Sharing through a new book the gripping account of how she was ambushed, beaten and sexually assaulted 20 years ago helped bring a new layer of peace, says Karen Mathews, the Stanislaus County clerk-recorder from 1990 to 2001 and a recent congressional candidate.
“It’s a little scary to put something out there, but it seems like it’s time,” she said. “It’s healing for me to put it in writing.”
Mathews, who lives and runs a small business in San Joaquin County with her husband of nine years, campaigned unsuccessfully under the name Karen Mathews-Davis. Karen M. Davis appeared on the June 3 ballot. She wrote “The Terrorist in My Garage,” published recently by a small San Diego printing house, using Karen Mathews, a name that became familiar in news reports two decades ago for all the wrong reasons.
Mathews repeatedly had refused to record illegal documents brought to her office by tax protesters, or to remove a $416,000 IRS property tax lien against them. She had been the target of numerous threats, including menacing telephone calls, a fake bomb under her car and another package containing a single bullet with a note saying the next would be “DIRECTED AT YOUR HEAD” if Mathews continued to resist demands.
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When protection from deputy sheriffs relaxed, men broke into her home Jan. 30, 1994, and one waited in her garage.
“With each swift, powerful kick, I wondered if he would kill me,” the paperback reads. The attacker cut her with a knife and put a revolver to her head, pulling a trigger on empty chambers, and raped her with the gun, Mathews said.
A lengthy investigation led to arrests while authorities closely guarded Mathews, but several months went by before she could bring herself to reveal the sexual assault publicly. The divorced mother of two feared that people would view her differently, and she shared feelings common to victims of such assault: “The shame of the sexual attack, somehow, I felt was my fault. ...
“When I left my marriage, I promised myself that no one would ever hit me again. When I was assaulted, it felt like I had broken a promise to myself,” she wrote.
Three years later, nine people were convicted of conspiracy, racketeering and obstructing federal authorities, and Roger Steiner of Oregon, who was convicted in the assault, received a lengthy sentence. Early this year, he arrived at a halfway house in the Fresno area and will be released Aug. 15, he said Wednesday in a call to The Modesto Bee.
“I’m totally innocent,” Steiner said, referring to his 18 years in federal prison as “a wild journey” and “a constructive horror story.” He said he fears for his life and pleaded with federal authorities to release him in Montana because “ ‘I didn’t want to be sent back to close proximity with the purported victim; please put 1,200 miles between her and me.’ But my letter was never answered.”
When Mathews announced her congressional candidacy in February, she said she had received renewed threats from undisclosed sources as late as December. Bullies would not keep her from running, Mathews said at the time, but on Thursday, she said looking over her shoulder had hurt her ability to establish a political presence in the 9th Congressional District, which includes Lathrop, part of Escalon and portions of Sacramento and Contra Costa counties.
Mathews, who had won three elections two decades earlier in Stanislaus County, said she knows “what it entails – you beat the streets and knock on doors. But with the threats I was getting, it was very difficult and I had to stop. You can’t run a good campaign if you’re not out there giving speeches and knocking on doors.”
Jerry McNerney, first elected in 2006, captured 48 percent of the vote, followed by Antonio Amador with 28 percent, Steve Colangelo with 18 percent and Mathews with 6 percent.
Her book ends in 1998, a year after the trial, and doesn’t mention the recent election campaign. “The Terrorist in My Garage” provides a firsthand look into events before, during and after the attack, including her mother’s premonition, a car chase with presumed government foes, chapters penned by her parents and a son, and her crushes on bodyguards.
The menace of so-called sovereign citizens “likely will grow as the nationwide movement is fueled by the Internet, the economic downturn and seminars held across the country that spread their ideology,” reads a 2011 FBI directive. Beliefs that people are not subject to government authority and owe no taxes “can provide a gateway to illegal activity,” the website reads, noting six murders in recent years.
Stanislaus County Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan said her office no longer is besieged by extremist demands. But regular training provided to public recorders continues to warn those who deal with property documents that “sovereign citizens are one of the most dangerous groups in the United States these days,” Lundrigan said.
Mathews said she intends to appear at upcoming book-signing events in Modesto and Turlock. Published by Sager Group, “The Terrorist in My Garage” features on its cover a 1996 photograph by The Bee’s Debbie Noda and sells for $13.46 in online listings.