There’s a dead end street in Shoreline with a construction site at the end. Like a lot of plots in the area, contractors are working to replace the old building—a small white house—with a new one. When it’s finished, the lot will hold Fire Station 63. The fire station will be new, big, and modern. But it will be unexceptional, just another part of all the new construction. Unlike the small, old house.
When it was occupied, the house looked like any other in Shoreline. It had one story, a porch swing, and a big back yard with a shed. For close to two decades, this ordinary house was owned by an ordinary-looking man, a Seattle Fire Department firefighter named Dan Erlandson*.
Though the house was unremarkable on the outside, Erlandson’s home was extraordinary on the inside. It contained extravagant decor and unusual happenings. Walls were painted to look like forests or draped in heavy velvet and tapestries. Aerial silks hung from the ceiling and a stripper pole sprouted from the floor.
In a similar way, Erlandson’s ordinary, respectable suburban job belied his unusual lifestyle. Erlandson is in his fifties, has shaved his head, and maintains a firefighter’s trim physique. He is silly, charming, quick-witted, and captivating.
Erlandson had an assumed identity, DanceHer Jones. He also had a very complicated social life, one that has been changed by a disturbing set of allegations. DanceHer, a persona Erlandson says he has left behind, was “very sexy,” he says. His friends and acquaintances say that Erlandson was obsessed with sex, and allege that he indulged dangerous sexual urges.
When the house filled up with a scene of hippies, Burners, and psychonauts, who danced, made music, and tripped inside, it became the Bliss Jungle. The Bliss Jungle was a tour stop for DJs and bands who played the West Coast ecstatic dance festival circuit, a scene populated by self-described hippies. The house was a community center and gathering place for the entire scene.
Fellow travellers from around the Northwest and West Coast—including California, Idaho, Oregon, and British Columbia—would stay or party at the house when they were in town. People from the Seattle area would also crash for a few days. Small, casual hangs and get togethers were frequent even in between big monthly parties called “Deep Beauty.” Erlandson also rented space at the house to a series of roommates who lived in the two spare bedrooms or the cottage out back.
The kind of gathering place that Erlandson created is hard to come by. Countercultures have a hard time establishing themselves in the physical world. Loud parties like Deep Beauty can attract attention from cops or neighbors, and even the party houses that have an ideal location for raucous late nights have largely been squeezed out by a housing market that is unkind to ragtag groups of renters.
The Bliss Jungle’s location in the middle of the block at the end of a dead end street protected partygoers from police scrutiny. There was no landlord to evict or shut down the parties, or the waves of visitors; Erlandson, under various names, had held title on the house since 1995.
Allegedly, the Bliss Jungle was not a haven for everyone.
Over the last six months, Seattle Weekly has interviewed four women who accuse Erlandson of rape or attempted rape. Through numerous public disclosure requests of multiple departments, The Weekly has also obtained police reports filed with the Seattle Police Department and King County Sheriff’s Office wherein five women accuse Erlandson of rape (a number which includes three of the women we interviewed). Additionally, in separate reports, three different women have also accused an Erlandson acquaintance and frequent Bliss Jungle guest of rape. All three of the guest’s documented accusers confirmed those claims in interviews with The Weekly.
On Facebook, there have been more accusations. In public groups and private conversations, women who neither spoke to The Weekly nor law enforcement have named Erlandson, the guest, other residents of the house, and additional unnamed individuals of sexual misconduct either at the Bliss Jungle or events in the Bliss Jungle’s community. These accusations include sexual harassment, groping, sexual assault, and rape. The Weekly made efforts to speak to all these women, but some declined comment or did not respond.
In total, 16 women accuse Erlandson, the guest, or Bliss Jungle community members of sexual misconduct.
Erlandson himself has also corroborated many of these accounts, either on Facebook or directly to The Weekly. He has admitted, to police and to The Weekly, to having sexual contact with several accusers. However, Erlandson is adamant that what occurred, either under his roof or elsewhere in the community, was simply a series of misunderstandings.
