After Receiving Death Threats from Notorious Celebrity Stalker, Activist Fought Back
Lenora Claire has worked as an art curator, casting director, and reality TV producer, but it's her role as a victims' rights advocate (Vice magazine once dubbed her "the Erin Brockovich of stalking") that makes her proudest.
After being named one of L.A. Weekly's People of the Year for her work in the Los Angeles art scene, Claire met a man at a 2011 gallery opening who would change the course of her life, in a horrifying way.
Wearing a spacesuit, Justin Massler — also known as "Cloud Starchaser" -- approached Claire and struck up a conversation about her perceived resemblance to Jessica Rabbit. "He seemed intelligent, but strange," Claire tells PEOPLE. "He looked right at me, and I'll never forget it -- it's like the spirals in his eyes started, and he said, 'I'm going to stalk you.'"
Massler began sending Claire "long, sycophantic, rambling letters" that escalated into graphic rape and death threats that were "very, very descriptive, very horrifying," she recalls. Over the course of seven years and thousands of missives, Massler also threatened to murder Claire's boss, kidnap Claire, abduct her dog and more.
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Annually, about 7.5 million Americans are victims of stalking, according to the National Center For Victims of Crime. But when Claire tried to obtain a restraining order against Massler, her early attempts were unsuccessful. So, determined to fight Massler on her own, Claire worked with mentors like Congressman Adam Schiff and criminal prosecutor Rhonda Saunders (who, in the 1990s, helped establish America's first anti-stalking laws). She also began sharing her story publicly on shows like Crime Watch Daily, The Dr. Oz Show and 48 Hours.
Massler was arrested in 2017 and convicted of felony stalking against Claire in 2018. He was sentenced to four years — the maximum penalty for felony stalking in California.
But because of California's Proposition 57 -- a bill intended to give nonviolent offenders a chance at early parole -- Massler was released in December 2019, after serving two years.
But Claire's work in advocacy had just begun. After jumping through so many hoops in her quest for justice, she began helping other domestic-violence and stalking victims pursue restraining orders against their perpetrators, as well as educating herself about victims' rights and legislation -- not to mention gaining practical skills like "learning how to pull GPS trackers off [victims'] cars," she says.
In 2020, Claire, with victim advocate Melissa Centi, co-founded the Victim Advocacy Project, which offers crime victims access to mental health counseling, relief with bills and expenses, victim compensation, crime scene cleanup and even "human shields" to protect them during court appearances.
"I was in court, helping someone get a restraining order, and I'll never forget this woman I saw with two black eyes, holding a baby," Claire remembers. "The offender kept looking at her, intimidating her and scaring her. ... And I was like, 'Not on my watch.' That's when I started working as a human shield."
January is Stalking Awareness Month, and Claire's biggest hope is that more people will start taking stalking as seriously as she does. "I'm married and in a good place now, but five or six years ago, at the height of this, I was just a single girl living in a sh---- studio apartment thinking I was going to get killed every day of my life," she says.
Claire recently started working with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office's Victims Advisory Board, and she's working on a bill called SAVE (Stalking Abuse Victims Empowerment).
She wants to launch a national restraining-order registry, and is looking toward tech for new ways to aid victims. "Oftentimes when you're a victim, technology's used against you," she says. "One of the things I'm advocating for is ... a program where we give victims an app that notifies them if their offender is in [close] proximity; an alert that they're in danger."
She has also partnered with Flare, an unassuming-looking "safety bracelet" that tracks your GPS and alerts your most trusted contacts if you press a button indicating you're in danger.
"I'm most proud that this was not all for nothing," Claire says. "I talk about privilege a lot; I have privilege on top of privilege. Not everybody has these opportunities and platforms. You have to be twice as loud for those who can't."