The driver of the cream-colored Lincoln Continental has been cruising several hours when he finds what he wants. He pulls to the side of Central Expressway, and the hitchhiker climbs into the roomy front seat.
Tall, with bedraggled shoulder-length brown hair, the young woman says she’s heading to East Dallas to get drugs. It is past 2 a.m. on a cool May night.
He offers to share some methamphetamine, but she shakes her head. She wants cocaine. He agrees to take her wherever she’s going, and she directs him to an apartment building at Fitzhugh and Live Oak.
Alone, she goes into an apartment and buys two "caps"—10 gelatin capsules filled with cocaine. She goes back outside. The Lincoln is still there.
Amiably, the driver agrees to give her a ride to a bowling alley on Northwest Highway, where a girlfriend is supposed to meet her. She gets back in the car, and as they drive north, she sizes up her new friend: frizzy hair, about 50, wearing glasses, nice-looking enough. He introduces himself as Bill.
Her name, she says, is Wendy. She’s not pretty in a classic sense; at 22, her broad shoulders and body language give her a tough, masculine air. But Wendy’s smile is electric, her brown eyes lively, curious.
At the bowling alley, Wendy looks for her friend. No luck. She steps into a bathroom, takes out a syringe and, after dissolving one cap in water, injects the mixture into her arm. She walks back outside. Odd. The Lincoln is still there. Bill suggests they go bowling, but Wendy says no. She asks him to take her back to the apartment in East Dallas.
After her second buy, Wendy wraps three caps in cellophane from her pack of Marlboro reds and slips the cocaine in her mouth. She's been busted many times for drugs; now she knows to swallow the evidence at the first sign of a police officer. Wendy climbs back in the car, slips the syringe in the space between the seat and the door, and asks Bill to take her to her boyfriend’s house.
Bill suddenly pulls a gun. "I’m the Dallas police," he shouts as he points the gun at Wendy’s head. "You’re under arrest!"
He’s made his decision. Wendy is The One. It is the morning of May 19, 1991. The time, the girl, everything is right.
He already has probed a little, asking questions about her background. Is she married? Where does she live? What do her parents think about her hitchhiking at 2 a.m.?
Smoking a cigarette, Wendy has answered tersely. She lives—well, everywhere and nowhere. A friend’s house for a day, a condemned apartment for a week. Her parents? They split up when she was bom. Her mother is a drug addict, her dad an alcoholic. She rarely sees them. She’s been on her own since she left high school at 14. Wendy’s supported herself by slinging fast food, driving an 18-wheeler, dealing drugs.
He doesn’t say so, but their pasts couldn’t be more different. A pampered only child, he has two master’s degrees and a doctorate. Bill spends his days teaching college students about literature, drama, and writing, earning accolades from society’s brightest. He owns a house, three cars, and a motorcycle.
Wendy has spent time in prison for drug possession and car theft. She’s a junkie, possessing only the clothes on her back and six tattoos.
She is uneducated. He is smart, smarter than anybody he knows.
At some point Bill realizes that nobody will miss her. Nobody will ever connect the two of them. They have absolutely nothing in common. And, if it comes down to her word against his, who are the authorities more likely to believe?
But the people who know and admire Dr. Bill Cathey will later ponder whether the professor and Wendy Kay McKee are more alike than anyone could ever imagine. They—and the police—will wonder: Who is telling the truth about this bizarre encounter in late spring of 1991?
It’s as if the English professor has stepped into a piece of fiction. Is it John Fowles' book The Collector? A perverse version of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion? Or is it a screenplay for a lurid made-for-TV movie, a script Bill Cathey has been polishing—and living—for years?
• • •
[The priest] shook hands all around. He chatted with me, asked me if I were a student.
"Yes, " I explained, "a graduate student in English. "
That started him on a mini-sermon. Politely, but firmly, he explained that literature, in spite of its potential for good, had led many sheep astray. A large percentage of our hooks, too large to suit him, were suggestive and morally lax, some even prurient and salacious, as everyone knows ... He hoped I wasn’t teaching any such.
— excerpt, The Cowboy Angel Rides, a 1971 doctoral dissertation by Bill Cathey.
Adjunct professor Kent Bowman constantly teased his colleague, who insisted on wearing a suit and tie to class, "You can wear that suit every day, but you’ll never get on the faculty full time," Bowman jokingly told Cathey. At the University of North Texas, only department heads or hotshots on the tenure track bothered to dress up.
Bowman knew his colleague had two strikes against him: Cathey was in his late 40s, and he had not published any scholarly research. That didn’t faze Cathey. He had been a professor at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi from 1971 to 1984; popular with students, his classes filled up quickly. "Going to his class was like going to Shakespearean theater," one former student later told a reporter.
"He was incredibly well informed," says Ellen, another of Cathey’s students at Del Mar. "I’ve never met anyone as erudite." Ellen (who asked that her real name not be used) fell in love with Cathey, who was then married, and began an affair. In 1980, they married; the marriage lasted only a few years. Later, Cathey had an affair with yet another student.
Cathey tired of teaching: he wanted to make real money, like people with half his intellect were doing. He had grown up in Oak Cliff, the only son of a couple who owned a popular photography studio that did the yearbook pictures for Sunset High School, his alma mater. Shortly before his father died, he returned to Dallas to invest in real estate.
To supplement his real estate income, in September 1985, Cathey began teaching a class or two at Eastfield Community College. In 1987, with an eye toward developing a business as a motivational speaker, he joined the North Texas Speakers Association and a year later became the professional group’s treasurer. But his investment timing had been bad, and in 1988 Cathey filed for bankruptcy.