Though several (but not all) of the women have spoken to police, and their names are on record, many spoke to The Weekly under the condition of anonymity. However, in publicly airing these accounts, all were willing to affirm their accusations under oath to police officers and/or prosecutors. The women we interviewed were all willing to be quoted or have their stories printed, in large part because they believe that Erlandson has not yet received due justice for his alleged actions.
In November 2016, women began to post their stories on Facebook.
A woman tagged Erlandson in a post, accusing him of raping her. She started a conversation that circulated through Seattle’s hippie scene and among Bliss Jungle regulars. Another woman followed suit. At first, some community members were incredulous about her claims. Others expressed support and sadness.
“I’ve had a feeling this was the case for a long time, I’m grateful it’s coming out into the light,” wrote a man who knows Erlandson and had attended Deep Beauty. The man wrote that he noticed “very inappropriate behavior and power dynamics I was subject to, and witnessed [happening to] many of the young women [at the Bliss Jungle.]”
“ive [sic] been warned about him many times,” another woman commented.
At the same time, community members formed a group called Safer Communities, which created a Facebook page. A committee of community members, including some of Erlandson’s current and former roommates and closest friends, began to speak to accusers. They posted their findings on Facebook, and the group quickly circulated among the same circle that was debating the accusations in the earlier thread.
In the early days of the social media storm, the committee posted an anonymous account by a woman who was allegedly raped by Erlandson. That woman subsequently spoke to The Weekly. After her post went up, most of the people who saw the thread started to believe the accusations about Erlandson.
The committee also released documents that laid out their plans. In that post, the committee wrote they were concerned about future violence towards accusers and Erlandson. They also had conflicting goals: the committee wanted to prevent further rape and sexual assault, but they also wrote that they wanted to keep events and parties going much as they had been before. They worried about “a divide in the community, splitting us into opposed sides,” and that “our community event spaces [would] not being protected as safe spaces for all” if things started to boil over.
That tension frustrated the accusers. In interviews months later, both women told The Weekly that they believed the committee was more concerned with ending the controversy quickly than holding Erlandson accountable. They also said that the environment Erlandson created allowed other men to behave as predators.
The committee’s subsequent actions show this tension. They include people close to Erlandson, like Ethan Clarkmoore, his roomate. That discredited the committee in the accusers’ eyes. It vindicated their misgivings about the committee’s priorities.
Later, the committee convened a “healing circle” with community members. In a Facebook event created by Carey French, a committee member, the organizers explain that the circle was meant “for the community to come together and be with each other in this challenging time.” In the wake of the allegations, the organizers wrote, “many people are experiencing grief, anger, guilt, shame, fear, sadness, and more.”
In the Safer Communities group, new accusers began to voice their anger toward Erlandson and the committee. They shared similar concerns with the first two women to come forward.
Erlandson responded with his own Facebook note which he made public only to select friends, which ended with hashtags like “#DanceHerDidNotRape:”
“When we are using WORDS to communicate, the shared definition of those words is an absolute prerequisite to any ACTUAL communication. …people who are self-positioning at ‘the cutting edge of consent culture’, have adopted a NEW DEFINITION of what this word, ‘rape’ supposedly means.”
Though he never once denied sexual contact with the women who accused him, or addressed the emotional trauma they had expressed, Erlandson took issue with the Safer Communities’ definition of “rape,” which he deemed “ccRape,” or “Consent Culture Rape.” In interviews with The Weekly, he explained that “most men” have crossed the lines that the accusers were describing—but that “actual” rape was about what had happened, not how the accuser felt.
Erlandson was not alone in these sentiments—at least, he was not without support. Though several survivors found empowerment in publicly outing their abuser, many other Bliss Jungle community members outside the committee came to his defense.
In the fray, the committee itself was polarizing. Erlandson was initially included in the group’s conversations about restorative justice. His roommates were also included, including the one who was named in a police report as an accomplice to Erlandson during one alleged rape. That roommate was present for most of the committee’s deliberations. Eventually, both roommates were removed, because, as the committee wrote, they “have been implicated now by victims and it is clear you were complicit in your knowledge and actions.”
