The Untold Truth Of Mary Kay Letourneau

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Few true crime cases have confounded as much as the disturbing case of Mary Kay Letourneau. As an elementary school teacher in a district just outside Seattle, the 34-year-old became notorious nationwide for engaging in a romantic relationship with a 12-year-old student that led to multiple pregnancies, eventual arrest and incarceration. After her release, Mary Kay married the student, Vili Fualaau, who was 21 years old by the time of her release. The two were together until 2017, when news broke that they were supposedly separating under questionable circumstances. That separation became legal two years later, but the two were still technically married when Mary Kay died in 2020 from cancer, inexplicably leaving the bulk of her estate to Vili.

What makes this case equally troubling and fascinating is that despite the undeniable wrongness of Mary Kay's actions, both the victim and the perpetrator have defended their relationship. Their age gap might have been considerably narrower than the Hollywood pairing of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones or at least two couplings involving Larry King, but then again, all those parties met the criterion for legal age of sexual consent. But because statutory rape positions itself front and center in this scandal, it's a lot for people to wrap their heads around, so let's dig deep into the details. Here's the untold truth of Mary Kay Letourneau.

She was a teacher in a troubled marriage

The daughter of U.S. Congressman John Schmitz, Mary Kay and her siblings were reportedly raised in a conservative Catholic household in California. Despite outward appearances, however, Mary Kay's childhood was filled with trauma. Her brother died when she was three years old, and the family later discovered that her father had two illegitimate children. May Kay also claimed she was fondled by one of her brothers when she was seven. "I was not forced into anything," she said, per Crime Library, "but when I decided it was wrong, I said no. And guess what? It stopped."

As a college student at Arizona State University, Mary Kay began dating fellow student Steven Letourneau. When she got pregnant, they reportedly followed the advice of family and got married, despite personal reservations. They moved to Alaska for Steve's work, but were supposedly plagued by relationship woes. Though they went on to have four children, financial problems reportedly put further pressure on an already strained marriage. When Steve's work took them to Seattle, Mary began taking courses to become an educator, successfully beginning a career teaching second grade in a Seattle suburb in the early '90s.

She met her victim in the 2nd grade

As a teacher, Mary Kay Letourneau was well-received by students and coworkers alike and even praised by her elementary school principal as "a gift to the entire Highline School District," according to the Crime Library. However, as she gained success professionally, her family life reportedly fell further into disarray. Her husband, Steve Letourneau, was allegedly having affairs with other women, and in response, Mary Kay sought some kind of solace through her work. What she found was a second grader in her class named Vili Fualaau. 

According to ABC News, the 7-year-old was a gifted artist who reportedly came from a troubled home – his father was behind bars for armed robbery and his mother was busy working long hours at a bakery. Though nothing would occur between the two at the time, they would cross paths again four years later, when Mary Kay began teaching fifth and sixth grade, and Fualaau was her student again.

She never saw herself as a predator

As Mary Kay Letourneau developed a relationship with Vili Fualaau, the closeness between teacher and student became increasingly disturbing to colleagues, neighbors, and family, who noticed them spending an increasing amount of time together and engaging in intimate behavior, such as slow dancing. In the summer after sixth grade, Letourneau reportedly began raping Fualaau, but according to New York magazine, she seemed to view their relationship as one between equals. "He dominated me in the most masculine way that any man, any leader, could do," she said. (Keep in mind, he was 12 and she was 34 years old at the time.)

Letourneau claimed the illegality of the relationship never crossed her mind. Her primary concern was if Fualaau's mother would be angry. "I definitely knew that it was bizarre," Letourneau said in an interview with Barbara Walters. "...I didn't know that getting into a relationship — a sexually intimate relationship — I didn't know that was a felony or a crime. I knew it wasn't right. I mean, Vili and I loved each other. And still do."

Her husband's family turned her in

When Mary Kay Letourneau became pregnant with Vili Fualaau's child, she reportedly planned to deceive her husband, Steven Letourneau, into thinking the child was his own, but the terrible truth of her affair soon became evident as suspicions became too serious to ignore. Steve eventually discovered concrete evidence in the form of love letters that his wife had written to her student stashed away in their family home.

Steve's cousin reportedly called Child Protective Services to report Mary Kay's abuse. She was arrested during a teacher's meeting in March 1997, on a charge of statutory rape. "My reaction, I think is disbelief," Steve told a local news station at the time of his wife's arrest. "Just denial." Steve took custody of their four children and moved back to Alaska. "She was a wife, loving wife, good person," he said, per NBC News. "But does a good mom do what she did? Does a good teacher do what she did? Does a good wife do what she did? No."

Her initial sentence was only 3 months

Mary Kay Letourneau gave birth to her first child by Vili Fualaau in May 1997 while out on bail. Her initial sentence for her crime was extraordinarily lenient: She pleaded guilty to second-degree child rape and received a suspended prison sentence provided she adhere to a number of court orders set by King County Superior Court Judge Linda Lau, including avoiding contact with Fualaau. At the time, Letourneau tearfully apologized to the court for her actions.

