Back-Road Crimes : Suspect in Series of Rapes, Holdups Kept to Small Towns

TIMES STAFF WRITER

During what authorities say was a two-month odyssey of rape, armed robbery, kidnaping and general brutality, Timothy Daniel Shue, 38, was essentially a small-town criminal.

The parolee from Cadillac, Mich.--who was finally arrested last week on suspicion of abducting and raping a Val Verde real estate agent--allegedly chose tiny towns and out-of-the-way places to commit a series of crimes that spanned half a continent.

Shue's common appearance--light-brown hair, hazel eyes, average height and medium build--may have helped him fade into small-town America. So may his ability to project an easy, sincere and even charming personality.

Those same qualities, authorities now say, also helped him gain his freedom after years in prison, enabling him to convince judges and parole officers that he had turned over a new leaf after serving 11 years in prison for armed robbery.

The crimes that law enforcement agencies attribute to Shue since April include takeover robberies and rapes in the Michigan towns of Grand Haven, Petoskey and Wyoming; a rape and kidnaping in Perrysburg, Ohio; a robbery in Topeka, Kan. The list goes on.

By avoiding the bright lights of big cities, Shue also avoided their relatively sophisticated law enforcement agencies, enabling him to stay at least one crime ahead of the FBI, which had tracked him from frigid north-central Michigan to the deserts of Southern California and then, last week, to Utah.

He was finally arrested Wednesday in Ogden after showing off his small-caliber handgun to a stripper at a club called the Ladies of Lace.

"He looked like the typical 50-year-old guy, like the golfer type, looking for a younger chick," said the woman, 23-year-old Kelly Hocking. "He came off as being very decent before he pulled the gun out."

Law enforcement officials familiar with the background of Shue--who will be extradited from Utah to Los Angeles this week--said they were surprised to hear that he had apparently fallen back into a life of crime.

"He was very intelligent, and just an exemplary prisoner," recalled U.S. Circuit Judge Charles Corwin, who sentenced Shue to prison for robbing a shoe store north of Cadillac in 1982. "When he was on parole, he reported when he was supposed to, without problems. He did everything right. . . . This is one of those nightmares that (judges) have."

But Gordon Baas, Shue's probation officer, described him as a chameleon-like man who seemed to meet anyone's expectations.

To a judge he was open. To a parole officer he was dependable. To a defense attorney he was sincere.

"Either he snapped or there was a deep, dark something lurking in him that he was able to suppress for some time," Baas said. "I really don't know if we'll ever know."

Shue grew up in Cadillac, population 10,000, isolated between two lakes and on the edge of a national forest. He came of age there during the turbulent 1970s and 1980s, when the state of Michigan saw automotive jobs disappear.

Shue dropped out of Cadillac High as a senior and within three years was convicted of his first adult crime, larceny. While serving 17 months behind bars, he completed his high school equivalency degree through a community college program.

While out on parole the following year, he was convicted again, this time for burglary and auto theft, but eight months later walked away from a halfway house in Muskegon, Mich. When he was caught, he was sent back to jail with a longer sentence and not paroled until June, 1981.

It was in 1982 that the 26-year-old Shue committed the crime that kept him in custody for most of his adult life. He robbed a discount shoe store at gunpoint.

After a two-day trial in December, 1982, Judge William R. Peterson sentenced him to 30 to 50 years in prison.

Shue might still be in prison today were it not for a legal technicality that helped him win a new trial. Then, before the retrial started, Shue suddenly admitted his guilt--and announced he had gotten religion.

"He claimed he had found Christ and confessed everything in minute detail," said Judge Corwin. "He said he didn't want to put anyone through another trial."

Peterson, the judge who had earlier sentenced Shue, was apparently impressed by his conversion and his good behavior in jail: He cut Shue's sentence in half, to between 15 and 30 years. After more legal maneuvering, Shue was paroled in July, 1993, and returned to Cadillac, living at his mother's house.

