In Southern California’s Antelope Valley, where suburban sprawl gives way to a high desert landscape of scrub brush and Joshua Trees, there’s a home. The dwelling, which dates to the 1950s, is small, white and unadorned. Its curtains are tightly drawn and wood planks cover some of the windows. The house is thoroughly unremarkable, but inside lives a man who is one of the most feared and loathed people in the Antelope Valley. He’s Christopher Hubbart, also known as the “Pillowcase Rapist.” In the 1970s and 80s, Hubbart was one of California’s most notorious serial rapists, breaking into homes and assaulting dozens of women, sometimes stifling their screams and cries for help by covering their mouths with a pillowcase.
After serving two prison sentences and receiving years of treatment at a state mental health hospital, Hubbart was released back into the community last month. There are thousands of convicted sex offenders in California who are either serving time in prison or out on parole, but Hubbart has a special designation. He’s what the state has labeled a sexually violent predator, or SVP, a repeat sex offender who’s compulsion to victimize is so serious it’s been diagnosed as a mental abnormality or personality disorder. There are only 552 people in California who have been diagnosed as sexually violent predators, and only 11 of those individuals, like Hubbart, have been released back into the community.
Authorities say the sexually violent predators who have been set free have received years of counseling and treatment that have taught them to restrain their deviant urges. In addition, SVPs who have been released have to follow a strict set of rules, such as wearing a GPS bracelet, agreeing to continued counseling, submitting to regular drug tests and having their movements monitored by on-site guards.
However, such measures are small comfort to residents in the usually isolated and sparsely populated communities where SVPs are released. Christopher Hubbart’s closest neighbor, Sharon Devarneaux lives only a short walk away from his front door. “It’s frightening, very frightening,” says Devarneaux, who believes Hubbart is beyond reform and is waiting until he can commit new crimes. “If you took your family to the zoo and someone locked you in, and opened the lion cage, what do you think that lion might do? That’s what it feels like to me.”
In response to Hubbart’s arrival, residents in the Antelope Valley have organized daily protests in front of his house and vowed to make Hubbart’s life so uncomfortable he’ll return to an institution.
Tom Tobin, a psychologist and vice chair of California’s sex offender management board, which advises the state on sex offender policy worries that protests like these might actually increase the risk of new crimes. “What we really want to do is make sure that these individuals do not reoffend sexually or otherwise,” says Tobin. “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose. Taking away the things that motivate us to maintain a pro-social lifestyle, doesn’t seem like a very smart idea.”
It costs the state about $200,000 annually to treat, monitor and house each released sexually violent predator, according to the Department of State Hospitals (DSH), which runs the program. The care and supervision has been outsourced to Liberty Healthcare, a private company based in Pennsylvania, which has an $8 million contract with the state.
All of this supervision seems to be working, says Ron Edwards, who works with San Diego County’s Sex Offender Felony Enforcement Task Force. “These are really the only people who actually get treatment to address their mental issues, which classify them as an SVP. On the positive side they are the most supervised, monitored. They have the most counseling,” explains Edwards. “In fact we found out that they are less likely to recommit a new crime as opposed to any other sex offender who is not supervised.”
In the meantime, the protesters have vowed to drive Hubbart back to Coalinga State Mental Hospital. “Should he be welcome?” asks local resident Deborah Hill. “Should he be forgiven so easily? Do we have to follow him everywhere to make sure he doesn’t offend? All it’s going to take is one victim. My goal is send him back now before he does that.”
More photos, below.