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.
Wright’s York Street dance studio. (Photos by Bob O’Connor)
The office at One High Street.
Police spent months digging through the names on Wright’s ledger, trying to identify the men who had been secretly videotaped enjoying her services. Not long after her arrest, they began revealing the identities of her alleged johns—releasing them in biweekly batches, as “evidence is processed” and probable cause determined. By late November, 64 of the rumored 150-plus names culled from Wright’s “business records” had been made public.
The list includes some of the area’s more powerful and influential men: the head of a realty company, a restaurateur, a top executive at a Boston-based investment company, a Portland lawyer and former Portland Planning Board chairman, and a few local heroes, like the revered 52-year-old Kennebunk High School hockey coach, who resigned from his position in the days following the release of his name. The men range in age from 29 to 68, and half of them work in construction or home-building, including one man who owns a Turner, Maine, construction firm that bills itself as a “Christian, family-owned company.” The York County District Attorney’s office predicts the case of the “Zumba Madam” may go to trial sometime in late spring.
The news of Wright’s arrest quickly went national, and even international. By early November, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Mail had all run stories—readers in the U.K. could even peruse the Mail’s “List of Shame” of Wright’s alleged clients.
“The saying around town this time of year used to be, ‘Got ya deer yet?’” says Mark “Ned” Nedeau, a spiky-haired former Kennebunk firefighter who, at 50, says he’s had occasion to leave Kennebunk only a handful of times. Nedeau says the ongoing release of names by the police has led to a hot new question around town, one he’s had printed in red block lettering on 150 white cotton tees: “I’m NOT on the client list. ARE YOU?” He says he made the shirts, which he’s been selling for $10 each at Ashby’s, the popular Portland Road deli he runs with his wife, Gisele, to lighten the town’s collective mood, not to profit on people’s shame or embarrassment. All proceeds, he says, are being donated to the local fuel-assistance fund.
There are competing T-shirts, of course (“Free Alexis” reads one, created by Cam Groves, a local musician who also came up with a “love song” to Wright that’s trending on YouTube), and bumper stickers like “Zumba, Plead the Fifth!” and “I Wish I Was on the List!” Nedeau thinks he’ll order up some “I Survived Zumba 2012” shirts once this whole thing blows over, which, he acknowledges, probably won’t be for quite a while.
Nedeau isn’t on the list, but he knows guys who are. Everyone does, he says. On a late-November day at his deli, Ned calls out to a customer enjoying a sandwich below a carved sign that reads Faith Family Friends. “You on that list?” he shouts. The guy smiles and answers, “Not yet.” Nedeau laughs, then says he suspects that the police are saving the best, so to speak, for last. “We’re waitin’ for the big list, the premium names,” he says. “You’re hearing all these people you’ve known your whole life who are supposedly on it, and they ain’t on it yet. So, where are ya?”
Now that the case is out in the open, everyone’s begun to guess at Wright’s motivations. Why would she videotape all of those encounters? Was it part of a plan to try to extort money from clients? To blackmail them into making regular appointments? Or were they simply taken for the enjoyment of Wright and Mark Strong? Or for Wright to post on porn sites? Did she believe the videos would ensure her safety and her clients’ silence? The search for answers has led to all kinds of speculation. For instance, one commenter on that anonymously created blog writes, “My friend’s ex brother in law used to see her (the scumbag). When he decided that he no longer required her services, she claimed to have secretly taped their sessions and threatened to tell his wife. He gave her money a few times, then finally told his wife everything. His story, not mine. And I believe him. She is a sick individual.”
Nedeau says the prostitution allegations against Wright took him by surprise, though her Internet videos had been known about around town for some time. Whatever may have happened, he says, it’s none of his concern. “If you’re my friend and you’re on the list, you can still be my friend,” Nedeau says. “People in Maine can be hesitant to let something go and move on.”
Teresa Houle, a forty-something, soft-spoken strawberry-blonde who’s lived in Kennebunk her whole life, says she wasn’t too concerned with what Wright may have been doing up there above her hair salon, but she does care about the mess it’s caused, and about some of the interpretations of the whole thing that have become popular. “It’s sick how people—men and women—will say it’s because the wives weren’t being good enough to their men,” she says. “I guarantee that’s not what was happening.” Not that it matters. As she puts it, this sort of thing—prostitution, that is, or maybe just sex—happened before Alexis Wright moved to Kennebunk, and it will happen again.
Of course, so much of the fascination with the Zumba Madam is precisely because it involves Kennebunk. Houle thinks it’s funny how people are bemoaning the loss of innocence. “They keep saying, ‘Oh, what happened to our quaint little town?’” she says. “But it’s not so quaint anymore.” When she was growing up, she says, there was a sort of purity and friendliness, but now that’s gone.