Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

It Happens Here, Part 2: Before one woman was trafficked, she tried to get help

Stacy takes a picture of herself in a bathroom mirror.  She's wearing a white shirt and distressed jeans. The camera flash is reflected in the mirror.
Courtesy photo
Stacy Chambliss
Stacy Chambliss posted this selfie to Facebook on July 23, 2019. One week later, Stacy says she was drugged and taken to an unfamiliar house in Kalamazoo's Westnedge Hill neighborhood.

Stacy Chambliss faces a felony charge for a theft she says was committed under duress. But she sought help from the law when she first realized she was in danger.

This story mentions violence including sexual assault.

At a busy intersection in Kalamazoo’s Westnedge Hill neighborhood there’s a liquor store — the Sunny Mart. Stacy Chambliss says she hid in the store the afternoon of July 30, 2019.

Stacy grew up in Kalamazoo. She had a rough childhood, but in her mid-30s she was getting by, raising her son in Portage.

Then she met a guy who seemed great, but soon became controlling. Her finances crumbled. Evicted and without a permanent place to live, in the summer of 2019 she and her boyfriend ended up living in a variety of motels while her son went to stay with her mom.

At the motels, Stacy’s boyfriend started hanging out with people she did not trust.


On the morning of July 30, 2019, Stacy woke up to find several of these acquaintances in their motel room. One of them was a man we’re calling Ed. He was agitated and shouting.

“I was hysterical, crying, they were threatening me, at this time I didn’t have any idea what was happening, what their intent was. I just knew that it was not good.”

Ed corrals Stacy, her boyfriend and the others into the parking lot. Later, after they had broken up, Stacy recorded a call with her ex.

“Do you remember me crying because I wanted to leave and you wouldn't let me leave? Do you remember me getting into my car and trying to get into my car and he wouldn't let me get into my car and he was taking my stuff?”

When Stacy does get in her car it won’t start. Ed pulls her out. He then drives Stacy, her boyfriend and his crew to another motel. She says she was terrified, and shouted and stared into hotel security cameras.

“And then when we were in the room he was threatening to put my face into the floor because I was crying and you kept telling me to calm down,” Stacy says on the recording.

Someone hands her a glass of water. Stacy described what happened next in our first interview last year.

“I drank some of the water and I don’t remember anything after that.”

She now believes the water was drugged.

“When I came to, I was on a toddler’s mattress in somebody’s house. And I heard, like, some voices. You know, I was really, really sick. Like I had a severe headache and I was puking.”

When Stacy wakes up, she sees Ed. He’s naked and he’s with a nude woman Stacy doesn’t recognize. Ed tells Stacy to join them. He’s angry when she won’t.

Stacy sees her phone on a table. It’s close enough to the door that she has a chance to grab it and run down the street.

“I remember hiding in Sunny Mart.”

The busy corner of Westnedge Avenue and Cork Street in Kalamazoo.  Sunny Liquor Mart is on the corner of the street.
Leona Larson
Stacy ran down Cork Street to the Sunny Mart on Westnedge Avenue on July 30, 2019. A KDPS officer met her at the store and later sent her by ambulance to Bronson Hospital for evaluation. The officer filed an incomplete report on Stacy's claim.

Calls to 911

Stacy calls 911. Emergency dispatch records show it’s 4:19 in the afternoon.

“I told them about being drugged. I told them about waking up in the house, right?”

As Stacy waits for the police to arrive, she spots Ed driving by.

“I do know when the officer got there that I told them that he was circling, right? Because I'd seen the car pass twice.”

The officer calls an ambulance to take Stacy to Bronson Hospital for evaluation. She’s waiting at Bronson when she gets a call. It’s a man we’re calling Jerry.

Stacy doesn’t know it, but Jerry lives in the house she woke up in. Jerry says there’s been a misunderstanding, and he wants to clear it up. He says her boyfriend is with him and he’ll give her a ride to her car. But when Jerry picks Stacy up from the hospital, her boyfriend’s not with him.

“It was probably the stupidest thing that I did, was leaving and going and getting into the car with him. But in my mind at that time I remember thinking that I could get my car and come back.”

“What you’re describing is very, very normal,” Jessica Tapscott Marks tells me after I described to her what happened to Stacy. Tapscott Marks is a licensed clinical social worker with S.A.F.E. Place in Battle Creek. It’s a shelter for people experiencing domestic violence or trafficking. She says when a person is running on fear, reason and problem-solving go out the window.

“She probably heard ‘I have your car’ and thought, ‘great, I need my car.’ It was that simple. And that's really, really common for people who are experiencing trauma.”

Jerry does not take Stacy to her car. Instead he takes her to another house. This one is in the Vine neighborhood. At the house, Jerry tells Stacy he wants oral sex, which he refers to as his “drug of choice.”

Stacy’s near a door and slowly backs up to it while Jerry’s distracted. She gets out, runs about three blocks and once again calls 911.

“I'm hiding under a porch calling the police because I'm terrified that he's coming after me.”

Stacy says she asked police to take her to the station.

She adds that while she was there, her boyfriend showed up, and the police drove her through the Vine neighborhood to identify the house Jerry brought her to.

Stacy and her boyfriend ended up spending a couple of days at his mom’s house after she picked them up from the station. Stacy assumed the department was investigating her claim that she was drugged and kidnapped.

“Why take me to drive past somebody's house and identify a house by address, if you're not doing a report? So yeah, I 100% felt like they were, there was a report being made and they were investigating it.”

Stacy and her boyfriend reported her car stolen. The same car that wouldn’t start when Stacy tried to get away. KDPS did investigate that theft.

But when I filed a records request, I found no indication the department followed up on Stacy’s allegations that she was drugged and kidnapped, though officers noted her claims in a couple of documents.

Kalamazoo Public Safety Executive Lieutenant Michael Treu says the records don’t tell the whole story. He says Stacy’s case was assigned to a detective.

“Letters and phone calls were made to both her and her boyfriend at the time. And we received no, no response back."

Stacy says she does not remember hearing from a detective. But records do show she called 911 several times over the next week. She told dispatchers she was in danger. If there was a detective assigned to the case, it’s not clear they were aware of those calls.

Stacy isn't alone

Stacy later found out that more than two years after she woke up at Jerry’s, a friend of hers we’re calling Amy had a similar experience at the house in Westnedge Hill.

“Yeah, a plastic little toddler, maybe baby-mattress thing.”

I interviewed Amy in December. She asked me not to reveal her identity.

“I don’t remember at all how I got there.”

KDPS opened an investigation and filed a report on Amy’s case. Amy says she wants to help police pursue charges. But so far, she hasn’t followed through.

Another woman told police Jerry threatened and sexually assaulted her at a hotel in January. That’s nearly three and a half years after Stacy’s encounter with him.

Jerry was arrested in this case. In June, he pleaded guilty in Kalamazoo to 4th degree criminal sexual conduct and unlawful imprisonment, and was sentenced to a year in jail with time served and three years’ probation.

In the days after Stacy wakes up in Jerry’s house, she’s frightened, and moving from hotel to hotel trying to avoid the men she ran from. But another man steps in and offers sympathy, which Stacy really needs.

That man would become her main trafficker.

It Happens Here continues Wednesday, Sept. 20 during Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.
Related Content