But shortly after her release from prison, Letourneau was arrested again after being caught having sex with Fualaau in her car. Judge Lau then sentenced Letourneau to seven and a half years in prison, the maximum penalty available. "These violations are extraordinarily egregious and profoundly disturbing" said Lau at the sentencing, adding that Letourneau's initial sentencing was "an opportunity that you foolishly squandered."

She wrote a book with Vili

Impregnated by Vili Fualaau a second time during her weeks of freedom, Mary Kay Letourneau gave birth while incarcerated. Both of those children were raised by Fualaau's mother. (Steve Letourneau divorced Mary Kay and received custody of their four children.)

In 1999, Mary Kay was placed in solitary confinement after attempting to contact Fualaau by writing letters to him. While behind bars, she also managed to co-author a book with Fualaau, Un Seul Crime, l'Amour, which to this date has only been published in France. "Most American publishers were looking at this as an icky story," said Bob Huff, a lawyer for Latourneau who facilitated her connection with the French publisher, "but the French saw it as a love story." 

The highly controversial tome supposedly aimed to defend the illegal, illicit relationship on the grounds of true love, but the result was a disturbing combination of Mary Kay's romantic musings and Fualaau's graphic contributions. "Her idea of the book was this romantic valentine to the love of her life," noted true crime author Gregg Olsen, author of a book about the case, "and he's just talking about boinking the teacher."

Vili and his mother sued the school and the city

Vili Fualaau and his mother, Soona Vili, sued the school district that employed Mary Kay Letourneau, as well as the city of Des Moines, Iowa in 2002, reported the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. According to Fualaau's lawyer, both the school and the city had evidence suggesting there was an inappropriate relationship between Fualaau and Letourneau, yet neither entity took action. Fualaau's complaint against the city stemmed from an incident in which Des Moines police officers found him in a parked van with Letourneau. His complaint against the school was related to several incidents in which he and Letourneau were caught in intimate moments, including when a janitor caught them in a "darkened faculty restroom," the Seattle paper reported. Fualaau and Vili sought $1 million from the school district and the city.

According to a subsequent report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, jurors in the civil case sided with the school and the city, noting that police "didn't see any illegal sexual activity" at the time and that Fualaau's mother even allowed him to go home with Letourneau following the incident. "We never had any responsibility for what happened," said Geri Fain, assistant superintendent of the Highline School District. "I do know that [Faulaau] has issues he has to deal with, and I hope he gets all the help he needs."  

Mary Kay and Vili's marriage sparked a media frenzy

Within hours of Mary Kay Letourneau's release from prison in 2004, Vili Fualaau, then 21, was working with the courts to rescind a no-contact order between him and his former educator, who was 42 years old at the time. Though he expressed emphatically in his motion that he did not fear or feel forcible compulsion from Letourneau, many in the press found the continuation of the formerly illicit relationship to be disturbing. Author Gregg Olsen said that pandemonium surrounding their reunion spoke volumes about Letourneau's controversial rise to fame. "It wasn't like a sex offender was coming out of prison," he said to CNN. "It was really like a celebrity was about to make her debut."

News of Letourneau and Fualaau's impending marriage sparked a tabloid media blitz, and "Entertainment Tonight" landed exclusive rights to the footage of their wedding. The 2005 nuptials, held at a winery in Washington in front of an audience of about 250, were attended by two of Mary's children from her first marriage. "They have gone through a lot," said family friend Noel Soriano, who was Vili's best man at the wedding, to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (per Chicago Tribune) before the ceremony took place. "That they lasted this long proves how strong their love is."

Blending her two families was difficult

According to a source for Radar Online, Mary Kay Letourneau's four children with ex-husband Steve Letourneau "tried to give her a chance to rebuild a relationship with them" after she was released from prison a second time. "Two of them even moved to Seattle to try to get to know her and to try to understand her new life." An anonymous insider claimed, "They were very positive about their new relationship with her at first, but as time went on their feelings changed." 

Likely making things difficult was the fact that Vili Fualaau was just a year and a half older than Mary Kay's eldest son. "It's an awkward feeling, for sure, to be close in age with someone technically your stepson or stepdaughter," Fualaau said. Are they on good terms with him now? "I don't know if it's good or bad," he said. "They did their own thing, and I did mine. It really got too personal."

Vili Fualaau got busted for DUI

In the time that Mary Kay LeTourneau had known Vili Fualaau, she was jailed twice for engaging in illicit sexual activity, while he maintained a criminal-free record. "I'm not a victim," Vili had previously said to Inside Edition. "I'm not ashamed of being in love with Mary Kay." But in 2006, a year after the couple married, Vili was busted for drunk driving, resulting in him receiving a one-year suspension of his license and a fine of more than $2,000.

In another more dramatic scenario in 2018, police arrested him for driving while under the influence. Washington state police reported that Vili had smacked his Mercury Mountaineer into two vehicles at a stop light just outside the town of Burien. At the insistence of Mary Kay who showed up at the crash site shortly after the cops had arrived, Vili decided against taking a sobriety test on the spot. Instead he followed his lawyer's advice to submit to a blood test at a police station some two hours later. His blood-alcohol level was 0.08, still legal although traces of THC surfaced in the results. A month later, he appeared in court to face charges of DUI. Ironically, he was 34 at the time, the same age as Mary Kay when their controversial encounters began.

