It was a steamy day this summer when a top-40 disc jockey at radio station Y-100 was solicited on the air by a woman with a sultry voice. Calling was Kathy Willets, the accused prostitute with a long client list of nervous Ft. Lauderdale businessmen and a sheriff's deputy-husband named Jeff, who may be headed to jail as a pimp. She had a song request.
DJ: This isn't Kathy from the nympho section?
KW: This is THE nympho. . . .
DJ: How's the case going?
KW: It's going great. . . .
DJ: How have you been able to handle the nympho problem since you got arrested?
KW: It's been tough. (She giggles.)
DJ: You still must have the drive.
KW: Well, I was down in Jamaica, and I took care of some problems down there. (More giggles.)
DJ: . . . . So what do you do now that you're back in the States?
KW: Well, I've been putting Jeff to work a little bit extra. (More titters.)
Even in South Florida, where years of mayhem and madness had many residents believing they could no longer be shocked, the Willets sex scandal trial is off the charts. Even by California standards, where a lucrative porn industry and bedrock Christian conservatism flourish side by side, Kathy and Jeff are no ordinary couple.
On the one hand, if they're convicted, there may be nothing unusual about a hard-working hooker and her protective pimp trying to make a few bucks off the local citizenry. So they got caught. Another day, another routine arrest, from a region where the summer blockbuster criminal news is about a Kennedy family member accused of rape and a former Panamanian dictator awaiting trial in a cushy jail.
Still, the Willetses' tale seems like no other. It is a sensational story of a cop who says he suffers from spells of impotence and can't satisfy his wife, who claims she is a nymphomaniac. Allegedly to cope with their sexual mismatch, the two say they established a $2,000-a-week brothel in their suburban home. She found the customers through the classifieds; he spied on her sexual encounters from their bedroom closet and kept notes.
Their flamboyant lawyer is making the novel argument that the voyeurism was central to the "therapy" the husband chose to save his marriage.
And there's more.
There's a steamy videotape, a tabloid television imbroglio, a rare police raid on a law office, wiretapping charges, possible blackmail charges and--a confiscated nipple ring.
There is also the list, rather, The List. The Willetses allegedly kept careful records of about 50 John Does, known locally as "John Doughs" because so many are supposedly so rich.
A half-dozen of Kathy's alleged clients have hired lawyers to keep The List out of the hands of the local media. Jeff Harris, who represents one of the men, says his client is very distraught that The List may be made public.
"This is like a living hell for him," says Harris. "He is bleeding daily. He anticipates that his name will be disclosed, and he's not faring real well, to be candid."
Already enmeshed in the scandal is Ft. Lauderdale Vice Mayor John Danziger, a moral crusader who was so anti-vice that he once persuaded the city to shut its nude bars. After police sources leaked to reporters that Danziger's business card was in Kathy Willets' bedroom, he resigned for "personal reasons."
If an appeals court judge concurs that other names should be made public, Kathy Willets has teased that other big shots may fall. She told the local DJ:
DJ: Any big-time Ft. Lauderdale politicians?
DJ: Dade County officials?
DJ: Judges and lawyers?
He was a 6-foot-6 hunk of a sheriff's deputy with a lackluster record and a sad personal life that saw him lose a young daughter to leukemia.
She was a self-proclaimed sexpot, divorced, with two young children and a resume that included secretarial work in a brokerage house and waitressing in a nude-dance bar.
Kathy Fede and Jeffrey Willets met one Thursday evening in 1985 when he pulled her over to issue a traffic ticket. Within a week, he had paid her fines and left his wife for the woman with the broken taillights.
They married and were living merrily-ever-after in Tamarac, a northwest suburb of Ft. Lauderdale, until May, 1990, when Kathy began taking the anti-depressant Prozac. That, her lawyer asserts, is when trouble began.
Although physicians familiar with the drug say sexual frenzies are not a known side effect, Kathy's lawyer insists the drug jump-started her sex drive to the point where she had to have sex seven or eight times a day. Her husband simply couldn't keep up.
"I'm your average American housewife," Kathy Willets, 33, cooed to an interviewer on "A Current Affair," the TV tabloid show that already has devoted multiple episodes to the South Florida sex saga. A single touch, she added, could trigger uncontrollable desire.
