TOWN WITHOUT PITY
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.
Perhaps most of all, the victims are still stunned and hurt by a petition circulated through Round Valley. Signed by 131 of their neighbors before Crosby's May 16 sentencing, the petition pleaded for leniency. Those who signed it included the chairman of the Apache County Board of Supervisors, the county's top administrator and the manager of one of the area's largest employers.
Most of the signers are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as are the Crosbys. Most of Dale Crosby's victims are non-Mormon. One cannot overestimate that simple fact. The relationships among Round Valley's founding Mormon families go back to the late nineteenth century, when three brothers with the surname of Eagar donated land for a town to be named after them.
Birthright looms especially large in an area where the line between church and state often is blurred: Many prominent Mormons double as the area's political leaders, including County Attorney Udall. To some longtime Round Valley residents--and not just non-Mormons--it seems obvious that it's who you are, not what you've done, that matters most in Apache County's justice system.
"If my name were Crosby or Udall or another big name up here and I had been the victim, I know this would have ended up way different," says Eagar native LaNita Koontz, one of Crosby's victims and a non-Mormon. "I know I wouldn't have been treated like dirt."
DALE CROSBY'S PARENTS adopted him from a young Yuma woman on the day he was born. He later told a probation officer he hadn't learned of his adoption until a high school counselor told him. This tardy revelation, Crosby speculated in a rare moment of self-reflection, was at the root of his troubles. Crosby tried out a Bad Seed theory on the probation officer: He said he'd inherited his drinking problems from his real mother.
Crosby's adoption could have been the break of a lifetime. His new dad was a fairly successful real-estate broker, and his mom was well-liked in the community. Both parents were active Mormons, and Crosby participated in church activities until he drifted away as a teenager.
Though he was a poor student, Crosby excelled in athletics: In the early 1980s, the rock-solid 180-pounder lettered in football at Round Valley High School, then a powerhouse.
But Crosby had already started on the trail that culminated in his knife attack on Rex Ann Bills. He admitted to Phoenix clinical social worker Robert Emerick during an August 1989 interview that he'd been a peeping Tom since he was about twelve. Few Round Valley residents in those days locked their doors, and Crosby soon started letting himself into homes.
Police detained Crosby for the first time in 1978, for "malicious mischief." A juvenile court judge sentenced the fourteen-year-old to three years' probation. Eagar police in June 1980 accused Crosby of trespassing and prowling after he sneaked into a girl's house and watched her undress. Probation. Police caught him in a similar situation in February 1981. Probation.
Violations in April 1981 and March 1982 led juvenile authorities to deem Crosby as an "incorrigible." Nine days after getting that designation, he got busted for reckless driving. Probation.
In May 1982, he led Eagar police on a nine-mile, 95-mph chase that ended in near-tragedy. He ran an Eagar cop into a ditch, and the cop narrowly escaped serious injury. Prosecutors treated Crosby as an adult and charged him with stealing a rifle, felony fleeing and burglary. The Crosbys hired local attorney Tim Hall, a good friend of County Attorney Steve Udall, to defend their boy.
Hall convinced the prosecutor to allow Crosby to plea-bargain to a reduced charge of resisting arrest, a felony that was redesignated as a less-serious misdemeanor after Crosby completed probation. Records indicate he served one day in jail.
"We were outraged, but what could we do?" says a Round Valley lawman who requested anonymity. "We knew he was skating because of who he was, or who his family was, and the fact that they are active in the Church. That's the way it works up here."
Late in 1982, Crosby married his high school sweetheart Sheila. (The couple have a daughter and are still legally married. Sheila Crosby did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.) A local electrical firm hired him, and he went a few years without getting caught breaking the law. But he later confided to social worker Emerick that he had continued peeping into houses after his marriage. And one night in March 1985, Crosby may have gotten away with a crime that may have surpassed any he had committed until then.
