by Alicia Schooler-Hugg
I: The Crime
January 27, 1967
That Friday had started out like any other, with me getting my three daughters off to school and then driving downtown to my job at the courthouse building. I was one of three legal secretaries in the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office, and the first person of color ever hired by that agency. My job was completing all the secretarial duties around misdemeanor cases in San Joaquin County.
I took pride in my work. I remembered the diminutive Miss Krebs, my high school shorthand teacher, discouraging me from seeking secretarial work in the Central Valley town of Stockton, where racism flourished.
“You’re good Alicia, speedy and accurate. But I’m afraid you’ll never find work here. You need to move to San Francisco. They hire colored girls there.”
Ironically, just before my 1957 high school graduation, local city, county, state and federal civil service agencies descended upon our school to recruit clerical staff. They even tested us and established an eligibility list based on our scores. I proved Miss Krebs wrong and secured a temporary secretarial position with the feds immediately upon graduation. Permanent employment as a psychiatric technician at Stockton State Hospital followed and for the next six years, I cared for the psychiatrically impaired. My tenure was interrupted in 1957 by marriage and the subsequent birth of my daughters. The clinical education provided by the first-hand experience of coping with rents in the human psyche proved priceless in my interpersonal relationships.
In 1963, when I moved to San Francisco with my IRS agent spouse, who was recruited by the Internal Revenue Service from Stockton’s University of the Pacific, I quickly ascended the clerical career ladder ending up in 1965 as executive secretary to the Personnel Director at Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute. But that year my husband’s alcoholism, coupled with my own immaturity, consumed the marriage. I returned to Stockton, California, at the urging of my mother and younger sister, Loretta, who promised the family support I needed at that time. I was seeing a man Loretta had introduced me to and settling comfortably into my new life.
The summer of 1965 marked the beginning of serious civil unrest. In the wake of the Watts Riots that year, race-based Civil Rights demonstrations peaked across the country. I often found myself pioneering jobs not previously held by persons of color and upon returning to Stockton, I had secured such a job at Sharpe Army Depot in the nearby town of Lathrop, as secretary to the Finance and Accounting Officer, but left a year later after my portly, married, middle-aged white boss, frustrated by my refusal to submit to his persistent sexual advances, presented an ultimatum:
“Alicia, either you come with me to Las Vegas this weekend, or I’ll demote you.”
“Aw, come on Mr. Robinson (not his real name), you don’t want me for a mistress. I’d take advantage of you!”
I could not understand why this Edward G. Robinson look-alike pursued me at all. He and his wife, a petite attractive brunette who often visited him at the office, had just adopted an adorable little boy. What could he possibly see in me? True, I was newly divorced, younger at 26, told I was attractive, but he was married! It’s just a male-ego thing, came the answer from my Pandora’s box of innate human knowledge.
“Oh, and how would you do that?” asked Mr. Edward G.
Not prepared for this response, I thought for a moment. “Well, for starters, I’d be late to work half the time, and might not even show up the other half. My job would suffer.”
I liked my job, but remaining there was not an option. The National Organization for Women, under the direction of Betty Friedan, had just latched itself onto the coattails of the blacks’ civil rights movement, and even white women’s complaints about sexual harassment and gender equity were not being taken seriously. So, for a woman of color, the situation between Edward G. and myself was a two-edged sword with both edges threatening to sever my career. My boss knew it was my word against his, and who would believe me? This was more than two decades before the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill debacle and sexual harassment was yet to become a legal issue.
* * *
The newly constructed courthouse building housed traffic, municipal and superior court chambers and offices, as well as other county-based offices. Our second floor office contained the district attorney, his assistant, nine deputy attorneys, the secretaries, a receptionist, and executive secretary, Doris Cannon, my supervisor. The cordial office atmosphere reflected District Attorney Laurence Drivon’s mellow personality, and my co-workers and I enjoyed an easy sense of camaraderie. My workday proceeded without incident and my mood was joyful as I headed for home and the prospect of a work-free weekend.
Once home, I changed into my tan paisley print jeans and matching T-shirt, and herded my three daughters into my ‘56 Ford Falcon for our weekly trip to the neighborhood laundromat. They were exceptionally energized.
“Mommy, can we go to a movie tomorrow?” Pam, the oldest at eleven, was the group spokesperson.
“We’ll see hon. You know I baby-sit Mona on Saturdays, and Saturdays are really busy at the beauty shop. The movies might just have to wait.”
