Rachael and Lisa Martin professed support Monday for their father, who allegedly kidnapped them nearly two decades ago, falsely told them their mother was dead and raised them among Florida millionaires under a fake identity.
Speaking publicly for the first time, the sisters said their father, Stephen Fagan, was a compassionate and generous man who devoted his life to them. He acted in their best interest when he abducted them to keep them from their mother, they said during an appearance here.
"Through the trials and uncertainties of the past week, only one thing has been clear in my mind _ that I support my father through this and whatever it may bring with no reservations," said 23-year-old Rachael Martin, who until recently had believed her mother was a promising surgeon killed years ago in a car accident. "The media has portrayed my father as everything from a gold-digging playboy to a thief. And I am here to tell you that is simply not true."
Rachael's younger sister called her father one of her best friends. "I firmly believe what happened with my sister and I some 19 years ago happened for a reason _ my dad wanted us to be safe and to grow up happy, healthy and strong," said Lisa Martin, 21, who was known as Wendy until her father changed her name. "We'd like to say, "Daddy, we love you.' "
The young women appeared calm, poised and, at times, amused by the spectacle generated by the unraveling story of how Fagan, a 56-year-old with no discernible source of income, invented a fictitious past and built them a new life while eluding capture in Palm Beach society.
They made no mention of their mother, Barbara Kurth, 48, a biology researcher at the University of Virginia, who sought to reach out to them in a televised news conference last week.
Released on $250,000 bail last week, Fagan is due in court May 22 in the Boston suburb of Framingham to face kidnapping and parental kidnapping charges. A federal investigation into fraud charges is also pending, authorities said.
Fagan has said he took the children in 1979 to protect them from Kurth, his second wife whom he has accused of neglecting the children and being an alcoholic.
Kurth has denied the charges and said Fagan is a liar and a thief. She did not watch the televised appearance, said her mother, Constance.
"My sympathy goes out to these girls," Constance Kurth said from her home in Burlington, Vt. "They are as much victims of this man as their mother was."
Rachael and Lisa Martin, who use the name their father used in Palm Beach, described how Fagan rose before dawn to prepare breakfast and lunch, how every day he dropped them off at school in a 10-year-old Datsun with no air conditioning or radio and how he drove them to swim practice. Before his days as a tuxedo-wearing socialite, Fagan raised them in "small apartments in a small town," wore worn Birkenstock sandals and cleaned house, did laundry and cooked dinner like single fathers everywhere, they said.
"For as long as I can remember, my father has had one full-time job, that of raising my sister and me," said Rachael. "My father has not dedicated his life to wearing a tuxedo and driving a fancy car, but to supporting by any means possible those who are most in need. It is sacrifice that has defined my father's life."
The women did not make clear what, if any, memory they have of their mother, whose five-year marriage to Fagan ended in a bitter 1978 divorce. Nor did they explain to what extent they are familiar with their father's past.
"I have to judge the facts based on the man I know, the man who made me feel secure, important and happy," said Rachael.
After moving to Palm Beach 18 years ago with his daughters, Fagan became involved in the town's social circles without revealing the truth of his past, according to interviews with residents.
Fagan, known in Palm Beach as Dr. William Martin, within a few years joined Donald Trump's Mar-A-Lago Club and worked out daily on the treadmill, cultivating friends such as Robert Montgomery, who led a team of trial lawyers who won a record-setting $11.3-billion judgment from the tobacco industry.
Montgomery nominated Fagan to be a director of the Palm Beach Opera, a plum position.
Lisa and Rachael attended the private Palm Beach Day School during their elementary years. Lisa attended the public Palm Beach Lakes High School in West Palm Beach _ there is no public high school in Palm Beach _ and Rachel went to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
Stephen Fagan met Barbara Kurth when both worked at a Boston nightclub, where she was a hat-check girl and he was a bouncer. Four years later, Fagan and Kurth flew to Haiti, where on a single day in December 1973, he obtained a divorce from his first wife, Leah, and married Kurth.
Fagan attended Suffolk University in Boston and graduated from its law school _ not from Harvard, as he told everyone _ and passed the Massachusetts Bar on his fifth attempt. Then, in what Kurth's mother said might have been "the only job he ever held" other than as a bouncer, Fagan worked as an instructor in the legal aid bureau at Harvard from 1971 to 1978.
By the time he arrived in Palm Beach, however, his resume had been enhanced to include, variously, a degree in law from Harvard, in philosophy from Columbia, in psychology from Cornell, and elsewhere in chemistry and psychiatry; undercover time with the CIA, national security adviser to Presidents Nixon and Carter; founder of a non-existent D.C. think-tank; and a lecturer at Harvard on terrorism and drug abuse.
The reinvented "Dr. Martin" also told the heart-wrenching story of how the mother of his two children, a surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, had been killed in a 1979 car crash.
That oft-repeated story resonated with Linda Vine, a Massachusetts native whose orthopedic surgeon husband was killed in 1983 as he aided a pedestrian who had been struck by a van. The estate of Vine's husband had been awarded a substantial settlement as the result of his Good Samaritan act.
Fagan and Vine were married in Palm Beach County in 1986 and moved into a $595,000 house.
They were divorced in 1995. Shortly afterward, Fagan found a new, and even richer, fourth wife, Harriet Golding, who operates a Melbourne real estate firm.