Read Empty Promises Online

Authors: Ann Rule

Tags: #General, #Law, #Offenses Against the Person

Empty Promises (4 page)




Steve's attempts to make big money in California didn't work out. The money from the insurance payoff on their burglary was dwindling. Once again he headed back to Washington State. The Hagels were relieved to know that Jami was going to be living close to them again, although they continued to be stunned at
how she had changed, as were Jami's friends. She wasn't the dark-haired bundle of energy they all remembered. She was very thin and very blond. "Steve likes me blond," Jami confided. "And he likes me really thin."
Shortly after they came back to Washington, Steve told Jami that she was too flat-chested to really please him. He had always preferred women with very large breasts, and he insisted that Jami agree to breast augmentation surgery. She went along with it reluctantly. Her mother took care of her after the surgery, which was much more painful than Jami had expected.
Jami regretted the plastic surgery almost at once. The implants left her top-heavy and out of proportion for a woman as petite as she was. Steve, however, was delighted with the results and made a point of showing her off. Where Jami had always worn clothes with clean, sporty lines, she now wore clothes that were so feminine they were almost ridiculous— flowered silk dresses, tiny miniskirts with tight tops, revealing bikinis. She showed her girlfriends lingerie in her drawer that looked to be straight out of a Frederick's of Hollywood catalog: tiny thong panties that were hardly more than G-strings.
There were spates of calm in her relationship with Steve, but inevitably there were also arguments and temporary breakups. Jami visited her family as often as Steve would let her, and when she was with them it seemed as though everything was going to be all right after all. At one point, Jami broke off with Steve completely; she had enough strength to stop being a "Stepford Barbie girlfriend" as one of her friends called her changed persona.
The separation didn't last.
Concurrent with his return to the Northwest, Steve
Sherer's Washington State rap sheet sprouted new entries. He already had the arrest on Christmas Eve 1986, when the Bellevue police found him at the Hagels' home. Judy had seen a strange car driving by their house at all hours of the day and night and wondered about it. It was Steve's bail bondsman, who figured Steve and Jami might come home to spend Christmas with their families. When Steve showed up, the bail bondsman spotted him. He'd skipped out on the bond posted the time he laid open Bettina's scalp with the shot glass. Bail bondsmen who have been stiffed are notoriously dedicated to finding their quarry, and Steve was arrested where he hid in Jami's family's home.
He was anathema to the Hagels. Never in a million years could they have imagined that Jami would align herself with a man like Steve or that they would have the police coming into their home at Christmas to arrest him.
It only got worse. Two months later, Steve was identified as the person seen fleeing a just-burglarized home in a posh neighborhood near Lake Sammamish in Bellevue. The Bellevue police found his truck parked nearby, and Jami Hagel walked up as police were checking it. She refused to say who owned the truck, but by now the Bellevue police knew Steve. They knew him as Steven Sherer a.k.a. Steven Frank Sherer a.k.a. Steven Jeffrey Sherer a.k.a. Steven Christophe Michaels. He used aliases and reversed his Social Security number just enough so his name wouldn't draw a hit on police computers. But this time they had his fingerprints, and they matched them to the prints in the house that had been burglarized. He was arrested a week later and sentenced to sixty days in the county jail.
In May 1987 Steve Sherer was spending his days
and nights in jail, and Jami was desolate without him. Even though he was locked up, and she was free and working at her new job at Microsoft, Steve was still manipulating her. He had groomed her carefully to be totally dependent on him and to accept the blame for whatever went wrong in their lives.
A letter she wrote to him on May 24 is a classic example of the thought process of an emotionally abused woman: "Dear Steve, I have done so much thinking since last night after I left you. I have been so selfish and stupid… feeling sorry for myself lately and taking it out on you. I have this bad habit of holding everything inside for too long. I just didn't want to burden you with my problems when you're in jail, and instead you think I don't care about you."
Jami wrote that she was miserable because he was the only person she could trust enough to talk to: "My whole problem is that I miss you
