For Barbara Boardman, the beginning of the end of life as she knew it began with a kiss.
In the spring of 2006, Boardman, then 55, was a pretty Southern blonde slowly recovering from a recent divorce. Childless and so devoted to a nursing career that making and keeping friends often felt like more trouble than it was worth, she found herself talking through the pain of a second failed marriage with an unlikely confidante: Lawrence Williams, a 47-year-old convicted rapist and custodian at the medical clinic where she worked at McNeil Island’s Special Commitment Center.
Despite seeing each other nearly every day for two and a half years, the sum of their interactions to that point added up to nothing more than pleasantries, with “How you doin’ today, Ms. Boardman?” being about as deep as they’d ever gotten.
Then one day, prompted by watching Boardman eat a lunch of red beans and rice, Williams went somewhere more personal.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
When she said she was born in Louisiana, he replied “Hey, me too.”
From that point on, mostly in secret, they talked about everything, including the steps they’d taken to find themselves together in this clinic, where the worst of the worst of Washington’s sexual predators did routine things like get their teeth cleaned and medications filled.
Built in 2004 on a pristine, sneaker-shaped island in south Puget Sound, the Special Commitment Center (SCC) operates less like a prison than a heavily fortified dormitory. Behind coils of serpentine razor wire, civilly committed residents at the five-acre facility wear their own clothes rather than orange jumpsuits, have their own rooms instead of shared cells, and can reach the outside world at nearly all hours of the day from pay phones in supervised common areas.
Despite these relative freedoms, there are rules against getting too chummy with residents. And Boardman liked following the rules. A major in the U.S. Army Reserves, she still thought of herself as the dedicated Kroger checkout girl whose till was never off, not even by a penny. And though this was the first time in 25 years of nursing that she’d dealt with criminals, she had no problem enforcing the rules—like the time one guy tried to hold her hand and she’d yelled “No, Michael!” so loudly she even surprised herself.
But Williams was different. For one thing, he was always around; the other clinicians joked that he put in more hours than they did. For another, he seemed to have a good side. Williams had more privileges than most of the 283 men and two women interned at McNeil, including nearly unlimited, mostly unsupervised access to the phones, a freedom resulting from his progress in treatment. He also seemed to work harder than anyone pulling a salary.
At only 5’9”, but with a presence far bigger than his stature would suggest, Williams usually got to the office early and left late. He swept floors, shampooed the scuzz out of chairs, and even vacuumed the air vents above the nurses’ desks, reaching high enough to expose a potbelly hanging over his jeans.
He may not have been the world’s handsomest man, thought Boardman, but Williams had an easy smile and charm to burn. Technically, he wasn’t even allowed to be in a room alone with her. But because he kept their office spotless, everyone in the clinic treated Williams differently, as if he were their hungry little mascot, sneaking him home-cooked meals and Burger King Whoppers—even though giving residents food was also verboten.
Word even went around that Williams was close—maybe too close—with the clinic’s dental assistant. But that was just a rumor, so Boardman didn’t suspect anything when Williams walked up to her desk that night in March.
“Come here,” he said. “I want to show you something.”
Boardman trailed Williams as he walked to the break room. “Look up there,” he said, pointing to a puddle on the ceiling where water had turned the acoustical tile a soggy gray.
Boardman did as she was told, taking her gaze off of Williams long enough for him to put his lips on hers, his soul patch scratching her chin.
“What are you doing?” she said as she stormed out of the room. “You’re gonna get me fired up in here!”
Later that night, sitting on the ferry that took her from work at McNeil to her apartment in Steilacoom, Boardman thought of her job and how much she wanted to keep it. Despite mixed emotions—it was clear she had feelings for this man, but there must have been a reason he was locked up—she thought to herself that, for the good of her career, this would be the last time she would ever kiss Lawrence Williams.
She thought wrong.
In fact, over the next four years, Boardman’s relationship with Williams would only grow stronger. It would also cost her not only her job, as she’d first feared, but also her family, her self-respect, nearly everything she’d ever owned, and for a short while her freedom.
What Barbara Boardman didn’t realize that chilly, fateful spring night, sitting on the ferry as it glided over the swift waters of Cormorant Passage, was that life as she’d known it was now over. Based on interviews, a review of civil-commitment papers, more than 600 pages of trial transcripts, and a letter addressed to Seattle Weekly from Williams himself, it’s now clear that Boardman wasn’t the first woman whose life was forever altered because of a relationship with a man whose romances had always included an unhealthy dose of sex, drugs, fraud, and abuse. She was merely the most recent.
