In 2011, casting director and art curator Lenora Claire was living her best life. She’d already led several colorful lives, in fact, as an original Hot Topic model, child actress, radio and TV host, nightlife figure, performance artist, and entertainment journalist. And now her underground art gallery, Pop tART — which showcased exhibits like “Golden Gals Gone Wild” (erotic depictions of the Golden Girls) and “Bettie Page: Heaven Bound” — had just earned her a feature as one of Los Angeles’s most interesting people in L.A. Weekly’s annual best-of issue. But then that article attracted the attention of someone named Justin Massler — or “Cloud Starchaser,” as he is sometimes known — to Pop tART, and Claire’s life changed forever.
“He showed up to my art gallery wearing a spacesuit. I have a high tolerance for art shenanigans, and in that world, this was not unusual, so I engaged in a conversation,” Claire tells Yahoo Entertainment. “I could tell right away he was highly intelligent, but something was off. And then he looked right at me and he said, ‘You look like Jessica Rabbit. And I’m going to stalk you.’”
Before meeting Claire, Massler had stalked Ivanka Trump, reportedly attempting suicide in one of her stores. His other high-profile stalking victims have included Kim Kardashian to Gwyneth Paltrow, and he has been served with more than 40 restraining orders from dozens of women. And, after meeting Claire at her gallery and becoming obsessed with her, he proceeded to stalk her and make her life hell for years. The authorities didn’t take Massler seriously at first, despite his long history of terrifying behavior, so Claire embarked on her own crusade, ultimately succeeding in getting Massler the maximum prison sentence in California for felony stalking: four years. But now, due to a California’s controversial and misleadingly worded Prop 57 — under which “nonviolent” offenders get early release — Massler is being paroled this week after only serving half of that time.
However, this troubling new development has only made Claire — whom Vice once called “the Erin Brockovich of stalking” — even more determined to be an outspoken advocate for victims’ rights. Just this week, she made her second appearance on Dr. Oz, this time alongside famous criminal psychologist Dr. Kris Mohandie, with whom she’s developing a true crime podcast called “Every Breath You Take.”
Claire says her nightmare began when Massler started sending handwritten letters, or “epic, schizophrenic ramblings,” to her gallery; once he found her website, which she’d set up in 1998 at the start of her modeling career, he began contacting her via email. She says his communications weren't threatening at first, though they were “creepy and kooky,” like the time he saw her post a party pic on social media and sent her a message that said, "You should not be going to parties. You have magic powers. I need to kidnap you to harness your powers to fight ISIS.” But eventually, his messaging escalated to the point of daily, “graphic and disgusting” rape and death threats.
“He fluctuates between being in love with me and wanting to kill me,” Claire explains. “He also believes that, because I'm Jewish, I am part of a Zionist conspiracy. His fantasy is either raping me to death or gassing me through my door, which is what they used in Holocaust. Back then I just lived in an apartment, and anybody could have gassed me through my door. I have insomnia to this day because of years of being afraid of being gassed. I don't know if I will ever sleep normally.” Claire says she also suffers from PTSD.
Claire took out a restraining order, but says Massler violated it “4,000 times” and the authorities for the most part turned a blind eye. (“I'm not coming out like, ‘F*** the police,’” she stresses. “I want to work with them, because they need to understand things in victim intake. We need people law enforcement who have training to properly handle these things, and I want to work with law enforcement to do that.”) Claire never directly engaged with her stalker, never responded to any of his messages, but she didn’t change her email or phone numbers or block him on social media either, because she needed to document his behavior and craft a detailed, compelling case against him.
“Everyone was like, ‘Block it, block it!’ I said, ‘No, I need to track it. I need to know what's going on. I need to know where he is, what's happening,’” she explains. “My father was a psychiatrist, and he advised me, ‘You can't ignore it, because that doesn't actually help you when you're in this situation. You need to know exactly what's going on.’ So, I started tracking it. I taught myself how to track an IP, because I'm able through his emails to know what state he's in, because he bounces around the country.’”
Eventually Claire went to LAPD with her extensive documentation. She even showed them websites Massler had set up with blogs about killing and raping her, with his actual phone number at the bottom, but she says the police did “absolutely nothing” to help her. They even advised her, “Dye your hair and get off the internet,” as if her trademark flaming red hair and sexy wardrobe were to blame. Claire has endured that sort of shaming and blaming ever since — for instance, the comments sections on an article about her ordeal in The Daily Mail or the YouTube video of her interview on Crime Watch are both filled with shaming and blaming remarks about Claire’s looks. Some people even think she should be flattered by Massler’s attention (a famous ex-boyfriend of Claire’s once insensitively told her, "I'm a celebrity, and I don't even have a stalker!"). Claire is having none of it.
