The shocking revelations, made in this week's issue of The New Yorker, have brought scrutiny on the owner, Gerald Foos, and on the author of the magazine story, legendary journalist Gay Talese – who kept Foos's secret since 1980.
"The Voyeur's Motel" uses Foos's own meticulous journals to tell story of a voyeur who admits to invading the privacy of thousands of guests at the Manor House Motel in the Denver suburb of Aurora beginning in 1969. Foos bought the motel for the sole purpose of exercising his obsession with watching people have sex.
He and his first wife painstakingly installed fake ceiling vents so that Foos could peer into rooms from a crawlspace above without being noticed.
It was only when arthritis in his knees made it too painful for him to climb a ladder and crawl around the attic that he sold the motel in 1995. It was later torn down. He was never caught and the guests never expected they were being spied on, according to The New Yorker.
Talese cautioned readers that Foos is not an entirely reliable narrator. Talese saw the peep holes in the hotel himself – and even watched one couple having sex – but the records Foos kept have inconsistencies and several key dates and facts do not match up.
Murder in Room 10
Despite Foos's preoccupation with watching strangers have sex, the most shocking journal entry is far more sinister.
In 1977, Foos claims that he watched a drug dealer choke his girlfriend until she lost consciousness in room 10 of the motel. Foos says he saw that she was breathing after the attack and so he did nothing. The next day, the woman was found dead on the floor, Foos said in his journal.
Foos called police and gave them information about the suspect, but never revealed that he had witnessed the attack.
The attack came after Foos flushed the man's drugs down the toilet because he watched him sell to children. It's something he had done before with no consequences.
"This time, the man in Room 10 accused his girlfriend of stealing the drugs," wrote Talese.
Foos wrote in his journal that after he watched the man choke his girlfriend, the man fled the room.
Police never caught him, Foos says.
Talese himself "spent a few sleepless nights, asking myself whether I ought to to turn Foos in." He never did.
When Talese contacted the Aurora Police Department decades later to find out about any new information regarding the homicide, he was told that police had no record the case.
Two Wives Kept His Secret
Foos claims that he told only three people his secret – his two wives and Talese.
Foos's first wife Donna, a high school sweetheart, knew about Foos's obsession and even helped him install the peep holes in the motel room ceilings. She would sometimes join Foos in the crawl space as he spent hours watching his guests.
"Even before our marriage I told her that this gave me a feeling of power," Foos wrote. "Donna and most nurses are very open-minded... They’ve seen it all—death, disease, pain, disorders of every kind—and it takes a lot to shock a nurse."
When Donna died in 1985, Foos remarried. His second wife, Anita, considered herself a "full-fledged voyeur," according to The New Yorker and actively participated in Foos' spying on guests.
A Writer's 36-Year Silence
Talese also kept Foos's secret – including the details of the alleged murder – for decades.
Foos first contacted the journalist in 1980 as Talese was writing Thy Neighbor's Wife, his ground-breaking chronicle of sex and sexuality in America. Talese immediately decided he was not going to write about Foos because he wouldn't go on the record. But, Talese went to see Foos and his voyeuristic motel anyway. In order to gain access, he signed a confidentiality document and agreed not to reveal any details about Foos until Foos gave his consent.
In the New Yorker article, Talese describes climbing into the attic of Foos' motel and watching a couple engaged in a sex act.
Talese wrote that he was torn about the morality and ethics of what Foos was doing – especially after receiving the report of the murder in the motel – but ultimately did not reveal what he knew about Foos until the motel owner finally agreed to go public with his story.
A Sex Researcher?
Talese wrote that Foos' attempted to justify his invasions of privacy as legitimate sex research. He repeatedly compared himself to scientists Alfed Kinsey and Masters and Johnson.
"I hope I'm not described as just some pervert or Peeping Tom," Foos told Talese. "I think of myself as a pioneering sex researcher."
However, Foos believed the information he was collecting was superior to the data the experts had, "Because his subjects didn’t know they were being watched, they yielded more accurate and, to his mind, more valuable information."
He Was Horrified by the Erin Andrews Case, Too
Foos doesn't think he has anything in common with the man who posted nude footage of Erin Andrews on the internet.
"While I've said that most men are voyeurs, there are some voyeurs – like this creep in the Andrews case – who are beneath contempt," Foos told Talese. "He is a product of the new technology, exposing his prey on the internet, and something that has nothing in common with what I did. I exposed no one. What this guy did was ruthless and vengeful. If I were a member of the jury, I'd unhesitatingly vote to convict."
Foos doesn't believe he did any harm to the people he spied on, he told Talese.
"While he admitted to constant fear of being found out, he was unwilling to concede that his activities in the attic brought harm to anyone," Talese wrote. "He said that he was indulging his curiosity within the boundaries of his own property, and, because his guests were unaware of his voyeurism, they were not affected by it."
He added: "There's no invasion of privacy if no one complains."