This spring marks the 25th anniversary of one of the Capital Region’s most bizarre stories.
It surrounded the fatal obsession of popular tennis coach Gary Wilensky.
The case is now the subject of a newly released book.
But, back in 1993 Wilensky’s final act was captured by a News10ABC photographer.
News10ABC photographer Ric Easton took us back to the parking lot off of Wolf Rd where 25 years ago he would end up covering the most bizarre story of his career.
“It was surreal like it wasn’t happening.”
He has been shooting a story about undercover Colonie police officers-
“They would go from bar to bar looking for drugs. They made one arrest. “
What he thought was a bust of a story was about to shift gears- after a call requesting backup.
A white Lincoln had been Pulled over The driver wanted in an attempted kidnapping.
Ric recalling the scene: “The two officers getting out. As I was getting out one of them yelled-“
Officer: “He just shot himself!”
“And then the wheels on the car started spinning and we just ran after it.”
Ric’s camera rolls on the gory scene,
The driver is dead.
Astonished officers search the car- finding weapons, receipts for surveillance items and taped over door handles.
Ric: “They knew he was into something and they were starting to put it together. And then the story just exploded.”
A nation of shocked viewers watch the video-
But the story behind it was even more disturbing.
Before his violent end, Gary Wilensky had been a popular New York City tennis pro.
But his attention to one young player had become a dangerous obsession.
Steven Heider/Former Colonie Police Chief: “His whole life or the previous month was putting this scenario together so that once he got her she wasn’t going to get away.”
Retired Colonie police chief Steve Heider headed up the investigation in 1993.
He says Wilensky had used a homing device to follow the young girl and her family to a tournament in the Capital Region.
An attempted kidnaping outside their hotel.
Heider: “They saw someone pushing a wheelchair. He was wrapped up fully in clothing. They didn’t recognize him at first as Gary Wilensky. It went from a glance to him on top of them.”
The girl’s mother fought Wilensky off-
And he sped away in his rented Lincoln.
A search of his hotel room reveals a collection of weapons, surveillance equipment-
sado-masochistic restraints. Masks and wigs used as disguises.
Police also find receipts for an Adirondack cabin- paid in full for a year.
Inside the intended house of horrors police found widows and doors boarded shut, a bed with shackles, pornographic tapes, monitors and security cameras. A place so secluded no one would have heard the girl yelling for help.
Anya: “Do you think she would have survived?” Heider: “Likely, no.”
Wilensky’s tennis student, 1993: “He was a great guy. He cared for the people he taught.”
Deep denial was the most common reaction among many of Gary Wilensky’s young tennis players- even as previous stalking cases involving him and young children were being exposed after his death.
Piper Weiss/Former Player: “I didn’t really process what he had done. I knew it was bad. The Gary I knew wasn’t bad.”
When she was 14, Piper Weiss was one the so-called Gary’s Girls-
Young students who received his many cards and gifts.
Anya: “What you thought was kindness was really grooming?” Piper: “Right, that’s right.”
And Piper says that grooming led her to a moment alone with her coach inside his car.
“He confided in me that he was depressed and that he was afraid that, you know- You all grow up and you go away and he was referring to his students. I think he somehow felt abandoned by us.”
She didn’t quite understand his meaning back then, but, with adult perspective-
25 years later- his words are echoed in the title of Piper Weiss’s newly released book, You All Grow Up And Leave Me: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession. The memoir is also a look back at the old case. She says the story is as timely today as ever before-all you need to do is look at the current headlines.
Piper: “He was trusted. He could do no wrong. If he chose you it meant that you were good at something and that was more important than anything else. It clouded your own judgment.”
Anya: “Do you ever wonder why he didn’t target you in much the same way that he tried to an with this girl in much the same way?” Piper: “I have wondered why.”
As for why Gary Wilensky was driven to stalk and victimize children…
His own words may have provided some insight.
Wilensky on tape: “I wish that all the times I spent with you…with all of you would never end. Obsession? Maybe so. Dangerous? Certainly if laid on a 17 year old’s mind.”
The minimization of blame and denial captured heard in this recorded apology to his victim’s parents.
It was after they had fired him for trying to get too close to their daughter.
The tape made months before his final act.
Wilensky: “I loved you all. I’m just a lonely man who lost his way. And maybe I’ll be someday forgiven at the end of the movie.”
Former police Chief Steve Heider says we will likely never know how many children Gary Wilensky actually victimized. Or, how much worse the outcome could have been had he not turned the gun on himself first. Anya wants to offer a special thanks to News10ABC photographer Ric Easton for sharing his story with us as well as for sharing his vast collection of video from that time.