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If Loving You Is Wrong

If Loving You Is Wrong

3.5 23
by Gregg Olsen

Teacher's Pet

Within hours of giving birth to her sixth child, Mary Kay Letourneau had her baby daughter whisked from her arms. She was then shackled and returned to her jail cell. Just years ago, the pretty, personable Seattle schoolteacher was living a life many would envy— she had a handsome husband, four beautiful children, and a beloved following


Teacher's Pet

Within hours of giving birth to her sixth child, Mary Kay Letourneau had her baby daughter whisked from her arms. She was then shackled and returned to her jail cell. Just years ago, the pretty, personable Seattle schoolteacher was living a life many would envy— she had a handsome husband, four beautiful children, and a beloved following of students. Then she was accused of child rape, and her whole world turned upside down.

Rapist Or Victim?

How did a 34-year-old married teacher fall in love with one of her sixth-grade students? Was it a complete lapse of judgment, or— as she contends— the meeting of two soulmates? Were the two planning to run away together— before police caught them in a parked car? Did the couple have illicit sex in every room of the Letourneau house, as the teenager told the tabloids? Read about the case that shocked the world and rocked the headlines— about the lonely life of Mary Kay Letourneau and the young object of her obsession, the boy who fathered two of her children. You may think you know the story of Mary Kay Letourneau— but you don't know the whole story until you've read...If Loving You Is Wrong.

Includes interviews with Mary Kay Letourneau.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Wonderfully researched...Searing and brilliant...A must-read!"— Ann Rule, bestselling author of Bitter Harvest

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.14(w) x 6.62(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt


IN REALITY IT was the tony homes of Lemon Heights perched on the scorched hills above Tustin that gave the city the nickname The Beverly Hills of Orange County. The majority of Tustin was Middle America with neighborhoods of mostly unpretentious tracts of stucco and tile-roofed houses filled with children freckled, tanned, or burned by the sun. The wealthy living on Lemon Heights looked down on Tustin, or rather past it, to the waters of the Pacific. When John and Mary Schmitz and their sons Johnny, Joey, and baby Jerry moved into a one-story house with a lone palm tree on Brittany Woods Drive in Tustin in the early 1960s, on the surface they were a good Catholic family with moderate means.

Yet if there was anything to distinguish the family from others in Tustin, it was the indisputable appeal of the parents. John was dark and dashing with the rigid posture of a military man. Mary, with her soft eyes and sweet smile, could play demure, but she was sure of herself in ways that few women allowed themselves at the time. John Schmitz and Mary Suehr had met at a college graduation party at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where both had earned degrees. She was a chemist who set aside a promising career to support the man she loved. But it was more than love. It was also the marriage of conservative and religious ideals that made them such a good fit. John and Mary were a team in life, the afterlife, and, in time, the purgatory that was California politics.

An eight-year stint in the Marine Corps in El Toro where John was a pilot and helicopter aviator brought them to California. Like so many others who made the military migration during the forties and fifties, they saw California as a golden hope for a life of opportunity. When John left the Marines, like his father and father-in-law, he became a teacher. He taught philosophy and government at Santa Ana College.

"I'm a good teacher," he once told a reporter. "I've always been able to make a subject interesting. No one falls asleep in my class."

Part of what made that a true statement was that the man had an undeniable charisma and wit. He was brash, brilliant, and handsome with dark hair, dark eyes, and a pencil-thin mustache. John G. Schmitz was onstage whether his audience was a single student or a roomful. He was the center of the world. In the beginning, the lightning rod for attention presided over a family that was the envy of friends and neighbors.

"They were a devoted family," said one neighbor who still keeps in touch with John and Mary. "The kids all loved each other. It was sort of like, the family that prayed together, stayed together."

Indeed, prayer was an important ritual at the Schmitz home. Visitors to the house then—or any other place the family lived—never recalled a single meal when prayer wasn't a prelude to dining. Life revolved around the church. John sang in the choir at St. Cecelia's and Mary hauled the children in their station wagon ("our Catholic Cadillac") to class each day.

To supplement his college instructor's wages, John worked part-time at Disneyland as a Cobblestone Cop.

"That made him a real hero among the kids," the neighbor said.

Although Mary Kay has memories of her father as that Disney character, she would later tell a friend she wasn't certain if she actually remembered it or had been told about it so often that she had kept it as memory. "It is a glimpse," she told a friend many years later, "when I was three years old. Like a Mary Poppins doll I had, or putting my father's hair in curlers at our first house, just a glimpse of my childhood."

