Thursday, January 30, 2003
A victim, a
survivor, an artist
Once left to die, she now draws from life
STORY BY REGINA HACKETT; PHOTOS
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER STAFF
One night when she couldn't sleep,
Mary Vincent got out of bed and drew
her face. Within an hour, her large, dark eyes were looking back at
her, drawn in pencil and accompanied by handsome high cheekbones, firm
jaw and generous mouth. She even drew the tiny dent on the tip of her
Considering that she hadn't drawn
anything more demanding than a
shopping list since childhood, her proficiency was remarkable, but not
Mary Vincent works on a
drawing in her Gig Harbor apartment. She
taught herself how to draw in the past few years and has had one show
"I've always been good with my
hands," she said.
True -- except she doesn't have
In 1978, when she was a
15-year-old-runaway hitchhiking down the
California coast, she hopped into a truck driven by a man old enough to
be her grandfather. He was old enough to be safe, she reasoned. She was
wrong. After raping her, he hacked off her forearms and left her to die
along a Central Valley highway.
Today she's an artist living in Gig
Harbor. She has two sons
(16-year-old Luke and 14-year-old Alan), a fierce parrot, a couple of
dogs and hamsters, a tank of fish and a 21-year-old boyfriend, Kurt
Wright, whom she calls Mr. Right.
Happy with Wright, Vincent is still
linked in the public mind with Mr.
Wrong. Extreme cruelty makes criminals famous, and this one is famous
for more than cruelty.
He's also famous for the break he
got from the legal system. Convicted
of first-degree rape and attempted murder, Vincent's attacker served
only eight years of a 14-year sentence before being paroled for "good
Remembering his threat to finish
the job, Vincent lived on fear's edge
until he was arrested in Florida in 1997 for carving up another woman.
This time he killed somebody, and this time he was sentenced to death.
He died in jail last year from cancer at age 74.
The state of Florida flew Vincent
down for the trial. She didn't flinch
when asked to identify him but didn't dare take a deep look, either. "I
wanted to see his eyes," she said. "Eyes are important. When he was on
top of me, I was looking at the ax, trying to stay alive. I asked later
if I could look him in the eye, but it didn't happen."
Vincent walks her two dogs, Danny,
left, and Mikey. Vincent and her two
sons also have hamsters, fish and an ill-tempered parrot.
He took her arms, her innocence and
cast a large shadow on her life,
but one thing Vincent refuses to give him is a name. She never uses it.
When he comes up, which isn't often, she calls him "my attacker."
He's the blight she tries to
ignore, and that policy carries over into
Now 39, she's entering what she
thinks of as her third phase. First she
was a victim, then a survivor, and now she's an artist.
As an artist, she focuses on
powerfully upbeat women. Using chalk
pastels and working in a vein that blends elements of Alberto Vargas'
pinups with the decorative intensity of Maxfield Parish, she creates
her own version of female action figures. They're delicately made sex
symbols that know with absolute assurance how to take care of
Don't mess with her scantily clad
samurai women. Kneeling, one of them
looks over her shoulder to cast a cold eye at anybody dumb enough to
threaten her. Each hand holds a giant sword. Her grip is light, but her
muscles are flexed and ready.
Vincent also draws family portraits
on commission, working from
photographs. Even when she isn't trying to, she can't help making her
subjects look good. Double chins disappear, hair shines and eyes
Pointing to a drawing she was
finishing on the kitchen table, she said
she was proud of the hands. "Hands are where the connection is," she
Mary Vincent lines up her
shot while playing pool against her
boyfriend, Kurt Wright. "I focus on where I want the ball to go and I
do the math, the angles and the ricochet," she said. "The rest comes
The parrot flew to her shoulder and
shrieked. No bigger than a
parakeet, its voice is shrill as a police whistle. She reached up and
stroked its chest with the metal finger of her prosthesis.
"You're spoiling him," said her son
Luke. He likes the two dogs, a
white terrier and a black dust-mop mutt, but has reservations about the
bird, which he says can bite without warning and doesn't know when to
Vincent is fond of the bird partly
because of its bad temper. What she
allows in the parrot she can't allow in herself. "I've never indulged
myself in anger and hate. I wouldn't be here if I had."
Her tough times came early. A
middle child in a military family of
seven children, she left home in a hurry one day when a sister told her
that their dad was coming home with one of his migraines and was mad at
her. "You better run," said the sister.
"I left home to save my life,"
Vincent said. "It wasn't to seek wild
times. I didn't know anything about the world or the opposite sex."
She lived in the streets, spending
nights behind garbage cans and
inside unlocked cars. "It was safe to do that back then," she said,
without irony. When she hitched the ride that nearly killed her, she
was in a tentative, general way, beginning to head home.
