Sunday, July 14, 1996
The twisted journey of Keith Luecke

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The woman's voice was shaking with anger. Luckily, I was out of the office on important and dangerous business, so she bawled me out on my voice mail. She was furious at us in the media.

''Why are you people treating this story like it's a romance? I consider that man a rapist.'' She was talking about Keith Luecke, 34, a church youth director from Batavia who eluded police for nearly three months. With him was a 14-year-old girl.

That same day, Glenn Hartong, an Enquirer photographer, was nailed by a woman who complained that ''you people'' are being too hard on ''that poor man.'' She told Glenn ''It's all that little Lolita's fault. These little girls dress up in all them tight clothes and drive men mad.''

Well then, madam, I think all the mad men should be locked up. And you are a nitwit, and I hope ''we people'' are not responsible for your point of view. Oooh, does that sound a little unkind?

Good. Generally speaking, I reserve my most unkind thoughts for adults who find themselves unable to resist the sexual temptation of children. Actually, I think we should lock them up and throw away the key. Just so they won't be tormented by little girls in tank tops and little boys in bicycle shorts.

Lucky to be ignored

Most adult women can remember having adolescent crushes on our algebra teachers or our ministers or even our dermatologists. Most of us were lucky enough to be ignored.

A woman cleaning out the room in South Carolina where the Batavia man was arrested found a diary. ''There was a lot of sexual stuff in there, on his part mainly. Hers is more like she was in love,'' the woman said. Big surprise.

She's a kid. Sitting in Judge William Walker's courtroom last week, Alecia Campbell watched the room fill with television cameras. She watched as the man accused of corrupting her minced into the room, hobbled by an ankle chain. Her blunt features were shiny, no makeup, not even lipstick. Maybe she's not allowed. Her mother was there, looking grim. Alecia chewed gum.

Is she a troubled child? Is she incorrigible? I don't know. But I know she is 14 years old. And she looks and acts her age.

He is a 34-year-old man who left his wife and seven children to live with an eighth-grade girl in a sleazy motor lodge.

About 15 feet away from the Campbells, Keith Luecke chatted comfortably with another prisoner. Clean-shaven, hair brushed neatly, he's better groomed than the four other prisoners. I wonder whether they have mousse and blow-dryers in jail. It looks as if they do.

Mr. Luecke, who is in the Clermont County jail on $2 million bond, faces 12 felony counts of corruption of a minor, a felony charge of child stealing and five misdemeanor counts of sexual imposition.

Innocent until proved guilty

The court will see whether he is guilty of breaking the law. Here's what I saw. He repeatedly winked and smiled at the young girl sitting across the courtroom from him. He mouthed the words, ''I love you'' twice, ''I miss you'' once.

He avoided the eyes of Chris Luecke, his wife of 12 years. She sat quietly, resting one freckled arm along the back of the pew-like seat about 6 inches from Alecia's face. Her eyes, blue almost violet, missed nothing.

Leaving the courtroom, Mrs. Luecke walked directly across the street to her attorney's office to file for divorce. ''I just realized,'' she said, ''that he feels like he's in love with a 14-year-old baby. He's sick. He could turn around and do this to other kids. To my kids. He shouldn't be around children.''

Clermont County Prosecutor Don White said, ''We're going to make sure he goes to prison for as long as we can get him there.'' That would be 25 years, tops.

I have seen Mr. White in action when he believes a child has been wronged, and I believe he is most sincere. He was able to sic one of the Tristate's best prosecutors on this case. Daniel J. ''Woody'' Breyer is brilliant, committed and fierce. And very effective.

Keith Luecke is in serious trouble.

Good.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.