To quench her appetite and deal with Jeff's bout of impotence, the Willetses say they decided to recruit, well, a little help.
She began taking out personal ads in a local paper, pitching herself as a "beautiful, young, frosted blonde" seeking a "generous, selective, successful executive for very discreet day/evening interludes," according to police. The ad also included a 900 number that allowed potential customers to hear a message from a lusty-voiced woman listing her physical assets and inviting them to send a business card to a post office box.
At $50 to $150 an encounter, the Willetses' "therapy" apparently was going along just fine until a 54-year-old businessman became emotionally involved with Kathy. He called police after a tryst with her because he heard snoring from the closet and became concerned that she was turning tricks under duress. He also told police that Jeffrey Willets, 41, left him a threatening message on his answering machine.
On July 23, a team of Jeffrey's colleagues from the Broward County Sheriff's Department raided the Willets home and discovered Kathy with a client who admitted to paying her $150 for sex. Deputies found his cash in her top dresser drawer, an appointment book with his name inked in for that hour, a slew of business cards and a Rolodex with names and numbers.
Later, deputies searched Jeffrey Willets' patrol car and found a tablet with his notes about his wife's sex partners, such as "Talked too much" or "Mon. 5/27 Gary $150 2 times Good 8:30-12:30 Watched."
"He wouldn't be the first pimp to watch his prostitute at work," explains George Crolius, a spokesman for the sheriff's department.
Jeff was immediately arrested and charged with the third-degree felony of living off the earnings of a prostitute; he also was immediately suspended from the Broward force without pay. A few days later Kathy was arrested on four counts of prostitution, a misdemeanor.
After that, authorities brought additional charges against the couple--this time for wiretapping. The Willetses illegally taped five hours of her conversations with clients over the bedroom phone, authorities say.
While being booked at the sheriff's department, officers confiscated Kathy's underwire bra and nipple ring, claiming they could be used as weapons. She later complained that they failed to return the nipple ring. But Crolius says she could have retrieved her personal items "if she hadn't been in such a hurry to get in front of the TV cameras to complain."
Indeed, the Willets case is one part criminal and nine parts sensation, and the news media have needed little prodding to cover its every turn. But if public interest does flag, the couple has as their counsel a master at orchestrating publicity, a self-described maverick lawyer whose 1989 autobiography is called "Get Me Ellis Rubin." His specialty is the novel defense, from "television intoxication" to autoeroticism.
For Kathy Willets, Ellis Rubin came up with the "nymphomania defense." She confesses that she had never heard the word nymphomania before. He doesn't deny that. "I've used the term sex surrogacy too, and she never heard of that either," he says.
Last week, just when it seemed the sleazy saga would be waning because Rubin and prosecutors had reached a plea bargain agreement, the drama reignited.
Steve Wilson, a reporter for the syndicated television show "Inside Edition," asserted that two attorneys in Rubin's office, including his son, Guy, tried to peddle a videotape of Kathy Willets having sex with Danziger. The price: $100,000, which included an interview and nude photo session with Kathy.
As prosecutors backed away from the plea bargain deal, Ellis Rubin hotly denied the "Inside Edition" charges, calling Wilson's accusation "a blatant, diabolical attempt to separate me, and remove me, from my clients."
But on Tuesday, "Inside Edition" aired a secret videotape of the meeting in Rubin's office, where Guy Rubin clearly appears to be offering Wilson a package deal for the Willets videotape.
The Miami Herald also reported that the same videotape had earlier been offered by Jeff Willets to a well-known Danziger foe, the owner of a nude bar that the then-vice mayor had been trying to shut. The bar owner declined the offer.
Now, prosecutors want that videotape as part of a blackmail investigation. On Saturday, police raided Rubin's office and, waving search warrants, carted away about 50 videos. The tape of Kathy Willets and a client was not among them.
Reporter Wilson says he has seen the videotape, however. In an interview with WSVN-TV in Miami, he described it as "an X-rated bedroom scene, very explicit," too graphic for broadcast on television. "There's no question it's Mr. Danziger and Kathy Willets," Wilson says.
At one time, according to Rubin, he offered to turn the tape over to prosecutors. But not now. With the raid on his offices, he says, "they changed the rules of the game."