much. Nobody (especially you) can believe that I am not out enjoying myself while you are in jail.… I should be fine because I'm not locked up, right? Wrong, because actually, Steve, I am locked up too. The only difference is that somebody else is holding the key to your cell and you're holding the key to my heart.… Every time we are apart, I want to crawl into a hole until you come home."
Again and again, Jami reiterated that Steve was "all I have." It was clear that she was filled with anxiety because he had suggested it might be better if they broke up:
But you said something the other day about us being too dependent on each other and that was the first time you actually talked to me about a problem with us. I only wish you would write me a
letter regarding your feelings. Because sometimes I feel more like just your "friend" visiting you in jail. Have your feelings changed to friendship? …Please don't hold back on me. On three occasions since you have been in jail, you have told me we are over. I used to convince myself you feel that way because you're in jail, but you have done a lot of things to me when I should [have] ended us, but I never could say it was over, and I still couldn't— which makes me realize I have only been thinking about me and my feelings because you are always telling me I don't love you anymore, but
are the one always trying to end us.… It is you who doesn't love me the way you used to. I get the feeling you're hoping I will give you the strength to get rid of me. Is that true? Are you just afraid of hurting me?
It was obvious that Steve had been dangling Jami like a puppet, pretending that he wanted to leave her— an idea difficult to give much credence to because it seemed only a sadistic game with which he could occupy himself while he was in jail.
I would never leave you, so you aren't threatened.… It is my fault for being so in love with you.… Honey, I don't want us to end. God, you hurt me so much last night when you said you thought of me as your
I know I can be moody and bitchy… that is what makes me want to be more spontaneous and easy going (and positive) like you. Because I see how depressing it is to be around a negative person everyday. I know that is why I love to be with
you, because you are positive and full of life.
I love to think back to the day we first met up until now. I only have a few
regrets, but the rest of it has been the most exciting time of my life. You have shown me things and places I never thought I would see. When I think of marrying you, all I think about is a life full of excitement and love.… I don't know what you see in me since I was and still am a boring, unexciting person, while you are such an adventurous and fun-loving person. You must have just felt sorry for me, huh? And wanted to show me what life really had to offer. Because there is no comparison to that life I had before as to that life you have given me and hopefully still want to give me.
Jami's "minor regrets" probably involved bruises and suicide threats and being terrorized at knifepoint, but she had grown adept at denial. The bad things paled as Steve drew her deeper and deeper under his control.
To those who loved Jami, it was unthinkable that she should stay with Steve. But his pleas were convincing to her, and when he withheld his love, he was even more convincing.
Trilby Jordan, whose daughter, Lori, was Jami's oldest friend, recalled how relieved she had been to hear about a time when Jami had broken away from Steve and was saying that she would never go back to him. "I remember telling Jami," Trilby said, " 'I'm so glad you've broken up with Steve. You know, Jami, that statistics show that if he hits you before your wedding, he'll hit you after.' "
Jami smiled and nodded. But later Trilby heard that Jami and Steve were not only back together; they had
set a wedding date. Her heart sank. Like Judy and Jerry Hagel, Trilby had wished so much more for Jami.
It was as if her family and friends saw an entirely different man than Jami did when they looked at Steve. There was no reasoning with her. Even her friend June Young begged her to reconsider. When Jami introduced June to Steve in a bowling alley in Bellevue, June saw that her bubbly friend had changed drastically. After that, Jami just drifted away. "He was pretty much in control," June recalled. "I might have seen them together five times after that— mostly, I saw Jami alone. Steve would talk to other girls in the bowling alley and I commented to Jami about it, but she said, 'That's just Steven.' "
Jami felt that her destiny lay with Steve— that he needed her and loved her so much that she had no choice but to marry him. It was as if her innate kindness was much stronger than the part of her that had once been confident and outgoing. Steve always came first. Quite simply, he orchestrated her life, told her what to think, what to wear, and even when to speak.
"He created what he wanted," one of Jami's friends remembered. "Eventually he did manage to turn Jami into a Barbie doll."
