‘I still suf­fer flash­backs’

Closer (UK) - - Real Life In The News - By Anna Mathe­son & Amy Row­land

Hospi­tal worker Anita H Wooldridge, 40, is sin­gle and lives in In­di­ana, USA. She says: “I was so sad to hear that Stephanie Slater had died. I was kid­napped six years af­ter her or­deal and I know too well how the nightmare stays with you.

“When I heard my door­bell ring on 15 June 1998, I was sur­prised to find Vic­tor Steele, a mem­ber of the fit­ness cen­tre where I’d worked, on my doorstep. He told me his bike had a punc­ture and asked for a glass of wa­ter. It was a hot day, so I agreed, but as I turned round, a sharp pain surged through my back, knock­ing me to my knees.


“I turned back to see Steele hold­ing a stun gun, then he pulled a rope out of his back­pack and be­gan to tie me up. As he stuck black tape over my mouth and shoved me into the back of a van, I felt sick with fear. Af­ter a short drive, he dragged me out by a re­mote farm­house, then pushed me to the ground, pulled down my jog­ging bot­toms and raped me. Later, he drove me 10 hours to a dis­used build­ing in Wis­con­sin, where he locked me in a metal cab­i­net. For days he shut me in the dark, cramped space, only tak­ing me out once or twice a day to give me food and wa­ter and to rape me.

“Thank­fully, on the eighth day, I heard foot­steps and a door was opened to re­veal five po­lice­men peer­ing in­side. At last, I was safe.

“It turned out my neigh­bour had spot­ted Steele when he walked up to my house and I was told he’d been ar­rested. I was over­whelmed with joy and came away with just a few bruises, but the emo­tional scars were much worse and I be­came a vir­tual recluse – con­vinced it could hap­pen again. Steele was sen­tenced to life in prison six months later, but my boyfriend and I broke up shortly af­ter. I’d changed so much and couldn’t han­dle be­ing in a re­la­tion­ship. I also put on weight, be­cause I was con­vinced Steele had tar­geted me for be­ing at­trac­tive.


“I needed years of ther­apy to teach me ways to cope with the trauma, but thank­fully I’ve slowly pieced my life back to­gether. With my ther­a­pist’s sup­port, I’ve writ­ten a book, Eight Days In Dark­ness, which also helped me move on. But I still have flash­backs, which can be trig­gered by the smell of a hot sum­mer’s day, sweat, or some­one un­know­ingly mim­ick­ing some­thing Steele did.

“For 14 years I was too fright­ened to date, but two years ago I fi­nally started again. I al­ways tell three peo­ple where I’m go­ing and give them a pic­ture of the man and his li­cence plate. I’m sure that, like me, Stephanie would have been cau­tious in day-to-day life too and that the mem­o­ries of the trauma would al­ways have been there. I hope that now she is fi­nally at peace.”

Steele was sen­tenced to life im­pris­on­ment


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