WASHINGTON -- The message on the tape recorder was shockingly profane and chillingly blunt: "I'm going to blow his [expletive deleted] brains out."
More than the tearful testimony, more than the stories of women murdered or left paralyzed, the voice on Kathleen Krueger's home answering machine underscored the terror experienced by victims of stalking. For members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the taped death threat was doubly disturbing because it was directed at one of their own.
Ms. Krueger, the wife of Sen. Bob Krueger of Texas, played the tape at a committee hearing yesterday to try to explain what it's like to be the target of an inexplicable obsession. The committee is considering legislation sponsored by Ms. Krueger's husband that would make stalking a federal crime in most cases.
"I am one woman among thousands whose family has known the terror of being stalked," Ms. Krueger told committee members. "What happened to us happens to families all over America every day."
Law enforcement officials estimate that as many as 200,000 people, mostly women, live in fear of a stalker on any given day. In most cases, the harasser is an ex-husband, a former boyfriend or a colleague from work.
The Kruegers' nightmare started in 1984, when the New Braunfels Democrat lost a Senate race. The candidate's campaign pilot, Thomas Humphrey, seemed unable to cope with the defeat and became a frequent -- and unwanted -- visitor at the Kruegers' home.
Judiciary Committee members sat spellbound as Ms. Krueger, nervously clutching a pink tissue, related what happened next.
"After Bob told him directly but politely several times that all of us must get on with our lives and respect each other's privacy, Tom Humphrey snapped," she said. "First came calls in the middle of the night, with a crazed Tom Humphrey shouting obscenities, assuming other personalities and rambling pointlessly."
Ms. Krueger said the pilot also continued to show up at her house, often when her husband was at work or out of town.
"I would cower alone, refusing to open the door while he repeatedly rang the doorbell and just stood there, sometimes up to 20 minutes," she told lawmakers. "I am still terrified of being alone with our two little girls."
Ms. Krueger said the answering machine message she played for the Senate panel was typical of Mr. Humphrey's threats.
"It's up to you to protect yourself from that," Mr. Humphrey said after the death threat. "I don't think you can. . . . I'll carry out the job."
Echoing the experience of other stalking victims, Ms. Krueger said she and her husband had difficulty getting meaningful help from police.
"In every meeting, law enforcement officers and the attorneys were concerned and sympathetic, but they were helpless," she said. "Time and again, they admitted, 'We can't do anything until he physically tries to hurt you.' "
Recent attention to stalking cases that ended in death or injury has led to a spate of state anti-stalking laws. At least 30 states have passed laws designed to stop harassment before it escalates to violence. More than a dozen others, including Texas, are considering similar bills.
In the Kruegers' case, Mr. Humphrey's threats finally became so explicit that police could make a case against him.
"I wish I could tell you that was the end of the story, but it was not," Ms. Krueger told lawmakers.
She said the former pilot has been sent to prison three times for death threats against her husband, but has served sentences as short as four weeks.
Each time Mr. Humphrey regained his freedom, the threats resumed.
"Last summer, during release from prison -- eight years after this began -- he put a letter in our mailbox. It said, 'Look how close I can get to you. See, I could kill you right now if I wanted,' " Ms. Krueger told lawmakers. "Today, he is in federal prison for the third time. In a few months, Thomas Michael Humphrey will be out of prison again."