She was a 42-year-old woman who wanted to escape, sending her secret lover brilliantly hued magazine ads of yacht cruises to Australia and a postcard of the perfect mountain hideaway in the Adirondacks.
He wanted out, too. And nearly every day, he wrote her that once they were together, their passion would never end. "I know I can give you the best life you will ever have. You must believe me."
On a hazy Tuesday evening, May 18, escape they did. Byron Lester Smoot, hands wrapped in thick gauze, went over the top of two razor-wire fences at the Maryland Correctional Institute in Jessup to beat a 30-year sentence for armed robbery.
And Elizabeth Lois Feil -- burdened by an unhappy marriage, tens of thousands of dollars of debt, a faltering career as a clinical psychologist -- allegedly responded to his page by picking him up in her Subaru station wagon at a lonely pay phone by Mel's Liquors on Route 175.
Two days later, police captured Smoot, 38, in a seedy lavender motel room off Pulaski Highway in Baltimore. Five days after that, Feil was charged with aiding him and the man who joined in his jailbreak -- a convicted murderer -- after the escape, helping them hide and lying to the police. Smoot now sits locked in a cell 23 hours a day at a maximum-security prison in Baltimore. Feil, who plans to plead not guilty and faces 12 years in prison if convicted, is free on $5,225 bond.
Their fantasy future lasted less than 48 hours.
In the aftermath, friends, investigators and a deeply distressed husband were left with hundreds of puzzle pieces from a once-secret romance. Based on interviews and exhaustive records now in police hands -- letters and legal filings that trace a troubled life and detail a torrid affair -- this is the story revealed when the pieces are fit together.
It was to have been the fulfillment of a grand fantasy. The long-awaited first night together, Smoot had imagined, would be in a motel room filled with 50 dozen roses, 50 candles, a Jacuzzi, a bottle of white zinfandel and a savory seafood platter he would prepare for her. The "beautiful Elizabeth" would let her silken gray hair fall, and the lovemaking would last all night long.
The reality was something different.
It was late on the night of the prison break when they reached the Town House Motel on Reisterstown Road in Pikesville, a concrete-block complex across from a self-storage facility and a used car lot. In the dingy main office the sign said: "No Refunds After 15 Minutes."
Feil registered under a sister's last name, Al-Deghi, and gave the sister's Pennsylvania address. She paid $44.25 cash and another $6 for a key deposit on Room 214, near the weedy courtyard that was once a swimming pool. Inside, paint peelings hung from the bathroom ceiling, the maroon carpet was mildewed and the flowered drapes sagged.
The razor wire had lacerated Smoot, and he was bleeding badly. One ankle was broken from the jump. He was in no condition to play the role of Romeo that night.
When police came looking, night manager Elaine Pilkerton recognized photos of "the beautiful Elizabeth" immediately: "She had long, gray hair pulled back. She looked like an old schoolmarm."
her friends, Betsy Feil was the stable one. Reserved, to be sure, righteous when she wanted to be, but warm and giving. She sent thoughtful gifts. She organized fun trips, remembering to pack moist towelettes, candy and snacks. To be super-prepared, her friends said, was "to pull a Betsy."
"She was someone I truly admired," said Laura Roberts, a Texas psychologist who interned with her in Baltimore and was one of the few friends who agreed to be interviewed. "This criminal's got to be good. This was an intelligent woman, with warm, loving relationships. This was not a desperate, needy person."
Or so it seemed.
Feil was born at Fort Belvoir, the youngest of four girls, although co-workers said she told them she was an only child and a daddy's girl. Her father, Army Col. Frederick Feil, was a tyrannical alcoholic. Every week, he made the girls clean their rooms, then tier their bureau drawers and stand at attention while he inspected their fingernails and toenails.
He repeatedly humiliated and belittled his wife, Victorine, in public, according to a lengthy divorce filing that Feil kept in her office. He frequently called her incompetent and a nitwit. She said she suffered through the abuse for years because he had inherited wealth.
The daughters lived in fear of his outbursts, but Elizabeth "danced and danced" to win his approval, she later wrote in a journal now in the hands of the Maryland State Police. In her favorite picture from her childhood, her three sisters are sitting in the bathtub sticking their tongues out at her, not letting her in.
"I'm still trying to get in. I've been trying my whole life," she wrote.
After her father retired from the Army, the family settled into a big house with an elevator on Philadelphia's affluent Main Line. But divorce followed in 1969, and afterward, Victorine moved her daughters into a small apartment.
"The damage done to our children can never now be undone," she wrote in her divorce papers.
That summer, Elizabeth Feil stuffed herself with french fries and began a lifelong battle with her weight.
"Betsy always resented the fact that no one stopped her," said her husband, Glenn Bosshard.
She studied marine biology at the University of Colorado and later American University before deciding on psychology and finally getting a degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1982. Accepted into Catholic University's graduate psychology program, she took nearly 12 years to complete her dissertation. She graduated in May 1996, and professors remember her as an average student.
"We monitor everyone closely. Every hour of their clinical work is taped, listened to, gone over," said Richard Youniss, a former psychology professor. "We screen out those who don't fit the mold of clinical psychologist, because they're dealing with people's lives. There was no indication of any troubles brewing."