Sitting in a private room at the Maple Valley Public Library, wearing only black except for a pair of gold hoop earrings, Boardman looks spent, as if she hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in years. Old enough to be a grandmother, she nonetheless projects a childlike vulnerability. Whether biting her nails when nervous or tapping her foot when uncomfortable, Boardman gives the impression of an educated woman who has managed not to let that education rid her of her guilelessness. Or, as one friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity, bluntly puts it: “Barbara is book-smart and life-dumb.”
Boardman was born in Shreveport and raised primarily in Texas. Her father worked in insurance after a long career in the Navy, while her mother stayed at home.
“I was raised in a Christian family and a loving home,” she says with a trace of an accent. “Dad always worked. Nobody sat around and drank or did drugs or just sloughed off. We had everything we needed: religion, medical care, and education.”
As a kid, Boardman says she was a sponge who never sat still, soaking up all she could about hunting, fishing, boating, and the violin. The only smudges on her memory come as a result of an abusive relative—a sensitive issue she only refers to vaguely as “my aunt-and-uncle situation”—and her parents’ divorce. When the father whom she idolized remarried, Boardman says she then began seeking a “dominant love to fill the void.”
Boardman’s life until she met Williams had been a success in every measurable way, except for the one most important to her: finding someone with whom she could raise a family. In 1992, long after the end of a rocky first marriage, Boardman and her second husband moved to Fort Lewis where he was stationed. Three years later she joined the Army, and then, after decades in intensive-care units and emergency rooms, went back to school for her master’s in family nursing, eventually graduating from Tacoma’s Pacific Lutheran University in 2003.
“I wanted to diagnose and treat,” she says. “Sometimes, as a nurse, you get orders from doctors that you think aren’t right. I wanted to be able to do things my way.”
Shortly after graduation, while juggling a job as a case manager for injured soldiers returning from Iraq, Boardman found a role that allowed her that autonomy. Hired as a part-time contractor to the Special Commitment Center, Boardman came to McNeil with only two days of training rather than the six weeks required of state employees. On her first ferry trip from the mainland, Boardman decided she didn’t want to be afraid of or judge the men who would become her patients. So she made a promise not to look at their files. It was a promise she would break for only one man.
After their first kiss, Williams asked Boardman for her home phone number. She gave it to him before quickly asking for it back, thinking she’d made a big mistake. For a week Williams called, but Boardman didn’t answer. Finally, on Easter Sunday, the fissure in her will cracked wide and she picked up the phone.
Williams told her even more about his life. How he’d grown up in the middle of four kids in the Central District. How he felt neglected by his mother for being the third of three boys. How she’d brought strange men to the house after his parents’ separation and how seeing her with those men stoked an anger inside him he could hardly contain—the only relief coming when he used heroin, which he did for the first time at age 13.
Williams also started dropping hints. “Ya know,” she says he said to her, “I really don’t belong here.”
It was the ultimate jailhouse cliché. But to Boardman, it seemed there might be some truth to it. Since its inception in 1990 as the first state-run civil-commitment center in the country, 63 residents have been released from the SCC because they were found to no longer meet, or to never have met, the criteria of a sexually violent predator. (SCC officials say they’re unsure how many of those 63 have gone on to re-offend.) As a child of the South, Boardman also thought Williams might have gotten a raw deal because he was black. Those thoughts gave her pause, but she wasn’t convinced until Williams challenged her: “Look at my file if you don’t believe me,” he told her.
Boardman did. And while she can’t remember exactly what was in it, she does remember what ran through her head shortly after reading it: “Oh my God, he’s right,” she thought. “He doesn’t belong here.”
What Boardman didn’t know was that the file she read didn’t contain the full story.
Larry Williams shares with his younger brother caramel-colored skin, a prodigious gut, and an unwillingness to talk about the past. (“What kind of mom names one son Larry and another Lawrence?” says Boardman.)
Standing in the doorway of his Bothell apartment, wearing dirt-caked jeans and a T-shirt emblazoned with a stop sign, Larry is Williams’ last surviving immediate family member—the only person who might understand the origins of his younger brother’s life of crime. But Larry makes no claims to such insight.
“I don’t know what went on in that house,” he says shortly before apologizing and closing his door. “By the time Lawrence was older, I was already gone.”
Both of Williams’ parents are dead, as is his younger sister and oldest brother, Jerry, who passed away last year while serving time for rape in a California penitentiary.
