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Running out of time

CAUGHT IN THE WEB THIRD OF FOUR PARTS

By Cathy Frye

This article was published December 16, 2003 at 1:14 p.m.

Read the full series

Did you watch 'Web of Lies' on Investigation Discovery? Learn more about Kacie Woody's abduction in our full, four-part series:

FBI agent Jerry Spurgers knelt on the floor of 13-year-old Kacie Woody's bedroom, holding two crumpled pieces of paper that might reveal the identity of Kacie's kidnapper.

Kacie had been missing for 12 hours now, snatched from her living room as she typed at the computer, and the lawmen investigating her disappearance desperately needed leads.

Surrounded by the stuffed animals lining the teenager's top bunk, the hundreds of Beanie Babies perched on shelves and the angels scattered here and there, Spurgers carefully smoothed the creases from the scraps of paper he had just pulled from Kacie's trash can.

One read: Kacie Rene Woody Loves David Leslie Fagen The other declared: Kacie Rene Woody Loves Scott G - The letters had all been numbered so that Kacie could compute the percentage of "true love" in each relationship.

But for Spurgers, the wadded-up papers held other significance.

When Kacie was abducted on Dec. 3, 2002, she had been exchanging instant messages with her online boyfriend Scott, 14, who lived in Alpharetta, an upscale suburb of Atlanta. At the same time, she had been talking on the phone with another Internet friend named Dave.

At 9:41 p.m., Kacie had abruptly quit responding to Scott's messages, and Scott had quickly become concerned. He had called the Woodys' home in rural Faulkner County and sent frantic instant messages to the family's computer, hoping that Kacie's dad, Rick, or her brother Tim would see them.

Dave, on the other hand, hadn't been heard from. Authorities had no idea who he was, only that he was supposedly an 18-year-old from San Diego.

As Spurgers examined the doodlings of a love-struck girl, he realized that Dave and David Fagen were quite possibly the same person.

The Woodys' computer soon yielded confirmation. Stored on the machine were a Yahoo profile and photo of someone named jazzman_df. FBI agents also found earlier correspondence between jazzman_df and Kacie.

Jazzman_df lived in San Diego. He had registered with Yahoo as Dave Fagen.

GREENBRIER MIDDLE SCHOOL

Meanwhile, Samantha Mann, 13, and Jessica Tanner, 12, sat in school counselor Dianna Kellar's office waiting to talk to investigators a second time.

Sam and Jessica had initially blamed Scott for Kacie's abduction. Now, however, they realized they had forgotten to tell the detectives about Dave.

The girls told Mrs. Kellar they needed to talk to the police again.

As they waited, Sam and Jessica hastily composed a note for the cops: Dave has been tellin Kacie that his aunt is in a coma and he has been driving 4 dayz. Dave is Kacie's X boyfriend For the past month, Dave had kept Kacie updated on his aunt's condition. Her coma, he said, was caused by a car wreck. She wasn't expected to live much longer.

The aunt lived in Arkansas. Dave didn't say where.

Kacie had told her friends about Dave's aunt. She felt really sorry for him. And then, one night in mid- to late November, when Jessica was sleeping over at Kacie's house, Dave had called to say he was on his way to Arkansas because his aunt's condition was worsening. It was the same night the girls had heard strange noises and barricaded themselves in Kacie's bedroom.

During the hourlong conversation, Dave had told Kacie and Jessica that he planned to remain in Arkansas until his aunt passed away. Doctors were giving her a few months at most.

Several times, Jessica and Kacie tried to end the conversation. But Dave told them he had been driving for 11 hours and needed the company.

Sam also had heard that Dave was heading to Arkansas.

A few weeks before her abduction, Kacie had turned to Sam one day and asked, "Remember Dave?"

"Yeah," Sam had said.

"Well, he said he was going to be in Arkansas seeing his aunt who's in a coma," Kacie had told her.

Dave never said anything about wanting to see Kacie during his visit. Even if he had, Sam and Jessica were certain Kacie never would have agreed to meet him in person.

But what if he had decided to show up unannounced at Kacie's house?

RACE AGAINST TIME

At 1 p.m., a fourth law enforcement agency joined the Faulkner County sheriff's office, Arkansas State Police and FBI in the search for Kacie when investigators asked Conway police to canvass their town's motels for suspicious guests.

Conway, just south of Greenbrier, is the biggest city in Faulkner County.

Investigators were looking for someone registered as David Fagen. Or anyone with the first name David. Or the initials D.F. Or anyone from California.

Conway police Sgt. Jim Barrett divided the town into two sections. He and one detective took the east side, and two other investigators headed to the northern part of the city.

About 30 minutes later, the detectives on the north side called to say there was a David Fuller from California registered at the Motel 6.

Fuller had arrived Dec. 2 and was scheduled to stay for seven days.

He had requested that the maids skip his room.

Barrett headed to the motel.

The manager there vividly remembered Fuller, who had become angry when he couldn't connect to the Internet from his room and huffed off to the county library with his laptop.

