July 5, 1998
Suzanne Scott lay spread-eagled on the mattress, her wrists and ankles bound by rope to eyebolts that had been screwed into the living-room floor of the town house. Her tormentor, “Cody” Neal, had left her like that—naked, covered head to toe by a blanket, mouth duct-taped, surrounded by a living nightmare.
Shaking with fear, she listened for “the others” to come down the stairs. He’d said that they were up there and that if she made any noise or called out for help while he was gone, they would rape and kill her.
She had no reason to doubt him. She could still feel both the cold steel of the hunting knife he’d used to cut her clothes from her body against her skin, and the terror of the bloody piece of skull he’d placed on her bare stomach. In her mind, she could see the lifeless leg of a woman that he’d lifted from beneath a blanket over near the fireplace and the mummy-shaped object in black plastic over against a wall. He’d kicked the object, hard, and said that it was another body.
Neal had asked her if she wanted to die. She’d told him no, but she didn’t think that he was going to let her live. Not after what he’d shown her. Not after what he’d done. She was only twenty-one years old, a beautiful young woman whose life up to this point had consisted of nothing more frightening than a childhood nightmare. Now she fought to keep from crying and disturbing whoever it was that waited at the top of the stairs. She would do whatever it took to survive for as long as she could.
She’d trusted Neal when he said he wanted to show her “a big surprise” that he was going to give her roommate and his girlfriend, Beth Weeks, and then brought her to this house of horrors. They’d
trusted him—“Wild Bill Cody” Neal in his black cowboy hat, black duster, black shirt, and cowboy boots. The big-spender, who spread money like margarine on limousines, dinners, and parties, extravagantly tipping bartenders, drivers, and strippers to pave his way through the world. No one knew where he got all the cash. He hinted at trust funds and big business deals; others, who clung to his stories at his favorite dive bars, said that they’d heard he was a bounty hunter or even a hit man for the mob.
Scott had sensed something different about him. He’d offered her a job and a lot of money to work for him. When he added that they’d have to first fly to Las Vegas to get the OK from his lawyers, she’d hesitated and asked Weeks if she felt he could be trusted. They’d talked it over—he
a little mysterious—but Weeks had concluded that he would never hurt either of them.
So much for woman’s intuition.
Neal seemed to be toying with Scott. After he’d removed the piece of bone, she’d expected him to rape her. But just as he seemed to be working himself up to it, he’d stood and said that he needed to go get someone else. That’s when he’d warned her about “the others” and then covered her with a blanket before leaving the town house.
To keep her mind from disintegrating into terror, she listened to the country-western music station that he’d left on the television for her entertainment. She’d counted two music videos and two commercial breaks when she heard the garage door opening again; she tensed as he came into the room. He had brought someone else with him, a female by the sound of her voice as they giggled and whispered. Scott kept as still as possible, but she couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.
Scott heard the woman take a seat in the kitchen chair that she’d noticed at the foot of the mattress before Neal had covered her with the blanket. There was the sound of duct tape being pulled from a roll. After a minute, she heard Neal ask in his deep, gravelly voice, “Can you get out?” Apparently, the woman could, because there was the sound of duct tape ripping, followed by that of more tape being applied.
“That’s better,” she heard him say.
A few moments passed; then he asked the other woman, “So how’s your day going so far?”
The woman answered, but again Scott couldn’t make out what was said. She did recognize the voice as Angela Fite’s, a woman she’d met once in the company of Neal at a swanky restaurant. She could understand Neal, however, when he began talking to Fite about whether she’d spoken to someone named Matt that day. Fite’s answer was muffled.
Neal said something else; then Scott felt the blanket lifted from the lower half of her nude body. A hand groped at the inside of her upper thigh, causing her to recoil. Then Neal pulled the rest of the blanket off.
Fite, the mother of two young children, sat in the chair facing her. She looked frightened, but when she saw Scott, her eyes softened. “I’m sorry,” Fite said, “but we’re not going to get out of here alive, are we?”
Summer 1981, Washington, D.C.
Karen Wilson was smitten almost as soon as the good-looking stranger had walked into the Washington, D.C., Hudson Bay Outfitters store that she managed and had opened his mouth. He wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail and needed some equipment as he was leaving that very afternoon.
She had already hiked the trail, and they spent the next hour discussing what he could expect. Many years later, she would hear unflattering physical descriptions of William Lee Neal and would say there must have been a transformation, “a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” change. Those descriptions did not fit the “Bill” she had met when he chose to approach her, rather than one of the male employees.
It wasn’t that he was dressed to kill or anything, or even his long, wavy blond hair, piercing blue eyes, or engaging smile. There was just
about him that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Sweet, yes, and bubbly, like her. He was also into the outdoors, just like her. She could have talked to him all day; he was that . . . that charming.
