The Name is Eckardt, Shawn Eckardt

I'll have a beer, shaken but not stirred...

By late 1993 Team Tonya was in trouble. Jeff & Tonya were both strapped for cash and had been booted out of their apartment for non-payment of rent. It appeared questionable whether Tonya would have the money to even make it to the next Nationals, to be held in Detroit in early January, let alone realize her dream of winning a gold medal at the Olympics. In addition, there was a growing view within the Tonya camp that the love affair that the skating community had had with Tonya following her 1991 Nationals victory and successful triple axel attempts was over and that a new favorite, the tall, elegant Nancy Kerrigan was now the public's darling. "'Skating' crowns Kerrigan" screamed the headline from the December 1993 issue of "The Skater", a reference to the fact that the USFSA's imaginatively titled official magazine "Skating" had recently featured Nancy on the cover. These suspicions seemed to be confirmed in the eyes of those with a conspiratorial mind when Tonya scored disastrously at the NHK trophy in Japan in December, coming in behind Surya Bonaly and Chen Lu, who, as Tonya unceremoniously put it, "fell on their butts".

Off the ice, it was a similar story: Tonya's marriage to Jeff Gillooly was also on the skids. He and Tonya had reconciled in August, and Tonya was trying to get the divorce annulled. In October Tonya performed at Skate America under the name Tonya Harding-Gillooly and told reporters "I'm definitely married" when questioned. It was to be a turbulent reconciliation, however: early in October, police were called to the couple's apartment after a gunshot was fired at Jeff by Tonya. Perhaps, he figured, doing something to ensure that Tonya got to Lillehammer would do the trick and pull the marriage together.

Gillooly discussed his thoughts with his old friend, Shawn Eckardt. The 300 pound Eckardt was proprietor of the grandly titled "World Bodyguard Services" and had been Gillooly's best mate dating back to grade school. Eckardt had a CV that would have made James Bond green with envy, with its claims of expertise and experience in counterterrorism, espionage and protection of famous celebrities. Unfortunately the only thing it really had in common with James Bond was that it was a work of pure fiction - Eckardt had never even finished high school and the "World Bodyguard Service" headquarters was run out of a spare room at his parents house in the run-down Portland suburb of Lents. His car was a 1976 Mercury with a missing hubcap rather than an Aston Martin, and a brief stint at the Executive Security International school in Aspen, Colorado in the summer of 1990 (from which he was expelled after two weeks for failing to complete correspondence papers) appears to have been his only confirmed training in the security industry. As far as is known, Tonya was his firm's only recorded client (though he appears to have never actually done any work for her). Perhaps if he had finished high school he might have been able to work out that he would have been only 16 at the time he claimed to be working for the CIA blowing up pipelines in Peru. He was a bit of a computer whiz, though, and also reputedly had every episode of "Star Trek" on tape.

Eckardt had been engaged by Gillooly as Tonya's bodyguard after she received a death threat shortly before the Pacific Northwest Regionals in November 1993. Tonya had asked for a bye on several occasions but was refused. "If Harding skates, she'll get a bullet in the back" said the anonymous caller to the rink just before Tonya was due to take the ice. Tonya was granted a bye, but some skating officials expressed their opinion to the USFSA that the call had been a ploy rigged by Tonya herself to avoid having to compete. This was in spite of Tonya having previously made statements about how much she was looking forward to skating in front of her home crowd. More likely, if the threat was fake, it was probably cooked up by Gillooly and Eckardt as a way of cutting the latter in on the lucrative action that Gillooly figured would follow if Tonya won gold at the Olympics.

Exactly who suggested using violence to solve the Kerrigan "problem" is still unknown - both Eckardt & Gillooly seem to want to give each other the "credit" for the idea. But it appears clear that this had been resolved by the end of their meeting. Eckardt was certainly in favor of the idea as he figured that the fear of a maniac stalking ice skaters would lead to increased business for his bodyguarding service and make them both rich. "How's it gonna feel driving that brand-new ZR-1 Corvette?" he asked Gillooly. Gillooly claims that he told Tonya about the proposal and that she was enthusiastic about the idea but doubted that a windbag like Eckardt could really pull it off. When Eckardt was called a few days later by a friend of his in Arizona, Derrick Smith, he told him about the "assignment". Smith in turn called his nephew Shane Stant with the proposal. Later, Eckardt called Stant himself, sweetening the pot with the promise of a $36,000 a week bodyguarding contract for a five man team to protect Tonya in the runup to the Lillehammer games. This was, of course, pure bollocks, but by now Stant was convinced enough to come on board.

Stant and Smith were two of a number of people who had moved out to Arizona a couple of months earlier because they hated the rainy climate of the Pacific Northwest. Both shared Eckardt's interest in survivalism (they frequently had scared their neighbors in Portland by dressing up in camouflage gear and "playing army") and had hoped to start a survivalist school in Arizona, with Eckardt perhaps joining them after it was up and running. Indeed, it appears that this was the reason Smith had called Eckardt that day. In the meantime, Smith kept busy with his job of working with mentally retarded adults. It was a career that would prepare him well for working with Eckardt. Stant, on the other hand, never seemed to keep any job. Although interested in martial arts, he was undisciplined and never finished what he started. He had tried out for both the Army and a semi-pro football team but had been fired from both after repeatedly failing to turn up.

Gillooly and Eckardt, however, could not agree on a price: Eckardt wanted four and a half grand, Gillooly could only manage two, and Gillooly told him to call the whole thing off. "Too late" said Eckardt: he'd already lined up some people to do the job and if he canceled now he would lose credibility. Smith himself called Gillooly directly on Christmas day to say he was on his way and that he'd leave it up to Eckardt and Gillooly to sort out the matter of the cash. Meanwhile, Eckardt asked Gillooly to get certain info about Kerrigan, such as her address, the rink she trained at and a photo.

Gillooly claims that Tonya helped him do this. Vera Marano, a writer for "American Skating World" that Tonya had known for some time received a call from her enquiring about where Nancy Kerrigan lived and what rink she trained at. Tonya claims this was to settle a bet she had with Gillooly. Marano said she would check and get back. When she rang back, she left a message on Jeff & Tonya's answering machine saying that she had been unable to get Kerrigan's address but had found she practised at the Tony Kent Arena on Cape Cod, Massachussetts. The tape in the answering machine was so badly worn, however, that neither Tonya or Gillooly could understand the name of the rink - it sounded like "Toby can" or "Tunee can" - so Tonya called Marano back and got her to spell it out.

Stant and Smith arrived in Portland on the day after Boxing Day. The meeting was originally scheduled for 10 o'clock the next morning, but Gillooly notified Eckardt he had to pick up Tonya from skating practice and did not arrive until 11. As they waited in Eckardt's "office" for Gillooly to arrive with the photo and data on Kerrigan, Stant suggested taping the conversation in order that they would have a way of putting pressure on Gillooly should he try to welch on the deal later on. Eckardt, his bugging and wiretapping skills supposedly honed by years of counterintelligence experience with some of world's top espionage organizations, accomplished the job by hiding the recorder underneath a paper towel.

The four conspirators then considered various possibilities about what to do with Kerrigan. Eckardt allegedly postulated the idea of killing her, waxing on about positioning a sniper in a hidden location, but it was squashed by the others. Another idea of buying a beat-up old car and running her off the road with it was abandoned as they feared they might wreck their own car in the process and be stranded at the crime scene. Eventually the idea of injuring Kerrigan's leg was settled upon. Eckardt would carefully prepare a note out of cut-out letters reading "All skating whores will die, no-one can shut me off" for Stant to drop at the scene to make it look like a maniac was stalking ice skaters - he figured this will create a panic amongst elite skaters and lead to bodyguarding work for his WBS "agents". It is also decided that Gillooly will give them $2000 up front, with the remainder of the total price of $6500 to be paid later on. As the conspirators leave, Eckardt hugged his pal Gillooly saying "we're going to make alot of money!"

Eckardt arranges to meet Gillooly that evening to collect the money. He also tells Gillooly to find out Kerrigan's practice times at the rink on Cape Cod. Several phone calls are made to the Tony Kent arena to determine this - Gillooly alleges these were made by Tonya. He also claims that Tonya gleefully exclaimed "the stupid bitch gave it to me!" after she hung up the phone. In fact, enquiries about Kerrigan's practice times from fans were common and no big secret. Jeff and Tonya then drove over to Eckardt's that evening with the money and more photos of Kerrigan taken from a copy of "Olympian" magazine and a World Team Handbook. Eckardt said he would give the money to Stant and Smith. As usual, he feels the need to embellish the details by saying Smith has gone to Seattle to put one of his "operatives" on a plane to Boston, and that a further man would leave from Los Angeles as well. Gillooly claims that Tonya waited in the lounge talking to Eckardt's mother Agnes, fully aware of what was going on upstairs. He also claims that Agnes was aware of the plot too, though she denies this.

The next morning, Stant flew out to Massachussetts. From the very start things began to go wrong. When Stant attempted to rent a car in Boston it was discovered he had picked up his girlfriend's credit card rather than his own. This resulted in a two day delay while his own card was couriered to him. Stant then drove out to the Tony Kent arena and hung around outside for several days before getting around to going inside, only to be told that Nancy had already left for home for some peace and quiet before Nationals. Stant realized the job would have to be done in Detroit if it was still to go ahead.

By this time Stant was low on dough and had to take the bus to Detroit instead of a plane. Meanwhile, Gillooly (and, he claims, Tonya), were getting worried they'd been ripped off. "Do I have 'stupid' written across my forehead?" he replied when Eckardt asked him for more expense money. Not another dime would be provided unless there were signs of some action happening in Boston. Eckardt tried to excuse the delay with a wild story about how his two "agents" had stolen Kerrigan's car in order to get her address from the registration papers and had waited for her in her house on New Year's Eve, but she hadn't come home. Gillooly then told Eckardt that he would give Stant and Smith a $10,000 check that the USFSA had provided for Tonya's training expenses as a bonus if they got the job done. Motivated by this, Smith takes the last $750 of Gillooly's original expense money and flies to Detroit on the 5th to join Stant. Gillooly is most concerned when he hears that the attack is now to take place in Detroit, and tries to again get Eckardt to call it off, but the hitmen are now determined to complete the job so they can get paid. By now Tonya is also in Detroit having flown there the previous day (the 4th) to prepare for Nationals.

Initially a plan is concocted to get Kerrigan in her hotel room, but this is abandoned as there is too much chance of getting caught. On the fifth of January, Stant and Smith buy tickets and enter the Cobo Arena in Detroit where the Nationals are to be held in order to case the joint. As expected, security is slack. An escape route presents itself through a door at the end of a corridor behind the rink. It is decided to get Kerrigan after her practice the next day.

On the afternoon of the sixth, Frank Carroll, coach of top skater Michelle Kwan, is approached by a man asking "which one's Kerrigan?". Carroll is suspicious of the man as he appears sick and nervous. Within minutes his fears are born out - as Kerrigan enters the corridor after finishing her practice, Stant lands a massive blow on the back of her knee. Kerrigan falls to the ground wailing. Witnesses stand by, too shocked to do anything. Stant bolts towards the door, and finding it locked, breaks through a Plexiglas panel at the bottom with his head. He hurls the baton underneath a nearby dumpster and rushes towards Smith's waiting getaway car, a rental which has had its license plates changed. The two quickly drive off while observers comfort Nancy.

"I've Changed World History!"

Gillooly woke late in the morning to a phone call from Tonya telling him about the attack. He swiftly rang Eckardt. "It happened", said Gillooly. Eckardt yells to his mother to begin taping the news. "I've changed world history!!!", he exclaims. Gillooly drives to Eckardt's house where he finds him gleefully watching his tape of the news, over and over again. Eckardt is so fascinated by the images of Kerrigan writhing in pain he isn't even upset that his mother had wiped one of his "Star Trek" tapes with the recording. "You're sick, Shawn" his mother allegedly said. The two men then drive to the bank to get money that Gillooly then wires to Stant and Smith to get them out of Detroit. On the way to the bank, Eckardt, having finally achieved something in his life, can't resist the need to embellish the tale, explaining how his "hit man" pushed past a crowd of people, bashed Nancy several times on the knee screaming "I've just spent 29 hours on a bus for you, bitch!" before tackling a guy who tried to stop him outside. Gillooly flies on Saturday to Detroit to be with Tonya, who goes on to win her second Nationals title on Saturday. At a press conference afterwards Tonya declares that it doesn't feel like a victory without having faced Nancy, and later promises to "whip her butt" in Norway.

At first glance everything appeared to have worked. Nancy was out of the Nationals, and probably the Olympics too. Tonya was once again US champion and on the team for Lillehammer. Stant and Smith had made a clean getaway: the composite photos of the attacker produced by the police looked nothing like Stant; in fact observers couldn't even agree on whether Stant (who was half black and half American Indian) was black or white. Initial police theories were wildly off the mark, ranging from suspicion that Nancy had staged the whole thing herself to avoid competing to the attacker having come from the nearby Canadian province of Ontario, from where Nancy had received some hate mail some months before. Most assumed the attack was the work of a madman, in the same vein as an attack on tennis player Monica Seles several months earlier. And that's the way things probably would have stayed, had it not been for Eckardt's tape...

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