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The slender strawberry blonde and the school counselor whose home was three thousand miles away in Washington State met in such a seemingly romantic way that they seemed destined to be with one another: he was in New Orleans for a ten-day educational conference, and she was a concierge at a fine hotel in the Mardi Gras city. It would have been better, perhaps, if his judgment hadn't been somewhat obscured by the romance of it all. In retrospect, she undoubtedly knew exactly what she was doing.
It was 1988 when their story began. Teresa Gaethe was twenty-seven then, and she had deep roots in Louisiana and Florida. Trying to trace those roots, however, is almost impossible. Gaethe was her first husband's surname; her maiden name was probably Jones, but she didn't tell Charles "Chuck" Leonard that. She said her maiden name was Goldstein before she married a stock broker named Gary Gaethe, and she subtly alluded to her family's wealth, only the first of the many exaggerations and downright lies she would tell Chuck. Teresa's family -- two sisters and a brother, and her parents -- met Gary Gaethe only twice, once before she married him and once again when they attended their daughter's wedding. Teresa said she and Gary had lived aboard a wonderful sailboat during their brief marriage.
It was a somewhat bizarre celebration. Lois Patois, Teresa's older sister who had always tried to look after her siblings, recalled, "My whole family went to Teresa's wedding, and there was a gentleman that had come down from like a balcony area, and he had a gun -- a big gun."
From then on, Teresa's family wondered if their sister's bridegroom was involved in some things that "weren't normal." Teresa said nothing to disabuse them of that impression; she enjoyed having mysteries in her life. She stayed married to Gary Gaethe less than two years, actually living with him for only a few months.
As they sipped cocktails far into the night, Teresa gave Chuck the impression that she worked not out of necessity but because she enjoyed interacting with the guests who patronized the hotel where she was employed.
When Chuck told her that he had a master's degree from a highly rated Jesuit college -- Seattle University -- and that he was working to be qualified as a school principal, she volunteered that she had a college degree. She probably didn't, but following her tangled background to its sources is akin to untangling a ball of yarn after a kitten is through playing with it.
Teresa was five feet, six inches tall, but she was small-boned and sometimes appeared to be far more delicate than she really was. In truth, she had a backbone of steel and usually got what she wanted. Her green eyes gave her a seductive quality. She knew how to attract and please men, and she spent a great deal of time on her clothes, hair, and makeup. Sometimes, she looked like Sharon Stone, and then again she could be as guileless and innocent as Doris Day.
She had a cute little pug nose and thick blond hair, and a good, if somewhat boyish, figure. She kept her nails long and lacquered bright red. But she wasn't technically beautiful; she also had a "spade chin," too elongated for her face to be perfect, and she didn't like her nose.
Haltingly, Teresa told Chuck that she felt lucky to be alive; she said she had survived open-heart surgery when she was a child, but she assured him that she was in good health now. She showed him the scars left from her cardiac operations, and he worried about her. He thought she might be protesting too much when she said she had no lingering effects from such drastic surgery at a young age.
Chuck Leonard was a very complicated man. He was a natural-born caretaker, but he was also something of a hedonist. Chuck Leonard was, as his sister, Theresa (with a name close to Teresa) said, "a rescuer." He was five years older than his only sibling and he'd always been a caring big brother and he liked that role. The women in his life tended to be younger than him -- and somewhat dependent and needy.
Probably Teresa Gaethe appealed to him both because she was very attractive and because she seemed lost and in need of a strong shoulder to lean on. It may have been the story she told him about her bad heart.
More likely, it was because Teresa was skilled at figuring out what different men wanted. And she quickly deduced that Chuck wanted someone who needed him, women he could mentor into a more fulfilling life. And, in certain ways, Teresa fit into that category.
Like Gary Gaethe, Chuck Leonard was twenty years older than Teresa, but he didn't act or look his age. He had a trim, muscular build, and handsome even features with clear light eyes beneath hooded lids. Chuck had a thick head of hair that his barber cut in the latest style. Sometimes he had a crew cut, and occasionally, he let it grow below his ears and down to his shoulders. When Teresa met him, he had a thick, brushlike mustache.
