Member Goldschmidt serial raped her. Now she’s dead and he feels “badly.”
She was emaciated and looked far older than her 42 years. Her hair was thin, her eyes sunken. Her hands shook; occasionally, her whole body shook.
But she appeared intelligent, well-spoken and quick-witted. She seemed kind.
I was at my desk at The Oregonian, where I was working as a columnist in 2004… After several visits she decided she trusted me. She wanted to go public, she said, because the former governor had lied and misled the public about what had happened.
Margie Boulé, then a columnist for The Oregonian, interviewed the victim of Neil Goldschmidt multiple times over many months after the scandal involving his sex abuse of a teenage girl became public in 2004.
On Jan. 16 she died of undisclosed causes in a Portland hospice.
Willamette Week reports: The tragic arc of Dunham’s life was not preordained.
A 1975 yearbook photo at Portland’s St. Mary’s Academy (below) shows a ninth-grader with wavy chestnut hair, big glasses and the final traces of the pudginess that in elementary school earned her the nickname “short and fat and curly toes.”
But in high school, the onetime ugly duckling became a beautiful young girl. Her transformation did not escape the notice of teenage boys, according to Anne Grgich, a Portland artist and Dunham’s friend since fifth grade.
“She was very pretty and had so much potential,” Grgich says.
She also captured the attention of Goldschmidt, a family friend 21 years her senior. Goldschmidt, a handsome and charismatic married father of two young children, was putting Portland on the map and becoming a national political player.
As mayor, Goldschmidt worked only five blocks from St. Mary’s, where Dunham went to high school. And his home was only six doors away from the Dunham family home in Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood.
The child rapist Neil Goldschmidt saw Elizabeth at political events—her mother was a City Hall aide and campaign staffer—and Elizabeth also served as a City Hall intern and as babysitter to Goldschmidt’s children.
When Dunham was a St. Mary’s freshman and classmates were stressing over homework and dances with boys from Jesuit and Central Catholic, Oregon State Bar Member Neil Goldschmidt lured her into a sexual relationship.
Dunham confided to friends that she had met Goldschmidt for sex dozens of times. The meeting places were many—in her parents’ basement, at the Hilton Hotel, at a downtown apartment and at friends’ houses on Alameda Ridge. Illicit sex with a political powerhouse would be a lot for anybody to process, let alone a young teen navigating adolescence.
People who knew Dunham well say she never came to terms with the impact Goldschmidt had on her life.
One friend said, ““She tried to ignore negatives in her life,” Matson says. “But they eventually destroyed her.”
At the time I spoke with her, over the course of many visits in Portland and in Las Vegas, where she was living for a time, she clearly was an ill woman… in many conversations over many months, she did not waver on the central details of her story.
In her earliest memory of her abuser, she remembered standing beside him in an elevator. She must have been very young, because she had to reach up to hold his hand.
They were in a hotel, or some other big building. In just a moment he would lead her into a room and a crowd of people would cheer. She couldn’t remember why she was by his side on this exciting night — was it an election night?
But she remembered this: As the elevator descended, the man squeezed her hand. She might have been 7 years old, perhaps 8. But she was old enough to understand she was special. Of all the little girls in the world, she believed, Neil Goldschmidt had chosen her.
In May 2004, Neil Goldschmidt, legendary former mayor of Portland, former U.S. secretary of transportation, former Democratic governor of Oregon, head of the state Board of Higher Education, confessed: He’d had, he told a small group of reporters and editors from The Oregonian, a nine-month “affair” with a teenage girl in the late 1970s. He was trying to get ahead of Willamette Week, which was about to publish information about the abuse that reporter Nigel Jaquiss had uncovered.
Goldschmidt said he felt “guilt and shame,” but he talked more that day about his doctors’ concerns about his cardiovascular system.
Publications and broadcasts across the state ran stories, often devoting more space or time to Goldschmidt’s successes than to his crimes (for they were crimes, felony crimes under laws that existed at the time they were committed, prosecutors said, even though the statute of limitations had expired by the time he admitted what he’d done).
In her home in Las Vegas, his victim read the stories, which friends and relatives had sent from Oregon. There, in print, were all the failures and humiliations of her 40-plus years. There were no descriptions of her talent as a photographer, her extensive vocabulary, her generosity to friends, her love of animals.
The stories made her sound like a throwaway person, she said, a teen who’d been asking for trouble, an ex-con who might have had a hard life even if she hadn’t been abused as a child by the most powerful, charismatic man in Oregon.
Years after the headlines stunned Oregonians of every political persuasion, a lot of people may think the revelation is old news. But only half the story has been told. News organizations called it “Neil Goldschmidt’s secret.” For 30 years, it had been her secret, too.
She’d grown tired of keeping her secret. She wanted to tell the world how her life changed the day Neil Goldschmidt first molested her, and she thought it was love.
She told me she was 13 years old when the child rapes by Oregon Bar Member Goldschmidt began, not 14, not 15. In his statement Monday, Goldschmidt said, “As I read the obituary last week that gave her date of birth, I now know she was 15 when the first sexual encounter happened. It occurred after the November 1976 elections and ended some months later into the following year.”
But she said she was quite sure when the first incident occurred, “because it was my mother’s birthday.”
There was a party that afternoon at her home in Northeast Portland. It wasn’t unusual to see the mayor of Portland in her kitchen. Her parents were active supporters of Neil Goldschmidt’s political career. Their home was just blocks from the Goldschmidts’ house; campaign involvement had evolved into friendship.
After she entered eighth grade, she said, Neil Goldschmidt, then in his mid-30s, began to recommend books to her and engage her in private conversations. She had shed her baby fat. Her long, dark hair was thick. Photographs of her at 13 show a beautiful adolescent.
Then came January of her eighth-grade year, and her mother’s birthday party. There was a crowd of adults, including Goldschmidt, at the house. “He asked if I wanted to play pingpong,” she said. “We went down (to the basement) and then he said, ‘Oh, do you want to come give me a hug?’ ”
It turned into much more than a hug. It turned into oral sex. She was afraid. She was a virgin, she says. “I’d never even kissed a boy. Far from it.”
That day, in those secretive, terrifying, confusing moments in her own basement, a door opened in her childhood. Her awful future rushed in, and the woman she might have become left forever.
To To a 13-year-old girl, it was terrible and wonderful, confusing and thrilling.
They had sex frequently, she told me. Sometimes the mayor would call the eighth-grader after she got home from school, when her parents were at work. Other times, she said, they’d use secret signals to arrange their meetings.
She would watch from an upstairs window for when his car went by. “Because if the lights blinked,” she said, “it meant he was coming in. If they didn’t, he was just going home.”
She remembered feeling torn. “The attention was flattering. … Among our social group, he was idolized. He was a golden boy who could do no wrong. … And he was incredibly charming. He was also very earthy and sweet and cruel. He was lots of different things.”
In some ways, he was becoming a mentor. He gave her a book: “Cry, the Beloved Country.” He gave her reading lists. He explained city policy issues to her. But the mentoring went further.
He told her how to dress, she said. “He didn’t like the way I looked.” She began to diet. She loved Neil Goldschmidt, she thought. She wanted to please him.
“But there was always a malevolent underlying current, it seemed,” she said. What they did together in private felt secret and dirty. “I’d get these feelings in the pit of my stomach.”
She was a child, with a childlike desire for attention. She didn’t like the sex very much, she says. But she liked the closeness to this man everyone admired.
And, in a childlike way, she believed him. He told her, she said, that someday he’d divorce his then-wife, Margie, and marry her.
“I was so totally naive … so stupid,” she said. “I may have been a little intellectually precocious, but relationship-wise I was as naive as you get.”
She began her freshman year of high school at St. Mary’s Academy in downtown Portland.
It was clear she didn’t fit in with the other 14-year-olds. But then, she wasn’t at school much.
“He’d pick me up by the fountain,” a block from the school, “in the black car,” she said. “He always had a driver.” (by his policeman guard)
After her freshman year, she dropped out of high school. It’s painful for her to think what her life might have been like, had she not dropped out. “I had so much potential,” she said. “I was so bright. I loved to read, I loved to learn.”
