Wise Gal

By October 1997, Anne Liv Slemons had run out of options in Southern California. She'd never liked the warm weather anyway. So, six months pregnant and on probation for forging a $5,000 check, the 22-year-old ran. She didn't know where she was headed until she arrived in Colorado and found herself working for--and stealing from--one of Colorado's most notorious embezzlers.

"I was pregnant and just needed time alone to build myself back up," says Slemons, after being led into a makeshift interview room at the Pitkin County Jail. "My home life was completely dysfunctional, and I knew that the only way I was going to get my life together was to leave," she says. "I couldn't survive in California."

But Slemons had jumped from a sinking boat into shark-filled waters. Brushing her long, strawberry-blond hair out of her eyes, she looks more like a kid working the counter at the local Dairy Queen than an embezzler facing eight years in prison. Her polite demeanor belies the hard times she's had in her short life and the fix she's in now. As she sits in the cramped interview room, usually reserved for giving Breathalyzer tests, Slemons seems almost serene.

In fact, for Slemons, the 25-cell, carpeted Aspen jail--which sits a block away from the ritzy Hotel Jerome and, perhaps influenced by the hotel's four-star restaurant, served inmates quail and prime rib for Christmas dinner--is a respite from several years on the run. Slemons was born in California. She never knew her biological mother, and she never got along with her adoptive parents, who divorced when she was 22 months old. The father, a Mercedes-Benz dealer who split his time between Palm Springs and Hawaii, wasn't around much. When Anne was fourteen years old, she and her adoptive mother moved to Colorado so that, in Slemons's words, "my mom could hang out and ski with her friends."

Money wasn't a problem. Upon arriving in Colorado, Slemons's mother bought the first house in the upscale River Run development in Sopris Village. The development on the outskirts of Aspen had been bankrolled by Michael R. Wise, the man for whom Slemons would end up working eight years later.

But changing the scenery didn't help Slemons's relationship with her mother, who would come off the slopes, get drunk and, Slemons says, beat her senseless. After a few months of abuse, she went to social services and asked to be placed in a foster home. That didn't work out, either, and after two abysmal years in Colorado, Slemons and her mother returned to the West Coast, where her troubles continued. By the end of the year, her mom had kicked her out of the house and, at age sixteen, Slemons was on her own. She got office jobs to pay the rent, but even her work life proved to be a struggle.

In July 1996, Slemons was convicted of forging a check from her employer.
"She worked for me for about seven months," says Trudy Hanscom, who was Slemons's boss at Phantom Marine, a boat-electronics store in Newport Beach, California. "I gave her a check to go get supplies, and instead she made it out to herself for $5,000. I never heard from her again after that, but nothing would surprise me about Anne at this point." Slemons served no time for the forgery but was placed on probation.

Shortly after her conviction, Slemons got pregnant (she says the father is one of two men, but she's not sure which and doesn't seem to care) and made her decision to leave California for good--even though by doing so, she would be violating her parole and breaking off a marriage engagement. She says that at the time, the move was the scariest thing she'd ever done.

Arriving in Colorado with little more than the maternity clothes she was wearing, Slemons moved into a Carbondale trailer park with 24-year-old Michael McCarty, who had driven with her from California. The trailer park was a few miles down the road from the country-club development where she and her mother had lived six years earlier.

Court records say that Slemons and McCarty were lovers, but Slemons insists that the relationship was platonic--just two kids trying to get by. And getting by was tough. Not only was Slemons pregnant, but she had little money, and office jobs were scarce. Most of the positions she applied for in the high-toned area around Aspen wouldn't hire her because she didn't have the right clothes. The area was as unfriendly as it had been back when Slemons was fifteen years old.

Eventually she got a job through the S.O.S. temp agency. The firm assigned her to work as a file clerk at Cornerstone Private Capital of Aspen, a company specializing in high-interest real-estate loans. It was while working at Cornerstone that Slemons ran into the company's CEO, Michael Wise, whom she had known briefly when she and her mother lived in his Sopris Village development. Perhaps because of the fact that her mother was a former client, Wise helped Slemons get back on her feet. Maybe Wise also felt compassion for the young woman since he, too, had experienced his share of troubles over the past decade.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tony Perez-Giese