It was a lovely beginning to what everyone thought would be a wonderful life. Summer nights were filled with the laughter of the boys playing kick the can, hide-and-seek. Summer days they played baseball or football games that stretched for hours. In time, the family would get a German shepherd that John named Kaiser.

In the early 1960s there were still orange groves off Irvine Boulevard, not far from houses lined up in the sun along Brittany Woods Drive. It was a beautiful place and time. California was challenging the East Coast as the center of the universe. The Beach Boys had just released "Surfin' Safari"—their first big hit. It was sunshine and beaches. And on January 30, 1962, Mary Katherine Schmitz was born. She would be her father's staunchest ally and, some would say later, her mother's greatest disappointment.

No one wanted to talk about it years later, and no one wanted to put much importance on the fact. What would happen later with Mary Kay was not a bonding problem. But the fact was that Mary Schmitz had an injury that made it impossible to care for her new baby daughter for several weeks. As the baby stayed with the neighbors across the street, her mother convalesced in her bedroom.

Later, the woman who cared for the Schmitzs' firstborn daughter refused to talk about the cause of Mrs. Schmitz's need for convalescence. She believed it had no influence on their daughter.

"They loved Mary Kay then, and they love her now," she said.

When John Schmitz returned to Brittany Woods Drive, he always made a beeline for the neighbors' to hold his daughter in his arms. Every day. Mary Kay's blond hair was but a faint downy glow around her little head. But her brown eyes were enormous. No father could have been more pleased.

"Sons are wonderful," said the neighbor who took care of Mary Kay. "But to a father, a daughter is extra special."

If mother and daughter didn't bond, as had been suggested, those closest to the family in those early years didn't see it. It appeared that the little blond-haired girl was her mother's pride. It was true that Mary Schmitz expected a lot from her children, and probably more so from her sons.

"When Mary Kay was a little girl," said the neighbor, "... I can still see that front bedroom fixed like she was a little princess or something. Mary always seemed to be there to help her and Mary Kay went right along with it. So she had to be very happy with her mother."

No matter how busy they became, no matter where they would live, the Schmitz children were always foremost in their parents' minds, according to the neighbor.

"They never forgot the kids," she said.

The tide was moving in the direction of conservative upstarts in Orange County—more so than just about anywhere in the country. John Schmitz, with his David Niven mustache and sharp-as-carbide-blades wit, was in the right place at the right time in 1964. It didn't matter that he was a card-carrying member of the right-wing John Birch Society, the anticommunist organization founded in 1958 to promote conservative causes. In 1964, when Mary Kay was two, her father found his arena. He was elected state senator.

None were more proud of John's victory than those in Tustin and at St. Cecelia's. He was the pride of the congregation. Choir director Richard Kulda, a conservative, though no John Bircher, admired John Schmitz as a legislator and a man. A reelection followed two years later, and by the end of the decade, a bid for the U.S. Congress. His campaign bumper sticker read: "When you're out of Schmitz, you're out of gear."

"John has a brilliant mind, witty, conscientious. Good-humored. He was not easily ruffled, a fighter pilot. In mortal combat you cannot get ruffled, you have to be thinking every instant. You've got to use every bit of brainpower you have," Richard Kulda remembered.

During his six years in the California legislature many argued that his finest achievements were in curtailing sex education in the classroom and limiting the availability of condoms where young people might get their hands on them.

"More self-discipline is needed," he said.

By 1970, three more siblings had joined Mary Kay and her three older brothers. When Mary Kay was three, her sister Terry was born, followed by Elizabeth and, lastly, Philip, born in March 1970.

"John and Mary loved having three boys, then three girls, then a boy. It was so wonderful. And so tragic later," the close family friend and neighbor later said.

In the years of his heyday as the king of the quip, John Schmitz became beloved by reporters looking for a loose-cannon quote that could guarantee outrage and increased readership. John Schmitz became known more for what he said than what he did. Whenever he opened his mouth, John Schmitz supporters cheered and his foes wondered if he'd left enough room for his foot.

"They like to be called gays," he once said of homosexuals in search of political clout. "I prefer to call them queers."

Sometimes charm was slipped into the mix and his remarks came off as one-liners, given like a political Johnny Carson.

