From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Members of the 16-man, two-woman Senate Judiciary Committee listened raptly in March as Kathleen Tobin Krueger, 34, wife of newly appointed Texas Sen. Bob Krueger, delivered her tale of terror. Last summer, she said, she walked to the mailbox to find a note that read, "Look how close I can get to you. See, I could kill you right now if I wanted to."

Krueger knew immediately who had written the note. For the past nine years, she and her husband and, from birth, their two daughters have been stalked by a former employee who has rung their doorbell repeatedly, screamed obscenities over the telephone and delivered countless death threats. When the Kruegers complained to police, they were told that unless the harasser tried to harm them physically, there was nothing the authorities could do.

According to Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist who conducted the one major study of stalking, there are 200,000 people in the U.S. who are stalking someone—lovers, coworkers, celebrities and, particularly, women. (Ninety percent of stalkers suffer from mental disorders.) Yet only in the past three years have stalking victims had any legal recourse. In 1990, California passed the first state law making stalking a felony; 36 other states have since followed suit. In March, Senator Krueger and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California introduced a bill in Congress that would make stalking a federal offense—punishable by up to 10 years in prison—anytime a stalker crosses state lines or uses the mail or telephone to deliver a threat.

Passage of a federal law "would give legal rights to victims who did not have them before," says Kathleen Krueger, a former congressional aide. She talked with correspondent Joseph Harmes about her ordeal at her home in New Braunfels, Tex. (On page 66, actress Andrea Evans recounts her own stalking nightmare, and the experiences of Monica Seles and other, less famous, victims are covered on page 71.)

Nine years ago, Bob was a rancher and businessman when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Shortly after he entered the race, he hired a pilot named Thomas Michael Humphrey to fly us around to campaign appearances. Humphrey had a single-engine plane, and I remember thinking he seemed like a real nice, quiet person. He was a reliable employee, someone the whole campaign staff thought well of.

When we lost the Democratic primary in May 1984 by less than one-tenth of 1 percent, Tom Humphrey was devastated. We all were, of course, but he seemed to take the loss harder than even we did. His grief and despair seemed beyond normal.

When a campaign ends, the staff disperses and people go on to other jobs. Tom didn't seem to be able to accept that notion. It seemed that the year he worked in Bob's campaign was the most fulfilling of his life. He'd tell us he loved us, that we meant the world to him.

Tom and a few other volunteers helped us wrap up the campaign. Then he began dropping by our house. At first, we viewed him as a troubled friend; Bob would sit and talk with him. He'd say, "Tom, you need to get on with your life. We're getting on with ours and we need you to respect our privacy the same way we'll respect yours."

That's when Tom snapped. He started telephoning us, first only about a dozen times a day. Within weeks, he was calling as many as 120 times a day. He would leave rambling, threatening, bizarre notes on our door and in our mailbox. He'd telephone at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. But the real harassment began six months later, in the late spring and summer of 1985. It was as if he were a drug addict and we were the drug. He became obsessed.

I'll never forget one day when I was home alone. Tom rang the doorbell, and I opened the door. He stepped inside and reached forward to give me a hug. His grip lightened and I realized he might not let go. It wasn't sexual, but it was eerie. I knew something wasn't right. I thought, "What can I do to get out of this situation?" So I said, "Tom, would you go out with me to check the mail?" We went outside. I knew it was too early for the mail but I was able to say goodbye to him on the street. That was the last time I ever opened my door to him.

I began keeping the blinds drawn. There's a place I can stand in my daughter's bedroom where I can see who's ringing the doorbell without being seen. Tom would stand there for 20 minutes, wailing for me to open the door. I never did.

One day—it was in May 1985—I picked up the telephone. It was Tom. I went into a rage. I yelled, "Leave us alone!" It was very quiet on the other end of the line. I said, "I think you enjoy this." He said, "You're right. I do." I knew then that we were in real trouble. Some time before, Tom had rented the house across the street from us. I would come home from the grocery store and see him peering at me from behind the curtains.

The first year, we tried to reason with Tom. We contacted his parents. Nothing worked. Then we heard that he'd moved to California. We thought, "Good, he'll get over this and go on to new and better things." But his obsession remained as intense as ever. He kept calling. Sometimes he'd say he wanted money. Other times he wouldn't say anything at all.

By the second year, we stopped responding. We'd hang up when he called. When that didn't work either, we decided to contact the local police and the Comal [Texas] County attorney. We even talked to the FBI. Each one of them said, "We're sorry, but we can't do anything until he tries to physically hurt you." I can't tell you how shocked and crushed I felt every lime we went to the law and were told, "I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do."

For the next three years we lived with daily harassment and threats. Then, in 1987, I got pregnant with our first child. Our telephone number had always been listed while Bob was a congressman and later ambassador-at-large to Mexico. But when I became pregnant, I told him I didn't want to live in fear every time the phone rang. Our number became unlisted. So Tom began to call Bob's New Braunfels office. The tapes in the answering machine are an hour long. Callers are cut off after 30 seconds. He would regularly fill up the whole hour-long tape during the night, which meant that he had dialed 120 times in a row.

It was at that point, around Christmas 1987, that Tom made his most specific and gruesome threat. The message, to my husband, said, "I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kill you. I've hired a killer to put a .22-caliber to your head while you lie sleeping next to your wife. You won't be much of an ambassador with a hole in your head."

Tom had placed the call from California. Finally, because the death threat was specific, and because it was made across state lines, we notified the FBI. Immediately they said, "Yes, we can act on this." They went to Tom's home in California, but he wasn't there. We believed, and so did the FBI, that he was on his way to Texas to carry out his threat.

Bob and I went to my parents' ranch in Bandera, Tex., for the Christmas holidays. The FBI gave us a recording device, and we had calls from Bob's office automatically forwarded to my parents' number in the hope that Tom would call again and we could trace him. Bob answered the phone every time it rang. The third call was Tom. Of course he thought he had reached Bob at his office, so Bob talked to him while I slipped him a note that said, "Tell him to leave you a phone number and I'll call him back." Bob said, "Why don't I have Kathleen call you?" Tom gave Bob the number and we immediately notified the FBI. They arrested him at a hotel in California and charged him with extortion and death threats.

Tom pleaded guilty in May 1989, and on July 19 he was sentenced to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for a term of 12 months, to be followed by a supervised release term of three years. It was the first time in five years we felt any kind of peace. But prison seemed to aggravate him even more. He was released from the Federal Correctional Institute at La Tuna, Tex., on Dec. 28, 1989. Within four months he started again with as much intensity as ever. The death threats resumed, and he was put back in prison.

Tom's threats often seem to jibe with family holidays or important occasions. I can remember one Christmas Eve when I was preparing a meal for Bob's relatives. I was standing at the stove trying to stir a pot of food and just sobbing because I was so afraid. His threats had become more gruesome when I became pregnant.

The first time he was released from prison, in late 1989, was shortly before our second daughter was born. In 1990 he was arrested again and spent six months in prison. He was arrested a third time in October 1991 and is scheduled to be released on July 29—our 10th wedding anniversary.

I am still terrified because Tom's obsession is as keen today as it was nine years ago. I'm telling my story because I want to be a voice for those hundreds of thousands of victims of stalkers who have not been heard. I hope, too, that telling my story will help my husband's federal antis talking legislation be signed into law quickly, giving us all a place to turn within the legal system for help.