The Hagels' friends and Jami's peers recalled that Steve never complimented her, no matter how hard she tried to please him. "He was always demeaning her," said Jeff Daniels, a longtime friend of the Hagels. "Jami was bright and cheerful and pleasant, but Steve put her down a lot. She was on edge and she lost her spark. She was very guarded around him."
Daniels recalled one night when he visited the Hagels and they played the board game Balderdash with Jami and Steve. "It wasn't a fun evening.… Steve kept
calling Jami useless and stupid for the way she played."
Jami had always loved M&M's. Judy Hagel usually kept a bowl of the multicolored candies on the table when company came over. "Jami would go to pick them up, and Steve said, 'You put those back.
You put those back!'
And she would put them back in the dish. [He was concerned] that she would gain weight."
Because the Hagels had always included their four children not only in holidays but also in bowling, cards, dancing, and, of course, softball, they tried to include Steve, too. Judy bowled on a team with Steve and Jami. Bowling was one sport he was interested in.
Jami's brothers and their girlfriends often went places with Jami and Steve. Rich Hagel's girlfriend, Timarie, whom he dated for ten years, remembered what an effort it was to plan an evening or a trip with Steve. Rich was one of Jami's twin brothers and he was protective of her. "She and Rich were very close," Timarie said. She described Jami as "fun, sweet, nice, and caring.
"We met Steve when they came up from California," Timarie recalled. "We tried to hang out with them. We went to Lake Chelan with them and we tried to go out to the movies, but we always ended up trying to find cocaine for Steve instead."
It wasn't just the drunk driving, reckless driving, and burglaries that drew police attention to Steve. Cocaine was what drove him and made him lose control: cocaine and alcohol and sex and card rooms and power. Anyone who accepted an invitation to go on a trip or to double-date with Steve and Jami learned that much of their time would be spent in a frenzied search for a dealer when Steve ran out of cocaine. There was no question of talking to him about it; he always wanted more. Jami learned early on that if she could hold back
at least some of his coke supply, Steve wouldn't spiral completely out of control. But he soon figured out she was hiding some of his stash.
"If he didn't get all of it from her," Timarie explained, "he'd yell at her and pester her until there was a huge fight."
Steve's mother, Sherri, often loaned her vacation home on Lake Chelan to Steve. Timarie remembered one trip to the lake, a four-hour journey across Snoqualmie Pass from Seattle, when Steve's addiction ruined the weekend. He drank from two-liter bottles of Coors beer as he drove the winding roads of the mountain pass. He refused to let either Jami or Timarie take over the wheel. Despite his intoxication, they arrived at the luxurious cabin safely, only to have another fight when Steve accused Jami of once again hiding cocaine from him. He stormed out of the lakefront residence and walked to the small downtown section of Chelan, threatening to catch a bus back to Seattle.
"Rich went to get him and brought him back to the lake," Timarie said. The Hagels' sons tried to hide a good many of Jami's activities from their parents. The elder Hagels already felt bad enough. Jami's brothers hoped she might still free herself from Steve. In the end, however, Steve's persuasive powers drew her brothers into the world of drugs, although they never got in as deep as he did.
"The next day, Steve's mother arrived and he stopped his tantrums about finding more cocaine. Steve could put on a good act for his mother, who naturally didn't approve of his drug use. She put him through drug rehabilitation programs, but none of them took. Since his mother could be a significant source of money for him, Steve often fooled her. Despite his fre
quent arrests and the numerous charges against him, Steve spent comparatively little time in jail and slid free of most of the consequences of his lifestyle. He laughed at the justice system, bragging to Rich Hagel once that "The first two DWIs are the hardest, and after that, they lose you [in the system]."
Steve certainly had the experience to comment on that. Between May 1982 and January 2000, Steve racked up twenty-one arrests in Washington State alone, and there was a steady exacerbation of the seriousness of the charges against him. Many of his confrontations with police resulted in fines or probation. He was the consummate rich kid who always ended up avoiding jail time and getting what he wanted.
What Steve wanted in the summer of 1987 was Jami Hagel. And Jami desperately wanted to marry him.


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