A Beautiful Mess
She fell for fallen kingpin Denny Hecker. Then they both went to prison. Now, for the first time, Christi Rowan-Hecker explains what happened—and why a match seemingly made in hell is heaven to her.
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I hated him at some point. I hated what he was doing to me. He was a really unhealthy human being—everything I would have run from in the past.
He didn’t have any spiritual background and once, when he saw me praying, he asked what I was doing. “Praying,” I said.
“For you!” I said. “You’re not in control of anything! I’m praying that you get some sense!”
After I came to get him that June, he was still very sneaky about his personal life—he was embarrassed—and was sneaking prescription drugs behind my back. But skeletons began flying out of the closet. At one point, I said, “Make a list of all the women you’ve slept with in Minneapolis, just so I don’t run into them without knowing.”
I believe all the people he attracted were like him: they were dishonest, they were sneaky. He was just the king of them all.
I know I could have walked away at any point, but I didn’t. I loved him, though I didn’t know why. He empowered me, I think, made me feel I could do anything. When you’re around Denny, the relationship is magnetic, you function as one. I never felt complete until I met him. It probably has to do with security—with Denny, I know it will all work out.
To this day, I know nothing about his business affairs. That said, I don’t think Denny was always telling the truth. He was ill. He was broken. He wasn’t coherent. Denny loved money more than anything, so to throw all that away—hell no!
The day the federal marshals raided his home in Medina, in 2010, Denny called me and said, “They’re coming to the house and taking everything.” I said, “Let them have it. You’re holding onto something that’s completely meaningless.”
He said, “I can’t do that to the kids.” You have to understand, his relationship with his ex-wife and kids was purely monetary. I don’t believe they knew how to be loved any other way and Denny didn’t know how to love them any other way.
I told Denny, “The Bible says that when the tax collector comes around to take your shirt, you’re supposed to give him your coat, too. It doesn’t matter, see, because he can take everything you have but still never take your soul.” Well, Denny fought to keep everything he had because that was his soul.
Denny wanted to get married at the Basilica of St. Mary. We got our marriage license in October 2010. But he was placed in custody on October 18—we missed our chance.
On February 22, 2011, Denny called me and said, “Be at Lord of Life Church [in Maple Grove] at 5 p.m. We’re getting married. Marry me today!”
I said, “Ooohkaay.” Not that I didn’t want to. I mean, c’mon, when you imagine a fairy tale, I’d found it, right? To get married over the phone to someone in jail?
Well, I went. Why did I still marry him? The truth is, I was in love with Denny. He is absolutely my soulmate. And I wanted to teach my children that you stand within your truth, no matter what is going on.
the yard of the federal prison camp
in Duluth in October 2011.
Eventually, of course, they came after me, too. I pleaded guilty because I wanted peace for my family.
The day I was being sentenced, Denny was being taken to prison in Duluth. I prayed to see him one last time. As it happens, we were transported from jail on the same van. I looked up and there he was, dragging a huge plastic bag full of stuff—of course.
He said, “You look so pretty.” I said, “Let’s not lie. I’ve been in jail. I know how I look.” Then he told me that he thought I would only get probation, but I knew in my gut that it’d be 14 months.
My son was so young. I told him, “You know we all work for God. How would you feel if God said I needed to work for him away from home for a little bit?” I had to let my kids go. That was the hardest part.
I cleaned out all of the houses—I donated about 200 winter coats to charity. Then I moved the children into a two-bedroom apartment where they would live during my absence. My brother, Beau, was here from Dallas, helping me out. Molly Jensen, a close relative, came to stay with the children until I came home. The people who gave our family their faith, food, and financial support were sent from heaven.
On the eve of February 23, I was taken into custody.
Denny is not Tom Petters—he wasn’t sitting in his office scheming. He worked from his gut, and he believed in the people working for him. Unfortunately, the people around Denny were toxins—he paid them to be his friends.
When everything fell apart, he began to get those toxins out of his system. He started to look younger. He lost weight. He’s returning to the person he was 25 years ago. He says he wants children. He thinks he’s in his early thirties.
He’s the spitting image of Job in the Bible. God will take the top dog and put him down to the bottom just to show you he’s fair. I tell Denny, “You can’t look at this as a sentence—you’re doing this time for you. To heal yourself, to recover yourself.” And this time alone has been good for him. If he had simply been slapped him with a fine, I don’t know if he would have gotten so deep within himself.
Don’t get me wrong: he’ll always want to have his own plane again and his houses. But he also knows that comes with a lot of heavy burdens.
He tells me, “Thank you for helping me and changing me.” No, I didn’t change him. I just believed in him. I fell in love with him when he was at his worst. So I’m not being loyal to him, I’m being loyal to myself. He’ll figure that out some day.
His out date, more than likely, will actually be 2016. When he comes home, he will not be the husband I married. I will have to fall in love with this new person. But I’m not going anywhere.
I don’t know that I really have friends. Well, I do, but they’re people I’ve known for a dozen or more years—before I came here. My family has always been supportive of my relationship with Denny. The people who really know me know that it would have been harder to walk away.
To most people, I’m seen as not really human. They would rather ignore what’s happened than simply ask, “How are you today?”
People say, “You shouldn’t have been with Denny Hecker.” No, that was pre-planned. God gifted me. So many beautiful things have come out of this that I don’t see the downside. I’ve seen a man whose life was in a million pieces get down and pick them up. It’s been an inspiration and a test of my faith.
I always say to Denny, “All of God’s disciples went to prison—they were thieves and liars. But now we look at the disciples as God’s chosen ones.”
I feel I’ve been chosen for something great. That statement of greatness being thrust upon you? I didn’t have a choice. I don’t know what I’ll do yet—I want to fight for the people of Minnesota, maybe programs to fight poverty—but I do know that after going through what I’ve gone through, I have no weaknesses. If I could survive this….
When my kids and I moved into our new home, I ran into a neighbor. I stuck my hand out and said, “I’m Christi Rowan—I’m Denny Hecker’s wife. I’m going to be way upfront because I’m not leaving.”
And that’s the truth: I’m not ashamed of anything. There’s nothing I could possibly be embarrassed by anymore. I mean, c’mon, I married Denny Hecker!