Katie & Jordy's Excellent Adventure

In the beginning, when Laci Peterson was just another missing person and Scott Peterson only a husband under suspicion, Kathy Monkman wanted nothing to do with the case. Didnt want to watch the endless coverage on cable TV; didnt want to chat about it online.

Of all the court watchers in America, Monkman might have seemed most likely to dive right in. A true crime junkie, she'd already posted some 10,000 messages on www.courttv.com. She'd even met her best friend online, discussing a murder trial. And she was particularly obsessed with cases, like the Petersons', where a husband is accused of killing his wife.

Eventually, when she bit the Peterson hook, she would become not just a dedicated observer, but a real player in the case -- holding her own press conference with a famous attorney at her side, the envy of Court TV fans everywhere.

In the beginning, though, she resisted.

Monkman had first tuned in to Court TV in 1995, during the O.J. Simpson trial. The whole country was obsessed with O.J., and plenty of Monkman's friends in Tempe were eager for the latest trial gossip -- and, ultimately, commiseration when the jury pronounced Simpson not guilty.

"My yoga class was sobbing, literally wailing, when that verdict came down," Monkman recalls. A natural storyteller, her eyes widen as she conveys the horror: "We're talking women in the fetal position, rocking and wailing."

But Monkman felt something stronger than sadness. "I was pissed," she says.

After the trial, Monkman's circle moved on. For them, O.J. was a one-time deal, a blip of reality TV in a culture still hung up on sitcoms. Monkman couldn't seem to change the channel.

She was glued to O.J.'s civil trial. Then the trial of Dirk Greineder, a Massachusetts doctor who killed his wife. And Fred Neulander, a New Jersey rabbi who hired hit men to do the job for him.

It was during Greineder's trial in 2001 that Monkman first logged on to www.courttv.com. Calling herself "Katiecoolady," she began to post on the message boards, always on the side of the prosecution.

On those message boards, Monkman found more than just a community of court buffs. She discovered an active outlet for what had previously been a passive obsession. Like diehard sports fans, many board regulars would do anything to help notch a victory. They learn to treat verdicts as a matter of faith; they're convinced they can make a difference by rooting for one side with all their might.

From that, it's a small leap to go watch a trial in person: Board regulars write of visiting the courthouse, of seeing superstar lawyers like Gloria Allred up close, of watching jury members and analyzing their every mood. Sometimes, they even post photos.

Her new friends urged Monkman to see for herself, and she used some vacation days to make her first attempt in October of 2003, during the murder trial of a North Carolina novelist. But she missed closing arguments by days: The jury met behind closed doors during her entire visit.

Being so close only made her want more. "It just becomes this thing," she says, shrugging.

She knew she'd travel to another trial. She just never guessed it would be Scott Peterson's. And she certainly never imagined that she'd somehow become part of the case against him.

She only knew that after a decade of obsessing over one cold-blooded wife killer after another, she wasn't sure she wanted any part of Scott Peterson. Her online friends would send her private messages: "Where are you? We're all talking about Scott and Laci! Come join us!"

But when Monkman looked at Laci Peterson's smiling face, she couldn't help but remember another trial, one with a much more personal connection. The case still haunted her.

And so she resisted her friends, resisted signing on for the case that ultimately came to mean everything to her.

"Laci's case was loaded for me," Monkman says. "I couldn't handle it."

Long before Dirk Greineder, even before O.J. Simpson, there was Michael Apelt.

Tall, handsome and lethal, the young German immigrant had come to Arizona in 1988 with his brother Rudi, hoping to find a rich American woman.

Michael Apelt found his mark that October. He married her that month, obtained a $2 million life insurance policy in December, and killed her the very next day. Beat her, along with his brother, stomped on her and practically decapitated her.

Michael Apelt's victim was Kathy Monkman's older sister, Cindy.

The sisters had been extremely close. Their mother died when they were growing up in Illinois; each was the other's family. "We truly were best friends," Kathy Monkman says.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske