The Molly and Heather Show

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separated at birth
Molly Shattuck and Heather Cook

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.

mollyshattuck swimsuit 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.

Marion Winik
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  1. I love your writing Marion! Because of all the somber news lately, I was especially looking forward to the typical laugh-fest I have when I get your emails with a link, but it was not to be today. I’m not from Baltimore and have not heard of these two, but your analysis is spot on. Great article.

  2. This wise and pointed thread is tempting to pull and see where it leads. It goes way beyond two women who happen to be caught and made a spectacle of, with varying degrees of glee, horror, compassion. I for one am in the “there but for the grace of god go I” camp (or should i say asst prosecutor who, for once, didn’t see the need to build her resume). It’s true that when i worked at Springfield Hospital Center it was common knowledge that the wards which housed patients from upper middle class geographical areas were more prone to gratuitous violence- implication one. But tug a little harder and soon you find yourself confronting a whole shelf full of cans of worms filled with all the psychological and sociological issues brewing and stewing in the realm of Justice and Corrections, not the least of which is to what degree to punish vs. rehabilitate.

  3. Thanks for avoiding the easy take on these two stories. I wonder if the juries in their respective cases should be made up only of people who’ve been just as dumb but a lot luckier.

  4. Was showing the picture of Molly Shattuck in a bikini helping your readers be “self-righteous gawkers” or was it helping your readers with their “empathy” issues?

    And I disagree with your statement that these are “crimes of privilege.”

    Unfortunately, hit and run accidents involve drivers from all walks of life (such an accident happened in Elkridge, Maryland today but I imagine you would be most interested in blogging about the incident if it happened at Elkridge Country Club).

    And sexual misdeeds with young people is not something that only privileged people do.

    The media took more interest in these cases because of the privileged status of the women involved. But the crimes are not crimes of privilege.

    • Hey Kris: Marion should not be taken to task for publishing the picture. It was my idea to include the picture, not hers. The distribution of labor at the Baltimore Fishbowl is for writers to write the stories and editors to find and post accompanying images. My decision to post the picture was because of the reference to it in the story. Her mention of the shot caused me to wonder which picture she was remarking about, and I thought it would cause our readers to wonder the same thing, which is why I posted it.

      Thanks for your comment. We always welcome all comments.

    • I’d like to have seen another picture too– the one of “Heather’s” 3/4 smashed windshield…when she got home after killing Palermo, she called a friend and said she thought she might have hit someone. Duh. The glass was shattered into small irregularly shaped shards, still held together by whatever stuff they use in windshields.

  5. Really good stuff, Marion. These are both such sad stories of life with all sorts of potential gone sadly–and tragically–awry. Empathy is a good emotion to strive for here.

  6. Empathy is not always innate, so shedding this light for all to consider in these situations takes guts. Well said.

  7. Very well done. For Heather Cook, several bad decisions – probably made a few times before with little consequence – will define her days and nights for the rest of her life. What happened was tragic. Horrible, and without defense. And she will have to find a way to live with that. Hopefully, we are all a bit the wiser and more conscious of the decisions we make everyday.

  8. I too have “been spared the worst possible results of her (my) poor choices.” The older I get the more empathy I have but I have worked to find it. Thanks for the reminder that empathy can be applied here as well.

  9. This is one of the best articles I have read in many years. The author’s point is one that is often forgotten. We are all sinners, are we not? No one is ever beyond reproach. I remember the saying, “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” I share the opinion of the author and only hope that God is merciful with me one day. Hopefully, what you take from me is that these women are God’s creatures, and he loves them as much as any of us. He may not “love” what they have done, but justice is being served. Forgiveness in the face of shock is difficult to find. Thank you for the op/ed.

  10. As always, terrific writing, Marion — your humor and pathos remind us of how human these two women are — how human we ALL are. I only have one other thought to share. Having spent a great deal of time learning about addiction, I hesitate to paint Heather Cook with the brush of “wanton self-indulgence…morally weak and out of control.” I don’t think every addict is morally weak, and scientists now have “pictures” of the brain, showing that addiction is indeed a brain disease, not really a “choice.” The power of addiction is so overwhelming — Heather had everything to live for, including having recently been elected as the first female Episcopalian Bishop of Maryland — clearly she didn’t set out that day to kill an innocent man. I don’t mean in any way to excuse her behavior, but as long as we continue to shame addicts, they may continue to resist getting the treatment they need. And of course, addiction afflicts humans from all walks of life — not just the privileged. I hope this tragedy will start conversations about how we view addicts as a society, and how we move forward in supporting treatment and recovery.

    • Thanks, Millicent. Those are some really useful thoughts. You are right about the importance of not shaming addicts, and I have to admit I stared at the phrase “wanton self-indulgence” and wondered. I wish I had the benefit of your thoughts when I was trying to work this out in my head, and I’m glad you joined the conversation now.

  11. Can we not justifiably feel outrage (without being branded “self-righteous gawkers”) that Ms. Cook had ALREADY NOT “gotten away with” driving drunk yet had not taken the necessary steps to assure that this wouldn’t happen again? Wouldn’t you think that being hauled before a judge on the Eastern Shore in 2010 would have been enough of a wake-up call for a middle-aged professional woman? Can we not justifiably feel outrage that the Bishop of Maryland did nothing when he believed Ms. Cook arrived at her pre-consecration dinner already drunk? Did she drive to that event? Did she drive home? Can we not justifiably feel outrage that none of Ms. Cook’s friends stopped her from drinking and driving? Under what circumstances did she drink on that Saturday in December? Are we to believe she had been alone?

  12. Wow, well said, finally. Bad decisions. They can be so subtle, yet have profound consequences. I stumbled across this on the internet, and would like to mention how impressed with your writing I was, very well done in my humble opinion.

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