The Dark Side of Steven Spielberg

Home Invasion

The Spielberg estate in California

On June 29, 1997, Steven Spielberg's life changed for ever, and for the worse, when a 31-yer-old would-be actor named Jonathan Norman attempted to gain access to Spielberg's California estate.

Norman was apparently convinced Spielberg wanted to be raped and Norma bought with him all the tools necessary to accomplish the task.

Prosecutor Rhonda Sanders - who became something of a celebrity a year later when she succeeded in putting Norman behind bars for the rest of his life - called Norman's paraphernalia, "a rape kit" that included handcuffs, duct tape, and a box cutter.

Later, police found even more stuff in Norman's vehicle, including photos of Spielberg and his family, and the names and addresses of more than two dozens friends and associates.

Front gate to California estate

Norman's close friend and former lover claimed Norman had an obsession with Spielberg and kept a picture of a naked man with a cutout of Spielberg's face pasted to it. In testimony, this friend claimed Norman had told him of the plot to scale the wall at Spielberg's estate and perform the heinous crime.

Just why the friend was not charged as an accessory for failing to warn the authorities about the impending attack remains one of many mysteries.

Spielberg's living room

Norman, who had sought out Spielberg's attended for a brake as an actor, had a violent history, and indeed, only six months prior to his attempt to invade Spielberg's estate, Norman had been released from prison after serving time for a previous violent crime. Norman had run his vehicle into a group of pedestrians, then jumped out and punched two of them.

When Norman finally worked himself up to making the attempt on June 29, he had no idea that Spielberg was not at home.

A week earlier, Spielberg and his family had flown off to Ireland where he was filming "Saving Private Ryan."

Spielberg nursary

This was apparently an odd time of life for Spielberg, who had turned 50 the December before. A life-long Democrat with a significant record of contributing to the Democratic Party, Spielberg may have been searching for a new direction. For first time he actually contributed to a Republican candidate, suggesting perhaps some of the patriotic feelings from his picture had rubbed off on him a little.

Coming at this vulnerable time in Spielberg's life, Norman's invasion seemed to have struck an even deeper chord in Spielberg.

"I've had fans and I've had people who've been a little pushy before," Spielberg said later. "But not people with handcuffs, duct tape and knives and maps of my home. I feel to this day that I'm prey to this individual."

gate to a spielberg estate

To understand obsession, you really need to experience it.

Spielberg appears to understand it on some level, since he painted obsession so vividly in his film, Close Encounters.

For me and others like me who have become obsessed with Spielberg and his work, the obsession started with a close encounter. In my case, he filmed in Bayonne and watching and reporting on him became a life changing moment. After it was over, I felt an incredible emptiness, and a need to feel that feeling again.

In some ways, I understood the Richard Dreyfus character much better later, although like the Dreyfus character, I am still helpless to explain what exactly transpired by the close encounter.

Some obsessed fans want people like Spielberg to take notice of us, to elevate us out of our otherwise mundane lives.

Some fans grow bitter when our new Greek Gods move on with their careers leaving us to feel once more unimportant and insignificant.

The most dangerous fans are those who take the next step, who refused to return to that old life and insist - sometimes by violent means if necessary - that our Gods take notice and take us to a more satisfying world the way the space aliens took up the Dreyfus character.

walkway near Spielberg's estate in Naples

Yet even Spielberg, who had so vividly portrayed the mindset of the obsessed, seemed unaware of how dangerous the situation was.

To know obsession as well as Spielberg did, he must have been obsessed at some point in his own life, yet never taking it to the limits that Norman wanted to go.

Yet Spielberg must have realized by instinct that nothing short of a prison cell was going to keep the determined Norman from reaching him, and later told the court as much in his testimony against Norman.

"Had Jonathan Norman actually confronted me, I genuinely in my heart of hearts believe that I would have been raped or maimed or killed."

Gordon Dr., near Spielberg's Naples Estate

Norman's attempt to penetrate the defenses of the Spielberg estate began on June 29 when he drove up in a rented jeep to the gate. He told the security guard that he worked for Spielberg's partner at DreamWorks and demanded to see Spielberg.

The guard told Norman to leave, later reporting that Norman glared before complying.

A few days later, Norman in the company of his friend drove by the estate during which time Norman laid out his plans to rape Spielberg - including the idea that he would tie up Spielberg's wife so she could watch.

Construction of so-called secret Naples Spielberg estate

About a week after this, a security guard on the estate noticed a Land Rover parked across from the gate with Norman behind the wheel.

Norman told the guard he was having engine trouble, yet had no trouble starting the vehicle and driving off when the guard ordered him to go.

A few hours later, security heard reports of a man pole-vaulting over the fence onto Spielberg's estate from neighboring property. They found Norman in some bushes. When they ordered him to raise his hands above his head, a notebook fell out revealing cut out photos of Spielberg.

Spielberg's New York residence

When interviewed by the police, Norman claimed he was a relative of Spielberg's who had fled the guard dogs Spielberg kept on the estate.

Head of Spielberg's security, however, said later that Norman had admitted to him that he intended to make Spielberg into his gay lover. The police search had also discovered significant documentation of Spielberg's friends and associates as well as a story about John Lennon's stalker.

At this point, the police released Norman.

View from dinning room

A few hours later, Norman was back and apparently threatened to run his vehicle through the front gate.

The guards called the police. Norman rode off, but parked a short distance away in someone's driveway where he took to walking in an apparent effort to gain access to the estate.

The police were waiting at his vehicle when he got back, at which time they took him into custody and searched his vehicle.

They discovered for the first time he collection of sadistic tools he intended to use to commit his crime.

Norman, however, claimed he had come to see Spielberg about a script he had written and these torture devices were simply props.

Remarkably, the police let Norman go - again.

Spielberg filming War of the Worlds

Security meanwhile, notified Spielberg's attorney, who then contacted Spielberg in Ireland.

"I reacted to the information at first with disbelief," Spielberg said later. "Then I became quite frightened. I was very upset."

Spielberg ordered increased security for his estate as well as his mother's house in Los Angeles. He also increased security around him in Ireland, and when he and the family moved on with the shoot, in England.

Bayonne set of War of the Worlds

Norman was arrested a short time later on parole violation and once more leased, only to be picked up again a few days later on the same charge.

At Norman's sentencing, Spielberg pleaded with the court to impose the maximum sentence of life.

"If he's out on the street, I will live in fear," Spielberg said. "The prospect that Jonathan Norman might have another opportunity to care out his threats is beyond frightening to me."

email to Al Sullivan

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