Westley Dodd: A Long, Steady Slide Into Dark Desperation

It wasn't police or psychologists, jail cells or prison bars, lie detectors or sexual-deviancy treatment that finally stopped Westley Allan Dodd.

What stopped him was a creaky old Ford Pinto that stalled out at a crucial moment and a plucky 6-year-old who remembered what his parents told him about strangers accosting him: scream, yell, bite, kick and raise hell.

What also helped stop Dodd was his own dark degeneration, a slide into desperation that compelled him to snatch a boy from a crowded theater in Camas in front of witnesses.

When caught in 1989, he had killed three boys and molested or exposed himself to nearly 100 children.

Slowly, the story of Dodd's life unfolded, the story of a man on a collision course with death.

Many times during his life, Westley Dodd told the truth - or something close to the truth - about the virulence of the sickness consuming his life.

Did those around him miss clues? Drop the ball?

Were they so bound by laws or buoyed by believing he could change that they had no choice but to let him go?

Was Westley Dodd always a monster - unreadable, unreachable, unthinkable? Or was he once just a boy crying for help, a shy teenager who stumbled off the path to emotional maturity and got terribly twisted around?

What kind of man could detail his plans to kill and mutilate children, as Dodd did in his diary: "Perfect would be a 3-yr old to kill and a 6-8 yr old to help with surgery . . . " Just writing that, Dodd added, made him excited.

At the same time, Dodd as a young man often impressed those who met him. He had musical talent, landed jobs easily and a number of women found him bright and attractive.

Larry Bunch, his junior-high band teacher, trusted Dodd so much he would have allowed him to baby-sit Bunch's young children.

Alice Olson befriended him with her husband and eventually lived with him.

Janet, a 40-year-old mother of two in Tennessee, says she loves him and wants to marry him, despite knowing about his crimes.

Who is Westley Allan Dodd?

"I was looking for children that seemed to be kind of quiet, withdrawn, maybe a little shy. . . . Possibly a little bit small for their age." - Westley Allan Dodd, interview with Tacoma police Officer Mark Mann, July 1990, talking about the children he liked to molest.

The child Westley Allan Dodd described so precisely could have been himself.

As a very young child growing up mostly in Eastern Washington, Wes was "very cute" and happy, says his father, Westley James Dodd.

His only brother, Greg, 11 months younger, remembers the two of them playing army, sliding down a huge snow mound, and teasing younger sister Katherine.

But in grade school, Wes began moving to the sidelines of life. Small for his age, pigeon-toed and bookwormish, he was picked on by his classmates, his brother says.

Jim Dodd remembers that his older son was uncoordinated, unable to throw a baseball or run as well as other boys.

"He was the kid who would have been called a sissy when I was in school."

Although Greg was younger, he was bigger and frequently intervened in fights on Westley's behalf.

By the time he attended Chief Joseph Junior High in Richland, Westley was by every account shy and introverted, ill-at-ease with boys and paralyzed with girls.

Westley has described his family life as lacking love, although his brother and father insist the life was normal.

"We were not the Waltons - very few families are," Greg said. "But there was love there. I felt it; my sister felt it."

Westley, however, said his parents' relationship was "lousy" and told a psychologist in 1987, "They fought all the time, they were vicious . . . "

Once, Jim blackened his wife's eye; more often, he spanked the children with a belt, Westley told a court investigator in 1989.

"I treated small problems at home with anger instead of reason," Jim Dodd recalled recently. "I felt like I had no control of my life and was being overwhelmed by everyday problems."

On July 3, 1976, Carol, his wife, demanded that Jim leave. Jim responded by attempting to kill himself.

It was Westley's 15th birthday.

"I was a loner, never talked to anybody about anything. I never talked about my feelings." - Dodd, interviewed by Officer Mark Mann, 1990.

The next year, Jim and Carol divorced.

Greg and Westley recall it now as a relief, but at the time, Jim recalls, Westley became more withdrawn.

In junior high school, however, Westley was doing better, playing clarinet in the marching band and helping Bunch with chores.

"He was very responsible," Bunch recalled.

He wasn't a great musician, but he did have rapport with younger students and a talent for conducting. He won a school award for directing. Active in drama, he was vice-president of the Thespians club.

It was in junior high that Westley had discovered his own kind of fun - exposing himself to children.

When he was 13, he showed himself from the upstairs window of his parents' home in Richland. Police came to the house, but nothing much happened, both Westley and Greg recall.

The next time Westley was caught exposing, in the fall of 1975, he was referred to juvenile authorities and to counseling.

At that point, "I didn't think I had a problem," Westley told Mann.

He continued to stalk and expose himself to younger boys and girls. Soon, he began molesting children.

"Exposing myself wasn't exciting anymore," he told Mann. "I wanted to touch and be touched."

In high school, he exposed himself to a group of schoolchildren and was charged with communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. But charges were dismissed. When he molested his father's girlfriend's daughter, he recalls, his father insisted he get counseling. He did for four months.