During the many evenings they spent together, he told her about his waterfront home in Washington State, his great job with the school district, his airplane, and his vintage sports cars. That was all true, but Chuck's cars and plane were older models. And he'd built his house and property into what they were by dint of his own hard physical labor.
Teresa assumed he was wealthy. One Washington detective surmised that each of them thought the other had no money problems. "In the end, they both got fooled -- but Chuck got fooled more."
Actually, Chuck didn't care if Teresa had money, and he didn't deliberately mislead her. He was making a fairly good salary, and he was able to afford those things he wanted. He owned property beyond the house he remodeled, and he lived comfortably.
Oddly, Teresa told Chuck she was two years older than she really was -- a switch on the usual adjustments women make to their true ages. Perhaps she wanted him to think that their ages weren't that far apart.
When Teresa and Chuck fell in love his friends thought it was because of a mutual physical attraction and not because either was a fortune hunter. Or so it seemed. In retrospect, one could wonder if Teresa would have allowed herself to become deeply involved with Chuck so rapidly if she knew he didn't really have the assets of a truly wealthy man. But she did miss him a lot when the educational conference ended and he flew back to Washington.
He missed her more. Chuck wrote to Teresa three times a day, mailed sentimental cards, and sent her flowers from his own garden, carefully packed in green tissue paper with water-filled glassine tubes so that they arrived in good condition.
Teresa's heart wasn't totally devoted to Chuck Leonard. In 1987, before she met Chuck, she had carried on an intense affair with another man for six months. His name was Nick Callas,* and she'd met him when she went to Hawaii to work. Callas was a realtor and Teresa went to his office inquiring about housing. They were both single and they could not deny the immediate chemistry between them.
But after six months Nick still hadn't made any move toward a permanent relationship, so Teresa returned to New Orleans. They exchanged cards and phone calls from time to time. After she met Chuck, Teresa wrote to Nick and told him that she would be living in Washington State.
Not long after, Callas married someone else. And he lived even farther away from New Orleans than Chuck did -- in Hawaii. Nick was the same age as Chuck, but beyond that they didn't resemble each other. Callas was well on his way to becoming rich, while money mattered little to Chuck. Like most men of Greek heritage, Callas was dark and swarthy, and boldly handsome, with a head of thick wavy black hair.
Teresa tended to gravitate toward older men; the three she was closest to were all almost two decades older than she was. Perhaps she was searching for a father figure. As the doors of her secret life slowly opened over the years, one could understand why.
Gary, Nick, and Chuck all fit that role; they were all kind to her and concerned about her -- at least initially.
Teresa knew Nick was wealthy because he'd shown her many of the properties he owned. She sometimes wondered what her life would have been like if Nick had chosen her instead of his wife, Grace.
Eventually, in about 1989, Nick seemed to disappear from Teresa's life. After her loneliness and frustration in trying to balance not one but two long-distance relationships, it wasn't difficult for Chuck to persuade Teresa to visit him at his Snohomish County home on Lake Goodwin near Stanwood, Washington. She had been married once, and Chuck had one or two ex-wives, but he'd been divorced for years.
"Chuck thought he had found his soul mate," his sister Theresa said. "Teresa came out for Thanksgiving in November 1988."
Chuck had seemed to be a confirmed bachelor for decades. His first wife, Reisa, had been a sixteen-year-old high school student and he'd been twenty-one when he proposed.
"It wasn't romantic at all," Reisa recalled. "We'd been dating and I knew Chuck wanted to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam. He didn't want to go to Canada, either. He picked me up at school one day and told me we were going to get married, and if I didn't say yes, he would find another girl."
Reisa wasn't happy at home and she did care about Chuck, so she agreed. Chuck wasn't nearly ready to settle down, but their marriage did delay his being drafted for a few more years. However, they had no children and eventually Chuck's draft number came up. He was sent to Fort Lewis -- south of Tacoma, Washington, for training.
Reisa Leonard was very fond of Chuck's family. She and his sister Theresa bonded, and she liked his natural mother, Ann, who was fun to be around. Chuck's father, Fred, resembled Humphrey Bogart with his cigarette hanging from his mouth. "He was a good-looking man," Reisa said, "and he was interesting."