Her adolescence should have been an unfolding. Instead she was afraid. She was lonely. And she was getting angry.
“I started feeling like I was being used,” she said. She already was using alcohol and drugs. At 15, she said, she attempted suicide.
She took Valium and drank from a bottle of Grand Marnier, but it didn’t work. “I woke up. I was really groggy.”
Nobody found out, she said. She eventually passed her high school equivalency test and enrolled at the University of Oregon Honors College when she was 18.
“I did it to a certain extent to get away from him,” she said. “But his parents lived in Eugene, and he came to visit me.” They were always surprise visits. One time she returned to her room and he was there, she said.
Of course, by then she was no longer a minor. By then Neil Goldschmidt would not have been committing a crime every time he was intimate with the 18-year-old.
“It was consensual, he would say,” she said. But it didn’t feel like she had a choice, she said: “I felt I was under his control.”
When she moved to New York City in the early 1980s to take summer acting classes, she remembered, he showed up in her apartment, unannounced. “He always seemed to know where I was,” she said.
Neil Goldschmidt has told reporters the relationship lasted varying periods of time. At first, in his interview with The Oregonian, he said nine months. Later, in the same interview, he said “two calendar years.” Other news organizations reported it ended after three years.
She said, though, the sex with Neil Goldschmidt continued throughout his tenure as mayor, his years in Washington, D.C., as U.S. secretary of transportation, the years he worked at Nike and even into his term as Oregon’s governor.
“It lasted until I was 27,” she told me.
By the time she was in her mid-20s, she was scrambling — for rent money, for a good job, for love, for escape from the pain. She used drugs and alcohol more heavily. It was when people thought cocaine was cool, she said. “Before people started dying. We didn’t think it was addictive.”
Her life was on a downward spiral. She had sexual relationships with rock stars, married men, cocaine-snorting attorneys.
And she started sharing the secret. She told her lovers that Neil Goldschmidt had seduced her when she was 13. Or she’d sit at a bar in the Dakota Cafe or the Virginia Cafe and tell strangers.
“I was a blabbermouth,” she said,”because I had started to feel he owed me something.”
The contrast between the life of the respected statesman and the life of the sometimes-unemployed cocktail waitress was stark and painful to her, a former straight-A student who, as a little girl, had once dreamed of becoming a Supreme Court justice.
She attempted suicide several times. She spent time in psychiatric wards in local hospitals, under suicide watch. When she got out, she’d return to work in bars, and to drink in bars. And she’d tell her story to more people.
kulongoski.JPGMichael Lloyd/The OregonianTed Kulongoski and Neil Goldschmidt in 1987 at the announcement that Kulongoski would be the Oregon insurance commissioner.
Word got back to Neil Goldschmidt that she was talking. “A friend of mine had a call from a friend of his and said she was in a public establishment, and I would presume not entirely in great shape, telling the world that she had had a relationship with me,” Goldschmidt told The Oregonian in May 2004.
Suddenly there appeared in her life people she called Neil’s “handlers.” Neil wanted to help, she said they told her. He wanted to help her get her life on track.
In May 2004, when Neil Goldschmidt told The Oregonian his sexual relationship had ended when his victim was a teen, he was vague when asked how many times he’d seen her since. “It wasn’t really ’75 to ’94,” when the settlement agreement was reached, he said. “It was really ’90 to ’91. It was the time after I was elected governor and — I don’t remember, but I mean it was more than twice and — it wasn’t 10 times, it wasn’t eight times, it was — several.”
On Monday, he said, “In the ensuing years, I met with her intermittently at her request always with a third party present and tried to help her with counseling, bills, debts, rehab, and finding a job.”
In those meetings, she said, “first they were going to get me a job in Portland or Salem. Then they must have decided they should get me the hell out of town.”
When she was 27, she said, Neil helped get her a job at a Seattle law firm. “I was very happy in Seattle,” she said. “It was like a new start. I had a beautiful apartment with a view of Elliott Bay.”