Mona was my six-month-old niece. Since my sister, Loretta, operated a beauty shop just a couple of blocks away from my apartment, I kept the child on Saturdays in exchange for getting my hair done.
The lively chatter continued as we drove on and, because it was a cold winter afternoon, steam from our breaths began clouding the windows, hampering my vision. Wiping the front window with my hand, I resurrected our standing “inside” joke:
“All right kids, stop breathing! You’re sucking up all the oxygen and I can hardly see how to drive!”
“Aw, Mommy, you always say that. You know we can’t stop breathing–we’d die.” That was Julie, my logical eight-year-old. Michelle, the youngest at six, sat quietly as usual, sucking her thumb.
“Well, you can at least quiet down and give the heater a chance to defrost the windows so I won’t get us all in a wreck,” I said.
As was my habit, I had earlier picked up a roll of quarters from the bank to feed the laundromat machines and stuffed them in my pants pocket. When we finished, the jingle of leftover coins in my pocket was comforting.
After dinner, I used my serrated kitchen knife to slice oranges for dessert, rinsed it and placed it in the sink. Before leaving the kitchen, I latched the sliding screen door and thought I’d secured the glass patio door as well. We watched our favorite TV shows together, bathed and retired for the night.
* * *
“Wake up bitch and do what I say, or those girls in there won’t have no more momma!”
The voice was brutal and compelling. Worse, there was something cold and hard against my throat. For a moment, confusion blurred my senses, as I flung away the last shards of the sleep that clogged my mind and realized there was a knife tight against my throat! I looked up into the face of a stranger illumined by the parking lot light outside my bedroom window.
“Don’t look at me!” the voice commanded. I looked away quickly, but the imprint of that face was forever burned into my brain.
“Turn over,” came the next command.
I obeyed, thinking of my daughters asleep in the next room. Questions flooded my mind. Who was this stranger? How did he get into my apartment? He knew my children were girls. Would he kill me and then harm them? I had to protect them at any cost. Throughout the insults inflicted upon my body over the next several hours, the safety of my daughters was foremost in my thoughts.
This can’t be happening to me! Rape happens to other people. This is the stuff you read about in newspapers, or watch being reported by some Barbie type TV anchorwoman from the comfort and safety of your living room.
So, when the horrors began, I stepped outside the body being tormented by this maniac and observed the unfolding of events in slow motion from a self-imposed psychologically safe distance.
After blindfolding me with what turned out to be my own pantyhose, my attacker was ready for his next move.
“All right bitch. Put your hands behind your back.” So, I thought in this otherworldly situation, Bitch was my new name.
When a person is blindfolded other senses become intensified. Although visually disoriented, my sense of smell, hearing and touch were keened. I could hear my attacker’s breathing, sense his movements. I even recognized the cologne he was wearing—Jade East, the same as my boyfriend’s. Rustling movements. My nightgown was removed and my hands tied behind my back. Rope? Had he bought along rope for this intrusion? I later learned that he’d used pantyhose to bind my hands together as well.
Bound up, just like in the movies, I thought. Oh Lord, please don’t let him hurt my girls! What can I do?
All right Alicia. Just stay calm and do as he says. Humor him. You’ve worked with psychopaths before. If you humor him and don’t upset him, you may come out of this alive.
True, fresh out of high school, I’d worked with acutely psychotic patients for six years at Stockton State Hospital as a psychiatric technician and had intensive training in coping with them.
When my assailant placed a scarf I’d discarded on my dresser over my mouth and nose, I protested: “Please, please don’t gag me. I can’t breathe. I’ll be quiet and do whatever you say.”
“Okay. Just don’t try anything with me, or it’ll be the last thing you ever try, Bitch!”
I don’t know how I survived that night—but life has taught me that we humans are resilient beings, and capable of adapting to just about anything. My attacker tried everything he thought he knew about sex and the human body’s capacity to perform sexual acts. I humored him, told him what a great lover he was. He made a few observations, asked questions.
“Does that feel good?”
“Yes, you’re fantastic!” I replied. Oh, God, please let this be over, I pleaded. But God just didn’t seem to be listening and the terrors continued.
“You sure have a great body for an older woman,” he commented. At 19, which is the age he turned out to be, anything above 25 is elderly. I was 27. He asked about my race.
“Are you white?”
