On an unseasonably warm 1993 spring evening, Madeline Morehouse, owner of local Edmonds coffee shop Caffe’ Aida, was putting the final touches on what had been a particularly long day.
It began with the pre-dawn opening of her shop, included daytime meetings with suppliers and an afternoon gym workout, and ended with an evening at the Seattle Coliseum watching the Sonics take on the Houston Rockets. Arriving home at her Edmonds townhouse after 11 pm, she still needed to count up the day’s receipts and prepare a bank deposit. It was after midnight when she finally set her alarm for 4 a.m. and turned out the light.
The 46-year-old Morehouse didn’t know that lurking outside her bedroom window was Allen Ray Chesnutt, a 21-year-old serial rapist with at least nine previous victims. Chesnutt, who had so far eluded police capture, used a stolen ladder to gain access to her roof and was preparing to cut her bedroom window screen with a knife taken from his mother’s kitchen.
What followed was a nightmare of brutal sexual assault, knife wounds, screamed obscenities, death threats, blood and pain.
When he was done, the attacker demanded money. With his attention momentarily diverted, Morehouse retrieved the handgun she carried in her purse and turned the tables. Her shots missed the target, but they instantly transformed Chesnutt from a brutal attacker to a cringing figure cowering in the corner and pleading for his life. She ordered him to lie on the floor, screaming that she would kill him if he so much as moved. She punched 911 into her phone, bringing Edmonds police to her door in less than a minute.
“I’d had my gun since 1969,” Morehouse told My Edmonds News. “I got it after the news of the Charles Manson murders broke. I was just scared and I guess having a gun made me feel safer. I fired it at the range a few times, but mostly it just sat in my purse.”
This was the first time she actually used it.
Ultimately convicted and sentenced to 77 years, Chesnutt remains to this day in the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.
But even 23 years later, Morehouse continues to deal with the aftermath.
“It changed me forever,” she said. “I never wanted to be a hero, I never wanted recognition or awards, I just wanted to forget this ever happened. But you know, you can’t. It’s so much more than the attack itself. It’s how it changed my life forever, and defined everything that’s happened since. Part of working through this for me is coming to understand that I have a timeless story, and that by telling it I can help others.”
Morehouse began her book in 1996, but as her journey continued and new understandings came forth, the story gained additional depth and detail.
Finally published in June 2016, “Code: 10-71, Victim to Victor” is a riveting first-person account of the attack, followed by Chesnutt’s arrest, trial and conviction, and the lasting aftermath. By painstakingly recounting how the ripples of this crime spread out to touch not only her life, but those of her family, friends, community and everyone who listens to her story, she adds depth and breadth to how one woman’s nightmare has relevance for us all.
Morehouse is currently in the Address Confidentiality Program, and living in an undisclosed location. She is available to speak to groups about her experiences, in the hope that her story can help others. Learn more here.
— By Larry Vogel