For a long time, I wanted to write about the Haidl gang rape case, which took place in Newport Beach in 2002. The Haidl saga was beyond belief. Two trials. Millions of dollars spent on the defense. A video of the crime. The three perpetrators, including Gregory Haidl, the assistant sheriff’s son, had used a pool stick, Snapple bottle, an apple juice can, and a lit cigarette on the sixteen-year-old passed out girl. Not only had she wanted it, the defense had argued, she’d also instigated it. Even though there was horrific video evidence, the first trial ended with a hung jury. Despite boundless humiliation and terrorization, the Jane Doe of the case had somehow garnered superhuman-like strength and endured. Ultimately she’d prevailed and, in the process, exposed a money-based flood of corruption. The repercussions, political and cultural (including the incarceration of Sheriff Mike Carona, once dubbed by Larry King as “America’s Sheriff”) are ongoing.
When Jane Doe decided to go public with her story and name in April 2012 (Alisa Kaplan), I began to think more seriously about writing a novel. I emailed R. Scott Moxley, the reporter for the OC Weekly who wrote about Alisa, letting him know. From the beginning, it was imperative that I have her blessing. Moxley emailed me back with Alisa’s email address (with her permission).
I’d been teaching a summer class at UC Riverside: “The Benefits and Perils of Interweaving Real Lives in Fiction.” On our syllabus: Capote’s In Cold Blood, Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, and Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. Temperatures that summer soared over 100 degrees, and in our air-conditioned classroom, we discussed the complexities of nonfictional fiction. Meanwhile I grappled with my objectives.
Around the same time that Alisa and I first corresponded, Republican Congressman Todd Akin was in the news for stating that pregnancy rarely occurred as a result of “legitimate rape.”
One night, Alisa and I spoke for over an hour on the phone. Astute, considerate, intelligent, and determined, Alisa wanted, I soon learned, to write her own book. She’d signed a confidentiality agreement and had to check with her book agent and lawyers to find out whether she could write a nonfictional account. If not, she wanted to work with me on a fictional one.
Whether we ended up working together or not, she gave me her blessing. We both agreed that her story encompassed more than one book. She wanted to become a spokesperson for survivors of such crimes against women, so she encouraged my further shining a spotlight on her story.
My connection to Alisa—to the Haidl case itself—was personal. From the moment I’d first read about Jane Doe/Alisa years before, I knew that she could have been me.
In high school, my best friend (and still one of my closest friends) lived within walking distance of the Haidl home in Newport Beach, where Alisa had been gang raped in the garage close to fourteen years after I’d graduated.
My best friend’s parents moved to a fancier home—where they still live—which happens to be in close proximity to the Haidl’s current residence. One afternoon, I tried to get inside the gated community to see the Haidl’s mansion, but the guard wouldn’t wave me through.
A little more than two weeks after our phone conversation, Alisa told me that she could write her nonfiction book and thus wouldn’t need my help. I gave her my sincere congratulations. She could tell her story, and now that I had her blessing, I began to write The Little Brother.