March 18, 2005 -- When it comes to keeping his private life private, David Letterman is not kidding. The trappings of celebrity have made his quest for peace anything but a joke.
On Thursday, the CBS late-night talk-show host and his girlfriend, Regina Lasko, thanked FBI and local law enforcement officials in Montana for thwarting a plan to kidnap their 16-month-old son, Harry. "We will be forever grateful for their tireless efforts and determination to vigorously pursue this situation," the couple said in a statement.
Police say Kelly A. Frank, a 43-year-old painter who had been working on Letterman's 2,700-acre ranch in Chonteau, Mont., was scheming to hold the boy and his nanny for $5 million ransom. Frank was arrested and charged with felony solicitation after allegedly telling an acquaintance of his plan.
Now, Letterman, who rarely comments on personal matters, will try once again to lead the quiet life -- a desire that's led him to spend an increasing amount of free time at his Rocky Mountain home after several nightmarish episodes at his East Coast homes.
A Persistent Stalker
For many years, Letterman was targeted by mentally ill fan Margaret Ray, who broke into his Connecticut house multiple times and became nationally known as a celebrity stalker.
Ray's obsession began after attending a taping of NBC's "Late Night With David Letterman" show in 1988. Soon after, she swiped Letterman's $80,000 Porsche from his home in New Canaan, Conn. She took off with her 4-year-old son at her side.
Police stopped her in New York City, near the Lincoln Tunnel, when she was unable to pay the $3 toll. "I'm Mrs. David Letterman," she told officers, "and this is our son."
Over the next four years, Ray would be arrested six more times for trespassing on Letterman's property, once while sleeping near his tennis courts. In other visits, she left cookies and an empty whiskey bottle in Letterman's foyer and a book about meditation and letters in his driveway.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Ray served 10 months in prison and 14 months in a mental institution. After her release, she developed an obsession with astronaut Story Musgrave, who had led a spacewalk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. She bombarded his home with letters and phone calls, and faked her way into an interview with him by posing as a journalist.
In 1998, Ray committed suicide at age 46 by kneeling in front of a train. Letterman said in a statement that her death was a "sad end to a confused life."
Bear Breaks In
However, there was little relief for the beleaguered star. A week after Ray's death, there was another incident at his home.
On Sept. 28, 1998, police arrested Nellie Ruth Shirley, a 39-year-old woman from South Carolina, on charges of misdemeanor criminal trespass after a neighbor called police to investigate a suspicious vehicle in Letterman's driveway.
The woman first told police she didn't know she was at Letterman's house, but eventually indicated "she wanted to go up there to communicate with him," according to police.
A judge ordered Shirley to stay away from Letterman and have no contact with the celebrity, and that if she did so, her charges would be dropped after a year.
On the air, Letterman rarely joked about such instances, but there were exceptions. In a 1993 "Top 10" list titled "Things I Have To Do Before I Leave NBC" … he listed, "… send change of address forms to that woman who breaks into my house."
By that time, Letterman had sold his New Canaan home and moved to a $5 million 88-acre estate in North Salem, N.Y., in an area packed with celebrities such as Michael Bloomberg, now mayor of New York City.
Letterman purchased his Montana ranch in 1999, and until recently, there have been no printed reports of trespass or disturbances, except for a black bear that has broken into his home on two occasions.
The bear was captured and relocated after returning a third time. Given Letterman's other unwelcomed guests, he probably wishes all his problems could be solved so easily.