A Lesson for Harvey’s Girls

The last thing the Harvey Weinstein Pile-On needs is a mewling #MeToo hashtag so females everywhere can easily climb on board.

If women want to be taken seriously, they should turn to the example of someone like Dee Dee Kouns.

She learned through the worst kind of tragedy how to fight injustice.

Her 26-year-old daughter, Valerie McDonald, had graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute and was an aspiring filmmaker when she disappeared in 1980.

Eventually investigators would link Valerie’s disappearance to three men: Phillip Arthur Thompson and John G. Abbott, two ex-cons who had taken over management of her apartment building, and Michael Hennessey, another ex-con who met Thompson and Abbott in prison. The day Valerie disappeared she had gone to an appointment where Hennessey told her she could get a bit part in a Dustin Hoffman movie.

Dee Dee Kouns and her husband Bob would later learn the extent of these men’s violent criminal histories. One of them, Thompson, had 11 felony convictions – but had spent less than four years in prison.

About three weeks after Valerie disappeared, Hennessey and Abbott turned up in British Columbia where they got into a shootout with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Hennessey was killed; Abbott was arrested and charged with attempted murder in the shootout.

A search of their belongings uncovered some of Valerie’s property. Police told the Kounses that without a body, a weapon or murder scene, there wasn’t much else they could do.

Meanwhile, Thompson – the third man involved in Valerie’s disappearance – was back in prison on kidnapping and robbery charges in an unrelated case.

To Dee Dee Kouns, this was mind-boggling. Didn’t anybody care?

Like many ordinary, law-abiding Americans, she and her husband had little involvement with the criminal justice system. How was it that a long-time felon like Thompson would even be free and in a position to hurt their daughter? Why were victims treated so shabbily by the criminal justice system? Why was the whole focus on the rights of the accused? What about Valerie’s rights?

Dee Dee and Bob Kouns, who operated a glass-replacement business in Portland and in Washington state, set about changing the answers to those questions. They founded an organization called Crime Victims United. Six years after Valerie’s death, Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved Measure 10 giving victims a right to participate in the criminal justice system.

Although it’s hard to imagine now, it used to be that victims could be barred from trial, and had no right to speak in court during sentencing to say how the crime had affected them. Prosecutors were not required to alert victims of plea bargains, and parole boards did not have to alert victims if an offender was up for parole.

The Kounses pushed on with Crime Victims United, and 14 years after Valerie’s murder, Oregon voters approved Measure 11 to require minimum-mandatory sentences for violent crimes such as assault, robbery, manslaughter, murder, vehicular homicide and rape.

Twenty-one years after their daughter disappeared, sheriff’s investigators from Ferry County, Wash., near British Columbia, used dental records to identify a partial skeleton found in a river. It was Valerie.

And two years after that, a DNA test on sperm left on a young woman named Betty Cloer whose raped and murdered body had been found in a field 32 years earlier came back to Philip Arthur Thompson – the same man linked to Valerie’s disappearance. At the time, Thompson was due to be paroled in California on another case – a case for which he was supposedly serving a “life” sentence.

He was convicted of Cloer’s murder and remains in prison on another “life” sentence.

Whether he actually does life, Bob and Dee Dee Kouns won’t be around to bear witness. Bob Kouns died in 2004, and Dee Dee died a few weeks ago at age 89.

Nobody was ever charged in Valerie’s murder. Abbott, the third person linked to her disappearance, long ago won his freedom and lives in Japan where he is a university professor. He is reportedly a millionaire.

At Dee Dee’s memorial service last week, Clackamas County District Attorney John Foote recalled the monthly lunches he had with Dee Dee. After her husband, Foote died made a point of keeping in touch with her.

“Dee Dee was a strong woman … she was so insistent,” he said. “She changed us.”

At her memorial service, one of her sons talked about Dee Dee’s early life in Nebraska, where her family lost their farm in the Dust Bowl.

This was a farm where the cats and dogs all had names, but everything had to be auctioned off.