Cousins like Margaret Fisher and Gary Grivlin haven’t seen Williams in decades. All Grivlin can remember of Williams is that he desperately wanted to play the upright bass in Grivlin’s jazz band, but was better at putting needles in his arm than slapping licks.
Voluminous treatment notes aren’t much help either, as they’re peppered with warnings from therapists of Williams’ “numerous contradictory versions” of his life story. Only in Williams’ criminal history do the details remain consistent.
At 14, Williams and a friend dragged a woman they’d seen sunbathing in a park into an abandoned shed and took turns raping her. A month later he repeated the crime, this time with a different friend and a different woman, whom he watched get raped while he masturbated.
On September 24, 1980, at 22, Williams raped a Capitol Hill woman while holding a razor to her neck. A month later, residents in a downtown neighborhood were awakened by the hysterical screams of a woman he was chasing. Then a week after that, a car turning into an alley caught him in its headlights as he stood over the body of a 17-year-old girl he’d just beaten with a crescent wrench.
Twice paroled, Williams’ brief interludes in the outside world were abruptly interrupted by self-immolating acts he claims were fueled by alcohol and heroin, the same drug he said he was high on during the rape and assaults.
Behind bars and physically unable to reach women—whom one therapist wrote Williams “blamed for everything that went wrong in his life”—he found a new way to wreak havoc in their lives: through a telephone.
According to treatment files, Williams’ ex-wife claimed he told her he was having her watched, giving her “too many details about her day-to-day activities for it to be a good guess.” He attempted to defraud a woman in Pontiac, Mich., of $325 after falsely claiming to be her long-lost brother. And he made so many phone calls to babysitters, nurses, and nannies listed in the want ads that it took an intervention from the Clallam Bay Corrections Center’s Associate Superintendent to get him to stop.
His sentence completed in 2000, Williams lasted only four months until his next arrest, this time for allegedly masturbating in front of his nephew’s 16-year-old girlfriend, fondling her breasts and telling the young woman that she “had to please him” before she did the same for his relative.
In treatment summaries, Williams’ therapists marvel at his impressive intelligence but are mystified by his claims of bisexuality; though all his offenses have been against women, he told therapists that he often lashed out at the world because he felt as though he “had to wear a mask” to hide his true sexual orientation.
Poked, prodded, and studied from every angle, Williams was consistently deemed at risk to re-offend, a case the state argued persuasively enough to have him committed indefinitely to the SCC in 2002. Among many memorable quotes from treatment professionals, one resurfaces more often than any other, and can be read as the clinical world’s definitive portrait of Williams.
“He is a man who can create a favorable impression of himself as a model rehabilitated prisoner, keeping his behavior under relatively good control most of the time,” wrote Paul Daley, a Ph.D. in psychology, in a 1992 assessment. “But it is all an ingenuine, manipulative act. Beneath the surface lies a narcissistic, antisocial, sexually disturbed, drug- and alcohol-abusive man.”
After reading what she thought was Williams’ whole file, Boardman resolved to get him out of SCC so that they could start their life together.
“It was going to be the best thing I’d ever done in nursing,” she says. “I’d get him through rehab and take him home.”
To Boardman, it seemed as though God had answered her prayer of only six months before—Please send a good man into my life—and she wasn’t about to disappoint Him with any half-measures. In so doing, she became the kind of woman intimately familiar to journalist Sheila Isenberg.
In 1991, a year before Dr. Daley would diagnose Williams as a man not to be trusted, Isenberg released Women Who Love Men Who Kill, still the seminal tract on the strange psychological phenomenon that is prison love. Although the three dozen women whose interviews make up the bulk of her book aren’t cut from exactly the same cloth, Isenberg says they share a few traits.
“Most of them had abuse in their past,” she says on the phone from her home in upstate New York. “Many of the women came from a strong religious background. And most came to believe that, while they didn’t think the men they fell in love with were innocent necessarily, they at least thought they deserved to be released.”
Less than a month after their first kiss, that description fit Boardman, who’d since accepted Williams’ marriage proposal and spent $3,000 retrofitting rings she already owned. When co-workers saw the new jewelry and asked who the lucky man was, she lied and said, “Oh, no one you know.”
The relationship was consummated both in person at the clinic and over the phone. And by the time the weather started to warm, Boardman had already begun construction on their dream home, a one-story traditional on four acres on windswept Key Peninsula, with one bedroom each for her and Williams, her mother who’d come from Houston to live with them, and his 6-year-old daughter.
“He promised me the American dream,” says Boardman. “I’d had a successful career, but that family thing was still a big hole in my life. Time was running out.”