But J. David Bogenschutz, Danziger's attorney, says Rubin had better stick to the basics of whether his clients broke the rules.
"This started out as a pure prostitution case, then mushroomed into this gargoyle with a life of its own," says Bogenschutz, who adds that, "I don't think Wilson is a liar; he thought he saw my client."
"We've moved away from the real reason this is going on, which is that the Willetses are charged with crimes."
Anyone living in South Florida this summer would have had a hard time eluding the crimes and misdemeanors of Kathy and Jeff Willets.
The media have been slobbering: The Willetses have appeared often in photos on the front pages of the Miami Herald, the Ft. Lauderale Sun-Sentinel and other Florida newspapers. Inside, there have been reports of developments in the case, as well as accompanying articles detailing Kathy's Roman Catholic schooling, Jeff's disciplinary problems as an officer, and the couple's occasionally violent marital spats and financial troubles--the bank is foreclosing on their house.
In addition to the newspaper coverage, there has been no shortage of TV footage devoted to the case. Last month, when the pair went tripping off to Jamaica's Hedonism II resort, where they could frolic naked and get away from it all, "A Current Affair" captured numerous private moments of the couple, hand in hand, on the island's white sands, as well as Kathy on other beaches, topless, naked or wearing a lacy top.
The people of South Florida have been collectively chuckling.
Ft. Lauderdale City Commissioner Jim Naugle says the downtown crowd has privately labeled this summer's story "Last Tango in Tamarac." Since Kathy let slip that one of her best lovers was named Ray, another citizen reports, upstanding ladies have been mischievously introducing their husbands "Ray."
Meanwhile, buttons proclaiming "I'M NOT ON THE LIST" are selling for $3 a clip; T-shirts are also available. Last week the local muscular dystrophy society held a fund-raiser in which Jeff and Kathy look-alikes sold phony "lists" and "videotapes" for charity.
The Willetses themselves seem likely to show up just about anywhere--even in the middle of a football game. Yes, there they were last Thursday on ESPN's nationwide telecast of the University of Miami-University of Houston contest, with lawyer Rubin, happily signing autographs for fans of football and scandal, many of whom waved credit cards and $20 bills at the couple.
"People getting their autographs!" exclaims Mary Ann Chaddon, Jeff's former mother-in-law, who watched them on TV carrying on like celebrities in the Orange Bowl. "It's hard to believe I'm in the middle of this."
Chaddon has found herself in the midst of the Kathy-and-Jeff show for almost three years, as she and her husband have waged a custody battle over the 7-year-old daughter of Jeff and the Chaddons' daughter Deborah. Deborah and Jeff were married in 1977 and had two children: Kristin died of leukemia at age 3; Ashley was born shortly before Jeff left Deborah for Kathy.
Three years after Jeff left her, Deborah died in a car crash and Ashley, her surviving daughter, went to live with the Willetses in Tamarac.
With the couple's arrest, the Chaddons were granted temporary custody.
"This is all quite a shock," Mary Ann Chaddon says. "When Jeff was married to my daughter, I never would have thought this could happen. (Kathy) doesn't show any shame, and all this doesn't seem to bother him either. . . . She came across as someone who was poured into her clothes, with a mouth like a truck driver. She used four-letter words in front of our granddaughter. This hasn't been easy for any of us."
With talk of blackmail, and another investigation into the ethical conduct of Rubin and his colleagues over the videotape, the Willets case seems to have taken a more sinister twist in the past few days. It seems less titillating, less fun, than it once was. But obviously, the tale of Kathy and Jeff--his deputy's car in the garage, he in the closet, she in bed--is far from over. An appeals court is expected to rule within days on the release of the client list.
Kathy and Jeff, meanwhile, went to Chicago this week, reportedly to tape the Oprah Winfrey show.
And though one might suspect otherwise, the Willetses' summer run as the stars of a steamy soap opera of their own making seems to have only strengthened the couple's marriage--which is what they say all the extramarital sex was about in the first place. In fact, the day Kathy called the radio station, she asked that her request be dedicated to Jeff. The song: Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately (That I Love You)."
Clary reported from Miami and Baum reported from New York.