The family of two parents, six children and a neighbor’s kid set out for the West, taking only what could fit into a truck, along with a barrel of flour, a sack of beans and a tub of lard so they could have fry bread and beans. (In today’s Portland, a popular restaurant like the Screen Door could probably turn fry bread and beans into a $12 entrée, and people would line up to buy it, washed down, of course, with a specialty cocktail.)

Later, as a young wife and mother, Dee Dee would witness her first husband die in a diving accident. She dealt with that loss and later found new joy in marriage to Bob. Then Valerie disappeared.

How does a mother deal with the disappearance of a daughter? How does she keep from imagining the details? She has this beautiful daughter … and there are three men.

It puts a different perspective on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuses and the women who are now safely lining up to condemn him. Even Weinstein’s staff  (many of them female) who provided circles of complicity, pretending not to see or hear anything, have suddenly found courage.

In her younger days when she was a lithe and leggy blonde, what would Dee Dee Kouns have done if a nude Harvey Weinstein asked her for a massage?

Dee Dee, above all, believed in consequences. Letting a very rich man quietly, and repeatedly, buy his way out with a nominal fee is hardly consequential. Where’s the pain? Punishment should be painful – not apologetic.

Which is where we have arrived at now. What constitutes a crime and what should be appropriate punishment are becoming skewed.

The New York Times, which broke the story on Weinstein, might as well have a “Felon of the Week” feature with its regular, sympathetic portrayals of criminal offenders who have been unfairly sent to prison.

One such feature recently profiled a woman who murdered her 4-year-old son and is now in a PhD program at New York University. Although she claims to be remorseful, she has never revealed where she buried the child’s body. But the real travesty, as the Times couched the story, is that Harvard rescinded admittance to the woman when it learned she was a convicted murderer.

Both the Times and The New Yorker, which quickly followed with its own list of Weinstein’s abuses of power, insisted that they couldn’t publicize what they now say everybody knew for years because nobody would go on the record.

“Virtually all of the people I spoke with told me that they were frightened of retaliation,” said Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker.

Where is the power of the press when you need it?

Dee Dee Kouns would have never been intimidated by Harvey Weinstein. She would likely advise the women who are now safely piling on not to wallow in self-pity, or think that Weinstein-like behavior will cease to exist.

The fight for justice, she could tell them, is a war with no end, where people die, and there’s no guarantee anybody will be held to answer.

— Pamela Fitzsimmons

From the Archives:

“Taking a Bite Out of Crime”

2 Comments

  • Salem reader wrote:

    I’ve heard of Crime Victims United and probably read about Ms. Kouns at one time. She sounds like quite a lady.

    Right now we’ve got our own grope scandal in Salem. For powerful politicians, Sen. Gelser and Kruse sound like a couple of adolescents. The state has more important problems than a middle-aged lady who wants us to take her word that she’s been molested, and a middle-aged guy who can’t control his nicotine habit.

    For what’s it worth, Kate Brown hugged me when she was in the legislature. I survived. Her nickname was The Hugger wasn’t it? Aren’t politicians expected to kiss babies, shake hands, hug, etc.

  • I don’t personally know Kate Brown, but I have a couple of friends who know her. One of them says that Kate, in her pre-Governor days, was a gregarious kind of politician who liked to reach out to people with hugs and reassuring hand-pats.

    Sen. Kruse gave an interview with The Oregonian today and said (as you have) that the governor is a hugger. It all depends on who’s doing the hugging whether or not it’s offensive.

    Oregon’s Gropegate has been blown way out of proportion. Like you, I think this state has many more serious problems. Sens. Gelser and Kruse come off as weak leaders for different reasons. Kruse, according to The O, has a previous history of drug addiction. That might explain why he can’t quit smoking in his office.

    Sen. Gelser has a voting history of siding with criminal defendants who have committed far more serious acts than inappropriate touching. In the past legislative session, she voted to decriminalize meth and heroin possession if the user was caught committing a crime to feed his/her habit.

    Maybe Kruse should have blamed his inappropriate touching on a substance-abuse problem, namely his nicotine habit.

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