Court docs: Florida woman spurned over autograph engineered harassment campaign against Tony Stewart
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – A Florida woman stalked NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and his family for more than a year because she was angry that he failed to give her an autograph, court documents say.
Kathi Russell, 68, admitted that she “felt like she was ignored” when Stewart failed to sign memorabilia at a race. Russell was taken into custody this week in Cape Coral, Florida.
Court documents said Russell’s harassment campaign included dozens upon dozens of phone calls to Stewart and his family. Many of those calls included the playing of the song “Psycho Killer” from the Talking Heads. Sometimes she would play a soundbite from Hillary Clinton in which she said, “We came, we saw, he died”—a reference to the death of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Some of the calls were silent.
Investigators believe Russell was behind a phone call tip to the DEA that claimed Stewart’s plane was carrying drugs, a call that resulted in a search of the aircraft in Fort Worth, Texas.
The harassment lasted from March 2016 through October of this year, according to court documents. Charges against Russell include stalking, terroristic mischief and intimidation.
Her phone calls, which numbered in the hundreds, targeted Stewart, his mother and his sister both day and night. She also called the media, his sponsors and other NASCAR drivers to report anonymous “tips” about Stewart.
Russell “admitted to the repeated harassment” of Stewart and his family, court documents said. Russell “stated she repeatedly tried to get Mr. Stewart’s attention and get him to sign an item of racing memorabilia, but Mr. Stewart ignored Ms. Russell’s attempts,” the affidavit said. The information came from a telephone interview between Russell and a DEA investigator.
Russell said she would stop the harassment because “she didn’t want to get in trouble.” Stewart’s mother obtained a protection order against her.
In Sept. 27, 2017, an envelope marked “return to sender” arrived at the law offices of Ice Miller in downtown Indianapolis. A clerk opened the envelope and ended up covered in a white powdery substance, sparking an anthrax scare. The Ice Miller building was evacuated as a result.
The substance turned out to be baking soda; investigators said the envelope was the same on that Ice Miller, which represented Stewart’s family, had mailed to Russell to notify her that she’d violated the protection order.
Investigators said Russell made more than 300 phone calls from six different numbers directed at Stewart, his family, business or sponsors. She took “significant steps” to conceal the fact that she was behind the calls, investigators said, using computer programs to mask her phone number.
In October 2017, Stewart talked to the DEA about the case. He said Russell called repeatedly during all hours of the day and night “with no purpose other than to harass” him. Sometimes he said she called in the early morning hours of race day, disrupting his sleep and causing additional anxiety.