Soon after Jerry Rice and Janice Ruhter bought their dream home in San Diego’s upscale Carmel Valley in the fall of 2011, bizarre things started happening. Their home was mysteriously listed for sale on the Internet, their mail suddenly stopped over Christmas, and they were inundated with over $1,000 worth of magazines and books they had not ordered.
On Valentine’s Day, an angry neighbor confronted Rice, asking him why he was sending a Valentine’s Day card to his wife. At least eight of his neighbors’ wives received similar cards.
Then, Rice typed his wife’s name into an Internet search engine and discovered the annoying pranks had morphed into something far more sinister. Advertisements for sex with his wife popped up, and someone had posted an ad inviting strangers to their home address for a “Carmel Valley Freak Show.”
The ad encouraged men to drop by their home and perform sexual favors on his wife while he was at work, San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Brendan McHugh tells PEOPLE.
“They knew they were a target but didn’t know by who,” he says.
Rice reported the incidents to the police, and a few months later, Kathy Rowe, a former San Diego “Mother of the Year,” was arrested. Rowe was charged with two felony counts of solicitation of rape and sodomy and misdemeanor counts, including harassment. Last November, she pleaded guilty to a stalking charge. On Friday, Rowe, 53, was sentenced to a year of home electronic surveillance, five years of probation, and ordered to stay away from the couple for 10 years.
Rowe, says McHugh, became angry after the young couple outbid her on the $700,000-plus house she wanted, and orchestrated a sinister plot to exact revenge.
The behavior was originally considered harassment “but then we saw that it was clearly beyond harassment,” he says.
In email correspondences with men, Rowe, posing as Ruhter, wrote that she had fantasies of being raped while her husband was at work.
“I love to be surprised and have a man just show up at my door and force his way in the door and on me, totally taking me while I say no,” she wrote to one man who responded to her posting.
Rowe told another man to stop by Ruhter’s home “any Monday – Friday, 9 am – 3 pm. I like the element of surprise.” The man asked for the location and Rowe sent him Ruhter’s address.
The same man emailed Rowe a few weeks later asking if she was still available. The next day, Rowe sent a reply: “I’m available all week. Maybe we can have a nooner on your lunch hour?”
A few days later, the man went to Ruhter’s house but she wasn’t there. He sent Rowe an email letting her know that he stopped by and that her gate was locked and he couldn’t knock on the door or use the doorbell.
Rowe apologized to the man, stating, “Will make it extra wild and worth your time.”
The man returned again to the house but this time Rice was home. He told Rowe he made “an excuse for why he was there” and left. Rowe later told the man that her husband sometimes drops by during the day to catch her in the act, but he won’t “intrude on us unless we want him to if we want him to join us, he will.”
“She knew what she was doing,” says McHugh. “It is one of the most disturbing cases I have handled. She really terrorized this young couple. They have had to seek out counseling to cope with it.”
Facing Off in Court
At her sentencing hearing on Friday, Rowe told Superior Court Judge Kathleen Lewis: “Just how much I wish I can go back and take all of this away from the Rices. All of the things I put them through.”
The couple, who have two young children, didn’t buy it. “The purchase of a home, taking care of a toddler and a newborn, it was during this time while we were at our most vulnerable state that Mrs. Rowe began her pattern of attacks,” said Rice during the hearing.
Rowe’s attorney, Brad Patton, said stress over caring for her severely disabled teenaged daughter and ill husband caused Rowe, who was named one of San Diego’s 50 Best Moms in 2006 by Time Warner Cable, to snap.
“Under no circumstance did she intend or want any harm to be done to the owners of the house,” Patton tells PEOPLE. Patton says once Rowe’s life became more manageable and she found a suitable home for her family the “pranks” stopped.
“She stopped it on her own when some of the pressures had alleviated,” he says. “You look at the woman’s life and there is nothing that remotely suggests her doing anything like this. She has been an outstanding mother, wife and community member. It was totally out of her character.”