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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My Heart’s On Fire
The love letters of Denny Hecker
Denny Hecker can’t always get a stamp these days—they cost money, even in prison. Still, he writes a letter every day to Christi, the bride he’s never lived with as husband and wife.
Christi spreads a foot-tall pile of his most recent letters on a table, page after page of handwritten sentiments. It’s stream-of-consciousness, passionate, full of dropped words. “His spelling was atrocious at first,” says Christi. Her loyalty figures prominently in his thoughts. So does her “gorgeous” posterior.
He includes more smiley faces than you’d expect. More Bible verses, too. He and Christi trade recommended readings. Psalm 52: “Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?” Psalm 86: “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”
Christi writes him just as often, enclosing photographs of herself and the kids and articles about him from the newspaper. He often returns the letters with comments. On a Star Tribune story in which Christi is referred to as his “brazen bride,” he circled the term and wrote, “Bold, brave, direct. It’s you, baby!”
“He was never a narcissist,” Christi says. “He didn’t know who he was, so he allowed people to tell him who he was. Now, he’s become much closer to understanding himself and how to express that. It’s like he’s not even the same human being.”
Christi told Denny as much in a prayer she wrote to him: “Take care of my husband, God, bring him home and allow his health to be as young as he feels inside and out. I need and want my forever with him. Dennis, you will always be a dream come true.”
Here, a sampling of sentiments from Denny.
“My heart’s on fire. Come take me in your arms. Make love to me tonight.”
“I feel great—mentally sharp. I look great [smiley face]. For sure I’m rested. I look to you for guiding me.”
“There is no hidden money. No hidden assets. Hell, I don’t own a watch, no clothes. I have $20 left.”
“I’m the luckiest man alive [smiley face].”
“Shit happens. Let’s make sure no one shits on us.”
“God’s closest followers all did prison time.”
“Job, 42:10. The Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends and the Lord gave Job twice as much as before!”
“I’m working hard to stay positive and pray all the time. But being without your voice, your touch, is driving me out of my mind!”
“Four years, 6 months from now. Homecoming without any change in law. 6/19/2016, only 4 more birthdays to go!!!!”
“When I leave here, no one, including myself with the Lord’s blessing, will ever keep me from spending the rest of my living days with you.”
“This too shall pass.”
The Many Wives of Denny Hecker
The auto king lived fast and loved faster, racking up five spouses in 40 years
1. Judith Martin — Hecker and Martin were sweethearts at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis and were married the fall after graduation, in 1970. The marriage lasted less than two years.
2. Sandra Storm — Hecker met Storm (the first of two spouses with a name like a comic-book heroine) when he was 20 and working as the used-car manager at a St. Paul dealership. They married in 1973, had two children, and stayed together for 10 years. These were the first of Denny’s boom years, though the couple burned through the money as fast as it came in: at the time of the divorce, they claimed to be $1.2 million in debt. They would battle over alimony for 14 years until the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Sandra had failed to become self-sufficient, relying instead on Hecker’s support and a $5-an-hour part-time job in a coffee shop.
3. Marsha Drapes — Hecker married Drapes in 1984. They divorced nine years later and Marsha asked for $20,000 a month in spousal support. In court documents, she argued that this was necessary to maintain the lifestyle to which she was accustomed: “[We took] 12 vacations per year…Paris, Venice, London, Maui, Honolulu” and “I replaced virtually my entire wardrobe seasonally.”
4. Tamitha Pownall — Hecker was 42 and Pownall was 27 when they married in 1994. It was Hecker’s longest marriage, spawning two children, though not necessarily his most successful: cracks appeared long before it fell apart. In finalizing their divorce in 2009, a judge referred to a “history of ambivalence” in the marriage, including two previous divorce filings (never acted upon) over several years. Toward the end, Hecker was openly romancing Christi Rowan.
5. Christi Rowan — The current missus, married to Hecker since 2011.
Tim Gihring is a senior editor for Minnesota Monthly.