Crystal Gail Mangum insists she was sexually assaulted at a Duke lacrosse team party, even though the state attorney general dropped all charges this week because of a lack of evidence and her conflicting versions.
Mangum isn't offering an explanation. She continues to avoid reporters as she has in the year since she first claimed she was raped by three athletes. Even the people who know her only obscure the picture with their own contradictions about who she is.
But interviews and records obtained by The News & Observer make this much clear: The 28-year-old woman has struggled with poverty, alcohol abuse and psychological instability. In recent years she turned to therapists for help with bipolar disorder and other mental problems and took anti-psychotic medication.
As N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said at Wednesday's news conference, the special prosecutors and State Bureau of Investigation agents who interviewed her concluded that "she may actually believe the many different stories that she has been telling."
Her emotional problems surfaced as a teenager.
She was 14 when she took up with a man twice her age. Three years after that, in 1996, she told police that the boyfriend had "shared" her sexually with three friends in a trailer home on a country road in Creedmoor. She filed a police report but never provided a written account of what happened, as an officer had requested, and the case was not pursued.
Still, she wrote about the incident in her diary, according to a boyfriend who told police he came across the entry in 2000.
Her parents say the assault left her depressed and that she saw a therapist for a year after and took prescription medicine. But they insist she didn't suffer lasting psychological damage.
Crystal Mangum enlisted in the Navy in 1997, the year after she graduated from Hillside High School, and married a man 14 years her senior while in training school in Virginia. Her Navy stint was tumultuous and brief.
Soon after being assigned to an ammunition ship in California in January 1998, Mangum began a relationship with a fellow sailor, Richard Ramseier, and she quickly became pregnant. Within six months she was abruptly discharged for reasons that have not been made public, although it wasn't because she was pregnant.
She gave birth to a son in February 1999, and 14 months later had another child, a girl. The couple broke up after she returned to Durham in 2000, and he remained in the Navy on the West Coast.
Ramseier declined to talk with The N&O about Mangum, other than to say he wasn't aware of any psychological problems she might have had.
Mangum had tried several jobs but she discovered that dancing in strip clubs was a quicker way to make a living. Still, it made her uneasy and she turned to her family's minister for advice.
"The first time she came to me I said, 'Girl, you're just opening yourself up to a wild pack with this exotic dancing," said Delois Burnette, Mangum's former minister who has known her since she was a child. "They're drinking, and they don't know their head from their tail."
Burnette eventually realized that Mangum also had a drinking problem. She had been arrested in 2000 for driving while impaired, although she wasn't convicted. Court records reflect that she later lost her driver's license but don't indicate how. Her boyfriend, Matthew Murchison, then 32, had just gotten out of state prison on a conviction as an habitual drunken driver.
Then in 2002 came a night of bizarre behavior that would be repeated in the coming years, including at the lacrosse party. That night in 2002, she appeared coherent one moment and falling-down intoxicated the next. She had been performing at a Durham strip club late on a Thursday night, and while fondling a customer who was a taxi driver she slipped his keys out of his pocket, according to a Durham County Sheriff's Office report.
She sneaked outside and, without turning on the headlights, drove off in the taxi and led deputies on a tire-screeching chase over five miles until she crashed. She laughed at a deputy who approached on foot and tried to run him over, the deputy wrote in his report.
When she was finally taken into custody, deputies said she kept trying to lie down and finally passed out cold. She was taken to the hospital, where she slept it off. She had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in her system.
Mangum turned once again to Burnette, asking her for money to help her pay for the damage to the taxi and to a patrol car. After pleading guilty to misdemeanors, she spent two weekends in jail and was ordered to find treatment for substance abuse.
"She is a very mild-mannered, very attractive young girl who made mistakes in life because of the influence of alcohol," Burnette said. "I told her, 'This is not a way of life. You've got children.' "
Checked into hospital
By 2005, Mangum recognized she was having problems. For one week that year she left her children with her parents and checked into a private mental health hospital in Raleigh.
Her father, Travis Mangum, and a cousin, Jackie Yancey, said she felt she needed help handling stress.
"It just became too much," Yancey said. "She tried to please others to a fault."
Around that time Mangum also began showing up at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill with a variety of complaints, including depression and anxiety, according to hospital records the district attorney subpoenaed in the lacrosse case.
The records indicate that she had a long history of psychological problems, including being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and that she named two anti-psychotic drugs that she had been prescribed. People with bipolar disorder experience swings in behavior.
Over the next year she danced nights at a strip club, attended daytime classes at N.C. Central University and squeezed in odd hours working as an escort.
Escort services send women to male callers for "companionship" or dancing for a flat rate. The companies typically skirt prostitution charges by claiming they're not responsible if their escorts engage in sex with a client. Mangum has never been arrested for prostitution.
