Post reporter on meeting a rapist
When I learned how Bill Wallshleger raped two women 37 years ago - and how he'd gone on to become a model prisoner being considered for parole - I wrote him to ask if he would speak with me.
The 63-year-old agreed, and began mailing me chapters of a book he and other inmates are writing about themselves and their life behind bars.
"I do not want to go to my Creator with anger or rage within my heart," Wallshleger wrote in a section called "My Life." It recounts, among other topics, his sexual molestation at the hands of a German maid when he was six and his family lived in France. "I want to show up at St. Peter's gate with a smile on my face and love in my heart."
Wallshleger's victims see his invocations of past abuse as a sign he still hasn't taken responsibility for his crimes.
"This was all his doing," said one of them, now 56, living in Potomac.
Wallshleger abducted and raped her when she was 19. He abducted and raped a 16-year-old three weeks later. He took extra steps to humiliate the victims at his farm in Virginia, chaining them up and, in the case of the 16-year-old, whipping her with a riding crop.
Prior to the attacks, Wallshleger served as a policeman and U.S. Marine, and worked as a tax book salesman who paid visits to law firms and accountants.
He has been locked up as public opinion has grown tougher on crime and inmates. In some ways, the longer he has stayed in prison, the harder it has become to get out.
Our first interview took place on Jan. 7, four days before what would be Wallshleger's sixth parole hearing. At 9:30 a.m., I was seated in a prison visitation room in Hagerstown, 70 miles northwest of Washington.
Wallshleger came around the corner, his size immediately apparent: 6-feet-4, 300 pounds. His face, nothing like the menacing visage seen in his mug shots, was dominated by a white mustache, and his receding hair was pulled into a long ponytail.
He appeared nervous, and said that he was. He laid his forearms on the table in front of him, opening his large and sometimes shaking hands to emphasize points. He chose words carefully, particularly when asked about testimony from the victims more than 35 years ago.
One victim said that after he chained her, washed her private parts and raped her, he offered her lunch. Another said that after he put her in his car's trunk, chained her in his basement, slapped and raped her, he apologized for trying to humiliate her.
"I don't know how to put this into words," Wallshleger said, pausing. "It was like the desire, the tension, the evil - all bottled up inside - was over. And with that, I started to revert back to what I normally was."
But others familiar with his behavior back then might say the rapes themselves were a reflection of his normal station.
"The client's view of consciousness is flooded at times by very distorted, sadistic sexual fantasies, especially involving humiliating women. The obsessional nature of these fantasies are of a longstanding nature," a clinical psychologist wrote after evaluating him in jail in 1974. "He appears to have regressed to a more primitive level of operation."
Wallshleger was found criminally insane in Virginia and sent to a maximum-security hospital.
"I still have my problem," he told a judge in a letter in 1976. "The only difference between today and 1973 is that I am standing on my feet and am trying to be honest with the world."
He also asked the judge for "convalescent leave" at home - under the supervision of his parents the care of a private doctor.
"I still need help," he said in the handwritten letter. "I am strong enough mentally now to know when I am getting sick and to ask for help but I am not ready to handle the world on my own."
But he would have years and years in prison ahead of him. In a Montgomery County court, he was found sane, and sentenced to life plus 30 years. In the mid-1980s, he was given antiandrogen treatments that cut down his sex drive and curbed his fantasies of bondage and brutality, according to doctors' evaluations in court records.
Asked about his current mental health, Wallshleger said he guards it well by staying away from prison temptations like drugs or pornography "that feed what I would call the 'dark side.'"
Even with a sentence of life plus 30 years, under Maryland rules, Wallshleger has long been eligible for parole. He got his first hearing in 1993, and recalled how commissioners were impressed by degrees he had earned behind bars through correspondence classes - including a PhD in religious education. They told him to come back a year later, according to parole records.
But by then the public wanted to get tougher on crime, a shift underscored in Maryland in 1995 when then-Governor Parris N. Glendening stood in front of a prison in Jessup and announced he was curbing parole for lifers.
"A life sentence means life," Glendening said.
"At first I took it to be political hype," said Wallshleger.
But it wasn't.
Wallshleger, whose name also has been spelled Wallschleger in institutional records, had four more parole hearings going into this year, and was told to come back each time.
He has long shown good behavior behind bars. In the federal system - where he also served, owing to a kidnapping conviction related to one of the rapes - he worked in a sign factory, among other jobs, and spent time reading the bible, attending choir practice, lifting weights and crocheting, according to institutional reports.
In the interviews, though, Wallshleger said he didn't really commit himself to never hurting anyone again until his late 30s or early 40s. He cited two big changes.
First, he said, he came to grips with the effect the maid had on his life. "I almost feel like abuse is sort of a taught experience," he said.
He forgave her. "I went into the chapel and got down on my knees," he said.
He said he also adopted a philosophy of respecting all creation. "That doesn't mean I get to pick and choose who I am nice to," he said.
Inside prison these days, Wallshleger shares a cell with an inmate who practices yoga, and jokes that sometimes when he awakes he finds him standing on his head on the cell floor. He reads about 200 pages a day -- lots of mysteries, but also the Harry Potter series and Mother Earth News magazine.
The book he is helping write is part memoir, part guide for inmates. In a chapter on prison finances, he advises against going into debt with other prisoners who sell items. "Never start running up a bill with the store man," he said. " ... Try to stay within your budget, and by all means, try to get some outside help."
Wallshleger isn't consistent about expressing his guilt. In interviews, he said he abducted two women. But in court papers he submitted two months ago - challenging a verdict because of the instructions given to jurors - he said something else. "Petitioner has always maintained his innocence," he wrote.
The remark came back to haunt him at his parole hearing. Montgomery County prosecutors submitted the document to the parole board. And one of the victims, now 53, who spoke at the hearing, pointed to it as a sign he hasn't taken responsibility. She also spoke in detail about the terror of the rape, and its effect on her life.
In an interview after the hearing, Wallshleger said her words were powerful, that she remembered things he himself had tried to forget. He said he was "amazed" the parole board didn't delay his next hearing for six years, and instead told him to come back in three.
But he also maintained that he and many other longtime prisoners who have done well behind bars should be given a chance to re-enter society, where he said they would be safe and unnoticed. "You could have us living in your apartment complex," he said.
| February 22, 2011; 10:59 PM ET
Categories: Dan Morse, Montgomery, Sex Crimes, Virginia
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