The Story Behind Polanski's Victim
Days after Swiss judicial authorities freed fugitive filmmaker Roman Polanski from house-arrest in the resort town of Gstaad, the Oscar-winning director was spotted at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland where his wife, femme fatale actress-turned-pop singer, Emmanuelle Seigner, was performing on July 17.
Yes, things were getting back to normal. After nine- and-a-half months in jail and then under chalet-arrest in an Alpine resort town, Polanski could finally relax. The 33-year-old legal saga that began soon after he drugged and sodomized a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson’s house in 1977, and that seemed to take a life of its own after he fled to France, seemed finally to have come to an end.
But any possible closure, however unsatisfying to some involved, may have been upset this week with the emergence of a third alleged victim—one who predates the crime that got Polanski into so much trouble with authorities in Los Angeles.
"I did not expect to be sodomized. There was no foreplay. No kissing. Nothing. No tenderness. I thought: Maybe this is what they do in Hollywood.” Summing it up, she adds: “I hurt. This was rape.”
Alleged victim No. 3 has led some people to wonder whether the growing roster of accusers might actually tip the scales of justice against a man who has avoided justice for so long.
Polanski’s latest accuser, Edith Vogelhut, a former model and editor at Glamour magazine, went public two months after speaking to the district attorney’s office in Los Angeles, in an online video interview. In the video, she recounts how in November 1974, during a night spent partying with Hollywood A-listers, she met Polanski and joined him for a nightcap at Jack Nicholson’s house. Polanski had just released his career-transforming movie, Chinatown, and Vogelhut thought she knew what to expect. What happened that night, though, was a sexual violation, she says. “I was anally raped. Repeatedly.”
In the video-interview with RadarOnline.com, Vogelhut says that a naked Polanski walked into the bedroom bearing two glasses of brandy, giving one to Vogelhut, who was then a 21-year-old model going by the name Shelli Paul. She alleges that Polanski also gave her what he said was Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, (MDMA), then known as “Empathy,” and later popularized as the club drug, Ecstasy. "It's a really good drug," he told her.
Vogelhut says that she was pretty sure that they would have sex, and she was OK with that, but “I didn't expect anything out of the ordinary.” Things quickly moved into kinky terrain—and beyond, she recounts. Polanski told her to turn over, and within minutes, had handcuffed her. The effects of the MDMA began to kick in and Vogelhut became concerned. Then, she recounts: Polanski “grabs me by the hair, jerks my head up, snaps amyl nitrate under my nose, and enters me anally,” she says. “I didn't expect to be entered that way...I did not expect to be sodomized. There was no foreplay, no kissing. Nothing. No tenderness. I thought: Maybe this is what they do in Hollywood.” Summing it up, she adds: “I hurt. This was rape.”
But because of the humiliation, and the fear that a struggling model’s words would carry little weight against “this group that ran Hollywood,” she remained quiet.
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A little more than two years later, Polanski was arrested for drugging and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl in an incident that also took place at Jack Nicholson's home.
Vogelhut’s allegations come on the heels of another accusation by the British actress Charlotte Lewis. This spring, she told the DA’s office in Los Angeles (and later journalists) that she, too, was assaulted by Polanski when she was 16 years old.
Even if her account to a British newspaper contradicted other comments she had made earlier about Polanski, the fact that Lewis came forward gave Vogelhut the courage to make her allegations (which apparently fill a chapter in a forthcoming tell-all book about Vogelhut’s life in the world of modeling and magazines).
Phillip Vannatter, the retired police investigator on the Polanski case, told The Daily Beast by phone from his home in Indiana that he had heard rumors—"you always hear rumors"—of other victims, but he found "no indication" of anything that seemed credible and verifiable. "I wish they would have come forward then. I wish they would have made a phone call," he said with a grim chuckle. "My feeling about Mr. Polanski is that he should be in jail. I said that way back when. I was never happy that they did a plea bargain agreement…This fella has thumbed his nose at American Justice, which to me is as bad as the crime.”
While the Swiss and French judicial authorities told The Daily Beast that they were not yet aware of the new allegations, Guido Balmer, the spokesman for the Federal office of justice in Bern, told The Daily Beast that they would have no impact whatsoever on Switzerland’s July 12 decision to free Polanski, rather than to extradite him to California, as the court in Los Angeles requested. "That demand has been responded to, the decision came down and the dossier is closed."
Balmer clarified, however, that the recent Swiss decision only refers to the specific demand for extradition over the sex-with-a-minor plea agreement that Polanski made with the court in 1977 before he fled. “I have no information on other cases or requests." He also clarified that the controversial Swiss decision to free Polanski—which was widely ridiculed in the U.S.—was made for two primary reasons. One involved a (seemingly fugitive-friendly) Swiss legal conclusion that “a principle of good faith of international law was violated.” In other words, Polanski had every reason to believe that he could visit Switzerland to receive a lifetime achievement award without being arrested, as he had owned a home there for years. As for the issue of star treatment, Balmer insists that Polanski received none. "It is the same process for every case.” Swiss Justice ultimately decided to free the filmmaker, he says, because the Swiss were refused access to the sealed testimony of former U.S. Deputy District Attorney Roger Gunson to verify Polanski's assertion that the judge made a verbal agreement on sentencing, and then reneged on it.
The DA’s office in Los Angeles has acknowledged the obvious: if Polanski stays in countries that aren’t willing to extradite him—France, his native Poland, and Switzerland—the soon-to-be 77-year-old filmmaker is likely to live out his life as a free man.
"Apparently nothing is going to get done," the former Polanski investigator said with a sigh. "I'm done with it. I'm retired. But I can only hope that one day he is brought back to face justice in an American court."
Eric Pape has reported on Europe and the Mediterranean region for Newsweek Magazine since 2003. He is co-author of the graphic novel Shake Girl, which was inspired by one of his articles. He has written for the Los Angeles Times magazine, Spin, Reader's Digest, Vibe, Courrier International, Salon, and Los Angeles from five continents. He is based in Paris. Follow him at twitter.com/ericpape