“Someone who systematically targets women, actually thinks about how they’re going to incapacitate someone, and then rapes them—we have a word for it. He’s a serial rapist,” Frances said in a later interview. Frances (not her real name) is an accuser who allegedly fought Erlandson off. “That does not deserve the compassion of a community healing circle. That is bullshit.”
Several survivors said they felt that Safer Communities discouraged them from going to the police, both on Facebook and in interviews with The Weekly.
The accusers felt abandoned by the community, which seemed to want nothing so much as to move on. Several told The Weekly that they struggle with mental health problems caused by the trauma Erlandson allegedly inflicted on them. They’re frustrated that he hasn’t been held accountable in the criminal justice system, and that their cohort hasn’t helped them hold Erlandson accountable with anything more than platitudes.
Erlandson has long pursued sexual relationships with young women. He met his first wife, Lara, when she was 16, in 1989. Erlandson, who was going by Anodyne at the time, had recently been discharged from the Navy. He was 25. He was throwing a series of all-ages parties in the U District.
“I went a few times with my friend, who was also a high-schooler. We ended up staying until the end of the event one night, hanging out with Anodyne and a couple of his friends, talking,” Lara remembers. “He complimented me effusively on my feet.”
Lara and her feet made an impression that night. She would later go on to drop out of high school, at Erlandson’s urging, and move with him to Hawaii. When she was 17, they got married; Erlandson was 26. For a while, Lara and Erlandson lived in Hawaii. Part of their plans were to conceive a child there.
That bohemian lifestyle changed when Erlandson developed polymyositis, a muscle disorder. He’d tried alternative medicine to cure his disease, but it didn’t work. The family returned to the mainland in 1991. Back in Seattle, Erlandson got better with help from Western medicine, and Lara gave birth to their daughter.
Around the same time, Erlandson decided to go straight, more or less. The gradual transformation started in Hawaii, when Erlandson cut his hair. In Seattle, he started working as a cab driver and looked clean cut. Eventually, Erlandson even went to college, albeit at the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. (The school was founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the creator of Transcendental Meditation and a major figure in hippie culture.)
When the family moved back to Seattle in 1994, Erlandson’s transformation reached its apex. Erlandson eventually joined the fire department. The family rented the house that would become the Bliss Jungle. They settled into Shoreline, blending in with their blue collar neighbors.
The Erlandsons bought the house in 1995 when the owner decided to sell. Part of the down payment was paid for by Lara’s mother. Erlandson and Lara paid back her mom for a while. Later, Lara’s mom asked the couple to put the down payment money towards her granddaughter’s education instead. Lara says that she does not believe that their daughter has received any of the money.
The marriage wasn’t going well. Lara says Erlandson had been manipulative and emotionally abusive. As she grew up, she started to get sick of the way he treated her.
At the end of the marriage, Lara was stripping while Erlandson was training to become a firefighter. They lived mainly off her tips and credit card debt. Lara was still working as a dancer when they divorced in 1996.
Lara was worried that Erlandson could freeze her out of their daughter’s upbringing. He made it clear that a single mom who worked as a stripper would have no chance winning a custody fight against a clean-cut firefighter, so they split custody of their child. Lara didn’t want to live in Shoreline or be responsible for the house’s upkeep any longer, so she signed over the title. Erlandson only began paying child support when their daughter was a teenager, Lara says.
Since she and Erlandson divorced, Lara says that she’s become much more clear about his alleged methods of manipulation and his well-documented proclivity for younger women.
“When I turned 25, the age he was when he swooped in on me, I had a pretty profound kind of sorrowful epiphany,” Lara says.
“I’d look at sixteen year olds and realize how young they really are. I would have never, as a 25 year old, gone after a high-school student.”
