Fail Safe

She thought she lived in a secure place. What she didn't know was that her landlord, desperate for tenants, would invite terror inside.

She could hear him moving around the room and muttering. Then he came close again, so close she could hear his breath rasp. He tied her hands behind her back with some kind of cord -- for some reason her mind fastened on this, trying to figure out whether it was a telephone cord. Then he made another drink, twisted his fingers into her short blond hair and pulled her up until she was sitting. He took the sheet out of her mouth and held the glass to her lips, tilting it, pouring vodka into her.

He said he was going to call his buddies over so she could "take care" of all of them.

Thinking fast, Karen told him she had AIDS.

A mugshot of Walter David Kemp, the ex-con who 
attacked a Plaza Square neighbor
A mugshot of Walter David Kemp, the ex-con who attacked a Plaza Square neighbor
The Plaza Square Apartments, where security 
measures were compromised by a desperate need for 
tenants.
Jennifer Silverberg
The Plaza Square Apartments, where security measures were compromised by a desperate need for tenants.

Furious again, he gagged her. Finally he said he'd make her a deal: He wouldn't call his buddies if she'd give him all the blowjobs he wanted for the next 72 hours. His voice softened, turned conciliatory. If she did it good, he said, maybe he would let her go home early.

He pulled off her black shorts and soft white cotton T-shirt and fondled her body. Then he made her take him in her mouth.

Over the course of the night, Karen had to perform oral sex on him seven times, smell his musk and taste his skin and fight not to gag. A couple of times he passed out. Then he'd come to and push her head between his legs again. He untied her hands and indicated, after masturbating, that she should hold his penis. He told her it had been twenty years since he had come with a woman. He made her swallow the semen that finally spurted.

He said she was going to stay with him for 48 hours or he'd kill her, put her body in storage in the basement where nobody would ever find it.

Then he said that if she promised to give him another blowjob in the morning, he'd let her go afterward. She promised, then pretended to fall asleep. He lay down next to her but soon got up again.

She heard him walking around for much of the night, restless as a caged animal.


In Kemp's version, given in a phone interview from prison, he had his apartment door open that evening, and Karen stepped in for a drink. He says he always "kept the ladies a cold drink" and was never short of female company at Plaza Square.

"You know how many ladies of the evening used to come up to my apartment? The cheap ones?" he clarifies. "I met them at the halfway house. I had plenty of sex."

He says he drank more heavily than Karen did that night. He thinks it was beer but says, sure, it could've been vodka -- he drinks that, too.

"Shit escalated," he recalls, "but not like she said."

He repeats that she was with him of her own volition. Then he notes that he could've killed her if he'd wanted to:

"I've done three homicides, a couple stabbings in the joint -- so I'm just wondering why this lady would say all this and not have a scratch on her. She wasn't chained or gagged or hangin' off my balcony. My background, I would've had her in a garbage can."

Kemp says Karen made him angry:

"She was a little uppity. She's yuppie, money-hungry. I'm kind of kicked-back, I don't judge people too much, just do my thing and float down the road. But Miss [Karen] didn't like people that lived week to week, and she didn't like ex-felons. She said something kind of downgradin', and I just took it wrong."

Later he insists that Karen enjoyed his attentions:

"When the alarm went off the next morning, she wanted me to reset it for a couple hours later so we could sleep longer."


Karen says that when the alarm shrilled at 5 a.m., she yawned, pretending she'd slept. Kemp seemed sober, his behavior subdued.

"You better promise not to tell anyone in the building what happened last night," she dared, keeping her voice light.

He assured her that it would be their little secret -- as long as she didn't call the police. If she called the police, he'd kill her.

Karen promised she wouldn't call the police. Kemp, forgetting the promised blowjob, apologized for what he'd done and let her go.

Back inside her apartment, she ran to the shower and spun the faucet as hot as it would go. Then she put on fresh clothes and called her friend Nicole, who lived out in Chesterfield.

Karen begged Nicole to come get her, pointing out that she couldn't call the police from her apartment or Kemp would see the patrol car pull up.

Nicole brought her father, who came upstairs to get Karen. They went straight to police headquarters on Clark Avenue, and Karen's mother and stepfather met them there.

When Detective Linda Mopkins showed up for work at 7 a.m., they were waiting for her.

Upstairs in the Sex Crimes Office, Karen reached into her purse and pulled out Kemp's black-handled knife. He must have left it on her kitchen counter when he took her across the hall; she'd found it that morning and wrapped it in a plastic bag.

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