This article appeared in a local newspaper, The Independent, in 1996.
The Gravity of a Juggling Festival HARRIET ECKSTEIN

Harriet Eckstein is interim director of the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. She has been a beginning juggler for 20 years.

Twenty years ago, Isla Vista was my home. In many ways it is the same today as it was then except there was no cappuccino-to-go, Morninglory sold vinyl record and eight-track tapes, only one shop sold beer, and no one, except for Japanese exchange students, had heard of sushi.

The war in Vietnam had ended, but the war on women continued. On November 20, 1976, Jacqueline Ann Rook, a 21-year-old resident advisor at Francisco Torres dorm, disappeared. Mary-Ann Sarris, a 19-year-old waitress who worked at two Goleta restaurants, was abducted two weeks later. There was a rape reported in an Isla Vista apartment and another in one of the dorms.

A young woman named Patty Laney, a 21-year-old UCSB student who volunteered at the I.V. Credit Union, the Food Co-op, and the fledging Isla Vista Medical Clinics, was one of the many Isla Vista residents who helped nail up posters to raise awareness about sexual assault. Along with the members of the I.V. Women’s Center, the I.V. Community Council, Das Institut, and the relatively new rape Crisis Center, Patty and dozens of other residents mobilized to seek clues to the murders.

Warnings about hitchhiking were everywhere; women drivers were urged to “pick up a sister,” and the community picketed MTD offices to provide evening bus service between Isla Vista and Santa Barbara. There were rallies and consciousness-raising groups. Letters about sexual assault filled the editorial pages of the Santa Barbara News-press, the Daily Nexus, and the Alternative. Unlike Patty, many of us didn’t hand out flyers, we didn’t attend rallies, we weren’t politicized. We were just scared.

Patty Laney was last seen at a bus stop at the corner of Hollister and Patterson on January 18, 1977. She had just finished rehearsing her juggling act with a friend for her first public show -- a benefit for a local nonprofit group -- and was on her way to her mime class. Her body was found in Refugio Canyon the following day.

The "Sheriff's Department eventually arrested a 21-year-old Goleta man after he attempted to murder a young hitchhiker in Hollywood. He was a student at Santa Barbara City College, described by his live-in girlfriend as “very, very nice,” and had worked as a waiter in his father’s Danish restaurant in Solvang. An Ellwood Beach neighbor described him as “open and friendly.” The former Santa Ynez. High School honor student pleaded guilty three and a half years after he raped and murdered Patty, Jackie, and Mary Ann.

A few months after Patty died, some of her juggling friends were asked to give a benefit performance. Members of the I.V. Gorilla Theater helped them quickly pull together a routine and introduced the group with a pseudo-Italian accent as the Strombolis. The name stuck, the group continued to practice together, and in April of the same year, the Strombolis declared a festival in honor and memory of their friend and fellow juggler, Patty Laney.

Now mountain bikes have replaced old Schwinn Varsities and buzz-cuts outnumber ponytails. The war on women continues, but the Strombolis, the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, and others continue to work toward peace. As sparkling clubs and flaming torches and fluorescent balls fly through the air and unicyclists, magicians, and jugglers trade tricks, the 20th Annual Isla Vista April Fool’s Jugglers’ Festival celebrates the life of Patty Laney. And, as has been the case for 20 years, the public show on Saturday night is a benefit for the Rape Crisis Center. This year the show is particularly significant because the featured performer is a woman who was born only a year before Patty died -- 22-year-old Francoise Rochais is the International Juggling Association World Champion.