On a chilly day in October 1998, Margaret Mary Ray walked to the edge of Hotchkiss, a little valley town nestled in the Colorado Rockies, and stood by the railroad tracks. When she heard the whistle of an approaching train, Ray knelt down on the tracks and was killed instantly. Her quick death in front of an oncoming train followed a long life of suffering. The woman gained notoriety for repeatedly stalking late-night television talk show host David Letterman, gripped by a delusion that the two were romantically involved.
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But although Margaret Mary Ray’s bizarre behavior became a national punchline and a running gag of tabloid newspaper, the long misunderstood celebrity stalker’s lifelong battle with schizophrenia was decidedly not funny, but tragic.
Who was Margaret Mary Ray?
Ray grew up in Illinois in a family with a history of mental illness. Her father suffered from schizophrenia before dying of a heart attack. Ray had four siblings, two of whom were schizophrenics who committed suicide as young men. She studied in a nursing program at Marquette University in Milwaukee before dropping out after a couple of years. She married in 1973 and had four children. When she was divorced, the father gained custody of her children. Later on, her mother took custody of Alex, her fifth child.
Ray continued living in Hotchkiss, performing odd jobs like house-sitting and ironing clothes. But largely, she survived on Social Security disability benefits and the hospitality of her friends. Schizophrenia is a familiar illness that can cause visual and auditory hallucinations, severe mood swings, and incoherent behavior. The disease typically manifests in the late teens and early 20s. An estimated 10 percent of people with schizophrenia commit suicide.
Schizophrenia can often be managed with medication, but Ray disliked the side effects of lethargy and weight gain. Ultimately, Ray convinced herself that there was nothing wrong with her. Ray’s close friends and relatives don’t know why she became obsessed with Letterman in particular. Experts say that while stalking behavior isn’t necessarily a symptom of schizophrenia, it can come with the hallucinations typical of the disease.
Ray’s Obsession with David Letterman
Ray became obsessed with David Letterman around 1988. That was the year she was arrested for stealing and driving Letterman’s Porsche to New York with her son, Alex. She was arrested outside the Lincoln Tunnel in New Jersey when she told a toll collector that she was Letterman’s wife and Alex was his child.
After that first arrest, Ray was arrested eight times for trespassing and other charges. She informed reported that she’d left cookies and an empty bottle of whiskey in the foyer of Letterman’s house in New Canaan, Connecticut. Once, the police discovered her sleeping by his tennis courts.
Letterman would occasionally joke about his stalker. Before leaving NBC for CBS in 1993, he included on his “Top 10 things I have to do before I leave NBC″ list: “Send change of address forms to that woman who breaks into my house.” Generally, however, the talk show host was compassionate towards her, never mentioning her name on TV and often declining to press charges against Ray.
Ray and Astronaut Franklin Story Musgrave
Ray turned her attention to astronaut Story Musgrave in the mid-’90s, writing him letters and phoning him repeatedly. Once, she pretended to be a reporter and interviewed the retired astronaut at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Another time, she appeared outside his house in Osceola County, Florida, where she banged on his doors and turned on all the faucets.
Ray once claimed in an interview that the two were writing a book together.” I love Dr. Musgrave,″ she said during the interview. “I would die for him. He is a man of integrity and intelligence.” Ray’s eccentric acts made her a celebrity herself. The media attention only aggravated her mental illness, said her daughter Anna-Lisa, explaining in an interview that “the attention given to her, and the actions of the authorities, made her situation that much worse”.
During a hearing that released her from jail, a judge openly bemoaned the United States legal system, which did nothing to ensure Ray got the help she needed. Ray committed suicide two months later. After her death, Letterman released a statement: “This is a sad ending to a confused life.”