Deception and blazing sofas

The life of the wife of an admitted kidnapper and rapist; and then there’s couch-burning

When regular Chico guy Lonnie Scott Keith was arrested on kidnapping and rape charges back in January 2013, the city’s collective jaw dropped. For anyone who knew this respected member of the local medical community, father of four and churchgoer, the news was stunning. Count Keith’s family among those shocked by his arrest, as well as the details of the crimes—which included him allegedly doping his victims, pulling them from the streets at night and assaulting them in his car.

This is one of those mind-blowing stories that is so unusual it reaches beyond the confines of Chico. It happens occasionally here—a story rises to the level that it’s picked up by national media. I saw that happen back in 2005, when I was a reporter covering the hazing death of Chico State student Matthew Carrington at a local fraternity house. In that case, the 21-year-old died from drinking too much water, as part of a bizarre initiation ritual. I didn’t know such a thing was possible. The story brought national attention to hazing thanks to coverage by big outlets, including Dateline NBC.

It happened again that same year when Chico’s Phi Kappa Tau fraternity got busted for being host to the filming of a pornographic movie—starring its fraternity brothers having sex with porn stars. I broke that story, and a producer from The Oprah Winfrey Show called me for contact info for some of the frat’s members I’d interviewed. She wasn’t successful in talking them onto the show, but the story still made the rounds, ending up published as far away as China.

In this week’s cover feature (see “Collateral damage,” page 18), Keith’s ex-wife, Kari, gives details about her life before and after the arrest of her husband of 15 years. She spoke with author Debra Lucero about how she’d been obsessed with catching him with his mistress, though he’d denied having an affair. Turns out Keith was having an affair, but his then-wife suspects now that he was using it as a decoy to hide his much darker secret life of prowling the student neighborhoods late at night for vulnerable women.

Kari is now working on putting the pieces of her life, and her children’s lives, back together. Sometime soon, she’ll appear on Dr. Phil. Our report this week is a great read that just scratches the surface of this case. Opening up to a reporter was a brave thing to do and we suspect this isn’t the end to the story.

In other news, I hear the students are reverting to couch-burning again these days—public-safety officials have reported 30 such blazes since August. I’ve seen a number of spates of furniture-involved fires during my time in Chico. At one point, the powers that be attempted to put the kibosh on such incidents by making it illegal to have front-porch sofas in the student neighborhoods. Sure, alcohol fuels this sort of thing. But I honestly think the kids are bored. Somebody, please, give them something cool to do. You have a built-in audience.