A Deadly Joke 

The sad tale of how a Fremont valedictorian fell from grace. Plus, is the Payphone Perv getting ready for school too?

What is it about Fremont's mayor and police chief that makes people want to kill them? Eight years ago, unemployed crime lab technician Rodney Blach planted explosives at the homes of Mayor Bob Wasserman and Chief Craig Steckler (neither was hurt). And just last week the two got a restraining order against Mission San Jose High School's 2002 valedictorian, Audrey Lin, after she sent e-mails last month expressing suicidal thoughts and threatening to murder Wasserman, Steckler, and their wives, Linda and Casey.

Lin's disturbing electronic messages and the subsequent restraining order are just the latest chapter in her rocky journey into adulthood since graduating a star academic from the highly regarded Fremont high school. In late 2002, after she'd started attending UC Berkeley, Lin attracted national media attention when she admitted to cheating in high school to keep up her stellar grades. Her admission created an uproar, and she later relinquished her valedictorian honors.

During the fallout of the scandal, she explained to a reporter why she went public: "I still stand by what I did because there's a lot of cheating that goes on, and people need to know about it." While some criticized Lin, others —including Wasserman — praised her for having the courage to admit what she did.

After Lin gave up her brainiac crown, the Oakland Tribune reported that she was on a crusade to reform Mission San Jose's grade-point system and to get principal Stuart Kew, whom she called a "dictator," to quit. School officials told the Trib in May 2004 that they believed Lin was harassing Kew with unwanted phone calls, visits, and ... e-mails.

Things quieted down for a while until about one month ago, when the Fremont City Council began receiving e-mails from Lin. Her first messages were more plaintive than threatening: The 21-year-old talked about wanting to die, and blamed a traumatic run-in with police two years earlier for mentally scarring her. Then in a July 21 e-mail with the subject line "Bob Wasserman and Craig Steckler Are Corrupt," she concluded: "I will kill, in order: 1. bob wasserman 2. linda wasserman 3. casey steckler 4. craig steckler. actually I want 2 kill the wives first, you corrupt bitches." Lin didn't say exactly how she would kill them.

Interestingly, another e-mail's subject line read, "Please Help Rodney," whom, you might have guessed, is none other than the aforementioned Blach. Lin shares the Fremont bomber's unsubstantiated belief that city officials including Wasserman and Steckler were involved in an international drug ring in the Fremont hills.

Wasserman says he didn't think Lin would act on her threats, but he got the restraining order on the advice of the police department. The mayor, who has met Lin once, considers the e-mails "a crying out" for help. "She's obviously got problems, and I don't want to say anything or do anything to add to those problems," he says. "It's very sad. She's a bright, bright girl."

Lin didn't show up for last week's hearing. In an e-mail to Feeder, she said her parents didn't want her to go; they want her to focus on getting her degree. While she says she still thinks Steckler and Wasserman are corrupt, she expressed regret for threatening them. "No one deserves to be killed," she wrote Feeder. "I was partially joking."

Beware the Bovine Prankster
With classes starting up soon at Iron Horse Middle School in San Ramon, Contra Costa sheriff's investigators still haven't caught someone Feeder calls the Payphone Perv.

On June 15, the last day of school, a librarian called San Ramon police to report a suspicious circumstance: School kids were answering phone calls from "an unknown male" at the public pay phone in front of the San Ramon Library. When two officers arrived, the phone rang. Officer Mark Gunning picked up the receiver, only to have the male on the line begin making fun of his "hair style and stature," indicating that the caller was watching the cops from nearby. Gunning, who's on the stocky side, suggested the caller come over and talk to him; the caller said he would come over and "kick his ass." Then he hung up. He neither came over, nor kicked the cop's ass.

Kids hanging out by the phone began telling the cops wild stories about the calls. A twelve-year-old girl said she'd spoken to the man five or six times on the pay phone, and that he would swear at her for no reason. The man once told her that he'd watch her walk from school to the library and described what she was wearing. Another twelve-year-old girl said she'd talked to the man nine days earlier. When she picked up the phone, the caller said he could see her and told her, "I want to be the cow, you be the farmer, and I want you to milk me." Then he mooed.

Police executed a search warrant for the phone records, but could not obtain a complete number. As to why the kids would answer the phone in the first place, senior branch librarian Anna Koch says, "I don't want to be flip about it, but kids will be kids."

Koch adds that there have been no more phone calls since the end of the last school year. Sheriff's spokesman Jimmy Lee opines, "There's always the possibility that some kid is just playing a prank."

The PC Never Bluffs
Who says you need a college degree to succeed? Last week 26-year-old Cal dropout Prahlad Friedman finished twentieth last week in a field of ten thousand in the World Series of Poker main event in Las Vegas. Friedman won $495,000, which, while a far cry from the $12 million top prize, ain't bad for a former ethnic studies major. The East Bay native is known as one of the top Internet players in the game, but his strong finish showed that virtual gamblers can handle the face-to-face action — usually.

Friedman got totally bluffed out by talent agent Jamie Gold, who wound up winning the whole thing. Going head to head with Friedman at one point, Gold bluffed and bet $750,000 on a $1.3 million pot. Friedman's "ESP" told him his pocket pair of sevens were good and that Gold was bluffing with a king high — and, indeed, Gold had K-10. USA Today reported that Friedman then told Gold that he thought he only had a king, prompting Gold to let down his guard and stand up, whining, "You got me, that's it." So Friedman folded, thinking that Gold's admission was a lie, and that he really had a stronger hand. You couldn't make a mistake like that online.

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