Erlandson got back on the scene in the ‘00s, during which he changed his name and got married and divorced again. He became a regular presence at festivals throughout the Northwest and gatherings in the Seattle area, and set about making the Bliss Jungle the perfect party house.
Erlandson’s decorations included a dancing pole, which was placed prominently near the foyer. He also bought a hot tub, which he installed in the back yard. He’d installed mirrors in the living room and set up high-end live sound equipment.
When Erlandson threw Deep Beauty parties or hosted well-known musicians, he went full out. He’d decorate the main room, rig up a light show, or create a psychedelic video. He composed and performed his own music, especially in the house’s later days. The parties were exciting. Attendees would dress up in their finest festival wear. They were major events, anticipated well in advance.
The parties also followed a consistent pattern.
Erlandson would usually kick off the evening with a brief talk. He would exhibit his goofy sense of humor, and say a few of the same things. He’d exhort everyone to leave the place cleaner than they found it. He was also very particular about the hot tub. Anyone who wanted to enter the hot tub had to get naked and take a shower.
“People generally just went in there naked—I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in a swimsuit in that hot tub,” says a Deep Beauty regular.
Erlandson agreed that the parties often had a “sexy” vibe, and said in an interview with The Weekly that people were encouraged to “explore.” In general, he would ask for everyone to be open, which meant that everyone should feel free—even encouraged—to be naked, or semi-naked. It also meant that privacy, or any sort of alone time, was discouraged.
That included use of the toilet. The bathroom door was to be left open at all times, unless someone was defecating. Anyone who wanted to take a dip in the hot tub was encouraged to shower, nude, with the door open to anyone who walked by. Party attendees would sometimes carry on conversation with someone taking a leak or rinsing off before a trip to the hot tub. At all times, the open door rule was strongly enforced.
“I remember there was one time I was too high [on psychedelics]—that would happen there,” says the regular. “You would take something, then someone would offer you something else. You’d get to a point where you’re peaking on both things, and it would be too much.”
“One night I went into the bathroom, because I was having a moment and needed to be alone and quiet,” she says. “Dan knocked on the door of the bathroom and said, ‘Sweetie, we don’t close the door unless we’re pooping!’ I said I was, [in order] to have a moment to myself.”
“It was a part of the culture. People couldn’t really have time on their own,” says the partygoer.
An exception to the open door policy was made when someone, or someones, wanted to take over one of the bedrooms. People would leave the main party to talk, cuddle, or have sex. If bedroom doors were closed, guests were supposed to knock. At that point, occupants could decide whether to let the guest in.
The openness that Erlandson cultivated was real. That open vibe, the excited revelers, and the bohemian decor made tripping at the Bliss Jungle grand and enchanting.
“It was pretty much the perfect place to dance and trip on acid,” says another sometime attendee.
The drugs were part of the Bliss Jungle’s draw, says the first regular: “Most people …would dose on LSD or Molly or something else in that realm.”
The use of drugs is widely admitted by the accusers and other attendees. Several of Erlandson’s acquaintances say that he distributed and ingested psychedelic drugs. In conversations with police and The Weekly, Erlandson neither confirmed nor denied drug use on his part.
Allegedly, Erlandson often distributed drugs to partygoers; partygoers say he was incredibly generous with his drugs.
Accusers say there was a calculation behind this generosity. Erlandson created an environment where young women would be encouraged to get naked and do serious drugs—though several of the women who spoke with The Weekly said that they had no idea what the dose he gave them included, or how much they were taking.
There were so many teenage girls and young women around that Erlandson had a nickname for them. He called them Bliss Bunnies.
Jenny’s story is typical among the women that Erlandson allegedly raped. (Jenny is not the accuser’s real name.) Jenny started going to the Bliss Jungle in her early 20s. A friend partied there, and struck up a consensual, polyamorous relationship with Erlandson. Erlandson encouraged Jenny’s friend to bring other young women to parties and casual hangs. Jenny had a bad feeling about Erlandson, but she kept going. The parties were fun at first, and her friend was having a good time.