The dream was light on specifics. Williams said he might want to go back to school, although for what he couldn’t say. He also thought it might be nice if Boardman bought a restaurant, with her working the front of the house and him providing entertainment in the back, picking at the bass guitar she’d recently bought for him.
Williams also had a plan for how to make the dream happen sooner rather than later. He told Boardman that instead of rehab and a conditional release, he could simply pay to have an expert witness testify on his behalf in a new trial that would prove he wasn’t meant to be at SCC.
These experts weren’t cheap—the less expensive of the two cost $30,000, the better one $50,000. But to Boardman—a woman making six figures, with savings and a modest inheritance to boot—no expense was high enough to keep her from realizing her dream of a family: She’d not only pay for an expert, she’d get her fiancé the best one money could buy. “Everything was coming together,” she says.
Only it wasn’t. In August, shortly after Boardman put $50,000 into Williams’ SCC account, a woman she had never met walked into Burien Chevrolet, signed some paperwork, and walked out with the keys to a brand-new 2007 Tahoe. The truck was paid for with a check for $55,668.95. The name on that check: Lawrence Williams.
Denise Perkins was desperate. It was July 2002, and the 33-year-old with feathered blond hair had just lost her job. Her electricity was about to be shut off, and if she didn’t come up with some money soon, she was going to lose her house too.
When Lori Borne, a friend she’d met while working at PetSmart, first mentioned that she knew a guy who’d pay them $3,000 if they had sex with each other, Perkins said no. But when Borne mentioned that the man wouldn’t even be in the room—he’d be listening by phone, so they could just pretend instead of really doing it—she relented.
Strangely enough, when it came time to get paid, the man told Perkins to have another of her friends go to Western Union and sign for the check. He didn’t want Perkins to use her own name, he said, because he didn’t want Borne to know whom the money was going to.
The person sending the money was Lawrence Williams. He told Perkins that he was white, worked in the trucking industry, and had long blond hair. And soon he was calling all the time, often more than 50 times a day.
Perkins had just gotten out of a relationship, and it was clear to her that Williams was wooing her. He told her that he loved her and wanted to take care of her. His stepfather had left him some money, he said, and when they finally got to be together he was going to use it to help her open her own business working with animals.
Six months into his courtship, Williams surprised Perkins with an unusual request: He wanted another woman, unnamed in court transcripts, to move in with her.
Perkins thought it strange to be living with someone she’d never met, and even stranger for Williams to pay for their dinners at fancy restaurants, on the condition that the two women would put him on speakerphone so he could listen to the conversations he was underwriting.
But things got really weird on Valentine’s Day. Perkins’ new roommate had been spending an awful lot of time with someone on the phone. So when she reached for a Hallmark while card-shopping at Sears, Perkins was curious.
“Who’s that for?” she asked.
The woman put the card back down. She looked nervous. Suddenly it dawned on Perkins that the person her new roommate had been talking to all along was Williams.
Perkins was furious. The man who supposedly loved her had spent months making excuses for why she couldn’t see him, and now he was talking to another woman on the side? She demanded the truth: What was he hiding? But even after Williams told her who and where he really was, Perkins stuck around.
“He made me believe that he was going to get out and we were going to have this amazing life with a beautiful home,” she would later testify.
On October 16, 2004, Perkins signed the paperwork that made her marriage to Williams official. She was already visiting him five days a week at SCC. And she wasn’t coming empty-handed.
Williams had told Perkins that money was running low. But he had a plan. Another resident, identified in court documents only by the nickname “Soaring Eagle,” would pay them $5,000 for an ounce of marijuana. In court testimony, Perkins said Williams set her up with a dealer in Renton. Then she smuggled the pot—along with vials of alcohol and memory cards with naked photos of herself—into SCC in balloons she hid in her vagina.
Things went on like this for a year and a half. Perkins felt her life was spiraling out of control. Family and friends no longer talked to her—they couldn’t understand why she allowed a convicted rapist to control her life.
Sensing a breaking point, Williams offered an olive branch: a long-promised new car. It was then that Perkins walked into the Chevy dealership and walked out with her Tahoe, the one paid for with Boardman’s expert-witness money.
The SUV was loaded with all the latest gizmos, like OnStar and LoJack. But Perkins didn’t realize these gadgets were just another way for Williams to keep tabs on her. When she wouldn’t answer one of Williams’ many phone calls, Perkins told a prosecutor, “It was as if the world would come to an end.” First he’d call OnStar and tell them he was trying to get hold of his wife. If she ignored the woman on the intercom asking to speak to “Mrs. Williams,” he would harass her friends and family, then frantically call the police, explaining that he was afraid his wife was going to hurt herself, so that soon concerned officers would be knocking on her door.
