Hillya Mooney's voice on the telephone, so chipper, so sweetly cadenced, gave no hint of the story she would finally tell.

"You wrote about me in your column," said Hillya, pausing to allow words of acknowledgment to float back to her on the line.

But I could not place her name and mumbled just enough to cover my forgetfulness.

"I was the woman Sidney Timberlake raped . . ."
Oh, God, yes. As the shock of recognition ebbed, Hillya continued.
"I think I understand what drove Sidney to rape me. Would you be interested in hearing about it?"
Over a period of several months, Hillya Mooney offered a frank look into the brutal events that changed her life.

Despite 23 years in a cynical business nothing prepared me for Hillya Mooney. She showed up at the newspaper dressed in clothes purchased for nickels at the local thrift shops. But her garments were quality apparel cast off by women who'd moved on to more current fashions. Only the gaucho hat that she routinely topped herself with hinted at eccentricity. But the notion that this remarkable lady was simply quirky was ultimately misleading. Before Hillya Mooney was finished, I would be shamed by my own words and find myself at a loss to explain why her life is threadbare.

Hillya Mooney's insight into why Sidney Timberlake raped her springs from the collapse she suffered after the attack, and it is her new identity that emerged after the rape that is so unsettling.

The victim began to live the life of her predator.
As a direct result of the rape, Hillya Mooney lost her job, lost her home, lost her furniture, lost her clothing. And this was not the end of it. The lady lost her very identity. Hillya Mooney lost everything.

For the past three years, Hillya Mooney has wandered the streets of Phoenix. She has lived in a fantasy world. She has lived in the National Guard Armory and slept on a pallet. She has lived in shelters for transients.

Hillya Mooney became, like Sidney Timberlake, homeless.
She walked the same alleyways, was fed out of the same soup kitchens and was surrounded by the same bums who populated Sidney Timberlake's world. For three years, she walked so many miles in Sidney Timberlake's shoes.

Hillya Mooney thinks she understands what drove Sidney Timberlake to rape.
"How many Sidneys would have been prevented," wonders Hillya, "if the homeless weren't made to feel completely worthless and invisible?"
When Hillya Mooney says the homeless are driven to acts of desperation, who are we not to listen?

@body:Paul Wiggs is stunned to hear that for the last three years Hillya Mooney has been a homeless person. In fact, he cannot get over it.

"She was so bright, vivacious."
In 1990, the year of the rape, Wiggs was the executive director of economic development and marketing for Arizona Public Service Company.

"We were just getting ready to open up business in Mexico with one of that country's utilities. We decided we needed an eight-to-ten-week course in conversational Spanish. Hillya taught that class at 7:30 a.m. once a week. She was very knowledgeable, a real encourager. It was obvious that she was turned on by teaching. We had requests from people outside the company to sit in on the class because she was so very much alive."
Hillya Mooney is a child of the gentlest Southern traditions. The daughter of Baptist missionaries, she arrived in Phoenix in 1987 wearing a single strand of pearls, ruffles and white gloves. Literally. Her trunk was filled with long dresses.

"The ladies here were a shock compared to the conforming women of the South," said Hillya. "There is a Southern appropriateness that accompanies the hospitality. People did not necessarily buy into that in Phoenix. For women, there were a lot more opportunities. And everything was so wonderfully different. I remember watching the pollen count on the weather and thinking, 'Isn't that lovely?' And the mountains reminded me of Mexico."
It was quite a change from Louisiana, where she was raised and educated.
Hillya's social graces, even today, are scented with the flirtatious airs that suggest corsages pressed into family Bibles and faded newspaper clippings of society lunches. She is genteel. Though she spent 20 years as a legal secretary at two of New Orleans' most prominent law firms, she hasn't a single rude joke about attorneys.

"Lawyers have such wonderful teeth, don't you think?" she offers as her only observation upon her legal work in the Crescent City.

Though her age is sprinkled liberally throughout the court record, she simply will not allow that modest number to pass her lips. Nosy journalists are not permitted to discuss such an indelicate topic; they may look the data up if they must.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey