An American actor sent persistent, unwanted messages to an Irish doctor for almost 20 years after they had a three-week relationship when the Irish woman was in the United States on a J1 visa, a judge has heard.
Dublin District Court was told that for two decades, Steven Spenneberg (54) frequently sent gifts and messages declaring his love for the woman he had last seen in 2004.
She did not reply and Mr Spenneberg’s behaviour allegedly “escalated” to a threatening voicemail message and an unannounced visit to Ireland when he turned up at her family home in Co Cork on New Year’s Eve.
The out-of-work actor and radio broadcaster of Oakshire Drive, Los Angeles, was charged with harassing the woman (40) from May 2020 until January 3rd this year.
Judge David McHugh refused bail to Mr Spenneberg.
The court heard the Irish doctor spent years blocking his emails and social media messages. She told a bail hearing she was left in fear after the accused left her a voicemail saying “desperate people do desperate things”.
Garda Shauna Ferncombe from Donnybrook station arrested the accused in Dublin and charged Mr Spenneberg, who made no reply.
Voicing witness interference and flight risk concerns, Garda Ferncombe said the woman met Mr Spenneberg when she was on a J1 visa working in San Diego in 2004.
They had been in a three-week relationship when she was 21, and he was 35.
She returned in September 2004 to study medicine, and the accused allegedly began phoning and emailing, “declaring his love for her”. The court heard that she never replied, but he kept sending messages by fax, email and social media on Bebo, MySpace, Instagram and Facebook.
Judge McHugh heard she “blocked him on all platforms” and had to delete her email and social media accounts due to the online harassment.
After she qualified and began working in a clinic in 2012, he allegedly went to “disturbing lengths to contact her through her job”.
The court heard it made her feel violated, embarrassed, exposed and threatened.
The court heard that in 2015, he created a work email account and sent her a message titled “Explanation from me”. It was alleged that he fantasised about living with her.
The judge was told it caused the woman distress and affected her career. Gardaí contacted Mr Spenneberg to ask him to stop sending her messages.
It was alleged that in June last year, he left a voicemail saying: “I lost my f***ing job, I can’t live here any more, I’m f***ing tired of this game.” The court heard he also said he was desperate and “desperate people do desperate things”.
The garda said it “escalated”, and on New Year’s Eve, he flew from the US to Shannon and headed straight to her family home. Her mother asked if he had been the American contacting her daughter.
She suggested he visit the western way, a hiking trail in the west of Ireland, which he did for two days. Gardaí later arrested him in Dublin.
The court heard that he told officers that the episode had brought him closer to the complainant. The garda believed he had a “romanticised fascination”.
In cross-examination, defence solicitor Brian Keenan put it to the garda that the allegations were at the lower end of the scale and the case would be dealt with at the District Court level and not in the Circuit Court with broader sentencing powers.
The officer replied that the Director of Public Prosecution had not yet decided on the trial venue. She added that regardless of whether he was threatening, there had been persistent contact since 2004 and he was “obsessed”.
The garda said that the woman knew him for three weeks, but after nearly 20 years, he is a “complete stranger”. Mr Keenan described his client, who is single, as “desperate and lonely.”
The court heard he had a return flight booked for January 13th, but while gardaí had his passport, they were concerned he would leave if granted bail. The officer said an offer to stay away from parts of the country did not ease her concerns.
Giving evidence from behind a screen and out of sight of the defendant sitting just a few feet away, the woman became visibly upset. She told the court “it has been horrific, actually; it has altered the course of my life”.
She told the court she felt threatened. She said the man’s behaviour had affected her medical research work and that she could not have an online presence. She claimed he also contacted her through work despite efforts to block him, and she feared for her safety.
She said: “I knew him for three weeks 20 years ago” and she referred to the voicemail message.
The Kentucky-born actor, who did not address the court, was of limited means, the judge heard. He has not yet indicated a plea.
The solicitor said Mr Spenneberg would abide by any condition imposed by the court. However, Judge McHugh refused bail and remanded him in custody to appear again on January 13th, pending the DPP’s directions. Legal aid was granted.