Ben Hofseth long ago learned the hard way never to be surprised by his ex-wife. Yet he didn’t realize exactly what she was capable of until one chilly day, March 20, 1988.
It’s a Friday afternoon and Hofseth has just gotten off of work. As a case manager at a work-release program, he spends his time on the clock dealing with criminals: murderers, rapists, and white-collar frauds.
Driving in the late-winter Minnesota gloom, Hofseth steers his Volkswagen through the gates of a tony subdivision in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, pulls up to the curb next to a handsome rambler, puts the car in park, and gets out. The home belongs to his ex, Juanita, who has since remarried and taken her new husband’s last name, Lammer. Hofseth and Lammer had once been in love, impulsively detouring to Las Vegas during a road trip to the Grand Canyon so that they could get hitched. Now they are in something like the opposite: the fourth year of an ugly, protracted custody battle.
Sitting in the middle of the fight are Hofseth and Lammer’s two sons: 8-year-old Jesse and 5-year-old Nick. They are the ones Hofseth has come to see, and the ones he’s been fighting to keep seeing this whole time. As he walks toward the front door of his ex-wife’s new home, Hofseth unwittingly steps toward something like an end to his old life. The rules are about to change on him. Again.
Shortly after their divorce, the former couple had joint custody of the boys. Then Lammer started telling the courts that Jesse and Nick were coming home from weekends with Dad complaining that Hofseth had touched them while he bathed and changed them. Hofseth denied the allegations, submitted to a battery of psychological tests, and jumped through every imaginable hoop to prove his innocence. For nearly a year, his only contact with the boys came during chaperoned play dates in a sterile government office that spoke to many things, none of them familial warmth. Now, as he reaches Lammer’s front door, he’s hopeful that the worst of the fight is behind him. The judge assigned to his case is just beginning to see through Lammer’s act. In another month, he may very well have the kids all to himself, happily careening through the bedroom he’s rigged in the upper floor of a friend’s house, his new, temporary crash pad. But he doesn’t have another month.
Hofseth knocks. There’s no answer. He rings the doorbell. Silence still. Then he leans over and looks through the picture window and into the living room. All that’s left inside are the drapes. Half-stumbling to the house next door, Hofseth can’t quite get his mind around what he’s told next.
“They left last Sunday,” the neighbor says. “Just packed up and went in the middle of the night.”
Hofseth races to the police station, unaware that, no matter how fast he drives, it will make no difference. Lammer is already hundreds of miles away. The next time he’ll see her, she’ll be explaining why she kidnapped her kids to a sympathetic interviewer on 60 Minutes. The next time he’ll see his boys in the flesh, they’ll be a year older, 2,000 miles away in Washington, and wary of the man claiming to be their real father. But of all the things Hofseth is unable to anticipate this day, one of the worst of his life, there’s this: More than 20 years later he’ll get a call from a reporter asking him if he was once married to a woman named Juanita Lammer.
“Yes, I was,” he’ll say, following immediately with a question of his own: “What’s she done now?”
The answer, he’ll find out, is a lot.
According to her alleged victims, Lammer—now going by the name Jessica Carde—has left a wake of destruction in both Snohomish and King County. Years after a 14-month, cross-country fugitive flight from justice first brought her to Washington, victims say that they fell prey to an incredibly charming woman willing to say or do whatever it takes to get what she wants, and to intimidate and threaten anyone who stands in her way. Carde’s purported modus operandi, according to her alleged victims, is to present herself as a buyer of their million-dollar homes, sign a lease even though she can’t come up with the money to close, and then squat without paying rent for months—sometimes more than a year. Six homeowners over four years claim to have come under her spell. Court documents and interviews paint a picture of a manipulator who with the help of a background in hypnotherapy, some victims say, literally hypnotized them. Irate home-owners, one of whom is accused of threatening to kill Carde, claim she’s cost them (and one elderly stroke survivor) hundreds of thousands of dollars, their homes and businesses, and in one case their will to live.
“I have a lot of mental issues because of this woman, and attempted to take my life,” says Kevin Roberts, a builder in Snohomish County for 35 years who claims he filed for bankruptcy and lost five homes to foreclosure because of his failed business relationship with Carde. “You gotta trust me, man—she destroyed me.”
Carde insists it’s all one big misunderstanding. In fact, she claims she’s the victim. Yet an extensive search into her past shows that there’s hardly ever been a time in her life when the truth wasn’t up for debate.
Former acquaintances of Carde’s react to the sound of her name as if they’ve just been told a person they’d thought long dead has come back to life.
“Sorry, I’m usually a lot more forthright,” says Robert Naiman, a well-regarded fishery sciences professor at the University of Washington who was married to Carde for three years, “but this is sort of a black hole in a person’s life, and I don’t want to open it again.”
“I don’t want her in my life,” says Carde’s older sister and only sibling, who refuses to provide her name or the state where she’s living. “I don’t want any part of this.”
