After braving memories, could rape victim face attacker at Md. parole hearing?

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; A01

For the better part of three decades, she struggled with anorexia, panic attacks and two failed marriages - all propelled by her attempts to ignore what happened.

But she could hardly forget it. She was only 16 and hitchhiking in Potomac. A man named Bill Wallshleger picked her up, pulled out a gun, taped her eyes shut and placed sunglasses over the tape so others wouldn't suspect trouble. He drove her to his farm in Virginia, took her into an unfinished basement, chained her, humiliated her, raped her.

A therapist helped her face the crime. She was getting her life in order. She got engaged. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

And then came the call.

It was a prosecutor in Montgomery County. Her attacker was up for parole. He had been a model prisoner, the prosecutor told her, and it might help keep Wallshleger in prison if she spoke about her ordeal. Did she want to come to Maryland and talk at his parole hearing?

So now, this woman, this victim, who spent all that time trying not to think about Bill Wallshleger, had to decide whether she could walk into a prison and look him in the eye.

She certainly didn't want Wallshleger released, and the prosecutor's question gave way to a broader one: Did she have the strength to confront the incident again and so publicly?

The Washington Post is withholding the victim's name because of a long-standing policy of not identifying victims of sexual assault. Her account was confirmed by court records, parole records and statements made at trial by Wallshleger's attorneys, who argued that he was criminally insane at the time of the crimes.

As Virginia and the District phase out parole, Maryland embraces it as a way to encourage inmates to improve enough to reenter society safely. The state holds 10,000 hearings annually. Fewer than three rape victims a year typically come to speak, because doing so means reliving the assault in front of the attacker.

"It takes more courage than anything I can think of," said David Blumberg, chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, "and that is why it doesn't happen very often."

It almost didn't happen in Wallshleger's case, either.

The woman's decision was difficult, weighed over a couple of months. The Parole Commission wrote and called first, part of its effort to give victims their say at hearings. She declined. Then the prosecutor called. She started to feel selfish: What if Wallshleger got out and hurt someone else? She grew uncomfortable with how scared she was to confront him. "Being that affected," she said, "meant that that day, that event and that person still had power over me."

"I wasn't trying to forget it. I just didn't acknowledge it," she said of the rape. "It was in a box, on a shelf, in a closet that I never went into."

A sleepless night

On Jan. 10, she and her fiance landed at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport from the New York area. Eric Nee, the prosecutor who made the call, picked them up and drove them 74 miles to the Hagerstown Hotel and Convention Center, four miles from Wallshleger's prison. Hours later, at 1:30 a.m., she couldn't sleep.

She opened her laptop and ran a variance analysis comparing actual revenue versus budget projections at the business she runs. By 6 a.m., she got up to get ready. She chose to wear a bright scarf with her black dress, knowing it would conceal how her neck gets red under stress.

At 11 a.m., the victim, her fiance and Nee pulled up to a 79-year-old prison right out of the movie "The Shawshank Redemption." They checked in and weaved their way through a series of razor-wire gates. At 53, the victim had kept in good shape by hitting the gym five times a week and taking kickboxing and hip-hop dance classes. But she found herself hyperventilating.

A visit with the warden calmed her. She was led up a flight of stairs into the hearing room. "I'm glad you're here," Commissioner Michael Blount said.

He explained the three possible outcomes: a favorable recommendation, meaning the case could get sent to the governor's office; a rehearing, meaning Wallshleger would probably be brought back in three years; or an outright denial, and she'd never have to return.

They told her how the inmate would be led into an audience area just outside the room. He would be able to see the back of her head through a window.

"It's an amazing-looking building," commented the victim, unsure what to say and anxious to get started.

Consumed by fantasies

The day had started as it always does for Wallshleger: on the bottom bunk of a 7-by-11 cell he shares with another inmate.

This would be the 63-year-old's sixth parole hearing. The victim had never shown up before.

A hulking, man - 6-foot-4, 300 pounds - Wallshleger grabbed a 3/8-inch thick file documenting his accomplishments behind bars. Since being locked up, he has undergone treatment for a diagnosed psychosexual disorder; earned four degrees through correspondence classes, including a doctorate in religious education; and helped give seminars to other inmates on avoiding violence behind bars. The hard lines of his face have given way to a handlebar mustache and receding, gray hair pulled back into a ponytail.

The son of an Army officer, Wallshleger - sometimes spelled Wallschleger - tried college in Ohio but flunked out, served in the Marine Corps, and by 1969 had joined the Prince William County sheriff's office as a patrolman. He was quickly demoted to a jailer, according to records in Prince William, and left that agency in 1970. He worked as a police officer in other Virginia agencies before taking a job selling tax books to law and accounting firms.