The final straw, however, didn’t come until Perkins realized she wasn’t the only woman visiting her husband. Williams had once asked Perkins to donate another of her cars, a Chevy Blazer, to someone named Amber Wills. Like a lot of things involving her husband, the plan didn’t make any sense. He said the donation was for tax purposes; asked why some other woman should get the Blazer, Williams told Perkins he was just trying to help the sister of a fellow SCC resident.
Soon, however, Perkins would find out the truth. When she saw Wills’ name on one of the visitor’s sheets, she confronted Williams. And though he denied everything, Perkins confirmed for herself something she’d always figured: Wills was the mistress who would do for her husband what she never would.
In August 2006, the month that Denise Perkins was unknowingly blowing through Barbara Boardman’s savings, a 26-year-old Portland woman named Amber Wills answered a phone call from Lawrence Williams.
Williams had found Wills (according to Boardman, a meth addict whose habit had made her Hollywood skinny and a dead ringer for Jennifer Aniston) through her profile on an adult chat line. Just out of an eight-year relationship, with two kids and no money, Wills was desperate. And Williams seemed to have an answer for everything.
He told her he was in the Canadian military. But even though they couldn’t see each other, he said he still knew a way for her to make some cash.
According to court documents, Wills did as Williams said and drove to a Days Inn in Jantzen Beach in north Portland, formerly the home of the country’s largest amusement park. When she knocked on the door, an older woman answered. The woman said her name was Barbara, and Wills could tell she was uncomfortable. Inside the room was a third woman and a cell phone, and on the other end was Williams.
“Barbara” was Boardman, who filmed Wills and the third woman smoking crack and having sex, following Williams’ phoned-in directions. The whole thing lasted only two hours, and afterward Williams had Boardman pay Wills $500 and tell her he’d have more jobs like this in the future.
Williams then went from being Wills’ agent to being her suitor. Only days after they first talked, he professed his love and encouraged her to buy a ring and a wedding dress. He even convinced her to change her name—to De’Jaclynn Laurenza Williams, or DLW, her father’s initials—so that she could have easier access to the money in his many bank accounts. Where the money was coming from, Wills couldn’t say. Mostly she picked it up at Western Union. And the name on the other end was almost always Boardman’s.
Eventually, Williams asked Wills to move from Oregon into the Lakewood townhouse where Boardman was living. There, she and her two kids could have run of the downstairs, while Boardman paid rent and occupied the rest of the house.
Wills would end up making roughly 100 pornographic movies for Williams, who told her they were being distributed to other residents in the SCC. For this, and for helping to buy the crack that she was using and also sending to Williams to use and deal at McNeil, she testified she was paid about $50,000, with all but a thousand or two coming from Boardman—who Williams said wasn’t his girlfriend, but his father’s.
It must have seemed obvious to her co-workers at SCC that something was going on between Boardman and Williams. She didn’t have a poker face, and couldn’t help but blush every time he walked into the medical clinic.
Eventually someone said something. Because when it came time to renew her contract, SCC declined and banned her from visiting the island, citing as a motive suspicions that she had an inappropriate relationship with a resident.
Suddenly out of a job, Boardman struggled with the reality of being nearly broke.
Less than a year after their first kiss, she’d already given Williams nearly $300,000, supposedly to finance the release he claimed was imminent. She’d wiped out her savings, taken out a second mortgage on her mother’s house, and sold nearly everything she owned, including a 27-foot Bayliner and the four-bedroom on Key Peninsula that was supposed to become their dream home.
The dream was still alive, but it was on life support. So Williams came up with a plan: Boardman would film porn videos he directed, videos he would then turn into a full-length film he could sell.
It seemed ridiculous to Boardman at first. But as always, Williams managed to persuade her, convincing Boardman that he’d splice the film together on the computers in SCC’s audio-visual room.
When filming began, Willliams could tell Boardman was uncomfortable behind the camera. What business did this woman, nearly 60 and holding rank in the Army, have hanging around seedy motel rooms in the I-5 corridor, holding a Handycam while addicts writhed and snorted coke? Between crack hits, he appealed to her clinical background.
“Baby, just pretend it’s a pap smear,” she says he told her.
The line worked. That was the thing about Williams: Even though their relationship now consisted only of phone calls, while he was in Boardman’s ear, his voice purring into her brain through that Bluetooth, it was as if he were standing right next to her.
