Rosemarie Pence spins a convincing yarn, according to those who now believe the tales she told to win her way into their lives and homes were nothing more than terrible fictions meant to play on their sympathies.
The 71-year-old woman apparently fled Longmont after she was confronted about her claims that she survived the Holocaust, skied for the German Olympic team and suffered the loss of her U.S. Air Force husband during the Vietnam War.
Left behind are a Windsor author — Jean Messinger, who has been telling anyone who will listen that the book she wrote chronicling Pence’s life is a creative fiction — and several Longmont residents who took in and cared for a woman they believed had survived against incredible odds and was simply down on her luck.
The tales Pence spun to rapt audiences in private and in public unraveled when the husband she said was MIA in Vietnam — and whose name she added to a headstone in Loveland — was discovered to be a retired Air Force master sergeant alive, well and ever searching for the son Pence took when the boy was still a toddler.
He revealed that his ex-wife was, indeed, German, but not Jewish. She was never a Holocaust victim or an Olympic athlete. He also told his ex-wife’s Longmont benefactors that she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and briefly institutionalized in the 1960s.
When Messinger met Pence, the elderly woman’s tale of survival and success inspired her. The author, with four other books to her credit, agreed to write Pence’s story.
Messinger published “Hannah: From Dachau to the Olympics and Beyond” in 2005. Hannah, the woman explained to Messinger, was her birth name, but it was changed because it sounded too Jewish.
In the book, Pence talks about surviving the Dachau concentration camp as a child and competing in downhill and slalom skiing for the German team in the 1956 Olympics.
“I won no medals but was proud to participate,” she said in the book.
Pence also recounted meeting and marrying a young Air Force officer — Wayne Pence. Together they had a son, Brian. When the boy was 4, she said, Pence was lost in Vietnam.
Later in the book, she talks about Brian’s death in an airplane crash in California. Local researchers have turned up a newspaper account of the death. It turns out that was one of the few things she was truthful about, they said. He died in March 1993.
Pence’s story earned her speaking engagements and fees. It also won her friendships that meant a roof over her head in Longmont, while she worked at a Super 8 motel.
Mark Robertson met Pence in August 2003 through his fiancee at the time. The fiancee wanted to write a book about her, but they thought Messinger would do a better job.
Pence was living in Evans and told the couple that the commute to work in Longmont was hard because her health was poor.
“I was trying to sell a house at the time, and (we thought) ‘Why doesn’t Rosemarie just rent it?’” he said.
Robertson said Pence moved into his house on the 1200 block of Tulip Street and paid rent for nine months.
“She really communicated strongly that she liked me and she wanted me as a son,” he said.
He and his fiancee split, he said, and instead of renting an apartment, he decided to take a room in the house with Pence.
“It is kind of like moving back in with your parents, except it is your own home,” he said.
In March 2005, Robertson bought a house in Parker and allowed Pence to remain in his Longmont home, though she was no longer paying rent.
Her tales were getting increasingly difficult to believe, he said. She told him a university in Oklahoma had planned to award her an honorary degree to be presented in Boulder and that her “old friend,” the queen of the Netherlands, was planning to attend. She also said Steven Spielberg wanted to film the ceremony because he was going to make a movie about her life.
“It’s getting thick, isn’t it?” Robertson said.
Pence told him to meet her at the Longmont house, where a limousine would take them to the ceremony. But the night before, he said, she called to cancel because she was in the hospital with chest pains.
He said he called another friend of hers to tell her about the hospitalization and mentioned the honorary degree. There was silence on the other end of the phone, he said.
Robertson and his new wife visited Pence at the hospital, and he said she was on edge. The next week, he said, he served her with eviction papers.
“I said, ‘Rosemarie, you are not altogether honest with me, and I need you to come clean,’” Robertson said. “I said, ‘I can forgive, but you need to come clean.’”
Pence told him there was nothing to come clean about.
“She said, ‘Oh, come on, son. Don’t do that; don’t do this to me. Nobody is perfect.’”
Pence moved out of Robertson’s house, and he didn’t hear from her again.
He said his experience with Pence won’t keep him from helping others.
“God knows what is in my heart; that gift is what I gave to her, and it was sincere,” Robertson said. “But she was false.”
He said he has since paid for a criminal background check and found that while she lived in Washington state in 1992, she was convicted of felony theft, which court records verify.
Robertson wasn’t the only Longmont resident to give Pence a helping hand.
In early 2007, Pence was visiting The Lord’s Walk bookstore at 15th Avenue and Main Street, according to the store’s owner, Deena Kicera.
She said Pence asked for the store to carry the book about her, which Kicera agreed to do.