"I may not be Hispanic, but I'm pretty close. I'm a Catholic with a mustache," he said.

When the Schmitz family left for Sacramento or later for Washington, D.C., their good Brittany Woods Drive neighbors' joy for the family was tempered with personal sadness. Though they kept in touch and saw old friends and neighbors whenever they came to town and attended fund-raisers—for which Mary Schmitz had made her daughters' dresses—it wasn't the same.

"When we got to Washington, John took us to the White House and everything. I got to sit in Tip O'Neill's chair," said the neighbor. "We were so happy for them."

It was June 1970 when John Schmitz moved his family to Washington, D.C., to fulfill the time remaining on a congressional seat won in a special election. Mary Kay would later say she made the transition easily, basking in the attention reflected from her father's admirers. There were parties to host, Easter eggs to roll on the White House lawn, and photographers to smile for at every turn. Heady stuff for an eight-year-old girl. Her father was at the top of his game at that time and he knew it. Things were happening for her mother, too. Mary Schmitz was more than a wife; she was a savvy political partner. She was passionate about her political and religious beliefs and every bit as adept—many felt more so—as her husband when it came to tapping into the strengths of the conservative constituency. She attracted a following by campaigning against the ERA and was dubbed a "West Coast Phyllis Schafly." Like her husband, she was a fervent right-to-lifer who considered abortion nothing short of murder.

If John Schmitz was the leader of the band when it came to Orange County Republican politics, as one adversary later characterized him, his wife was equally powerful and accomplished. Mary Schmitz was a captivating public speaker, and an articulate crusader for conservative causes. She was more than just a woman standing behind her man—though she espoused the ideal that that's where women belonged.

Some friends of the family felt sorry for Mary Kay, and her sisters Terry and Elizabeth. The emphasis in that household was always on the sons. It was a man's world and John and Mary Schmitz made no bones about it and the fact that they wanted to keep it that way. When the Equal Rights Amendment died, Mary Schmitz had a cardboard tombstone put up in her front yard as a cheeky reminder of her greatest achievement.

"Their prejudice extended down to the women in their family," said a friend and political adversary of the Schmitzes many years later. "Women were low on the social scale. Here was this woman espousing antiwoman values. Her own daughter, who was as bright as hell, could have gone to Stanford like her brother did, but didn't."

It wasn't the money, though most people knew that the Schmitz family wasn't rich. The truth was that John Schmitz, political gadfly extraordinare, could have gotten his daughters into any school in the country. If he had wanted to. If his wife had wanted to.

But Mary Kay was a girl.

"What was she going to do?" the friend asked. "Go off and get married and have kids."

IF LOVING YOU IS WRONG Copyright © 1999 by Gregg Olsen.

What People are Saying About This

Ann Rule
Gregg Olsen's If Loving You is Wrong is a wonderfully researched book that makes the tabloid stories about Mary Kay Letourneau and her forbidden love sound like comic book stuff. Everyone who wants to understand the back story of the child-woman and her overweening passion for a man-child must read If Loving You is Wrong. Olsen's book is both gossipy and sympathetic, searing and brilliant. If Mary Kay is the Humbert Humbert of the female sex -- and she is -- this book is her Lolita. A must-read for both true crime aficionados and students of abnormal psychology! I read until 3 a.m.!
— (Ann Rule, author of Bitter Harvest and A Rage to Kill)

Meet the Author

Gregg Olsen is the acclaimed author of several true crime books, including: The Confessions of an American Black Widow, Abandoned Prayers, Bitter Almonds, Mockingbird, and Starvation Heights.

