POTEAU, OK - His situation was awkward, but even standing in a 4-by-4 steel cage, wearing a faded jailhouse-orange jumpsuit with frayed sleeves and a ripped crotch, the prisoner maintained his poise.
"Bill Cathey," he said, extending a thin hand through the bars.
"I apologize for not having shaved. It's difficult with the rather dull blades they give you in here. " Bill Robert Cathey, Ph.D., former English professor and teacher par excellence, now convicted gunman, accused kidnapper and master car thief, had just been assessed life plus 50 years for a shoot-out with police near Poteau. He still faces several civil lawsuits, 11 counts on federal charges of interstate transportation of stolen goods and Texas charges of holding a 22-year-old woman for two weeks as a slave in a bizarre "experiment" in his suburban Dallas home.
Cathey, still showing the pleasant countenance he had worn for nine months as "Preston Primm" in Oklahoma, was smiling, cheerful, optimistic.
"This has been quite an experience," he said.
It was an experience that police say began as strangely as it ended. The authorities say it happened this way: It was 2 a.m. May 19, 1991, and Wendy Kay McKee was walking down the shoulder of Dallas' Central Expressway when Cathey pulled up in a Lincoln Continental.
McKee didn't care what he looked like. He was a ride. Less than eight hours out of a drug program, McKee had a few dollars and a specific destination.
The driver offered methamphetamine, but she turned it down. He drove her to a seedy apartment building where she bought her cocaine, then waited and drove her to a bowling alley. He waited again and later drove her back to the apartment for more cocaine.
During the drives they talked.
He said his name was Bill. He was 49, he said, a psychologist, a writer and a karate expert. She told him her name and said she was practically nothing.
He waited again while she made her second buy. She was becoming suspicious of him, so she placed the capsules in her mouth before she stepped back into his car.
Then, she said, he swung around, laid a pistol behind her ear and shouted, "I'm the Dallas police" and slapped a pair of handcuffs on her. McKee swallowed her dope and hit the floorboard.
A few minutes later she felt the car pull into a garage. He ushered her inside a house and removed her clothes. He led her to a closet. "The training room" he called it, with soundproofing covered by thick carpet, a three-legged stool in the center and eyebolts sunk deep into the beams in the ceiling and floor. He chained her feet to the floor, her hands above her head, and left her.
The experiment had begun. Cathey, she said, wanted to make her "the perfect woman," and, to do so, he'd decided to break her, then mend her. New Age music played constantly. She began a routine: Six times daily she had to assume yoga positions and recite the mantra, "I will obey. I will obey. " Gradually, her curriculum broadened. He left her bound and blindfolded but began reading to her from "Huckleberry Finn" and "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. " He taught her to do mathematical equations in her head. They played word association games.
"I'd reached the point where I was agreeing with him," McKee said.
"It seemed to me like this was my fate. This was where I was supposed to be. " A curious interplay between teacher and subject began. Rape was never part of his program, McKee said, and their relationship remained relatively asexual. At night they would lie curled together - albeit with her chained and blindfolded - and talk for hours.
A few days later, she said, he began to take her out of the house. The outings began with walks down the alley, then late-night jogging. Finally, on June 2, he took her shopping, fashioning a blindfold with gauze and surgical tape so it would look like a bandage.