Family’s Pain Fueled by 21 Years of Waiting
Patti Linebaugh spoke in a voice that was the consummate mixture of wonder and disgust:
“They called him a model patient! They said he was totally rehabilitated.”
They were wrong. Theodore Frank was still a monster.
Six weeks after he was released with fulsome commendations from a state mental hospital in 1978, he tortured, raped and killed Linebaugh’s 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter.
The murder of Amy Sue Seitz helped to change the treatment of sex offenders in California. It helped establish laws allowing people to identify convicted molesters in their neighborhoods. It helped the nationwide movement for victims’ rights. It helped change the state Supreme Court. It helped alert children to the stranger driving slowly up and down the block, the uncle who wants them to play a game and not tell anybody about it.
But for Amy Sue’s family, it has done nothing but hurt.
Today, Patti Linebaugh works in a busy Camarillo escrow firm. For seven years, her assistant has been Sheryl Roberts--her daughter and Amy Sue’s mom.
They sat before a wall of family photos in Linebaugh’s office Tuesday. Stacks of real estate documents were neatly piled along the wall. The phone occasionally rang as the two women recalled the horror’s latest anniversary.
On Sunday, they had visited Amy Sue’s grave. Exactly 21 years before, she had been lured from her baby-sitter’s backyard.
“I’ll never forget that call,” Linebaugh said as tears filled her eyes. “ ‘Mom, they can’t find Amy Sue . . . ‘ “
Two days later, a teenager woke up in his Topanga Canyon home, glanced out the window and saw that his dog had dragged something up from the barranca. The remains were taken to the Los Angeles coroner’s office, where Linebaugh identified them.
So much time has passed. Roberts went on to have three sons, a boy who is now 13 and twins who are 17. Linebaugh went on to enjoy the hubbub of 14 grandchildren bustling through her life.
On fire with anger, she started a national group called SLAM--Society’s League Against Molesters. After several years, she bowed out and the group dissolved, but in the meantime, laws had been changed and public awareness raised.
For both women, there have been new jobs, new relationships--a world of change except for one immutable fact. Theodore Frank--the man who forced beer down Amy Sue’s throat, who took a pair of vise grips to their precious baby and did things you wouldn’t do to any living being--Theodore Frank is still alive. And Amy Sue is not.
“I’m very disillusioned with the judicial system,” Linebaugh said. “The death penalty is definitely a mockery. There’s no way this should take 20-plus years.”
Frank was sentenced to death in 1979. However, the state Supreme Court overturned that sentence six years later. The judges ruled that it had been improper for prosecutors to introduce diaries in which Frank wrote of his passion for molesting children. Largely as a result, Chief Justice Rose Bird was voted out of office.
After another sentencing hearing, Frank again was given the death penalty. His case now languishes in federal court. A prosecutor said it could take years--who’s to say whether two or 10--before a resolution.
Meanwhile, Amy Sue’s mother and grandmother cringe when they see parents let their small children run around alone in toy stores or out in the street.
“They’re so convinced that it can’t happen here or it can’t happen to my kids,” Roberts said. “But it can.”
Meanwhile, Frank paints watercolors on San Quentin’s death row. His favorite subjects are children, sometimes partially clothed. His work has been featured in exhibits of prison art. A few parents even have commissioned him to paint, sending in photos of their children.
Whether Frank will be put to death may depend as much on his health as on the courts. He survived a heart attack in prison and underwent triple-bypass surgery--at taxpayer’s expense, Linebaugh acidly notes.
Still, both mother and daughter look forward to his execution, however remote that may be. “He sneered at us in the courtroom,” Linebaugh said. “He never showed an ounce of remorse. I’d like the personal satisfaction of seeing the fear in his face as he’s walked into the death chamber.”
Some things never end. The family’s pain goes on, and, even with Frank’s death, will not end. Frank’s life trickles on, but his legacy of horror will endure.
All that’s over, as it was 21 years ago, is Amy Sue’s life.
Steve Chawkins is a Times staff writer. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.