Haunted by a Childhood Encounter

From the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, counties along the California coast were terrorized by a perpetrator labeled the East Area Rapist. It's been reported that this violent criminal may have raped as many as 50 women and murdered at least 10 people. He broke into homes and terrorized and tortured couples, and he's never been caught. The case remains unsolved, and the killer may still be out there.


Danielle was 7 years old when the perpetrator invaded her home, and the incident haunts her to this day. "The image that is most burned in my mind is my mother being pushed down the hallway and right into the living room that was probably 10 feet from my room, and I didn't wake up, and I couldn't help," she says. "He grabbed cords from hair dryers, you know, electrical cords, and tied up my mother and her significant other. When they were in there, they had to have dishes put on their backs so that the East Area Rapist would know if they moved."


When Danielle awoke the next morning, she learned what happened. "I walked down the hallway and into the living room and saw my mother tied up and naked. It was just absolutely terrifying and paralyzing. I still have that fear of being hurt by someone," she says, struggling with her emotions. 


[AD]It's been 32 years, and now Danielle is married. She has two young daughters who are reaching the same age she was at the time of the brutal invasion, and she is reliving those horrific moments.

"The fact that the East Area Rapist has not been caught puts me beside myself. I'm scared he might come back. I'm scared he might come here. If the East Area Rapist comes here, he'll hurt me, and since he's committed 10 homicides, I think that his fury is unbeknownst as to what he can do, and what he might do to two little girls," she frets.

Danielle's husband, Art, says his wife's fears get in the way of her parenting. 


"Danielle's traumatic experience as a child affects her ability to deal with the girls' fears. In other words, when they say that they're sacred, ‘Mommy, I'm scared,' to her, it just puts her over the edge, and I think she overreacts, and she tends to coddle them and maybe pay them too much attention," Art says.


Danielle admits that when her kids come to her with their normal childhood fears, she gets overwhelmed and scared, because her traumatic childhood memories come flooding back.

[AD]"My daughters sleep in the same room and in the same bed, because I remember the terror of being in my own room as a young child," she says, as she breaks down and sobs. "I just now realized the parallel between my family with my mother and my family now with my husband and my two girls, and I'm so infuriated he still has this power over me."


"This is difficult to talk about and to think about," Dr. Phil observes as Danielle fights back tears. "You have to know, at least intellectually, at least logically, that it's not right to be having this kind of reaction and emotion to something that happened so long ago."

Danielle nods.

"It was difficult for you to hear [previous guest] Shelita's story," Dr. Phil says.

"Oh my heavens," she says. Turning to Shelita, she reaches her arm out and continues, "I'm just so sorry, and just listening to your story, I know how paralyzing it can be when you hear the sounds and you think of your little girl, or you think of what could have happened, or what you could have done differently. I so hope you get help to get past it. You're a beautiful lady, and you've got a beautiful family, and you deserve better. You need to let that power go. You need to be able to move on. I'm so sorry."

"I couldn't have said it better myself," Dr. Phil says to Danielle. "Isn't that true of you as well? Don't you need to find a way to take that power back?"

"I want it back so badly," Danielle says.

"You realize that Art is exactly right, because you do model for your children," Dr. Phil tells her.

Addressing both women, Dr. Phil says, "I totally get how you feel and why, and it's so justified that you would have that reaction, but at some point you've got to stand up and fight back, because it's truly dominating your experience in this world, and it's now dominating your children, because they'll sense it in you." He adds that children can pick up on even the smallest cues, like tension in a parent's face, voice and actions.


[AD]Dr. Phil lists some of Danielle's fearful behaviors. She doesn't set the alarm in her house, because if it went off, it would scare her to death. "So many of the things you're doing out of fear are exactly opposite of what you need to be doing," Dr. Phil tells her. She also obsessively checks the locks in her house, won't answer the door, is fearful of parking lots and sleeps with the TV on. Certain thoughts always race through Danielle's mind: What's coming my way? Is someone coming to get my kids? Is someone coming to get me? What can I do? What am I in for? What's happening next? I'm not prepared for this! 

"You are having what we call anticipatory anxiety," Dr. Phil says. "That's worse than the fear if you knew what was going to happen."

Dr. Phil asks Shelita, "Do you think you can overcome this, or do you think you need to move?"

"I think I need to move. I walk around the house just paranoid, all day," she says, noting that she was attacked at 9:30 a.m. "It wasn't like a middle-of-the-night thing, where somebody comes in on you."

Shelita's husband, Royce, who believes he and his wife should remain in their home, joins the show via Web cam. Dr. Phil asks him, "How do you feel about her fear and anxiety about it?"

"It's legitimate," he says. "I think we just need to help get her to a degree where she can stop having all this fear, instead of running and moving to another house."

"You do understand that this is absolutely crippling?" Dr. Phil asks.

"Yes, I do understand that," Royce replies.

Dr. Phil offers his thoughts to Shelita. "If I thought it would solve your problem, I would tell you to move before sundown, but it won't," he says. Turning to Danielle, he asks, "How many places have you lived in since this happened, over the last 32 years?"

"Probably 15 to 16," she says.

[AD]"But it always goes with you, doesn't it? Because the common denominator is you," Dr. Phil says. To Shelita, he says, "She's moved 15, 16 times, and she's sitting right next to you on the Dr. Phil show. It's not about geography. It's not about your house, and it will come back to bite you if you do [move], because you will realize that you have let these people run you out of your own home that you worked so hard as a couple to have a wonderful home to raise your daughter in, a place that you can and should be at peace. You can't let that happen, nor can you continue to live with this fear."

Dr. Phil asks Danielle, "You get that you send out this message to your daughters, right?"

"Yes," she replies.

[AD]"There's a real good chance that both of you are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and if that's true, there are treatments for this, and it involves a lot of different systems in your body," Dr. Phil says. "When you go through this kind of trauma, you actually have neurological changes in your brain, and that has to be undone, because what you've gotten into are what are called automatic thoughts. As soon as you see a cue or give yourself a cue, you just zoom through all of this and go from zero to horrified in the blink of an eye." He adds that the women need to learn to slow down the process and change their internal dialogue. "There has to be some desensitization, where you begin to learn to experience relaxation, even with some of these memories and some cues, and you do that in a safe place."