“So, I have to diminish myself in order not to be a crime victim? These attitudes are archaic. Let's send them back to the '50s where they belong. This is no longer acceptable, and we need to not have these attitudes. People frequently start to do that with me, and I'm like, ‘We're going to shut this down right here. This is not effective for me as a victim. This is not effective for law enforcement. Why don't we get to solutions, rather than blaming me for my appearance?’”
It was another TV interview, on 48 Hours alongside Pauly Perrette, that was a turning point, when the police started to realize that Massler was a true danger to Claire, to himself, and to society in general. Massler surprisingly agreed to do a FaceTime interview the show’s host, Erin Moriarty, and “that actually changed the public perception of my case,” Claire recalls. “I went from victim to activist and advocate. As soon as people saw the footage, they were like, ‘Oh, s***, she's not lying. He is terrifying.” The TV show later gave the footage to Mohandie, who confirmed that Massler posed a real threat. Shortly after that, Massler, whom Claire says has been diagnosed schizophrenic, was picked up and put in a psychiatric ward. For a while, she breathed easier.
But then, a week after the 2016 presidential election, Claire received a phone call from the Secret Service — due to the new first daughter’s history with Massler — alerting her that Massler had broken out of the mental facility. A few days later, he was apprehended at Trump Tower and he went to jail. But despite the Trump connection, he received a short sentence, because his crime was considered a misdemeanor in the state of New York. And soon, Massler headed back to L.A., and he let Claire know that he was actively looking for her. This time, he wasn’t just messaging Claire, but also her fiancé, her beauty salon, and even her dog groomer (apparently as part of a scheme to kidnap her dog). Then Claire got an email from him saying, “I know you go to L.A. Comic Con. I'm going to go there and kidnap you.” That was when she came up with a plan to make sure Massler’s next conviction would be more severe.
“He didn't realize that I know the owners of L.A. Comic Con, so I set up an operation. That's exactly what happened. He comes to Comic Con with the intention of kidnapping me. The day, security, everybody knows, so when he gets there a bunch of dudes dressed up as Batman, Superman, cosplay guys, pulled his ass down. Then he gets brought in because it's a violation of my many restraining orders. … We finally had my trial a year later, and I got him on felony stalking max. I'm very proud that I'm the first person to get him on a felony.”
Unfortunately, while Claire got justice, it wasn’t enough, and on Dec. 6, Massler will be back on the streets. To cope, she’s tried to focus to helping other victims, or potential victims, as that scary date has loomed. “My honest concern is, I'm worried about other people. Because he targets so many people, he is going to kill somebody. It may not be me, but it's going to be somebody. Trust me, I take no joy in being right in this,” she laments.
So, Claire regularly meets with her “mentor,” veteran criminal prosecutor Rhonda Saunders (who was instrumental in establishing this country’s first anti-stalking laws in the 1990s), about legislative reform; she’s also met with working with Congressman Adam Schiff. Some of Claire’s ideas include being able to send restraining orders electronically; creating a federal stalking registry; establishing a law that would forbid anyone that has been served three restraining orders from obtaining a hand gun; and requiring that stalkers on probation wear ankle monitors that alert their past victims of their proximity. Claire has also helped 19 women get restraining orders, even being their human shield when those women have gone to court. She also teaches risk minimization — simple things like installing ring cameras at home, not posting one’s real-time whereabouts on social media, and being careful about photo geo-tagging and the public dissemination of one’s personal information “It's not about saying, ‘Get off the internet,’ or ‘Alter your lifestyle,’” she clarifies. “It’s just about existing in a way that's natural to you, but being aware of these things, and this can help protect you.”
Claire does say, however, that she wishes Massler’s most famous victim — and presumably the one in the best position to help — Ivanka Trump, would step up. “I used to think I’d won the ‘stalking lottery.’ Like, I'm the one person that benefits from the Trump presidency,” she quips. “But Ivanka won't connect with me. I've tried for years. I’ve even called her out in various media headlines. This is a bipartisan issue; we may not be in the same place politically, but this happens to everybody, so let's work together. But she has not responded. This just may not be the administration for crimes that happen largely to women to be taken seriously.”
Whether or not Ivanka Trump is listening, Claire now has a platform, and she’s using it to the fullest. And she is being heard. “At this point, I'm just changing the narrative,” she asserts. “I'm like, oh, hell no. I'm not going to be victimized in that way anymore. Come at me, and I'm going to put you in jail. I'm going to do this thing. I'm going to help other people. And I'm going to use this crazy-ass story to get change.”
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