In early 2006, she began dancing under the name "Precious" at The Platinum Club, a rundown strip joint in the countryside between Durham and Hillsborough. Yolanda Haynes, The Platinum Club's manager at the time, told investigators that Mangum seemed mentally unstable and appeared to be under the influence of drugs or drink whenever she was there.
She also got into fights with other dancers and with patrons, Haynes wrote in an affidavit in connection with the lacrosse case, and was repeatedly told to stop engaging in sexual contact with customers. One night, Haynes wrote, Mangum had to be separated from a female customer after making unwanted sexual advances to her. Mangum then walked into a back room, took off her clothes and passed out, Haynes said.
Club owner Victor Olatoye insists she collapsed from exhaustion. When workers put her on the couch, over-the-counter stimulants fell out of her purse, he told The N&O, and so he surmised that she had gone without sleep for a long time.
In the days leading up to the lacrosse party on March 13, 2006, Mangum frequently checked in with at least eight escort services, according to phone records that were subpoenaed in the case. She spent the weekend of the party with a friend, Jarriel Johnson, 32, of Raleigh, who drove her to a blur of escort appointments in hotels in Durham and Raleigh, he told police.
On the night of the party, Mangum has alternately said she was sober, that she drank two 22-ounce Icehouse beers and that she was drunk. At the party she seemed sober when she arrived but later collapsed and had to be helped into a car.
She struggled with an officer who tried to remove her from the car and then collapsed in the parking lot. When examined by medical workers later that night she was alternately incoherent and lucid.
'She had dreams'
Mangum only wanted a job, an education and a family, pastor Burnette and Yancey said. "She had dreams like any other young girl," Burnette said, but never had people around her who could help her financially or emotionally.
Her parents, who come from generations of Durham residents, have struggled to make ends meet for a long time, declaring bankruptcy four times in six years as they raised three children.
Travis Mangum, 63, is a retired long-distance trucker who has spent the past year doing what he did before the national news media arrived at his front door -- working on his cars and on those left by friends who ask him to help them out with repairs. Behind him, the 50-year-old house that her parents rent looks like a smudged little white box, closed tight against the world.
Mangum's parents and older brother and sister share this three-bedroom home south of downtown Durham, worth only $64,000. If there are answers inside, they are guarded at the front door.
During frequent visits by an N&O reporter this year, Mary Mangum, 61, has been friendly and willing to provide short answers but no explanations. Her husband enjoys making small talk and he likes to chat about his daughter, but his memory is unreliable. They insist they have never seen her act unstable.
Her brother, Travis "TJ" Jr., 36, is a large, affably eager man who offers a lot of opinions about his sister. But his father frequently corrects him.
"I might be wrong but I feel my sister had to grow up too fast," TJ said. "She was under a lot of stress. She lost her mind one time."
"She didn't lose her mind," his father said, referring to the incident in Creedmoor. "She was just depressed and got counseling."
In the shadows
In the past year Crystal Mangum has disappeared into the shadows. In the beginning, authorities put her up in a safe house -- a sprawling townhouse complex on Chapel Hill Street -- but she has reportedly stayed in several friends' and relatives' homes in the Triangle since then. She has dropped out of NCCU.
She is living off welfare and child-support payments but probably hasn't been dancing because she was pregnant most of the past year. Her mother says a lawyer may have helped her out with money to live on.
The people she had spent the most time with a year ago refuse to talk about her. Johnson and another man who drove her around, Brian Taylor, 28, of Durham, declined interview requests from The N&O this year. Murchison also refused requests to talk about his girlfriend.
Last April, Crystal Mangum told a detective that both of her children were having emotional problems because of the case, according to police. Yancey, her cousin, said at least one of her aunts has helped take care of them, and that Mangum has spent time away from the children to protect them from what has happened.
Her son is now 8; her daughter turned 7 on Thursday. On the afternoon of Feb. 3, she gave birth to a girl at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. She listed Murchison as the baby's father.
If her aunts have given refuge to Mangum or her children, they are not talking. Her parents say they don't know where their daughter and grandchildren have been staying.
On Thursday, Yancey said she was puzzled that the authorities think Mangum is so delusional that she mistakenly thinks she was raped. Yancey says she never saw nor heard of behavior that extreme from her cousin.
Yancey says she has seen Mangum a few times and talked to her on the phone frequently. She said she spoke with her cousin this week, and that Mangum accepted the charges being dropped.
"She's just glad it's over with," Yancey said.
(Staff writers Joseph Neff and Samiha Khanna and news researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.)
Staff writer Craig Jarvis can be reached at 829-4576 or email@example.com.