On Thin Ice

UPDATED 03/30/1992 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 03/30/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

I WAS WILLING TO MARCH INTO HELL FOR A HEAVENLY CAUSE," said unemployed crop duster Harry Veltman III this past January. But Veltman's was an obsession bordering on the demonic: an unrequited crush on two-time Olympic figure-skating gold medalist turned ice-show queen Katarina Witt, 26. Now Veltman, 47, may be marching, less willingly, into prison for up to 30 years, having been found guilty on March 12 of four counts of mailing obscene material and two of sending threatening material to Witt, the fräulein of his dreams.

For nearly two years Veltman, a divorced schizophrenic who lived with his mother, housewife Betty J. Hall, in Westminster, Calif., had been stalking the ice goddess and showering her with upward of 100 obscene "love" letters, marriage proposals, nude photos of himself, a Bible and, finally, death threats. In 1990 he sold his pickup truck to finance a seven-week trip that summer to Witt's home in Altenhof, East Germany. There he would jump over a fence surrounding her house to pound on her door at 3 A.M. and yell, "I love you." At one point, according to his letters to her, he even masturbated on her doorstep.

During that summer a very desperate Witt confronted Veltman, begging him to leave her alone. Finally, last Dec. 26, the FBI decided to act after Veltman sent Witt a letter that included the words, "Please don't be afraid when God allows me to pull you out of your body to hold you tight! Then you'll know there is life beyond the flesh."

Face-to-face with Veltman in court, where the defendant was deemed competent enough to represent himself, Witt testified, "I believed he was going to kill me." But a shocked Betty Hall, who ascribed her son's problems to pesticides he was exposed to while crop dusting, insisted, "I know Harry would never have hurt her. It's a tragedy for both of them."

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