Dawn’s Dark Days

As her husband, Larry Mendte, was pleading guilty to federal cyber crimes and telling the world he’d had an “improper” relationship with Alycia Lane, Fox 29 anchor Dawn Stensland had to hold it together so she could report the news every night on TV. Now, in an exclusive interview, Stensland speaks out about the e-mails she discovered, her recent miscarriage, why she’s been able to forgive her husband, and why she can’t yet forgive herself

From the very start, they knew “we had something for each other,” she says, but nothing came of it. Larry was married, though going through some tough times with his wife, and Dawn would never have interfered. She was raised as a Bible Belt Christian, after all, and was just a child when she was born again at Bay Leaf Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, dunk tank and all. But when Larry’s marriage fell apart, the two started calling each other. By then, Dawn was anchoring in Cleveland, and Larry was hosting Access Hollywood in Los Angeles, while taking care of Jonathan, then 12, who had moved there with him, while Stacia was in Philly with her mom. Pretty soon, Dawn started flying out to L.A. to visit. Then, in 1997, after Larry had become main anchor at Channel 10 in Philadelphia — his hometown — she moved here, too, to be an anchor at CBS 3.

Larry moved into the house Dawn picked out for them to live in when they got married, a manse on Bells Mill Road in Chestnut Hill, with a wrought iron gate out front and woods out back and a 250-year-old scarlet oak in the yard, which Dawn loved most of all. But until they exchanged vows at St. Philomena’s in Lansdowne on June 10, 2000, Dawn stayed in her apartment in Lafayette Hill. She was taking the stepmother role very seriously, not wanting to set a bad example for Larry’s kids.

“I knew that if I made a commitment to this man, I was making a commitment to Jonathan and Stacia as well,” Dawn says. Plus, they were the only children she thought she’d ever have. Years earlier, after being diagnosed with severe uterine fibroids, she was told she might not be able to get pregnant. That didn’t stop her and Larry from trying, eventually resorting to fertility treatments for a year, to no avail. When she started taking Clomid, she got pregnant, only to be crushed by a miscarriage not long after. What’s wrong with me? she thought. In the summer of 2003, they decided to try in vitro. It worked.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Dawn had already moved from CBS to anchor at Fox 29, in 2001, but now Larry was making a big career move himself — leaving his sweet main anchor gig at NBC 10 to kick off a new regime at CBS 3. He’d be the experienced Philly-born newsman coupled on the anchor desk with a “smokin’ Latina bombshell,” as the media described Alycia Lane, the new girl in town. She was also in the final stages of a divorce. The Mendte/Lane dream team debuted on CBS on September 15, 2003.

At first, when Larry started coming home from work late, Dawn didn’t think anything of it, though in six years of doing the 11 o’clock broadcast at NBC with co-anchor Renee Chenault Fattah, “He was always home before midnight.” She figured he was just working hard, as he was known to do. Plus, whenever she asked, he’d tell her, “The post-show meeting went late,” or “Everyone went out after work.” But as the fall of 2003 wore on, his schedule never let up. He was spending more and more time at work, coming home later and later. Dawn figured he was pulling away from her because she was so focused on her pregnancy, which had become extremely painful due to her fibroids; by this point, one had grown to the size of a melon.