“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – J.K. Rowling
After surviving a very close call with a desert elephant, we were presented with a different kind of potential danger altogether.
The following characteristics are considered by some psychological researchers to be typical stalking behaviour:
…repeated attempts to establish a close relationship (e.g. presenting gifts), nonconsensual communication (e.g. making repeated telephone calls) malice on the part of the stalker (e.g. assault), and behaviour deemed threatening by the stalker’s victim… (McCutcheon, Aruquete, Scott, Parker & Calicchia 2006, p. 503)
I would add to this list people who believe themselves to be in love with someone they don’t personally know and who act on the sentiment. If I define stalking by the aforementioned behaviours, Austin and I were stalked by two individuals in the first three years of our marriage, around the same time as I was working to shut down the activities of an unrelated online Austin Stevens impersonator. This is the story of one of them.
Celebrity, and its effect on people, is a strange phenomenon. I have been amused by stories told by prominent actors about members of the public who did not seem capable of differentiating between the actor and their onscreen character, while being aware that what seems amusing in retrospect is often anything but funny at the time and these cases can become far more serious. I hold qualifications in security and during my training in risk management and threat assessment, I was made aware of a number of high profile celebrity stalking cases that tragically ended in the deaths of the celebrities that dangerously obsessed fans had fixated upon.
Schlesinger (2006) asserts that few celebrity stalkers become violent, so little research has been conducted on them, but this fact is of little comfort to celebrities and their families who find themselves the recipients of such unwanted attention. Obsessed fans who have the most over-inflated assumptions and exaggerated beliefs concerning the celebrity appear to be the ones most likely to go beyond standard communication (such as fan letters) and escalate into physical stalking behaviours (Leets, de Becker & Giles 1995, cited in Schlesinger 2006, p. 40). Such obsessed fans may become emotionally reactive in response to media reports depicting certain aspects of a celebrity’s life. For example, an obsessed fan who genuinely believes they and the celebrity are meant to have a romantic relationship may feel furious or devastated if photos are published of their celebrity crush with a romantic partner.
According to Schlesinger (2006, p. 45), the thought processes and actions of an obsessed fan are very different from those of more typical fans. Obsessed fans often have irrational expectations of being involved in a celebrity’s life and are negatively emotionally affected (they feel depressed, angered or betrayed) by things the celebrity does that could prevent this (Schlesinger 2006, p. 45).
When Austin was away on location, I kept myself busy recording our travel experiences, sorting photographs, practising belly dancing, and reading. I always answered our phone when it rang so as not to miss an international call from Austin.
On one occasion, a few days before Austin was due to return home, I began receiving unusual telephone calls on our private home line several times each day. When I answered, the person on the other end of the line would remain quiet for a few moments before hanging up their phone. After Austin got home and this happened to me a few a more times, he took over the task of answering the telephone and the caller finally spoke.
The source of the harassment was a woman I shall call Kristy for the purpose of this narrative. Kristy had obtained our home telephone number from an obliging staff member at the local snake park. She told Austin her daughter was a ‘huge fan’ of his show. Kristy said she had flown from Europe to Namibia to see Austin and requested that he come to her hotel. Austin responded that he was home on a short break and that he would not have time for socialising. He thanked her for her interest in his work and ended the call amicably.
It was usual for Austin to receive a large amount of fan mail from all over the world. Austin enjoyed hearing from genuine fans but a small percentage of letters were written by more overenthusiastic and sometimes intense individuals. These people usually requested not just autographs but also money, employment, or a personal meeting; or, in more memorable instances, supplied topless photographs of the female authors. Some writers wrote multiple times for many months before finally requesting extremely large sums of money for cancer treatments or the like, but the details of their diagnoses did not exactly ‘add up.’ Normally, either ignoring or answering these communications once was enough to bring the matter to a close. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case with Kristy. The persistent phone calls continued and we were contacted by a staff member at the snake park who informed us that a foreign woman was requesting our home address (fortunately, the snake park staff did not have it to give to her!). Eventually, Austin told me he thought the only way to end the harassment was to meet Kristy at her hotel as she requested. I was not happy with this idea but did not have a better one, so I reluctantly remained in our parked car and watched from the street as Austin met Kristy outside her hotel. She was an unremarkable middle-aged woman in all respects; the sort of person you would pass in the street and never remember because there was nothing out of the ordinary about her. As I looked on, she gave Austin a bag containing several gifts and they conversed. Every few minutes, she glanced in my direction before lightly grasping Austin’s wrist and attempting to lead him inside the hotel. Austin shook his head in negation and returned to our car, started the engine, and began the drive home.
‘What was that about?’ I asked. ‘And what’s all this stuff?’
‘I don’t know,’ Austin replied. ‘Why don’t you have a look?’
A quick rummage through the gift bag revealed an expensive men’s fragrance and electric shaver, a leather-bound notebook and a collection of children’s drawings.
‘She said her daughter was the fan, but where is she?’ I queried.
‘I have no idea,’ Austin replied. ‘I think the fan is Kristy herself. She said she has seen us around town over the past couple of days. She knew everywhere we’ve been! She told me she’d seen me with “that little girl,” meaning you. I don’t think she likes you very much!’ Austin chuckled.
‘My love, this isn’t funny! She could be a total nutcase! This might not be the last we hear from her.’
‘It’s fine, gorgeous. She got what she wanted… well, except that I refused to leave you in the car to have a drink with her at the hotel bar.’
‘She asked you to do what?’ I exclaimed. ‘Who does she think she is? I’m your wife! Does she want to pretend I don’t exist so I don’t upset her carefully constructed fantasy?’
‘It’s okay, lush. Let’s head out to the desert tomorrow and forget about her.’
For a while, we did forget about Kristy, until Kristy herself made that impossible. A couple of months later, a friend of mine in Australia who had featured a newspaper article about our wedding on her blog contacted me to tell me that a woman named Kristy had been harassing her online. Kristy had claimed to be friend of ours who had lost our email and home address details and was insisting my friend give them to her! My friend said that Kristy had initially come across as charming, but the tone of her contact had become increasingly aggressive when my friend refused to comply with her requests.
I was angry that my friend was being targeted and afraid of what Kristy might do if she managed to find out where we lived. I advised my friend to block Kristy’s access to her site if possible and explained why she must not, under any circumstances, give Kristy what she wanted. Eventually, the online bullying ceased thanks to the fortitude of my friend and I was able to relax.
EPILOGUE: For more than 18 months, we heard nothing further about Kristy. Then, in 2010, Austin and I spent more than half the year in a small Australian town. Astonishingly, after news of our arrival in the area appeared in print and online news sources, Kristy made a trip to Australia. She wrote to us via the contact form on Austin’s official website to tell us she was in our town and would love to see us. She gave the address of a hotel less than ten kilometres from where we were living and said that it was very important that we talk to her. On reading this, I slammed the laptop closed as though Kristy were about to jump out of cyberspace and into our living room, and I informed Austin we would need to stay at home for a few days. This time, he agreed.
Kristy has occasionally made her presence felt online in subtle ways over the years, but never again was it problematic. Perhaps people really can change?
To be continued in Chapter 36, when we meet a man attempting to break Austin’s snake sit-in world record…
McCutcheon, L, Aruguete, M, Scott, V, Parker, J & Calicchia, J 2006, ‘The development and validation of an indirect measure of celebrity stalking’, North American Journal of Psychology, vol. 8, no. 3, p. 503.
Schlesinger, L 2006, ‘Celebrity stalking, homicide and suicide’, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 39 – 46.