Erlandson and Jenny started texting. One day, he invited her over to trip. It wasn’t a party, just a hang for the two of them. Jenny’s friend encouraged her to go over.
Erlandson and Jenny’s accounts agree up until this point. Erlandson claims that they hooked up and didn’t have a great time, and that Jenny overreacted for unknown reasons. Jenny says that Erlandson invited her to the Bliss Jungle, drugged her, and raped her.
In an email Erlandson sent to King County Sheriff’s Office Detective Chris Myers, Erlandson initially claimed that he did not remember the details of Jenny’s visit—but a few sentences later, he laid out his version of how it all went down. Erlandson dismissed the whole thing as a misunderstanding. It’s nothing more than an irrational overreaction, he explained, to bad sexual chemistry.
“That totally sucks. I wish that sex was always completely enjoyable for everyone involved, and sometimes it just isn’t. Whether that’s with brand new partners or people with years of loving practice together.”
This is a position Erlandson has taken more than once; he told The Weekly that he “stirred a lot of energy” during his years as a partier in Seattle. He suggested some of the backlash against him came from jealousy.
Jenny remembers her journey to the Bliss Jungle differently. She says Erlandson is a “master gaslighter.” Indeed, Jenny says she was apprehensive about hanging out with him alone. But she didn’t think anything sinister would happen, and her friend encouraged her to go.
When Jenny arrived at the Bliss Jungle, she took off her clothes, as Erlandson says. But Jenny says that she wasn’t inviting Erlandson to have sex with her. Jenny was there because she was intrigued by the scene, and wanted to explore psychedelics more. Erlandson apparently mistook Jenny’s curiosity and friendliness as sexual attraction.
When she arrived, Erlandson allegedly offered Jenny ketamine. In hospitals and ambulances, ketamine is administered as an anesthetic and postoperative pain reliever. It’s also a popular hallucinogen in low doses. And it can cause a “K hole.” A K hole is a dissociative state in which a ketamine user blacks out and can lose motor function. That’s why ketamine is a popular date rape drug.
Jenny suspects that Erlandson dosed her with too much ketamine on purpose. Seattle Fire Department paramedics administer ketamine to patients; Erlandson probably saw them administer it on the job. Jenny says that “[Erlandson] knew what he was doing.
“I remember exactly how much he had me snort,” she says. “It was a lot. And on top of it was [MDMA] and more K. He kept feeding it to me until I fell into a K hole.”
Jenny is foggy about what happened then, but she did have moments of lucidity. The moment she remembers from her K hole was when Erlandson was on top of her, penetrating her vagina with his penis.
“I was so impaired that I wasn’t able to speak or move,” Jenny says.
As bad as that was, Jenny says that the worst part of Erlandson’s alleged assault was psychic. She says that he took some part of her without asking, that he compromised some deep quality of her soul.
“When it was happening to me, and I was in my little K hole and he was on top of me, he grabbed my solar plexus. I felt him rip it open, energetically. I felt him feeding off me. He’s an energetic vampire.”
Sexual energy comes up a lot in talking to those who allege abuse at the Bliss Jungle. Several accusers have said that Erlandson raped or groped them under the pretense of performing a sort of sex healing inspired by tantric practices. Erlandson has worked off and on as a massage therapist. He advertised his massage services as a sexual healing practice. He had a website for the practice, blissjungle.com, that is no longer active.
Accusers allege that Erlandson would tell them he was performing some sort of spiritual healing as he had his way with them. The guest who allegedly raped women in the Bliss Jungle community, also reportedly said he, too, was a sex healer.
Some members of the community took a more charitable view of Erlandson’s spirituality than Jenny and others like her, who said they believe that Erlandson uses whatever spiritual gifts he has for ill.
“He truly believed that he was enlightened and aware of things that other people weren’t, that he could see where some people were vulnerable or hurt or harmed in some way,” says Jason Baker, a Safer Communities committee member.
“I think that he would say that he could help them, he could heal them. He would literally tell people that sexual experiences through him… would actually help them heal and grow and get over whatever past traumas they had.”