Carde doesn’t look like the type who would inspire such fear. At 56—with raven-black hair, a face that in her youth some say resembled Angelina Jolie’s, and elegant posture—she looks every bit the successful entrepreneur she claims to be. In reviewing her resume, it would almost be easier to list the fields in which Carde doesn’t claim to be an expert. Trailing after her name like a train gliding behind a wedding dress are five certification-identifying acronyms. She claims to be trained as a therapist, hypnotherapist, and mediator, while also boasting of “notable experience” in such disparate areas of knowledge as emotional incest, motivational speaking, and anti-terrorism.
The self-reported accolades of her professional life, however, don’t match the turmoil she’s faced personally and financially. A search of records both here and in Minnesota reveal that Carde has filed for bankruptcy seven times, a number only slighter higher than the number of times, five, that she’s been married. She’s also been listed as a defendant in 27 civil cases in western Washington, many of them evictions. And she claims that the one and only time she actually saw the inside of a jail cell, it was the result of the ultimate sacrifice: the need to protect her children.
By October 1988, it had been seven months since Ben Hofseth had seen his two boys. In the intervening days, a judge had awarded Hofseth full custody. In a court order dated April 15, 1988, Hennepin County District Court Judge Walter H. Mann wrote that Carde had “inflicted emotional abuse” upon her children. Mann called Carde overpossessive, overprotective, and overcontrolling, and while he acknowledged the love she had for the boys, he also said that “she permits her preoccupation with emotional and sexual matters to override the relationship.”
Mann wrote that Jesse and Nick had “too much contact” with Carde’s therapy patients, whom she counseled in her home. He said Carde encouraged her children to “discuss matters of sex with persons outside of the family circle,” was paranoid about the motives of psychologists and social workers, and warned that “the state of the mental health of the said minor children is seriously in question.” Mann also wrote that it was clear that Carde had “domination” over Michael Lammer, her new husband, a successful corporate attorney whom she told the boys to refer to as their father.
For Hofseth, Judge Mann’s words were a validation of the hell he’d gone through for four years. But they didn’t give him a chance to see his kids. Then, on October 18, 1988, his phone started ringing off the hook. Friends and family wanted to know if he was watching TV. They told him Carde and his boys were on 60 Minutes. Hofseth wasn’t close to a television set. And in the days before TiVo, it wasn’t until the following Monday that he saw the tape.
Sitting at a desk in the downtown offices of the Minneapolis FBI, Hofseth watched as the newsmagazine’s famous ticking stopwatch appeared on screen. Then he heard the voice of reporter Harry Reasoner narrating over a clip of a family heaving enormous cardboard boxes into the maw of a Dodge Ram’s open rear doors.
“There is a new Underground Railroad in this country, not unlike the Underground Railroad that hid slaves trying to escape from the South before the Civil War,” said Reasoner. “The people who go into this underground are parents, almost all mothers, who say the family courts have failed to protect their children from sexual abuse by a parent or close relative, almost all fathers. They know they are breaking the law by defying court orders and going into hiding. The people who take them into their homes know they’re breaking the law, too.”
Hofseth held his breath as Reasoner introduced America to a family that had allowed 60 Minutes to ride along with them as they made their way to a safe house in Utah. The producers of the show made sure not to shoot the family’s faces, and disguised their voices so that they sounded half-cyborg. But Carde’s long, black hair was a giveaway. And as the camera caught her wiping her feet on a welcome mat outside the safe house, Hofseth noticed she was holding a familiar plush toy: Rocky the Raccoon, Jesse’s favorite stuffed animal.
Carde was taking a great risk by appearing on TV. Her story was already well known in Minnesota, where her face was on an FBI flyer listing the state’s five most wanted. But it would be another six months before authorities found her. Following a trail that led from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to California and then finally to Washington, where her mother lived, the FBI tracked Carde, Lammer, and their four children—she had since given birth to another child while on the run, her second with Lammer—to a split-level in a forested subdivision in Bothell. Christopher Michael Carde, as Lammer had renamed himself, got a job as a chimney sweep, then as a machinist, while Carde tried to revive the family counseling practice she’d left behind in Minnesota. Then, on May 4, 1989, as Carde was bathing her 2-year-old daughter Jaymie in an upstairs bathroom, agents rushed through the front door yelling “FBI! Hands behind your back now!” The couple was arrested and charged with kidnapping: Carde was handcuffed while her 1-year-old son Andre wailed inconsolably, and Lammer was tracked down later that morning at the company where he worked. Both were arrested on a federal count of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, charges dropped as soon as the couple was in custody.
