If you live outside the reach of Baltimore news and gossip, you may not know the names Molly Shattuck and Heather Cook. If you are here, you have heard of little else for months. Briefly: Shattuck is a 47-year-old mother of three, a former Ravens cheerleader now divorced from her wealthy husband. According to criminal allegations brought against her last November, after a seduction via Instagram, she performed oral sex on a 15-year-old boy, a friend of her son’s, last summer at a beach house. The school got wind of it, leading to her arrest. She is charged with two counts of third-degree rape, four of unlawful sexual contact and three of distributing alcohol to a minor.
Heather Cook is a 58-year-old Episcopal bishop who was allegedly driving drunk and texting when she struck and killed a 41-year-old bicyclist, the father of two small children, on a Saturday morning two days after Christmas. It happened on a wide residential street with a bike lane; she never slowed down and she left the scene until prompted to return. She is charged with vehicular manslaughter, drunk driving and texting while driving.
Both women are currently out on bail, $2.5 million in Heather’s case.
In Baltimore, we are obsessed with these two. The spectacle of middle-aged white women gone bad, particularly after having made it to the top of the heap in one way or another, is a rare sort of train wreck. Molly and Heather are very different versions of the nice blond Christian lady from Roland Park, but their crimes have something in common.
I first heard the news about Molly from a neighbor a few weeks before it broke. There was a lot of texting and cackling. We had heard stories about this woman before. We had seen her infamous ‘boobs and babes’ Ravens calendar shot.
As word spread, as her hilariously prim Arrest Day picture in glasses, a cross, and a high-necked shirt came out, as the letter from the boys’ private school was leaked, the buzz steadily increased. There were debates. Was she getting more or less flak because she was a woman? Was something like this really rape? Remember Summer of ’42? Some people were a little sympathetic; others definitely were not.
There was no cackling or gleeful texting about Heather Cook, and no debate either: only disbelief, horror, grief and outrage. That quiet street, that quiet morning, that sweet man. Hundreds of bicycles poured down Roland Avenue for the memorial. The picture of Heather that was everywhere was almost Dorian Gray-like, her face disturbingly asymmetrical and porcine. When she replaced Molly in our conversations, we found her easier to agree about.
Though so different in scale, in some ways their crimes are similar. They have common roots: wanton self-indulgence, terrible judgment. They are crimes of privilege, the crimes of people who are not evil but morally weak and out of control. People who have escaped the consequences of bad behavior before and thought they would again.
Not this time.
If sexual desire or confusion has never driven you to any sort of misbehavior, if you have never driven drunk or high, if you have never texted while driving, if you have never gotten away with something that could have gone very badly, perhaps you feel only outrage when you hear these stories. A good example of this sort of person is my fourteen-year-old daughter, whose judgment is unsullied by meaningful experience with sin or shame.
Let’s say, though, that you are more like me: a middle-aged white woman who has been spared the worst possible results of her poor choices. In that case, you might feel humbled by the consequences of Molly and Heather’s mistakes.
Whether she goes to jail or not, Molly Shattuck is likely to be deprived of mothering her children in the way that has been the center of her life since they were born. Picture what those kids must be going through, the whispers and snickers, the shame, and imagine knowing you, their mother, have brought this upon the innocent young people who are your greatest love.
As for Heather Cook — for a minute there, she thought she could just drive away. Instead, she will wake up in hell every day of her life.
Imagine doing something this bad and this irrevocable. Even briefly, it is hard to bear. But if we want to be more than self-righteous gawkers, empathy is our real ticket to the show.