A Richmond woman was so frightened by what she thought was going on inside her own home that she installed surveillance cameras. What she captured is enough to make anyone's skin crawl.
Almost anyone who hears Chrystal Neal's account says it sounds like she was stalked, but according to Virginia law, that wasn't the case.
Her story is like something out of a Hollywood blockbuster meant to keep you on the edge of your seat. It started when she noticed something odd with her mail.
“It looked like I had left a stack here that now was over there and stuff that I thought I left over there was over here,” Neal said.
Her imagination took over and paranoia set in.
“It was so farfetched,” she recalled. “I couldn't really imagine somebody was coming into my house, but then I started to notice other things.”
A sliding glass door was open when she came home from work. A key disappeared and reappeared in a different place. The tipping point came with an incident involving her son on a day he was home sick from school.
“When I came back, he was still in bed,” Neal said. “I went straight upstairs and he said, ‘Mommy were you here 15 minutes ago?' I said, ‘No honey, I just got home,' and he said, ‘But I heard somebody come in the front door and walk around.' I nearly fell to the floor I was so frightened and scared.”
So Neal installed video cameras, one facing the front door and the other facing the glass door that had been mysteriously left open. What she found sent chills down her spine.
The cameras captured Neal's ex-husband Bob Wake in her new home multiple times over five days. At those times, she isn't there and didn't give him permission to enter.
“Just walking through my kitchen looking around at everything, and it's just so creepy,” she pointed out in the camera footage.
Neal says reality was much scarier than even her darkest imagination.
“I thought if he would do this, he would do anything,” she feared. “I mean, what would he not do?”
She says she was worried about her safety and her family's safety. She and Richmond Police wanted to press charges and went back and forth with the Commonwealth's Attorney's office.
Authorities had Neal's ex on camera, multiple times, showing a pattern of behavior. Neal thought she caught him, but all prosecutors could charge him with were misdemeanor counts of unlawful entry or “enter property to damage.” On appeal in September, Wake plead no contest to the charges. He was sentenced to 25 days of work release.
“It looked, felt and smelled like stalking, but technically according to the Virginia statute, it wasn't stalking,” Neal said.
Virginia law requires the victim have reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault or bodily injury. None of those apply to Neal's case, which leads her to believe there's a problem with the statutes.
“They're woefully inadequate to protect women,” she said.
Now, her pain has become her cause. Neal is working to lobby lawmakers to change the laws and hopes when the next general assembly session ends, stalking will have a different meaning in the commonwealth.
“I don't think my situation is unique,” Neal added. “I think there are a lot of women who are being bullied and intimidated and being put in very reasonable fear, but for whom the laws don't provide a mechanism of protection.”
Wake's attorney did not return phone calls from NBC12.
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