The reaction surprised her. She wasn’t the sort to be so easily swept off her feet by a man, even a good-looking one. A lovely twenty-two-year-old woman with waist-length strawberry blond hair, she had been born in upstate New York in 1959 to upper-middle-class parents and had attended college for two years, studying English and horticulture before the call of the wild lured her away from school. An accomplished outdoorswoman, rock climber, and cave explorer, she was the first female manager ever hired for the top-of-the-line outdoor-equipment store. She also taught kayaking and twice tried to make the U.S. Olympic canoe team, narrowly missing out by coming in second both times. She was independent, financially self-sufficient, and as tough as the wilderness treks she led as a guide. Then
Unfortunately, there was a piece of equipment he wanted that her store didn’t carry, so she referred him to another outfitter some distance away. He had already walked out of the store when she suddenly got the notion to offer him a ride to her competitor’s place on her lunch break. She hurried outside into the sweltering heat, but he was nowhere to be seen. She drove to the other store anyway. He wasn’t there. Disappointed, she sat in the parking lot for a few minutes and was about to leave, when he got off the bus in front of the store, toting his backpack.
“I was going to give you a ride,” she explained lamely. He just stood there, smiling, so she told him to take care on his trip. “And when you get back, stop in and say, ‘Hey,’ maybe we could do a canoe trip or something.” Wilson got back in her car feeling foolish. She realized she was head over heels and ruefully thought,
I’m never going to see him again. He’ll go do the trail and that will be the end of it.
She was delighted when she arrived at work the next day and found him in the store, wearing a sharp three-piece suit and sporting a new haircut. She usually only had a half hour for lunch, but he’d already talked her boss into giving her an hour. He’d decided not to go on his trip, he said, so he could take her to lunch.
When lunchtime arrived, he escorted her to a brand-new four-wheel-drive Subaru and drove her out to a country estate owned by an old couple. There, beneath two-hundred-year-old white pines, was a picnic basket already made up. They ate lunch and talked, and then there was “a surprise” waiting for her in the bottom of the basket. A silver necklace. But not just any necklace—somehow he’d found a jeweler to create a silver pendant overnight that matched the Hudson Bay Outfitters logo she’d worn on her shirt the day before. A wolf howling at the moon. He had her at that moment . . . hook, line, and sinker.
I’m in love.
The only problem for Wilson was that she was in an abusive relationship at the time and didn’t know how to get out of it. But Neal talked her into moving back in with her parents, who were now living in Virginia, to get away from the other man so she could see him instead. Her parents loved Neal, in part because he discouraged their daughter’s use of alcohol and marijuana, and he certainly seemed to treat her well. In fact, he enjoyed taking them all to dinner at the finest restaurants in the metro-Washington, D.C., area, where he seemed to know everyone from the pianist to the maître’d, who escorted them to the best table while other patrons waited in line.
Neal was charming, always a gentleman, and fond of surprises and practical jokes. Once he hid a piece of string in Wilson’s spaghetti when they were visiting one of his sisters for dinner. Gagging, Wilson had spat the string out on the floor and the dog had made off with it, sending Neal into spasms of laughter. He was also in fantastic shape. Although only a little taller than Wilson, he was quick and strong, with a washboard abdomen and well-muscled arms and legs. He told her that when he was a teenager the neighbors thought he was crazy because he’d put on his backpack and, holding a canoe over his head, run around the neighborhood.
Wilson and Neal dated off and on for three years. Off and on, only because he’d disappear for months at a time, while she pined for him to return. He broke her heart every time he left, but she couldn’t help herself. He seemed so perfect: smart, he could quote Thoreau, for God’s sake, and read everything he could get his hands on; heroic, he let it slip that he’d been a member of the U.S. Army’s Green Berets and the Alaskan Mountain Rescue Team, showing her photographs of himself on snowshoes, crossing crevasses; and ambitious, he said he owned Neal Tech, which sold alarm systems, including some he claimed to have installed in the White House. He was confident he’d be successful at whatever he put his hand to next.
His attributes seemed endless. He was also sensitive and devoted to his mother. He heartbrokenly told Wilson how his father had suffered a heart attack while driving the family car and had died in his arms. He’d been married once but left, he said, when he caught his wife in bed with another man. She couldn’t imagine what that other woman had been thinking, because she thought Neal was the sexiest man she’d ever met—sparing no expense on romancing her, whether it was rose petals to cover their bed, special lotions and bubble baths, or extravagant dinners, all followed by dreamy massages.
Neal seemed able to fit into any crowd. . . . He could walk into any place and be whatever he wanted to be. He was at home in the woods and could talk the talk of “river people” and wilderness guides. He was just as at ease in expensive suits and $60 haircuts at fancy gatherings, the sophisticate who wooed her with his class and style. She had always dreamed of spending her life traveling, seeing new places . . . and he was, of course, the world traveler, the man of adventure.
He tossed around money like he made it in his basement. She never could figure out where he got it all. Once he told her he was a loan officer, but she’d seen him in a security-company truck. She didn’t think it was her business to ask, believing that the money might have something to do with his mysterious disappearances, which he never really explained. Or perhaps he had generous benefactors as he seemed to know rich people everywhere.
Once they were hiking and came upon a gorgeous log home deep in the woods, whose owners he just happened to know. The couple invited them to dinner and treated him like a long-lost son.