“He has this way with his voice,” she says. “It’s mesmerizing. He can create these illusions out of nothing.”
Boardman says she probably would have bowed out earlier from filming the videos—”the most horrible thing I’ve ever done”—had it not been for the threats. She says Williams was using cocaine and heroin for the first time since she’d known him. He was moodier. And if he thought she was getting cold feet, he’d snap the leash. “You stop now and I’m gonna tell your work,” he’d say, referring to the new nursing job she’d landed at a nearby clinic. Or “Wouldn’t the Army like to know what you’re doing?”
“I was scared he’d say something and I’d lose more than I already had,” she says.
Boardman could also see that Williams, despite his claim that Wills was a fellow resident’s girlfriend, probably was romantic with Wills. One day after Wills and her kids had moved into Boardman’s townhouse, Wills’ daughter asked Boardman, after a phone call with Williams, why she was talking with mommy’s boyfriend.
He offered a kids-say-the-darndest-things defense. And had Boardman been herself—the woman who knew better than to take bullshit answers from patients—she would have seen right through such a weak alibi.
But Boardman wasn’t herself.
After 14 years of sobriety, she had started drinking again shortly after finding out that Williams had lied to her about divorcing Denise Perkins. (Boardman would later file divorce papers herself.) She’d also begun reluctantly acting as a cog in Williams’ drug-smuggling machine, buying crack and heroin that Wills then smuggled in to McNeil. And when finances forced her into a Portland trailer park, Boardman sent her mother to live with her sister because she knew she couldn’t care for her.
She was a nurse helping a drug addict feed his habit, but who couldn’t even care for her own mother. She felt pathetic. She felt worthless. She felt as though there was no hope.
So when the FBI, acting on an anonymous tip, first came to the trailer where Boardman’s life had rock-bottomed, the overwhelming emotion was relief.
“I just wanted it all to be over with,” she says.
The FBI’s plan was simple: Boardman would call Williams and lure him into asking her to bring him crack cocaine, with the bait that she wanted to try it for the first time and then have phone sex. But she didn’t plan for the trap to snap shut so soon.
Just two hours after calling Williams, Boardman hid behind a telephone pole outside her trailer, on the phone with an agent, as a woman she’d never met pulled up in a Honda Civic.
Chubby, in her 30s, with jet-black hair and some sort of Asian ancestry, the strange woman got out of her car, walked to Boardman’s yellow Chevy Silverado, opened the passenger door, and put something in the glove box. After she drove off, Boardman looked in and found a baggie full of white rocks.
“Who was that?” she thought to herself.
In June 2008, 33-year-old Justine Stephens, a medical assistant in Portland who was born in Japan, called a chat line. She was new to the city, didn’t have many friends, and had recently broken up with a boyfriend who’d started getting violent. One of the first people she heard from was a man named D’Von.
“D’Von” said he was a firefighter who lived in Portland but was in Tacoma for training. He said he was tall, with light eyes and a caramel complexion. When she asked to see a picture, he told her to Google “California’s Hottest Strippers” and look at the shirtless, muscular escort who shared his name.
After only two days on the phone, D’Von started talking about marriage and began showering Stephens with gifts. He sent flowers to the doctor’s office where she worked, a flat-screen TV and a Dell laptop to her home, and told her to pick out any car she liked.
Stephens tried to tell D’Von that it would be cheaper if she bought used. But he insisted she get a brand-new car, so she picked out a Honda Civic with all the options.
Soon Stephens was running errands for D’Von, whom she had by now discovered was actually Williams. She wired money from a woman named Barbara, who he said was his accountant, to another woman named Amber, who he said was his friend’s girlfriend. In the rare moments when Stephens didn’t answer one of Williams’ two dozen daily phone calls, he would dial 911 and have the police do a welfare check on her apartment.
Then the errands started getting weird. Williams asked Stephens to go to a hotel room and spank a man dressed in women’s clothing. Stephens freaked out and refused. In the meantime, she had gotten back together with her ex-boyfriend, who was alarmed by the things Williams was asking her to do.
Wanting out of her relationship with Williams, Stephens agreed to one last errand. While she couldn’t afford to pay him back for all the gifts he’d bought her, she wanted so badly to be rid of him that she agreed to get him drugs.
Stephens called a dealer she knew and bought $300 worth of crack. Then she drove to a trailer park in Jantzen Beach. She got out of her car and walked to the yellow truck that Williams said would be parked there. As she was putting the drugs in the glove compartment, she noticed a strange woman hiding behind a telephone pole. It looked as though she was writing down Stephens’ license-plate number.
