Admired in Life, Reviled in Death

The mysterious suicide of supergenius Alex McIntire begged for answers. His former stepdaughter, Lisa Hamilton, is now providing them.

Maintaining self-esteem is an enduring struggle. At times in her life she has felt compelled to appear unattractive and socially inept. “A childhood victim of sexual abuse, growing up, is faced with living through the present with the frames of childhood obscuring everything that should be new, in intimacy, in relationships, in any socialization,” she explains. “My childhood was stolen. I'm only now beginning to live my life. He may be dead, but for me the story isn't even close to being over.”

In the summer of 1992, breaking years of silence, Lisa told her mother of the abuse. A few visits to a therapist, she says, helped her recognize the healing benefit of coming forward. She was 24 years old at the time and a recent graduate of the University of Kentucky. She and her mother were at a children's museum, accompanying Linda's young son from a later marriage. “I suppose I just didn't want to believe it at first,” Linda recalls. “But then my reaction, like any parent's reaction, was: “Where had I been? Why hadn't I noticed?'” Over the next few months, Lisa and her mother exchanged a series of e-mail messages. In one of them, dated September 28, 1992, Lisa explains her reluctance to speak up earlier:

“I always thought -- afterward -- it wasn't a big thing, that he didn't ever hurt me, that he didn't ever actually try genital penetration, that he didn't put me to shame in public. And then somebody told me I was abused as much as any other abuse case, and I've been confused ever since.”

Later in the same message she tries to ease her mother's feelings of guilt:

“No, I don't blame you for any of it; I can't. What would you do? He's a twisted motherfucker. He likes to play with children. I don't know if he knows how permanent the damage he does, had done, did, still does, is. Children are like clay. I want to stay away from them myself. I won't be held responsible for anything that forms an adult like this one.”

A few months later, at her mother's urging, Lisa telephoned the Coral Gables Police Department to report her charges of abuse. (The last place the family lived together was in married-student housing at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.) After an initial interview, a Coral Gables police detective concluded that the statute of limitations had expired on any crime occurring in that city's jurisdiction. At issue was Lisa's age. By the time she moved to Coral Gables, she had turned twelve. Under Florida law children twelve years or older who are sexually assaulted must report the crime within three years of their sixteenth birthday. The statute of limitations would have expired when Lisa turned nineteen. But there is no statute of limitations if the child suffered abuse under the age of twelve. Such assaults -- provided they include some form of vaginal penetration, such as the oral and digital penetration reported by Lisa -- are considered “life felonies,” calling for a minimum mandatory sentence of 25 years in prison.

Because Lisa briefly lived in unincorporated Miami-Dade County prior to her twelfth birthday, a Coral Gables police detective referred the case to the Miami-Dade Police Department, where it was assigned to Det. Daniel Wendel of the Sexual Crimes Bureau. The investigation was short-lived. According to police reports, Wendel interviewed Lisa and her mother by telephone in May 1993. He also tried but failed to contact two other people who knew of the allegations: Lisa's brother Jack and a former high school boyfriend in whom Lisa once confided. That was the extent of Detective Wendel's investigation. He never presented his findings to the State Attorney's Office, and no charges were filed, although the case remained officially open.

Wendel retired in 1996. Miami-Dade Police Department officials say they do not know his whereabouts today, nor are they able to explain his reason for apparently abandoning the case. Both Lisa and Linda Hamilton say they assumed the investigation was moving forward, albeit slowly. In fact Lisa was planning to file a civil lawsuit against McIntire once he was arrested on criminal charges. In any event she was in no hurry. She was undergoing therapy at the time and did not relish the thought of reliving the abuse at a criminal trial.

E-mail correspondence between mother and daughter indicates they believed a Miami attorney named Elizabeth Richard was in contact with Detective Wendel, monitoring his investigation in preparation for filing the civil suit. But they were wrong. Richard, in a recent interview, describes herself as a family friend of the Hamiltons, not Lisa's attorney. And while she did call Wendel once, in 1993, she never followed up. Nevertheless she was equally frustrated by Wendel's inaction.

In October 1998, five and a half years after Lisa first contacted police, the case resurfaced following a review of inactive files. The so-called cold case was reassigned to Miami-Dade Police Det. Steven Signori. This time investigators vigorously pursued their leads. Signori contacted Lisa and documented that she was under twelve years old at the time she lived in unincorporated Miami-Dade. The statute of limitations therefore did not apply. He also obtained dozens of e-mails among Linda, Lisa, and Jack, dating back to 1992, in which the assaults were discussed openly. In his interview with Linda Hamilton, Signori learned that while still in Pakistan, Lisa had contracted Reiter's syndrome, a disorder whose symptoms include urinary tract inflammation that is often (but not exclusively) transmitted sexually. He also learned that Linda had to forbid McIntire from shaving Lisa's legs after he had made numerous requests to do so.

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