Source:   The Seattle Times
Pubdate:  Thursday, July 17, 1997
Contact:   A drug fighter's twisted tale

 by William Booth
 Washington Post

 In the beginning, it was a story of the resilience and courage of a
 drugfighting activist whose Oakland, Calif., home was firebombed not
 once but three times, most likely by the very thugs she sought to foil
  as everyone from the police to the White House seemed to believe.

 But then the story took an unusual twist.

 "This is the stuff of a Hollywood movie," said Oakland Police Capt.
 Peter Dunbar at a news briefing yesterday morning. Added police
 spokesman Arturo Bautista, "This is really strange."

 Crime crusader Stevie Allman, who after the latest firebombing was
 called a model activist and hero by California's governor and the
 nation's drugpolicy chief, might actually have been murdered and
 stuffed in an icebox by her younger sister, who has been impersonating
 her for the past two weeks.

 But to back up: On July 1, firefighters responded to a twoalarm alert
 at a humble white clapboard house on 50th Avenue in a workingclass
 neighborhood of East Oakland.

 Drug fighter lauded

 The fire, which investigators called arson, was remarkable in that the
 woman who barely escaped her home, suffering first and seconddegree
 burns, was Allman, 52, an antidrug crusader who had been supplying to
 police tips and videotapes that showed drug dealing outside her home.
 It was the third attempt to burn down her house in as many months.

 As Allman was recovering from her burns in the Alta Bates Hospital in
 Oakland, police vowed to capture those responsible for "this cowardly
 act." Oakland Police Chief Joseph Samuels said, "We intend to jump on
 this with both feet and both fists."

 The news of the firebombing quickly spread from Oakland, for here was a
 seemingly average citizen doing pitched battle with the forces of
 dopedealing evil.

 California Gov. Pete Wilson offered a $50,000 reward to assist police in
 their investigation, warning, "All of us are sending a message that we
 will not be prisoners in our own homes, cowering under our windows and
 behind steel bars. We will stand up for our families, neighbors and

 The White House called the hospital to express support, as did
 drugpolicy chief Barry McCaffrey.

 The media, too, besieged the hospital with requests to interview
 Allman. A donation fund was set up, and more than $3,000 was collected.
 Local contractors offered to rebuild the gutted home. The Oakland
 Police Officers Association gave $500 to buy Allman two dogs to replace
 Oda and Caesar, who died in the fire.

 Statements in Stevie's name

 The woman believed to be Stevie Allman issued two statements from her
 hospital bed. She dictated the first on July 3, asking her neighbors to
 keep up the fight. And then a week ago, Allman wrote out a threepage
 letter herself

 "It is difficult to imagine people could be this cruel  not once, not
 twice, but three times," the statement began. "I have no doubt they
 intended to murder me and burn my house down on top of me. Their warped
 minds thought this act would clear the way to do their dirty dealing
 without resistance from me and at the same time scaring everyone else
 along 50th Avenue and beyond into a terrified slavestate."

 Police have now learned that for more than 20 years, Stevie Allman had
 been living in the house with her younger sister, Sarah Allman, 47. The
 women resembled each other so much that some took them for twins.

 Police believe that both sisters may have been involved in the antidrug
 crusade, but the last known sighting of Stevie Allman was in April.

 But Stevie wasn't Stevie

 As "Stevie Allman" lay in the hospital, a few relatives and others still
 unidentified by police began contacting authorities and telling them
 that Stevie was not Stevie, she was Sarah.

 "Approximately two years ago, Sarah began to take on the identity of
 her sister Stevie," police spokesman Bautista said.

 Police brought in Sarah Allman for questioning and fingerprinted her. A
 Sarah Allman had been arrested for prostitution in 1971, so prints were
 on file. Also, the burns on Sarah Allman's body were now seen to be
 "splash burns," police said, such as those someone would get starting a
 fire  not fleeing from one.

 "And so if this was Sarah," Bautista said, "we had to ask, where was

 On Tuesday, police investigators think they found out. As they searched
 the partially destroyed home they found a badly decomposed body in a

 Sister charged in murder

 Sarah Allman was immediately arrested and charged "in the investigation
 of a murder" and forgery. She had cashed a check, given as a donation,
 pretending she was Stevie Allman. The coroner is in the process of
 identifying the body found in the freezer and determining its cause of
 death. The police, meanwhile, are not certain that the arson attempts
 and the suspected murder are related.

 "She could have committed the murder and then burned the house," Bautista
 said. "Or committed the homicide and the arson was unrelated."

 Maybe the drug dealers were really after someone in the house, police
 said. But then again, maybe not.