At least three women lived with Troy Graves and cared for him deeply - even bringing him into their family life - during the years he was stalking victims at night. And from their descriptions, the fundamental paradox of Troy Graves emerges:
He is a creative, soft-spoken, respectful and intelligent serial rapist and murderer, who formed such close bonds with the women in his life that, despite his odd habits, they did not - or refused to - believe he could be the man terrorizing their communities.
Cheri Ward dated him and lived with him for five years. Elizabeth Robinson shared an apartment with him at the time of at least four Center City attacks. And by the time he was caught in Colorado, Graves had married Amy Wade in a secret ceremony her parents knew nothing about.
Wade has been in seclusion since her husband was arrested. But Ward and Robinson, wanting to share what they know about Graves to help his victims, have spoken extensively about their relationships with him.
"I felt extremely guilty," said Robinson, who shared an apartment with Graves at 1001 Pine St. for about three years, "because I was living with him and didn't see it."
"He was silly. He laughed a lot," recalled Ward, now 28.
She is a pale woman with light brown hair that falls past her shoulders, but at the time she was a 16-year-old with rebellious blue-black hair. She sold clothing at a T.J. Maxx store. Graves, a year and a half older, worked at a movie theater a few stores away.
Graves developed a crush on Ward, and in typical teenage fashion, Graves told everyone except Ward that he wanted to ask her out. He was nervous around girls. So with butterflies in her stomach, Ward approached him instead.
Two weeks after they started dating, Graves gave her a couple of red roses.
"I think I love you," he said.
"I was like, 'Love me? You don't even know me,' " she recalled.
Both virgins, they waited a year before sleeping together. After that, he was "extremely sexually active," Ward said.
To his girlfriends, Graves made no secret of his brutal childhood.
Both blacks and whites taunted him because he was of mixed race.
And his home was no sanctuary, he told them. His father, Earl Clayton Graves, a welder for General Motors, was a physically abusive heroin addict, according to both family members and Troy Graves' former girlfriends. Graves' mother, Michal, divorced Earl when Troy was 13 and his older brother, Marc, was 20. Troy Graves said his father, who died homeless last year, ignored him.
Graves told Robinson that he had suffered extensive physical and mental abuse, and that he had been sexually molested. His molester would coerce him, he told her, as if the acts were mere affection: "Why don't you do this? You had a bad day. This will make you feel good. This will make me feel good."
Experts say that most people who suffer abuse do not go on to become violent themselves, but among people who do become violent criminals, it is a common factor.
"To me, the mental abuse that he suffered was a knife in his psyche, in his emotions, in his spirit," Robinson said. "To have these things going on in your house and then walk out in the world and visit your friends and see it's not going on in their house. ..."
In 1989, Graves dropped out of Bensalem High School, where he had few friends anyway. When Ward graduated from high school in 1991, the two moved to West Philadelphia so she could attend Temple. They both worked at the Sameric theater on Chestnut Street.
By then, Graves had begun to withdraw from her emotionally, Ward said. He seemed lazy and aimless. Still, they moved to Seventh and Pine Streets in 1993. And it was then that Graves first began to disappear for hours at night.
At first, he told Ward he couldn't sleep and was out looking at the stars. She believed him.
But she got a hint that something creepy was going on one night when police banged on their door.
A neighbor had seen Graves peeping into people's houses from the rooftop of their apartment building, had watched him dart back into their ground-floor apartment, and had called police. By the time officers came knocking, Graves had slipped back into bed.
Ward awoke and, having no idea that Graves had not been in bed with her all night, opened the door. The police shined a flashlight into her face.
"Was anybody in here up on the roof?" they demanded.
"Nobody ran in here," she said.
Graves lay in bed, rubbing his eyes, and told them he had no idea what they were talking about. They left.
"I was completely confused," Ward said. "To me, it looked like he was asleep. It made me feel weird."