For Fran Stover, the memory of that March evening remains vivid. She tells New Times that her husband Doug had just returned to Springerville after a few months out of town. Shortly after the couple fell asleep, something woke Fran. In a daze, she assumed it was her sixteen-month-old daughter, asleep in a baby bed in the same room.
She soon realized, however, that a man in a black ski mask was standing beside her bed. Stover silently nudged her sleeping husband. Doug Stover awoke in a flash, jumped up and punched the masked man in the face.
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."
Eagar detective Brissinger was also troubled by Dale Crosby. In the early 1980s, Brissinger had been the chief investigator for the Flagstaff Police Department in a horrendous rape case. It involved a local boy named Ricky Bible. Prison authorities released Bible on early parole less than a decade after his conviction. He returned to Flagstaff, raped and killed a nine-year-old girl, and is now on Death Row.
The detective saw distinct similarities between Ricky Bible and Dale Crosby: "Both were young men with alcohol and drug problems whose crimes had progressed from burglaries and such to the point that they had both been charged with aggravated assault and attempt to commit murder. And both come from good Mormon families."
LISA WEYRAUCH HAD been Apache County's sex-crimes prosecutor for little more than a year when the Crosby case came along. She had earned a reputation for being tough on defendants, but not unreasonably so. But interviews with the victims and analysis of police reports persuaded her to go for Crosby's jugular.
"I thought the guy was going to get thirty years," Weyrauch says. "I considered him an extremely dangerous person, and thought everybody except possibly his lawyer and family would agree after they heard the facts."
Those facts seemed to favor those who wanted to lock Crosby up for a long, long time: He was a convicted felon with a lengthy criminal history behind him, including numerous attacks on women. He had attacked Rex Ann Bills in her home while awaiting trial on a sexual abuse charge. He had confided in a pal Lolo Hernandez that he'd planned to rape and murder Bills because she was going to testify against him as a prosecution witness.
The Rex Ann Bills case was solid enough to stand on its own. But before the end of the year, yet another of Crosby's victims came forward.
LaNita Koontz told detectives that Crosby had crawled into bed with her one night in June 1989 as her husband slept on a couch in another room. The mother of four says that she had decided to keep mum because she feared Dale Crosby, but subsequent events had convinced her to speak up.
"The more cases against him the better, I thought," Koontz says.
Lisa Weyrauch added Koontz's case to the two others pending against Crosby.
In February of this year, prosecutor Weyrauch struck what looked like a tough-enough plea bargain with Crosby. The deal called for a minimum prison sentence of ten years and a maximum of thirty. A key component of the bargain, Weyrauch says, was to be a presentencing hearing at which Judge Michael Nelson would hear testimony from several of Crosby's Round Valley victims.
"I was sure that would clinch the thirty years," Weyrauch says. "The guarantee of that hearing was the only reason I even agreed to the possibility of ten years."
But things didn't work out the way Weyrauch planned. Dale Crosby got a much better deal than anyone expected.
Weyrauch resigned in early April to return to private practice. Crosby's defense attorney Tim Hall approached her with a request a few days before she left. "He asked me to stipulate to a ten-year sentence for his guy," Weyrauch recalls. She refused. "I told him that I'd be glad to stipulate to thirty years. To me, that was the correct sentence, the just sentence."
Soon after Weyrauch left, County Attorney Udall and Donna Grimsley--Weyrauch's replacement as sex-crimes prosecutor--gave Hall the deal Weyrauch wouldn't. The prosecutors now stipulated to a ten-year plea bargain, which worked out to eight years and a few months in real time.
Donna Grimsley justifies the agreement. "My boss determined that ten years was appropriate," she says. "I didn't feel uncomfortable with that."
The prosecutors insist they softened the deal with the blessings of Crosby's victims. "The victims had no objection with what we had in mind," Udall says. "The cases weren't the best in the world, and we had to do the best for everyone concerned. The victims agreed with us."