His brush with the law continued in 2021, a year after his wife died, when he was arrested for drunk driving once again after nearly running into a police car.

Vili Fualaau files for separation from Mary Kay Letourneau

The couple made waves and generated new controversy in spring 2017 when news broke that Vili Fualaau was separating from Mary Kay Letourneau, adding a new wrinkle to a perplexing case that has fascinated the press for decades. While initial reports did not elaborate on the reason for the split, rumor had it the separation was not as it appeared on the surface. Instead of a dwindling romance, some reports suggested the separation was a form of legal subterfuge initiated so that Fualaau could pursue a marijuana business, which is legal in Washington, his state of residence. "It's not necessarily what you think," Vili said to Radar Online. "Everything is fine between us."

Vili added that in order to be licensed in the cannabis business in Washington, both marital partners had to be vetted. Vili hoped the separation would take Mary Kay's criminal past out of the equation. But what seemed at first to be a clear-cut clarification soon turned dubious, with Fualaau's lawyers refuting the report, and Letourneau's lawyers filing a petition to have Fualaau's separation case dismissed. Neither of the couple's legal representatives offered comment on the submissions. The following year, cable channel A&E broadcast "Mary Kay Letourneau: Autobiography," which explored their intense relationship, including any lack of regret on Mary Kay's part. "Am I sorry he's the father of my children and that we're married and this is the man in my life?" she said. "No, I'm not."

Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau separate for good

After all the legal hassles and all the invasive headlines, not to mention 14 years of marriage that resulted in raising two children, Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau announced that they were separating for good. This time, the news had nothing to do with a business opportunity or a career decision; apparently the spark finally went out on their controversial relationship. despite many attempts at reconciliation. "I'm convinced they were totally in love," said David Gehrke, Mary Kay's lawyer, to People in 2017, when the couple initially announced a previous split that was eventually withdrawn. "But sometimes, people who are totally in love have trouble staying in love. They slowly drift apart. One day, you wake up and realize that things are different with your partner." With divorce likely to be the next step at the time, what wasn't going to be an issue was child custody, as both of their daughters were already adults.

While the couple kept mum about the nature of their separation, it seemed that for the longest time Mary Kay had no regrets about her controversial life decision. When asked by Barbara Walters, per Entertainment Tonight, whether engaging in a controversial relationship with Vili was worth it, Mary Kay replied, "I don't look at life that way. I do my best, so if you asked me that question, 'Did you do your best through every situation.' There were... I can say I did my best."

Mary Kay Letourneau dies from cancer

After Mary Kay Letourneau was divorced from husband Vili Fualaau in 2019, things went from bad to worse. The following year, the contentious former teacher died after battling for several months of stage four colon cancer. She was 58. Sitting at her side was her former husband and her children when she passed on. "Her death was fairly sudden," said her lawyer, David Gehrke, to Entertainment Tonight. "Most of the family including Vili were there with her. Vili was giving her 24-hour care for the last month of her life." 

According to her will, Mark Kay ensured that the bulk of her estate would go to Vili, although how much he would have received wasn't disclosed. Family friend Gabriel Jones also set up a GoFundMe account to support the two children Mary Kay and Vili had raised. Speaking on the "Dr. Oz" show after his wife's death, Vili admitted his wife hadn't come to grips with her fate. "She believed that a miracle was going to happen and that somehow she was going to be healed and, you know, it was going to go away," he said. After being reminded that he was 13 when he entered into a relationship with Mary Kay, Vili was asked what he'd do if he were attracted to a 13-year-old girl. "I'd probably go and seek some help," Vili responded. "I couldn't look at a 13-year-old and be attracted to that, because it's just not in my brain."

A movie based on Letourneau's scandals drops in Cannes

After Mary Kay Letourneau's death, her lawyer yearned for the day when memories of his client would still be shrouded by an illicit romance. "My hope is that she will be remembered for all the great things she did for everybody in her life, rather than the one mistake she made," he said to Entertainment Tonight. Any chance of that happening will likely be waylaid for a while, when "May December," a drama starring Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman, debuted at Cannes in 2023, before Netflix snapped up the streaming rights. Moore plays a woman from Georgia who sparks a sexual tandem with a 12-year-old boy. Portman plays an actress accompanying Moore, as groundwork to portray the woman in a forthcoming movie. The movie made a few cosmetic changes in the characters and the script, in that Moore doesn't play a teacher and the boy is part Korean. But it wasn't long before parallels were being drawn to the real-life events involving Mary Kay and Vili.

Actor Will Ferrell, one of the movie's producers, tried to downplay any connection between the outing's plot and the real-life events involving Mary Kay and Vili. "There's been so much time and distance from when [the real story] actually happened," he said, per The Hollywood Reporter, "that it really ends up being a story about desperate, unhappy people and how one decision of narcissism affects so many other people and changes their lives forever."