Regardless of his qualifications as a spiritual healer or sex guru, many Erlandson acquaintances who spoke to The Weekly mentioned his powerful energy. Erlandson can deploy a glamouring effect, they said. He can captivate or charm anyone if he wants to.
Many of the Bliss Jungle’s guests came in with trauma. Some of the women The Weekly has spoken to were experiencing homelessness when they allege Erlandson raped them. Others were already survivors of sexual trauma. Most of them were newcomers to the hippie scene, if not Seattle. (Erlandson told The Weekly that he believes triggered past trauma caused some women to accuse him of rape.)
In short, most of those who have confirmed their allegations to The Weekly were, in one way or another, vulnerable.
The women who Erlandson allegedly raped or assaulted—all eight of them—all knew him before he allegedly attacked them. In many cases, they spent time with him after they were attacked at festivals or his house. They all say that they have experienced a psychic toll from their experiences with Erlandson.
But many felt attached to the community; they didn’t want to be the one to end the good times. After all, everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves. Maybe, they thought, they just misread the situation.
Erlandson’s habitual line stepping wasn’t limited to sex: he rankled community members by disrupting or altering events. Erlandson would set up events at the fringes of festivals, using his camper or a tent. It was something he frequently did at dance festivals in the ‘00s and ‘10s: he was well known for creating hookup tents at the fringes of festivals.
At different times, Erlandson called the gatherings the Snake Temple or the S.E.X. Temple. He would allegedly hand out drugs and encourage people to hook up.
Erlandson got himself banned from a festival in 2008. According to one of the festival’s organizers, Darin Leong, Erlandson allegedly hit on women—including “young girls,” according to Leong—to the point of harassment. He allegedly handed out acid and encouraged attendees to use it in large quantities. In fact, Leong says, it wasn’t the first time he’d heard similar rumors about Erlandson.
The ban wasn’t strictly enforced, and Erlandson eventually made his way back to Leong’s festival in the 2010s. One woman alleges she survived several rapes by Erlandson in 2015. She also claims that Erlandson harassed her at a dance festival on Orcas Island later that year.
She, like many of the accusers, seemed unable to find a place that was truly safe. She wouldn’t find it in the criminal justice system, either. She was one of several women who filed a report and gave a statement to police.
The accusers’ reports did not result in any legal action against Erlandson or the guest. In fact, The Weekly’s reporting reveals several failings on the part of the police and prosecutors. Conversations with both police and prosecutors make it clear: Successfully reporting incidents of rape and sexual assault is a Herculean task. Holding rapists accountable in the legal system requires intimate knowledge of criminal law and the methods of investigators.
According to accusers, investigators’ communication with accusers was infrequent, superficial, and condescending. At the end of the investigation, neither prosecutors or police made an effort to contact all the accusers. Several accusers said that they did not know the case had been closed until The Weekly contacted them. Others said they believed it had been closed when they learned that the case was not being prosecuted.
The bulk of the investigation occurred on Facebook and in a handful of documented conversations with Erlandson, as well as the statements from accusers. No search warrant was ever requested—a fact which surprised a veteran officer from another department who spoke to The Weekly on the condition of anonymity.
King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) detectives did take screenshots of the Safer Communities group and other related posts, as well as saved screenshots of text messages that Erlandson provided. In a public disclosure request filed by The Weekly, Erlandson’s lengthy emails to KCSO detective Chris Myers are present, but Myers’ responses are not.
In the numerous Facebook threads, numerous women claimed that they had been raped, sexually assaulted, or sexually harassed by the guest, Erlandson, or others.
Of the seven reports naming Erlandson that were available to the King County Prosecutor’s Office (KCPO), only three were brought to the deputy prosecutor assigned to the case, Carla Carlstrom, who was then charged with determining the next steps.