Driving away, Stephens didn’t feel relief at finally having rid Williams from her life. She was too busy thinking about the strange woman who’d been watching her.
Near dawn on the morning of July 31, 2008, Lawrence Williams knocked softly on the SCC’s mailroom door. This had been the routine: Barbara or Amber got the crack, then passed it to Paepaega “Junior” Matautia, a large, Hawaiian-born security guard whose post in the mailroom helped him bring in contraband.
For helping Williams smuggle in food, drugs, and pornography, Matautia testified that he got use of Boardman’s white Dodge Dakota and $200 per delivery, money the $11-an-hour worker said he needed to keep his home out of foreclosure.
But on this day there would be no clean exchange of currency.
Instead of Matautia, Williams was met by Darold Weeks, the SCC’s chief investigator. To the FBI, it was now clear that Williams had gone to the mailroom expecting another package. The next day, agents arrived on the island and arrested him on charges of distribution of crack cocaine. In a conversation with Seattle Weekly, the arresting agent says he can’t remember Williams talking much after the cuffs went on—a silence the prisoner would break as soon as he was taken to Pierce County Jail.
There Williams made a phone call to Justine Stephens that was recorded by authorities. On the tape, he sounds alternately amazed and heartbroken by what Boardman has just done to him.
“It was that dirty bitch,” he says with a slight lisp. “That bitch went to the police and did that shit, man.”
On March 23, 2010, Assistant United States Attorney Bruce Miyake opened the government’s case against Williams by telling the 12 assembled jurors that the details they were about to hear would prove the old edict that “truth is stranger than fiction,” and that the defendant had managed to direct such a brazen conspiracy by “controlling these pathetic women.” After four days of testimony and less than two hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a guilty verdict.
Five months later, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle listened as Williams, dressed in a brown suit, admitted to manipulating all the women in the case but one.
“[The prosecutors] used the word ‘lured.’ I never lured [Barbara Boardman] into a relationship at all,” he said. “In fact, you know, I love Ms. Boardman very much and I’m sorry that I have to part with her, but at this time it’s the best for me, and it’s probably the best for her too.”
Judge Settle waited until Williams finished talking. Then he told him that his was a case “different from any other case I’ve heard tried in this court.”
“What is baffling to me, frankly, and probably to most people,” continued Settle, “is how you were so successful in drawing into your sphere so many people.” Then, moments before issuing a sentence of nine years, Settle gave Williams a former litigator’s ultimate compliment: “You should have been a lawyer,” he said.
Writing from his cell at a medium-security penitentiary in Marion, Ill., Williams—prisoner number 38669-086—paints a very different picture of the events that led to his incarceration.
Now going by the name Mikaeel Youf Azeem after a jailhouse conversion to Islam, Williams says that his relationship with Boardman is a “love affair gone wrong” and that “the media isn’t respecting the whole story.”
In Williams’ telling, that “whole story” involves a succession of women who have hurt him in one way or another.
“I have come to realize that I was also a victim,” he writes.
Williams says that while he did spend most of the $300,000 Boardman gave him on other women and drugs, he was sincere about trying to get out of SCC.
Early in his romance with Boardman, Williams says, he wired $5,000 to Ballard attorney Michael Kahrs. Although court documents prove it was sent, Kahrs won’t confirm he received the money, nor say how it was used, though Williams insists it was meant for an appeal.
Williams says that after that appeal was denied, his attitude changed. Treatment at SCC isn’t mandatory, so he stopped going. He started calling adult chat lines instead, where he met Amber Wills and Justine Stephens. And he became more involved in what he calls SCC’s “black market,” a move that brought him into contact with a counselor named Tammy Jo France.
According to Williams, France was his first smuggler. Boardman would pay her $100 at a time to bring him food from KFC or PlayStation games. Williams says that in exchange for smuggling him more than 300 pornographic videos which he watched and allegedly sold to other residents, he spent $10,000 paying France’s cell-phone and car-repair bills and tuition for her husband at Pierce Community College.
France did not respond to requests for comment. SCC CEO Kelly Cunningham says France has been placed on administrative leave, but would not provide further details.
Williams says that after France started blackmailing him for more money, he turned to Matautia to feed his porn and drug habits. He says in all he paid Matautia $20,000 in cash and gifts, including a wood-grain bass guitar.