“She’d come in and talk for a while,” Kicera said. “We would just sit and chat.”
Pence was likable and seemed to enjoy the store, she said. The two forged a close friendship.
“One day, she came in and said things were really bad where she was living,” Kicera said.
In February 2009, Kicera and her husband, David, invited Pence to live in a spare room in their home.
David Kicera said Pence’s presence in their home was no bother.
“It is just a family kind of setting. She would just sit in that chair and watch TV, and we would have family dinners,” he said. “It wasn’t a burden.”
In May, Deena Kicera took Pence to a Living Proof Ministries with Beth Moore event in Wyoming, where Pence decided she wanted Moore to baptize to her. Pence returned to Longmont, wrote Moore a letter asking to be baptized and provided a copy of Messinger’s book.
In July, Pence was baptized in New Mexico, where she spoke to a crowd. Moore then relayed the stories in the book during a conference in North Carolina.
The Kiceras said their suspicions were aroused when they took a call from another television-based ministry interested in talking to Pence. They said a representative asked if they had ever verified any of Pence’s claims.
They hadn’t, but when they told Pence about the request, they said, she decided she would not work with the ministry. They also found Messinger hadn’t verified the claims in her book.
David Kicera said they looked into some of her claims and found she was not listed as a member of Germany’s Olympic ski team in 1956. Some Internet work led him to Wayne Pence’s Facebook profile, and the two started to correspond.
Wayne Pence confirmed that he was married to Rosemarie Pence and had been in the Air Force, but he said she had left and taken their son. He was never an officer or missing in action, he told Kicera.
Wayne Pence told Kicera he knew Rosemarie Pence’s family in Germany and they were not Jewish and that she was never in a concentration camp.
Melissa Pence-Antcliff, Wayne Pence’s daughter, said the news of Rosemarie Pence’s presence in the United States and word that Brian Pence had been killed in 1993 has rattled her father. She spoke to the Times-Call on behalf of her family.
She and her sister grew up knowing they had a half-brother.
“My father and my mother had been looking for him for years with no luck,” she said.
When they were contacted by David Kicera, who used a pseudonym, she said, her father was suspicious that it could be Rosemarie Pence trying to get in touch or even Brian. He turned over correspondence to his daughter. Kicera had tried to call, but Pence-Antcliff said her mother panicked and told him he had the wrong number.
“I called (David Kicera) up, and we just laid everything out on the table, and I was shocked to find that there was this book out there that said my dad was MIA in Vietnam,” she said.
Armed with new information, Kicera decided to confront his houseguest. Kicera is a Boulder police officer, and so he felt he should not be alone with her. He called the Longmont police, and two officers stood by as he confronted her.
“I didn’t want her to make any accusations that I assaulted her,” Kicera said. “I said, ‘I know it is all lies, and I talked to Wayne.’”
She told him she didn’t know what to say, he recalled.
“Say it isn’t true,” Kicera remembered telling her.
The woman did not reply. She went to her room, packed and left.
The Boulder officer said Pence also told his family about pending movie deals and honorary degrees, adding to those she claimed she already had earned.
“It is like an onion,” he said. “You peel it back, and you find more underneath.”
Calls to two phone numbers Rosemarie Pence used went unanswered. One of the numbers indicates the voice mail box is full and cannot accept messages.
The Kiceras are saddened because they feel like they helped Pence to perpetuate lies and profit from them.
“The only thing we could really hope for is she isn’t able to do this to someone else again,” David Kicera said.
Still, he said, he’s hurt that he had to confirm to Wayne Pence that his son had died.
Pence-Antcliff said she and her family don’t want to hear anything else about her father’s ex-wife, particularly since they have confirmed that her half-brother is dead.
“We did what any family would do: We got together and grieved,” she said. “It is just very awful for my father. My heart breaks for him.”
Pence-Antcliff said she has heard that Rosemarie Pence is convincing with her stories, but she believes that part of her believability likely comes down to a person’s desire to see triumph over adversity.
“People really want to believe that tragic stories have happy endings,” she said.
Robertson, the Kiceras and Pence-Antcliff all said they suspect Rosemarie Pence is mentally ill.
“I believe she is a very sick woman, and I go between feeling like she needs to be locked up for her entire life in jail and feeling like she needs to be locked up for her entire life in a mental institution,” Pence-Antcliff said.
David Kicera went to the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office seeking help. The Kiceras and others who knew Rosemarie have been working with investigators, and Robertson said he also has talked to the investigators.
Catherine Olguin, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said she can’t confirm whether an investigation is ongoing, per office policy. She said the office will discuss a case only if charges are brought.
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