| Tonya Harding |
IMAGE: GETTY IMAGES
"Whenever anyone writes something about me, why can't they forget my past?" she asks.
Perhaps it's because name and notoriety have been one and the same since that fateful day in January 1994 when Harding, her husband, Jeff Gillooly, and his sidekick Shawn Eckardt were implicated in a bizarre plot to bash the knee of Olympic rival Nancy Kerrigan.
The plot had more twists than a triple axel, but the outline went like this. Gillooly, the mastermind, ascertained that Harding's chances for a gold medal in the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics would be a lot stronger if Kerrigan couldn't compete.
He turned to Eckardt, a self-professed "security expert" who hired a hit man and a getaway driver. After a trail of cross-country money transfers, credit-card receipts, rental cars, airplanes and buses, the conspirators caught up with Kerrigan on Jan. 6, 1994, at Detroit's Cobo Arena, and an Arizona man named Shane Stant landed the fateful blow across the back of her knee.
With Kerrigan out of the picture, Tonya skated on to become the U.S. Champion and secured her spot on the Olympic Team. Then--surprise, surprise--Eckardt blabbed to a classmate and the plot began to unravel. Within weeks, Eckardt, Stant and Gillooly had surrendered to authorities.
In the eye of the media maelstrom, Harding admitted she knew of the crime after the attack, but not before. Nevertheless, she went on to compete in Lillehammer, as did a quick-healing Kerrigan, who won a silver medal. Harding placed a disappointing eighth.
After her Olympic letdown, Tonya pleaded guilty to hindering the investigation, was fined $110,000 and served 500 hours of community service and three years' probation. She was stripped of her title of U.S. Champion and banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association. The whole debacle was finally over...right?
"Ninety percent of what the media says is blown out of proportion," says Harding, with a wistful laugh. "Sometimes I'd like to get them in the ring."
Over the next 11 years, Tonya occasionally popped up in the press, hitting her boyfriend with a hubcap, sliding her truck into a ditch, beating the tar out of Paula Jones in a celebrity-boxing match and, of course, still answering for her role in the Kerrigan saga.
"I proved I wasn't involved," she says. "I wanted protection first. Someone held a gun to my head and said, 'You'll go along with this or we'll take care of you.'"
She refuses to elaborate, citing concerns for her safety, and only a fool would mess with the new Tonya.
After her March 2002 bout with Jones, she began to train six days a week under the tutelage of ex-boxer--and mortician--Paul Brown, who has worked with heavyweights such as Leon Spinks.
"She's in her development stages," says Brown of Harding (pictured above in her pro-debut trouncing by Samantha Browning). Harding's daily routine involves six miles of running, a few hours of weights, and plenty of sparring and bag work.
In addition, Harding has taken up archery and prefers a Martin compound bow, with which she can pierce a heart-sized target at 50 yards.
Like anyone, she has good days and bad. When WW caught up with her on a balmy September afternoon, a repairman had just left her rural Clark County home after fixing the hot-water tank. The combination of cold showers, raging allergies and an ovarian cyst rendered her couch-bound, with her cat, Smalls, for company.
Health issues aside, she's wrangling with the Edmonton Boxing and Wrestling Commission over her loss against Canadian nursing student Amy Johnson earlier this year. Harding says the referee ignored the usual eight-count and allowed Johnson a 26-second count after Harding knocked her to the canvas.
"Will I ever get a fair shake?" she asks.
Perhaps the answer lies in her next fight, tentatively slated for January at the Portland Convention Center, right across the street from the Rose Garden, which will be hosting--of all things--the 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
"I have put everything behind me," she says. "Whatever I do, I do to the best of my ability."
Judging by the photos, the '80s never really ended for Gillooly, who--at his arrest--sported a Magnum P.I. mustache and a striped button-down tucked into pleated pants yanked up to the navel.
Certainly the greed that characterized the decade of excess still burned somewhere beneath his swept-back scalp. It was Gillooly--ostensibly the "mastermind" --who made $100,000 by selling an amateur porn video of him and Tonya to tabloid television (stills from the session eventually made their way into the pages of Penthouse).
Gillooly ultimately pleaded guilty to racketeering and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine and spend two years in prison, of which he served just six months.
After his release, Gillooly changed his name to Jeff Stone (over the strenuous objections of Jeff Stones across the country). "I wanted to reclaim myself," he told The Oregonian in 1998. "It was kind of a new beginning."
The mid-'90s were full of beginnings for Stone. Shortly after his release, he married Nancy Sharkey, a woman six years his junior. Together, they opened Nancy Nicole's, a tanning and hair salon on Southeast 82nd Avenue, and had two kids, Haley and Noah.
