Robert Temple let his girlfriend go to her family reunion in Washington, but with a caveat: If she didn't return to their travel trailer in Northern California by a certain date, he would kill himself and their 3-year-old autistic daughter, Pinellas County sheriff's authorities said.
Leslie Stewart didn't stick to the agreement.
Once at the reunion - and with 520 miles between them -- she decided she had had enough of Temple's controlling ways, and was now willing to blow the whistle on his involvement in the disappearance of his wife, Rosemary Christensen, authorities say. The Belleair real estate agent vanished on Aug. 26, 1999.
With a telephone call to a Clearwater attorney she had consulted then, Stewart set in motion a series of frantic coast-to-coast law enforcement maneuvers that culminated Monday with the discovery of Christensen's body.
Christensen, then 43, had been stuffed in a green plastic storage bin Temple had bought at a Wal-Mart, and was buried in a remote patch of woods in Gilchrist County, about 100 yards from the Suwannee River, sheriff's investigators say. Her body was clothed in a nightgown, and she was doubled over in a fetal position, they said.
Tuesday, Temple, 58, was charged in her death.
Christensen's sons - Radinck and Olivier van Vollenhoven - can finally bring a difficult chapter in their lives to a close.
"Olivier and I are relieved that our mother Rosemary has been found after all these years and that we can finally get closure and move on with our lives," Radinck said in an email from the Netherlands.
"We hope that the outcome in this case will help people in similar situations to ours not to lose hope and to continue believing that they will one day be reunited with loved ones they are missing," he said.
Concerns For Child's Safety
After Stewart made that telephone call last Wednesday, Pinellas sheriff's detectives and prosecutors hustled, in part out of concern for the little girl. They flew in two teams to Washington and California, where they worked with the Redding, Calif., Police Department to arrest Temple in connection with a days-old assault Stewart had told them about, said Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Tom Klein.
Temple had threatened Stewart with a knife Aug. 25, a day before the anniversary of Christensen's disappearance, Klein said. Redding police didn't want to approach the trailer for fear Temple would so something to the child, so they waited until he drove out of the campground where the family was living.
Redding police stopped Temple's pickup truck and charged him with aggravated assault Friday, said Pinellas Sheriff's Detective Jim Beining, and the child was taken into custody by California child protection workers and she remains in state custody. Authorities arranged for a high bail of $500,000 on the assault charge while Pinellas authorities continued working the case.
On Sunday, Pinellas investigators brought Stewart back to Florida, and Monday she led them to where she and Temple buried the body, according to sheriff's investigators and her attorney.
It was in a wooded area near some land her father owned, Beining said, and a forensic specialist found the plastic tub by driving a probe two feet into the soil. When she pulled the pole back out of the ground, there was some green plastic on it from the bin. The tub had been wrapped shut with duct tape, and had been buried upside-down, investigators say.
Stewart became hysterical once Christensen's remains were discovered, said her Clearwater attorney, Jay Hebert.
"She was literally screaming in the woods damning him because of what he had done and what he had put her through," Hebert said.
The tub wasn't opened until it was brought to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office. There, Christensen was identified through dental records.
She Had Had Enough
Stewart had grown tired of Temple's controlling ways, investigators say. Before he assaulted her with the knife Aug. 25, they had been arguing about her wanting more freedoms, according to a Redding Police Department report. Among other things, she wanted to return to school, the report states.
Stewart told Redding police that at one point she referred to their "nine-year anniversary," meaning Christensen's disappearance, and how much she had done for Temple, at which point he removed a large Dungeons and Dragons knife from the wall and threatened her with it.
Standing over her as she sat, holding the knife to her face, he reportedly said, "You want to threaten my life, I'm going to end your life and Alyssa's going to have a better mother," the police report says, referring to their daughter. The child witnessed the confrontation.
For Stewart, it was the final straw, the report states.
Temple had wielded the knife and made threats before, but this time he was sober, the report states.
She also told police what happened with Christensen nine years ago, the report says. Stewart, then 22, and Temple, then 49, worked for the same telemarketing firm and had been dating.
On Aug. 26, 1999, when she arrived to her home, Stewart found messages Temple had left on her answering machine, asking her to come over to the Belleair condominium where he had been living with his wife, the report says.
She complied, the report says. Drink in hand, Temple began talking strangely, she said. First, he told Stewart he had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a child, the report says. Then he told her there was no such thing as witness protection and, even if there were, the witness in question could still be found.
As she began to wonder where Christensen was, Temple led her into the couple's bedroom, the report says. There, lying at the foot of the bed was Christensen, wearing only in a silk robe, with a pool of blood near her abdomen, the report says. Christensen had been stabbed to death.
Temple claimed he was sitting in front of a computer when Christensen, who was supposed to be asleep, snuck up behind him and hit him on the head with the butt end of a knife, the report says. They struggled and Christensen was stabbed.
Later, when Temple emerged as a suspect after his wife vanished, he told authorities and the media that his wife was a swinger and that she had ran off with a Charleston, S.C. man she had met online.
Stewart has also told authorities she helped clean up after the slaying, the Redding Police Department report states. They tried cleaning the bedroom carpet with a carpet cleaner but that didn't work; she remembers spending an inordinate time trying to get blood out of the cleaner. Eventually, they just took the carpet up.
After the body was stuffed the body in what Stewart described as a Tupperware container, they brought it to the area near the river, the report says. Temple did the digging. The pair also put some of her belongings in several different Dumpsters at different apartment complexes and truck stops around Florida, the report says.
Attorney Bound To Silence
In the aftermath of the slaying, Stewart had contacted Hebert, the attorney, and confided in him as to what happened. Hebert said he tried then to persuade her to cooperate with investigators, but she didn't want to, and the attorney himself couldn't relate what she said because he was bound by attorney-client privilege.
She resumed contact Wednesday afternoon. She had changed her mind, he said.
"'Do you remember me?'" Hebert recalled her saying. "Her name rang a bell, but when she said 9 years ago it all added up and I immediately realized who Leslie Stewart was."
Hebert has worked out a conditional arrangement with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. If Stewart testifies - and if it's concluded she had nothing to do with the slaying itself - she won't be charged criminally, Hebert said.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett confirmed a deal had been made. He noted Stewart led authorities to the body, was under much stress nine years ago when Temple had her under his thumb, and has agreed to testify against him.
Authorities agree she's pretty much all they have right now to convict him of first-degree murder.
Back in 1999, Temple agreed to talk to investigators and provided them with his swinger theory. He also pleaded with reporters to encourage anyone who knew her whereabouts to call him.
When investigators tried to interview him after his arrest last week, he didn't say a word.