The detective walked over to Room 115, where a 1993 Buick Regal with California plates was parked out front. When no one answered Barrett's repeated knocks, the manager opened the door with a passkey.

A cursory search revealed a suitcase, still neatly packed, on the luggage rack. A laptop was set up on the table, and two 3 1/2-inch floppy disks lay on the floor. The bed hadn't been slept in.

Barrett put a surveillance team in the room next door in case Fuller returned.

It was now 1:30 p.m.

Barrett asked another detective to check with car rental businesses. Had Fuller, perhaps, rented a car? Just 10 minutes later, the detective called back: On Dec. 2, Fuller had rented a silver Dodge Caravan for seven days from the Conway Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

At the rental agency, Barrett interviewed an employee named Steve Tate.

Fuller, Tate said, had behaved strangely while filling out his paperwork. The Californian had been fidgety, repeatedly interrupting the process to go outside and smoke.

So Tate had made a note of Fuller's California license plate number and motel room number. Also listed in the paperwork was Fuller's cell phone number.

At 2:45 p.m., state police investigator Karl Byrd and a few other detectives were eating a quick lunch at the Conway International House of Pancakes when Barrett called with David Fuller's phone number.

Byrd then phoned his supervisor, Sgt. Paul Curtis, who had subpoenaed the Woodys' phone records.

"Give me the number she's been calling," Byrd said.

Curtis read it aloud.

The number had been dialed repeatedly from the Woody home. And it matched the one Fuller had given the car rental agent.

Byrd called Barrett: "That's our boy."

A description of Fuller's rented minivan immediately went out to law enforcement agencies and the media.

Wherever it was, Kacie might be there, too.

DAVE VS. DAVID FULLER

As investigators delved into Fuller's background, they learned "Dave" wasn't the long-haired, handsome youth pictured on his Yahoo profile. David Leslie Fuller was 47, balding and scrawny. And his life was falling apart.

Fuller was born Jan. 18, 1955, into a devout Mormon family. His parents, Ned and June, were proud of the secure and stable life they had created for their four children. They brought up their brood in an upper-middleclass Salt Lake City neighborhood, in a home they had built in 1956.

The three oldest children, two boys and a girl, thrived - enthusiastically involved in school, church and family life. But young Davie was different - aloof, hanging back.

Davie was a lackadaisical student, and by the time he entered his teens, his friends were the rebellious, trouble-making, school-skipping kids. After high school graduation, he played bass guitar in various rock bands.

Davie's lack of interest in the church had long distressed the Fuller family. By the time he was a young adult, Dave had shunned Mormonism altogether.

At 19, he married a girl who was a year or two younger, and they made their home in Moab, southeast of Salt Lake City. The marriage quickly dissolved.

In the early 1980s, Dave was still living in Moab and playing bass guitar at a local bar. His band covered popular sing-along tunes, relying on crowd-pleasers such as Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville."

One night, a bandmate's girlfriend showed up at the bar with her sister, Sally.

Sally and the bass player really hit it off.

Dave and Sally's courtship ran smoothly. Dave didn't say much about himself, but he was a good listener.

Like Dave, Sally also had married and divorced young. Now she was in her mid-20s and wanted to settle down and have kids.

The couple wed on May 21, 1983, and moved to Salt Lake City. Sally worked as a commercial artist for an advertising agency. Dave drove a tow truck and then worked for a car dealership.

In 1989, Dave joined the Navy Seabees, and the couple moved to Gulfport, Miss. Over the next several years, they moved to Maryland and then San Diego. Son Dillon was born in Mississippi and daughter Stacie in Maryland.

Motherhood suited Sally, but she was increasingly unhappy with her marriage. By their 18th anniversary in May 2001, Sally wanted out.

In the early days, Dave and Sally had done a lot of social drinking. Alcohol mellowed Dave out, made him more talkative and pleasant. But once Dave eased up on the drinking, Sally learned it was best to tiptoe around her husband. It was the only way to deal with his unpredictable temper.

Sally sensed a hatred - toward an unknown someone - simmering beneath Dave's moodiness. He would brood for days and then explode into an inexplicable rage. Sally was afraid to probe too deeply. Dave's past was off-limits.

"I don't want to go there," he would tell her. "Everything was fine. I had a good childhood."

Nor would he discuss the problems in the couple's relationship. Dave liked to deal in facts - bills or car repairs, dayto-day issues he could resolve and file neatly away.

There were troubling incidents, too, like the time Dave was arrested for exposing himself to two young girls. Sally was skeptical of Dave's explanation: that he had simply stopped to ask the girls a question, but they had run off screaming.

Dave never tried to defend himself. He skipped his court appearance and quietly paid a fine for indecent exposure, a misdemeanor.

By the summer of 2002, Dave and Sally's marriage was in its final months.

For the previous five years, the family had lived at 7216 Pearson St. in La Mesa, Calif., just outside of San Diego. By then, Dave had left the Navy and was working for a Saturn dealership.

