Harassed worker: Signs were there
January 10, 2002
Several months before accused killer Scott Harlan Thorpe allegedly opened fire at the county Department of Behavioral Health Services and at a Grass Valley restaurant, he wrote of a propensity toward violence, according to letters obtained by The Union.
In long-winded, rambling writings, Thorpe describes how physicians he was seeing frequently changed his medication and prevented him from seeing a worker at the facility whom Thorpe said he loved and wanted to have a child with.
Thorpe is now a patient at Napa State Hospital and accused of killing three and injuring three others in the Jan. 10, 2001, rampage.
“My famaly is now your famaly and there goin to love you. Don’t even worry about it and that my brother’s will be there for you after I am gone,” Thorpe said in an April 2000 letter written mostly in capital letters.
(The spelling and grammar of Thorpe’s writing quoted in this story are taken verbatim from his letters.)
Pamela Chase, 45, was Thorpe’s obsession. Yet they had only met twice before Jan. 10 – in April 2000, when Thorpe’s psychiatrist, Dr. George Heitzman, asked her to observe a session; and another time shortly after, when the two passed in the building’s halls.
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“He had this delusional belief that I was his chosen one, that I was pregnant with his baby,” said Chase, who lives in rural Placer County on a hill overlooking Interstate 80. “This was a man I had only seen twice before in my life.”
Those two meetings, said Chase, a mental health caseworker and a crisis manager for the county for 11/2 years, apparently fueled Thorpe’s infatuation. The mother of four, who is separated from her husband, has not returned to work since the shootings.
Chase has shied away from requests for media interviews in the past and declined to have her photo taken for this story. But she said she was motivated by the victims’ families to share her story in the hopes of shedding light on the inadequacies of the mental health system at the time and to offer a glimpse into Thorpe’s psyche.
Chase blames the county for not heeding warning signals she gave them about Thorpe’s propensity for violence.
“Thorpe had become increasingly angry with Dr. Heitzman … for not allowing Scott to pursue his relationship with (me),” she said.
Thorpe’s infatuation with Chase, who counseled other mental health patients at the facility, is further detailed in letters dating from spring 2000.
In several entries, Thorpe writes about how he believed the FBI was secretly visiting his home, poisoning him at Lyon’s Restaurant – where he allegedly killed an assistant manager and severely wounded a cook after his rampage at the HEW building – seizing property, and working to keep him away from Chase.
He also writes how Chase’s co-workers told Heitzman that Chase was to have his baby and that during their only meeting in April 2000, the two had formed an unspeakable bond.
“She had already told (Heitzman) that she wanted to have my baby. So even with nowing this, and she (Chase) was listing through the door with a steathascope,” Thorpe wrote.
In the same letter, written in spring 2000, Thorpe writes that he wanted to tell Chase his life story before they were to have a child.
Before coming to Nevada County, Chase worked five years in a similar position with Placer County.
Heitzman, a contract employee who no longer works for the county, had been Thorpe’s psychiatrist since 1996, according to county documents. Heitzman’s Nevada City lawyer, Glenn Kottcamp, couldn’t be reached for comment.
“Thorpe should have been institutionalized,” said Chase, who said Kent Thorpe, Scott Thorpe’s brother and the Sacramento police sergeant who alerted authorities to his brother’s whereabouts after the shootings, knew about Scott Thorpe’s tendencies.
Two weeks prior to the shootings, Chase said, Kent Thorpe called her with concerns about his brother, telling her that Heitzman wasn’t returning Kent Thorpe’s messages.
Chase, who feared for her life, had sought protection from Scott Thorpe. She screened calls, and office staff were forbidden to let Thorpe inside the building to see her.
Much of this stemmed from the April 2000 conversation Thorpe had with Chase, who had been asked to sit in on a counseling session in which Thorpe detailed how he had gone to a Toyota dealership to purchase a pickup. Chase said Thorpe believed the FBI knew he was at the dealership, fueling his paranoia.
“He thought the FBI and the car dealership drugged him during the meeting. I spent an hour with him and his girlfriend, Sandy Jones,” Chase said.
Later, Chase said, Jones called her to say that “I had been singled out by Scott Thorpe to have his baby.”
“I was scared. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this never happened.’ He said I was his chosen one. From that point on, I was always on guard,” said Chase. She tried to get a restraining order against Thorpe, she said.
On April 21, days after their meeting, Chase got a call from Sharon Thorpe, Scott’s sister-in-law. “(Sharon Thorpe) said she had never seen Scott so ecstatic that he was going to have his baby,” Chase said.
In the Nevada County Sheriff’s report compiled by Detective Elaine Lacroix after the shootings, Chase told deputies that the gunman responsible for the shootings might have been Thorpe, “that he had been stalking Chase for many months, has written her letters, wants her to have his baby and has continued to telephone Chase.”
The report continues: “(It) got so bad, Dr. Heitzman had to tell Thorpe that he was to have no contact with Chase whatsoever in any way, shape or form. Chase said Thorpe hates Dr. Heitzman because Dr. Heitzman told him that he is to have no contact with her.”
Thorpe went so far as to send Chase registered letters, one dated in the summer of 2000 and signed for by Laura Wilcox, the 19-year-old Penn Valley college student who was working as a relief receptionist at Behavioral Health.
Wilcox and caregiver Pearlie Mae Feldman were killed in the shooting spree. A Behavioral Health supervisor, Judith Edzards, was critically injured.
In an undated letter, Thorpe writes to Dr. Heitzman, “If I lost Pam, I considered it to be your fault for talking the way you did. You made me feel like I had done something wrong.”
The letters, which seesaw between anger toward Heitzman and love for Chase, contend that Heitzman’s directives not to see Chase “left me in a suicidal state.”
“I told you me and Pam had made a commitment to each other. When I left after our April (2000) visit I left engaged to be maryed man.
“You asked me if you are going to hell at my visit,” he writes to Heitzman. “If you are going to play games with me and Pam I will and can guaranty you are pointing yourself in that direction.”
Chase, who has retained Nevada City lawyer Stephen Munkelt but has not filed any lawsuits, said she was scared for her life.
“I’ve never had a client so fixated on me,” she said, indicating that she broke patient-confidentiality laws by telling her family she feared for her life.
“I told (my family), ‘You don’t know who I am or where I am,'” she said.
When the shootings occurred, Chase hid under a table near a refrigerator with worker Ann Heinrich in a break room.
“I thought I was going to die, and all I could think about was that my kids wouldn’t have a mother. I was praying to God, saying, ‘Please, don’t let me die.’ There was nothing else I could do,” Chase said.
Chase, who attends weekly therapy sessions, hasn’t spoken to anyone about that day. Until recently, she hadn’t contacted any of the victims or their families.
Throughout much of the interview, she chain-smoked in the living room of her hilltop home. Blonde, 5-foot-4 and slender, she appeared nervous and exasperated for much of the interview.
“I’m still scared. I’m wondering if Scott Thorpe’s sitting in Napa wondering if I’m going to have his baby,” she said.
“My whole life has changed,” she said, sobbing. “I have nightmares. I don’t like to be in crowds. I keep track of my kids wherever I go.”
Chase plans to spend the next several days away from Nevada County, away from the media’s focus on the shooting anniversary.
“My biggest worry is that he’ll be found incompetent to stand trial. My honest belief is that justice will never come for Scott Thorpe.
“It makes me mad that he’s sitting there in Napa,” she said, “in a prison cell, and we’re all left to deal with this.”