Pausing while working on a
commissioned family portrait, Vincent wipes
"He threw me off a cliff," she
said. "I should have broken bones. I
should have bled to death. I didn't, and I never passed out. I remember
everything. I wanted to give up and go to sleep, but I felt someone
there with me, a presence who wanted me to survive. A voice told me to
get up and get help, or someone else would die."
Afterward, her parents came to get
her but were, in her opinion, never
much help. "They couldn't handle it," she said. "They took it harder
than me. I'm telling them, 'I need you,' but they couldn't do it. They
were more interested in what they felt about what happened to me than
what I felt."
After finishing high school in Las
Vegas, Vincent traveled around
looking for a place to create her own life. She found it in Gig Harbor.
She likes the people, working-class like herself, and she likes the
view of the wide water, the ever-changing gray of the sky and the sense
of forest creeping in around the edges of the town.
"I didn't have a family, so I
wanted to make one," she said. "I
remember being 4 years old and somebody asking me what I wanted to be
when I grew up. I said, 'I want to be mother to the world.' When I
became a mother, I really had something big to live for."
The weight of lifting her
prosthetic arms makes Vincent's shoulders and
neck sore while she draws, so her 16-year-old son, Luke, helps relieve
it by rubbing them for her.
She didn't get to enjoy it for
long. After her attacker got out of
jail, she froze up inside. Afraid to stay in one place too long, she
went through a series of bodyguards and ended up living in a deserted
Although she mourns for the woman
who died, the arrest and death of the
man responsible has given her a "tremendous feeling of freedom."
The nightmares are still there.
She's still afraid to go to sleep and
can't sleep long. "I've broken bones thanks to my nightmares. I've
jumped up and dislocated my shoulder, just trying to get out of bed.
I've cracked ribs and smashed my nose. Every day I pray to God to make
a space I can breathe in, and every day God gives it to me."
Here's what she gave herself: Her
prosthesis arms are the cheap kind,
with metal fingers that moved stiffly in one direction and not side to
side. Using spare parts from broken-down refrigerators and old stereo
systems, she modified them into the up-to-date model she wears today.
Her new fingers turn in all directions.
"I like to tinker," she said. "So
did my grandfather. He was an artist,
too. I guess I get it from him."
Mary Vincent draws intricate
flowers using a pencil gripped in her
hook. "I like to tinker," she said of modifying her cheap prosthesis
arms to suit her purposes.
He was not a pool shark. She
surprises people when she takes out the
cue and lines up the ball. Under 5-foot-4 and barely 100 pounds, she
doesn't look as if she'd be competitive in the sport Minnesota Fats
made famous, but she is. Friends who can't bear to lose don't play her.
"I focus on where I want the ball
to go and I do the math, the angles
and the ricochet," she said. "The rest comes naturally."
Bowling comes naturally too, after
she designed her own system of
holding the ball.
In Gig Harbor, nobody gawks when
they see her at the lanes unscrewing
her metal hand and replacing it with one that has a form core. They're
used to her. She presses down and the core expands inside the ball,
giving her a good grip with a coil spring that assures a quick release.
When the strikes pile up, it's nothing special.
"There's all this stuff in the
world that's been discarded," she said.
"If you keep working with it, it will work with you."
Another thing she gave herself is a
mom. She divorced her first husband
but hung onto his mom.
Mary Vincent's version of
female action figures know with
absolute assurance how to take care of themselves.
"I needed a mom, and I found one.
It's my mother-in-law, Pat Platt, who
lives nearby. When anyone asks me if I'm close to my mom, I say yes,
because Pat's my mom now."
Although she's scraping by on a
meager and recently reduced combination
of disability and welfare payments (about $600 a month) and a small
trickle that comes in from her art commissions, she's hoping eventually
to be able to support herself and her boys by art alone.
Right now she's looking for a job,
as she's behind on rent and has
medical debt from a son's illness. She's also working on designing a
card to advertise her services as portrait illustrator. (Single-person
illustrations in pencil
start at $300, and her framed paintings of power-figure women in chalk
pastel start at $1,800. To contact her about the art, call
By midafternoon, the dogs are
barking at the front door, demanding a
walk. Wright gets her a cape and wraps it around her shoulders. She
holds up each of her shapely feet, covered in fishnet stockings, so
that he, on his knees, can strap on fancy black pumps, which clasp at
the ankle and cost $7.50 "on sale," she said, with triumph.
Down the driveway they run in a
light rain, dogs yapping in the lead.
She holds the cape over her head with her metal fingers and laughs at
Regina Hackett can be reached at 206-448-8332 or
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© cares about victims. Oftentimes, after a murder is committed,
the killer is arrested and all the attention suddenly focuses solely on
him/her. The victim is soon forgotten. Most of us know the names of
many notorious killers, however, it is quite likely that we could name
only a very few of their victims. To forget them is heartbreaking,
especially for their families.
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It may not be in your power, may not be in your time,
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You may never know what results come from your action.
But if you do nothing, there will be no result.
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