After their arrest, the Cardes unsuccessfully pleaded with then-Governor Booth Gardner not to extradite them back to Minnesota. Meanwhile, in the hours after the raid, Hofseth, his new wife Susan, and a family friend boarded a flight from Minneapolis to Sea-Tac Airport. Driving a rental car, Hofseth and his entourage sped to a church in a north Seattle suburb where the FBI had arranged for a reunion with his kids. Hofseth says that Nick, his youngest, ran straight into his arms. His older boy, Jesse, hung back, wary of the man his mother had told him wasn’t his real father. Hofseth says it was a month before the boys didn’t have to be reminded to use their real names rather than their aliases.
Once back in custody in Minnesota, Carde began fund-raising. She established the Jesse & Nicki Family Defense Fund, shared her story during a brown-bag with a woman’s group at the state capitol, and seemingly earned the support of Dr. Phyllis Chesler, a psychotherapist and prominent feminist who had just released a book detailing the disadvantages faced by mothers in custody battles. “Instead of criminal charges,” wrote Chesler in one widely distributed fax, “Juanita and Michael’s efforts to protect their children deserve to be regarded as an act of love.” (In an e-mail from her home in New York City, Chesler says she has no memory of meeting Carde, and writes that the signature on the fax is “forged, although it’s a close approximation.” All told, Hofseth estimates that Carde managed to raise $80,000 for her defense.)
On May 16, 1990, a reporter from the Twin Cities’ StarTribune was in court when a fidgeting Nick took the witness stand. After answering dozens of questions, Judge Steven Lange asked the 7-year-old if he’d be willing to sit for a few more. “Sure,” he said. Even though, as he told the judge, he was “worn out.”
“Did your dad really do those things?” Lange asked, referring to the graphic sexual acts Nick had reported to therapists more than three years earlier.
“I don’t know, ’cause I was little,” said Nick.
“Do you remember him doing those things?” Lange asked again.
“No,” he said.
Older brother Jesse also testified that no abuse had occurred, and said he’d told the stories to please his mother. (Hofseth claims that a prosecuting attorney once told him that he’d seen Jesse leave the courthouse with Carde and say, “I told them Daddy touched me, can we go to Target now?”) The Cardes’ three lawyers portrayed the couple as desperate parents who had been failed by a system that was supposed to protect their kids. The six-man, six-woman jury heard testimony for three weeks, and reached a verdict in nine hours. Despite the boys’ denials and conflicting testimony given by psychologists on both sides, the Cardes were acquitted of all charges.
A family-court judge soon granted Hof-seth full custody. Because Carde hadn’t been convicted of a crime, she was given visitation rights, so the boys flew back to Washington for two weeks each summer and at Christmas. After high school, Jesse, now 30 and a graduate of Washington State University, moved west to be closer to his mother. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. Nick, now 28 and living in Everett with his girlfriend, followed a few years later. Initially reluctant to talk about his mother and frustrated that her present-day troubles are dredging up his own complicated past, Nick reiterates that there was never any sexual abuse.
“Was I coached or whatever?” he asks. “Hell yes, of course I was. The whole thing was an elaborate fucking play of family disaster . . . I think I was a pawn in whatever game of chess she was playing with my father. It was effective.”
Hofseth—still married to the same wife, still leaving every morning for the same job at the work-release center, and still living in the same home where Rocky the Raccoon sits on the mantle—says he was terrified the first time he put his boys on a plane to go visit Carde. He says he hasn’t seen her since Jesse’s graduation eight years ago. Two years later, Carde’s sister called him “out of the clear blue sky” to tell him Carde had attempted to take money from their mother—the reason, he thinks, she doesn’t want her location known. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive,” he says of his former wife. “But I stopped hating many years ago because she’s sick.”
In contact or not, word soon came back to Hofseth that Carde was up to something new. The details were sparse. All Hofseth could say for sure is that someone whom Carde had made very angry had taken that anger out on Nick’s voice mail.
Like many, Roy Hunter was impressed with Carde when he first met her. It was sometime in 1991, shortly after the end of the trial in Minnesota, that Carde cold-called Hunter at his Tacoma office asking if he’d come teach a class.
Hunter was a protégé of Charles Tebbetts, a well-known hypnotherapist whom Carde also claimed to have learned from. To Hunter, she seemed like a natural. “She had a terrific, hypnotic voice,” he says. As good as she was at hypnotizing, Hunter says she was even better at being hypnotized. One time Hunter says the fire alarm went off while he and Carde were practicing. He says her eyes remained closed even after firefighters arrived.
Hunter was so impressed by Carde that he invited her to join him on the board of the Pacific Northwest chapter of the National Guild of Hypnotherapists, which he chaired. It was a decision he would almost instantly regret.
According to Hunter, Carde tried to organize a mutiny of the local chapter. Realizing his mistake, he tried to get Carde kicked off the board. Burned out from working 20 hours a week without pay, he also made resigning as chairman part of his plan. The night he called for a vote to disband the board, he says Carde “came attacking like a tiger.” But his plan worked: Hunter alleges he succeeded in getting both himself and Carde removed, and says he hardly ever saw her afterwards. Yet word came back to him that she was having problems.