But just three months after she began her job at the law firm, a man named Jeffrey L. Jacobsen kidnapped and brutally raped her. He was convicted and is now in prison.
She returned to Portland severely traumatized. Sometimes, in her mind, she’d confuse what Neil Goldschmidt had done to her as a child, and what her attacker had done to her in Seattle. Her fear of the man who was now governor of Oregon was tied, in her brain, to her fear of the man who’d raped her.
Word of the rape eventually reached Goldschmidt. “I subsequently learned she was just brutally assaulted,” Neil Goldschmidt told The Oregonian in May 2004, “and bad things happened up there for which she’s probably blameless, in the sense that she didn’t invite it — I mean literally ask for it. But she was always putting herself in circumstances like that.”
After the rape, she was unable to hold down any job. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she said. She said she saw Neil Goldschmidt only once after the rape. “I was so afraid of him all I could do was cry.” It was their last intimate visit, she said. For the first time since she was 13 years old, she could no longer be in the same room as Neil Goldschmidt.
“After that, I would not answer his phone calls.” In fact, she said, “I actually would vomit every time I heard the phone ring.”
Her drug and alcohol use became even more extreme. She was arrested for trying to buy what turned out to be fake cocaine from a federal agent. After a plea bargain, she was convicted of attempting to possess cocaine. She violated probation by drinking alcohol and ended up in federal prison in Pleasanton, Calif.
Neil Goldschmidt was making deals in a wood-paneled office in Oregon’s state Capitol. His victim was hiding in the fetal position beneath a bunk bed in a California prison cell, howling.
They put her on medication. They sent her for counseling. And, for the first time, she began to understand the enormity of the crimes that had been committed against her.
After 17 years of guilt and shame, she said, “It became clear to me that as a 13-year-old you aren’t capable of making a decision to have an affair.”
It was the counselor, she said, who explained that Neil had broken the law when he had sex with an underage girl. “It wasn’t until I went to prison,” she said, “that I realized he’d taken away my childhood.”
She was released after six months, determined to seek reparation for the damage she believed Neil Goldschmidt had done. One by one, attorneys refused her case. Finally, someone recommended she see Jeff Foote.
Foote, a Portland lawyer, believed her and decided to help her when no one else would. “To this day, he’s never taken a dime in legal fees for everything he’s done for me.”
Foote explained that the statute of limitations had long run out, so there could be no criminal charges filed. But she could still file a civil suit and collect damages. Foote contacted Neil Goldschmidt’s attorney. In the end, “We came to a settlement agreement,” she said. “Jeff thought that was the best thing to do, because I was still emotionally very fragile.”
With regular payments coming in every month from Goldschmidt, her future finally seemed more secure.
She met a big bear of a man in Portland, a man who loved Harley-Davidsons and good food and her, and she married him. They moved to Las Vegas. She started a new life. She tried to forget.
But the nightmares she’d had since she was a teenager continued. She drank too much. She had trouble sleeping. She couldn’t keep jobs. And then, in the late 1990s, the reporters from Oregon started calling.
At first the contacts were sporadic. Reporters would call, fishing for information she had promised never to reveal.
She’d accepted payments. She’d signed documents. So she lied to the reporters: Neil Goldschmidt was a great statesman, she said, a close family friend who had not molested her or threatened her or tried to buy her silence with money or jobs or tried to control her.
But the reporters trusted their instincts more than her protestations. The day the story broke, May 6, 2004, Foote called from Portland and recommended she leave her home to protect herself from a media frenzy.
“I was a total basket case. I didn’t sleep for three days.” She packed a bag and moved into a Las Vegas hotel, the first of many in the area she’d live in for the next few months.
Reporters sent e-mails and letters and phoned requesting interviews, demanding interviews. Media vans parked in front of her house. But they couldn’t find her as she moved from hotel to hotel.
The news brought old feelings to the surface again. “It’s all being rehashed, and I feel the old shame, the guilt, the fear. … Those are feelings I should not be having” — in therapy she had learned she was the victim, not the criminal — “but I have them nonetheless. I’m also lonely. I’m very isolated.”