The next year, he exposed himself to two girls in Richland and was confronted by police. He told them he had been involved in at least six other cases. They took no action.

By age 16, he had decided he was most interested in boys, although he continued to molest girls as well.

In 1979, Dodd vanished from Columbia High School in Richland without a ripple; no class picture in the yearbook and few memories in others' minds.

After a few years working as a stock boy in a grocery store, he joined the Navy.

Eventually, the Navy discovered Dodd was molesting children - including the base commander's children, Dodd told the court in a brief - and discharged him.

For the next few years, Dodd's life continued the familiar pattern: molest, get caught, admit his crime, serve a little time, do a little counseling and be back at it again.

"I knew that it was wrong. And it would stop me for a while back, but after awhile things start building up, stress, things on the job, things not going good. And after a point, I couldn't really control myself anymore."

- Dodd to Clark County Det. Dave Trimble, confessing to the murders of three boys, 1989.

In 1983, after pleading guilty to communicating with a minor for immoral purposes for molesting a 6-year-old boy in Richland, Dodd began sessions with Steve Lindsley, a counselor in Lewiston, Idaho.

While Westley gave a good first impression and was open about his offenses, Lindsley saw trouble ahead for the 21-year-old.

"We saw him as what we call a fixated offender," focused on 10- to 12-year-old boys, he said. "His offending was like two 12-year-olds having sexual contact. Emotionally, that was where he was at in many ways."

One of the treatment goals for Westley was to "grow up emotionally," said Lindsley, who saw Dodd as "very inadequate" socially.

After two months, Dodd dropped out of Lindsley's care, a violation of his probation, and almost instantly he began molesting again.

Charged with offenses in both Washington and Idaho against the 9-year-old son of a woman he befriended, Dodd agreed to plead guilty to the Idaho charge of "lewd and lascivious contact with a minor under 16."

Bright, polite and forthright, Dodd made a good impression in court. Judge John Maynard commuted his 10-year sentence to one year in jail on condition that Dodd get mental-health counseling.

Later, Maynard told a court investigator that he was not aware of Dodd's numerous previous convictions; had he been, he said, he would not have commuted the sentence.

After serving four months, Dodd again began seeing Lindsley.

A standardized psychological test showed Dodd was "hostile, schizoid, and nonconforming," lacking social skills, judgment and empathy.

It also predicted that Dodd would have "little impulse control" but "much potential for rather bizarre, unpredictable aggressive and sexual acting-out."

Lindsley began to have a "gut feeling" about his client - and it wasn't a good one.

"I imagine that everyone who works in this field has a little mental list of people they worry about. Wes was one of them."

When the news reported that a former bookkeeper in Utah had sexually molested and killed five boys, Lindsley remembers, he talked to Dodd.

"I thought he was capable of doing something like this," he recalled. "I told him I thought he was capable of killing someone, harming someone, if he wasn't careful."

Dodd listened to Lindsley without comment, and Lindsley was left with his worries.

"Legally, there's nothing you can do," Lindsley said. "You can't go to court with a gut feeling."

"I was never serious about treatment. I liked molesting children and did what I had to do to avoid jail so I could continue molesting."

- Dodd, writing to the Supreme Court in late 1991.

During the time she first befriended and eventually lived with him, Alice Olson believed Westley Dodd wanted to change.

Her husband, George, the manager of a vaccuum-cleaner store in Lewiston, hired Westley and soon, the three were camping and fishing together nearly every week.

"Wes is a real charmer; he could charm the skin off a snake, if he wanted to," said Alice, a former teacher in her late 40s.

Alice knew about Westley's past from another employee, who'd been in jail with him.

"He asked me once how we, being Christians and as straight as we were, could like him knowing what he'd done," she recalled. "I said, `We don't condone what you've done but we still love you.' "

After Alice's husband left her, she asked Wes if he wanted to move into her house.

Soon, they moved to Kennewick, where they continued to live together.

For months, Alice drove him to his counseling sessions; sometimes they talked about his problem.

"He said, `I didn't like it, even when I was doing it. I don't know why I do it,' " Alice recalled. "I thought it was something he was working on."

When Alice realized that he was still offending, she was horrified.

"I used to pray that Wes would be picked up and get some help." Once, she tried to get him committed, without success.

Eventually they parted, mostly because Alice's caring frightened Westley, she believes.

But even after living with him for six months, Alice had no idea where the sickness slowly possessing Westley would lead.

"He was a gentle, compassionate, loving person who molested kids," she said.

"I never ever thought it would turn to murder."

"I have a desire to molest a boy."

- Dodd to Lan Remme, a court worker preparing a presentence report after Dodd was arrested in Seattle.

In 1987, living in Renton, Dodd woke up one balmy June morning with a familiar feeling.

His home in Renton looked out over a playfield, but he knew where he would be more likely to find a boy who would trust him.