He became an academic gypsy, teaching classes at almost every small college in the Dallas area, from Eastfield to Amber University.
At Amber, he told the president he was working on "the great American novel." To friends, it seemed he was always writing something: poetry, short stories, screenplays. For his doctorate, Cathey had written The Cowboy Angel Rides, a chatty book about a married graduate student who lives next door to a widow and her large brood of hapless grandchildren. Entertaining but shallow, the story ends with the man’s seduction by a 14-year-old girl. Cathey had file drawers full of his other writing, but nothing was ever published.
In the fall of 1989, he snared a slot at UNT, where he had gotten a master’s degree in the '60s after attending undergraduate school at SMU. In Denton, Cathey shared basement office space with Bowman and several other adjunct professors.
In only two years, says former adjunct professor John Brooks, Cathey became a "fair-haired boy"—given four classes per semester, a full-time load for adjuncts. He taught world literature, technical writing, and modern drama and was making about $10,000 per semester.
Cathey consistently got high ratings from his students. "He kept your interest," says Erin Vader, who took his modern drama class in spring 1991. "He got into the psychology of the character." In class, Cathey was always acting out the parts, whether it was a play by Miller or Mamet.
Deborah, now a teacher, hated English until she had Dr. Cathey. (She asked that her last name not be used.) Deborah and a friend spent a lot of time talking to him between classes. He was so inspiring, she changed her minor to English.
With the faculty, Cathey was "Mr. Charm. Mr. Congeniality." Though he had to drive 49 miles each way from his home in Sunnyvale, he attended campus staff functions: in a department that was two-thirds female, he made an effort to flatter and appeal to the women.
It was clear to the other adjunct profs that even if Cathey never became full-time faculty, he could teach at UNT indefinitely. It wouldn’t be until later that anyone at the school realized that Cathey was carrying not only a full schedule there but three courses at Texas Woman’s University—a workload one professor describes as "almost impossible."
Despite this burden, Cathey made time for a private life. In 1990, he was dating three women: a Garland librarian he had met at Amber; a UNT teaching fellow, 20 years his junior; and a 40-year-old faculty member going through a divorce.
"He was fun," says Susan, the librarian. (She asked that her real name not be used.) He insisted he didn’t want a serious relationship. Susan was agreeable; they saw each other once or twice a week. They watched movies, went out to dinner, talked about books.
With his peers at UNT, Cathey rarely talked about literature. And he only infrequently mentioned women. Brooks remembers only one story: that he had dated a student in Corpus who liked to come to class and, while he was lecturing, spread her legs to show she was wearing no panties.
Cathey did talk about his interest in karate and meditation. He liked chess and photography, a hobby he had inherited from his father. Cathey often told stories of the "odd ducks" he had met at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the exclusive program where he got his master's degree in fine arts in 1970.
Away from other academics, Cathey didn’t mind showing off a little. With his friends at the speakers association, he frequently quoted poetry, Shakespeare, great writers. "There’s no question he was extremely bright." says one member.
Still, there was something strange about Cathey. "He was interesting and impressive," she says, "but somewhat elusive."
Former professor Brooks didn’t find him elusive—maybe just a little vain. Before each class, Cathey spent four or five minutes preening his permed and dyed hair in front of a mirror.
And students knew he was easy to distract. Though they were studying ancient literature, says Trendy Sharp-Burns, who look Cathey’s world literature class in spring 1991, he spent two days on a Kafka novel about an innocent man who wakes up to find police after him.
Cathey frequently talked about the power of the brain. He often discussed "patients," who he said came to him for hypnosis or therapy. "He talked about a boy he had in therapy who was terrified of high-heeled shoes," says Sharp-Burns. Through counseling, Cathey said, he uncovered the reason: His mother had locked him in her closet as punishment for misbehaving when he was very young. It seemed to her Cathey had a thriving practice; she never questioned whether he really was a therapist.
Bill was Mr. Charm, Mr. Congeniality on the UNT campus. Unknown to the school, he also was teaching three courses at TWU. He found time, too, to date three woman, including a fellow teacher.
Cathey also seemed to have a fascination with control—control of his own body and the control of other people. "He admired Buddhist monks because they could control everything: their breathing, their heart rate, their blood pressure," says Patricia, a UNT faculty member he dated. (She asked that her real name not be used.) "He wanted to go to Tibet, to be a monk, and to learn how to control everything."
He was intrigued by Jack Schwartz, a writer who talked of his own power over his bodily functions, who could push a needle through his arm and—using the power of his mind—eliminate the bleeding.
Cathey told one girlfriend that if he could do that, people would follow him, and he could do so much good for them. Susan wasn’t so mystified. She had seen a teacher do that trick in a magic show. Cathey seemed offended by her skepticism.
In the fall of 1991, Cathey told Patricia that he was giving lectures on "how to be in control of your life." He had written a book about it and printed fliers to promote his lectures.
One day, he abruptly asked her to marry him. Patricia, who was going through a divorce, was not interested. But she had to admit that Cathey would be a good mate. He was tall, good-looking, well mannered. He ironed, cooked, served her dinner. And he seemed close to his son from a previous marriage. The teenager and his mother lived down the street from Cathey’s home in Sunnyvale.
But Cathey’s interest in control began to seem ominous. For one thing, Cathey wanted to hypnotize Patricia, and he became frustrated because she was not capable of being hypnotized. And when he floated the idea that she should be his "sex slave" for a weekend, she laughingly brushed it off.
