"I didn't realize they'd be scared to death," the perpetrator tells PEOPLE

By Christine Pelisek
Updated February 11, 2015 12:50 PM
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Credit: Gregg Segal

The house seemed to have everything a growing family could want.

Located in an upscale suburb, the Spanish-style home featured a huge backyard and a school right up the street. When it went on the market in 2011, Janice Ruhter and husband Jerry Rice were one of eight families who bid on the property. When they won, they were elated.

But their happiness soon turned to terror as unexplained things began to happen. The house was placed for sale on real estate websites. Dozens of traveling missionaries knocked on their front door. Their mail was stopped. Neighbors received bizarre valentines from Rice.

And then things took a dark and dangerous turn. One terrifying day, a man showed up at the front door, lured by an online ad soliciting men to have sex with Ruhter when her husband wasn’t home.

The young couple was clearly being targeted by someone intent on making their life miserable. But who? They had no known enemies and lived an exemplary life; he is a middle school special-ed teacher, she is a lab scientist at a children’s hospital.

“I started freaking out,” Ruhter tells PEOPLE exclusively. “How far was this person going to take it? I didn’t feel safe.”

Rice and Ruhter were shocked when they learned who was behind the crime: Kathy Rowe, a 53-year-old married mom of a 16-year-old disabled daughter. She had been one of the other people who bid on the house.

When it was sold to the Rices, “I was heartbroken,” Rowe tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview.

Make that heartbroken – and angry. “Once a month,” she says, “I would be up all night and I would think, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny to do this?’ ”

Only no one was laughing. Rowe was arrested and charged with soliciting rape and sodomy, identity theft and harassment. In 2014, she pleaded guilty to a felony stalking charge. She was sentenced to home detention and probation. She has been ordered to stay away from her victims for 10 years.

With the harassment behind them, Rice and Ruhter are trying to piece their lives back together. “We would love to forgive her,” says Rice, “but I don’t think she has really apologized for the full scope of what she did against us.”

To see more of Kathy Rowe’s exclusive interview, tune in to 20/20, airing Friday, Feb. 13, 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

For more of PEOPLE’s coverage of Ruhter and Rice’s terrifying ordeal – and an interview with Kathy Rowe – pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday