Was She Stalked By The Killer She's Writing About? p.12

By: RANDY DOTINGA A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter who reopened the 1988 case of a murdered co-worker now finds herself at the center of the story
With a tale of murder and injustice featuring herself at the heart of the story, St. Louis newspaper reporter Carolyn Tuft has catapulted readers into a most personal kind of nightmare.
"Dale Anderson looked into my eyes, held my left hand and said whoever killed Audrey Cardenas really wanted to murder me," Tuft wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 7, 1998. She was describing the moment when she believes she learned that she may have been a target of the murderer she was interviewing.
Tuft is revisiting the case of the 1988 murder of Audrey Cardenas, an intern at a suburban newspaper. In a series of deeply personal stories, Tuft claims the man convicted of the murder is innocent, and the real murderer is behind bars, charged with another vicious crime.
Worst of all, she suspects the man she thinks killed Cardenas also tried to kill her ? and had two chances to end her life.
Despite tough questions about her objectivity and the pain of dredging through her own traumas, Tuft is still on the case.
"There's nothing I wish more than that I was not involved," Tuft told E&P. "It's been awfully gut-wrenching. But I waited around for all these years for another reporter to delve in and seek the truth and it just didn't happen."

The Audrey Cardenas murder story begins on June 2, 1988. Tuft was then a reporter at the Belleville News-Democrat, a 55,000-circulation newspaper in Illinois, about 15 miles east of St. Louis.
The phone rang that day. "Do you want a front- page story?" a man asked Tuft. He told about how three administrators at the Belleville welfare office had been arrested after shoving a co-worker and taking a briefcase with records showing office corruption. But the man, who wouldn't give his name, didn't reveal that he himself was the co-worker ? Dale Anderson.
Tuft wrote a 1988 story about the incident and later, after learning who the man was, went to his house to interview him.
Anderson, according to Tuft, played with a revolver and sweated profusely. "I asked him not to point the gun at me," Tuft wrote, and Anderson put it on a table.
Anderson made allegations about wrongdoing by co-workers but couldn't provide proof. Tuft later slipped out of the house when Anderson was distracted. "Something about him frightened me and I wanted to get as far away from him as I could," she wrote.
(Tuft filed criminal charges against Anderson in connection with her visit and testified against him in court. He was convicted of disorderly conduct and sentenced to psychiatric treatment.)
Also in June 1988, 24-year-old intern Audrey Cardenas arrived at the News-Democrat after graduating from Texas A&M University. According to Tuft, she was a friendly and enthusiastic reporter.
Anderson, meanwhile, began visiting the newsroom to pitch more stories about his co-workers. One night he was found wandering in the composing room. No one knew how he got there.
On June 10, 1988, Anderson accosted Tuft outside the newsroom and tried to convince her to go with him in his car to check out a story. He insisted; she refused. "I don't know what kept me from getting into that car," she wrote. A week later, Audrey Cardenas vanished.
When Cardenas didn't show up at work, her co-workers became concerned and called the police. There was no sign of Cardenas.
On June 26, 1988, a custodian found a body in a creek near a Belleville high school. The body was Cardenas; the cause of death has never been determined. "The newsroom was in chaos as reporters tried to figure out what they could do to help cover the killing of one of their own," Tuft wrote.

Anderson attended the funeral, wearing a three-piece, brown polyester suit.
Police interviewed a transient named Rodney Woidtke who was found at the high school the day her body was discovered.
Police talked to Anderson also, but let him go. Woidtke, whom Tuft believes is mentally ill, confessed to the crime. He was found guilty of murder in 1989 and sentenced to 45 years.
Anderson soon followed him to prison ? he was convicted of murdering a woman and her 3-year-old son near Belleville. The murders happened the day before Woidtke was sentenced.
Tuft tried to put it all out of her mind. In 1992, she went to work for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she covered City Hall and later became an investigative reporter. Then, last December, a letter came from Woidtke saying he had tried to commit suicide.
"That was it for me," she said. "I felt helpless to help him." She began to investigate the Cardenas murder.
Co-workers describe the 39-year-old Tuft as a slight, slender woman of about five-foot-six. A former oil industry secretary, she is married with three teenage boys.
Talking on the telephone, she sounds weary and depressed.

editor: 'She's a bulldog'
But assistant city editor Peter Hernon says appearances are deceiving. He has supervised the Cardenas stories. "Carolyn is one of the toughest people I know as a reporter. She can handle it. She's a bulldog."
With the assistance of another reporter, Bill Smith, Tuft has uncovered evidence she believes points to Woidtke's innocence and Anderson's guilt. Tuft has interviewed Anderson twice in prison, meeting face-to-face with the man she thinks wanted to kill her. The first time, in March of this year, Smith went with her.
Tuft nearly fell apart afterward.
"I was so upset that I couldn't even go home," she said. "I needed to be by myself. I did a lot of crying." Hernon told her to go home and try to write a first-person story.
"I said, 'In my career, I've never written in first person. I don't know that I agree that's a good way to go.' He said he thought that was the only way to go and would I please try it. I wrote all night long."
The story appeared on March 8 and remains on the paper's Web site (www.stlnet.com) under the headline: "A haunted reporter: 'You have to tell me. How did she die?' "
She wrote of her whispered pleas to Anderson at a prison in Illinois. "They won't hear you," she told him. "I have to know. What happened in that creek? Please, you have to tell me. How did she die?"

'It was a knife . . .'
Anderson told her to "look at the neck. . . . It was a knife; a very, very sharp knife."
Tuft turned and walked away and left the prison.
She wrote another story in June about a second meeting with Anderson, this time alone. A forensic psychologist met with her beforehand, warning her: "Don't go with a man. That will make him nervous. Anderson's the kind who likes to think he can manipulate a woman."
As they sat in a room and talked, Anderson reached over and stroked Tuft's fingers. "It took all my self-control not to pull away from him," she wrote. He told Tuft that whoever tried to kill Cardenas also tried to kill her. "I am sure now that he came close twice," Tuft wrote, mentioning her visit to his home and the time she nearly got into his car.
But later in the prison interview, Anderson said: "I never tried to hurt you." When she left, he said goodbye. "You come back real soon. Promise?"
For the time being, the Cardenas story continues in court. Woidtke has asked for a new trial, utilizing the evidence uncovered by Tuft.
Tuft has received some 80 phone calls and e-mails about the story, almost all supportive. "The only negative thing was someone who said we wouldn't have worked this hard for a case if it
hadn't been a reporter."
Tuft feels battered, especially as court battles drag on. "At this point it appears like a political ping-pong is being thrown back and forth," she said. "It's very hard once somebody is convicted. Everybody wants some magic DNA." Sometimes, Tuft can't sleep.
"I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it all the time," she said. "It's like the worst of 10 years whirling around in my head. Sometimes I have this unrealistic guilt that somehow I could have prevented it or that it could have been me. It's a weird place to be."

?(Carolyn Tuft, left, is investigating the 1988 murder of newsroom intern Audrey Cardenas, right.) [Caption]
?(The Belleville News-Democrat is also covering the Cardenas case on the front page.) [Caption]
?(Rodney Woidtke, above, is serving time for the murder, but reporter Tuft believes that Dale Anderson, left, killed Cardenas.) [Caption]
?(Dotinga is an education reporter with the North County Times, Escondido, Calif.) [Caption]
?( Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyrigh: Editor & Publisher July 18, 1998) [Caption]


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