But he did eventually persuade her to visit a Dallas club called Sans Souci. He wanted to find another woman to form a sexual threesome. "One of his biggest fantasies was to have two women in bed," Patricia says. Cathey frequently, almost obsessively talked about a previous girlfriend—Diane—describing her as absolutely uninhibited sexually. He told Patricia that Diane had sex with other men and women they met at the club.
Curious, not wanting to seem prudish, Patricia agreed to go to Sans Souci. But each time, they left without finding anyone to take home.
Cathey was always pushing, trying to see how far he could get Patricia to go. At his home one evening after dark, Cathey asked her to climb a ladder to the roof of his house. They went up together, then Cathey asked her to take off her clothes. Another time, he asked her to walk naked with him around the neighborhood at 2 a.m. She refused both requests. "What turned him on was getting away with things," Patricia says. "He was always saying, ’You can’t believe how much you can get away with in this country.’"
The look in Cathey’s eyes when she refused to go along with his wild ideas frightened her. "It went right through me, like you were looking at the devil," Patricia says. She decided to end the relationship after Cathey showed her some homemade videos showing him having sex with Diane and a couple they picked up at Sans Souci.
Few others got a glimpse of this side of Bill Cathey. For them, there were no clues that the English professor had decided the constraints of society did not apply to him. No one got a glimpse of his bizarre plan, one he would spend many hours perfecting.
Even when Cathey told a faculty member that he wanted to create the "perfect woman," the other professor simply laughed. That sounded like something from a novel.
• • •
The Love Slave
After her new friend Bill barked out the words "Dallas police," Wendy McKee—sitting in the front seat of the Lincoln still parked outside the drug house—promptly swallowed her three caps of cocaine.
But this was like none of the more than 20 arrests she’d ever been through: With a gun to her head, Wendy’s hands were cuffed behind her back. Bill stuffed a gag in her mouth and shoved her to the floorboard of the front seat. Wendy didn’t try to reach the knife in the waistband of her pants. She knew he wasn’t a police officer. Who was this Bill? Was that really his name?
After driving for what seemed like hours, Wendy felt the car pull into a garage and heard an automatic door shut. Bill got out of the car, came around to her side, and put cuffs on her feet. He used a bandanna as a blindfold, then stood her outside the car and propelled her inside the house. As he pulled off all her clothes, her buck knife fell to the floor; Bill put it in a drawer. Then he recuffed her hands and feet.
Bill took her down a short hall and opened a closet door. Her feet felt heavy plastic on top of soft carpet. Carpet and plastic also lined the walls. An O-ring jutted from the ceiling, another from the floor. He raised her arms and attached the cuffs to the O-ring, then fastened the ones on her legs to the floor. He pinched clothespins on her nipples. Then he slammed the door.
Fifteen minutes later, he came back and took off her blindfold. Bill was holding a neon-green light by his heart so that it shone up on his face. "Somebody’s out to kill you," he said in an eerie tone. "So you have to stay here with me—the great spirit. I’ll keep on saving your life. You have to trust me."
"It was like he wanted me to think he was God," she says. He uncuffed her feet, then shut the door. Then she heard music in the distance. Strange, heavy, and throbbing music.
Wendy doesn’t know how long she hung there. It seemed like hours. Blood was running down her legs. She was menstruating, and Bill had taken out her tampon. "I’m sweating, I’m smelling myself,’" Wendy says. "It was terrible."
She was scared and wanted answers. Why was she there? Was he going to rape her? Was she about to die? Was this the end of her life—a life that had often been painful, even torturous?
Since the age of 12, Wendy McKee had been using marijuana, alcohol, speed, cocaine, LSD. At 19 or 20, she’d started using heroin as well.
At age 15, she’d spent four and a half months in a juvenile drug-rehabilitation program in Grand Prairie. A week before accepting the ride with Bill, she’d hitchhiked to Fort Worth and voluntarily checked herself into Cenikor, a tough, three-year drug program. But she lasted only six days.
"If you leave, something bad will happen to you tonight," a counselor warned her. She’d laughed and walked to the highway. She could take care of herself. After all, Wendy had been on her own since dropping out of the seventh grade. She’d sold drugs and driven shipments of speed across the state in 18-wheelers. She’d been shot, beaten, raped, stabbed, thrown through a second-story plate glass window. Now she was hanging naked in a closet.
Wendy screamed for help several times, but no one came. She decided to try to fight her way out. Slowly, she wriggled her hands out of the handcuffs, scraping off the skin. But when the closet door opened again, she changed her mind. The way out of this was to go along, she decided, to give this man whatever he wanted.
Clearly surprised she had gotten out of the cuffs, Bill demanded that she get back in the closet. She refused, and the fight was on. She slugged him, he punched her. They fell so forcefully it made several holes in the Sheetrock. She grabbed a phone and tried to dial 911. He yanked the phone cord out of the wall, wrapped the cord around her body, then around her neck, pushing her back in the closet.
Bill stood her on a stool, then wrapped a chain around her neck and attached it to the ceiling O-ring. Wendy would hang herself if she slipped. "Now you’re going to die, you bitch," Bill told her. "Now, I have to kill you." Then he slammed the door.
Maybe 30 minutes or an hour later, Bill took the chain from her neck, but hung her arms back up and cuffed her feet to the floor. Her hands and shoulders turned numb.