"I thought he was going to straighten out," said attorney Edward TenHouten, who once represented Shue.

For a while, it appeared that Shue was trying: He took a job his parole officer had gotten him washing dishes in a restaurant, then a job at a factory. He moved out on his own, rented a cabin, enrolled part time in college and started making payments on a used car.

"On the surface, it seemed like he was making a positive step," said Baas, his parole officer. "I never got the impression that he developed any lofty goals, but he seemed to get contentment from small accomplishments . . . including adjusting to being part of the community."

Yet despite his claims of having become religious, Shue rarely went to church, his parole officer recalls. And law enforcement officials said there soon were hints that he might not be devoting all his time to the Ten Commandments.

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In February, he ran up $1,000 worth of "900" phone sex calls, said one officer. By late April, he stopped showing up for meetings with parole officer Baas.

About the same time, a string of brutal attacks began in rural towns in northern Michigan.

On April 25, in Grand Haven, located on Lake Michigan, an armed man wearing a black mask and gloves entered a business where a lone woman was working. He robbed her and stole her ATM card and credit cards.

Less than a month later, in an town called Wyoming, a masked man entered a home through an unlocked door, and this time raped a woman before stealing her credit and ATM cards.

Two weeks later, on May 30, a masked man robbed a house in Harbor Springs, after again entering through an unlocked door. About 90 minutes later the man entered a home in Petoskey through an unlocked door, tied up a husband and raped his wife.

Hours later, police say, Shue was videotaped by an ATM camera getting cash with the victim's bank card.

Authorities did not connect the four crimes, however, until at least a week later. In an effort to identify the man in the ATM video, Michigan state police on June 7 released his picture to local media and set up a toll-free tip line--producing several tips that the man was Shue.

Shue then fled the state, authorities said, driving south in his 1988 Pontiac. The car, which he had bragged about to his parole officer just weeks earlier, now had a dent in the front from an accident with a deer.

On June 9, a daytime armed robbery and rape were reported at a roadside motel in Perrysburg, Ohio. Police said the assailant told his victim: "You'll soon know who I am."

The following day, the FBI issued federal warrants for Shue for unlawful flight and using the ATM card stolen in Petoskey.

Meanwhile, Shue apparently was headed south, then west. In Kansas, authorities have tied him to a robbery in Topeka. In Grand Junction, Colo., authorities say he cashed three stolen $100 traveler's checks at three convenience stores on June 17.

Next, Shue apparently headed north. Idaho state police found his car at Boise Airport and learned he had rented a teal-colored Jeep Cherokee, using a credit card from the Topeka robbery.

On June 20, in Yakima, Wash., Shue pawned a camera, using his own identification.

Three days later, a 41-year-old woman was raped and robbed at gunpoint at a boutique in Medford, Ore. Authorities believe that, too, was Shue's work.

South in Eureka, Calif., Shue on June 25 used his own credit card at a coffee shop. Heading down the coast, he passed through Pismo Beach, where police believe he switched license plates with another car, and continued south toward Los Angeles.

On June 29, he allegedly walked into a Century 21 office in Castaic and persuaded real estate agent Paula Harrington, 26, to show him houses in Val Verde--and let him drive there. She and the other agents in the office said Shue did nothing to make them suspicious.

But soon, Harrington recalled, "The gun was in my face and I was on the floor tied up."

Two days later, police found her bound and partially gagged in a Gila Bend, Ariz., motel room. Shue, however, had slipped away again.

On July 5, police say, he held up a woman at a motel in Utah, stealing her ATM card.

The next day, Shue's long run ended. Ogden police were called to Ladies of Lace at 2 a.m. to kick out a man who was disturbing the peace. Shue gave them a fake name, but as they booked him, officers found his real identification. A computer check revealed the federal warrants.

After an extradition hearing there last week, defense attorney Reid Lambert described Shue as seeming calm and gentle. "You would be surprised," he said, "to learn he has any criminal history."

Times special correspondent Mark Sabbatini contributed to this story.

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