Hannah sat down on a park bench and shared a cigarette with the man who had molested her as a little girl.
“Can I have one?” she asked Erlis Chaisson.
It was 5 p.m. on a warm September 2014 day in Granbury, Texas, and the 25-year-old woman had asked Chaisson to meet to talk about the years of sexual abuse he inflicted upon her beginning at age 8.
“Are you sorry that you did it?” she asked him.
“I mean, I understand you’re—you’re putting, trying to put all the blame on me,” Chaisson said, over the sound of water splashing from a nearby fountain. “Lines got crossed. Our emotions got mixed and misread. Didn’t mean for none of it to—to go as far as it did.
“The dick has no conscience, and there’s no explanation for it,” he said, as the two sat under an oak tree. “If you had a penis, you would know.”
What Hannah did know is that a taped confession could put Chaisson behind bars. The little girl he abused grew up to be a cop, armed with an audio-recorder shoved inside her bra. For protection, she brought a gun and another cop who was parked nearby in a pickup truck.
“I’ve always, always wanted to be a detective,” Hannah told The Daily Beast, on the condition she be identified using a pseudonym. “I was fresh out of the academy. It was kind of, ‘If he’s going to talk, he’s going to talk’—how do I prove it?
“I thought to myself: I’m the difference between him and prison.”
A week earlier, Hannah had gone to McLennan County Sheriff’s Detective Brad Bond to pursue her case against Chaisson. She spoke in painstaking detail of how, over four years, Chaisson, a family member, rubbed his penis in between her legs, performed oral sex on her, and guided her hand up and down his penis. Those descriptions would make it into a police report, then an arrest warrant, and finally a courtroom.
After talking to Bond, she hatched the plan to meet with Chaisson.
Hannah said she was nervous about whether the sting would go according to plan. What if the wind obscured the confession? What if the recorder came loose or made a noise?
“My heart was racing,” Hannah said, but she was also prepared. “We had hand signals and everything,” she said of the other officer, whose truck was within eyesight.
“He was talking like he was talking to his best friend,” she said. “Six times, he confessed—in the first hour and a half of that recording.”
Chaisson repeatedly implicated himself, telling Hannah, “I always stopped myself before I went too far,” and “It takes two.”
He also repeatedly blamed Hannah for what he did.
“You need to control your curiosity. I wasn’t supposed to be the friend you played nasty with,” Chaisson said.
“I’d be laying on the couch and then you got that look in your eyes,” Chaisson said. “I’d pull the covers up and you’d come run in and jump under there and back up all the way to me.
“In the mornings, cuddle up to you, scratch your back… I shouldn’t have put myself in those positions.” Chaisson, who was in his thirties and working as a contractor at the time of the abuse, added, “I mean, anybody would have got confused.”
Hannah rarely interjected during the conversation, adding at one point: “I was so little.”
“I don’t think it’s fair to blame an 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-, 12-year-old for that because it wasn’t my fault,” she said. “You’d come in my bedroom, though, when I was asleep. That didn’t have to happen.”
“I kept you a virgin, didn’t I?” Chaisson said. “Sweetheart, you was young and curious, and I was old enough to know better but too young to care. That’s the only way I can say it.”
According to prosecutor Gabrielle Massey, when Chaisson entered Hannah’s life in the mid-1990s, he was already a registered sex offender who’d served time in Louisiana on two counts of molestation of a juvenile. That victim was also 8 years old.
“Most people understood what he’d done,” Massey told The Daily Beast, about Chaisson’s life after his first jail term. “Nobody protected children from him.”
Chaisson left jail in 1994 and began molesting Hannah about a year later, Massey said. When Hannah was 12, the abuse stopped. By that time, she was living in a community near Waco.
“By all accounts, once a girl reaches puberty, he had no desire to molest them again,” Massey said.
At Chaisson’s trial last month, Hannah told the jury that her abuse had become a “deep, dark secret” she held in a “closet” for 17 years and had affected her relationships as an adult.
Once she sought therapy and became a law-enforcement officer, Hannah said she realized she had to catch him.
“My job is in law enforcement. I’m held to a higher standard. I just want to protect people, and how can I do that if I can’t even protect myself?” she said on the stand in 19th State District Court in Waco.
“I felt like a weight lifted over my shoulders after I testified the first time,” Hannah told The Daily Beast. “I no longer have to hide the secret or bear the responsibility of it.”
Powerful as her testimony was, the recordings were decisive.
“I don’t think you can hear that recording—no matter who you are—and have it not have an impact on you,” Massey said.
It is unusual, she noted—even for a sex offender—to show no remorse and to speak as blatantly as he did in the recorded conversation.
“It’s just a callous acceptance of ‘This is who I am’ and no apology for it.”
“We don’t ever get stuff like that,” Det. Bond told The Daily Beast in an interview. “It’s better than a confession. Even when they confess, they don’t give us all of the details. It was even better.”
Still, Bond said he wouldn’t encourage ordinary citizens to take the same approach.
“With her training and status, and with a fellow officer with her, I felt like we were doing everything we could to ensure her safety,” he added.
“Obviously, this is not a situation we would put most victims in,” Massey noted. “But she felt very compelled to go have that conversation with him—this is very extraordinary.”
According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, after listening to the recording, jurors last month convicted Chaisson of aggravated sexual assault of a child and two counts of indecency by contact. He was sentenced to life in prison, in addition to two seven-year sentences that Judge Ralph Strother ordered to be served consecutively. (He won’t be eligible for parole for at least 42 years, the Tribune-Herald reports.)
One other victim testified during Hannah’s trial, but others came forward to Hannah and to the prosecutors during the McLennan County investigation.
“I could spend the rest of my career trying these cases, if I had the jurisdiction,” Massey said.
Though Hannah was empowered by her police training to take an active role in catching Chaisson, it was also an emotional decision.
“She did struggle with it a whole lot,” Massey said. “This is someone that she loved and cared for and has been part of her family for many, many years. Although she feels relieved, she’s still very sad that it ever had to come to this.”
“In our conversation that day in the park, you were right,” Hannah wrote in her victim-impact statement to Chaisson. “You did come into our lives for a reason, and that reason was to fulfill your need for a family and love… But love should not hurt.”
After the trial, Hannah said, “I feel like I helped people that hadn’t reported, and I helped the others get closure. I feel like I helped protect anyone who may have been a victim in the future.”