The life-destroying extremes stalkers go to
The stalker knows exactly what she is doing. Her victims know that because she tells them she is "Rebecca De Mornay", the name of the actor who played the film role of a dangerously fixated woman in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle.
But this Rebecca isn't acting out a script on a Hollywood set. She has been stalking real people in Melbourne and Sydney for more than a decade.
Her first known victim was her former boss, an executive in a well-known firm. "Rebecca" swamped the man and his wife with prank calls, abuse and sexually charged text messages.
One Valentine's Day, she reserved tables under his name at 10 top city restaurants, enrolled him on dating sites and sent cabs and deliveries to his address.
She set up fake email addresses in his name. She sent him a barrage of texts, ranging from the poetic to the pornographic and menacing. His wife got messages accusing her husband of having an affair.
Then the executive's computer was hacked from an internet cafe. It's clear the stalker is either a hacker or could get expert help from one.
The executive's wife was using her home computer one day when a text message landed: "You got nothing better to do than sit at that computer writing yourself emails and sending yourself texts? Get a life!"
The horrified woman wondered if the stalker was watching her through a window. Investigators later concluded Rebecca used an outside server to view the woman's online activity.
She wrote messages to the executive in Dutch which translated as "Nothing can prepare you for what is coming" and "You will die".
That's when the targets feared they'd become the focus of a fatal attraction. They weren't the only ones.
The second target was a Melbourne surgeon who treated Rebecca. For 18 months, she bombarded him with pornographic images and a string of false allegations to his colleagues and superiors.
The surgeon cut contact with the woman but she threatened to take him before regulatory bodies if he did not resume treating her. She also defamed him on an American rate-your-doctor site. He had to hire expensive lawyers to have it removed.
The surgeon decided to sell his house off-market, meaning it was not advertised. But a woman matching Rebecca's description turned up for inspections, obscuring her identity by not leaving a correct phone number with the agents.
When the surgeon went overseas for three weeks, she knew he was away and immediately sent messages to tell him so.
Back in Melbourne, the surgeon went to the police yet again - only to be told the woman had already called the station to complain about him. Police speculated she had followed him there.
Spookiest of all: when the surgeon's partner delivered a baby, within minutes he received a text showing the stalker knew all about the birth. He had posted nothing online, which implies that Rebecca either had a "leak" in the hospital or instant access to private email or texts.
THE RETAIL EMPLOYEE
After the surgeon's determined efforts to discourage her, the stalker switched her attention to a friend of his. The new target and his wife knew of the surgeon's ordeal but did not realise the stalker was the same woman who had just started work at the large retail firm where the man was employed.
After several months of the woman's unwelcome and increasingly scary behaviour, the man realised he had been targeted. He reported her to management and changed jobs.
Rebecca kept harassing the family, then took out an intervention order against them, twisting the law to help her break the law. She shopped her false accusations around at least four police stations, switching from one to the next as soon as police realised she was not legitimate.
She made a false report that the man's wife had threatened her, had damaged her car and had her under surveillance. In truth, the wife had never met or seen Rebecca.
It was only when the desperate family called in an investigator that they found that the same woman had offended in two states for more than 10 years - proof that stalkers are as difficult to reform as sex offenders and compulsive gamblers. It's a disease.
The effect on victims can be devastating. There are hundreds of cases a year, many of which go unreported. Some of them lead to jail. A few end in murder.
OLYMPIC DREAM RUINED
Belinda Phillips was Australia's No.2 cross-country skier aiming to compete at the 2006 Winter Olympics before her preparation was ruined by a marathon runner and champion skyscraper runner who had a bizarre fixation with her.
Even a court appearance, humiliating publicity and the threat of jail did not stop Robin Rishworth from stalking Phillips as she trained on Victoria's ski fields.
Rishworth started stalking Phillips after she rejected his romantic overtures in 1995 but he was not charged until 1999. A magistrate warned him to stay away from her, imposed a (suspended) jail sentence and ordered him to compensate Phillips $20,000 for suffering.
But the obsessive streak that made Rishworth an Empire State and Rialto "run-up" winner meant he blocked out anything he didn't want to hear. He became a marathon cyclist and low-level cross-country skier, which gave him an excuse to be on the same snowfields as Belinda Phillips.
He was charged again in 2003. He was released on bail on condition he not go within 100km of Falls Creek, where Phillips lived and trained. But when he offended again he served five months in jail, which apparently helped him control his obsession.
Like many stalker victims, Phillips became depressed and had to move house. Rishworth turned her life upside down - but didn't end it. Not every victim is so lucky.
BEAUTY CAN ATTRACT TROUBLE
Twice as many women as men report being stalked, with one in five victims assaulted by their stalker. But some women are stalked by other females, as in the tragic case of Rachel Barber.
Rachel was beautiful and talented, attributes that promised to make the Ringwood teenager a success in her chosen field of dancing. But as many celebrities and actors discover, beauty can attract trouble.
The attraction is obsessive jealousy masked as admiration. In Rachel's case it was an older girl, Caroline Reed Robertson, who saw herself as everything Rachel wasn't: plain, dull and without a boyfriend.
As someone said of Caroline's feelings towards Rachel, every butterfly has its enemies. The more she hated herself, the more dangerous she became - but no one knew the ugly things that writhed behind the mask she turned to the world.
Like Frank Vitkovic, the Queen St mass killer, Caroline Robertson nursed grievances and fantasies until they overtook her inhibitions. On March 1, 1999, she put into action a plan she outlined in a secret diary: lure Rachel to her Prahran apartment, drug her, strangle and disfigure her, put her body in a big bag.
Two days later, she buried Rachel in a shallow grave at the farm her father owned at Kilmore, in a spot where she had buried a pet as a child.
The police came for Robertson 10 days later. They found her collapsed in her flat. In a bag were Rachel's clothes and an application for a Victorian birth certificate in the name of Rachel Elizabeth Barber.
Originally published as The life-destroying extremes stalkers go to