In 1994, while investigating multiple complaints against her, the Washington Department of Health put Carde on six months’ probation for failing to provide proof that she had a degree in psychology. (Hofseth says he remembers Carde telling him she had a degree from Judson University Christian College in Elgin, Illinois. But the registrar’s office says that while it has Carde’s name on file, there is no record of her ever attending classes, let alone graduating. Carde did not answer questions about her educational background.)
Carde’s registration to practice as a hypnotherapist expired that same year. The next year, her registration to practice as a counselor expired as well. Carde hasn’t renewed either registration in the 16 years since. Yet, according to the Department of Health, for a time she continued to present herself as registered as both.
On December 16, 1997, after multiple former clients filed complaints claiming Carde had refused to return money for counseling they never received, a Department of Health investigator called her pretending to be a potential client. After Carde told the investigator that she was registered in Washington as a counselor and hypnotherapist, the department served her with a five-year suspension. On September 17, 1999, a King County criminal court found Carde guilty of unlicensed practice of a profession and attempted unlicensed practice of a profession after another client claimed Carde took her $5,000 and never provided counseling. Carde was given a deferred sentence on both counts and ordered to pay an undisclosed fine.
Despite being discredited in the eyes of the state, Carde continued to give advice to anyone who would listen. In a one-hour documentary called Ancient Prophecies that premiered on NBC in 1994, she described one of the three near-death experiences she’s claimed to have survived. Carde said she was inner-tubing down a river with friends when she drowned and came face-to-face with glowing light beings who showed her the future.
“The light beings surrounded me and filled me with light,” she said. “I saw them unrolling a scroll before me that looked like an Arabic or Greek text. I was shown earthquakes along the Ring of Fire in the Pacific. I saw pictures of horror of a one-world government and the return of concentration camps. I saw diseases and germ warfare. These visions of horror were not lasting. There would come another time of peace and another time of joy, and we will be safe.”
Two years later, while the Department of Health’s investigation was ongoing, Carde was the featured guest on an Olympia public-access TV show called Evolving Ideas. Dressed all in lavender, with a matching amethyst hanging around her neck, she spoke of the powers she was given by her near-drownings. She told the dozen elderly members of the studio audience that after the first, at age 7, she was gifted with the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. During the second, she said, she inhabited the body of her stepfather while he was sexually abusing her. During the third she encountered the light beings, who she says told her she needed to go back to Earth because she had important things to do.
“It was difficult to date after that,” Carde joked to the host, “knowing that I could touch people and know what their lifespan would be.”
For all her professed powers, however, Carde continued to run into legal trouble. After divorcing Lammer and before marrying Naiman, the UW professor, Carde arranged a coffee date with Parker Barnett, a man she’d met on an online dating site who worked on the assignment desk at KIRO. He was instantly smitten. “She was gorgeous and smart,” says Barnett from the TV station in Las Vegas where he works now. “And she said she had a background in medicine.”
After their first date, Barnett didn’t hear from Carde for months. Then out of the blue, he says, she called to invite him to dinner at her “big, fancy house in Bellevue.” During dinner, Barnett claims Carde asked him to loan her money so she could get a separation from her husband. Barnett had recently inherited $5,000 after the death of a relative. When Carde produced a promissory note saying she’d pay him back in full within six months, Barnett signed her a check. He says he never heard from her again.
“I was stunned,” he says. “I’d like to think I can read people, but she just took me for all I had.”
Shortly after Barnett earned a $5,000 judgment against Carde in a King County civil court, she remarried again, this time to a bespectacled Boeing IT guy named John Hartman. But if their wedding meant a fresh start in Carde’s romantic life, it didn’t herald anything different for her financially.
In 2006 the couple lost their Bellevue home to foreclosure. Yet despite the economic setback, when Carde and Hartman went looking for a new place to live, they didn’t settle for something modest. Instead, at the height of the biggest real-estate bubble in history and freshly removed from bankruptcy, they started looking for their dream home.
What they found was a mountain lodge in Issaquah owned by Cameron Truesdell, the wealthy CEO of an insurance company. Listed at $2.5 million, with 40 acres of orchards and a 1,200-square-foot deck with unobstructed views of the Cascades, it was more than a stretch for a couple with only one steady income: Hartman’s $40,000-a-year salary at Boeing. But Truesdell says Carde was insistent that this was the only home for her. He says she told him she was a successful motivational speaker and counselor, with big consulting contracts with Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft. He says she described her “life vision” of his property becoming the home of her new business, a spiritual retreat that had interest from multiple investors.
But it wasn’t long before the deal started going sour.
Truesdell says that instead of money, all he got from Carde were excuses. He says he went through closing twice. The first time, he says, Carde’s lender pulled the loan after the papers had already been signed, a rarity in the real-estate world. The second time, he says, Carde sprung on him a last-minute caveat: The loan wouldn’t go through unless he signed a paper saying she’d paid him $300,000, money she said was coming from work she hadn’t yet done for Microsoft.
