Montana used car salesman Bill Strunk takes woman for a ride
R. C. “Bill” Strunk and Dr. Louise Rosen were dining in Le CafÃ©, an upscale restaurant in prestigious Westlake Village, outside of Los Angeles, California. As they sipped their wine, Strunk brought out a small green velvet box.
“I was planning to give this to you when you come up to Montana,” Strunk said, according to Rosen. “I’ve been keeping it in my safe. But I brought it with me, and I’d like to give it to you now.”
Rosen opened the box. Inside, she says, was a gold pendant of Our Lady of Guadalupe, encircled by 14 diamonds, and suspended from a heavy 24-inch gold chain.
“Do you have a safe?” Strunk asked, according to Rosen. She didn’t. “Well, do you have a safe place where you can keep it? Because it’s very, very expensive. Promise me you’ll be very, very careful with it.” She promised.
That was February, 2003. Rosen and Strunk had known each other since the previous October. Rosen, a board-certified doctor of naturopathy, was 65 years old and had been widowed for eight years. But she followed the advice of her profession, ate right, exercised and looked 20 years younger than her age. Strunk, 71, was a used auto dealer from Great Falls, Montana who made frequent buying trips to southern California. They had been introduced by a mutual friend who owned an herb store.
Rosen says that several months after meeting Strunk, she began accompanying him to the southern California auto auctions, helping him look over cars to determine which he should buy. During these trips, they stayed in the penthouse suites at four-star hotels. Rosen says Strunk paid all the expenses and gave her $300 to $500 per trip for her efforts.
Move to Montana
As a naturopath, Rosen had a stable base of clients. She was also an authorized dealer for Nature’s Sunshine supplements. Rosen says Strunk sponsored several trips for her to visit Great Falls, where he introduced her to potential clients. By July, 2003, Rosen says Strunk was talking to her about moving to Great Falls to live with him. He told her she could make a lot of money from her health practice in Great Falls, and he would furnish her with airline tickets anytime she wanted to return to southern California to take care of her clients.
Rosen says Strunk also suggested that she turn in her leased 2002 Chevy Blazer, and he would provide her with a vehicle, saving her $500 a month. Rosen declined to move to Montana at the time—she felt she should know someone at least a year before making such a drastic life change. But Strunk did persuade her to accept a vehicle.
In November, 2003, Rosen moved to Montana. She says Strunk drove her, her dog, Sparky, and some of her belongings in a red Chevrolet pickup truck that he had purchased at auction. Rosen says Strunk promised to move the rest of her household goods in cars and trucks as he purchased them for shipment to Montana. So Rosen put her belongings in storage near one of the auction sites.
Cooking and cleaning for Bill Strunk
Two months after moving into Strunk’s Montana home, Rosen noticed that the carpeting around the basement washing machine was wet. Pipes were leaking, and black mold was growing around the carpet. The dryer wasn’t vented to the outside, which also fostered the growth of mold. Rosen says she repeatedly gave Strunk information about the health hazards of mold, but he refused to make any changes. By April, 2004, Rosen was sneezing and coughing frequently.
And she wasn’t living the upscale lifestyle she had expected. Rosen says the caliber of the restaurants they ate at declined dramatically, and Strunk expected her to cook. But two burners of the stove didn’t work, and neither did the oven-it was full of paperwork from old auto transactions. In fact, Rosen says, years’ worth of papers were piled everywhere-on the floor, on the dining table-and Strunk would not allow them to be moved. They ate on TV trays in the living room.
Before Rosen moved in Strunk employed a cleaning lady. No more.
Rosen says she also spent much of her time helping Strunk in his business. She washed cars, cleaned interiors, drove cars to and from repair shops and did secretarial work. For all of this, Rosen says, Strunk paid her absolutely nothing.
Stench in the carpet
In August, 2004, Strunk announced that he wanted to “get the house fixed up.” Rosen says he asked her to go to a local cleaning contractor to select new floor coverings. Then the contractor removed carpet from the upstairs bathroom, which had probably been installed around 1990. Below it was another carpet that appeared to be from 1960. “The stench emanating from the two layers of carpet was unbelievably overwhelming,” Rosen says. “But that wasn’t all. Beneath the carpeting was a layer of asbestos tile which was widely used in the early 1950s. Water and urine had apparently reacted and over time and rotted out the asbestos tile. In addition, the three-quarter inch plyboard under the asbestos tile was rotten around the commode and the bathtub, all the way to the sub-flooring.”
According to Rosen, Strunk mumbled something about the cost of a new floor and did nothing to get the mess repaired. Rosen finally bought heavy duty plastic to cover the bathroom floor and walls.
In the meantime, Rosen’s health deteriorated. She had frequent heavy sneezing, nosebleeds, labored breathing, fever, fatigue and sleep deprivation. In late September she saw a pulmonary specialist in California, who ordered numerous tests. When Rosen got back to Montana, the doctor called with the results-she had high levels of aspergillus mold in her blood. “Clean up the house or move out of it, that’s the cause of your problem,” the doctor said, according to Rosen.
Rosen asked Strunk for airline tickets so she could travel back to California for a follow-up appointment and medical care. His response, according to Rosen, was, “Get a mule.”
Time to leave
At this point, Rosen believed she was being abused and had to leave. She called a psychologist friend, who advised her to keep her escape plans to herself. “You may be in physical danger,” the psychologist told her. “Do not cross him, do not answer him sharply, say ‘yes, dear’ and ‘no, dear’ and do not do anything to provoke him.”
Rosen planned to leave while Strunk was on his next buying trip, which was scheduled for mid-October. But Strunk got sick, and didn’t leave until November 8. The bathroom remained in disrepair.
“For six weeks, I couldn’t get away,” Rosen says. “For six weeks I fetched his tea and did nothing to confront him.”
Finally she took him to the airport. Then she put her belongings in storage and packed herself, Sparky and some important belongings into one of Strunk’s vehicles-a 2001 Dodge Durango.
Before driving away on November 10, 2004, Rosen left a message on the bathroom tiles: “EVEN PIGS DON’T LIVE LIKE THIS.”