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Suspicion at the Dog Park

Neille Ilel

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A dog and her owner.
(Matt Cardy / Getty Images)

Frank's* big brown shepherd Lucky goes everywhere with him. And although the two have been fixtures at their neighborhood dog park for about eight years, lately a lot of people have been giving him the cold shoulder.

Someone saw his name and face on the Megan's Law Web Site, a directory of registered sex offenders and then word spread around the dog park pretty fast.

"They let the neighbors of the dog park know, who let my friend know, who let me know," said Jordan, another regular at the park.

Jordan's been going there as long as Frank has. Since her own dog passed away a couple years ago, she's been walking other people's dogs. When she found out about Frank's past, it confirmed all her fears abut him.

"I always knew the guy was dangerous. His first dog got into a fight everyday, drew blood, and he refused to deal with it. And when you tried to deal with him and try to get him to be responsible for his dog, he became very aggressive."

It was the kind of news that spreads around really fast, and it wasn't long before more people knew than didn't know.

But not everyone was convinced Frank was a danger. Nick, another dog park regular, felt sorry for Frank.

"I don't see him here hardly at all, and I imagine if he knows that people now know, it would be an embarrassing situation. If I was in his role, and I knew everyone knew, I probably wouldn't come around."

Eleven years ago this week, a federal version of Megan's Law was enacted. Versions vary from state to state, but the general idea behind it is that people who live near a person convicted of a sex crime should know.

Frank's identity as a convicted rapist and his address have been on file with his local police department for over a decade. But it was only when California's version of Megan's Law got a Web site that everyone really found out about his past. Frank learned about the site at the same time that the people at the dog park did. He'd been dog sitting for a yellow lab that belonged to another park regular. Cathy has a daughter at home, and when she found out Frank was a sex offender, she didn't want him at her place. She changed the locks. He'd known her about 15 years then.

"She never knew my past, all that time, and the Megan's List just exposed me to the world. The world to me," Frank said. "It's just not right that something that happened 30 years ago can come up and smack me in the face like that."

The Web site is very specific and very vague at the same time. Frank's easy to find if you're looking for him. There's an interactive map that pinpoints exactly where he lives; there's a recent picture, with his name, birth date, nicknames. But when it comes to his crime, all it says is "Rape by Force/Fear."

It doesn't say when the crime happened. It doesn't say where. It doesn't say what kind of force was used, or who or how old the victim was. It's all kind of left to the imagination.

And the last thing Frank wants to talk about is the circumstances of the crime. It was the one thing that was off limits.

"I don't wanna talk about that. That's past you know," he said with some anger. "That's what I'm sayin' all through this. I don't want to go through this with everybody. You know if I'd killed somebody, if I'd killed a woman 30 years ago, and I get outta prison, and I get off parole, there's no public record of it -- well there is if someone wants to search through the police records ...

"There's a lot of people who do things in their past that they just don't want everybody to know."

But the idea behind Megan's Law is that there are some things in peoples' pasts that their neighbors should know, to protect themselves.

The case is all part of the public record, although it took a lot of digging to find. It turns out, Frank pled guilty to aggravated burglary and rape in 1975. He served 17 years.

This is the only newspaper description I could find:

"He entered the woman's unlocked front door the evening of January 29, and went upstairs to where the woman was reading in bed while awaiting her husband's return, struck her with a soft drink bottle then raped her."

For Jordan, even though she knew none of those specifics, his appearance on the the Web site was more than enough proof that Frank was very dangerous, and was a threat to women at the dog park. She's very afraid of him. "The fact that he may have done his time, it doesn't change who he is and what kind of person who he is."

But Frank insists he's a very different person now than he was in 1975: "I'm over 60 years old now. If you think that don't change you. Wait till you hit 60. You'll see."

Frank vacillates between being angry with the sex offender laws, and being resigned to his fate. His life might be a lot different if he wasn't marked in this way.

He's meticulous about following even the smallest laws -- like getting Lucky's rabies shots on time -- because he feels like he could lose everything at any time. Sometimes Frank even fantasizes about being homeless, so he wouldn't have to register, and people wouldn't know.

"There's no chance of disproving it," he said. "What could you do to get off of that? Nothing. There's no way to prove that I would not do that again.

"It's a lifetime sentence."

* All the names in this story have been changed.

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