Published April 11, 2007
Some of the details of the Duke University rape case may never be solved, but one thing is startlingly clear: Crystal Gail Mangum, the woman who accused three college lacrosse players of locking her in a bathroom and raping her, has had a very troubled life.
Mangum has been identified by name publicly several times, including by lawyers during press conferences on the case.
According to North Carolina Department of Corrections records, she was born on July 18, 1978, to a truck driver. She grew up the youngest of three children, not far from the house where she claimed she was assaulted in 2006. Durham is a slow-paced Southern town with equally large populations of black and white residents and a history of racial tensions — including those between a wealthy, predominantly white university community and its poorer black neighbors.
In 1993, when she was 14 years old, Mangum claimed to have been kidnapped by three men, driven to a house in Creedmoor, N.C., 15 miles away from Durham, and raped. She said one of the men was her boyfriend at the time, and was a physically and emotionally abusive man seven years older than she was. Creedmoor Police Chief Ted Pollard said Mangum filed a report on the incident in Aug. 18, 1996, three years after the rapes allegedly took place. The case, however, was not pursued, because the accuser backed away from the charges out of fear for her life, according to her relatives.
Family members still disagree on what really happened in 1993. The accuser's father has said he believes his daughter was not raped or injured in that incident, while her mother has said a rape involving three men in Creedmoor did occur, but said it happened when her daughter was 17 or 18; Mangum's ex-husband, Kenneth Nathanial McNeill, has said he believes the 1993 rape accusations are true.
According to her father, the year after the alleged Creedmoor rape, Mangum saw a psychiatrist and took prescription medication for a year because trauma from the assault had left her suicidal.
After Mangum graduated from high school in 1996, McNeill, then her fiance, encouraged her to join the Navy because she wanted to "see the world," he told various news outlets. She began her two-year active duty in the summer of 1997, marrying McNeill, who is 14 years her senior, in the fall of that year. She was trained to operate radios in Virginia, then the couple drove out to California where she was stationed on an ammunition ship. But she was frequently at sea, leading to ruptures in the marriage. On June 16, 1998, she accused her husband of taking her into a wooded area and threatening to kill her, which he has denied doing. When she failed to appear at a court hearing, the complaint was dismissed. The two separated after 17 months of marriage, and that same year, Mangum was discharged from the Navy, pregnant by a sailor she has begun a relationship with. That man would have another child with her as well, but that relationship wouldn't last.
By 2002, Mangum seems to have given up her dreams of seeing the world. She was back in her hometown, trying to get a job as a stripper. In June 2002, she was arrested on a multitude of charges while working at a topless dance club called Diamond Girls. According to police, she removed a customer's keys to his taxicab while giving him a lap dance, then stole the taxi while he was in the bathroom. Police chased her at speeds up to 70 miles per hour — frequently in the wrong lane — and when an officer tried to approach her, she barely missed running him over, and struck his patrol car instead. She tried to escape again, but a flat tire ended the second leg of her getaway. Finally in custody, she was found to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.19 (the state limit is 0.08). While being questioned, Mangum passed out and was taken to a hospital.
In the end, Mangum had racked up 10 charges, including driving while impaired, driving with a revoked license (her license has been suspended three times), eluding police, reckless driving, failure to heed a siren and lights, assault on an officer and larceny of a motor vehicle. In 2003, she pleaded guilty to four misdemeanors: larceny, speeding to elude arrest, assault on a government official and DWI. She served three weekends in jail, was placed on two years' probation and paid $4,200 in restitution and court fees.
But the portrait of an out-of-control, unstable woman with a drinking problem isn't accurate, according to relatives, who have described Mangum as a hardworking single mom running herself ragged trying to support her children and improve her life. In 2004, she earned an associate's degree from Durham Technical Community College. At the time of the Duke lacrosse rape allegations, she was in her second year as a full-time student at North Carolina Central University, studying police psychology and maintaining a 3.0 average. She had at some point held jobs working at a nursing facility and at a $10.50-an-hour assembly-line job making catalytic reducers.
But it wasn't a happy life.
Sometime in the last two years, according to her parents, Mangum suffered a mental breakdown and was taken to a hospital in Raleigh. They said they didn't know what caused the breakdown but said she felt burdened by mounting debts. In 2003, she went to court to force the father of her children to pay child support (the court sided with her and ordered $400 from his monthly paycheck to go to child support). In 2006, Mangum was working as a stripper in at least one club and for one service. She was adamant that she never worked as a prostitute, and told police that in only one instance did she have sex with a customer, a man she thought was "nice." According to employees of clubs she worked at, she was known as a problem dancer, frequently clashing with customers and other dancers and often passing out. At least one of the club workers, however, said he never saw Mangum drink while working.
As time went on, her romantic life didn't get more stable, either. According to reports, Mangum said she'd had sex with at least three men in the days leading up to the Duke lacrosse incident, including her boyfriend and two of the men who drove her to dancing gigs. Somewhere around this time, she again became pregnant. She gave birth to a premature girl in January 2007.
But the greatest upheaval in Mangum's life was to come on March 13, 2006. That's when she and 31-year-old Kim Roberts were hired to perform a striptease at the off-campus lacrosse house on North Buchanan Blvd. near Duke.
Now that all charges against the three players she accused have been dropped, it remains to be seen whether Mangum herself will be the target of any legal retribution on behalf of the players' families.