“I thought she was just stupidly naive,” says Truesdell.
The day after the botched deal, Truesdell flew to Mexico for a long-planned vacation. He had since moved to a custom-built mansion in the upscale Eastside neighborhood of Hunts Point, and didn’t lock the doors on his Issaquah property because, he says, “If you lock ’em, the thieves will just break your windows.” So he was shocked to find that while he was away, Carde had moved in. A furious Truesdell allowed a pleading Carde to sign a rental agreement—”The worst mistake I ever made,” he says—because she promised him the $12,000-a-month rent wasn’t the problem. Yet three months went by, and all Truesdell says Carde paid him were a few thousand dollars.
Truesdell started the eviction process, but soon realized it wouldn’t be easy to get rid of his new unwelcome tenant. “She’s a student of the system,” he says. Truesdell says Carde drew out the eviction for months, leveraging every technicality to her favor. Finally, on the last day Carde was legally allowed to be in his home, and nearly a year after she’d first contacted him about buying it, Truesdell pulled in to his half-mile-long driveway and watched from afar as a sheriff’s deputy supervised the exit. Truesdell rolled down his window when he saw the deputy approaching.
“He says these words,” says Truesdell. ” ‘I can’t tell you why or how. But let’s just say we’ve met before, Jessica and I.’ “
Although he says he knew he’d never see a dime, Truesdell spent $25,000 in lawyer’s fees to take Carde to court over the money she owed him. “It’s the principle of the thing,” he says. “I wanted to create a record so that this woman couldn’t do this to anyone else.”
At the hearing, Truesdell says Carde produced bank deposit slips that showed she’d paid him tens of thousands of dollars in rent. Truesdell was stumped. “I’m a relatively affluent man,” he says, “but not affluent enough not to notice that amount of money going into my account.”
Playing detective, Truesdell went to his bank, but couldn’t find any evidence the money had ever existed. Then he says he realized there was only one explanation: Carde had cut and pasted old slips listing $500 checks to make them look like much larger deposits. Paul Brain, Carde’s lawyer during the arbitration hearing, says he doesn’t remember the fake-check accusation, and says Truesdell isn’t “the white knight he claims to be.” Nevertheless, in November 2008, a King County judge awarded Truesdell $55,000 plus interest.
Shortly after Carde was ordered to repay Truesdell, she burst through the front door of James Reed’s North Bend home. “She just came in like she owned the place,” he says. Reed, then CFO of a Kent window supplier, was taking a nap on his couch when Carde arrived unannounced. He had asked potential buyers to call ahead and make an appointment, so he wasn’t too happy with the woman taking a self-guided tour.
Despite her sudden entrance, Reed soon found himself charmed by Carde. She was driving a Mercedes SUV, wearing a nice business suit, and “ooh”ing and “ahh”ing over every strip of molding. Reed and his wife were hoping to sell so that they could move their six kids closer to family on the Olympic peninsula. So he was dismayed when he discovered Carde’s disastrous financial past.
Reed says Carde volunteered her tax return and credit report, which to his eyes were even more catastrophic than her history of bankruptcies. “The feigned transparency, coupled with her elaborate tale-telling, combined into some weird sense that this lady’s trustworthy and she’s just had a tough go,” he says. Carde even had an explanation for the rough patch: She told Reed that she and her husband were the victims of a greedy seller who had yanked their dream home out from underneath them. (At least half that story was correct: Truesdell had managed to find a buyer for his Issaquah lodge. And since the bubble hadn’t yet burst, he also sold the home for more than he was offering it to Carde.)
Reed thought Carde’s hard-luck story seemed plausible enough. But while Reed was willing to overlook her troubled financial past, his agent Sam DiBello wasn’t. DiBello says Carde’s deal was full of red flags: She only wanted to meet with Reed when DiBello wasn’t around; her lender was from out of state (Alaska); said lender didn’t even seem to think that Carde was worthy of the loan.
“The whole thing stunk to high heaven,” says DiBello.
Nevertheless, Reed agreed to let Carde move into his house on a lease-to-purchase agreement, the same kind she had signed with Truesdell. At first Reed says things were fine—Carde ponied up $20,000 to get into the home, and though she often had trouble paying on time, managed to find another $20,000 to cover overdue rent. But eventually Reed says Carde stopped paying altogether.
Handcuffed by an unenforceable contract—Reed says he mistakenly allowed Carde to amend the ironclad document DiBello drew up for him—he was forced to sit and wait as Carde spent more than a year squatting in his house, much of that time not paying rent. Not wanting to lose the home to foreclosure, Reed drained his life savings and 401K while simultaneously trying to evict her. But the $150,000 he says he spent wasn’t enough to avoid the inevitable.
