The Golden Girl
Kristin Rossum was the academic equivalent of an army brat, changing location numerous times during her childhood, as her ambitious father carved out a distinguished career as a nationally renowned expert in constitutional law and juvenile delinquency. Ralph Rossum was a self-made man, and strove for perfection, always placing high demands on his daughter and her two brothers. Highly intelligent and stunningly beautiful, Kristin would always try to please him, but always fall short.
Born on December 17, 1946, Ralph Rossum grew up on a small dairy farm in rural Alexandria in central Minnesota, the elder of two brothers. His hard-working father was a farmer who eked out a living from the land. There was little money in the household, so Ralph won a series of scholarships and got the best education possible.
He was the first in his family to ever go to college, securing a place at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. And in 1968, after paying his way through college with a variety of summer jobs, he graduated summa cum laude.
He then transferred to the University of Chicago, doing post-graduate work as an instructor of Behavioral Sciences for the Department of Police Academy Services, getting his M.A. in 1971.
A year later, Ralph fell in love with an attractive blonde journalism student at Indiana University. Her name was Constance, and she was two years younger, intelligent and highly ambitious. Soon, they were married.
A year later, after getting his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Ralph moved his new wife to Grinnell, Iowa, where he got his first teaching job at Grinnell College as an instructor in the Department of Political Science. But before long, they moved to Memphis, Tennessee, so he could take up an assistant professorship at Memphis State University.
Soon after arriving in Memphis, Constance became pregnant, and on October 25, 1976, Kristin Margrethe Rossum was born. She was a beautiful baby and her parents were thrilled when they soon realized that she was exceptionally intelligent.
Ralph Rossum was now on the academic fast-track and making a national name for himself. In 1977, he was promoted to associate professor of the university’s Department of Political Science and was granted tenure a year later. Constance was also busy, studying journalism and communications, and her sister Marguerite Zandstra would baby-sit on weekends. Kristin’s Aunt Marge would later fondly recall how the cherubic little girl had had a passion for music and dancing from the beginning.
In early 1979, Constance gave birth to a baby boy named Brent, and Kristin’s earliest memory is of her brother being born in the Memphis suburb of Germantown. From the beginning, Kristin bonded with Brent and they would always remain close.
A year later, the Rossums moved to the northern Chicago suburb of Wilmette, when Professor Rossum was appointed associate professor of Loyola University’s Department of Political Science. Within a year he’d made associate dean of the graduate school, publishing well-received books and monographs on the American Constitution and the criminal justice system. Among his published works at that time were Police, Criminal Justice, and the Community, and The Politics of the Criminal Justice System.
In Chicago, four-year-old Kristin’s reading and writing skills were well advanced for her age. When she started school, she stood out from all the other little girls with her radiant beauty, natural curiosity and enthusiasm to learn.
One day her Aunt Marge came to school to collect Kristin for a trip to the circus.
“I noticed when I went into her classroom,” recalled her aunt, “Kristin was in the front row with her hand real high, waving. She seemed to have a very good rapport with everyone.”
That Christmas, Constance took her little daughter by train to downtown Chicago to see The Nutcracker Suite at Marshall Field’s department store. Kristin was riveted by the glamorous ballerinas, deciding there and then to become one. Years later, she would dance a leading role in The Nutcracker, developing an obsession with the classic Tchaikovsky ballet.
“I was absolutely enchanted by the experience,” she would later remember.
When Kristin was six, Constance launched her beautiful daughter into a modeling career. Success came quickly when the angelic blonde child was selected from hundreds of other children to star in a national advertising campaign for McDonald’s.
Then, in 1983, the Reagan administration hand-picked Ralph Rossum for the U.S. Department of Justice, appointing him deputy director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. His highly influential new position was equal on paper to that of deputy assistant attorney general. An acknowledged expert in the field, he was put in charge of compiling statistics on juvenile crime in America.
Once again the Rossum family was on the move, this time to Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, DC. Constance, who now had degrees in Journalism, Political Science and Communications, found a job as a marketing manager for Marriott Host International. The Rossums were now part of the Washington, DC, elite, and seemed destined for success.
Within easy driving distance of the capital, and close to the Smithsonian Institution and other national monuments, Bethesda was a picture-perfect town. Everything from the trash receptacles to the street lights, the flower pots to the well-groomed trees lining the sidewalks, was dictated by the Montgomery County Planners. Soon after they arrived, a new extension of the Metro subway Red Line was opened, linking Bethesda to downtown Washington, DC. Bethesda was just the place to bring up young children.
Eight-year-old Kristin entered Seven Locks Elementary School in Bethesda, soon discovering a love of the sciences.
“I remember feeling like a big girl at the elementary school, and feeling so grown up,” Kristin said years later. “Just becoming really interested in studying.”
The Seven Locks School was affiliated with the American Ballet Company and Kristin began ballet lessons, displaying a raw natural talent. Her mother now saw her daughter’s future career in professional ballet, persuading her to give up modeling and concentrate on dance.
“I loved it,” Kristin would remember. “It was great fun.”
She soon was selected for a small walk-on role as one of Rosalind’s pages in the Joffrey Ballet’s performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet at the Kennedy Center. Kristin was stagestruck.
“The experience of being backstage surrounded by such grace and beauty is something that has truly touched my spirit,” she would later write. “Hearing the powerful score of Prokofiev, being brought to life each night by the orchestra. There is so much passion in his notes.”
Professor Ralph Rossum was also busy building up an academic network. His influential friends in government soon included future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who became his mentor. The ultra-conservative Scalia frequently visited the Rossum home, and the two men became close, later teaching courses together and coauthoring several articles.
An ardent Republican, Rossum instilled his values in his daughter, later creating in her a strange dichotomy of hedonism and conservatism. Kristin looked up to her father and was proud of his achievements, often boasting to school friends that Justice Scalia was a good friend of her family.
But just as Kristin was settling into her pampered new life in Bethesda, everything changed. This time the West Coast beckoned when Professor Rossum was recruited to the prestigious Rose Institute for State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College outside Los Angeles.
In January 1984, he moved to California to take up his new post, leaving his wife and two children behind in Washington.
For the next eighteen months, Professor Rossum divided his time between Claremont and Washington. He was put in charge of a million-dollar training project for juvenile justice reform, a two-year program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. The project’s mission was to draft a juvenile justice code, which included organizing a national conference and various workshops and training sessions all over America.
Finally, in June 1985, Ralph Rossum summoned his wife and children to Claremont, where Kristin’s idyllic, protected childhood would soon turn into a nightmare.