Matautia also did not respond to requests for comment. On Dec. 21, 2010, he was released from SeaTac’s federal detention facility after serving a six-month sentence for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine. He’s now earning money singing and playing bass in a reggae band called Unified Culture.
Stephens was sentenced to three years’ probation for her role in the conspiracy. Neither Perkins, who Williams says was unfaithful and verbally abusive, nor Wills, who he says was working as a prostitute when they first met, were charged with any crimes. All three women have refused to comment.
Williams says the black market at SCC is alive and well, although he refuses to divulge the identities of employees he says are still providing contraband. Cunningham counters that Williams’ arrest and the 2009 arrests of seven residents involved in a child-pornography ring have had a “pretty positive effect on the facility.”
“Residents have come up to us and said ‘Please take this computer away from me,’ ” he says. “They don’t even want to be tempted into misusing it.”
Cunningham acknowledges that SCC is not completely contraband-free. And in response, he says he’s increased the frequency of random room searches and added a drug-sniffing dog.
In a letter full of accusations and cries of victimhood, Williams may hold grudges against those he felt wronged him. But he seems to have only good things to say about Boardman. “I love Barb and my feelings for her will remain close to my heart,” he writes.
Although, as he does every other woman in his life, Williams accuses Boardman of being unfaithful (a charge she denies). He says she had the respect of all the residents at SCC because, unlike other staff, she actually seemed to care.
“I had the best time of my life sharing in conversation with Barb,” he writes. “I felt as if I could express myself.”
“I wasn’t out to destroy her career or reputation among her friends and family members. I am very sorry for the hardship I have caused her but it wasn’t all the ‘nigger’s’ fault!”
Things might have turned out differently for Boardman if after the FBI’s bust she had just stopped talking to Williams. But she didn’t.
As one of their star witnesses, prosecutors urged Boardman to cut off contact with her fiancé and stay out of trouble. She did neither.
On the morning of June 29, 2009, Boardman—who’d changed her name to Dione Renee Williams so she wouldn’t raise red flags when writing letters or visiting Williams in jail—walked into the waiting room of the SeaTac Federal Detention Center, where Williams was being held. With her was her priest. Boardman insists that she brought a man of the cloth only to counsel Williams. But authorities suspected she’d actually come to marry Williams so that she wouldn’t be legally compelled to testify against him.
Her presence announced by the jail’s visitors’ log, Boardman was arrested for illegally writing a prescription for Oxycodone, an old charge prosecutors had been dangling over her head as an incentive to stay away from Williams.
Deemed a flight risk, Boardman was ordered to give up her passport and slip on a GPS ankle bracelet. But her troubles continued.
Almost a year after her arrest, police were called to the Clark County home of Boardman’s sister. What had started out as a family squabble ended with Boardman being arrested for interfering with a domestic- violence complaint. She had also been drinking, another violation of her pretrial supervision.
Boardman spent the next three months at SeaTac, the same detention center where she’d first gotten in trouble trying to visit Williams. She also got the same looks—What are you doing here?—that she’d gotten in the seedy motel rooms where she’d filmed the porn videos, the content of which she still can’t bear to talk about.
Now, back at the library in Maple Valley, Boardman is on probation, starting life anew at 60—an experience she likens to “living in the ruins” of her former life.
The loss of her jobs and mounting legal fees forced her to file for bankruptcy. The strain of the past four years estranged her from her few remaining family members, and her nursing license was suspended. If not for the generosity of a few friends, she says, she’d be living in a shelter.
Then there’s the guilt. Boardman violated the professional trust she’d held sacrosanct her entire career. She gave a drug and sex addict access to both. And in the end, it was her cooperation with the FBI that sealed Williams’ fate, taking him from a facility where he could at least have been offered treatment and into a federal penitentiary where his chances of getting clean, she feels, go way down.
Equipped with only her “religion, health, and freedom,” she says the world would probably think her crazy if it knew how she felt about Williams now. Unable to attend his trial because she was still in jail, she has since read the transcripts and now knows the full scope of his deceit. But as a Christian, she says her heart “isn’t into people losing their souls.” Forgiving Williams came easy, she says; forgiving herself for believing his lies is the real struggle.
As everyone from the prosecution to Williams himself agrees, Boardman is the case’s biggest victim. Yet somehow she still manages to make it seem as if she’s the only one who has done wrong. In fact, in all the hours she spends analyzing her relationship with Williams and the love she still feels for him, only one moment gives her pause: hearing of his conversion to Islam.
“I know people will think it’s strange,” she says, “but that really might be the only thing that would keep me from loving him. I just honestly don’t know if I could date a Muslim.