By early evening, the lobby of a swanky downtown hotel was awash in porn stars. Men in shiny suits and open-collared shirts, women in stilettos and see-through dresses, and even a couple connected by a dog collar were pouring into the Xbiz Awards, a sort of adult film industry Golden Globes with categories such as “Taboo-Themed Release of the Year” and “Best Sex Scene — Virtual Reality.”
The red carpet that January night was a testament to the event’s popularity, with dozens of photographers and hundreds of would-be subjects. It wasn’t long before a line formed.
One of those waiting was Amie Harwick, a West Hollywood therapist who had received a free ticket for charity work she did for adult performers. A onetime model, the 38-year-old had told friends she was excited to have her picture taken, and had put on bright-red lipstick and a knee-length black dress that recalled a leading lady in a 1940s film noir.
The line moved in fits and starts and then stopped altogether as the event’s host, adult star Stormy Daniels, passed by in a glamorous up-do and silvery beaded gown. Harwick was still waiting to put a toe on the red carpet when a familiar pair of hazel eyes in the crowd met hers.
That moment outside a ballroom at the JW Marriott hotel was the beginning of the end of Harwick’s life, according to authorities and her friends. Thirty days later, police would find her mortally wounded outside her Hollywood Hills home and arrest the ex-boyfriend who crossed paths with her at the awards show after years of estrangement.
Gareth Pursehouse, 41, was charged with murder and faces a possible death sentence. He is being held without bail. His lawyer, Patrick Hare of the public defender’s office, did not return messages seeking comment. Pursehouse is scheduled to be arraigned on March 4.
Los Angeles Police Department investigators have questioned Harwick’s friends and acquaintances about the red carpet encounter with Pursehouse, a photographer who was covering the awards show, and his subsequent behavior toward her, suggesting it will be an important part of the case against him.
The former couple hadn’t seen each other for eight years, and Pursehouse became furious and weepy at the sight of Harwick, according to interviews with attendees and friends. They said she initially responded with kind words and an impromptu therapy session on the sidelines of the event, but soon came to see him as a threat to her safety.
“Gareth found my number online and he messaged me,” she texted a friend the day after the awards show. “He keeps texting and sounds unstable.”
The pair had lived together a decade ago in Sherman Oaks. She was working as a model and performance artist, and he was a software engineer who had a side gig photographing adult industry events.
The relationship soured in 2011 and he became violent, according to allegations she made in a pair of restraining order applications.
“He has told me he hit me ‘because I made him so mad.’ He refused to get help while in relationship,” she wrote.
A year after they called it quits, he was still harassing her, she told a judge in 2012. She said he repeatedly broke into her apartment complex, once smashing 10 picture frames against her door, another time taping four dozen flowers to her door and a third time standing “outside my door playing music,” she wrote in the filing.
A Superior Court judge barred Pursehouse from contact with her until 2015.
In the years after their relationship, Harwick became a licensed marriage and family therapist and earned a doctorate in human sexuality. She published an erotic handbook, “The New Sex Bible for Women,” opened a therapy practice and began volunteering for Pineapple Support, a nonprofit that provides low-cost mental health counseling to adult performers.
She had many clients and friends in the entertainment industry and was engaged to the comedian and “Price Is Right” host Drew Carey. They split two years ago.
Pursehouse drifted away from the adult industry and got a job at Internet Brands, an online services company in El Segundo, according to an online resume and information he gave police.
Harwick told friends she suspected that Pursehouse was still stalking her. She told them of a series of break-ins at homes where she had lived. She said that in one, only her photo albums were taken, and another time, her laptop was wiped so that all of her files and settings were erased, they recalled. She wondered if Pursehouse had anything to do with the incidents.
In mid-January, Harwick spoke at an adult industry convention about mental health on behalf of Pineapple Support and received a free ticket to the Jan. 16 award show.
“She said to me, ‘Oh, that’s cool, I want to go to that,’” said close friend Robert Coshland. “If there was something she hadn’t done, she wanted to do it.”
Asked about Pursehouse’s presence, Xbiz would say only that he was “one of many qualified photographers and members of the press credentialed to cover the event.”
Hernando Chaves, a Beverly Hills sex therapist who attended the event with Harwick, said he left her and another acquaintance in the red carpet line to get drinks. A short time later, he said, the acquaintance rushed up to him and said, “You need to get over here. This guy is yelling at your friend.”
Chaves said he arrived as Pursehouse appeared to be finishing up a tirade, telling her, “You are a hypocrite. You broke my heart. How can you be here?”
Harwick later told friends that Pursehouse had been so upset that he dropped to the ground in a fetal position.
“He was reciting voicemails from 2012 at her,” Coshland said she told him.
Harwick attempted to calm Pursehouse and led him to a nearby bench where they talked privately, Chaves said.
“She was in what I saw as therapist mode,” Chaves said. “I saw her nodding her head, listening. She was trying to de-escalate the situation.”
After about 45 minutes, Chaves said, he approached them and suggested Harwick wrap up the conversation since the red carpet was about to close. She did, leaving Pursehouse on the bench.
If she was upset, Harwick didn’t show it on the red carpet. Pictures show her smiling gamely and striking poses.
“She immediately ran up and hugged me and I had no idea anything was wrong,” said photographer Chris Brody, who knew Harwick from her modeling days.
At some point, Pursehouse joined other photographers on the red carpet. He was conspicuous because he wore a red shirt while many who shoot events wear black to blend in, photographers working that evening said.
He also was darting along the red carpet rather than sticking to one spot, and at times bumping into people, they said. “He was definitely in my way and a little bit annoying,” said Tasia Wells, a photographer shooting that night for Getty Images.
In the middle of the awards show, Pursehouse approached Harwick’s table and asked if they could speak further after it was over, Chaves said. She agreed and they resumed their conversation on a bench outside the ballroom for about half an hour, he said.
The friends had planned to go to after-parties, but Harwick felt too shaken by the encounter with Pursehouse. At a diner, she told Chaves she needed a “safety plan” and mentioned going to the police and buying pepper spray.
“She was in fear,” he recalled.
By the next day, Pursehouse was calling and texting, according to friends.
“I didn’t want to talk to him and wished him the best,” she told Chaves in a text. “His response was obsessive and scary.”
She told him she had ordered pepper spray and hired a handyman to check the locks at the home in the 2000 block of Mound Street that she shared with a roommate.
“The more she thought about it the more worried she was. She told me if anything ever happened to her, he was the guy” who did it, Coshland recalled.
Ten days after the Xbiz event, she recorded an episode of the podcast “Datey Ladies” and confided off-microphone to hosts Vera and Barbara Ann Duffy that she was afraid of Pursehouse and unsure of how to protect herself. On the podcast, she came off as confident and upbeat and talked at length about how to move past a broken heart.
“You have to remind yourself, when you are suffering from a breakup this feels like the end of the world, it’s temporary, it will not last forever,” Harwick said.
On Valentine’s Day, she went to a burlesque show with a group of female friends, according to Coshland. Sometime before midnight, Pursehouse broke into her home, according to a criminal complaint filed this month in Superior Court. It is unclear when Harwick returned home, but the criminal complaint accuses Pursehouse of “lying in wait” before killing her.
Police received a report of a woman screaming at 1:16 a.m. When officers arrived, her roommate met them in the street and said Harwick was being assaulted. Police subsequently found her unconscious under a third-floor balcony. She had been strangled before falling, an autopsy determined.
When detectives spoke to Coshland later that day, he gave them Pursehouse’s name.
Pursehouse was taken into custody the same afternoon at his Playa del Rey home.