Sex, Lists, and Videotape

By the time Alexis Wright was arrested, plenty of people around Kennebunk, Maine, had already heard all about the “Zumba Madam” and her amateur porn movies. What they were shocked to discover, though, was how many of their neighbors turned out to be her costars.

alexis-wrightAlexis Wright teaching a class. (Photo by Amy Root-Donle)

When you’re a landlord, something’s always coming up—occasional vermin, emergency fix-it sessions, delinquent rental payments—and Christopher West thought he’d seen it all. But something just didn’t seem to be right on the second floor of One High Street, the light-yellow clapboard building he owned in Kennebunk, Maine. The tenant there had told him that she needed a unit in the building—which also houses a hair salon, a florist, a tattoo parlor, and a driving school—as administrative space for her nearby Zumba dance studio, and also to offer nutritional counseling. Pretty pedestrian stuff, so West was surprised to find that within a week of her signing the lease in February 2012, the parking lot had suddenly become unseasonably busy. Also odd was the plastic “Do Not Disturb” sign that was always hanging on her door. And finally there was the “moaning and groaning” that Teresa Houle, the owner of the hair salon directly below, told West she’d been hearing through the ceiling. As a Mainer, West tended to stay out of other people’s business, but before he troubled the police, he decided he’d better check things out for himself. So when his tenant wasn’t there, he used his key to let himself in. The room didn’t have much in it, but her massage table was there. And a camcorder. Camcorder? West went home to Google the name on the lease. Which is how he came across a video, posted to something called tubekitty.com, demonstrating the creative uses his renter had found for a particular sex toy. The video had clearly been filmed right there in his office space. Those were his taupe and cream-colored walls. That was his new hardwood flooring. That was his window. West would know—as a general contractor, he’d installed all of it himself. And there, in the middle of the frame, was his tenant, 29-year-old Alexis Wright, expertly wielding a rubber penis.

 

Kennebunk, settled in the 1600s, is an easy six exits into Maine. Located 30 miles south of Portland, its slogan is “So close, yet worlds away,” which it shares with its even more postcard-friendly (and old-moneyed) neighbor Kennebunkport, where Bush 41 has hosted such guests as Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev on the family compound. Kennebunk is home to a year-round population of 10,000, much of it working class. The main strip consists of hair salons, insurance agencies, and construction companies, but not a single fromagerie. Talk tends to be about the weather, or hunting, or who serves the better pizza: Toppings or K Hop. It’s not the kind of place used to functioning as the setting for amateur pornography productions, which may have had something to do with Christopher West’s decision in February to go over and have a talk with the police.

West wasn’t making accusations, he just wanted to be certain that nothing other than paperwork was going on in the space he’d rented to Alexis Wright. It turned out that the police had been having suspicions of their own for some time, though they hadn’t been particularly quick about pursuing anything. Five months earlier, in September 2011, Kennebunk police had received the first phone tips that Wright might be doing more than Zumba at her dance studio, called Pura Vida, which was located on York Street, just across the three-way intersection from One High Street. According to a police affidavit, one caller detailed “possible suspicious activity…possible prostitution and criminal activities.” When the police went to check it out, the men working at Toppings Pizza next door told them about the cars pulling up behind the building at all hours of the day and night. Guys were showing up dressed in sport coats and business suits, the pizzeria workers said, and didn’t look like they were coming for Zumba.

But the Kennebunk Police Department is on the smaller side. And things move slow in Maine, the way life should be and all that. And so, though Kennebunk police had received the call in September and suspected that Wright might be running a prostitution business, it wasn’t until December 2011 that an undercover Maine DEA agent called a phone number listed on the website for a business called Sensual Body Work by Lydia. According to the affidavit, “Lydia”—later identified as Wright—agreed to engage in “unspecified sexual conduct for money.” That was enough for a judge to authorize a search warrant for the office at One High Street, as well as the Pura Vida Studio and Wright’s home in neighboring Wells, Maine. On February 14, 2012—Valentine’s Day—about two weeks after Wright moved into West’s space and just a few days following the landlord’s chat with police, the warrant was executed by Kennebunk police.

In addition to lube and sex toys, the February raid turned up many hours of video footage. It seemed that Wright had either videotaped or Skyped—“unbeknownst to the males,” according to a police affidavit—just about every sex act she’d ever engaged in at One High Street and the Pura Vida Studio. Police said she’d also sent the material to a 56-year-old married man named Mark Strong, an insurance agent, hobby photographer, and licensed private investigator who lived two hours away in Thomaston, Maine. Before appointments, according to police, Wright would ask Strong to run the license plates of her potential clients. They had a business relationship, in other words. In fact, Strong said in a statement, “I loaned her money to start a legitimate Zumba dance studio with the usual promissory notes at commercial interest rates and she paid back those loans. I also co-signed a lease so she could rent her studio.” Confiscated bank records show the two shared a “financial link.” And other things. Police say they found footage of Wright and Strong engaged in a number of acts, “including but not limited to sexual intercourse, anal sex, oral sex, and Internet foreplay sex.”

Wright might not have been discreet, but she had admirable record-keeping habits. Police told the court they had found several electronic client ledgers detailing the names of clients, the sexual acts Wright allegedly performed on them, the times of the visits, and how much each john had paid. There was a black appointment book, too, as well as what the police reports refer to as a “domination fetish sheet.” Police say there were as many as 150 people in the records and on the tapes—prominent businesspeople, attorneys, a former South Portland mayor, and at least one pastor among them. All told, Wright is said to have collected approximately $150,000 between October 2010 and February 2012.

 

Alexis Wright was a Maine girl. She’d grown up in Topsham, a small town about an hour north of Kennebunk that’s home to the annual Topsham Fair, renowned for its sheep-herding demonstrations, pie-eating contests, and oxen pulls. Classmates from Mount Ararat High School, class of 2001, remember her as a “friendly and kind” girl, according to the school paper, one who “never made fun of anyone.” She played field hockey. She made the honor roll. She was in the band. Tall and pretty, with long, dark hair and a welcoming smile, Wright arrived in Wells around 2007. She was a single mother with a two-year-old son. According to court documents, she shared parental rights and responsibilities with the boy’s father, but the child lived with Wright.