March 23, 1992 12:00 PM

At 28, Maureen O’Boyle, host of the syndicated TV “reality” series A Current Affair, can boast of remarkable success. After 16 months in Maury Povich’s old chair, O’Boyle has seen viewership rise by 15 percent, and she rates a higher Q score—a measure of viewer familiarity and popularity—than any other newswoman on TV.

But the composure that O’Boyle has shown before her nightly audience of 15-20 million dissolves into tears as she recalls a single night six years ago—the most horrifying night of her life. At the time, she was living in Macon, Ga., where she anchored the CBS affiliate’s early morning news. After O’Boyle had retired for the evening, a man broke into her garden-level apartment and raped and terrorized her for three interminable hours.

O’Boyle never saw her attacker’s face, but she did not hesitate to report the crime to the police and to assist in the ensuing investigation. She was determined, she says, “to reclaim my life.”

O’Boyle, who studied journalism and speech at East Carolina University (she never graduated), has talked openly of the incident with those close to her, including her parents, Joan, a writer, and Jerry, a calendar publisher, who live in Charlotte, N.C., where she grew up with her eight brothers and sisters. It was only last month, however, that she did decide she was ready to speak of it publicly. “I’ve always thought that being in a job where I am in the public eye that my story is important to share,” she says. Indeed, in the aftermath of the William Kennedy Smith and Mike Tyson trials, public consciousness about rape has never been higher. During a week of taping Affair on the road in L.A., O’Boyle spoke with correspondent Kristina Johnson about the harrowing ordeal of that night and her struggle toward recovery.

IT HAPPENED ON APRIL 3, 1986. A friend of mine had come over to my apartment to help me work on my taxes that evening. Afterward, I went to bed in my pajamas early as usual, around 8:30 P.M., because my wake-up call was at 3:00 A.M. Whenever I slept, it was deep because I was always sleep-deprived. I never heard him breaking in.

It was dark when I woke up. There was this man on top of me, threatening me with a knife. He told me, “I’m going to hurt you. I’m going to kill you. I’m going to cut you up.”

He said, “I’ve been following you. You know me.” That was the hardest part. His voice sort of sounded familiar, and in the middle of all this fear, I was thinking this was someone I might know. But I didn’t see him. He kept me up against the bed or a wall, so I couldn’t view him, and he made me keep my eyes closed. Later he put a pillowcase over my head. Any time I tried to make a quick move, he’d say, “Watch out, the knife is right here.”

I never saw a clock, but I would say he was there for at least three hours. He had brought cameras and lingerie with him. After he had blindfolded me with the pillowcase, he put the lingerie on me. As he was telling me he was going to kill me and cut me, I could hear the camera clicking. It was terrifying. I don’t talk about the specifics of what else he did to me. I had more than one time when I thought I wouldn’t make it. He never stabbed me—I bear no physical scars from this crime—but he terrorized me. Three hours of this is a lo-o-ong time. It seemed like forever.

I felt so weak. It’s like gravity is holding you down, and you can’t even lift your arm. I’ve talked to other rape victims who get adrenaline beyond belief, but for me, it was really the opposite. I was paralyzed by my fear.

That’s probably why my brain was working overtime. It was like a tape recorder and a videotape were running in my mind. I thought, “I have to remember everything in order to catch him.” And I really knew I was going to survive it. I’d been given so many blessings in my life, there was no way it was going to end then. It sounds hokey, but it’s the truth.

I would get hysterical at times and scream, but no one heard me. Finally I knew nobody was coming. I thought, “What else am I going to do?” I developed a kind of conversation with him to make him believe that he could get away scot-free. Then the phone rang about three times. I told him I was supposed to be at work and my coworkers would come looking for me. I told him, “If you leave now, they won’t catch you.”

Then he put me in the bathroom, walked out and shut the door. He didn’t lock me in. I remember thinking that I was safe. But then I thought that I had never seen what he looked like and that he wouldn’t get caught. How would I survive the rest of my life if he was out there? So for a split second I opened up the door and tried to see him in the bedroom mirrors. I did see his hands, but I didn’t see his face. He had a mechanic’s hands, calloused, with oil embedded in them. Then he left.

Part of me clicked in, and I thought, “There has to be some clue, something to get him.” I ran out to the balcony and saw the back of his truck. I went back inside, picked up the phone and called 911. I said, “This is Maureen O’Boyle. I’ve just been raped.” I gave them my address and told them he had a white truck and described him as best I could.

Physically I knew what his body was like because he had been up against me. He seemed very strong, but he was slight. He wasn’t a bodybuilder. I remember lots of the physical parts of his body. And I had opened my eyes for an instant when he was across the room, and I could see he had straight, blond hair. I also knew that he had long hair because I’d felt it on my neck. He talked in a very thick Southern accent.

I went into shock after that. I don’t remember a lot about the time between calling 911 and the cops arriving a couple of minutes later. I remember seeing the girls from the apartment above me standing at the top of the steps, crying hysterically. They had heard me screaming in their sleep, but thought it was a party or kids driving.

