In 1996, Michelle Lobdell received an earth shattering phone call from her childhood best friend Mary Kay Letourneau, who was a school teacher near Seattle, Washington.
“She said, ‘I have some news and this is difficult,’” Lobdell recalled to The Post. “She said, ‘I’m pregnant and it’s not [Letourneau’s husband] Steve’s’. It was a shocking moment. She presented it to me that [the father] was some student she met during a summer school class.”
Lobdell immediately thought her friend’s secret paramour would be a college aged man.
“She didn’t tell me he was 12,” said Lobdell.
As Lobdell would soon learn, when it was splashed across the papers, Letourneau, a 34-year-old married mother of four was having an affair with her sixth grade student Vili Fualaau. In a story that seemed to be manifested by the tabloid gods, it both shocked and captivated the nation.
Letourneau pleaded guilty to rape in 1997. She gave birth to their daughter Audrey, was given a suspended sentence and told to not contact Fualaau. But the pair was later caught having sex in a car and Letourneau was sent to prison for six years where she arrived in the early stages of another pregnancy. (She was taken by ambulance from the prison to a nearby hospital where she gave birth.)
After she was released, she married Fualaau.
“I couldn’t imagine she’d do what she’d did. In a million lifetimes,” Lobdell says in new ID documentary “Mary Kay Letourneau: Notes on a Scandal” which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m.
The special revisits the salacious case, and poses the question: Was it love or rape?
“I can look back now and make sense of things that I couldn’t before,” said Lobdell who calls it a “tragedy.”
The two women had been best friends since they met in Newport Beach, Calif., as sixth graders. The daughter of GOP congressman John Schmitz, Letourneau came from a large, intellectual Catholic family and her father fueled his political career with a squeaky-clean family man persona. His wife Mary was described as a perfect politician’s wife: camera ready and polished. However, she was not emotionally accessible to her daughter, according to Lobdell.
At a young age, Letourneau experienced great tragedy. Her younger brother Phillip drowned in the backyard pool, while she was tasked with watching him. She often suggested that her mother blamed her for the death. And Lobdell would learn that Letourneau, like herself, had been sexually abused as a child.
“Time is not a healer when something like this happens. If it’s not addressed seriously, the dysfunction continues to get worse,” said Lobdell, who has worked with sexual abuse victims and feels Letourneau never truly dealt with her trauma.
Then in 1982, while Letourneau was a student at Arizona State University, it was revealed that her dad, the avowed family man, had fathered two children out of wedlock.
“Something in her changed [after the scandal]. Her ability to make decisions in her life based on things that were good for her, I think she lost that ability. She lived in a fantasy world, because it was the only world she could stand.”
When Lobdell met her friend’s new boyfriend Steve Letourneau, she was shocked, saying they had little in common intellectually. But after Letourneau became pregnant, her mother pressured her to marry her college beau.
“He checked all the boxes but when I met him there was nothing there … I realize now that it was her mother’s pressure. She wanted her mother’s approval and she never got it … She never had anyone she could rely on in her life to love and protect her and look after her self interest,” she said.
Their union was fraught and filled with turmoil and money issues. Looking back, Lobdell believes her friend had never been in love and molded Fualaau into her idea of the perfect partner.
“Love had nothing to do with it. He was putty in her hands. She created Vili. She hijacked his life and I do believe she was incredibly manipulative,” said Lobdell.
The pair last spoke in 1997.
“I said, Mary Kay, how could you have done this to your kids. She said, and I quote, ‘What I’ve done is the best thing I could have ever done for my children.’ At that point, I knew she was so disconnected from reality. It was the last time I spoke to her,” said Lobdell, who is Audrey Fualaau’s godmother but hasn’t had any contact with any of her former friend’s children.
In 2020, Letourneau died of colon cancer at the age of 58, a year after she and Fualaau split. But after her death, Fualaau said he “lost a piece of himself.”
“It was a tragedy all around. When she died, to my shock, I walked outside of our house in Arizona, and I put my arms around my husband and I cried for an hour,” said Lobdell.
“But I will always have compassion. I loved Mary Kay. I will always love Mary Kay.”
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