If they hit it off at coffee, he'd take them to dinner early on. At dinner, he'd drug their drink. It takes less than a split second, and you can drug any drink other than water."
I'm not touting Chaffetz's book. For one thing, I haven't read it. I'm more interested in why Chaffetz couldn't let the case go and why he spent 7 1/2 months on the book, which is available at Amazon.com.
"I think it was the awareness of how innocent victims fell into his net," he says in the townhouse complex where he lives near Dana Point Harbor. "How severely damaged they were."
Besides Hunt's criminality, the underlying theme of the book is women's willingness to trust strangers. "One of the things that's important is that these women were in no way, shape or form floozies," Chaffetz says of Hunt's victims. "They were not women wandering into bars looking for a good time. These were professional women, school administrators, nurses, teachers, successful Realtors--nicely dressed, articulate women who owned their homes and had nice cars."
From Chaffetz's observations, they shared two things: "They were lonely and very, very unlucky."
As we know more than ever, life is full of risks. It also teems with single men and women wanting to meet other singles. Many success stories probably begin with personal ads in newspapers, and Chaffetz knows he can't single-handedly discourage women from answering them.
But he is on a mission to tell them what he knows. He's lining up speaking engagements at women's groups and civic clubs.
"I don't lecture, but I say to women in a general sense, 'You've got to play defense.' This was a total education to me. I had never thought about it, but law enforcement convinced me this happens all the time. Women have a problem with reporting it, and I understand that. They don't want to go through the torture of being on the witness stand."
Chaffetz says he won't forget the tearful interviews that Hunt's victims gave him. Nor Hunt's "matter-of-fact" testimony that stretched over three hours. Nor two of the women juror's tearful reactions as they reviewed the evidence.
If that weren't enough to rivet the book idea in his mind, Chaffetz says, another experience after the trial did the trick.
"While I was writing the book, I talked to 15 or 16 women. When I'd say I was writing a book, they'd ask what it was about. When I told them, five of them said they had been sexually assaulted at one point in their lives. I couldn't believe it."
Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to email@example.com.