Jennifer Wheatley

Jennifer Wheatley-Wolf, 53, of Arlington, VA, has written about her rape case with the chief investigator, David H. Cordle, Sr. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / January 3, 2012)

For years, the stranger who raped her in her Annapolis bedroom maintained a hold over her. If it wasn't her self-imposed isolation from friends, it was the nightmares, or the difficulty of keeping up the facade that she was fine, or the drinking, or the self-blame.

But that's all changed, said Jennifer Wheatley-Wolf, who said she hopes her newly published book, "One Voice Raised — A Triumph Over Rape," will help other women who have been devastated by sexual assault reclaim their lives.

It written with David H. Cordle Jr., who, as the chief cold-case investigator in the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, led the team that pursued the 1988 case through to the January 2010 rape conviction of William Joseph Trice, a man Wheatley-Wolf couldn't see in the darkness of the attack.

"This isn't really a book about me. It's about every rape victim," Wheatley-Wolf said in a recent interview, later adding: "It's more a story of empowering a victim."

A crucial step for victims, she said, is telling police about a crime that has been underreported because of its sexual nature. Even if the rapist is not found, acknowledging the crime can help victims.

Rape victims, she said, too often become nameless people whose identities are kept out of the news media and who hide the crime even from people closest to them. People who have been sexually assaulted should not be ashamed, she said, but violent criminals should.

The book, self-published and distributed through Amazon.com, spans more than two decades of Wheatley-Wolf's life, starting with the assault.

With the holidays over, Wheatley-Wolf expects to look into publicizing the book. So far, 200 copies have been sold, most of them to people she and Cordle know.

"Five women, friends of mine, said, 'I was raped, I was date-raped, I was raped by my husband,'" she said. Acknowledging an assault "is a powerful thing," she added.

Cordle said the book shows that perseverance in investigating cold cases can pay off with an arrest, but it also leads readers through the odyssey of being the victim of a horrible crime.

"I've already had a person I've known for years — I had no idea she was the victim of a sexual assault — she sent me a note" recently, Cordle said. "She said it helped her open up and see the dark side of what she hasn't reported. I told her, 'When you are ready to report it or just talk to me, that's fine.' If [the book] helped just one person, that's enough for me."

The book focuses on the impact of being raped, of enduring years without an arrest, of Wheatley-Wolf's feelings as investigation of the case finally led to a suspect and how she handled the trial of Trice and its aftermath.

"He was never real until I walked into that courtroom" to testify, she said. "He was a monster, larger than life, because I made him that way." But when she saw him at the defense table, she said, "I saw him as very pathetic."

Days after his conviction, officials said, Trice committed suicide — before he could be sentenced and before Wheatley-Wolf could deliver a powerful victim impact statement. It was also before he would have faced trial in another rape case.

Trice's suicide also paved the way for the book, she said. If he were alive, and the case was "unfinished" because of appeals, and if there were other trials for him, she would have been unable to write it because it would have revealed details of the case, she said.

The book takes a reader through Wheatley-Wolf's roller-coaster of emotions. It includes drinking herself to sleep, going through rehab, avoiding people, crying on the 10th anniversary of her rape thinking the case would never be solved, meeting the man who would become her husband at her 20-year Annapolis High School reunion — and, starting in 2005 with the first break in the case, feeling both hopeful and afraid. Things like turning lights on when she enters every room and locking doors remain second-nature.

Interspersed with her story is the parallel one by Cordle. His short chapters detail key points in the investigation, leads that fizzled as well as the ones that solved the case.

Among those points is how investigators initially focused on a DNA match between genetic material from her assault and one that took place a few months later. As they continued to scour the evidence, Bill Johns, who retired from the Annapolis Police Department and became an investigator for the state's attorney's office, raised this question: Was a fingerprint from the crime scene entered into the state's computerized fingerprint database of convicted criminals — a database that didn't exist at the time Wheatley-Wolf was raped? It wasn't. The resulting break led investigators to Trice.

As Trice's trial ended, Cordle told Wheatley-Wolf he'd like to write a book about a few of his cases, and she asked if he'd like to write one with her about her case.

"I thought about it for a nanosecond, and I said, 'Jennifer, this is your book. If you'd like me to contribute, I will,'" he said.

She wrote hundreds of pages in about three months. It took him longer to write his 30.

Then a 29-year-old waitress at Chart House, a restaurant in the Eastport section of Annapolis, Wheatley-Wolf returned from a shift in the wee hours of Aug. 21, 1988, to the home she shared with her mother in a gated community in Annapolis. While her mother was asleep in another room, Wheatley-Wolf was reading a Stephen King novel. She received anonymous telephone calls about 3 a.m.; the person on the other end knew personal information about her.

Then, when she went into her bedroom at about 3:30 to go to sleep, someone grabbed her in the dark, threatened to kill her and raped her.

Authorities said her attacker had gotten her personal information from a driver's license renewal form she'd left in her car, and he used it to terrorize her before breaking in and sexually assaulting her.

The attack that once defined her life doesn't anymore, Wheatley-Wolf said.

In the victim impact statement she never got to read, she wrote that she chose to build a life filled with love and strength, and pursue watercolor, fabric art and photography:

"I am an artist. That is my legacy," she wrote.

"You are a rapist. That is how the world will remember you."

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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