The music continued to throb. She lost track of time. Eventually, Bill reappeared and laid her on the floor of the closet. Later, he uncuffed one hand and one leg and threw half a sandwich on the bloody floor. She ate it, then slept.
Bill finally took her out of the closet. Slipping a black sleep mask over her eyes, he walked her to a hot tub in the back yard. After washing the blood off, he took her back inside.
Then, Bill introduced Wendy to The Mantra: She must repeat over and over, "I will obey, I will obey." The first time, while standing straight. Then, while bowing as if to Buddha. Finally, she had to say it while sitting naked in a chair, legs tied apart.
Thus began a routine of sorts. Five or six times a day, she"d assume whatever position he told her, then repeat the mantra for 45 minutes to an hour. If she made a mistake, she’d have to start all over.
Wendy was always naked and always blindfolded. When in the house, she was either chained in the closet or to O-rings screwed into the floor in various rooms. She slept chained to his brass bed or the couch.
Bill finally explained his purpose. "He wanted me to be a model person," says Wendy. "He wanted to transform me from a junkie into a beautiful, highly intelligent woman. He took cigarettes away from me. He took dope away from me. He took everything."
In an odd sense, Bill became his captive’s servant. He brushed her teeth and washed her hair. He filed her nails and bathed her in the hot tub. Every night, he put a different perfume on her skin. He cooked her shish kebabs and steaks, and gave her calcium and iron pills.
There were also mind games. Bill sat Wendy in a recliner and hooked her fingertips to a biofeedback machine. It made a high-pitched sound when she was anxious. Bill taught her how to use self-hypnosis: when she relaxed, the machine’s high pitch came down to a quiet, humming sound. Bill had another gadget he called an ISIS machine. He placed goggles over her eyes, which pulsed light in time to a sound like locusts, supposedly moving her brain waves to zones more receptive to his ideas.
Like a twisted version of Rex Harrison’s character in My Fair Lady, he began working to improve her mind and her language. Bill read to her from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Alice in Wonderland. He taught her about yoga, about meditation. He taught her to do complicated math problems in her head.
He read another book to improve her memory. "He’d name 40 different things," Wendy says. "And I’d have to repeat it back to him without forgetting anything." She was good at that. She began to use the technique to remember other things—like where the O-rings were located and what the tops of the houses beyond the back-yard fence looked like when she peeked beneath the mask.
She couldn’t tell how much time had passed: four days, five days? Bill’s brainwashing was working. She looked forward to the lessons, pleased that she could learn. He was pampering her; she’d never been pampered. He frequently told her he loved her. The night they cooked shish kebabs, she was feeling good about herself. She asked Bill for her pack of cigarettes. As he watched, she tore them up and threw them in the trash. Later, she showed him where she had hidden the syringe in the car. She broke the point and threw it away.
"I felt I was never going to leave," Wendy says. "He was giving me a purpose to live. It felt great." Bill even promised that he would put her through college when she got her "ego right"—when she learned to obey.
But another part of her hated him. "I wanted to be a success, but not a slave," Wendy says. And Bill never let her forget she was a captive, that he controlled her every movement. "Just do what I tell you to, and you’ll be OK," he told her.
Though he was constantly touching her body and masturbating while she did the mantra, Bill hadn’t raped her. But she was still frightened and thought about escaping. That seemed impossible. If he left for two or three hours, he chained her to the bed. A video camera on a tripod was focused on her; he would know if she tried to wriggle out of the cuffs again. Occasionally, he chained her naked to the sun deck, first oiling her down with suntan lotion. But he told her he had surveillance cameras watching the back yard, which was surrounded by an 8-foot fence.
Over and over, day after day. she had to do the mantra. At times, he took her outside, and while she was saying, "I will obey," he put insects on her body and let them bite her. "He said if I was doing what he told me to do, then I wouldn’t feel them biting me."
Wendy felt the stings. But she had decided on a strategy. She let Bill think she was grateful to get this chance at transforming herself into a better, more beautiful woman. She told him she felt nothing.
After five or six days, Bill was confident enough of his training to start taking her out of the house for drives, dressed only in her T-shirt, blindfold over her eyes. They picked up pizza at a drive-through. Once they drove for hours in the country; Bill promised to take her camping.
Occasionally, she would scratch her nose or touch her face to move the blindfold a little. She could tell they were in a red Nissan 300 ZX with a gray interior. But she never saw the front of his house or learned his last name.
Wendy had lived on her own since she was 14. She'd sold drugs and driven shipments of spreed across the state. She'd been shot, beaten, raped, stabbed, and thrown through a second-story plate glass window.
She’d been there a week or so when he announced they were going jogging. In the middle of the night, he took Wendy—dressed in his underwear and shorts—up and down the road in front of his house. Still blindfolded, she was forced to hold on to his arms while they ran.
One night, Bill tested his transformation; while she had one arm and one leg chained to his bed, he asked if she was still scared of him. "I just don’t want you to hurt me," Wendy told him. "Are you going to hurt me? Are you going to make love to me?" So far, he hadn’t forced her to have intercourse.
Not if you don’t want to, Bill told her. "I don’t want you to," Wendy insisted. She could tell he was upset. Not angry, but deeply hurt.
The next day was June 1. She’d been held prisoner for two weeks. Her captor seemed very depressed. He asked if she wanted to go to the store. She was elated. But first, he demanded she do the mantra.