Like Truesdell, Reed took Carde to court, and in October 2008 received a nearly $20,000 judgment. Unlike Truesdell, Reed lost his home to foreclosure. Today he and his family live in Phoenix, where he’s doing business development for Universal Technical Institute, a company that runs auto-diesel schools. Although he has no savings and wonders how he’s going to make college tuition payments for six kids, Reed considers himself fortunate that he didn’t have to file for bankruptcy. Now he wonders how he ever could have fallen for Carde’s game in the first place.
“I don’t think of myself as that gullible,” he says. “I’ve got an MBA from a top-20 school. I’ve worked at some of the biggest companies in the world. This is going to sound wacky, but [DiBello] asked me once ‘I wonder if she’s using some kind of psychological technique.’ I just kept waiting for her to snap her fingers and the hypnosis to be over.”
Janell Littlejohn doesn’t know exactly when her stepfather, Neil Dubey, first met Carde. But she can pinpoint the moment when she realized Carde was someone he never should have trusted—early last April, just weeks after Dubey, 90, suffered a debilitating stroke that rendered the right side of his body limp. Carde had offered to give Dubey a biofeedback test at Marianwood, the Issaquah nursing home where he was recovering, and Littlejohn’s mother, Dubey’s wife, asked Littlejohn to come along as a witness.
Neither Littlejohn nor her mother liked Carde. Both felt that she had taken advantage of Dubey’s generosity. A retired electrician, he had made some smart investments and relished his role as a miniature credit union for friends and neighbors in need. When Carde arrived at his door in 2007, after having been introduced by an acquaintance, he proved more than willing to help.
As Littlejohn remembers it, Carde used Dubey like a personal ATM. She says Carde would show up roughly once a season, each time with an incredible story of how she’d been freshly victimized. Dubey would then usher her into his office, sit her down, and shut the door. By the time it opened again, Carde would have an extra $5,000, $10,000, or $20,000 to tide her over. “It was like she would go in there and hypnotize him,” says Littlejohn.
Over three years, as Carde moved from home to home, Littlejohn says Dubey loaned her money nine times, a total of $145,000—money that Littlejohn says he expected to get back one day with interest.
On that day last April, Littlejohn arrived at Marianwood with her husband and teenage daughter. Along with Littlejohn’s mother, the three watched as Carde administered what she claimed was a test to determine Dubey’s post-stroke cognitive abilities. Carde fit a tight band around Dubey’s head wired with sensors that led back to a small machine she held in her lap. Then Littlejohn watched in disbelief as Carde proclaimed Dubey to be no worse for wear.
“She actually said he was a genius and could recover completely with her help,” says Littlejohn.
Littlejohn and her family got back in their minivan and started home. “We just all agreed that [Carde] was nuts and that she needed to stay away from my dad,” she says. Then her daughter spoke up from the backseat. She’d been watching the machine that Carde was claiming could measure brain waves. Only instead of green lines peaking in hills and valleys, Littlejohn’s daughter said that the whole time Carde was pretending to assess Dubey’s mental state, the machine had some sort of test screen with instructions on how to use it. The family wondered aloud if Carde had faked the whole thing.
Shortly after the meeting at the nursing home, Carde sent an e-mail to Littlejohn and her mom. In the three-page note, she suggested that, in the best interest of Dubey’s health, he should come stay with her and her husband. The e-mail sent chills up Littlejohn’s spine. Even though Carde presented herself as a selfless caregiver—”These services are offered simply because I genuinely care about Neil and honestly hope to see his potential full recovery”—to Littlejohn it seemed as if Carde was trying to get Dubey all to herself so she could assume power of attorney, drain him of even more cash, and then “leave him broke on our porch.”
Littlejohn’s mother told Marianwood staff that Carde was no longer allowed to visit her husband. Carde retaliated by telling the staff that Littlejohn’s mother was trying to kill Dubey. Littlejohn hasn’t heard from Carde since.
How Carde’s alleged victims have responded depends on how much they think she cost them. Truesdell managed to keep both his homes, weathered a major financial squall, and as a result only took her to court. Same with Reed, though he lost his house and savings. Littlejohn says her mom is running out of money and has testified against Carde in court hearings. Modest anger compared to the people who would come next.
After being evicted from Reed’s home, Carde and Hartman moved into another expensive house, this one in a wealthy North Bend subdivision called The Uplands, owned by builder Kevin Roberts. Once again, Carde managed to drive a wedge between seller and agent: While Roberts and his wife were convinced that Carde was “on the up and up” and would make good on her agreement to someday buy their house, his agent was so upset by the deal that she broke down in tears and begged them not to sign.
Once inside his home, Roberts says, Carde employed some of her favorite stall tactics. She claimed she couldn’t pay rent because she had been the victim of identity theft. Then she said her lenders wouldn’t approve a loan because the land around his home was toxic. Closing dates came and went. Rent went unpaid. Bills piled up. The economy turned, and Roberts lost the home and four others to foreclosure and filed for bankruptcy. Then, before his failed attempt at suicide, he says he started cautioning others: “I saved, like, eight houses in the Uplands alone just by warning other real-estate agents.”
