Love, American Style

Jon Vaupel had been cooling his heels in a federal immigration detention facility in Aurora for three months when the guards finally told him to pack it up, that he was being released. What they didn't tell him was that he was being released to deputies from Adams County, where he would now face charges of attempted first-degree murder.

His intended victim? His American wife.

Throughout the '90s, Vaupel, a former race-car driver, would travel to the United States several times a year on business, buying exotic European and American sports cars and sending them back home to Australia. On Halloween 2000, at a dinner party in Manhattan, a mutual friend introduced him to Stacy Schwab, a blond-haired, brown-eyed former model and personal-fitness instructor. "She was every man's dream," Vaupel says. But he was going back to Australia the next day, and he doubted he'd ever see her again.

A few months later, though, the friend who had introduced them e-mailed Vaupel with the news that Schwab wanted to get in touch. They soon grew close through long-distance calls, and when Vaupel returned to New York in May 2001, the two went out for coffee and dinner dates. And then their relationship blossomed over a getaway weekend in upstate New York.

Vaupel was set to return to Australia in August but wound up with Lyme disease. Although Australian visitors are technically limited to ninety days in this country, the U.S. extended his visa waiver. But after 9/11, neither he nor Schwab wanted to stick around, and they split for Australia.

On March 22, 2002, Schwab's 39th birthday and shortly before Vaupel's 40th, the two became husband and wife. Within a few months, Schwab was pregnant.

The marriage had been rocky from the start, though, with Schwab drinking and arguments turning physical. One day, Schwab took off. Vaupel didn't even know she was leaving until she sent a text message as she boarded a plane for America, bound for Texas and her mother's house. Vaupel resigned himself to the fact that he'd never see his wife again, much less his child.

Then, in January 2003, a doctor told him that both Schwab's life and that of the unborn baby were at risk. Vaupel caught the next plane to the U.S. Since he'd overstayed the ninety-day limit without permission on at least one prior occasion, federal authorities had no obligation to allow Vaupel into this country, but still issued him a temporary humanitarian parole. Vaupel overstayed that one, too. And once he did, his status reverted to that of an alien without documentation -- an illegal immigrant.

Schwab gave birth to the couple's son on March 12. The baby was a month premature and delivered by caesarean section; mother and child spent the rest of March in a Texas hospital. Once Schwab and the baby were released and the family reunited, Vaupel petitioned the U.S. to become a legal, permanent resident. His spouse, a U.S. citizen, signed on as his sponsor.

In October 2003, with that petition still pending, the family moved to Denver, where Vaupel had a lead on a job. He was working at a transmission shop in March 2004 when he had his first run-in with the cops, who busted him for going 77 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone on South Wadsworth. He pleaded guilty to a lesser speed.

But the trouble was just beginning. His wife's drinking got worse in Colorado, Vaupel says, and she had no friends. One night that April, he came home and found Schwab drunk. When he tried to talk to her about not driving drunk, especially with their one-year-old son in the car, Schwab became enraged. She grabbed a soap dispenser by the sink and threw it at Vaupel's head. She smashed a glass of wine on the counter; shards of glass and splashes of wine hit Vaupel and the baby. Vaupel held the child with one arm and called 911 with the other while his wife tugged at the baby's foot.

Deputies with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office arrived, and Vaupel told them what had happened. The remains of the broken wine glass were on the counter, the soap dispenser on the floor. Schwab confirmed the story and was arrested on two charges -- domestic violence and child abuse -- that were eventually pleaded down to misdemeanor harassment with a deferred sentence, as long as she completed a domestic-violence diversion program.

Vaupel says he welcomed his wife back into their rented home after she got out of jail, hoping the two of them could patch things up. "But it was never really the same after that," he adds. He began to suspect she was having an affair. He'd call home from the transmission shop and no one would answer -- but when he'd ask Schwab where she'd been all day, she'd say she had been home.

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Luke Turf