Either the prosecutors or the victims are woefully mistaken. Two victims--Rex Ann Bills and LaNita Koontz--who say they've never spoken to each other--told New Times in separate interviews that they actively opposed the new ten-year deal. A handwritten note in the Crosby case file from Judge Nelson's secretary to the judge confirms this.
"LaNita Koontz, victim, called to voice her objection to a plea agreement for Crosby," the secretary's note says in part. "She feels that they should have an opportunity to testify in court . . . . Rex Ann Bills, victim, objects to plea agreement."
"I think it is quite obvious that Dale's behavior has become increasingly worse," Bills wrote in a letter to the county attorney's office that apparently got there after Crosby's sentencing. She had moved to the state of Washington by this time, but was intensely interested in the case's outcome.
"He came to my house not just to scare me, but to end my life. I do not know what stopped him from doing just that. I feel that it is only right that he be sentenced to thirty or more years in a state prison."
Bills' letter makes Steve Udall's explanation about the victims' having "no objections" ring hollow.
TIM HALL CONTINUED to scramble for his client as the time for Dale Crosby's sentencing neared. He urged Crosby's parents Wyatt and Glenna to gather signatures for a petition that called for leniency. The couple urged the rich and locally famous to sign along with just regular folks.
Apache County Board of Supervisors chairman Art Lee was among the 131 who signed the petition. The reasons Lee gives are similar to those of everyone contacted by New Times: He signed because the Crosbys asked him to.
The Crosbys were so thorough in their signature drive that Glenna Crosby even asked one of her son's victims to sign the petition. Needless to say, the victim declined.
Crosby's parents also worked hard on another front, convincing Eagar town attorney Ron Wiltbank to write a letter to Judge Nelson on their son's behalf.
A former Eagar grade school principal who practices law in Round Valley and Scottsdale, Wiltbank asked the judge to allow Crosby to "continue as a productive member of the community while serving a probation term."
"The Crosby parents told me their boy was going to have to do a lot of time in jail that he didn't need to do," Wiltbank tells New Times. "They said, `Please ask the judge to give him a break.' I never read any of the police reports and I didn't have any contact with any of the authorities. I didn't want to get involved in that. I hadn't known Dale to speak of since he was a little gap-toothed kid. This was tearing them up, so I wrote it to help."
The Crosbys turned over their petition days before his sentencing. "Dale is a hard worker and has many good personality traits," it said in part, "including the ability to get along with the people he meets . . . . Please consider our request that Dale be reunited with his family as soon as possible."
Crosby's victim LaNita Koontz was so disturbed by the petition she decided at the eleventh hour to fight fire with fire. First, she phoned the home of Apache County manager Clarence Bigelow, who had signed the petition: "I told his wife that me and many other people had been the victims of this guy, that he had come into my house with my kids there, and that he had been pawing at me in my own bed. She said, `I'll tell him you called.'"
Koontz and others then circulated their own counterpetition.
"Our petition said that Crosby ought to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," she says. "We got a few hundred people to sign it. Not everyone in Round Valley was for Dale, and that included some Mormons. I wanted to make sure the judge got our petition, but I couldn't get anyone to tell me how to go about it."
Judge Nelson says he never saw the Koontz counterpetition or Rex Ann Bills' letter. But he admits he took the Crosbys' petition into consideration when he decided to go along with Crosby's abbreviated ten-year plea.
The twisted case then took another strange turn when Judge Nelson suddenly canceled the hearing at which several victims had planned to speak their pieces against Crosby.
"The prosecutor and defense attorney came into my chambers and wired the stipulated plea," Nelson says. "I agreed that there was no real reason to have the hearing. When two attorneys you respect come to you with a deal, you have to assume that it's a fair one."
The cancellation of the hearing was particularly galling to the women who had their hearts set on testifying. "I was ready to go," says LaNita Koontz. "I started thinking this whole thing was a very bad dream."
Rex Ann Bills was just as irate.
