The Unexpected Ship

By Dorothy Stiegler with Rich DuBose

Photo by Dreamstime

What amazes me about people is that even though some are faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, they move ahead with courage and hope.

I'm inspired by their dreams and their determination to press on. I recently met one such individual in the little mountain community of Volcano, California.

Dorothy Stiegler is not your typical sixty-something woman who quietly waits to retire so she can sit in her rocker. She is a seasoned and renowned blacksmith artist who loves to hammer raw iron or bronze into beautiful pieces of functional art. She loves riding motorcycles and relishes working outdoors in her vineyard and rock garden.

I first met Dorothy while visiting her church as a guest speaker on a warm summer day. Something about her demeanor hinted that she was living the dream God had planted in her heart, so I wanted to know more. What I learned is that Dorothy's life has not been easy and that over the years God has patiently led her through some very difficult times. One such moment occurred when she was in her twenties. Looking back now, she firmly believes that God saved her life.

It happened in late February of 1974 near Olympia, Washington, where Dorothy lived with her husband and 5-year-old son, Grant. She was a pretty, slim young woman who had long flowing red hair that hung below her waist and was parted down the middle.

A Visit to the Park

That day Dorothy took Grant to the park close to their home. Priest Point Park is located along the lower Olympic Peninsula coastline, just outside Olympia, and has one full mile of saltwater shoreline. The 314-acre park has steep ravines, cliffs, boardwalk style walkways and extensive old growth timber. It is a truly spectacular paradise of adventure for a 5-year-old boy.

Upon entering the park, Dorothy noticed they were practically the only people there. Except for one other car, the parking lot was empty. They played on the swings and walked the winding remote paths from one area of the huge park to another.

The only other person in the park was a well-dressed businessman. Quite striking, he almost seemed out of place. When she first noticed him, he had on a red plaid hunter jacket over his neatly pressed clothes. As Dorothy and Grant swung higher and higher, the man watched as her long hair drug in the sand.

As they continued to move throughout the park enjoying their play, Dorothy noticed the man observing them, although he was no longer wearing the plaid jacket but was now wearing a light-yellow, button-up shirt, pleated khaki slacks, and dress shoes. Wherever she and Grant went, the man seemed to be nearby. It was almost as if he was following them. His gaze made Dorothy uneasy. Assuming she was being oversensitive, she brushed it off.

As time went by, Dorothy felt the man was genuinely watching her, giving her a growing sense of discomfort. Taking Grant’s hand, she said, "Let's go play on the cannons!” As they ran along the path towards the cliff above the channel, Dorothy prayed to God for a sign; "Dear God, if this man means to do us harm, let there be a large ship in the Sound." She felt safe with this prayer because in all the times she had come to the park, she had never seen a large ship anywhere near that area. Certainly, if one were there, it would be a sign from God.

As they approached the cannons, high on the cliff overlooking the water, the largest ship Dorothy had ever seen sat directly in front of her. It was a huge freighter, dead center in the middle of the channel, directly below where she stood. The ship sighting was so completely unusual that she felt, surely, it was just a fluke. She ignored the direct answer to prayer, the warning sign of danger.

Trying not to alarm her son, she said, “Grant, let’s go down to the beach!” The single path down to the beach was steep and slippery. It had been carved by the brave and adventurous who wanted to descend the more than 200 feet to the water below. Carefully, Grant and Dorothy made their way to the beach. They played among the driftwood and kelp piles that remained behind when the tide retreated.

Suddenly, the man was there on the beach between them and the trail up to the park. He lounged at the trail head, puffing on his pipe, looking out at the water. She could see his brown eyes, shadowed by his dark brown hair, looking passively in her direction. He was tall, about 6 foot, give or take. “He’s a very handsome man,” she noted, attempting to convince herself that he wasn’t a threat.

Although he did not approach her, Dorothy felt increasingly unsettled by his presence. She tried to convince herself that she was over-reacting, being unreasonably concerned. “Maybe it’s only a coincidence that he happens to be here, standing between us and the path back up to the park,” she thought.

After spending a few minutes at the beach, and half-heartily convincing herself that the man was benign, Dorothy felt she needed to head for home.

The trail was the obvious route from the beach back to the parking lot. She reasoned that he would probably step aside if she were to try to go past him, but something deep within told her not to go near him. There was an alternative route--a steep cliff nearby that could be scaled if one was willing to put forth the effort. Dorothy thought this could be disguised as a fun adventure for Grant, for she did not want to alarm him. Grabbing his hand she said, "Let's go climb a mountain," in a tone she hoped sounded cheerful.

Even though Grant was only 5 years-old, with Dorothy pushing him uphill, he was able to climb the steep cliff. It felt like an eternity to reach the top, but the alternate route gave Dorothy the time she needed; they moved quickly toward the parking lot.

At the parking lot, Grant wanted to have a pine cone war, and despite her better judgment, she conceded. Dorothy kept an eye out for the man as they threw pine cones back and forth, but he was nowhere in sight. She felt relieved that her fears had not materialized, so they continued their war, dodging and darting about. They drifted toward a very large old growth Western Cedar tree.

Eminent Danger

Suddenly, the man jumped from behind the tree, just three feet from her, and looked her squarely in the eyes. What Dorothy saw sent chills through her entire being. His eyes were flat, cold and devoid of anything human. Without question, he was a predator, she was his prey, and he was ready to capture her. Her blood ran cold, the hair on the back of her neck stood up. She wet her pants. She was terrified!

The world around her moved in slow motion, but Dorothy reacted instantly. She turned, ran toward Grant, grabbed his hand said, “I’ll race you to the car.”

They ran so fast it was as though they flew to the car, easily 500 yards away. She sensed the man racing right behind them. Flinging open the driver-side door, that was thankfully left unlocked, Dorothy threw Grant over to the passenger seat so hard, his little body rebounded off the window. Slamming the door, she bolted the locks, and quickly started the engine. She could hear the engine of his car roaring in her ears as she ducked her head and sped away.

Dorothy raced her little Corvair the 2 miles to the Olympia Sporting Goods store owned by her husband Ed’s parents. She ran into the store, dragging Grant behind her. Ed and his father were gunsmiths and worked closely with the local law enforcement. There were always two or three Olympia City policemen in the store and that day was no exception.

As Dorothy stammered out her story to her family and the policemen, they laughed and made jokes about it. They said things like, “If you weren’t so friendly…” and “If you weren’t so pretty…” and “ You’re such a flirt, you probably imagined it all…” They heard her words, but not one of them actually listened.

They blamed her for the encounter. No one wrote down a single word of her story. Over the months following the incident, Dorothy's family and friends took opportunity to tease her, saying things such as “Seen any more good-looking, scary men?”

It was the most frightening encounter that Dorothy had ever had. Who was that man, and why was he after her? Although she told her family, the police, and her friends, describing in detail the event, Dorothy wondered why no one believed her?

Then the local paper reported the abduction of Donna Manson, a young woman from Evergreen State College. She was never found. At the time, the Lake Sammash abductions hadn’t happened. With the exception of one woman from the University of Washington and Donna Manson, no one was missing from other college campuses around the state. No one was looking for a serial killer.

As time went on, several abductions and gruesome murders of young women took place in Washington State by a serial killer calling himself Ted. Still, no one saw any connection between the park incident and these murders.

The Moment of Truth

About 18 months later, Dorothy ran up the stairs from the sporting goods store to the kitchen. On the table was the Daily Olympian newspaper. The front page ran a photo of a man who had been captured and suspected of the now infamous “Ted” murders. She nearly fainted. “That’s the guy!! That’s the man who followed me in the park!” She knew that this was the man who had stalked her and intended her harm.

“That can’t be,” her family scoffed, “That’s Ted Bundy, the serial killer.” “I don’t know who he is,” Dorothy insisted, “but that is the man in the park.”

Dorothy believes that she may have been one of the few victims to escape Ted Bundy's grasp. Police later re-interviewed her. They concluded that, initially, Bundy was not leaving witnesses and that, in all likelihood, the presence of her son Grant could very well have saved her life. Additionally, they believed that, had he killed her, Donna Manson would be alive today.

Why Donna Manson was taken while Dorothy was spared is a mystery. But Dorothy is certain that God spared her life for a reason. This is why she dedicates her life to serving Him each day.

"Truly, O God of Israel, our Savior, you work in mysterious ways" --Isaiah 45:15 NLT