What has become almost nine years of relentless stalking started with a single message to a Harry Potter fansite in 2008. Laura Walters reports.
Jamie (not her real name) wanted her fan fiction published on the website but the story was too dark and editors rejected it.
The Wellington woman, who is a big Harry Potter fan, became angry at the rejection and sent a barrage of abusive comments.
This was brought to the attention of the website’s founder and editor Melanie (also not her real name), who contacted Jamie and asked her to stop abusing her staff.
READ MORE: Wellington woman ordered to undergo treatment after 9 years of stalking
Melanie received a polite apology and thought that was the end of it.
“The next day I woke up to a death threat.”
Since then, Melanie has received a postcard, letter, email or online message from Jamie almost every day, she says.
No matter what she does to try and protect herself, Jamie finds a way in.
“Every time I would find a way to block her, she would find a way around it… It was like trying to play whack-a-mole.”
The day she tells Stuff about the long and troubling story of the harassment, she’s received a letter.
It doesn’t matter that US police, the FBI (who became involved due to an officer being a Harry Potter fan), New Zealand Police and the Wellington District Court have worked to impose conditions on Jamie – no internet, no use of mail, no internet-capable devices – she finds a way to contact Melanie.
When Jaime was first brought up on criminal harassment charges in 2012 she was given diversion. The contact continued and in 2014 police laid further charges.
Police refused to comment on the details of the case or what they were doing to stop Jamie from contacting Melanie, saying only that the issue “has been dealt with”.
She breached her bail conditions – no internet – by leaving her house and going to an internet cafe. She couldn’t help herself.
But if she ever travelled to the US she would be arrested at the border by the FBI.
Five years of police and court intervention hasn’t changed anything, Melanie says. Letters still arriving every day; sometimes there are multiple letters.
“It’s baffling to me why she’s not in jail.”
NOT A CLEAR-CUT CASE
In September last year, Jamie was found not guilty of criminal harassment due to insanity.
And on Wednesday, Jamie was ordered by Judge Peter Butler to undergo compulsory community mental health treatment.
Jamie is autistic and has intellectual disabilities. She also suffers from mental illness.
Her family have spoken about her mental illness in the past, saying they have worked with healthcare professionals to get her treatment.
Jamie’s mother has asked media not to publish potentially embarrassing pictures of her daughter due to fears of the coverage exacerbating her illness.
As well as sending Melanie emails and postcards, Jamie has tattoos on her body that resembling Melanie or make reference to her victim’s life, and sometimes dresses up as a wizard.
Jamie was just 25 when she became infatuated with Melanie; she’s now 33. But as she stood in the dock at Wellington District Court this week she looked much older.
The wizened woman wore a scarf over her hairless head and cried as Judge Butler told her she was to undergo treatment, which could include the injection of prescription anti-psychotics.
Despite past media reports on the case, which included the real names of Jamie and Melanie, Parker granted both women permanent name suppression in order to protect Jamie from further trauma.
He said he hoped the treatment would help the woman live “a more independent life” and help stop her stalking behaviour.
But Melanie says she hoped further action would be taken to stop Jamie.
DAILY DEATH THREATS
In her victim impact statement she implored the judge to send the Wellington woman to prison – something he could not do considering the not guilty verdict.
Melanie says sometimes the messages are cryptic, sometimes they’re death threats, and sometimes they’re rape threats. But she doesn’t believe there’s anything sexual in Jamie’s obsession.
The New York-based writer and blogger says she can’t think of any logical reason as to why Jamie picked her but once the contact started it snowballed.
“She was creating a narrative in her mind of this world between each of us…I think this was always going to be the end-point.”
Melanie says she tried to ignore the unwanted attention for as long as possible. She was told not to engage as it would encourage Jamie’s stalking behaviour.
But things took a turn late in 2009 – Jamie threatened Melanie’s family.
The Wellington woman tracked down the addresses and phone numbers of Melanie’s mother, father and sister and sent them each a postcard.
The postcard addressed to Melanie’s sister contained a message for her young son, telling him to “enjoy his parents while he still could”.
Melanie says years after the stalking began, she decided to go against police advice and speak publicly about her experience.
It hasn’t made things easier, “but more possible to deal with”, she says.
The letters and messages are part of her daily life now. She hopes that will change following the court decision but she’s not holding her breath.
‘PERSISTENT STALKERS CONTINUE TO BE PERSISTENT STALKERS’
Forensic and general psychiatrist Peter Dean says stalking is defined as persistent, unwanted contact but occurs in many forms, for many reasons.
Not all stalkers are the same, he says.
The most common type of stalker is someone who’s had a relationship that’s ended badly.
Some stalkers have mental illnesses that lead to delusions and obsessions about people.
While others, like Jamie, are autistic or have intellectual disabilities.
Stalking is a behaviour, not a condition, which makes it more difficult to treat.
A mental illness that contributes to stalking behaviour can be treated, and hopefully the behaviour will stop, he says.
But it’s difficult to stop people with intellectual disabilities who engage in recurrent stalking behaviour.
“Persistent stalkers tend to continue to be persistent stalkers,” Dean says.
There are legal remedies, like trespass and protection orders but these are frequently breached by stalkers.
* The names of the two women have been changed as they have both been granted permanent name suppression by the courts.