How to Become a Scandal

Adventures in Bad Behavior

by Laura Kipnis

29 September 2011

Image from the film poster for Scandal, Inc. (1956) 

"She Looked Really Crazy"

The strange overdressed woman on the airport shuttle that February night, who would of course turn out to be Lisa Nowak, got off the bus first, putting some type of hood up over her head. As Colleen neared her car, she spotted Lisa again because she seemed to be trailing her through the parked cars, five or six car widths away, but keeping abreast, which was totally spooking Colleen. Colleen started walking faster, taking bigger strides, and got her keys out. When she saw her car she hit the unlock button, threw her bag in the back and jumped in the front with her backpack, locking the door as fast as she could. She heard loud footsteps getting closer and closer, and suddenly Lisa’s face was pressed against the window and she was trying to open the door and slapping the window with her hand, pleading with Colleen to help her. She was saying something about a boyfriend—that he was supposed to pick her up but he wasn’t there, and could she use Colleen’s cell phone? Colleen was thinking that nobody who wants you to help them is going to try to open your car door. She shouted through the window that her cell phone was dead, which was true. Meanwhile Lisa was begging Colleen to drive her to the parking office, but she looked really crazy, like she was on drugs. Colleen told her through the window that she’d go to the parking office and send someone back to help. She started the engine, but Lisa was protesting that she couldn’t hear her, so Colleen rolled the window down a crack—or she tried to roll it down a crack but it was the automatic type that just keeps going—and as she was trying to put the window back up and plug her cell phone into the console, she looked up and as she did, Nowak squirted her with some kind of pepper spray through the crack in the window and started trying to shoulder her way into the car. Her eyes burning, Colleen managed to close the window, put the car in gear, and hit the gas, leaving Lisa behind. At the parking office, the attendant gave her some paper towels to wipe her face—her skin too was burning now—and called the police and paramedics. (The question of whether Shipman was actually hit in the face with the pepper spray would turn out to be a decisive factor in the outcome of the case, since it provided the basis for attempted kidnapping charges that Florida prosecutors brought against Nowak, the most serious count she faced. Shipman told police she’d been sprayed in the face, though Nowak’s lawyer later uncovered signed statements by paramedics on the scene contradicting Shipman’s account (the spray had missed her face, she told them at the time), statements the prosecutors somehow failed to turn over to the defense. )

Shortly afterward, the police picked up Lisa after spotting her tossing a white plastic bag into a trash can, which turned out to contain a black wig and the BB gun. In the duffel bag she was still carrying they found her nefarious arsenal—the mallet, rubber tubing, garbage bags—as well as $600 in cash and a pair of glasses with clear lenses. There was also a handwritten list with checked-off items—the things in the duff el bag and others that would later be found in her car. Lisa may have lost her grip, but at least she was being methodical about it. After paramedics flushed out Colleen’s eyes, police drove her over to where Lisa was being held. Colleen identified her though Lisa had changed out of the tan trench coat she’d been wearing into a darker one and her hair was different. Colleen, who thought of herself as having a big nose and was thus inclined to notice other people’s noses, had formed a distinct impression of Lisa’s while they were sitting on the shuttle bus, and it was the same nose. At this point, she still had no idea who Lisa was. Later, at the airport police station, when the cops asked her if she knew the name Lisa Nowak, she remembered that Bill’s ex’s name was Lisa but had to call him to find out if her last name was Nowak. She recalled once having seen a picture of Lisa on a poster at the NASA gym during one of her workout sessions with Bill, but she hadn’t connected it with the crazy lady in the parking lot. At first, after Bill confirmed Lisa’s identity, Colleen thought maybe someone had stolen Lisa’s ID and was claiming to be an astronaut, because why would an astronaut want to steal her car?

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