By his mid-20s, Wallshleger had become consumed by sadistic sexual fantasies of humiliating women. He took long breaks from sales calls to drive around looking for hitchhikers, according to state records. He ultimately was charged with kidnapping two of them at gunpoint and raping them: the 16-year-old from Montgomery County and a 19-year-old from the District three weeks earlier.

"I really needed to be stopped," he said in an interview before the hearing.

In 1975, he was sentenced to life in prison plus an additional 30 years. Back then, parole was a real possibility, even for lifers. But public sentiment shifted. Even if the parole commission recommended release, it would require the governor's approval. "A pipe dream," he called the prospect.

Not sparing the details

Wallshleger sat down outside the hearing room. He saw the back of a woman's head and figured it was a representative of the victim. Then the commissioners turned on the microphone.

She started describing a day 37 years ago. "Unfortunately, on that day, I was picked up by William Wallshleger," she said.

She continued: He pulled out a gun, handcuffed her, put the tape over her eyes.

"He told me that he was going to turn me into his whore, he was going to get me addicted to heroin," she said.

He pulled over again, gagged her, bound her feet, put her inside his trunk and kept driving. She thought she was going to die and tried to soak up every sound, thinking it might be the last ones she'd hear. She heard tires on gravel, then livestock. The car stopped. The trunk opened. Wallshleger led her into the basement. He padlocked a chain around her neck, forced her to undress, hit her with a riding crop, took her upstairs, slapped her in the face.

She described the rape to the commissioners, embarrassed over the details but not sparing them.

"What were the consequences?" she asked, going on to answer the question: 15 years of panic attacks, 20 years of battling anorexia and bulimia, 30 years of discomfort in physical relationships with men. "It took me 30 years to recognize the impact this had on my life," she said.

She then talked about a recent event she found particularly galling. Just a month earlier, in December, Wallshleger had mailed a petition to the Montgomery Circuit Court asking that he be released because of faulty jury instructions at his trial. "He's basically said he's been innocent all along," she told the commissioners.

On the other side of the window, Wallshleger looked down at the blue-and-white tiled floor. He worried that the remarks would push his next hearing to at least 2017, when he'd be 69.

To his right sat Barbara Deller, 61, an international public health worker, who had met Wallshleger through a church minister 20 years earlier. She'd been visiting him ever since. Together with her new husband, George, a retired policy specialist from the Social Security Administration, also at the hearing, she believes Wallshleger is a changed man.

The Dellers knew he'd raped someone but had never heard details like this.

'Hard-wired wrong'

Just after noon, Wallshleger walked into the hearing room and sat down. The victim, her fiance and Nee could see the side of his face.

The commissioners asked whether he agreed with what the victim told them.

"Unfortunately, it's true," he said quietly.

They asked whether he considered the case child molestation.

"I would have thought she was a college coed from American University," he said.

"So that makes it okay?" the victim thought to herself.

Blount, one of the commissioners, asked Wallshleger about reports in his file concerning sadistic fantasies he'd had in the 1970s. Wallshleger said he'd been consumed by the fantasies.

"I don't care how old you are now," the victim thought to her herself. "I don't care how good you've been. You're still hard-wired wrong."

The commissioners asked whether there were other rapes.

He said he was charged in two cases.

"But I think the answer is that there were three victims altogether," he said. "One victim didn't press charges. . . . All within about 30 days."

His acknowledgments cut two ways: His crimes seemed worse, his contrition more genuine.

"I understand you're quite educated," Blount said.

Wallshleger talked about studying religion and other topics. "Abnormal psychology, trying to figure out what went wrong with me," he said.

As the questioning came to a close, Wallshleger suddenly turned to his right and looked at the victim.

"I wish there was . . . I am at a loss for the proper words. . . ."

She stared back at him.

Look back toward us, the commissioners scolded, and Wallshleger did so.

The decision

He was led out of the room so the commissioners could briefly deliberate in private. Then he was brought back in.

The commissioners lauded his education. They could find no infractions on his record, which they found remarkable given what he'd done before entering prison.

"Amazing," Blount said.

But, Blount said, he'd taken an oath to uphold public safety. The victim's remarks were powerful, he said. The commissioners ordered a new hearing in three years.

As Wallshleger was taken away, he looked back at the Dellers. "I hope to get to see you soon," he said.

Three days later, he received a card from them. If they didn't think people could change, the Dellers wrote, they wouldn't have come to the hearing. They still believed in him and would visit soon.

Back home, the victim tried to return to a normal life. A friend asked where she'd been. Business trip, she said, and it went well.

She didn't say how quickly she had to rush out of the prison to beat an impending snowstorm. As she hurried across the parking lot, with the prison towers behind her, a corrections staffer walked up to thank her for coming.

"I'll be here in January '14, too," she said.

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