TOWN WITHOUT PITY

AFTER EIGHT WOMEN WERE ATTACKED IN THEIR HOMES, THEY FOUND THEMSELVES SHUNNED BY THEIR NEIGHBORS AND IGNORED BY THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Rex Ann Bills was washing her dishes one night last November when Dale Crosby barged into her unlocked trailer.

Bills had been living in the northeast Arizona community of Eagar since the summer of 1987. The Michigan native liked its moderate climate and small-town intimacy. But things weren't right beneath the courteous veneer of this White Mountain town of 3,500.

Like Rex Ann Bills, Dale Crosby was an electrician in his early twenties. But he hadn't invited himself in to discuss work.

"Dale said if he was going to go to jail for the rest of his life, he was going to get something out of it," Bills says of the incident. "I said, `What do you mean?' He said he wanted to go to bed with me.

"I tried to get past him and he grabbed me from behind. He had a lock on my neck with his arm. That's when he pulled out the knife and stuck it in my face, and he told me I'd better shut up or he'd kill me. I was screaming, `Please God, I don't want to die.' His eyes were really crazed looking."

The two grappled over the knife. During the clash, Bills suffered a knife wound to her right thumb. But she also opened a formidable gash in Crosby's forehead with the weapon as the pair struggled. "When he realized he was bleeding," Bills later told police, "he backed off."

Crosby rushed to a sink and tried to stem the flow of blood as Bills hid the knife. Then he left, after saying something very odd.

"He told me I should get my door fixed," Bills says, "so it would lock in the future."

Crosby pedaled the ten-speed bicycle he was riding that night to a friend's home, police reports say. Lolo Hernandez was watching Monday Night Football when Crosby pulled up, wanting badly to talk. The old buddies went for a ride in Hernandez's car, during which Crosby made a remarkable confession.

"Dale told Lolo that he [Crosby] had been watching Geraldo on television that afternoon," Eagar detective-sergeant R.J. Brissinger wrote of his interview with Hernandez. "The program was about people who had committed murder. Geraldo had said that convicted murderers received a sentence of only five or six years in prison. Dale said that he decided then that if he was going to prison, then he was going to kill Rex Ann Bills."

As Crosby spilled his guts to Lolo Hernandez, Rex Ann Bills was driving to her boyfriend's home a half-hour away in the county seat of St. Johns. He and his roommate urged her to contact the police.

"I was not going to report it," she told Brissinger later that night, "because I am really frightened that it will just lead to worse things for me."

Police arrested Crosby at his Eagar home. Apache County sheriff's deputy Quinn Green asked Crosby what had been in his mind when he'd gone to Bills' trailer. Crosby replied with a cryptic remark.

"A lot different than last time, I can tell you," Crosby said. "It wasn't sexually related at all." The deputy knew exactly what Dale Crosby was talking about. This was the second time the man had attacked Bills. The first time, in October 1988, Crosby had sex on his mind. He had climbed into Bills' bed and started touching her before she repelled him.

But the motive of this second, much more violent attack was different. Dale Crosby wanted to silence Bills, and with good reason. Bills had been called as a prosecution witness against him in a sexual abuse case involving a fourteen-year-old Springerville girl.

That was why, when Crosby talked to Lolo Hernandez about getting away with murder, police took him seriously.

Dale Crosby's arrest on charges of attempted murder, kidnaping, attempted rape, armed burglary, aggravated assault and threatening a state's witness came as no surprise to many. Police in the Round Valley area--which includes the adjacent communities of Eagar and Springerville--had been busting Crosby off and on for a decade. And Crosby's own clinical social worker had predicted the bloody second attack on Bills just weeks before the clash.

Since 1985 at least eight local women--most of them petite blondes--had been victims of Crosby's brazen sex offenses. But for a long time, few of the women wanted to make too public a deal of Crosby, and their reticence was understandable. He was the son of Wyatt and Glenna Crosby, members of one of Apache County's most venerable clans. That would weigh heavily in what was to follow.

It's been five months since Arizona State Prison officials took Crosby away to serve a term that should amount to eight years in real time. But Dale Crosby's reign of terror has torn tight-knit Round Valley apart.

The events in this rural Arizona tale have left Crosby's victims and others--including the case's original prosecutor--wondering if they can ever again have faith in their justice system. They are appalled that when push came to shove, Apache County Attorney Steve Udall--an avowed advocate of victims' rights--didn't practice what he preached. As evidence, they refer bitterly to a plea bargain Udall quietly sweetened after Crosby faced a thirty-year prison sentence. And they don't spare the county's superior court judge--Michael Nelson--from their slings and arrows.

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