Looking back many years later, she could finally see that there were signs from the very beginning that her perfect man was far from perfect. When they met, he told her he was living with another woman, but that it was a “purely platonic” relationship. She believed him because she was in love, even after they went over to the apartment one afternoon, and he told her to duck when he saw the woman coming out of the complex. He apparently hadn’t counted on her being there. After the coast was clear, he took her up to the apartment and she noticed that there was only a single king-sized bed to sleep on.
That’s some platonic relationship,
she thought, but he told her again that there was nothing more to it. She wanted to believe him, so she did.
There was one quirk of his that bothered her. They’d be walking down the sidewalk, or in a mall or restaurant, and he’d see a woman in a short skirt or low-cut sweater and would mutter, “Slut.” Or a pretty woman would smile at him and he’d sneer after she passed and say something like, “She’s a whore.” The comments were always made under his breath, so only Wilson could hear, but it embarrassed her and she’d ask him to stop. He’d just walk on as if he’d never said a word. But the next time another woman passed, whether it was that afternoon or a week later, he’d be back to muttering, “Slut. Whore.”
As a lover, he was imaginative and into experimentation. He wanted to know her fantasies. Had she ever thought about sex with another woman? What about with two men? Wilson told him, “Sure, I’ve thought about it; everyone has fantasies.” But that’s all they were to her, fantasies that she would never have acted on.
However, there came a time when he took her to a lodge in the mountains for a romantic getaway. He didn’t do drugs but knew that she liked marijuana and brought some, along with a little cocaine that he lined out. He had her slip into a negligee and opened a bottle of champagne. She was getting all warm and fuzzy, anticipating the rest of the evening, when the telephone rang.
“Who was that?” she asked after he spoke quickly into the receiver and hung up. She didn’t know that anyone even knew where they were.
Neal explained that he was trying to help her fulfill a fantasy, making love to two men. He reminded her that she’d admitted thinking about it. In fact, he’d asked her what sort of fantasy man she’d want and since he was blond and blue-eyed, she’d told him, “Maybe someone with dark hair and green eyes.” But it had been a joke.
Apparently not to Neal. The person on the telephone was a friend of his, “Jesse,” he said, green-eyed, dark-haired, and waiting in the room next to theirs.
“My God, what are you doing?” she sputtered. She didn’t want two men in her bed, only one, him. She was so angry that she started putting on her clothes, getting ready to leave. Then the telephone rang again. He picked it up and simply said, “No,” and hung up.
Later he told her that she’d passed a test. “If you had said yes, our relationship would have been over,” he said. “We’d have had a good time first, but it would have been over.”
and I didn’t even know I was being tested.
There would be many more tests over the next two years, many she wouldn’t do as well on. But first he talked her into moving to Houston, Texas, with him in 1984. He said that he had a good job waiting and that’s where his mother lived.
It wasn’t long before the red warning flags were at full staff and flapping in the breeze. When they arrived in Houston, he had her lease their apartment in her name. He said he didn’t want the woman at the rental office “knowing we’re having relations.” There wasn’t a job waiting for him, but he made sure that she got one as soon as possible as the assistant manager at an import store.
Still, she ignored the little voice in her head, especially when, ten days after they arrived, he took her to a justice of the peace and they got married. In her mind, she was marrying her fantasy man. But she failed a second test on her wedding night, and this time she met a side of Neal she didn’t know existed.
They were in their room when he said he wanted to play a game of sharing deepest, darkest secrets. He went first, admitting that he’d had sexual relations with other men. Then he asked her a question. Had she ever slept with a married man? “Yes, once,” she said. “It was a mistake, and I’ve regretted it ever since.”
Suddenly the game turned violent. He knocked her to the ground and was quickly on top of her with his hands around her throat. “Liar,” he screamed in her face. “You whore!”
Wilson was terrified.
Why is he doing this?
she thought as she fought to remove his hands.
This isn’t Bill.
She’d never seen him violent before. He’d talked about getting into fights with other men, but only when he had been in the right. He’d also told her that he had a black belt in karate, even had the uniform and a samurai sword, and was pretty good with his nunchakus. But he’d never exhibited a temper around her; he’d always been as sweet as pie.
Neal finally let her up. He didn’t apologize; she’d done a bad thing and that’s the way he saw it. He made her call the wife of the man and confess what had happened.
Under his tutelage, she soon had herself convinced that it was her fault that he’d attacked her. She’d done something wrong and that’s what provoked him. She’d have to be more careful.
Life went back to normal, and Neal was his old sweet self. A few days later, he announced they were going on their “honeymoon” to a place called Canyon Lake. He’d found a romantic little cabin in the hills where they could see the lake from the front porch. She was excited that they would be spending a whole ten days he’d somehow arranged, despite their lack of money, which seemed to have dried up when they left Washington, D.C.
The night they got to the cabin, though, he wanted to play the questions game again. He asked her another question about her sexual history. A small matter really, but she should have known better than to answer him honestly. Except that’s the way she’d been raised, and he’d said that for their relationship to work, they needed to always be honest with each other. So she answered truthfully, and this time found herself pinned against the wall with his hands around her throat before he pulled her to the ground and continued to throttle her. She got loose and ran from the bedroom into the living room where she hid behind the couch in a little ball. She heard him come out of the bedroom.