Carlstrom’s interpretation of the case is preserved in her decline memo, a document which she says she stands by. When prosecutors decide not to press charges, they must explain their reasoning in a decline memo; typically it’s because they believe there isn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction. After reviewing documents provided to her by detectives, Carlstrom concluded that she would be unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Erlandson had committed third degree rape.
The decline memo represents a decision by the KCPO to hold off on filing charges until more evidence became available. However, in an interview with The Weekly, it became clear that Carlstrom had not been briefed on all of the rape charges which were filed.
“The three women that were in my decline were the only ones that were presented to me,” Carlstrom said. “So I’m not aware of other ones… at this time, we’ve only looked at those three.”
When The Weekly inquired about the additional accusers who had filed charges, Carlstrom asked for more information.
“So you’re saying there are other women?” she said when told as much.
The prosecution and a detective spoke to a fourth accuser after The Weekly interview; hers has since been added as an active part of the investigation. That accuser later told The Weekly that Myers was “not very sympathetic” to her allegations and that the experience was very negative. She also noted that Myers had initially given her the impression that the case was fully closed, which is why she did not maintain contact with him.
“I’m glad I’m going through it now,” the accuser said. But she did say that, if she had undergone the process when she was younger, it would have been emotionally taxing.
All told, the reports of half of the women who made official accusations had not been considered for prosecution.
Six months after they’d made their reports, numerous accusers were unaware of the status of their cases. They didn’t know which questions to ask, how to follow up, or what to expect. One expressed shock that a search warrant was never issued.
There are, of course, substantial barriers to investigating and prosecuting—not just because the law creates a nearly impossible standard of proof. The prosecution needs to prove, in essence, how a person was feeling at the time of an alleged rape. In his emails to investigators, Erlandson illustrates that difficulty.
Erlandson’s willingness to contend that he did, in fact, have sex with the women who filed reports (and many more) make the cases even more difficult to prosecute. The question is no longer whether or not Erlandson had sex with any of the accusers, but whether or not they consented. To meet the standard of proof in a third-degree rape case, the courts need to demonstrate that accusers were either too intoxicated to consent, or that they had firmly said “no.” In the absence of evidence, such as video or photos, it is a classic case of he said, she said.
The statute of limitations of these alleged crimes is also short—just three years in most cases, though it depends on the circumstances—and a lot of circumstances that are standard fare of the party scene muddy the waters.
The drugs, for example—which every accuser admitted to using—played an integral part in the alleged assaults. However, Carlstrom says, the drugs didn’t merit getting a search warrant. She also says that, because the drugs were taken willingly, they didn’t prove that sexual contact was nonconsensual.
“…It was clear that the drugs were taken voluntarily, and that [accusers] know that they had these effects,” Carlstrom says. “But that doesn’t matter, if we can prove that they were so incapacitated that they can express a lack of consent.
“We were hugely concerned about his pattern of providing drugs,” she says, referencing the decline memo—but, she says, law enforcement believed they would be unable to prove it in court.
Because of these sorts of complications, sexual assault survivors in King County are typically paired with an advocate from a non-profit, non-governmental agency called King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC). These advocates are designated to help those alleging rape to navigate the system and understand their rights.
Accusers told the Seattle Weekly that they were paired with advocates, though they weren’t always particularly helpful in explaining the next steps. At least one accuser says that she believed the case had been dropped altogether following the decline memo; she didn’t hear very much from her advocate.
Additionally, fatigue from the experience of reporting itself—one accuser said she’d “been avoiding the phone” because the process was so overwhelming—makes it difficult for advocates to offer help. Police do not go out of their way to include KCSARC: the survivor who recently filed a statement says she did not have an advocate on the phone with her when she gave the statement to a detective, and was not offered help.
“Whatever happens in the criminal justice process,” says KCSARC Executive Director Mary Ellen Stone, “that doesn’t mean anything about the victim themselves.”
“It doesn’t mean the crime didn’t occur.”
And, she says, it doesn’t mean that it was a fool’s errand to report in the first place.