She worried about money. She couldn’t always afford to pay for the psychiatric medications she needed. The monthly payments from Goldschmidt had ended, she said, and the confidentiality agreement was moot.
“He’s the one who broke the silence, I didn’t,” she said. “My attorney says once he spoke out, I was free to talk as well.” In May 2004, Neil Goldschmidt told The Oregonian that the promise of confidentiality was necessary because “we couldn’t figure out any way that she could start her life over without doing it.”
Now, she wanted to tell her story. She wanted people to understand the true nature of Goldschmidt’s crime. In her opinion it was not a “mistake” that never should have been made public, as his supporters had written. Instead of living in the governor’s mansion, she believed, he should have been in a prison cell.
“He should have been punished. He shouldn’t have been able to have this magnificent political career and hide this huge secret,” she said. “He says (it) worried him for 30 years. I don’t know how much of that I believe.”
As happens to so many victims of child sex abuse, “sexually I had to grow up fast,” she said. “Unfortunately, it made me feel that’s all I was good for. I felt I was less than everyone else. I was just someone’s sexual toy.”
She felt he came forward with his confession and his public apology, his front-page expression of regret, only because he was about to be exposed for what he’d done to her as a child. The only time she ever saw an indication that Neil Goldschmidt took responsibility, she said, was when she was handed a brief statement when the settlement was signed.
“I’m not sure exactly what it said because we had to burn it, or shred it, right after I saw it. I only got to look at it a little while.” She did not remember an apology in the statement. “But I do know he said, ‘It was not your fault.’ It was just one sentence. But he had to say that. … it was part of the agreement.”
She knew there were people in Oregon who felt sorry for Neil Goldschmidt, because the abuse had been made public, because his reputation had been tarnished. Someone sent her a newspaper article saying his ex-wife, Margie Goldschmidt, had thrown a party for Neil, apparently so his old friends could show their support.
“Don’t these people have children?” she wondered. “How would they feel if he’d done this to their daughters?”
One of the reasons Goldschmidt’s victim decided she wanted to speak out is she hoped parents might read her story and become more aware of the need to protect their children from even the most trusted family friends.
“They need to be vigilant, notice behavior changes, the appearance of people. Give your kid a cell phone. Instruct them about the dangers. Talk with them, have family dinners, make sure you know what’s going on in their lives.”
She hoped her family would understand why she wanted to speak out. She hoped they would understand she was tired of being portrayed only as “Goldschmidt’s victim, the throwaway person … this little nothing person nobody ever thought was worth paying attention to or protecting.”
She hoped they would understand her need to finally tell the truth, “to stop keeping the secrets.” She’d felt stronger, she told me, since she decided to speak out. She still had nightmares. But when awake, “I’m not scared anymore. Well, sometimes I get scared,” she said. “But I just can’t let this destroy my life any longer.”
In our many visits, Goldschmidt’s victim occasionally spoke of recovery, of finishing her college degree, of becoming a writer or some other kind of professional. But I think we both knew she was so sick, so broken, the odds were against her. She and her husband divorced and she returned to Portland. For the last five years, she was supported in every way possible by her parents.
She told me she grew close to them in ways she hadn’t experienced since before the abuse began. But the mental illness, the addiction to alcohol, and the memories were more powerful than her wisps of dreams for a better future.
Over the last five years, she called me every few months to check in. She would ask about my life, and share her own struggles. She was honest about her alcoholism and mental illness. She tried and failed to keep jobs.
She began to write and joined a writers’ group. She called me about a year ago and asked me to help her write her autobiography. But then she became too ill to do the work.
She died of undisclosed causes Jan. 16 in a local hospice. Her death was not a surprise to me. Even in 2004, when we first met, there had been so little life left in her.
“She was a beautiful, brilliant person,” her mother told The Oregonian. “She was a good person who suffered a great deal in her life.”
She was a very good person. She deserved far more than years of abuse and a shattered adult life. At least now her story has been told.
– Margie Boule is a former columnist for The Oregonian.