TOWN WITHOUT PITY

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

The man fell back, and pulled a gun out of his pants. He pointed it at Doug Stover and, Fran Stover says, he pulled the trigger.

"I thought we were dead people," she says. "I will not forget this. He pointed it right at Doug and at me. It clicked more than once, but it didn't fire. It didn't fire! I screamed, `I have a baby in here.' That must have sunk in. He put the gun back in his pants and ran out of there. I'm positive it was Dale. We knew Dale. Those bulging-out eyes, the missing teeth. We told the cops who it was."

But a 1985 Springerville police report by officer Danny Craig makes no reference to Dale Crosby. Craig--who now works for the U.S. Forest Service--said later he didn't recall if the Stovers had mentioned Crosby by name.

But a chance meeting with Crosby in Round Valley the night after their close call erased any lingering doubts the Stovers may have had about their attacker's identity.

"We saw Dale at a bar," Fran Stover says, "and he had a black eye, right where Doug had hit him." She pauses to let that sink in. "A black eye! We told the police right away, but nothing happened."

One problem may have been Doug Stover, who had been arrested on criminal charges in Round Valley more than once over the years. Local police now admit that in 1985 they may have had difficulty envisioning the rowdy Stover as a victim. Fran Stover has a clean record, police say, but they apparently didn't believe the couple could identify someone wearing a ski mask in a dark apartment.

The Stovers' account gained credibility in the eyes of local police only after Dale Crosby was arrested late last year, after his second attack on Rex Ann Bills. The Springerville police reopened the Stover case, and Springerville officer L. Millegan wrote in a report: "It is this officer's personal knowledge that it is in fact not too dark in that apartment to see very clearly . . . . As for the missing tooth that Doug mentioned earlier, it is not a missing tooth, just a large gap between the two front teeth that had always been kind of a joke all through high school."

Crosby himself may have given his own sanitized version of the Stover incident in his 1989 session with social worker Robert Emerick: "[Crosby] recalled an incident in which he walked into an apartment where he thought a girl was alone," Emerick wrote. "However, when he walked into the bedroom, the girl's boyfriend was there. The boyfriend got out of bed and hit Mr. Crosby. The client reports he simply walked out and no further action was taken."

"I asked different officers throughout the years, `What ever happened?'" says Fran Stover. "They'd just shrug."

In 1986, several months after Crosby's alleged attack on the Stovers, Eagar police arrested him for possessing marijuana. A judge placed Crosby on felony probation, and he didn't get caught breaking the law again until the summer of 1989. That's when things started to unravel.

A fourteen-year-old girl--we'll call her Janie--went to bed late one night at her cousin's house in Eagar after watching the horror flick Halloween IV. Dale Crosby showed up and asked to use the bathroom. Minutes passed, and Janie's cousin and a friend, Donnie Bentley, wondered what was taking Crosby so long. They peeked into the john and saw he wasn't there.

Janie later told police she'd been awakened by a man next to her, feeling her breasts and trying to stick his hand down her underpants. Before Janie had a chance to scream, she'd heard someone trying to get into her bedroom. She told detectives that when the man heard the doorknob rattle, he'd hopped out of bed, fixed his pants, and pushed up briefly against the door. Then he'd let go, lain on the floor and pretended to be asleep.

Dale Crosby's ploy didn't work. Donnie Bentley escorted him out, and Janie's aunt--now awake--called the police. Coincidentally, Bentley was a friend of Rex Ann Bills', and he knew of Crosby's first attack on her the previous October. That's how investigators heard of Bills, and how she came to be listed as a prosecution witness against Crosby.

For perhaps the first time, Apache County prosecutors were compelled to treat Crosby as a dangerous person, not just as Round Valley's resident creep. As sheriff's deputy Green and Eagar detective-sergeant Brissinger investigated over the next few weeks, Crosby went for the first time to a Phoenix psychiatrist. The psychiatrist referred Crosby last August to Phoenix clinical social worker Robert Emerick for a "risk assessment."

Emerick's assessment of Crosby was grim. In the thirteen-page document, Emerick in effect predicted Crosby's late-1989 knife attack on Bills. Emerick noted in his report that Crosby showed "emotional distress" to these questions on a lie-detector test: "Have you ever raped anyone? Do you recall using force in order to obtain sex more than three times?"

The report chillingly concludes: "In the event the opportunity presents itself and Crosby believes himself to be at low risk for reporting-identification, I would expect him to progress into hands-on assault behaviors . . . . Prognosis for behavioral change is not good."

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