“No, I’m black.” I was tempted to add “just like you,” but didn’t want to give any reason to incense him. I later learned that all of this serial rapist’s other victims were white.
The hours crawled along in dream-like sequence; and, after what seemed an eternity, daylight began to filter through my blindfold. Suddenly, mercifully, there was a knock on the door.
“Is that your boyfriend?” he asked.
“Yes!” I replied numbly, hoping that the person at the door was indeed my boyfriend. My sense of time had disappeared. In this state of non-stop assault, and not knowing what would come next, I’d forgotten it was Saturday morning and Loretta was dropping off her baby. My attacker bolted through the apartment and out the sliding glass doors through which he had entered. All I could feel was confusion and relief.
Its over, I thought, and I’m still alive!
One of my pajama-clad daughters opened the front door for Loretta as I stumbled out into the hallway, removing the blindfold.
The other two came out of their bedroom and spotted me there.
“Mommy, who was that man?” Julie asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“That man hurt your mommy,” was all I managed to say, still wanting to shield my girls from the dreadful details of the night.
“You mean that kid who was peering at me through the bushes outside?” asked my sister, still holding little Mona.
Kid? What kid? That was no kid, I thought. That was an animal, a savage beast!
“Yes, you saw him? He raped me!” I said.
“Yeah, he was crouching behind that bush out front. He raped you? Are you all right?
“I think so. He did everything to me that he could think of, but I think I’m OK.” Loretta looked me over. I’d convinced my attacker to untie me before escorting me into the bathroom to get Vaseline to facilitate his assault, but there were still marks on my wrists where he’d bound my hands together. I stood dazed, unsure of what to do next.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to baby-sit today,” I managed.
“You’re in shock, Alicia, and you really need to get yourself checked out anyway. I’m calling the police right now!”
After handing baby Mona over to Pam, Loretta was on the phone, calling the police department, her beauty shop and my boyfriend. I returned to my bedroom to get dressed.
My pants lie crumpled on the floor where my attacker had carelessly tossed them after emptying the pockets of the remaining quarters from my laundromat venture. He’d also emptied my wallet and must have seen the knife in the sink before deciding to return and attack me using it as a weapon. I later learned that I failed to secure the lock on the glass patio door, so he had only to cut through the screen slider to gain entry.
“An opportunist,” a detective later observed. “He’s probably been watching you for weeks.”
Two police officers arrived in minutes and secured the scene, followed shortly by Sergeant Gotelli (not his real name), lead detective. I knew these guys. They were always at the D.A.’s office, filing their reports, meeting with the deputies and flirting with us secretaries. Now they were all over my apartment, looking for evidence, dusting for fingerprints, and questioning my sister and me. Sergeant Gotelli suggested that I place a pole in the patio door to block future intruders. His next comment nearly floored me.
“You should’ve had a gun, Alicia. You could’ve shot him in the back as he ran out!” The grim-faced plainclothes detective, a dead-ringer for TV’s rumpled sleuth Columbo, was serious. I was appalled. The thought of shooting anyone was so alien to me that I immediately rejected it.
I’d always harbored a respect for guns. Following his WWII stint in the Army, my father, a Los Angeles Police Department officer, frequently lectured us kids on the potential danger of guns. Along with my older brother and two younger sisters, I sometimes accompanied him to target practice at the police academy shooting range. I’d listened well and wanted no parts of guns.
Sergeant Gotelli continued: “Really, Alicia, you should buy a gun to protect yourself. You come on down to the station, and I’ll show you how to use it. But as soon as we’re finished here, you’re going to the emergency hospital to be examined.” The questioning shed more light on the situation. A seasoned investigator, the sergeant wanted the details while they were still fresh on my mind.
“What do you remember about this piece of shit?” he asked.
“Well, he wore Jade East cologne. And he had blackheads on his back.”
“Would you recognize his voice, if you heard it again?”
“I’ll never forget it.”
“Hmmm, he seemed unsure of himself after a while. Seemed to be seeking my approval. We’d established a kind of rapport—well, maybe that’s not the word for it. But I wanted to protect my girls, so I did everything I could to distract him from even thinking about attacking them!”
“Do you think you could identify him in a line-up?”
“I don’t know, but I did get a look at him just before he blindfolded me. I know I’d recognize his voice if I ever heard it again.”
“ Alright, that’s enough for now. Let’s get you to the hospital.”
