By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
First of all, she was snatched after leaving a stress-reduction workshop. Didn't that tell you everything you needed to know?
Then there was the matter of the criminals.
Mary Jo said her assailants were four teen-agers, two well-dressed young men and two middle-class girls. Were we supposed to believe that these two couples were out on a double date and just decided to rob and abduct one of the Valley's best-known television personalities?
Sure, Mary Jo, sure.
There was one final touch, the detail that screamed, "Mary Jo West is the local poster child for emotional instability and this entire story is a very sad cry for attention."
Ms. West said that as she fought her way out of the grip of the gunman and fled across the hospital parking lot, she heard the pistol fired twice. Pop! Pop! The police, however, were unable to locate any shell casings or spent bullets.
Of course the cops couldn't find any shell casings. It all fit.
The smug cynicism surrounding the Mary Jo West caper lasted one week. On October 17, Glendale detectives arrested sixteen-year-old Marilee M. Gray at Cactus High School. The teen-ager, who'd bragged of her exploits, was charged with kidnaping and armed robbery after the police followed up on a tip. Last Sunday, Renee Rock, 14, turned herself in to authorities in Bullhead City. On Monday, Daniel Banks, 17, was picked up. Rock and Banks are both expected to face the same charges as Gray. Mary Jo does not want to sit down for an interview about this experience. Not just yet anyway. She doesn't want the remaining suspect, who is still loose, stalking her. Furthermore, when this nightmare ends up in court, she doesn't want some defense attorney swaying the jury by accusing Mary Jo of drumming up publicity.
Still, her eyes flash at the recollection that people might not have believed her story in the beginning. And she knows that is exactly what happened. Hell, even the public information officer for the Glendale Police, Marshall Downen, said he ran into that sentiment.
And why should anyone take Mary Jo West at face value?
Hadn't we all read enough phony stories recently to spot one more pathetic attempt to tug at our hearts?
Before Tami Jo Albers shot her husband and then committed suicide, she attempted to convince the police that she was a kidnap victim. The hoax was quickly revealed, though the truth did not forestall the tragedy. And this summer everyone was transfixed by the harrowing adventure of Shantih Schmid, a nineteen-year-old abducted from a video store in Mesa.
People throughout the state prayed as members of Schmid's church, First Evangelical Lutheran, maintained a vigil in hope of the teen-ager's safe release. Miraculously, Shantih escaped with barely a scratch from the hoodlums who'd kidnaped her.
Miraculous, indeed! Soon the facts were unearthed by the police. Schmid and her friends staged the entire drama in order to extort $60,000 in ransom money from her parents. While the faithful in Arizona offered up prayers to God for the teen-ager's return, Shantih and her buddies engaged in a cocaine-fueled orgy.
Unlike Tami and Shantih, Mary Jo was no stranger to us.
When the West story first broke, it was hard to avoid one thought: For God's sake, shouldn't one of Mary Jo's friends sit down with the poor woman and help her before something awful happens? As for the rest of us, those of us who are not her friends but who cannot avoid the celebrity that she is, this was just the latest chapter in the public saga of a woman betrothed to headlines.
In 1976 Mary Jo West became the first woman to anchor a newscast in Phoenix with CBS affiliate Channel 10. Her broadcasting partner was Bill Close, a Valley institution even then.
But Mary Jo was never merely a groundbreaking journalist. From the beginning, she was taken into the hearts of viewers in a manner that rendered her larger than life. Her painful breakup with her first husband fed the local gossip grist mills for months. When she sang Maria's role in The Sound of Music for the Phoenix Little Theatre, people flocked to the show in such numbers that the production became the most successful ever mounted in the company's sixty-year history. The emotional nature of Mary Jo's relationship with all of us culminated in a bizarre psychodrama. In 1982, a mentally disturbed gunman, Joseph Billie Gwin, burst into the studios and took Bill Close captive as thousands of viewers watched live. While her partner read Gwin's rambling, incoherent statement over the air, it was Mary Jo West who prepared and presented, solo, that night's newscasts. It was a tearful Mary Jo who broadcast the word to the rest of us that Close was safe, that Gwin had surrendered his gun. Later that same year, Mary Jo hit the big time. She was summoned to New York to be part of the on-air team for CBS News Nightwatch. Her sendoff to the Big Apple was a public outpouring of heartfelt pride.