'We are reliving it:' Victim of serial rapist Larry Takahashi speaks as her attacker is freed on day parole

When Larry Takahashi raped the then-pregnant Erica Hammermeister, it forever changed her life and the lives of everyone she loved. Now, the 63-year-old man known as the "Balaclava rapist" is out on day parole in Vancouver.

Erica Hammermeister was pregnant with twins when Takahashi raped her at knife-point in 1982

Larry Takahashi, shown here in an undated file photo, was sentenced to three life sentences for a series of sexual assaults in Edmonton in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

There are no pictures of Erica Hammermeister.

None in her house. None on her phone.

She hasn't allowed one to be taken since March 1982, since the night she was raped by a masked man in the utility room of her downtown Edmonton apartment building.

"There are none, that's the sad fact," said Hammermeister, 56. "I moved 10 times in less than eight years, just because I did not want to be found. To this day, I don't own a house, I don't own a car, I don't own credit cards. There is no way that anybody can find me."

On that March night more than three decades ago, Hammermeister came home from a evening out with friends. When she pressed the button to call the freight elevator, Larry Takahashi, known as the 'Balaclava Rapist,' stepped out of the shadows and held a knife to her throat.

The next 30 minutes changed the rest of her life.

"Before, I was Mrs. Social Butterfly, people could come into my house. I was doing whatever, going out and partying like you do."

But after the attack, she changed.

"I became really reclusive. It totally impacted every aspect of my life."

Out on parole

Last week, Hammermeister received a package in the mail. She opened it and read that the man she helped put away, one of the worst serial rapists in Canadian history, had been granted day parole in Vancouver, B.C.

Hammermeister was Takahashi's last victim before he went to prison.

At the time of his arrest, Edmonton police said it was likely he assaulted more than 100 women.

Originally charged with 70 sexual assaults against 23 victims, Takahashi pleaded guilty to three counts of rape, one count of forcible confinement, six counts of disguise with intent, one count of sexual assault with a weapon and two counts of aggravated sexual assault.

I moved 10 times in less than eight years, just because I did not want to be found.- Erica  Hammermeister

The other charges were stayed or withdrawn as part of a plea deal, according to the Parole Board of Canada.

He was given three life sentences.

Hammermeister calls Takahashi a "masterful manipulator" and "extremely intelligent." After the rape, she was battered, her face bruised.

The parole board has ruled Takahashi no longer poses an "undue risk" while subject to day parole conditions. But Hammermeister thinks people should be worried.

"I think this time when he goes out, he's not going to leave anyone behind. I was his last victim, and I came within inches," she said.

"Cops told me they believed he was progressing to the point where he would leave nobody behind as witness."

Edmonton's notorious 'Balaclava rapist' has been approved for day parole in the Vancouver area while serving three life sentences. (CBC News)

Takahashi's parole is subject to 11 conditions.

Free during the day, he must return to the facility at night. He is under orders to stay away from his victims and their families, to avoid colleges and universities, to abstain from drugs and alcohol, and to inform his parole supervisor of all relationships and friendships with females.

"You are capable of extreme violence," the parole board wrote in its report. "You planned and pursued the victims; you were a cold, callous sexual offender with no regard for the plight of the victims."

The parole board report referenced multiple victim statements, saying: "They speak to the horror you caused them. One of victims attempted suicide twice."  

Ripple effect

Hammermeister was pregnant the night a masked Takahashi came out of the darkness. After the attack, she lost the twin boys she was carrying.

"You don't know how to handle it, you don't know if it's your fault," she said. "It's a mental game that happens to victims. They blame themselves. Their self-worth is gone, their self-control is gone. I turned it into alcohol and drugs.

You lose yourself, basically you lose who you are and who you were striving to be.- Erica  Hammermeister

"You lose yourself. Basically, you lose who you are and who you were striving to be.

"I worked and did drugs. That's how I drowned it."

The rape changed her so profoundly, it impacted everyone in her life.

"It's a residual effect all around," she said. "There are all the other victims — their parents, their brothers, their kids.

"It's a ripple effect. Multiply that by a hundred women, you're looking at anywhere upwards of 200-300 victims. Even though they weren't all touched by Larry Takahashi, they were still victims of his actions."

Taking back control

Hammermeister started to fight to rebuild her life when, five years later, she became pregnant for the second time.

"That gives you a wake-up call, it gives you something. It no longer is just you, you have something to live for," she said.

She sobered up and faced Takahashi in a victim mitigation program. She sent a video to prepare Takahashi for the meeting. In it, she focused on the loss of her twins.

"When I met him he was calm, cool and collected, and very smart and intelligent with his questions," said Hammermeister. "That tells me he was very manipulative."

That gives you a wake-up call, it gives you something. It no longer is just you, you have something to live for.- Erica Hammermeister

Takahashi apologized. She's not sure she believes him. Still, the meeting helped her move forward.

"You turn around and say, 'This is what you've done to me and it's no longer going to bother me.' And it works."

The scars will never leave her, and the impact on the people who love her remains. When her children were old enough, Hammermeister explained what had happened and why she was so protective of them. They, too, are forced to live with what Takahashi did all those years ago.

"It's now a reversal, which is a very sad statement," she said. "Their lives are consumed by it every time they hear he's released, too."

'He has played the system so long'

This isn't the first time Takahashi has been granted some form of parole. Over the last decade, he has received more than 500 work releases, escorted absences and temporary absences. He was also the prison bus driver and had clearance to refuel outside the prison gates.

During brief forays into the outside world, he broke rules. Once he attended a community movie with violence against women — something explicitly forbidden. He also rented a car, booked a massage, drank alcohol and spent time with another sex offender.

Hammermeister said she believes in rehabilitation. She also believes that for some people, for those whose crimes hurt so many, the justice system "should just throw away the key."

The parole board is victimizing us over and over and over again. Every time they release him, we are reliving it.- Erica Hammermeister 

"In my honest opinion, he has played the system so long. Right now, he's electronically monitored, so he'll bide his time. Then once that comes off, that's when all hell will break loose."

"What is it going to take? Is it going to take him re-offending and leaving no witnesses, no tell-tale sign that it was him, for them to wake up?"

The parole board, however, said Takahashi's "risk to reoffend is manageable on day parole."

But every time Takahashi is granted parole, Hammermeister sees photos of him in news stories.

She continues to be fearful about having her own photograph taken, worried the man who raped her in that dark utility room might see them and find her.

"The parole board is victimizing us over and over and over again," she said. "Every time they release him, we are reliving it."

About the Author

Mack Lamoureux

Mack Lamoureux is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. He's a lover of strange and odd stories. He counts writing about himself in the third person among his least favourite things to do. mack.lamoureux@cbc.ca, @macklamoureux