CU Boulder grad’s new memoir details notorious stalking case that began in the 1970s and continues today
Frederick R. Karl, the esteemed biographer of the 20th century German-language writer Franz Kafka, defined ‘Kafkaesque’ as being in a strange world in which one loses all control despite your best efforts.
He put it this way: “You don't give up, you don't lie down and die. What you do is struggle against this with all of your equipment, with whatever you have. But of course you don't stand a chance. That's Kafkaesque.”
It’s hard to think of a more apt description for what Kaia (formerly Peggy) Anderson (BA, EnvBio’78; MLA‘86) has endured since shortly after graduation. For more than three decades, a mentally ill man named Robert Vinyard has single-mindedly harassed, threatened and terrorized Anderson and her family.
And thanks to the failures of a judicial system that continually elevated the stalker’s rights over theirs, the very institutions intended to protect them have too often put them in danger.
Anderson is known for helping to strengthen the state’s anti-stalking law, but now, for the first time, Anderson is telling the full story of her ordeal in a new memoir, Trial by Fire, which she self-published in August. She planned the book for more than a decade, initially spurred by work with a transpersonal therapist who helped her see her experience differently and to work with it.
“When I discovered the wealth of wisdom we all have buried in our unconscious minds and the transformative power of owning it and making it conscious, I felt this information was so important and so relevant today that it had to be shared,” she says, sitting in the dining room of her Longmont home. “And the best way for me to share it was to tell my personal story.”
Despite years of stress and trauma that would have driven many people to flee, Anderson refused to surrender to fear. She would not buy a gun or move, despite the advice of friends.
“Kaia has an amazing strength of spirit,” says Tim Johnson, deputy district attorney for the 20th Judicial District, who has worked on the case since 2002. “I used to joke with her and say, ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t the original DA on case — I was 9 when it started.’ She has lived her entire adult life under this and she’s been able to take adversity and make something of it. She may not even know how many other people she has helped.”
We had been violently invaded, and now the person we looked to for help, for protection, accused me.”
Adversity, though, seems too civilized a word to describe Anderson’s experience.
While studying at CU, she showed kindness to Vinyard, a classmate who seemed isolated and ignored by other students. She wasn’t thrilled when he began to show up on the doorstep of the house she shared with her future husband. But, she told herself, “Welcoming any visitor, especially one who’s just lonely, is the right thing to do.”
She was relieved when the visits stopped for a couple of years. But shortly after the couple married in 1979, Vinyard appeared at their new, rented home. When she asked him to leave, he began banging violently on doors, windows and walls, shouting, “You need to come now and be with me!”
The police officer that took the report seemed intent of shifting the blame to Anderson: “What did you do to encourage him?” he asked, and “Do you wear lipstick?” He even commented, “You’re a pretty girl.”
“We had been violently invaded,” she writes, “and now the person we looked to for help, for protection, accused me.”
That was only the first of countless failures on the part of law enforcement and the judicial system. Hoping to “fix” the mentally ill Vinyard, judges deferred sentences and blithely issued “no contact” and counseling orders, despite the stalker’s repeated history of ignoring them to terrorize Anderson.
Vinyard’s criminal persistence essentially stripped Anderson and her family of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, she watched in frustration over the years as arrests that seemed to promise long periods of incarceration were whittled down or plea-bargained to time served.
Even when he was confined, Vinyard wasn’t prohibited from obsessively calling Anderson and sending deranged, sexually violent letters. And when he wasn’t in custody, it was all but certain he’d soon come knocking on her door, terrorizing her and her children.
Anderson was at one point forced to take the stand while her mentally ill stalker, acting as his own attorney, interrogated her in court. And after Vinyard was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” and committed in 2005, prosecutors were rebuffed by hospital officials who said they were barred from releasing any information on the perpetrator’s case or treatment.
And the ordeal still isn’t over: In March, a judge ignored prosecutors’ objections and granted Vinyard permission to leave a state mental hospital under staff supervision. And because he was found “not guilty” due to mental illness, Vinyard could, in theory, be released at any time.
“I just don’t think that we have been upholding our rights as citizens when the rights of the accused have been overriding those of victims,” Anderson says.
Despite all of the setbacks, she has refused to give up advocating for herself, her family and other stalking victims. Defying Karl’s pessimistic definition of Kafkaesque, she has made a difference in the face of madness. Her advocacy has been critical to passing new, stronger anti-stalking statutes in Colorado and forcing a state hospital to change its policy regarding survivors’ access to information.
She has made a difference in the face of madness. Her advocacy has been critical to passing new, stronger anti-stalking statutes in Colorado and forcing a state hospital to change its policy regarding survivors’ access to information.
“I feel it’s important for me to continue working to ensure that victims of crimes committed by mentally ill perpetrators have the same rights and protections as other crime victims,” she says.
Anderson would like to see Colorado join other states that have adopted a law creating a verdict of “guilty but insane.”
“He was guilty,” she says. “To say he was ‘not guilty’ is to deny the impact he has had on me and my family and limits our rights as victims of crime.”
In writing Trial by Fire, Anderson felt it was important not merely to focus on the nightmare of being stalked for decades, but also on her journey of self-discovery and the evolution of her power. She chose to self-publish the book in part to maintain control of subsidiary rights, and worked closely with a professional editor.
“I believe that anyone who wants to write and is willing to dedicate the time and effort it takes to complete a book should be able to publish,” she says. “But for self-publishing to thrive, I feel it’s incumbent upon each of us in the industry to maintain a high standard and publish professional-quality books.”
Trial by Fire: A Personal Journey of Consciousness, Power, & Freedom by Kaia Anderson. Pyxis Press, 430 pp. $17.99