Graves' strange absences only increased after that. Ward was becoming fed up. But it wasn't until 1994, when his bizarre behavior threatened their female roommate, that she finally threw him out.
While Ward was asleep one evening and their roommate was in the shower, Graves went into the bathroom. He sat on the toilet and peered behind the shower curtain. The roommate screamed, waking Ward.
"What are you doing?" Ward asked him.
"Nothing," he said. But a few minutes later, he came into the room "shaking like a 4-year-old," and told her, "I did something bad."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I was trying to look."
With no place else to go, Graves moved to South Carolina, where his mother was then living. He got a job at a chain bookstore where Robinson was working.
"I was extremely, extremely impressed by his intelligence," recalled Robinson, now 36. "He liked to read. He loved anything that had to do with animals and nature. He's very gentle, very well-spoken. He conducted himself professionally at work."
Robinson and Graves discovered they were both planning to move to Philadelphia. Graves moved first and told Robinson she could stay with him and his roommate until she found a place of her own. But the "roommate" was Cheri Ward, with whom he was attempting to reconcile. By the time Robinson arrived, Ward and Graves had split again. It would be just Robinson and Graves living together at 10th and Pine.
Eventually, Graves and Robinson began to date. In some ways, he was a great boyfriend.
"You get everything there if you end up liking him," Robinson said. "I mean, that's the way women are. We want someone who will talk all night and will go shopping, and will, you know, do all those things. And that's why we stayed friends so long. We had so much in common."
They shared a love of literature and read Tolstoy, Hesse and Machiavelli aloud. Graves also liked William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, the story of a man's descent into heroin addiction that includes sexually graphic and violent scenes.
"Read this," he told her, "and tell me what you think of it."
He made Robinson wonder about his enthusiasm for the more lurid sections: "I'd think, well, knowing about his childhood, maybe that's why he relates to these kinds of acts."
Only in retrospect, Robinson said, did all the strange things about Graves seem to add up to their final sum.
Perhaps the most glaring warning sign was his disappearing for hours during the middle of the night. By 1995 or 1996, he was going out several times a week, though Robinson did not realize how often until they began sleeping in the same room and she would wake up to find him missing from bed. It was frequent enough "that I was unwilling to accept insomnia as an excuse," she said.
A few times, she waited up for him for hours. He would come in with his clothes ripped and wouldn't tell her anything about where he had been. He claimed, several times, that he had been roughed up by police.
Fearing he might be doing something bad, she broke up with him. She stayed in the apartment with him through most of 1997 - a year when he was climbing into nearby apartments and raping women.
At that point, police had not linked Graves' crimes together. They didn't even believe the first two victims who reported attacks. The neighborhood was not yet buzzing about a serial rapist.
"Did I ever think he was out there breaking into women's apartments and attacking them? No," Robinson said. "But did I think he was out on the streets maybe doing things people do when they go out at 3 in the morning? Yes."
One morning, Graves returned to the apartment with scratches on his face. Robinson was so upset, she moved out immediately.
"I'd had it with him coming home, leaving the house at 12 midnight, 1 in the morning, coming home at 6, you know, leaving our front door unlocked, walking over there and seeing that he didn't lock the door when he came in at night," she said. "The condition he'd come home in sometimes, like all ruffled. ... When you live with somebody, you know them. I could tell that he wasn't out there walking, and he just came home."
Robinson took the only available apartment in their building, which happened to be right next door to Graves'. In the spring of 1998, he moved to West Philadelphia, and she moved to Spruce Street.
That May, Graves murdered Shannon Schieber after he raped her in her apartment on South 23d Street. By the winter of 1999, police had linked DNA evidence from two rape scenes to blood and semen found in Schieber's apartment. Soon after, the sketch police put on wanted posters was staring out of every Center City store window.
Both Ward and Robinson saw the posters. Each reacted differently, but neither called police.
