The black stickers started cropping up around Terlingua that fall.
The backlash was swift. Schwartz started getting messages on Facebook. A friend sent her a photo of five stickers taped to a wall in what appeared to be one of the vacation rental properties owned by Leach, the same properties Schwartz had helped him manage as his employee and close friend.
We all know. In a place as small as Terlingua, it was impossible for Schwartz to avoid those who believed Leach when he said Schwartz was lying, that the encounter had been consensual.
One night, she says, a formerly friendly bartender at the Starlight Theatre, a local bar and restaurant, refused to serve her. Another night, a woman dumped a glass of water into her lap. Then, on September 11,Leach sued Schwartz for defamation.
The ensuing comments on social media were cruel and pointed; some baselessly accused her of sleeping with the judge presiding over the lawsuit and of being an absent mother. All around her was the vast, empty desert of Big Bend. This was not what she had imagined when she moved to West Texas from Los Angeles two years earlier, seeking some form of serenity and rejuvenation.
For most of her life, she had been itinerant.
When she was young, her family had moved around a lot, relocating from Texas to Florida when she was six. Her modeling career had started when she was ten, and her teen years saw her traveling the world for gigs.
Schwartz hoped to experience a typical senior year complete with a prom, but she struggled to adjust to the conventional, confined environment of high school. After her career abruptly ended, she resettled in Los Angeles. At nineteen, she became pregnant, drove with the father to Las Vegas for a quick wedding—Schwartz wore a T-shirt and jeans—and, five years later, got divorced.
She shared custody of her daughter with the father. For years, she worked odd jobs, from waiting tables to booking gigs for a valet parking service to managing the office of a mom-and-pop air conditioning company.
She eventually translated her love of cooking into a steady stream of private chef and catering gigs. That kept her going for a bit. But she longed for something different, a new start. Would she want to on as the head chef of a wine bar he was planning to open in a little town called Marfa? Though Marfa had gained national renown as an oasis for artists and celebrities, Schwartz knew next to nothing about the place. That suited her just fine—she was ready for a change. Ten days after visiting Marfa, Schwartz packed her belongings into her Toyota Camry and headed east on Interstate Schwartz was eager to find her place in her new community.
After about nine months, Schwartz made her way to Terlingua, a historic town just over a hundred miles to the south that had fallen on hard times after its quicksilver mine played out in the forties, only to be reinvigorated in recent decades by an influx of tourists, artists, desert rats, and off-the-gridders. Terlingua represented a stark departure from Marfa.
While Marfa has become a pricey paradise for hipsters and high-end hoteliers, Terlingua has managed to retain most of its offbeat charm. Scattered across the sun-scorched earth are frames of empty adobe buildings, some reduced to nothing more than dusty masses of rubble, remnants of the hardscrabble community that had once settled around the mine.
There is, of course, Wi-Fi.
But in recent years Terlingua has seen an explosion of tourism, and the short-term rental business has grown exponentially—sometimes to the chagrin of longtime residents who moved to the outskirts of society for peace and quiet, not to suffer through loud Airbnb parties.
Jeff Leach is a driving force behind that change.
Stickers plastered across town display catchy taglines, such as NotLikeMarfa, that promote his rentals on social media. It was impossible for Schwartz not to cross paths with Leach. A stocky, charismatic man with a background in biology, the year-old Leach had been living in Terlingua for about three years, captivating locals with stories of conducting research into the diet of the Hadza people, in Tanzania, by examining the microbes in their stools.
Leach claims to have used a turkey baster to transplant feces from one man into his own gut to see how it would affect his digestive system.
Basecamp was featured on the cover of the June issue of Texas Monthly as part of a story about new and improved Texas hotels. Leach offered Schwartz a job at Basecamp: first, doing manual labor and maintenance on his properties, then handling reservations, until eventually he made her his personal assistant. Schwartz was impressed by Leach, who spoke to multiple people about the doctoral degrees he had earned and the globe-trotting research he had done for the Human Food Project, a nonprofit he founded to study how diet affects gut health.
According to Schwartz, Leach even offered to let her use his greenhouse so she could grow food to help feed senior citizens in Terlingua.
During her L. But as Schwartz would later testify in court in response to the defamation suit filed by Leach, there were s that Leach was not what he seemed. In an affidavit, Schwartz said she had heard rumors about Leach beating up an ex-girlfriend. Worse, a coworker told her that another woman, Helen Thompson a pseudonymhad claimed Leach had raped her.
After Oakley went to bed, Schwartz said, Leach told her that Oakley wanted to have a threesome and that the couple fantasized about Schwartz when they had sex. The incident made Schwartz uncomfortable, and the feeling lingered for weeks. Not only were Oakley and Leach her best friends in town, but Leach was also her employer.
After the Puerto Rico trip, Schwartz reached out to Leach, hoping to talk. Just a bit confused—was blindsided—but we r all good—we will all b fine. Leach messaged Schwartz two weeks later, inviting her over to talk about what had happened.
Oakley was out of town for Lasik surgery, so it was just the two of them, and they chitchatted about work while Schwartz used her laptop to take care of some reservations for Basecamp. Leach offered Schwartz a drink, and they moved outside to the porch, where they sat on a tattered couch and talked. She figured Leach had invited her over so that he could apologize in person.
Night fell, and the lights from Study Butte were far-off dots in the pitch-black sky. Then he pinned Schwartz down on the couch and tried to kiss her. Schwartz ran to her Jeep, one of the Basecamp company vehicles, called for Banjo, and drove off. Leach later denied that he forced himself on Schwartz and said that they had instead just consensually kissed—which he claims Schwartz initiated—before she left.
Schwartz sat on the porch with Banjo and had a few drinks, hoping it would help her sleep. She began to question her emotions. Am I making a bigger deal out of this than I should be? One morning, after spending the evening at a high-end club, she awoke in her apartment, battered and bruised, with little memory of how the night had ended. She completed a rape kit at the hospital, and surveillance camera footage from the club later showed that a bouncer had left with her that night, according to Schwartz and her mother, who said she flew to New York to be with her daughter following the alleged assault.
The two went to the police, but the case was dropped. Schwartz never knew what happened to her rape kit. Historically, the New York Police Department has failed to properly investigate many cases of rape and sexual assault.
In the NYPD said it was looking into the testing status of more than 42, rape kits dating back to Her modeling career was over. She soon left New York for Los Angeles, but the trauma followed her. She began to self-medicate with alcohol to keep the memories at bay.
A little before nine-thirty that night, Leach messaged Schwartz on Facebook. U should come back. We never get this opportunity. Two days later, while they were messaging about work issues, Schwartz confronted Leach about that night.
Over the next several days, Schwartz confided in multiple people. Leach allegedly responded to Oakley by saying that he planned to hire an attorney. Then Schwartz told multiple coworkers, including the operations manager at Basecamp, that Leach had forced himself on her.
By July 1, Leach announced that he was going on an international trip. She worried that the fallout would hurt Oakley in particular.
Being alone in Terlingua was an unnerving prospect for Schwartz. The nearest hospital was eighty miles away in Alpine, and the nearest domestic violence shelter was sixty miles away in Presidio.
And despite its reputation as a redoubt for mavericks, the town had many residents who liked things just as they were. If high-profile women in the media and Hollywood had suffered a backlash after coming forward with allegations of sexual assault, Schwartz thought, then surely the retaliation would be even more intense in a place as remote and isolated as Terlingua.