The Sad Saga of Bob Greene

When a woman from his past resurfaced, the columnist’s 33-year career crashed; then a family tragedy hit home.

(page 13 of 15)

 

In April 1988, the young woman whose association with Greene led to his downfall was a 17-year-old senior at a Chicago-area Catholic girls’ school. Her journalism teacher gave students an assignment to go out and conduct an interview. The young woman snagged a meeting with Greene. “I was surprised she got the interview in the first place,” recalls her teacher, “because it was beyond the scope of what the rest of the students were doing.”

Greene himself got a column out of her assignment; in it, he poked gentle fun at the student for her prepared question: “If you could be any kind of tree, what tree would you be?” Still, Greene wrote that he found her bright and perceptive.

Her intimate relationship with Greene began in the summer of 1988, after she had graduated from high school and had gotten a summer job downtown. There were several meetings and dinners. Although later the Tribune would write that the encounters had stopped “short of sexual intercourse,” a source says that that is not the case.

The young woman, an only child, won a scholarship to St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. She graduated in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts and went on to do graduate work in English literature at St. Xavier University in Chicago from 1995 to 1999.

In the ten years after graduation, she lived in and around Chicago. Her father was a policeman who became a lawyer and a prosecutor. He is now a judge in a suburban courthouse. The young woman’s mother is a retired school principal.

In January 2002, the woman, single and living at her parents’ suburban home, filed for bankruptcy. Richard Bass, her bankruptcy lawyer, says he remembers only that his client “was highly educated.” According to court records, her debt totaled just over $14,000. She had earned $40,000 in each of the previous two years, but at the time of the filing she had been working for two months in sales at a Downers Grove bookstore. There, her net monthly income was $650. She had several unpaid medical expenses from 2001-including bills from two hospitals and the local fire department. The rest of her debts were rather mundane, the biggest a $6,100 Discover card bill with charges dating back to 1999. Her bankruptcy was discharged in May 2002.

Apparently, she had expected a more favorable turn of events in her life. In a St. Mary’s alumni newsletter that appeared last winter, she described herself as a self-employed writer and said that she was expecting to publish her first novel in the spring; she planned to write a second book based on a story she had written while at St. Mary’s. There is no record that either book was published.

Over the years, according to someone close to the situation, the young woman had periodically left brief messages for Greene or had had short conversations with him. But the two calls he received from her in June 2002 were said to be the first time she had mentioned going public about their relationship.

In a written statement, the FBI would describe Greene as having “expressed concerns over a series of telephone calls that he had recently received, which he felt were threatening in nature.” He was referred to a senior supervisory agent in charge of the unit that handled such complaints. That agent opened an investigation and interviewed Greene. The agent also interviewed the young woman, who acknowledged calling Greene but denied having made any threats.

Several sources say that while the timing of her calls looks suspicious-she had contacted Greene several months after she filed for bankruptcy-she was not seeking money; she had called him as a kind of therapy. In order to move on, she needed to talk to people who had affected her life in an adverse fashion.

Evidently, Greene viewed the calls differently. The FBI warned the young woman about federal extortion and harassment laws, although the bureau says that that does not mean it believed she had extorted or harassed Greene. On June 28th, the FBI closed its inquiry, saying there was not enough evidence to continue the investigation. Around this time, the young woman abruptly left her job at the bookstore and had a boyfriend pick up her last paycheck.

On Monday, September 9th, she sent the Tribune, through its Web site tip line, a one-and-a-half-page e-mail. By Tuesday, it was in the hands of the editor, Ann Marie Lipinski, and a human resources official had been brought in and told of the problem.

 

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