But if Feil appeared calm and professional to the world, inside, she was struggling. She spilled her emotional distress onto the pages of personal journals she maintained for periods of her adult life.
Feil writes of feeling lonely, depressed, misunderstood and unloved. She yearns for love. For a man who will complete her. To be special. Yet the journals reflect that she is filled with self-loathing. A therapist at the time called her masochistic.
In a self-evaluation for a psychology internship at a substance-abuse program in Baltimore, she wrote: "With some clients, I have found it difficult to maintain the role of professional when they are pulling for more `friendly' interactions."
Indeed, it is not unheard-of for psychologists to get too close to or fall in love with their clients. Nor is it the first time a seemingly well-adjusted professional woman or housewife has been seduced by a con man who knows how to manipulate a weakness, how to flatter.
"People who go into mental health generally have some desire to rescue," said Andrea Celenza, a Lexington, Mass., clinical psychologist who has treated therapist-patient sex cases for 15 years. "For some, it taps into some need they have to be rescued."
man looking at a prison term that runs to 2021 could find the prospect of rescue quite appealing.
Byron Smoot had been in and out of prison and juvenile group homes for most of his 38 years. His father, the Rev. Wilbert Smoot, of Baltimore, sometimes got tired of visiting his son in the jailhouse, snapping that he was weary of his "dreaming and scheming."
Byron started small -- purse snatching, vandalism -- his mother, Constance Leonard, said. Then he graduated to stealing cars and robbery.
"I just praise God that he hasn't killed anybody," she said.
His robberies were unplanned quick fixes for petty cash, probably to fuel a drug addiction, said Fred Paone, state's attorney for Anne Arundel County.
Smoot, a wiry 5 feet 6 inches and 130 pounds, had been arrested in 1995 for a spate of 11 armed robberies at businesses such as Dunkin' Donuts, Payless Shoes and Sizes Unlimited. His biggest heist was $2,000. And he always drew someone else in on the scheme.
In Paone's opinion, Smoot "was a manipulator and a con man. Definitely a slickster."
unlikely lovers met at Patuxent Institute, where Maryland sends the criminals that it thinks can be helped by psychiatric drugs and psychotherapy.
For those who know the system, life is good here, relatively speaking. Inmates wear their own clothes and walk the halls freely. They get movies, phone privileges, typewriters. This is a place worth faking a little mental instability to gain entry.
Smoot arrived at Patuxent in early 1997 and began therapy sessions with a new prison psychologist: Elizabeth Feil. The first letters they exchanged were dry, written like any inmate would to a person in authority: Dr. File, I need some help on a legal matter ASAP. P.S. send a manila envelope. Or: I could use a lighter for my cigarettes.
But by June, the letters turned steamy. He called her "Flower" and "Bookie" and "Babie, my babie girl" and wrote sex fantasies that begin on sailboats in the Bahamas and deep in the "San Francisco Mountains," where Elizabeth would tend a garden and shoot marauding timberwolves with a .45. He was "Angelo," the only man who understood her, the only man who could satisfy her.
Colleagues began noticing that Feil, who usually let her gray hair fall straight to her waist, was dressing up, wearing makeup and primping. When they teased her, she got nasty.
She began signing out of work only to immediately return. She stayed late into the night and came to work on Saturdays. She said she had paperwork to do. Then she would call Smoot for hours of closed-door therapy sessions in her prison office.
And Smoot wasn't the only one who seemed to draw an unusual amount of her time.
As early as March 1997, Feil was writing to Richard Crowell, an inmate with an alcohol problem who was arrested in 1996 for attacking neighbors with a wooden pipe and throwing a birdhouse at a police officer. On lavender paper sprinkled with half-moons, stars and suns, she confessed to him how she sat in her private-practice office at Life Care Associates in Towson, Md., hoping he would call.
"Do you think you could teach me to appreciate the simpler things? I know that what I've been doing hasn't brought me happiness," she wrote in April 1998.
After a fight with her stepdaughter left her drained, Feil wrote Crowell that she wanted him to put her in his pocket, where she'd feel safe, secure and loved.
Crowell belittled Feil's husband, Glenn Bosshard, with a nickname: "Hen." And even though Feil and Bosshard had just filed for bankruptcy with debts of more than $150,000, she sent Crowell money, books, clothes and "Realms of Fantasy" magazine. They talked marriage and about where they'd "do it" the first time after he was released.
In May 1998, she wrote: "It's like you're my drug. I get the least little bit and I want more and I start scheming about how I can get more."
One prison officer reported seeing her stick her foot through the bars of a cell for an inmate to rub. She set up a special post office box to get Crowell's letters.
Crowell and Smoot became friendly rivals for her attention. When nurses, who thought Smoot was faking mental illness, tried to have Smoot transferred to MCI-J, the medium-security prison, Feil blocked every attempt.
"She would bring both Smoot and Crowell in the office and make coffee for them. They'd sit in the corner writing notes and gig-gig-giggling," said one former colleague who asked not to be identified. "She let things get out of hand."
It wasn't long before her superiors noticed. In February 1998, she was cited for "significant deficiencies" in record keeping.
"There were files she hadn't touched for over a year," the colleague said.
And there were no notes from her sessions with Smoot and Crowell. On June 22, she was warned not to see Crowell again. On June 28, she was fired.
Letters from Smoot, now transferred to MCI-J, seemed to become her salvation. They wrote nearly every day. He began calling collect at her Annapolis home two and three times a day, devoting much of the conversation to phone sex. Phone bills show they talked for 45 minutes, 50 minutes each time. Monthly bills ran up to $500.
Feil visited Smoot regularly. She began exchanging e-mail with his mother in Tacoma, Wash., and took Smoot's teenage daughter, Keya, to visit him.
His letters included a mix of the mundane: prison menus, a request for $40, a request for Jordache blue jeans, a request for a burgundy sweat suit. His elaborate sex fantasies alternated with directions for a business scheme designed to defraud people of millions of dollars. Sometimes he wrote with what sounds like genuine care ("How is your back? Are you doing the exercises I told you to?"), even tenderness ("My heart softened when I heard you cry").
And, always, Smoot wrote of escape plans.
As early as August, Smoot told her to watch for him in the woods outside the prison on certain nights. He drew maps. He asked her, his "dearest future wife," to join him.
At first, he said he had hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed away. They'll go to Canada, then to San Francisco, then to their sailboat, the Morning Flower, and sail away forever -- with a cell phone to keep in touch with his mother.
"From what I gather about your home life from your letter and card, you are willing to escape, to get away from it all," he wrote. He scolded her when she called herself a "naive fool" for getting involved with him, for burdening him with her need to be "loved and excepted." He responded that he saw a "voidness" in her that only he could fill.
"You are the last woman I will ever love in this lifetime," he wrote.
In January, four months before the jailbreak, she wrote that she'd rather be happy than a psychologist.
"You make me feel so loved, so special," Feil wrote. "Thank you, Byron."
A very bitter Glenn Bosshard now wears a button that reads: "All those ugly rumors are true."
There was instant chemistry when they met 11 years ago at the support group Adult Children of Alcoholics, he said. He was recovering from years of alcoholism, a bad marriage and his "rage-o-holic" ways. He was living in a dump and sleeping on a cot with his emotionally disturbed son. She brought him a futon. Then an air mattress. She began to take care of him.
Eight years later, she got down on her knees, presented him with two cubic zirconium earrings for his pierced ear and asked him to marry her. He was flat on his back, nearly paralyzed with a painful muscle disorder. He hadn't worked in years. He had been diagnosed as manic-depressive, with a tendency toward the depressive, and suffering from attention deficit disorder. He said he was taking massive antidepressants.
"I thought, `Wow, she's proposing even though I'm sick. Who could love you better than that?' " he said.
They never got a marriage license, but they held a ceremony with all the trimmings.
Now he takes a different view of her.
"I don't think the woman I married is an evil bitch. She is now," Bosshard said. "But I think she's had a lot of secrets for a long time."
Shortly after Feil's arrest, Bosshard received a letter from John Turner, an inmate who claimed to know Smoot from MCI-J.
"Smoot would tell her she was special, etc and then talk about her like a dog and tell everyone how gullible she was, how he used her, what a stupid whore she was to mess with inmates," he wrote. "I'm sorry to hear you was the last one to know."
Bosshard, a thin, slight man with strawberry blond hair, a mustache and sad brown eyes, sat in the wreckage of what used to be his home in Annapolis. The floor was strewed with papers, stacks of records, a rumpled sleeping bag and empty medicine packets.
All the furniture, the dishes, the appliances, the books, the jewelry was stacked up nine feet high under two tents on the front lawn. He didn't want any of it in his house. They belong to Betsy. "Whoever that is," he said.
As he cleaned out the tiny brick rambler they shared, Bosshard found thousands of dollars' worth of clothes, some with the tags still on, and boxes and boxes of shoes.
And, after the state police arrived at his door at 3 a.m. on the night of the prison break, he found Smoot's letters.
"I had a wife. I cooked dinner. We had friends. That night, I walked into a different dimension, and I can never go back again," Bosshard said, deadpan and stunned. "As far as I'm concerned, Elizabeth Smoot Feil murdered Betsy. The Betsy I knew is dead."
And Feil herself?
She arrived in a rented truck to cart away her belongings Friday. Her attorney, Isiah Dixson, said she is in emotional turmoil.
"She's now in touch with the enormity of the situation," Dixon said. "She's scared to death."
Metro researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Elizabeth Feil walks down the aisle at her wedding on the arm of her mother. Victorine and Frederick Feil's stormy marriage ended when Elizabeth was 12.
CAPTION: Elizabeth Feil shows off a trim figure for the camera. She has battled a weight problem for years and wrote in her journals that it reflected her low self-esteem.
CAPTION: His ex-wife described Frederick Feil as excessively strict and a heavy drinker. "The damage done to our children can never now be undone," she wrote.
CAPTION: Elizabeth Feil with the man she later married, Glenn Bosshard, and his two children from a previous marriage, Brianna and Cameron. Feil and Bosshard were together for 11 years.