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

DAWN STENSLAND KNEW for sure, on New Year’s Day 2005, that something was wrong.

It’s not that she hadn’t suspected before then. She’d heard the rumors that started back in the fall of 2003, not long after her husband, Larry Mendte, and Alycia Lane premiered as the hot new anchor team on CBS 3. She’d gotten phone messages at her office at Fox 29 — while she was pregnant with her first child — from anonymous callers who claimed that Larry and Alycia had been seen together, alone, in parking garages and restaurants and bars.

She was aware that Larry wasn’t getting home until after midnight just about every night he was on-air, sometimes not until one in the morning. Or two. She’d seen the teddy bears in his office, and the fancy new coffee machine, that he said, simply, were gifts. And she’d seen his American Express bill with a charge from Tiffany for more than $1,000.

But on New Year’s Day 2005, Dawn could no longer pretend that nothing was going on between her husband and Alycia. The Mendte family was heading to Center City for the Mummers Parade. Larry needed to stop at his office, so the kids — nine-month-old Michael, and Larry’s children from his first marriage, Jonathan, then 21, and Stacia, then 23 — drove separately to the Union League on Broad Street, where they always ate brunch before the parade, and Larry and Dawn drove to the CBS offices.

“Come up with me,” Larry said to Dawn. So she did.

While he took care of his business, Dawn sat at his desk, eventually hitting a key to wake up his sleeping computer. There, on the screen, was an open e-mail between Larry and Alycia. It was provocative, Dawn says. And it wasn’t the only one — there were several e-mails in Larry’s inbox between him and Alycia, many with flirtatious subject lines that, Dawn says, “broke my heart.”

The only thing she could think to do at the moment was to forward the messages to her AOL account. And then they left. They drove to the Union League. Standing out front on Broad Street in the cold with her family, Dawn didn’t wonder how she should address this with Larry, or if she should leave him. Instead, she did the only thing she could imagine doing. It was what she’d done since she’d heard the first rumor, what she’d continue to do for the next three years, until the FBI knocked on her front door, and what now, looking back, is the reason she blames herself for everything that happened.

“I didn’t say a word,” she says.