In an attempt to get the justice he felt he was owed, Roberts contacted Detective Edward Ka of the King County Sheriff’s Office. Roberts says Ka told him he had 90 cases ahead of his, and probably wouldn’t get to it before he retired. He was right: Ka got his gold watch this past February 1. King County Sheriff’s spokesman John Urquhart says Roberts’ case against Carde was weak and might not have been prosecuted. But he also admits that most cases don’t end up in court anymore: budget cuts have eviscerated the department so thoroughly—in the past three years, 150 jobs have been cut and the fraud unit disbanded—that basic detective work isn’t getting done.
“Our #1 priority is to respond to 911 calls,” says Urquhart. “Burglary, theft, car prowl, and fraud do not get much, if any, follow-up.”
After being evicted from Roberts’ house by the bank that foreclosed on it, Carde then moved, in July 2009, into a North Bend estate owned by Greacen Homes. Robert Stewart, president of Greacen, says that unlike the other sellers, he and his company were mostly protected from Carde by an airtight lease-purchase agreement. Nevertheless, it still took Greacen three months to evict her.
“I’ve been in the business for 35 years, and I’ve never encountered anything like this,” says Stewart. “She’s a sophisticated lady. She understands the system that she’s operating in and she’s very good at it.”
Again frantic for a place to stay, Carde happened upon a Craigslist ad posted by Michael Iverson, a contractor with a 2.5- acre estate in Woodinville. Of all the disastrous buyer/seller relationships Carde has had over the past five years, her experience with Iverson has been the most contentious.
Iverson, 65, says he wanted to sell his home so that he could reunite with his wife and young son in Thailand, where he’d just bought 10 acres and spent thousands of dollars on equipment in order to start his own biodiesel company. Much of what occurred between Iverson and Carde last year now falls under the umbrella of an ongoing criminal investigation, about which Snohomish County could not provide documentation prior to publication. In its stead, there is his version and her version. The only thing they agree on is that Iverson is now trying to do to Carde’s life what he claims she did to his: destroy it.
“I’m done. I’m finished. I don’t have a future anymore,” says Iverson. “Now that she realizes I’m not a pushover, she is changing her tune as rapidly as she can.”
Carde had Iverson arrested after she claimed he threatened to kill her. Iverson says he never made the threats, and has spent his last $130,000 on lawyers trying to defend himself and save his home, which he now thinks he’ll lose to foreclosure. He’s also devoted his life to unraveling what he says is the scam Carde has pulled on five others before him. A trial date on felony harassment charges against Iverson is scheduled for May 27, according to Snohomish County prosecutor Julie Moore. Iverson is also facing charges in Marysville, where he’s accused of violating a protection order Carde took out against him in Everett District Court. And Carde has further accused him of trying to run her over with his car, a charge he denies and one that Snohomish County is still considering whether or not to prosecute.
Providing as objective a perspective on the feud as can be found is Virginia Chapson, a friend of Iverson’s whom Carde called on the morning of August 18, 2010, the day she had Iverson arrested. Carde wanted to know if Chapson was Iverson’s lawyer. Chapson told her no, she was an old friend who’d recently had a falling-out with him. So she was at first receptive to Carde’s story: “I said, ‘Oh, what’s he done this time.’ “
Chapson knew Iverson had the ability to get overheated, though she thought he was a mostly nonconfrontational person, the kind who would say a restaurant ripped him off, yet be too timid to call over the waiter and discuss the bill. She also knew he’d had problems with tenants before. “He tries to get too chummy with them,” she says. “He wants to be their buddies and impress them.”
Then Chapson says Carde’s allegations about Iverson started getting strange. According to Chapson, Carde alleged that Iverson was wanted by Immigration and Naturalization Services, had multiple warrants in multiple states for rape and kidnapping, was a “known polygamist,” and had broken back into his house in an attempt to poison her dogs.
A former counselor at a veterans’ hospital who is training her dog to detect bombs, Chapson also was surprised when Carde told her that not only was she also a counselor, but the owner of a bomb-sniffing dog as well. “She didn’t seem to know a thing about therapy,” Chapson says. “And she definitely didn’t have that dog trained.”
When Chapson eventually got Iverson’s side of the story, she realized that much of what she’d heard from Carde sounded too bizarre to be true: “The stories just kept getting weirder and weirder and weirder.”
When first alerted that she was being written about, Carde insisted she be allowed to tell her side of the story. Yet she canceled one appointment, and ultimately no one from Seattle Weekly ever met with her in person. During a 45-minute phone conversation (the only one she would allow, as her cell phone doesn’t accept incoming calls), which she would later falsely claim was off the record, Carde insists that she’s not a sinner but the one who has been sinned against. When asked how a person could be victimized so many times in one life, Carde says it’s simply because she doesn’t “roll over and shut up.” As for her most recent string of bad luck in real estate, she says she’s the target of a cabal of crooked property owners who are murderously angry at her for exposing their various crimes. “Our lives are in jeopardy here,” she says. “We have whistleblown on all of these people.”