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If Loving You Is Wrong 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gregg Olsen has done his homework on this one and no true crime addict will be disappointed at what he presents in this book. Just as shocking at what a 34-year-old school teacher did to her sixth-grade student, is what the teen and his family tried to do as well. It is difficult to fully comprehend what both sides said and did in this web of crime and deceit. The author lays it on the line in this smoothly written book of this most famous of criminal cases.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read and enjoyed Olsen's Abandoned Prayers and hoped that the Letourneau book would have the same impact. The beginning was interesting but halfway thru the book there was too much jumping around from year to year. Also, too many characters with too little input. Wanted to know more about Vili. I was speed reading the last quarter of the book, just picking up pertinent info. Disappointed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the most messed up woman I have ever read about. I cannot believe she fell in love with a child, and just her whole way of being as a person was repulsive to me. I didn't finish it as I just got tired of reading about her, she is a mess.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
slow moving, hard to keep names and facts in order.
SailorJan More than 1 year ago
A lot of background I wasn't aware of when the story hit the news. A very strange person to be sure sure & although many people close to her were convinced she was really in love her actions were truly bizare.
ninsyl More than 1 year ago
This well written book tells of a sad tale of Mary Kay, who never found love at home; bellittled by her own Mom, ignored by her father; she resorts to promiscuity even before high school. She lashes out her anger and disappointments by going from boyfriend to boyfriend; often breaking the hearts of those who truly care for, and love her. She thinks she's found consolation and adoration when she gets involved with a minor (one of her own students), only to end up in hot water with the law and causes untold shame and embarrassments to rain down on family members and friends. Must read, especially for students of human behavior.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw these two authors on Northwest Afternoon, in Seattle...what a hoot! They seem to know the REAL MARY KAY LETOURNEAU...and I've read Gregg Olsen's book AND the 'Dress' book: Mass With Mary...and they are both just super! You've got to read them both!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was searing enough...but the excitement only lasted until Mary's arrest. After that it turned into a story about reporters chasing to get the hottest and latest story, which tabloid paid the most money to get the inside pictures of the baby who was born out of this scandalous affair. I felt that Olsen did not have to spend too much time on whether the lawyers or Mary's friends had made a substantial amount of money from this rather low down dirty episode involving a teacher and her 12 year old student. That was irrelevant. I wanted to see more imput..more into who Mary and Vili really were..what made them fall so deeply for another....I had enjoyed the book but the gratification only lasted for 150 pages..after that it was yawn-a-yawn. Olsen's style is simple yet consequential and probably with more resources he would have been able to produce better.I felt that at the end he had reached a certain hitch so he had to include all the trivial stuff.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Second half is poorly written and hard to follow. Should not have been published in this state.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
On page 300 and still haven't a clue about the characters . Can't tell what is fact/fiction, or just assumed . Can't recommend
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting. Discusses her family history and his. Really explains how it all happens. I don't want it to be my son, and they went about it the wrong way, but I wish then happiness in the end.
Suebee129 More than 1 year ago
Worth the read if you are a non-fiction reader
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the author really did his homework, which I can appreciate, there is just way way too much junk and unneccessary info in this book! This book seemed to me to be more about Mary Kay's friends than about the affair itself! I wanted a story about the affair and the direct players involved, instead this was a story about friends and neighbors and coworkers. Very dissappointing, and a complete waste of my time to read! How it got sooo many 5 star ratings is beyond me!!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I went back and read my old copy of this book now that Ms. Letourneau is constantly in the news again with her upcoming release from prison. I also ordered another book about her life since she's been in prison called 'Mass With Mary: The Prison Years' --- this 2nd book gave me a closer look at who she is and what she's about as a person. I'm not so sure I feel the same about this case. 7 years is a long time - Celine Dion's husband is no different! Mass with Mary, written by Christina Dress WITH Mary Letourneau is close and personal about women in prison - women we forget about and forget what it must be like. It made me laugh and made me cry. Mr. Olsen's book is a good background of what happened before Mary went to prison. The 2nd book takes it from there.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If Loving you is Wrong is a book that you can't put down till you're done. You will be led to sympathize with the schoolteacher, Mary Kay Letourneau, who never had happiness in her marriage, a marriage that was forced upon her by her parents. When she finds her feelings growing for her student, Villi, you can't help but wish that things could be different for them. Instead, she is caught in a tangle of growing emotions that is leading her further and further into trouble with the law. This is a book that must be read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really goes into the lives of all involved. I was up all night reading. Good book!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
True love comes once in a lifetime, and it's rare and precious to find such faith. Even after her prison sentence, they got back together - that's love. Regardless of age, and yes, they should've waited, but it's true love, plain and simple. If she didn't really love him, she would've aborted his babies. A slow and painful death to all you narrow-minded, predjudiced, unsympathetic, shallow people - they have every right in the world to be together. Just leave them alone - let them get married and raise their kids, and they'll do it as a team. If they're in love, nothing should keep them apart. It's that simple.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Um hey are all you guys adults cause i'm not i am 9 and almost 10 . So what are you peeps doing. Tell me what you up to by having your letter tittle be ...Hey peep