For 45 minutes, while she repeated, "I will obey," Bill told her to imagine she was out in a field of daisies, a shawl wrapped around her. "You’re tranquil, you’re free. Nothing’s going to hurt you just as long as you obey me." Over and over, she droned. Then, she had the vision: God and Jesus, coming down on a cloud.
Wendy fell to her knees, convinced it was a sign she was going to get away, but said nothing to Bill. He dressed her: her own T-shirt and shoes, his underwear, pants and socks. He put two cloth squares over her eyes, then secured them with duct tape and led her to the car.
They drove to a store, and Bill led her down the aisles. He told her they were at Home Depot, and he picked up an item and told her to smell. It was chlorine. He paid, and they left. No one seemed to pay any attention to the man leading around a blindfolded woman. She was afraid to scream or attract attention, unsure if Bill was carrying his gun.
Next stop was a Kroger grocery store. He guided the basket as they walked down the aisles. Wendy's hands were sweaty. She kept asking for her favorite foods, trying to buy time to get up her nerve.
At the checkout, Bill asked if they had forgotten anything. Wendy realized it was now or never. She asked for a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. He told her to stay put. "I love you, Bill," Wendy said. "Just hurry up."
When Bill took his hand off her arm, she started counting: One, two, three, four, five. She yanked the tape off her face. Barely able to see after two weeks of darkness, she jumped the counter, ran to the courtesy booth and started hammering on the door. "Let me in!" Wendy screamed at the astonished clerk. "I've been kidnapped!"
• • •
But even the best laid plans, as the poet said, sometimes go awry.
— The Cowboy Angel Rides
Brushing her hair, her face dirty, obviously just awake, she opened the door to the tiny house. Mesquite detectives had knocked at the address Wendy had given them only to realize that she was living in the tumbledown shack in back.
Two days after Wendy's escape, Mesquite detective Barry Woodrow had handed the report to his partner, Donnie James. "I know this sounds like a deal," Woodrow had told him. James looked at the offense report: duct tape, closet, kidnap, mantras. Yeah, it read like a "deal," police jargon for crazy people charging each other with made-up crimes. Still, there was something about it that made both James and Woodrow wonder.
Now, the officers could judge her story for themselves. They took Wendy to the station where she spent 90 minutes writing a 17-page affidavit. From her heavy slang, James could tell she was street-wise. "But she was articulate; she wrote her own statement," James says. "It was so detailed, I couldn't get over it."
The Kroger employees confirmed her description of her escape; the person who waited on them at the drive-through pizza restaurant remembered the girl with the duct tape on her eyes. "We collectively agreed she was telling the truth," says Sgt. Gary Westphal.
For the first time in her life, Wendy was on the side of the law. She was amazed: The police were taking her complaint seriously.
But how to find this Bill? Kroger employees had watched as Bill ran out to his car, then rushed back inside and asked a sack boy if he had seen the woman he came into the store with. The sack boy said no, then Bill hurried back outside, jumped into his car and sped off. That was enough time for two employees to write down the vehicle’s license number.
The number led them to a red Nissan with a black interior, registered to a young golf pro in Fort Worth. He had an alibi and didn’t fit the description Wendy gave. Besides, Wendy clearly remembered the interior of the car was gray, not black.
Westphal and Captain Larry Sprague drove Wendy around the area of the Kroger for hours, but nothing looked familiar. Then Wendy remembered that Bill’s purchase at Home Depot smelled like chlorine. And that he had asked for a pen at the checkout. That must mean he wrote a check.
Woodrow pulled the records of hundreds of purchases at Home Depot for the 45-minute period before her escape at 6:48 p.m. He hit "bro tabs," purchased at 6:06, and discovered those were chlorine tablets for a hot tub. The purchaser: William Robert Cathey.
Woodrow traced the driver’s license number and got an address on Barnes Bridge Road. Police records showed he had been arrested at Sears in Town East in 1985 for shoplifting. Though no merchandise had been found on him, Cathey had been charged with assault after getting into a scuffle with store employees. He was acquitted and later sued Sears and won a $20,000 settlement.
But the alleged shoplifter had been captured on videotape. Police got the tape from Sears security and showed it to Wendy. She watched as people passed in front of the camera; when Cathey appeared on the screen, Wendy instantly shouted, "That’s him!"
To make sure they had the right guy, Westphal drove Wendy down Barnes Bridge Road and through the alley, careful to say nothing when they neared his address. Wendy didn’t acknowledge the house from the front, but when they approached it from the back, she recognized the skylights of a two-story home she’d seen over the fence.
Wendy had made police a map of the back yard: the hot tub, the sun deck, a brick toolshed. They stopped, and Westphal asked her to look through a knothole in the fence. Wendy got back in the car, white and shaking. It was the house.
On June 14, two weeks after Wendy’s escape, 49-year-old Bill Cathey was arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping. He was returning from an early morning trip to the post office, and there was a pistol on the front seat of his car.
For people at the university, friends from high school, neighbors, most of the women he dated, Bill Cathey’s arrest was simply the first of many shocks.
But one woman was not surprised at all.
• • •
Roger’s demise was lengthened because he had to wait for someone to lead him astray. Roberta found that she could simply offer her body to the world. When a girl makes that discovery, she becomes a woman. Roberta discovered the power and independence that resides in a lady’s favors. And she used them.
— The Cowboy Angel Rides
They met on a blind date in December 1985. Diane Hodges was working at a bank. A fellow teller was dating an Oak Cliff businessman named Ron Harris. At 23, Diane, a pretty, petite blonde, was going through a divorce after marrying at 18. The teller convinced her to meet Harris’ old friend from Sunset High.
