By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Pete turns his head away in frustration. "That is absolute hogwash," he says.
"You told everyone she wanted your money," says Yager. "She didn't want your money. She just wanted her kid to be safe."
Pete points his finger directly at Faye, fumbling for the right words. "What gives you the reason to play God?"
This comment garners slight applause, but Sally cuts in, moving the confrontation away from Pete and onto the next dad. Unable to tell his story in full, Pete feels frustrated and cheated.
The Dallas Observer had detailed his eight-year nightmare in December 1993, in a cover story titled, "In the Interest of Alicia." Sitting in the television studio, Pete realized much of the story bore repeating. He wanted viewers from across the country to understand how the legal system was often incapable of handling the hate of its litigants; how the courts and due process sometimes victimize the very children they purport to protect; how an extraordinarily manipulative woman--having been rejected repeatedly by the courts--had turned to emotional abuse, brainwashing, and finally kidnapping to deprive him of his daughter.
Still, Pete got enough of what he wanted: 15 uninterrupted seconds when Alicia's photograph flashed across the screen, burning her image into the minds of six million viewers. Juxtaposed next to Alicia was a photo of Pat and Mark Hall underscored with the plea, "If you have seen this child or her abductors, please call 1-800-843-5678, the hotline for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children."
Maybe now someone would have the courage to step forward. Maybe now his exhaustive search would bring some solid leads. Maybe now someone--somewhere--would help him find his daughter.
It was easy to cast Pat Hope as a gold-digging opportunist. After all, it was a role she played for Pete Connell with rich aplomb.
Born to poverty as one of seven children, raised in a meager two-bedroom house in Pleasant Grove, young Pat quickly acquired a taste for the finer things in life, says her mother Fannie. Yet when Pete Connell met her in 1984, Pat appeared to have satisfied at least some of her materialistic cravings. She drove a Mercedes, lived in a tony Turtle Creek high rise, seemed a savvy, go-getting real-estate broker who knew exactly what she wanted.
According to Connell, what she wanted was him.
Pete was born and raised in Highland Park. He worked in his dad's business, Connell Development, which was experiencing rapid growth during the 1980s boom years. He was mild-mannered, good-natured, and wounded--going through a divorce that just refused to go away. Pete grew infatuated with Pat--her doe-eyed innocence, her wispy voice, her sexy, self-assured demeanor.
Against his lawyer's advice, Pete and Pat began living together and talking about marriage. Pat was so persistent, so persuasive, says one acquaintance, she could talk a preacher out of his collection plate.
Over time, Pete began to sour on the relationship. Pat acted overly possessive, he says, demanding all his attention. She alienated him from his parents and his friends; his two teen-age daughters found her selfish and crassly materialistic.
Whether indecisive or just downright intimidated, Pete didn't tell Pat he wanted out. Before he could summon the courage, Pat had some news for Pete: She was pregnant--and wanted to get married. Pete says he felt trapped, surprised. He told her he needed time to think.
Never one to risk confrontation, Pete gave Pat his answer by mail. "I want my freedom," he wrote. "As far as my responsibility in the future is concerned, you will have my support, and I will gladly be a father to your child."
If Pete thought things were over, he was sorely mistaken. Pat refused to leave his home, changing the locks to buy time until he changed his mind.
But Pete wanted no more of Pat Hope. He tried to have her evicted, but the process took too long. So he broke into his own house and gained the cooperation of a police officer who threatened to arrest Pat for criminal trespass if she didn't leave. Forced out while seven months' pregnant, Pat was filled with hatred for the man who she felt had done her wrong.
Two months later, on November 28, 1985, Pat gave birth to Alicia Louise Hope, refusing to use the Connell name. She had already sued Pete for paternity, claiming she needed child support of $5,000 a month--a figure which, according to Pete's attorney, included the cost of lunching at the Mansion several times a week with her baby girl.
When Judge Don Koons awarded Pat only $1,500 a month in child support, she accused the judge of being in collusion with the Connell clan.
Pete did deny paternity, but only on the advice of his lawyer and only until blood tests proved he was the father. Then, allowed a few short hours with Alicia every month, Pete began bonding with his daughter. Alicia even looked like a Connell: Her cherubic cheeks, broad forehead, and knowing smile endeared her to Pete.
Then in December 1987, after Alicia had turned 2, Pete was allowed to have her for overnight visitation at his home. But Pat refused to let him have her, repeatedly claiming the little girl was sick.