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

“I trusted him,” Dawn says. “I just felt like maybe I was being hormonal and paranoid.” Even so, she couldn’t stop herself from calling the station at midnight, at one, asking if Larry was there.

“Everyone left a while ago,” she was told, again and again.

When she asked Larry why he and Alycia were having dinner every night between newscasts, he explained: “Well, Alycia’s going through a lot right now with her divorce.”

“Well,” Dawn replied, “I’m … um … five months pregnant!”

Dawn wasn’t the only one wondering what was going on. Co-workers started asking her strange questions — “How are you and Larry doing?” “How’s your marriage?” — which seemed much less strange once she started to hear the rumors herself. There was the one about Larry and Alycia being spotted alone late at night in a parking garage. The one about Alycia putting on her makeup every night using the mirror in Larry’s office. The one about Larry and Alycia being seen in the middle of the night on Market Street, arguing, Alycia breaking into tears and Larry running after her.

“I wanted to believe the best of my husband,” Dawn says. “I wanted to believe that none of this was true. I made the choice to just say, ‘You know what? I’m not going to believe that.’ I do that in my life. I just focus on the positive. I was pregnant. I was going through a tough pregnancy, and I had to stay positive.”

DAWN DID PRECISELY that — focusing on work, and on the pregnancy, which, in the end, became so painful she could barely walk. The rest of it she put on the back burner, not talking about it with anyone. She knew she worked in a vicious business, and that one word from her to anyone, even someone she considered a friend, could be repeated, even twisted into another rumor. Mostly, though, she kept quiet because she didn’t want anyone to think badly of her husband. The best she could do was to sit on her back porch and tell everything to the dog and the oak tree.

One night in late March 2004, not long after she got home from work, Dawn’s water broke. The baby wasn’t due for three and a half more weeks, but Larry rushed her to Lankenau Hospital, where she started her 23 hours of labor, finally giving birth to Michael Lawrence on April Fools’ Day.

Barely a week after they brought Michael home from the hospital, he was having such trouble breathing that they rushed him to CHOP, where he was placed on a portable breathing monitor. Dawn spent the five months in which he wore the monitor sleeping with him on her chest in the white chair in his nursery, which left her exhausted. Luckily, her parents were able to fly in from Chicago and help out during her leave. Dawn needed help, since Larry had resumed his old schedule, not coming home until the wee hours of the morning.