I must have fainted because I woke up with my head being supported by a police officer’s knee. Within a few minutes after I came to, there were cops everywhere. At that point I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Here I was, this woman who had interviewed these same officers three days ago about some highway crime or fatality, suddenly standing there naked, wrapped in a comforter, crying so deeply. They tried to comfort me, but we all felt awkward.

I just wanted to talk to my parents. They were vacationing at our family’s beach house in South Carolina. I remember having a hard time finding the phone number. My apartment was ransacked—he’d done that before he woke me up. He had taken some photos and a little jewelry box.

When I finally got through to the house, my older sister Irene answered. I whispered to her that I’d been raped and that I needed Mom and Dad. The first thing my mom said was, “We love you.” My mom is my best friend in the whole wide world, and when I heard her voice, I just knew it was going to be OK.

Somebody had put some clothes on me, and then I went to the hospital. There was never a question in my mind about pressing charges because I knew that I was not responsible for this crime. The examination process is physically painful, emotionally exhausting and embarrassing. They’re looking for hair and skin samples—the slightest thing that comes from the perpetrator. But I wanted to survive this, and I knew the only way was for me to get this man.

After the hospital, I was taken to the police station to fill out a report. Suddenly the sun comes up, and you see people are still walking around, drinking coffee or going to lunch. And you feel like saying, “Excuse me. Doesn’t anybody understand that the world is supposed to stop so that I can get ready to face this life again?” That’s when you start to realize that you’re not the same person you were the day before.

My older brother Jim had driven in from North Carolina. I really don’t remember how we got home to our family at the beach house. My nieces and nephews were there with such bright happy faces. They just hugged me and locked me in their arms. And then my mom and dad—we just sat there holding hands. My family’s very open. So I had to talk about it.

I remember sitting with my mom and sisters Anne and Irene, talking about my emotions. Nothing in my life compared to what I was feeling. I felt ashamed, embarrassed. Why didn’t I catch him? Why didn’t I stop him? Why didn’t I suddenly have that superhuman strength that people talk about?

We went back to my parents’ house in Charlotte. I remember that I didn’t like being alone. And I really didn’t like doors being shut. I went through formal therapy in the beginning, twice, three times a week, specifically to work through the fear and anxiety of that night. After the initial few weeks, it was on a more casual basis. It’s been more than a year now since I’ve been in therapy.

I had called my news director in Macon and told him that I wasn’t going to be able to really get back to work until the man was caught. I couldn’t work knowing he would be watching me on TV. We all wondered how long that would be. My coworkers knew about the rape because they’d heard my name over the police scanner. They were supportive and sent me lots of letters. They were like family.

A month or so passed, and I flew down to Macon with my father to pick up my car and meet with my boss. That’s when the police finally had a break in the case. And that’s when the sun began to shine again for me.

I met with a woman who had been a victim of a similar crime. She and I talked at length, and we realized that certain things in her life matched some of the clues in mine. The police started following up our leads the next morning and realized the man who they believed had raped us was the same man who had been arrested the night before for burglaries in nearby Jones County. He confessed everything to the Macon police. Because of his confession, I did not have to go through a trial.

He was an auto mechanic. He watched my morning program at his gas station because he started work very early in the morning. I had gone to that gas station once or twice, but I did not recognize him. He had said that I knew him as a fear tactic.

My boss, Tony, and my friend Maureen held my hands at the arraignment. The rapist came in and sat about 10 feet away, with his back to me. I just sat there shaking, consumed with anger. When I saw him, I felt like that whole disgusting, horrible, violent crime had happened yesterday. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye a couple of times. I had a hard time that day. I knew the sickness of his mind. I wanted to make sure that he got put away. And he did. For all his crimes, he was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

I moved to Spokane, Wash., several months later. I’ve always been very career-oriented, and it was time to move on. It was a fresh start and a much better job. I didn’t have to go to work at 4 in the morning!

I find that the rape really hasn’t affected my feelings toward men, because this wasn’t a normal man. I didn’t jump into a relationship right away. That took a while. I’m seeing someone now—I don’t play the guessing game, so I don’t know if it’s serious. Telling my story is part of getting close to somebody. I don’t go out with men who don’t understand what happened to me.

The rapist, who is serving time in Atlanta, comes up for parole within the next few years. This is justice the American way. As a citizen I have to understand that and hope that he serves his whole sentence. I’ve been talking to the prosecutor and several lawyers who helped me, and we’re all putting together a list of people to write letters to the parole board.

I was lucky to have had the right people around me and the right resources. If it happens to you, tell someone right away. There is nothing to be ashamed of: It’s not your fault.

There are times I will receive a strange fan letter that gives me the creeps. But that could happen to any TV newswoman out there. Fear and paranoia are not a part of my daily existence. This person and this crime did not take away my life, my stability, my career. This crime does not own Maureen O’Boyle. I can go on.

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