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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
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January 24, 1994

On Thin Ice

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

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Gillooly told The Oregonian, "I wouldn't do that. I have more faith in my wife than to bump off her competitors." But Eckardt, according to sources, cracked late on Jan. 11, confessing that he had hired two men to pull off the attack and implicating Gillooly as the mastermind. The alleged motive was money. With Kerrigan out of the picture, Harding's chances for a second U.S. figure skating title (she won her first one in 1991) and a medal in Lillehammer would be greatly enhanced, opening the door for potentially lucrative endorsement deals. When Harding, returning victoriously from Detroit, was asked to share her thoughts about the upcoming Olympics, she replied, "To be perfectly honest, what I'm really thinking are dollar signs."

In the past year, since she failed to qualify for the 1993 world championships, Harding has been outspoken about being strapped for funds. She earns no money through endorsements, and despite receiving fan donations and grants of close to $50,000 from the USFSA, she was too destitute to pay the rent on her Portland apartment, according to a court-ordered eviction notice against her and Gillooly in October.

On Jan. 12, Detroit police announced they had found what they believed to be the weapon used in the attack, a telescoping police baton. It was discovered in a dumpster behind Cobo Arena, where the assault on Kerrigan took place. These revelations, and the nationwide stir they created, brought another man forward, Rusty Reitz. The 38-year-old Reitz, too, is taking Crowe's legal investigation course at Pioneer Pacific College, and he told investigators that Eckardt had asked him if he would be willing to kill someone for $65,000. Reitz had said no. Eckardt then allegedly said he had a job in Detroit and asked if Reitz would break someone's legs for $65,000. Reitz again declined. He assumed Eckardt, a notorious blowhard who has claimed to have done everything from tracking down terrorists in the Middle East to conducting hostage retrieval operations, was merely trying to sound important. Two days later, however, Eckardt asked Reitz if he'd seen the news about Kerrigan. "Who's Kerrigan?" Reitz replied. "We got her," Eckardt allegedly said. "It's the job I had in Detroit."

Eckardt and Smith were arrested last Thursday. On Friday, Stant surrendered in Phoenix. A high school dropout who's a bodybuilder, Stant had been arrested in October 1991 for stealing four cars in Idaho and spent 15 days in prison for the thefts. Like Smith, Stant had an interest in survivalism and was frequently seen wearing black combat boots and army fatigues. Before leaving Portland in November 1992, the duo had once alarmed neighbors by lining the steep incline around their homes with barbed wire and booby traps.

On Saturday another story came out. Twenty-year-old Sarah Bergman, yet another member of Crowe's now infamous legal investigation class and a friend of Eckardt's, told Crowe that Gillooly "was the mastermind behind this" and that she had the impression Harding knew of the scheme but was uncertain of Harding's role. She had overheard Eckardt ranting and raving a few days before the attack because he feared that the two men from Arizona had taken off with the $55,000 he'd sent them. "How am I going to pay it back?" she quoted Eckardt as saying as he punched walls of the house.

Bergman said she had no idea where he could have come up with that kind of money. A few days earlier, Eckardt, who runs World Bodyguard Services, of which Harding is the only known client, had said he was down to his last $35. Police were said to be looking into the possibility that the money Eckardt allegedly wired to Smith and Stant had originated with Gillooly. There was also speculation that the sum paid to the Arizona men was as little as $6,500. In addition, police were examining whether Gillooly had access to Harding's USFSA grant money or to money contributed by George Steinbrenner, a USOC vice-president and a patron of three skaters, who contributed $20,000 to Harding's training.

If a paper trail to Gillooly cannot be established and the alleged tape recording that broke open the investigation has since been destroyed, any case against Gillooly, or Harding, would be difficult to prove. It would boil down to Eckardt's word against Gillooly's or Harding's.

In the interim Harding's coach and lawyers are attempting to stem the rising tide of opinion and speculation implicating her. In Sunday's press conference Diane Rawlinson went so far as to suggest there had been two victims of the assault. "Nancy first, of course, but I think Tonya's also a victim," she said. "Tonya will not be in line to make the type of money from endorsements that she would have been in line to make."

Rawlinson then divulged that Harding had written Kerrigan a letter. Back in Stoneham, though, Kerrigan had yet to receive it, as of Monday. Asked if Kerrigan would open it if it ever showed up, her coach, Evy Scotvold, replied, "I'm sure someone will. Maybe the FBI."

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