By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
When she met the handsome German, Cindy was at loose ends. She'd just turned 30. She'd broken up with a longtime boyfriend. She'd earned her master's degree in health education, but walked away from a big corporate gig for a pair of part-time jobs in Arizona. She was vulnerable, and Apelt -- who swanned around town in a rented tux while spinning tales of success in investment banking -- knew just what lines would work.
Kathy never liked him, but Cindy wouldn't listen.
The sisters had planned to meet up on the evening of December 23. So when newlywed Cindy never showed up, Kathy started to panic. She grew even more concerned when Apelt phoned at 2 a.m., reporting that Cindy had gotten a mysterious call and left their apartment earlier in the evening.
Kathy decided to call the police.
That afternoon, on Christmas Eve, a stranger stumbled onto Cindy Monkman's bloody body at the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Two weeks later, the Apelts' accomplice gave them up, and the police booked both brothers for murder.
Every Christmas season since has been filled with sadness. "I'll wake up every year on Christmas Eve and I feel it, physically," Monkman says.
It was easier, she admits, during the Apelts' trials: She had something to keep her going. But after the trials ended, after the brothers were sentenced to death row, it was harder to stave off despair.
"It was this scary feeling: 'Now what am I going to wake up in the morning and focus on?' Then you feel guilty because everyone says, 'You must be so glad the trial is over.' And you're not. You're just entering into your own hell."
Monkman quit her job as a psychiatric nurse. "Other people's problems didn't seem all that important to me at the time," she says. She worked in head injury rehab for a few years before learning a specialized soft tissue massage. In 1993, she started her own massage studio, The Heart Space, in Tempe.
She knows that observers might say she uses other people's trials to keep hell at bay. She couldn't be less defensive on that point. "I don't know if it's healthy or completely self-abusive that I do this," she says, candidly. "But I do it. I'm drawn to it. I feel a connection to these people."
With Laci Peterson, though, that connection seemed too strong. Both Laci and Cindy were last seen on December 23 and reported missing the next day. Both had sunny dispositions, outgoing personalities, lots of friends. Laci was 27, while Cindy had just turned 30.
Most important, both married master manipulators, men who plotted their wives' murders and imagined they could walk away.
"I wasn't sure I was ever going to get into the case," Monkman admits. In the end, though, she couldn't help herself. "And once I did -- whoa!"
In 2002, 601 men killed their wives, according to FBI statistics. But only Scott Peterson became a bona fide celebrity. The case made the cover of People, supplied endless fodder for the National Enquirer, and was a staple on FoxNews and CNN. E! gave it a True Hollywood Story that lasted two hours. (Oprah's special only lasted one.)
"There's so many spousal killings," says Beth Karas, an on-air reporter for Court TV. "Why this one? Well, you have a young couple, white, good-looking, middle-class, having their first baby."
When he founded Court TV in 1991, Steven Brill envisioned a niche cable channel for egghead legal types. O.J. blew that plan to bits, even while bringing the channel mass popularity. Many regulars on the Court TV message boards are stay-at-home moms or invalids. Many came to Court TV because of O.J., but they stayed because they were swept along by the drama of true crime.
Their interest in legal strategy is mostly in the context of the people they're watching. They identify not with the prosecutors, but with the family members sitting tearfully behind them.
The players in the Peterson case were made for a Lifetime TV movie. Laci's mother, Sharon Rocha, thought her daughter had the perfect marriage. Amber Frey, the single mother who was "dating" Scott, began secretly taping his phone calls when she learned how recently he'd been married. And then, of course, there was Laci: Eight months pregnant and pretty, she struck a powerful chord with women -- who make up two-thirds of Court TV's daytime audience, says executive vice president Galen Jones. The trial would give Court TV its biggest ratings since O.J.
Monkman's best friend, Genna McCallie, was certainly hooked. She did her best to get Monkman into it. She was used to sharing her obsession. "I tried for months to get her interested," McCallie says. "She didn't even want to hear about it."
McCallie, 44, had found Court TV in the fall of 2002 after a series of life-changing bad breaks: a failed relationship, dropping out of the University of Memphis just one semester before graduation, moving on a whim to Louisiana.
She hadn't particularly liked Memphis, but she liked Louisiana even less. She was bored.
When McCallie first tuned in, Court TV was covering the end of the David Westerfield trial. Westerfield had been convicted of killing his 7-year-old neighbor, and the jury was debating whether he should get the death penalty.