"I was getting very upset," Bills says. "Donna Grimsley never told me the hearing was off. I call Donna and they tell me she's out of town and that some prosecutor is doing the sentencing right then. I used a few choice words, then I called the judge back. No one would give me any answers."
And so not one of Dale Crosby's victims was in the courtroom when Judge Nelson sentenced Crosby later that morning. But the judge recalls that "a whole bunch" of Crosby's family members and supporters were in attendance.
Deputy county attorney Michael Roca substituted that day for out-of-town Donna Grimsley. Roca told Judge Nelson--according to a court transcript--"Our office has agreed to recommend the stipulated minimum sentence in this matter."
Roca spoke only briefly of the victims. "Although their opinions vary from one to another individual," he said, "they appear as a group to be willing to concede to [our] recommendation."
When it was Nelson's turn, the judge listed only those factors that he said called for a lesser sentence: Crosby's work as a snitch in a pending jailhouse drug case, his having consulted a psychiatrist, his "appearance of remorse."
"Thank you, judge," Dale Crosby told Judge Nelson as detention officers led him back to his jail cell.
LaNita Koontz says she "just got sick" when she learned what had happened over in St. Johns. "I took our petitions and just threw them out," she says. "They didn't mean anything anymore."
Lisa Weyrauch, the ex-prosecutor who would have bet Crosby was going to get thirty years, says she didn't know her deal had been undone until after Crosby's sentencing.
"If I had known all this was going to happen," Weyrauch says, "I'd like to think I would have gone to court and spoken up. Crosby is a very frightening individual. Apache County has historically been tough on sex offenders, but I guess not on those who are supported by a prominent segment of the community. I told the victims they'd be taken care of. They weren't."
White Mountain Independent publisher Diana Kramer wrote a stinging editorial a week after Crosby's sentencing. "Sometimes children from influential families get preferential treatment, while victims get ignored," Kramer's piece concluded. "One's name shouldn't have anything to do with justice."
That kind of analysis gets a rise out of County Attorney Steve Udall.
"We don't do any favoritism for anybody, irregardless of who the family is," he says. "And religion never enters into the system here, that's a fact. It's hogwash to say otherwise. Ask anyone."
Udall ought not ask Rex Ann Bills. Now living in southern Arizona, Bills is embittered by what happened to her--at the hands of Dale Crosby, the Apache County justice system and those former neighbors who signed the infamous petition.
"I still don't really understand what happened," she says. "That petition, that stupid letter--I don't understand those people. I wouldn't want to ever live there again. I thought the creep is supposed to be the bad guy, not the victim. I still want to talk to Udall bad. I'd tell him, `If Dale hurts someone when he gets out, I hope it's someone you're close to. Then maybe you'll do things right.'"
Judge Nelson, a non-Mormon resident of Window Rock appointed to the bench last year by Governor Rose Mofford, tries to justify his role in the Crosby case. His explanation sheds a disturbing light on justice in Apache County.
"We have a lot of old-line families up here, good Mormon families," the judge says. "They're all from here for generations--they settled this county together. With Interstate 40 criminals, you know they're not going to be back in the community, so you tend not to show much mercy. With someone from the community, you try to give them an opportunity to have a chance at a life at some point. Most likely they're going to be back sometime."MDRV
Dale Crosby's reign of terror has torn tight-knit Round Valley apart.
To some longtime Round Valley residents, it seems obvious that it's who you are that matters most in Apache County's justice system.
Crosby admitted to a clinical social worker that he'd been a peeping Tom since he was about twelve.
"We knew he was skating because of who he was, or who his family was. That's the way it works up here."
She realized that a man in a black ski mask was standing beside her bed.
Crosby showed "emotional distress" to this question on a lie-detector test: "Have you ever raped anyone?"
The detective saw distinct similarities between Flagstaff killer Ricky Bible and Dale Crosby.
"He came to my house not just to scare me, but to end my life. I do not know what stopped him from doing just that."
Not one of Dale Crosby's victims was in the courtroom when Judge Nelson sentenced him.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.