Diane didn’t like Dr. Bill Cathey at first. She didn’t think he was handsome, and he was in his mid-40s, a little old for her. But her misgivings slowly melted away. "He commanded respect—he made you look at him," Diane says. And he was so literary, so learned. "I enjoyed talking to him."
Cathey left sweet cards and tapes of her favorite music in her mailbox or on her car. While they were in the hot tub, he quoted poetry from Shakespeare and Robert Frost. He showered her with compliments, praising her decision to leave her husband, commending her on how she parented her 3-year-old daughter. He taught the little girl "Fire and Ice," a Frost poem. "He charmed his way into my life," says Diane.
From the very beginning, a lot of things seemed mysterious about Cathey. He never seemed to work, but he always had a lot of money, three cars, and nice clothes. He claimed to have therapy patients who came to his home, but she never saw them. He wouldn’t answer the door unless the visitor had an appointment, and he mowed his yard at night, when no one could see him.
And Cathey was always trying to hypnotize her; he wanted her to use the ISIS machine, to move her brain waves to a "more open, receptive" state.
Soon after she moved into his house in August 1986, it seemed that Bill Cathey began to take over her life. Her will. "He said if I would just open my mind to his ideas, it would all be all right," Diane says.
In the second year of their relationship, Cathey introduced Diane to the mantra: I must obey. "I thought it was all stupid," she says. But she went along.
Cathey's ideas grew increasingly bizarre. He wanted Diane to get various parts of her body pierced with gold jewelry. And he wanted her to have sex with different partners while he watched and participated. Diane refused to get anything pierced, but she went along with some sexual adventures. "I learned how to make it not bother me," she says. "It was like I was acting."
Slowly, Diane began to see all the different Bill Catheys. There was the kind, sensitive man who waited on her at dinner, who encouraged her to read, to improve her mind. There was also the man who was filled with rage at women. "He hated women because they could choose when to have sex," says Diane. "He thought women had all the power in relationships." Several times, his rage exploded into violence, and he hit her.
Finally, there was Bill Cathey the criminal.
She soon learned that while he did have real estate investments, his main income came from theft. Cathey often donned a postal uniform and stole checks and credit cards from mailboxes in Highland Park, Bent Tree, and other affluent neighborhoods.
He had photography equipment that allowed him to take his own picture in a disguise, then create a driver’s license with an identity to match the checks. He would get valid license numbers while eavesdropping on people cashing checks at stores. He obtained birth certificates of dead people and created new identities.
He didn’t stop at forgery. Cathey stole virtually everything he needed: clothes, food, a toaster, even the gifts he gave her. He tampered with the meter at his home in order to steal electrical power. He stole cars, then altered their license plates so that the plates and VIN numbers would match an identical car owned by someone else. "It was a principle with him," Diane says. "Why pay for it when you can have the challenge of stealing?"
But as a criminal, Cathey had scruples: He would never steal from a mom-and-pop store, only from large corporations and people who were likely to have insurance, whose banks would swallow the loss.
Cathey admitted that he had stolen since he was old enough to shop by himself. He shoplifted his way through high school and college, and in 1974, while he was teaching in Corpus Christi, Cathey had been arrested in Chicago with $880 in counterfeit $20 bills. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years probation. She learned that Cathey had a scheme for his life: The forgeries were designed to get enough money to set up a real estate scam. The money from the real estate con would then set him up for a really big score. Cathey talked of a third part to the scheme, but never revealed it.
But she knew he was serious about it when he flew to Corpus Christi to burn one of his rent houses for the insurance. And when some kids ripped shingles off his rent house in Garland, he tore up the interior of the house before reporting it to the insurance company.
"He was smarter than everyone else," says Diane. "The rules didn’t apply to him." Police, he told her, were stupid. Idiots.
On Christmas Eve 1987, Diane remembers, the police came to the office where she worked to ask questions about Cathey. He had been arrested and charged with the attempted robbery of a pizza restaurant in Mesquite. An employee identified him as the man who was banging on the locked door of the restaurant with a gun. Diane knew nothing about the incident. Cathey was later tried and acquitted because—though he had a gun, a rubber mask, radio gear, a fake hand grenade, a holdup note, and a map of a nearby Sunset Savings—he had not specifically asked the pizza clerk for cash.
In late August 1988, Cathey told her he had read a news report about the discovery of the bodies of a man named Don Biggs and a woman, chained to an 80-pound weight and submerged in Lake Ray Hubbard, not far from Cathey’s home. Cathey was antsy, paranoid, as if he expected the police to arrive at his door any minute to question him about the murder.
Diane remembered Biggs, a businessman turned drug supplier. He and another woman had participated in a sexual foursome with Diane and Bill, one that Bill videotaped. In October 1988, after he hit her a third time, Diane moved out.
That year, Cathey had filed for bankruptcy, saying he had earned only $4,000 in 1987. He returned to academe with a vengeance, teaching at three or four colleges at a time.
But he refused to accept that Diane was leaving for good. He called her constantly and followed her to work. He wrote letters making veiled threats. After hearing Diane had become interested in opera, Cathey placed the score to an Italian opera on her windshield. She took it to a knowledgeable friend who recognized the story, in which the hero murders the heroine.
At times, his threats were less poetic. One morning in August 1989, Cathey called to ask if she had seen the news the previous night: A man had killed his estranged wife in Fort Worth, then turned the gun on himself. "He had to kill himself, but it was worth it," Cathey said. That was enough: Diane got a protective order against him.