Erlandson’s alleged victims have felt as though no one has heard them; the community has been strained. With the house gone, the community lost a port in the storm. The case hasn’t moved in nearly a year. Erlandson has not been held accountable for his alleged misdeeds.
In his emails with Detective Myers, Erlandson expressed little remorse—or even understanding—of what he’d allegedly done. At one point, he wrote that the whole thing was just a way for some women to “fight back against The Patriarchy.”
He has also been on a long paid vacation of sorts, but not because of the ongoing investigations of sexual assault. Erlandson has been on disability for an injury since March of 2017. He says he’s retired. As a city employee and a union member, he is entitled to a pension for the rest of his life. The allegations haven’t changed any of that. Nor has the fact that he was a thorn in the side of SFD.
Erlandson has, however, had multiple run-ins with his fellow firefighters. He allegedly committed petty theft in 2009. In a police report about the incident, a SFD employee alleges that $10 had gone missing from their firehouse’s petty cash drawer while Erlandson (who then went by Dan Osborn) and another firefighter were on shift. No further action was taken.
Prior to the alleged theft, Erlandson was reprimanded for kicking another firefighter in a grocery store while on duty, for behaving “unprofessionally” in a business that he was inspecting for code violations, and for visiting excessively with his girlfriend during his shift. She would often come to the firehouse, his coworkers complained, and hang around. Erlandson was also formally disciplined for inappropriately using paid time off to care for his girlfriend.
In each instance, Erlandson was forced to submit a written apology. In none of his apologies did he admit to wrongdoing. Elsewhere in his disciplinary record, there are numerous accounts of unexplained absences, late arrivals, and other unprofessional conduct. He was transferred multiple times to different firehouses.
Accusers have come forward in droves, but have little to show for it. Most of the trappings of the Bliss Jungle’s heyday have been erased—the community is frayed, the house is gone—but Erlandson is not. Neither are the forces that have made it so easy to keep the alleged abuse in the darkness. It’s unlikely that he will regain the kind of social stature he had before the allegations surfaced. But, he says, he’s all the better for it—he keeps his real friends closer, he says, and he claims to be sober.
In spite of the accusations, Erlandson maintains that he’s only ever acted with the best of intent. He says that the experience has been a net positive. Erlandson claims that he’s learned a lot, even though he believes that the social media brouhaha caused a “witch hunt” carried out by Seattle’s “liberal bubble.”
Erlandson compared the wave of accusations to the #MeToo movement, a social media moment in October 2017, wherein women shared their experiences with sexual harassment and assault. He believes that people piled on in both cases, and that the accusations against him were stirred up by feminist ideology. Erlandson says that he has been misrepresented, and that the community doesn’t know his side of the story.
“I’ve had a number of experiences now of being on the barrel end of people’s unfettered rage and immediate judgment,” he says. “I found that the whole thing exploded so quickly, and spread rapidly outside of any circles of acquaintanceship, even. People would go from accusation immediately to punishment, and I received lots of suggestions about the ways that I should be brutalized, and beaten, and raped. And all this terrible terrible rage.”
“I also have the experience of seeing what happens, the power and intensity around this word ‘rape,’ and what happens to people’s filters and expectations and judgments. Emotions become so charged that there quickly becomes no real possibility of dialogue or conversation. … I can’t see any happy outcome from his. This is probably just going to be a pretty awful experience.”
Erlandson believes he is the real victim.
If you have experienced sexual assault and need support, or if you would like more information about sexual violence, call King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s 24-hour Resource Line at 1-888-998-6423.
*Though Dan Erlandson has not been charged with a crime at this time, Seattle Weekly is choosing to use his name; many of the documents cited in this article were turned over after a specific public disclosure request solely for Erlandson’s name. Additionally, the Seattle Police Department did not redact Erlandson’s name in several of their reports, and as such, it is a matter of public record.
An earlier version of this article said that Erlandson was present at the Safer Communities healing circle. He was not. The previous version also said that Erlandson was expelled from a 2008 festival on Orcas Island. The festival was not on Orcas Island. We regret the errors.