Sunday, March 3, 1996
The crime that never really ends

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Carla Selak's story will just break your heart. If it doesn't scare you to death.

When she was a college student, a stranger stalked her for a couple of weeks, made some threats - which police told her come to nothing ''about 99 percent'' of the time - then broke into her apartment, kidnapped her and held her hostage for several hours.

She was assaulted, which she declines to describe, saying only ''It was vicious.'' Maybe I look too chicken to hear it.

A heavy breather

Tiny, just a shade over 5 feet tall, her eyes are her best feature. They're wide, sympathetic and fringed by thick lashes. Her stalker made her keep them closed but ''I peeked. And I had absolutely no trouble identifying him to police.''

Her attacker served seven years in jail. Two days after he was released, she began to get phone calls, ''heavy breathing.'' She left her home, moved here, has an unlisted number and a post office box. That was eight years ago.

It's not always so direct, so violent, so, well, prosecutable.

Take Karen, for instance. A neighbor has been stalking her for three years. Still is. These days, she says, it's tolerable. It started with notes, flowers sent to her office, then gifts, then suggestive gifts.

''I'd known who he was for several years, but we'd never spoken,'' she says. ''Then one day, out of the blue, he spoke to me on the street. Then the next day, flowers arrived.'' Followed by a barrage of bizarre letters.

''I was still trying to think of a way to get rid of him without hurting his feelings. Then he called me at 4 a.m.'' She wrote a note ''asking him to leave me alone.'' The letters heated up. He sounded angry.

Then he started following her, spying.

More flowers. More gifts. More notes, mentioning personal details of her life. ''He started acting like we were a couple,'' she says. ''I'd have a date, and he'd write a note accusing me of cheating on him. He sent a funeral wreath once.''

After six months, she was sleepless, scared and angry. And unsure of what to do. You can't charge someone with aggravated gift giving. Police said they couldn't do much until he actually hurt her.

''Finally, I was sleeping with a gun and a butcher knife and a stun gun. I knew he was nuts by then, and I figured it was only a matter of time before he killed me.''

When Ohio's stalking law was passed in November of '92, she went after him. Things are a little better now. ''He doesn't want to go to jail.'' Karen, an executive with a local company, still hears from him. ''He likes to let me know in little ways that he can get me any time he wants.

''We women are so vulnerable. Half the world can beat us up. A weapon is the only way to even things out. I couldn't believe that I found myself with a gun. And I would have used it.''

She'd like the stalkers out there - including her own - to know that they've chosen a dangerous hobby.

Which brings us to Debbie Hill. Next week, March 8, this Warren County woman comes before the parole board, which already has denied her freedom once.

Hounded, threatened

Myself, I don't get it. She has served a year in prison for defending herself against a man who hounded her for months. He threatened to kill her. He threatened rape. What is this woman doing in jail, for crying out loud? Maybe you can get through to them. The address is: Adult Parole Authority, 1050 Freeway Drive North, Columbus, OH 43329.

If they deny parole, she'll probably serve at least another year. Debbie Hill was in her car when she shot Omar Pierson through the closed window. ''I remember being shocked that the window broke,'' she told The Enquirer's Peter Bronson. ''I just wanted him to leave us in peace. . . The fear was constant, like a grindstone.''

Carla still worries that ''he's out there'' and Karen carries a weapon.

Even if the parole board for some inexplicable reason decides to keep Debbie Hill for another year, when she gets out it will be over. For good.

She shot and killed her tormentor. So, at least she knows where he is.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8393. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 MHz), and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.