In June 1991, when the story of Cathey’s arrest hit the news, Diane Hodges knew instantly: Wendy’s story was true. The young woman might have been a criminal out of necessity. But Diane knew that Bill Cathey was one for the sheer thrill of it.
• • •
The Mesquite Outlaw
I had never thought about being in the predicament I was in. They had names for people like me.
—The Cowboy Angel Rides
From the day of his arrest, Dr. Bill Cathey—creative writer—put his spin on the events. Very cautiously, Cathey confessed that he’d picked Wendy up on impulse, because she looked kind of sexy. He contended that they had gone to get drugs together, but when he brought her home, Wendy attacked him with a big knife. He had thrown her in the closet only to protect himself. He didn’t know what else to do with her. Because she was a "dope fiend," a street person with no direction in her life, he began helping her get straight. She was free to leave at any time.
Cathey was in complete control of himself and his story, and Mesquite detective Bradshaw was impressed. "If I didn’t have Wendy’s side of it, it would be easy to buy his version," Bradshaw says.
Cathey said he could prove he was telling the truth. He kept a journai telling what happened each day Wendy was with him. He had a copy in his car. He said the original was on his desk at home.
When Bradshaw asked why he was carrying a copy of his personal diary, Cathey said he told a friend about his encounter with Wendy. The friend recommended that he write a book. "It’ll be a best-seller," the friend supposedly told him. The copy was for his friend to read.
At the house, Detectives James and Woodrow found a shotgun under a pillow on the bed and a closet carpeted from top to bottom and heavily soundproofed. The tiny space smelled of urine, vomit, and feces. A piece of carpet from the floor of the closet had been washed and was hanging outside to dry. Holes were drilled in the floors in various rooms where Wendy said she was chained. Two holes in the wall had been patched but not yet painted—exactly where Wendy claimed the wall had been damaged during their fight.
"We could confirm everything she was telling us." says Woodrow. "Everything began to match. It was still totally bizarre, but it was real."
Police found copies of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Alice in Wonderland. And just as Cathey had promised, police found a diary. The entries began a few days before his encounter with Wendy. All the accounts supported Cathey’s confession to Bradshaw, including his claim that he had constructed the closet only after Wendy appeared and he didn’t know what else to do with her.
After a tip from an informant, police asked to search the homes of two of Cathey’s oldest friends, Bart Williams and Ron Harris. At Williams’ home in Lancaster, police found the red Nissan with a gray interior under two tarps. It had been stolen from a Nissan dealership in Fort Worth in April 1989. Cathey asked Williams to hide it three days after Wendy’s escape. (Police have not yet found the Lincoln Continental that Cathey used to pick up Wendy that night in May.)
In Harris’ Oak Cliff garage, Woodrow and James hit the jackpot. They found boxes Cathey had stowed there, filled with stolen checks and other mail, bank statements, tax forms and credit cards, along with notes Cathey made of stores where he had passed forged checks, and descriptions of receptive or suspicious clerks. Cathey had apparently started stealing mail in 1984, shortly after he moved to Dallas.
Along with folders full of legitimate license numbers and an enlarged replica of a driver’s license, police found 47 false licenses showing Cathey in various disguises. There were four or five stolen license plates that Cathey had altered. Also found was a label gun Cathey apparently used to falsify V1N numbers on stolen cars.
In another box, there was a plastic bag filled with wigs and masks, vibrators, clothespins, handcuffs, a plastic hand grenade, rings, belts, whips, a C-clamp. Police also found assorted books: Perversions, Patty Hearst, The Sexually Promiscuous Male, Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them, and several books on brainwashing and thought reform.
And they found a paperback book called The Perfect Victim, the story of a California man who kidnapped a woman and kept her as a sex slave for seven years.
There were hundreds of pornographic photos—some of Cathey in bondage going back to his early 20s—and numerous homemade pom tapes of Cathey having sex with various women, assisted by olives, cucumbers, bananas, sex toys and, in one video, a cat and a can of tuna fish. One tape showed Diane reciting the mantra. Another tape showed Cathey and Don Biggs having sex with Diane and another woman. (According to detectives, Cathey is not a suspect in the murder of Biggs and the woman drowned in Lake Ray Hubbard.)
They also found Cathey’s real journal. In this diary, which begins in late 1990, Cathey details trips to Home Depot for materials for "the TR"—Training Room—long before he kidnapped Wendy. It describes his dissatisfaction with his various girlfriends, how he wants to be in total command. And it explains how he followed several women drivers on the highway, trying to find the right person for his scheme. But it ends before he picks up Wendy, leading police to believe there is yet another diary to be found.
The police submitted the two journals for handwriting analysis; the analysis indicated Cathey had written both, which destroyed his "confession."
Whatever the outcome of the trial, it was obvious after his arrest that Carney’s career as a college teacher was over. His double life had been exposed, but Cathey acted as if he was simply the victim of spectacularly bad luck.
"Thomas Hardy writes a lot about chance—little, minuscule things that have a colossal impact on your life," Cathey told a reporter, referring to his "impulsive" decision to give Wendy a ride. "The life that I have known is all gone." But he was philosophical. "A problem is simply an unrealized opportunity."
About two weeks after the first arrest, police took him into custody a second time and charged him with car theft and forging a driver’s license. He sold his furniture and the house on Barnes Bridge Road. For a while, Cathey lived with his friend Ron Harris, doing some editing to make money.
From the beginning of the investigation, there was something about Wendy McKee that made all the Mesquite police officers who worked on it care about the case.