Dave was more secretive than ever, spending long hours on the computer and walking alone through the neighborhood at night as he chatted on his cell phone.

Sally had stopped asking questions.

The turbulence in the Fullers' disintegrating marriage was affecting the couple's children, Dillon, now 11, and Stacie, 7. Concerned, Sally took Dillon for counseling.

In June 2002, Dave took the kids to visit his parents. Before he left, the couple argued, and Dave angrily threw out the word "divorce."

Great, Sally thought. He's ready.

While Dave and the kids were gone, she attended a nuts-andbolts divorce workshop, and by the time they returned, Sally had done everything but file the papers. She thought Dave would be pleased. Instead, he was furious.

This time, however, his tantrums had no effect. Dave's formerly timid wife was resolute: The marriage was over.

During the next four months, Dave's once-orderly life crumbled.

In August, California's Child Protective Services division investigated a report that Dave was taking showers with 7-year-old Stacie.

The agency got involved after Sally started asking questions. Dave was livid. "I am not molesting my daughter!" he bellowed in front of the children. Investigators ultimately concluded nothing had happened. But Sally remained uneasy.

By September, Dave had moved into an apartment. One night, he showed up at his old home and demanded that Sally let him in. When she refused, he pushed her aside and barged into the kitchen.

After a screaming match, Sally locked herself in the bedroom with the kids. Dave used a screwdriver to open the door. Sally called 911, and the kids watched out the front window as police handcuffed their father and led him away. Authorities charged Dave with spousal abuse.

That same month, Dave lost his job at the Saturn dealership. The firing happened in front of his son, who had gone with Dave on his day off to pick up his paycheck. His bosses cited a lack of productivity but suspected Dave was visiting child pornography sites on company computers.

The couple's house sold Sept. 26. By this time, Sally had found a new home in Hemet, a town in Southern California's San Jacinto Valley. The move was a leap of faith, but Sally felt strong. She home-schooled the kids, practiced yoga and wrote in her journal of her new hopes.

She hoped to finalize the divorce by the end of 2002. On Dec. 3, the day of Kacie's abduction, Dave called his mother. He seemed fine. Sally was in Utah visiting her family, and Dave asked if she had brought the kids over to see their grandparents.

"No," June Fuller told him.

"That figures," Dave replied, his irritation obvious. He didn't mention that he was calling from Arkansas.

Dave became uncharacteris- Continued from preceding page tically emotional. "I love you, Mom," he said, a phrase he never uttered first.

And then he hung up.

DEC. 4, MIDAFTERNOON

Authorities now had a suspect in Kacie's kidnapping. But no one knew where he was or if he still had the girl.

After linking Fuller's phone number to Kacie's house, Barrett called the detectives who were staking out Fuller's motel room: "If Fuller shows up, arrest him."

Meanwhile, investigators subpoenaed the suspect's car rental paperwork, complete with Fuller's credit card number, the same one he had used to pay for his motel room.

His recent credit history revealed that earlier that day, Fuller's card had been charged by Guardsmart Storage in Conway. Fuller had traveled to Conway a month earlier to rent the unit.

Maybe, Barrett thought, Fuller was holding Kacie captive there.

He headed to Guardsmart.

En route, Barrett heard from state police that a caller who had heard news reports about the suspect's rented minivan claimed to be following it down University Avenue in Little Rock. Barrett was elated.

We've scared the crap out of this guy, and he's leaving, Barrett thought, assuming that Fuller was reacting to the publicity surrounding Kacie's kidnapping.

He's split. He left her tied up, and there'll be a happy ending.

Barrett and two FBI agents arrived at Guardsmart Storage a little after 5 p.m. The managers, a married couple, led the lawmen to unit No. 313. The door wasn't padlocked. The latch was unfastened. Barrett was sure the suspect had fled in haste.

Unholstering his gun, the detective lifted the door and peered inside.

He saw a silver minivan. Its engine was running.

Barrett stepped inside, gun still drawn. Just as his foot hit the concrete floor, a shot rang out. Barrett and the FBI agents ran for cover. The detective made a breathless call for help: Dispatcher : 911 Barrett: Sgt. Barrett. Shots fired, shots fired, Guardsmart Storage, Prince Street.

Dispatcher: Where at?

Barrett: Guardsmart Storage, shots fired. Got me and two FBI agents out here. Send backup now.

Dispatcher: At Smart Storage?

Silence.

E-mail Cathy Frye at cathy_frye@adg.ardemgaz.com.

Coming Wednesday:

An Internet predator.

About this series

This series of stories is based on interviews with investigators and Kacie Woody's family and friends, as well as police reports written at the time and a transcript recovered from the Woody family's computer.

All direct quotes in the narration are based on the recollections of those interviewed. The parents of Scott, a 14-year-old Internet friend of Kacie's from Alpharetta, Ga., asked that his last name not be published. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Cathy Frye interviewed Sally Fuller in Hemet, Calif.

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