'disturbing' | 

American actor accused of stalking Irish doctor was ‘obsessed’ court hears

Mr Spenneberg was arrested this week after he flew to Ireland and turned up at the doctor’s family home in Cork looking for her

Steven Spenneburg

Andrew PhelanSunday World

AN American actor accused of stalking an Irish doctor was romantically “obsessed” with her since they had a brief summer relationship two decades earlier, a court heard.

Steven Spenneberg (54) had met the woman while she was on a J1 student visa in the US and in the years after, went to “disturbing lengths” to try to contact her by phone, e-mail and on social media platforms, gardai said.

Mr Spenneberg was arrested this week after he flew to Ireland and turned up at the doctor’s family home in Cork looking for her. Judge David McHugh refused him bail at Dublin District Court after hearing the victim felt "violated," her career had been affected and she now feared for her personal safety.

Mr Spenneberg, of Oakshire Drive, Los Angeles, California is charged with harassing the woman between May, 2020 and January 3, 2023.

Garda Shauna Ferncombe of Donnybrook station said the accused made no reply when charged.

Objecting to bail, the garda said the complainant met Mr Spenneberg while on a J1 in San Diego in 2004 when she was 21 and he was 35.

They had a three-week relationship before she returned home to go to college but Mr Spenneberg maintained “constant unwanted contact”, the garda said.

He sent presents to her home and constantly contacted her by phone and email, declaring his love for her, but she never replied to his requests to contact him.

He tried to contact her on MySpace, Bebo, Facebook and Instagram but she blocked him on all platforms and had to delete her social media accounts.

She reported the online harassment to the gardai in 2012.

When she took up a position with a clinic, her information was published online without her knowledge and the accused began sending her faxes.

“He was going to disturbing lengths to try to contact her,” Gda Ferncombe said.

The complainant told the gardai she felt “violated, embarrassed, exposed and threatened.”

He sent her a mail with the subject “explanation from me” in which he spoke of his love for her and fantasised about living with her in the future, the court heard.

The doctor told gardai of her “sadness and frustration” that she could not have an online presence for fear he would contact her.

She felt she could not publish medical research, which caused her a great deal of distress and affected her career.

After she received emails from him in 2020, Gardai contacted Mr Spenneberg and asked him to stop. It was alleged he left her a threatening voice message for her, saying he “lost his f**king job” and “I can’t live here any more… I’m f**king tired of this game.”

“He said he was desperate, and desperate people do desperate things,” Gda Ferncombe said.

The persistent contact escalated to the extent that the accused flew to Shannon airport and went straight to the doctor’s home town to find her, the garda continued.

He showed up at a family business where he spoke to the woman’s mother. The mother was aware her daughter was having unwanted contact from an American man so she followed Mr Spenneberg out to find out who he was.

She told him a lot of American tourists went on the Wild Atlantic Way and the accused did this for a number of days. However, he found out the complainant was in Dublin and came to the city.

“You brought me closer to (her)”, the accused told gardai after his arrest.

“Gardai are concerned that he will go to extreme lengths to contact her, he has a romanticised fascination with her,” Gda Ferncombe said. The woman had made it clear she did not want any contact with Mr Spenneberg, who was a stranger to her after 20 years.

The garda believed if bailed, Mr Spenneberg was a flight risk and would return to the US and interfere with and intimidate the alleged victim.

Applying for bail, defence solicitor Brian Keenan said there was no suggestion of any physical harm and it was mostly that the accused was obsessed with the woman.

He was desperately lonely and failed to realise that the contact was unwanted, Mr Keenan said.

The court heard in interview, Mr Spenneberg said he had “noble intentions” and was not a threat to the woman. Mr Keenan said if bailed the accused would have no contact with the woman and surrender his passport.

The alleged victim became emotional as she gave evidence from behind black screens, out of view from the accused.

“It’s been horrific actually, it’s altered the course of my life,” she told the court.

“There’s a certain amount of shame and disgust attached to the whole thing,” she said.

Professionally she needed an online presence but “when you try to post something or go live, I know there’s always someone watching,” she said. “It’s a constant, pervasive, sickening feeling.”

“I don’t know this man and I don’t know what he’s capable of but I believe he poses a threat to my personal safety,” she said.

She had not felt safe for the last week, had only left her house to go to work and upgraded her home security.

Mr Spenneberg, originally from Kentucky, was not working but had worked in the past as an actor and in radio, Mr Keenan said.

He said it was “quite a sad case” and the impact on the complainant was obvious but any garda concerns could be met by bail conditions.

Mr Spenneberg was a “desperate, lonely individual” who clearly failed to realise his contact was unwanted, Mr Keenan said.

Judge McHugh refused bail and remanded the accused in custody to appear in Cloverhill District Court on Friday.

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