SI Vault
 
On Thin Ice
E.M. Swift
January 24, 1994
As the Olympics loomed, Nancy Kerrigan was back on skates and Tonya Harding was under siege
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
January 24, 1994

On Thin Ice

As the Olympics loomed, Nancy Kerrigan was back on skates and Tonya Harding was under siege

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

There is every evidence that this could happen. Harding's coach, Diane Rawlinson, said in a press conference on Sunday in Portland, "Tonya won nationals, she has earned the right to skate in the Olympics, and she will be there."

Harding and Gillooly have refused to talk about the case since their initial protestations of innocence on Jan. 11. However, a statement was read at Rawlinson's press conference in which Harding said she "categorically denies all accusations and media speculation that she was involved in any way in the Kerrigan assault." But when asked about Gillooly, Rawlinson hedged. "I'd like to believe that Jeff is innocent," she said. "Tonya absolutely believes Jeff is innocent. If she discovers anything different from that, she will distance herself from him."

There were signs on Monday that just such a distance was being established. After originally retaining attorneys from the same Portland law firm, the pair now have independent counsel. Gillooly is being represented by Ronald Hoevet, and Harding's lawyer is Robert Weaver Jr. The split may also be a sign that prosecutors have placed Gillooly in a different category from Harding in the investigation. Asked about Harding's state of mind, Weaver said on Friday, "She's anxious to get this resolved and get ready for the Olympics."

The 26-year-old Gillooly, who recently quit his job with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and is unemployed, started dating Harding when she was 15. Their off-again, on-again relationship has been on recently, but since their 1990 wedding, Harding has twice taken out restraining orders against him, citing a history of violence and fears for her safety. According to a 1991 police report, Gillooly once threatened to break Harding's legs to end her skating career.

David Webber, a 52-year-old cab driver who has known Harding since she was 14—she calls him Pop because he's like a second father to her—says the couple fought frequently last summer. "Those stories in the paper hinting that Jeff is physically abusing her are not just a hint," says Webber. "It's obvious. She was so furious when she left Jeff before the divorce, she left all her stuff with him—her tapes, her weights and everything else. The only thing she took was a water bed."

Gillooly and Harding were divorced last August. But Harding never got her affection for Gillooly out of her system. "We'd get together and have coffee," recalls Webber, "and she'd tell me that she still loved the guy. I told her to get away from Jeff and live a life, but he controls her. And it seems like he'll control her forever. It's so sad."

By October the couple were together, and while they have not remarried, they live together in a spartan rented house in the Portland suburb of Beavercreek.

The first break in the case came the day after the attack, on Jan. 7, when a woman who refused to identify herself called Detroit deputy police chief Benny Napolean to say that she had heard a tape recording, made some weeks earlier, of four people plotting against Kerrigan. The woman said she had initially dismissed what she heard as being a prank but now suggested police question Gillooly and Eckardt.

This tip gained credence three days later, when a 24-year-old minister of Portland's Celebration New Song Church, Eugene Saunders, told the FBI that he had listened to a tape recording of Gillooly and Eckardt plotting the attack with a "hit man" from Arizona. The tape had been made by Eckardt, who is taking, believe it or not, a legal investigation course with Saunders at Pioneer Pacific College in nearby Wilsonville, where both were studying to become paralegals. Exactly why Eckardt played the tape for Saunders, and whether it has since been destroyed, remains unclear.

Upon hearing the tape, Saunders went to the course instructor, Gary Crowe, who just happened to be a private investigator, for advice, and Crowe directed him to law enforcement officials. According to Crowe, Saunders mentioned two quotes from the tape. A voice—which Crowe suggested was Gillooly's—said: "Why don't we go ahead and just kill her?" To which another voice responded: "We don't need to kill her. Why don't we just smack her in the knee?"

Continue Story
1 2 3