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Hassled celebs head to police to stop stalkers


DERRIK J. LANG, AP   2005-03-08 02:21:31  



NEW YORK -- They're out there. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sheryl Crow and Mel Gibson recently faced theirs in court. Anna Kournikova's took a nude swim to find her. Andrea Evans feared hers for a decade.

They're celebrity stalkers, perpetrators of an emotional crime that's often -- but not always -- the result of mental illness.

Despite a recent rash of cases, experts say the act of celebrity stalking isn't increasing, but stars are more willing to go to police when confronted. And, of course, the media are more likely to cover subsequent arrests and trials. All this has led to specialized police units and even entire businesses aimed at dealing with a troubled few.

Evans was playing soap tart Tina Clayton on One Life to Live in the 1980s when her stalker showed up several times at her Manhattan set. He once slashed his wrists outside the studios, then used Evans' name as his next-of-kin.

"All of a sudden, I went from a nice happy-go-lucky life to having regular conversations with the police," Evans told Associated Press. "This was before people were that aware. There was a great disbelief that here this man was trying to harm me and the police could do nothing about it."

After three years of living in terror, Evans quit One Life to Live and dropped out of public view. She wouldn't be seen on a soap again until 1999.

Following the murder of My Sister Sam actor Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989 and incidents like Evans', the government, Hollywood and the world began to recognize celebrity stalking about 1990.

As many armchair sleuths have learned from CSI, material crimes like burglary and murder leave copious amounts of physical evidence -- but stalking is harder to prove.

Witness the love-struck Crow fan who was acquitted last November after ardently pursuing the singer for 15 months, claiming he communicated with her telepathically and even visiting her sister and father.

"Stalking is much more nebulous, much more of a challenge," said John Lane, a former Los Angeles Police Department detective. "It is very difficult to investigate."

Laws now exist in all states to combat stalking in some form or another. In Los Angeles, the LAPD's Threat Management Unit exclusively tackles stalking. In 2004 it handled 60 celebrity cases. That's typical, according to the unit's leader, Det. Jeff Dunn.

"I think there's a rise in reporting," said Dunn. "Early in the '90s, there was reluctance for fear of negative publicity. I don't think they were widely reported. Now in 2005, you can't turn on the TV without seeing a story about some sort of stalking. It doesn't carry the negative stigma anymore."

Canadians became familiar with the phenomenon years ago as Saskatchewan farmer Charles Kieling stalked singer Anne Murray. He was jailed for a time and the subject of various restraining orders.

In recent years, the likes of Pamela Anderson, Madonna, Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, David Letterman and Gwyneth Paltrow have claimed stalkers. In the last two weeks alone, people were convicted or pleaded no contest to stalking Gibson and Zeta-Jones. And in the Anna Kournikova case, a man was arrested Jan. 30 after swimming nude across a Florida bay toward Kournikova's $5-million US estate, then turning up on the pool deck at the wrong house and yelling, "Anna! Save me!"

Mental health plays a major part in the crime of stalking. But stalking isn't always the result of a mental disorder.

"Most of the time what you've got is an individual who is lonely or socially incompetent," said Mace Benson, a psychiatrist at the University of California-Los Angeles who's worked on many stalking cases.


Copyright © The London Free Press





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