"I love it," he said in 1998. "Nothing like coming home and hearing Haley yell, 'Daddy's home!'"
Two years later, Stone was arrested for assaulting his wife. While the charges were dropped after a Clackamas County grand jury failed to indict him, he and Sharkey subsequently divorced.
Stone apparently found the break-up stressful. According to a 2003 police report, he again got into an argument with his ex-wife, this time in front of their two children, which culminated with him slapping her in the face and threatening to kill her.
Portland's finest arrested Stone and charged him with assault. The charge was later reduced to harassment; he is currently on probation.
Stone has also received numerous traffic tickets. In February 2003, police cited Stone for driving on a suspended license and without insurance, only to pull him over for speeding the very next day.
These vehicular vexations have not hindered Stone in his new career. He now works as an automotive broker and lives in a modest home in the Foster-Powell neighborhood, where a brand-new Nissan Titan lurks in the driveway.
"We just have a really normal life," says his fiancée, Christy Novasio, who answered the door as the late-afternoon sun splashed across Haley and Noah's Halloween preparations. "It's really great."
Asked about the thwacking, Stone says Americans just don't understand the skating world.
"Figure skating was a very political sport," he explains. "That was our way of trying to level the playing field."
"There was never supposed to be an assault," he continues. "Originally it was just supposed to be a death threat."
Stone no longer speaks to Harding, and scoffs at allegations someone held a gun to her head.
"I don't think I've heard that one," he laughs. "People do crazy things for money."
As the owner of World Bodyguard Services, Eckardt boasted of private investigation work in Costa Rica, demolishing Peruvian pipelines and guarding celebrities. In reality, the 28-year-old drove a '76 Mercury, lived at his parents' house in Lents, and collected Star Trek videos.
The only celebrity the 300-pound impostor ever guarded was Tonya.
Not surprisingly, his fantasy world of subterfuge caused the entire Kerrigan scheme to implode. Apparently, secret agent Eckardt bragged of the crime to a classmate in a paralegal course at Pioneer Pacific College, who then alerted instructor Gary Crowe.
"Talk about it being dumped in my lap," says Crowe, a 23-year veteran investigator.
Eckardt ultimately pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and spent a year in prison.
Unlike Harding and Gillooly, Eckardt managed to keep a low profile. In fact, the enigmatic spook all but disappeared, leaving behind a tantalizing trail of old clues and cold leads.
Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicle Services listed him at a Tigard address in 2001. A computer search pointed toward an Eagle Creek address, which came up empty, as did a dozen phone calls to old acquaintances.
In fact, the artist formerly known as Eckardt no longer exists--because he changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith.
State records list Griffith as the owner of Applied Information Systems Inc. (www.appliedinfosys.com), a network company whose motto is "Imagineering the future."
The company's suite turns out to be a third-floor walkup in a seedy Gresham apartment complex. When WW visited, a few men were tinkering with the greasy innards of an aging Oldsmobile, a couple loaded an old mattress into a '70s Ford, and half-dressed kids ran screaming all around the place.
Though the shades were still drawn when we knocked on the door at 1 pm, it was answered by a bald, portly 37-year- old with long sideburns, clad only in green running shorts.
Are you Brian Sean Griffith? we asked.
"Yes," he replied.
Are you also Shawn Eckardt?
"Go away!" he yelled, slamming the door.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Intro | Tonya's Mob: Tonya Harding, Jeff Gillooly & Shawn Eckardt | The Crusader: Gordon Shadburne | The Meteor: Billy Ray Bates | Satan's Pilgrim: Rex Diabolos Church | The Firebrand: Ron Herndon | The Bad Boy: Frank Peters | The Broken Halo: Michael Stoops | The Crack Mother: Anita Nichols | The Veejay: Kennedy | The Girl from Electra: Treva Throneberry | The Perfect Victim: Azalea Cooley | The Grappler: Dutch Savage | Wonder Boy: Pat Gillis | The Ex-Files: Marcia & Steve Moskowitz | The Witness: Dave Mazzella | The Prankster: Igor Vamos | The Intern: Monica Lewinsky | The Runaways: Diane Walden & Peter | Top Cop: Mark Kroeker | Sprawl Kitten: Kate Schiele | Authority Figure: Rocky Balada | The Hulk: Dry Dock 4 | The Candidate: Gail Shibley | The Super: Ben Canada | The Organ Grinder: Dr. William J. Brady | Pillars of the Community: The Lovejoy Columns | The Survivor: Giles Thompson | The Contender: Andy Minsker | Space Invader: The Phantom Dialer | The Red Menace: Ma Anand Sheela