Ex-friend haunted by Bashara case, fears court return
She’s changed her name, moved and switched jobs, but she can’t shake the stigma of Bob Bashara.
The woman formerly known as Janet Leehmann says she’s still paying for her brief dalliance with the Grosse Pointe Park businessman who was found guilty of orchestrating the death of his wife, Jane. She’s struggling with guilt, self-doubt, regret — and fear a judge’s upcoming ruling could force her to relive a what she considers a colossal embarrassment.
“When will this be over? I need to move on,” said the 56-year-old grandmother who became known as “the woman from Oregon,” during Bashara’s scandalous murder trial.
Leehmann’s bawdy testimony during the preliminary examination and trial about her brief involvement with Bashara made headlines — an ordeal Leehmann is afraid she’ll have to repeat if Bashara, who was sentenced to life in prison, is granted a new trial. His hearing is set to resume Nov. 13 in Wayne Circuit Court.
“Testifying was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” she said in an exclusive interview with The Detroit News. “I didn’t do anything wrong; all I did was answer an online ad, and I end up being mortified in this case that’s getting national attention.
“It would’ve been awesome for my kids not to have found out their mom has a kinky side.”
The man who called himself “Master Bob” wanted Leehmann to join him and his girlfriend, Rachel Gillett, in a polyamorous relationship. Prosecutors said Bashara paid his handyman, Joe Gentz, to kill Jane Bashara so her husband could live a full-time bondage, discipline and sadomasochistic lifestyle with Gillett and a third woman, possibly Leehmann.
“I never really had a bunch of hangups about sex until after Bob,” said Leehmann, who met Bashara on the BDSM dating website alt.com.
Bashara, a former Grosse Pointe Rotary Club president, was found guilty in December of arranging the Jan. 24, 2012, killing of his wife.
Leehmann is closely watching Bashara’s quest for a new trial.
“I’m scared to death I’ll have to testify again,” she said. “My choice is either be nice and do it again or go to jail. During the trial, I was going to sit in jail, but my son and fiance said to go ahead and testify, because (refusing) would’ve only brought more attention.”
David Draper, a Grosse Pointe Farms attorney who represented Leehmann, said the case has taken its toll on his former client.
“It was a chance meeting,” he said. “Obviously, if she knew anything about Bob, she would have never interacted with him. It’s become a hassle for her.”
Bashara has argued during his seven-day motion hearing that his trial last year was tainted, in part because his lawyers didn’t emphasize his charitable work, and didn’t petition for a change of venue.
As Leehmann awaits Wayne Circuit Judge Vonda Evans’ ruling, she says she’s struggling to move on, with the help of bi-weekly visits to a counselor.
“I don’t know what any other witnesses’ lives have been like, but for a simple ranch kid it’s been bad,” she said. “Why did I ever get involved with a ne’er-do-well like Bob Bashara?”
In 2006, Leehmann said she discovered her husband, a beauty supplies executive, was living a double life with another woman.
After she divorced him, she says she gave up dating for a few years before meeting a man 10 years her senior, who introduced her to BDSM. When that relationship ended, Leehmann turned to online dating.
“I put an ad on alt.com,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for anything heavy; just some role-playing.”
Enter Master Bob.
“He sent me a message, telling me he was a divorced businessman from Detroit, and that he and his slave Rachel were looking for someone fun to travel with and potentially move in with them,” Leehmann said.
Bashara wooed Leehmann by mailing her a T-shirt he’d worn for several days, a leather strap and a $25 gift certificate to the Olive Garden restaurant, which she says she gave to her son.
Leehmann says she rues agreeing to meet Bashara.
“If I could look at any of the mistakes I made, I didn’t give proper thought to what he was putting out,” she said. “I didn’t research him; I was just trying to figure out if I liked him, which is hard to do from 2,700 miles away. People in writing can be whoever they want.”
On Jan. 12, 2010, after telling his wife he was leaving for a sales seminar, Bashara flew to Oregon.
“He climbed off the plane; he was well-dressed and had a swagger,” Leehmann said.
When she took Bashara home, she said there were red flags. She says her Australian Cattle Dog was terrified of him.
“That should have been a message to me to get this guy out of my house,” she said.
Instead, she said, they engaged in S&M play. “He tied me up and beat me within an inch of my life,” she said. “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me; the pain was far worse than childbirth.
“ This was a sadistic beating. I still had welts and bruises three months later.”
She said Bashara also choked her until she passed out as part of erotic asphyxiation foreplay.
Leehmann said she feared what might happen if she told her guest to leave. “He’s a huge guy,” she said. “I figured I’d just make nice and get this (expletive) out of my house.”
During Bashara’s three-day stay, Leehmann said he spent a lot of time on the phone with his handyman, at one point yelling, “What the (expletive) is wrong with you? I want this done.”
After Bashara flew home, he contacted Leehmann almost every day.
On Jan. 25, she says Bashara texted her: “Bob here, family emergency, stop all communication immediately.”
“That was strange,” she said. “Then I went online and saw the story; it said, ‘Grosse Pointe wife found murdered in her car.’ ”
During Bashara’s preliminary examination, Leehmann said she was surprised when questioned about her interest in BDSM. She said she was told that she’d be questioned in court about “just dates, phone calls and things like that.”
“Instead, I’m outed.”
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said Leehmann’s recollection isn’t accurate. “She was informed every step of the way what was going to happen in court,” she said.
The fallout from crossing paths with Bashara continues, Leehmann said.
“I see a therapist every two weeks. I felt shamed by the media. I just want to move on.”