Stockton’s downtown emergency hospital was housed in an ancient white stucco building with Spanish tile roofing. It was here that the first feelings of shame and guilt began to wash over me. The elderly white doctor, dressed in a white lab coat, treated me like I was the perpetrator, not the victim. I felt violated enough without having to contend with his condescending demeanor.
Donning rubber gloves, his face took on a leering smirk. I’d seen this expression before on the faces of male gynecologists preparing to examine me. Some even asked inappropriate questions like this one:
“So what did you do to encourage this situation? Boyfriend get mad at you?” sneered the good doctor. Luckily, a sympathetic female police officer stood nearby and came to my rescue inserting herself between the insensitive physician and me.
“You need to be gentle with this one, doc. She’s one of us and I don’t think the D.A. would agree with the way you’re handling this.” The doctor drew in a deep breath, exhaled and stammered an inaudible response. But he completed the rest of the exam in relative silence.
Upon returning to the apartment, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. How could I ever resume a healthy relationship with my boyfriend? I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to be with a man again. Besides, what man would ever want me? I didn’t even want me. I was defiled, damaged goods.
- The Investigation
Too frightened to remain in my ground floor apartment with my attacker still at large, I temporarily took refuge in my mother’s home on the other side of town.
The following Monday I returned to work feeling naked, ashamed and vulnerable.
Surely everyone here knows every detail of my rape, what with police reports being filed in our office and all, I thought.
But if they knew, the office staff and visiting officers masked it well, because it was business as usual. I informed my supervisor of the crime and that the ensuing investigation might require my taking some time off from work. She was both sympathetic and supportive.
As an ancillary member of Stockton’s law enforcement community, I was considered an insider and in the weeks leading up to the trial, they all went that extra mile to see that justice was served.
Later that week, Sergeant Gotelli visited me at my mother’s home. After taking a seat opposite me on the overstuffed couch, he opened the conversation.
“I just wanted to see if there was anything else you might’ve remembered to help us identify your attacker,” he said. “Sometimes, after a crime like this, victims recall details overlooked during the initial questioning. I want to make sure that we have as much information as we can get before making an arrest. I think we’re pretty close to that point now, since the perp left prescription glasses and some clothing behind.”
I had learned of my attacker’s leaving a “knapsack” behind from the police officers at the crime scene. He had tied his shirt and glasses into a bundle after removing them before the assault to make it harder for me to identify him.
So that’s why he was hanging around when Loretta spotted him, I thought, he was hoping to recover his glasses and shirt!
I recounted the sequence of events, reiterating that I would recognize the culprit’s voice if I ever heard it again. Seemingly satisfied with the interview, the detective stood up, as though preparing to leave. Instead he grabbed me and kissed me, panting with passion. Still feeling like discarded trash, I didn’t resist. At least somebody finds me desirable, I thought, even is he is old, white and married!
“I’m sorry, Alicia. Don’t know what came over me,” he said, fumbling for his car keys and heading for Momma’s front door.
“I think you’ll be hearing from me again real soon. Meanwhile, take care of yourself.”
I shouldn’t have worried so much about my desirability. My boyfriend became even more attentive and supportive, and my ex-husband and his live-in girlfriend picked up the girls that weekend and gave me $200.00.
The following week Sergeant Gotelli called me at work. We both pretended the pass had never happened.
“Alicia, we’ve had a break in the case. We’ve got some suspects in custody right now, and I’d like you to come to the station this afternoon to see if you can pick your attacker from a line-up. I’ve already called Loretta, and she’s on her way.”
“Really? O.K., I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Police headquarters was within walking distance of the courthouse, but since it was almost quitting time, I drove. On entering the building, I was ushered to an interrogation area where I could look through a one-way mirror, unobserved. Six unhappy faces stared back at me. Sergeant Gotelli briefed me on the line-up process.
“Your sister’s already been here. She had to get back to work, but she positively identified one of the men here as the one she saw that morning hiding behind the bushes. Let’s see how you do.”
Not expecting anything to come from this line-up, I began to scrutinize the “suspects.” My eyes stopped on the third man. He could be the one, I thought. Right height, skin coloring, hair, build…
“That third guy might be the one. If I could hear him speak I’d know for sure.”
“No problem.” Sgt. Gotelli nudged his colleague who spoke out.
“You there, third guy in line, what’s your name?”
“Huron Fields,” came the reply. A chill shot down my spine.
“Its him, I’d know that voice anywhere!” I was trembling and the detective placed his hand on my shoulder to calm me.
