Kathy Rowe says losing her dream home led to a breakdown
For two years, Kathy Rowe and her husband John searched around San Diego’s upscale Carmel Valley for a one-story home that would fit the growing needs of their severely disabled teenaged daughter, now 16 years old.
“I was having to carry her up and down the stairs and she was getting heavier,” Rowe tells PEOPLE exclusively. “It is okay to carry someone when they are 40 or 50 pounds, but when they get to 100 pounds it is hard. I threw my shoulder out. So we needed a one-story.”
Rowe says she “easily went to 100 open houses” before she finally found her dream home – a one-story Spanish house on a quiet cul-de-sac.
“It checked every single box,” she says.
However, Rowe, 53, claims that due to a miscommunication with her realtor, she lost the house to Jerry Rice, 40, and his then nine-months-pregnant wife Janice Ruhter, 37. Losing the house, she says, sent her on a downward spiral that led to an almost 10 month-long harassment campaign against the couple that included listing their house for sale on real estate sites, stopping their mail at Christmas, sending valentines to the neighbors wives from Rice and posting online a photo of Ruhter along with their address advertising for strangers to have sex with her while her husband was at work.
“People’s perception is it was just a house and that I had a temper tantrum because I lost out,” Rowe says. “It was what this house represented to us. It was sort of like our lease on a new less-stressful life. It had a lot of significance beyond it being just a house.”
Rowe says after she lost her dream home, her best friend developed sepsis, a childhood friend had massive heart problems and her husband was diagnosed with stage 4-stomach cancer. “The acts that I did were sort of a pressure relief valve,” she says.
San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Brendan McHugh says Rowe’s behavior was originally considered harassment “but then we saw that it was clearly beyond harassment,” when Rowe, pretending to be Ruhter, told a man she was corresponding with via email that she loved “to be surprised and have a man just show up at the door and force his way in the door and on me, totally taking me while I say no.”
“The only thing that happened is she didn’t get something that she wanted,” says McHugh. “It wasn’t because of any unfairness in the system. It wasn’t because of any inequities. She just didn’t get the winning bid. How often does that happen in life? People just don’t get everything they want. And then when she didn’t see what she was doing was causing concern, then the place she went to was to have another woman raped. To escalate from the stuff she was doing to that – there are no words for it.”
Although Ruhter was not physically harmed, with two small children in the home, Ruhter says that because of Rowe’s actions she “didn’t feel safe.”
Rowe was charged with soliciting rape and sodomy, identity theft and harassment and later pleaded guilty to a felony stalking charge. In January, she was sentenced to a year of home electronic surveillance, five years of probation, and ordered to stay away from the couple for 10 years.
“It was a tough time,” says Rice of the ordeal. “When I came home it was like, what can I do to protect my family? That’s what kept me up at night and my greatest fear was that something would happen to someone in my family. It didn’t stop.”
Rowe, who went for psychological counseling in January of 2013, says she suffered from sleep deprivation and adjustment disorder, a stress-related and short-term disturbance.
“My understanding of what I was doing was so different from what I was really doing,” she says. “I didn’t realize the impact it would have on the Rices. I never thought it would be frightening to them. Annoyed was about the worst thing I thought they would be.”
“People see her as a monster,” says Dr. Sage Breslin, Rowe’s psychologist. “She literally had no access to judgment.”
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.