Asked to provide more detail, Carde remains vague and conspiratorial. “There is one person who is spearheading this,” she says in an I-can’t-believe-you-haven’t-figured-this-out-already tone. “Then there are two others behind it with deep pockets.” Carde was more forthcoming, however, in an e-mail sent to her son Nick on April 17 and forwarded to Seattle Weekly by someone she mistakenly assumed was an ally—a former friend who requested anonymity out of fear Carde would retaliate.
The stated purpose of the e-mail would be familiar to any son who hasn’t called home in a while: Carde wants Nick and his girlfriend to be better about keeping in touch and join her and Hartman for Easter brunch. She even signs off “Love & Hugs, Mom.” But most of Carde’s 6,500-word missive is devoted to explaining why her enemies are both legion and dangerous, and why Nick should feel guilty for taking a stranger’s word over his mother’s.
“The fact you even begin to believe the venomous lies, slander, libel and misinformation you may be deceptively receiving from others is so horrid,” writes Carde. “You are falsely buying into the major drama others have created for themselves; when they committed illegal and harassing actions towards us. WE DID NOTHING TO DESERVE THESE ACTIONS; AND WE DID NOTHING ILLEGAL OR IMMORALLY REPREHENSIBLE—EVER. We do NOT owe these other real estate owners money. Let’s be very clear about this . . . THEY OWE US!!! We did not do anything to ever merit this type of vitriolic action from these people, except expose their multiple fraudulent activities. Being the whistle-blower has its price. Hopefully, you will not allow for them to make the cost of our relationship part of that fallout.”
As to why she blew the whistle, Carde tells her son that all her troubles began with Truesdell. She claims he was a former drug dealer who was laundering money through his insurance business and committing “complete bank fraud.” (Truesdell’s two-word response: “Google me.”) She says James Reed embezzled her deposit money to take his kids to Disneyland and reneged on his deal to sell her his house, and (wrongly) claims that Reed has since declared bankruptcy. “His own greed had screwed the deal,” she writes. “Not us.” (“We never declared bankruptcy,” says Reed. “We just took our kids to Disneyland a couple months ago, but that was years after we finished dealing with her . . . that’s interesting, a nice claim, but it’s totally false.”)
Carde accuses Kevin Roberts of trying to burn down his house with her and Hartman still inside, and says he also stuck nails in her Mercedes’ tires. “Something in this guy snapped,” she writes, before reiterating that “none of this was our fault, our doing.” (Roberts denies the charges.) Of Greacen, Carde says that “this seller lied his ass off about everything” and stole her $30,000 deposit in order to take a trip to Mexico. (“I have a place in Mexico that I’ve been going to for six years, in Cabo,” says Stewart. “But I didn’t steal her money. [The $30,000] was valid, non-refundable deposit money if she couldn’t close her deal.”)
In her phone call with Seattle Weekly, Carde says that Littlejohn is upset with her because she accused Littlejohn’s mom, Donna Dubey, of trying to kill her stepfather, Neil. In a follow-up e-mail, Carde claims that Donna twice overmedicated Neil, implying that this may have caused his stroke. Reached by phone, and told for the first time about Carde’s accusations that her mom attempted to kill her stepfather, Littlejohn is rendered nearly speechless. “Oh, my goodness,” she says. “I could say a lot more, but I won’t.”
Sounding at times angry and exhausted by his mom’s alleged deceit, Nick—adamant that he not be portrayed as pitiable: “A lot of other people have had worse childhoods,” he says—knows better than to try to figure out his mother’s motivations. Boiling them down to a single statement, however, he says her troubles have always come from “wanting steak on a hamburger budget.”
Last summer, shortly after Carde had Iverson arrested, Nick got a cryptic voice mail from a man telling him that his mom was ruining people’s lives. Nick says that not much surprises him anymore, but the message spooked him enough to make him wonder what his mom was up to now. “I’m sad that she’s hurt people,” he says. “But you get to the point where you become a little numb, and don’t bat an eye when the next relationship changes, the next house has fallen through, and the friends are gone.”
Nick insists he doesn’t think his mother is all bad. “There were a lot of times when she was loving in whatever capacity she could,” he says. “But I think a lot of her behavior was being internally selfish.” He’s also been thinking lately about the toll that selfish behavior has taken. He says his girlfriend was shocked to find out that Carde was the same age as Nick’s stepmother and not, as she’d assumed based solely on a tally of worry lines and crow’s feet, much older.
All of which leads Nick to a simple pronouncement—a motto that might have saved his mother, and those who’ve crossed paths with her, a lot of heartache: “Long as I pay my fucking mortgage on time and live a good, honest life, I’m fine.”