“It’s O.K., Alicia, I think Fields’ is our man all right. Your sister fingered him earlier. And the glasses were prescribed to him at Deuel.”
Deuel Vocational Institution was a San Joaquin County-based California Youth Authority facility where young felons were incarcerated. The D.A.’s office often processed complaints of crimes perpetrated within the facility itself. Most involved inmates assaulting one another bodily, or with crude weapons crafted from utensils. Occasionally a guard fell victim to a brutal attack.
“We also found a bottle of Jade East in this creep’s bedroom. He lives with his parents within walking distance of your apartment. Like I said before, he’d probably been watching you for a while.”
When I returned to work the following Monday, there was more good news: I’d taken and passed exams for two levels of county secretarial positions simultaneously, and was now being offered the supervising secretarial position at the county hospital.
“They run a pretty type ship out there Alicia,” D.A. Lawrence Drivon cautioned, “you’ll miss us.”
I didn’t care. I wanted out of that office where I felt like Hester, the woman in Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” forced to wear a huge letter “A” for “Adulteress” around her neck—only my imaginary badge of shame was a big, red “R” for “Raped.” Soiled, spoiled —a temptress? The old doc thought so.
My new boss, Marylou McAthie, was a tough-as-nails nursing director who demanded a high level of performance from her charges. I liked the hospital environment and the challenge of managing two clerical staff members in the nursing office. It helped that no one there knew of my ordeal.
III. The Trial
Superior Court Judge John B. Cechini, presided over the case some months later. Although many years have passed, I still recall certain details of the trial. The first involves the jury selection where an older black woman seemed insulted when she was not selected as a juror. I was dating a new boyfriend, a deputy marshal of the court who knew the potential juror and said she was a gossip who would spill the details of the trial.
The prosecuting attorney, Joseph Regan, was an ex-Navy officer who I deeply respected and whose skills were razor sharp. Conversely, Huron Fields’ attorney was a public defender, a rookie who I thought was no match for Regan. However, our judicial system pits defendant against the State with the latter having to bear the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and I felt Fields’ lawyer performed as well as he could.
I had learned a lot as a secretary in the DA’s office, often completing my day’s work long before quitting time and spending hours in its law library reviewing past cases and studying law books there. My experience there became the basis for my completing a year of law school a decade later.
The second surprise came when Fields’ mother testified that her son was home the night of the crime. Having been raised by my grandfather, a fundamentalist preacher who taught us never to lie, I was appalled that this minister’s wife, who swore on the Bible to tell the truth, lied on the witness stand! After hearing the testimony of all parties involved, however, the jury returned a guilty verdict and Fields was convicted of all counts against him.
III. The Aftermath
Fields served several years for the crimes committed against me. During this time, I returned to school and secured a nursing degree and license. Then, one afternoon, while working as a staff nurse at the county hospital’s male post-surgery unit, I was assigned to care for one of Fields’ brothers. I recognized some of his visitors, family members who had been at the trial. Frightened that they would recognize me, I kept a low profile and nothing came of it.
Shortly after that encounter, I relocated to Los Angeles and went to work for a health insurance company. One day I received a subpoena to appear in court to testify for the prosecution. Huron Fields had been released and arrested again for rape. He’d employed the same tactics in these rapes as he had with me, e.g., burglary, deadly weapon, blindfold, and the rest. Several white women in the Sacramento area were his victims. I traveled back to Northern California and learned that he’d married and now had a child. His wife, an attractive young woman, sat on a bench in the court’s hallway and glared at me. When Fields learned of my presence and intent to testify, he immediately copped a plea to a lesser offense.
But this would not be the last time the convicted felon would come up against the judicial system. The pattern was established, and Fields, released again, returned to his rage against women. Something went drastically wrong with his final crime: the victim, whom he took across state lines, was killed, having choked to death from the gag placed over her mouth.
At this writing, Huron Fields resides in a federal prison, converted, he says, to Christianity. He’s a lifer now who, if the world is lucky, will never see light outside prison walls.
Author’s note: It always surprises me when I share my story with other women, how many of them are encouraged to “come out” with similar experiences. One lesson I’ve learned through my experience is: Keep your head. Although the memories will return through unexpected triggers, I at least have my life with its rewards of seeing my children grow up and enjoying grands and great-grands. When I think of alternative outcomes, I am thankful that I kept my cool.