Working as a security guard at a construction site in North Seattle, he had already befriended an 8-year-old boy who lived with his mother in an adjacent motel, asking him to run occasional errands for him.

It was his day off, but Dodd drove to the construction site and found the boy playing.

Dodd asked if he would help him find a lost little boy, telling the boy he had permission to go.

But unlike many children Dodd unsuccessfully molested, this one ran and reported Dodd's request to adults, who called the police.

When arrested, Dodd admitted his intentions, telling them of his longstanding interest in young boys.

If he hadn't found this boy, he would have found another, he told them, because his urge was so strong.

"By his own admission he is predatory and uncontrollable," wrote Rebecca Roe, the senior deputy prosecuting attorney, who charged Dodd with attempted kidnapping, a felony.

Westley's Idaho counselor recommended that he get long-term treatment, and be closely monitored after release.

Lan Remme, who interviewed Dodd for a pre-sentence report, believed he met the legal criteria defining a "sexual psychopath," and recommended that Dodd be sentenced to four years in the Washington State Hospital's sexual-psychopath program.

But instead of a felony, Dodd was convicted of "attempted unlawful imprisonment," a gross misdemeanor.

After he spent 118 days in jail, his one-year sentence was suspended on condition he attend counseling for a year.

Psychologist Kenneth Von Cleve, assigned by the court to evaluate Dodd, agreed to take him on as a client, but with reservations.

"Mr. Dodd's history of deviant assault on minors is the most extensive I have ever encountered in an offender his age," he wrote the court. "His behaviors were predatory in that he stalked younger children . . . There can be little question that Mr. Dodd has a serious problem."

Remme believed Dodd was amenable to treatment, partly because of his open attitude.

"When I interviewed Westley Dodd, he was cooperative and extremely honest," telling Remme details that hurt his case, he wrote in his report.

But what Dodd didn't tell Remme was where to find his briefcase.

There, Dodd had hidden a knife, rope, pictures of nude children, and his diary, a detailed account of his increasingly violent fantasies and plans.

In the diary, he told the court in late 1991, as he faced death by hanging, he had written down his plans for that day: Kidnap, rape and murder a boy.

"On September 4th, 1989, I went to David Douglas Park with the premeditated intent - premeditated intent to cause the death of a human being."

- Westley Allan Dodd to court, 1990.

Work, friends, recreation, family - all fell into the shadows of his life as Dodd began fantasizing his next move.

By Labor Day 1989, he had discovered Vancouver's David Douglas Park. Dodd, who worked as a shipping clerk at a paper company, lived less than a mile away.

Walking through the park, Dodd spotted two boys riding their bikes.

Billy Neer, the 10-year-old, was slightly taller than Cole, 11, though both were small for their age.

Dodd, carrying a fish fillet knife in his sock, urged them to follow him deeper into the woods.

"Why?" asked Cole.

"Because I told you to," Westley Dodd replied.

Once in the woods, Dodd killed the boys and later recorded the incident in detail in his diary:

"I think I got more of a high out of killing than molesting. . . . I must go find another child."

"I don't know if I have any feelings . . . Because I've never felt anything about anything."

- Westley Allan Dodd, on public television's Frontline, 1992.

For the next several weeks, the possibility of kidnapping a boy grew larger in Dodd's imagination.

His thoughts, as recorded in his diary, became wilder and ever more sinister. He described how he would mutilate a live victim.

On October 29, Dodd drove to a playground he'd discovered in Vancouver.

Lee Iseli, 4, had come to the playfield with his 9-year-old brother, Justin.

Noting that the 9-year-old's back was turned, Dodd approached Lee, promising a chance to "have some fun and make some money." The child seemed unsure - but not scared - as he took Dodd's outstretched hand, Dodd recalled.

Dodd's diary records in chilling detail the events that took place in his apartment that afternoon and evening.

Early the next morning, Dodd choked the youngster with a rope, revived him, and finally killed him by hanging him in a closet. He straightened up the apartment, put the body on a closet shelf and left for work.

After work, he put Lee's body in a trash bag, drove to Vancouver Lake and left the body in the brush.

After returning home, Dodd gathered up Lee's socks, shirt, pants and sweater and burned them in a barrel outside. As a souvenir, he kept Lee's tiny red-and-white "Ghostbuster" underpants. On Nov. 13, two weeks after he murdered Lee Iseli, Dodd was caught after he tried to abduct a 6-year-old boy from a movie theater in Camas, east of Vancouver.

Months later, after Dodd had been sentenced to die, Mark Mann, the Tacoma officer who attended high school with Dodd, asked him if he ever felt remorse for his crimes.

Sometimes, Dodd replied.

"I cry about it at night at times," Dodd said, "but . . . later at night, I find myself thinking about what I would have done to the next child."

"I do not want to die. But I have been completely honest in saying that I must die, because I know I will kill again."

- Westley Allan Dodd in a letter written last month to The Seattle Times as he waits to be hanged for his crimes. He is scheduled to die early Tuesday morning.