Genteel Enclave Puzzles Over Reports of a Dominatrix
BEDFORD, N.Y., March 1 — Apart from the phalanx of reporters and photographers, the only hint that something was a little odd about the charming old clapboard farmhouse on Haines Road was the black cloth hanging across the second-floor windows, blotting out the sun filtering down through lofty pines.
It was what happened behind those curtains that set the place apart: “Situated on four private acres, in a century old stately manor, here life is devoted to female superiority, proper training and etiquette for the betterment of men,” read the description on sovereignestate.com, a Web site.
The house, as nearly everyone in this genteel town now knows, was occupied by a 46-year-old reputed dominatrix, Sandra L. Chemero, who was arrested on Tuesday on charges of prostitution and weapons possession, accused of running a brothel, not just a chamber of horrors, amid the sylvan splendor.
Few here seemed to know Ms. Chemero personally; she is a former resident of New Milford, Conn., who had rented the Haines Road house only since last summer. But residents were at turns amused, disturbed and mystified by the lurid reports of a dominatrix in an area known for horse pastures and residents like Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart and Glenn Close.
The disclosure seemed destined to give the image of the riding crop — one of many equestrian accessories available at a shop on the village green — a whole new meaning.
“It’s the only interesting thing about the community,” a former resident, Jill Jackson, now of New Canaan, Conn., said of the local police department’s assertion of a brothel that had quickly become the buzz of both Bedford and the New York tabloids. “It’s aesthetically beautiful, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of intellectual stimulation.”
The police were tipped off to activity at Ms. Chemero’s by an anonymous letter in December that noted an increase “in traffic to and from” the house at 235 Haines Road in the hamlet of Bedford Hills.
The writer expressed concern that there was a “business of a sexual nature,” directing police to sovereignestate.com, on which Ms. Chemero described her lair as a “place like no other.” (The site has since been shut down.)
On another Web site that features personal ads for people interested in kinky sex, Ms. Chemero described her preferred manner of dress as “preppie” — very Bedford — and said she did not use drugs.
She provided a laundry list (in alphabetical order) of the dozens of erotic and sadistic activities she enjoys, among them blindfolds, candle wax, dacryphilia (arousal from tears), doctor/nurse fetish, infantilism/diapers, and rack/medieval devices.
Ms. Chemero was arrested after agreeing with an undercover detective to engage in sex — $120 for “a dominatrix-style act,” said Lt. Robert W. Mazurak of the local police department, though he declined to be more specific about what was on the menu.
Among the items the police said they seized after her arrest were sex toys and a stun gun, a device that temporarily disables via electric shock and that the police believe was used in sexual activity. Before the arrest, the police spent two months conducting surveillance of Ms. Chemero’s home, noting visitors’ license plates.
Lieutenant Mazurak said that Ms. Chemero, who he believed worked alone, appeared to have a “small clientele list” and that detectives had found names of people who might be clients. “I don’t know whether they’re Johns or not,” he said, using the nickname for men who patronize prostitutes. “What the connection is with her and any activity I don’t know yet. We have to have the evidence for that. A name in a ledger does not constitute that.”
Ms. Chemero’s Web site suggested that she was trying to appeal to a national client base from Westchester, boasting of the house’s “convenience to New York City, JFK, La Guardia and Westchester County Airport.”
In this family-oriented town where new money mingles uneasily with old, residents and business owners seemed taken aback by the revelation that there may have been a dominatrix prostitute working in their midst. Ms. Chemero’s house, with weathered playground equipment in the yard and a neat pile of firewood by the front door, seemed a picture of suburban perfection.
Adding to the incongruity was the fact that the house is owned by a neighboring yeshiva, Khal Adas Kashau, which educates and houses Orthodox Jewish boys. “We didn’t know such filth existed,” said a man at the yeshiva who identified himself only as Rabbi Samuel. “We want to keep our kids safe from the outside elements. They never leave the campus unless they have to see a doctor.”
Some wondered whether any of Ms. Chemero’s customers were local residents.
“The mailman, who goes there every day, he didn’t even know about it,” said Mario C. Chiacchia, who owns a service station down the road. “Around here, you don’t even think about things like that.”
In some ways, the story was life imitating art, in this case the hit television series “Desperate Housewives.” The picture painted of Ms. Chemero seems a bit more hard-core than Maisy Gibbons, the housewife who became an afternoon S-and-M seductress to raise a little extra cash — and disrupted Wisteria Lane in the first season, when someone else’s husband had a heart attack in her bed.
A few tried to be open-minded. “She probably didn’t mean to harm anybody,” said Michele Garzon, the mother of two girls, 4 and 7, who lives in nearby Mount Kisco and was shopping here. “People found her and she just went about her business. It’s just a weird place to have a business like that.”
Some here saw Ms. Chemero’s choice of Bedford as a shrewd business decision.
“People in this area have a lot more money to waste on frivolous things than do low- to middle-income residents,” said Melody Salas, a legal secretary here. “Look at the Mayflower Madam. She had Manhattan. She had a very lucrative business.”
Erin Duggan and Anahad O’Connor contributed reporting.