And so was his son, who always had some new plan and was filled with energy.
"When Chuck was at Fort Lewis, he got a brilliant idea," Reisa recalled. "Those poor kids from the Midwest missed their mothers' cooking, so Chuck went into the pie business. Ann made wonderful pies, and she taught me how to make them, too. We would make a bunch of them and take them to Chuck at Fort Lewis. He sold out of his locker for a good profit."
But it was against army rules, and his sergeant found out and made Chuck eat all the pies left in his locker.
Chuck was sent to Germany. In one of his few sentimental gestures toward Reisa, he gave her an engagement ring and wedding ring he'd won playing cards in his barracks. She was touched, even though the set had only small diamond chips.
After almost four years, Reisa and Chuck's marriage died of its own weight, and they divorced. Although she stayed close to Theresa, Reisa went thirty-five years without seeing her young ex-husband. She took a job with the Kitsap County Sheriff 's Office, married twice more, and had a son.
Whether Chuck Leonard married again before he met Teresa Gaethe is questionable. He did have a daughter during one of his short affairs, but they were not close. When she grew up, she looked for him and they had begun a tentative relationship that looked promising.
Teresa totally captivated Chuck, and for the first time in decades he actually thought about forming a permanent bond with a woman.
When Teresa saw Chuck's house, she was impressed. Painted a soft gray, it rose three stories and was set right on the lake. A small emerald velvet plateau of grass paralleled the shoreline; it looked as if it had been trimmed with manicure scissors. Chuck was a perfectionist when it came to things like his house, his property, and his cars. He obviously had a green thumb; there were flowers blooming all over his property, along with pine, cedar, and fir trees. He was justly proud of his home. He explained to Teresa that he had built it from a cabin, digging out the hill at the lake level to facilitate two extra floors. It was beautifully maintained and welcoming, even though it wasn't quite the big lodge that Teresa had pictured in her mind. And she had no intention of becoming a gardener; it would ruin her nails.
Still, she told Chuck that she was very impressed with his house and landscaping and praised him for his work on the place.
Chuck had excellent taste in furniture, and he'd hung his grandmother's oil paintings. His former girlfriends had picked out rugs, lamps, and other items that didn't always match. The result was eclectic, but it complemented the inside of the lake house, just as the landscaping did the exterior.
Teresa didn't know anything about cars, so she didn't realize Chuck's prize Porsche was powered by a Volkswagen engine. He had had sports cars since he was a young man and took pride in his expertise at rebuilding engines and other car parts. Some of Chuck's detailing of his assets had been all flash and little substance, but he obviously loved his home, his cars, and his plane.
And he couldn't do enough to make Teresa happy. Heretofore a ladies' man who often dated several women in the same time period, Chuck Leonard was bedazzled by his Southern love. He believed her when she told him she was Jewish and her family name was Goldstein, and warned his parents and other relatives not to serve pork or ham for Thanksgiving. He gave Teresa Hannukah cards, and did everything he could to acknowledge her religion. What her purpose was in claiming to be Jewish remains a mystery; sometimes it seemed that she just enjoyed being untruthful -- it gave her some kind of control.
"She was aloof," Chuck's sister recalled, "even though everyone tried to please her, and we carefully followed whatever Jewish customs Chuck said were important to her."
Teresa seemed to care for Chuck, and he adored her -- and that was what mattered to his family.
Chuck's sister Theresa noted almost immediately that Chuck's new bride was nice enough to her when he was around, but dismissive when they were alone. As long as Theresa agreed with her new sister-in-law, things went fairly well. And yet she sensed an odd seething anger just below Teresa's surface.
"She could cut you out of her life and be incredibly cold," Chuck's sister said. "She kept me at arm's length. I hated that we had the same name."
Theresa wondered why Teresa didn't try a little harder to fit in with the family. Chuck's relatives had been prepared to welcome his new love, but she was more often a prickly pear with them instead of an affectionate relative. She was warm -- even seductive -- with Chuck and his father. The older man was quite taken with her.
Copyright © 2009 by Ann Rule