Slain Dancer Felt Trapped, Friends Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tiffany Paige Schultz was a bright woman with an inquiring mind who loved the novels of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. She was the daughter of a county supervisor in Northern California, wanted to be an English professor and was heading toward a degree at San Diego State University.

But that picture, true as it is, of a confident and ambitious young woman showed only one side of Tiffany Schultz. Friends also describe her as someone who felt trapped in her job as a nude dancer and trapped in her second abusive relationship with a man.

The 20-year-old was found dead early Saturday, the victim of multiple stab wounds. Police have arrested Christopher James Burns, 28, her roommate and boyfriend, and booked him on suspicion of murder.

Kathleen Pierce, manager of Les Girls, where Schultz danced, said Tuesday that she is angry with the media for depicting the killing as the act of a jealous boyfriend who could no longer fathom his lover's nude dancing in front of dozens of other men.

Pierce said the conclusion is inaccurate, that Burns had been beating Schultz for almost a year--virtually the entire time they had known each other.

Lt. Gary Learn, who runs the homicide unit for the San Diego Police Department, said Burns is being held without bail in County Jail, but he refused to give details of the killing. Arraignment was scheduled for today.

Pierce, who said Schultz was hired at Les Girls last summer, several months after becoming involved with Burns, said the dancer told her she was trapped in a destructive relationship.

"She was trying desperately to leave him," Pierce said. "The police don't want me to say anything about this, they feel it will prejudice the trial, but I don't like Paige being cast as the heavy, as though her dancing is what led to this crime.

"She often came to work with bruises on her wrists and ankles. She had told this guy several times she wanted to leave, that she did not wish to continue an abusive relationship. She said he tied her up and hit her and that he was a deviant person sexually. She said he enjoyed watching movies in which men behaved violently toward women."

Bill Schultz, the father of the slain dancer, is a member of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. He said he had met Burns on Thanksgiving, when his daughter brought him home to meet the family.

"Tiffany told me that she wanted to go back home and re-evaluate the relationship, that she was not real comfortable with it," Bill Schultz said by telephone from his home in Grass Valley, where the young woman grew up. "She felt like drugs were involved, and she never would have had anything to do with drugs. I don't know what kind of drugs, but I believe that to be a factor in her wanting to end the relationship.

"I don't know if he had been mean to her or not. She knew he was a very volatile person, and she was a little bit afraid."

Schultz had told friends--including Pierce--that she was the child of an alcoholic, which her father acknowledged.

"I've been sober for 15 years," he said. "I've been in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) for about that long. But, for the first five years of Tiffany's life, well, it affected her as it would the child of any alcoholic. It's a devastating disease; it creates all kinds of stigmas. My stepfather was an alcoholic, so I know what it's like."

Bill Schultz said his alcoholism might have contributed to low self-esteem in his daughter, but he said he was shocked to learn she was employed as a nude "go-go girl" at a club that places no limit on how little its dancers wear. Because Les Girls does not serve alcohol, its dancers are not required to be licensed and can be as young as 18.

Bill Schultz said he learned of the Les Girls job after the killing, when he was told by Tiffany's stepsister, his daughter from a previous marriage.

"I hated it, but Tiffany was not a wild girl; she was very conservative in her thinking," he said. "She was a real caring young lady. As a child, she was just a lovely little girl."

Thomas K. Arnold, a friend of Schultz's, said he met her at a sporting goods shop and later hired her as his secretary.

'She Was Brilliant'

"She was brilliant; she talked a lot about writers," Arnold said. "She knew Vonnegut really well. But once she told me that in a previous relationship (not the one with Burns), this guy had beat her up a lot. In conversation, when I would confront her about it, she would say, 'I feel so bad about it; I cry all the time, but my self-esteem is zero.'

"She said her dad was an alcoholic and that her mother didn't care about her. She had this crazy side, though. Once, she went roller-skating on the boardwalk wearing only a bikini and G-string. I think she liked being an exhibitionist."

Arnold said Schultz told him in September, shortly after taking the job at Les Girls, that she wanted to quit but somehow "never found the courage." He said she "felt horrible about it, totally desperate," but depended on the income, which he said ranged from $300 to $600 a day.

(Pierce, the manager of Les Girls, said that "$100 a day in tips, plus $35 a shift, is more like it. I've read these estimates of $200 to $600 a day, and they're way off. They're ridiculous.")

Arnold said he had met Burns, who impressed him as the "proverbial nice guy. She told me he was turned off by the job at Les Girls and wanted her to stop dancing nude."

'The Mellowest Guy'

Aaron Olivas, another acquaintance, said he had known Burns and Schultz about a year and was closer to Burns. Olivas said he had heard from Schultz that Burns disliked her dancing and wanted her to stop.

"But there's no way he could have murdered her; I just don't believe he did it," Olivas said. "Around me, they looked like the perfect couple. They were always talking about getting married. I can't imagine Chris doing it. He's the mellowest guy anybody could know."

Olivas said Schultz hated the dancing, "but the cash kept rolling in. I heard it was a pretty good dollar amount every night, like $200 to $400 a night. You know, she was like anybody. The more you make, the more you want."

Ray Hamel, the owner of Hamel's Action Sports, said Schultz came to work as a cashier and saleswoman in June, 1989, and quit in August when she took the job at Les Girls. He said the slaying was "a complete shock to everybody who works here. . . . She was just this blue-eyed, petite, curly-haired blonde."

"When we heard about it Saturday, it took our breath away, and then when we heard Chris was a suspect, it was a big double whammy. I would never suspect him of doing something like that. They had had little quarrels, but no more than anybody in any relationship. She was a real independent kid. She was putting herself through school and had bought her own car."

Pierce, who manages 25 nude dancers at Les Girls, near the San Diego Sports Arena, said she worked as a dancer in the early 1970s. She said many of the women who take the stage come from abusive families in which their fathers molested them or vented their anger in alcoholic rages.

Pierce said she cares about the long-term welfare of the women she employs, urging them to seek an education and put away their money. The recording that answers the phone at Les Girl notes that "our club is managed entirely by women. You won't have doormen trying to put the make on you, which keeps your husband and your boyfriend happy. A dancer with a happy home life becomes a better dancer. We encourage all dancers to make something of themselves. Dancing is creative and exciting."

A Dimly Lit Room

On a recent night at Les Girls, the 50 or so men in attendance called out suggestively from the confines of a dimly lit room. At one point, a man crumpled up a wad of money and hurled it at a stripper, striking her on the leg. She yelled at him, and he yelled back.

The dancers at Les Girls declined to be interviewed, but next door, Sequoyah Scott, manager of The Body Shop, which also features nude dancing, said "jealous boyfriends and husbands" are "an old problem in this business, and I been in it 25 years." Scott said that, eight years ago, one of his dancers was killed by her husband.

"He just couldn't handle her doing it in front of all those men," Scott said. "He didn't like it at the beginning, and obviously he hated it at the end."

Nevada Lowe, 21, a dancer at The Body Shop, said she didn't know Schultz but said she understood why a seemingly conservative young woman would have become a nude dancer.

Lowe said she is studying to become a travel agent, but that it is more than just money--up to $400 a night--that motivates her to take her clothes off and gyrate in front of strangers. She said "scores" of nude dancers were abused as children, and the sheer audacity of what they do now gives them a power over men that, as children, they never knew.

The problem is, she said, the power can turn, and, when it does, violence often results.

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