"The kid doesn’t have a chance," says Donnie James. "The street is her mother and father. The street taught her survival. She touched my heart."
Several officers took Wendy—dressed in a tank top, tattoos showing—to a restaurant for lunch when they were driving around trying to find Cathey’s house. She acted surprised that they would be seen eating with her. "She expected somebody to come up and call her a speedwhore and say who’s going to believe you?" James says. "She feels like she’s nothing, low class." Despite her lack of education, James sees a woman who is intelligent, resourceful. She had beaten Bill Cathey. But what would happen to her now?
The encounter with Cathey briefly convinced Wendy she needed to get off drugs, to straighten her life out. James arranged for her to live temporarily with a family from his church. She lasted one day before hitting the highway.
In fact, her two weeks with Cathey seemed to send Wendy into even more self-destructive behavior. Six weeks after Cathey’s first arrest, Wendy was charged with car theft. She says she decided to take a new friend’s car and drive to Houston, to get away from Dallas. She spent a couple of months in jail.
As Cathey’s July 1992 trial approached. police weren’t sure where to find her. Prosecutor Howard Wilson, convinced that Wendy, despite her background, would be an excellent witness, had refused to plea bargain with Cathey’s attorney, Brad Lollar, who wanted probation. Wanting to make sure that Wendy showed up for trial, Westphal sent Woodrow and James to arrest her for violating her parole. They found her at her mother’s house, a shack in Elmo with no electricity, plumbing, or running water.
On July 20, the day his trial was scheduled to start, Bill Cathey visited a Dallas check-cashing service where his second ex-wife, Ellen, worked. He tried to cash a $10,000 check, made out to "Bill New." She refused.
Despite the fact that he was facing charges that could get him a life sentence in prison, Bill Cathey still had his charming sense of humor. That day, he disappeared. Somewhere, he became a "new" Bill.
Police later discovered that in early July, he had charged $1,500 worth of gear at JC Penney: a screen tent, gas-powered chainsaw, gas-powered brush-cutter, an air compressor, and a heavy duty flashlight. He told the clerk he was going on an extended camping trip. At Home Depot, he spent $600 on rope, wire, several how-to books, a wheelbarrow, ladder, wood, and building supplies. Was he camping? Building a log cabin? Or were the purchases simply to throw off police while he hides in a big city?
Bart Williams says he and Harris began calling their old friend "the Mesquite outlaw" after a novel by Louis L’Amour.
John Brooks sees his former colleague in another literary vein—as Raskolnikov, from Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. "He’s the character beyond morality, playing games with the police," Brooks says. He doubts that Cathey is roughing it somewhere in the woods. "He’s not a camper," Brooks says. "He likes to go first-class."
Adjunct professor Bowman agrees. "He’s gone to New York City," Bowman says. "He’s got a tattoo, an earring, and is teaching in some junior college."
Cathey’s ex-wife Ellen can’t understand his flight. Convinced that the entire episode was concocted in Wendy McKee’s imagination, Ellen believes that Cathey would have been easily acquitted. She says none of the bizarre behavior described by Diane or Wendy ever occurred in their marriage.
Wendy was shaken by his disappearance as well. Since her escape from Bill Cathey, Wendy has been arrested and jailed more than eight times. The usual charge is misdemeanor drug possession, though twice she’s been arrested for "investigation of prostitution" by undercover police officers, which she admits is a new low.
Since the age of 15, she’s spent more than four years in jail. She turns 24 this month. Oddly, her last arrest in September on felony drug charges may turn out to be the best thing that could happen to her, Wendy says. For at least a year and a half, she won’t be able to get any drugs; her parole officer has said she may be ordered into a new prison drug-abuse treatment program. She has started taking classes to get her GED. After reading a pamphlet about four men on death row, she wrote to one whose life "in the fast lane" echoed hers. He sent her religious literature, and Wendy says she’s turned her life over to God.
But between reading the Bible and practicing the one fine art she knows—drawing cartoons and rock ’n’ roll emblems—Wendy thinks about Bill Cathey. About where he is, and why he is free and she is in jail.
However, Cathey's time may be running out. His $50,000 bond was raised to $1 million; a private detective, hired by the bonding company, is on Cathey’s trail, as are officers from Mesquite and the Dallas Sheriff’s office. In addition, federal officials have charged Cathey with unlawful flight, bringing the FBI into the hunt.
In late October, Mesquite police got Wendy out of jail and brought her out to the Mesquite police station. Her hair was washed, cut, and blow-dried, and a makeup artist did her face. Then a cameraman from the TV show America’s Most Wanted filmed as she talked about her captivity.
After the show aired, Bradshaw fielded calls from coast to coast, Mexico to Canada. One sighting put Cathey at a biker bar in Rhode Island, another in a tent at Yellowstone. None of the tips led them to Cathey.
Somewhere out there, Bill Cathey is still playing a game. In the fall, he wrote his former attorney Lollar. "Dead or fled?" he asked, and requested that Lollar give his regards to Detective Mike Bradshaw. Though the letter was mailed from Bedford, Texas, the return address was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.
But the TV show did elicit one interesting call. A lawyer in Houston who has some connections with book publishers phoned to tell Bradshaw that in early 1992 Cathey sent him a manuscript, a bizarre story about a man, a woman, and a closet. Cathey asked for the lawyer’s help in getting the book published. After years of toiling, this could be his big break. At long last. Dr. Bill Cathey may have a best-seller.