Ward suspected it was Graves, but she refused to believe it. She discussed it with friends, who told her it couldn't have been Graves, that he "wasn't like that."
"I knew in my heart it was him," she said.
Around the same time, Robinson was walking down the street with a child, who pointed at a poster and said, "That looks like Troy."
She turned to her companion and said, "No, that's a bad man. That's not Troy."
To her, Graves was the kind of man who would try to help a woman being attacked, rather than be an attacker.
"Even if there was the slightest inkling of anything, I would have called the police," she said. "I'm loyal to women before I am to men, anyway."
In fact, Robinson recalled arguing with Graves about the serial rapist.
"There's somebody out there hurting people and you wouldn't know how to handle it," she remembers warning him. "You wouldn't be able to defend yourself."
His response: "You don't have to worry about that."
In the fall of 1999, Graves enlisted in the Air Force, a move Robinson had been encouraging.
"I figured, that'll keep him from walking around at night," she said.
After Graves moved to Colorado, he and Robinson exchanged e-mail and letters. She was stunned to learn, months after the fact, that he had married Amy Wade, then 25, the daughter of a Seventh-Day Adventist minister.
She believes Graves must have met Wade soon after he moved, because he never went long without a girlfriend. "I don't think it was a fear of being alone," she said. "It's just he was so magnetic, his personality. He was such an enigma. He drew people to him."
Robinson now hypothesizes that Graves wanted to keep her apart from his new wife, fearing the women would discuss his strange habits and deduce that he was the rapist.
Wade, who worked as a video producer, had not told her parents about her marriage, though she planned to include them at a second ceremony at a bed and breakfast in Maryland in June. She later told her parents that she and Graves had married for financial reasons and kept the wedding a secret because they did not want to deprive them of the traditional ceremony.
But after her marriage, she became increasingly unnerved by her husband's "insomnia problem," she later told police. He told her, when she asked about scratches that appeared on his face, that at night he was doing yardwork - even though they had only a tiny, sparse patch of ground.
With reports of a rapist swirling through the neighborhood, she began to fear her husband was the culprit, Wade told police the night Graves was arrested. Her father, Glen Wade, later told reporters his daughter had "absolutely no inkling, not one inkling of a clue," about her husband's secret.
One day in April, Robinson found a card from Philadelphia homicide detectives stuck in her front door. When she called, they told her they wanted to talk about Graves. She made an appointment to go down to the Roundhouse.
In the meantime, she set up an Internet chat with Graves.
She said she couldn't fathom why police wanted to talk to her. She surmised that Graves might be up for a military promotion, and police were helping do background checks on him.
She told him police were asking her for all of his previous addresses, and about her relationship with him.
"I was being very light about it," she said. "I was happy for him."
She wrote: "Now, there isn't anything I should know about, is there?"
"No," he wrote back.
She replied: "Well, this is strange, if you're not up for a promotion."
"Yes, it's very strange," he wrote back.
Finally, she said, "Well, I'm not sure how to end this e-mail. Do you want me to give you a call? Because I can call you right back."
Then, she recalled, "he said, 'No.' And that was it."
About 24 hours later, Graves was arrested by Fort Collins police.
The next day, Robinson was seated in the interrogation room at the Philadelphia Homicide unit. In the hours she'd been answering questions, detectives never told her why they were interested in Troy Graves. Finally, they slid the composite sketch of the Center City rapist across the table.
"When they slid that photograph to me, I could hear KYW saying his name over the radio, and I saw the picture of the Center City rapist, and it all locked, it just locked into place for me, and I could not believe it," she said.
Meanwhile, a friend called Cheri Ward and asked her to sit down.
But somehow, Ward was not surprised. "I asked, 'Is it Troy?' " she recalled. "I was so mad at myself." •
Clea Benson and Leonard N. Fleming are Inquirer staff writers. Contact Benson at 215-854-4900 or email@example.com, or Fleming at 215-854-4330 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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