Paul S. Smith was her boyfriend in the early 1990s. He was young then, barely 20 and with no money. They met in a trailer park in Rolla, Mo., and later moved in together. He worked for a time as a mechanic. He helped raise her three young kids.
She says there were clues that maybe something was not right with Smith. Then, when he sexually abused her 10-year-old son, he tore apart the bonds of her family and left her with a lifetime of regret.
"I was stupid enough to let him stay in my trailer with me and my kids," the woman, now 53, said in an interview Thursday in the Rolla apartment complex where she lives.
For Smith, the case would mean years behind bars. It was also one of the red flags that led police to him in the abduction of Alisa Maier.
For his former girlfriend, Smith's death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound brings a sense of relief.
"I'm glad it's over," she said. "At least kids won't have to watch out for him."
Smith pleaded guilty of sodomy in 1995. He was 22 and reported that he had an eighth-grade education. Court documents show he also reported that he had been abused by a relative when he was young.
Where did he come from? His ex-girlfriend thinks it was Colorado; her sister believes it was Florida. Still another former friend thinks it was Louisiana.
In Missouri, the sodomy conviction sent Smith to prison for 11 years. After his release, he spent some time in St. Louis at the Park Val Apartments on Weil Avenue. Then, in 2009, he went on a crime spree of sorts.
In October of that year, police stopped Smith in the middle of the night near Rolla for going 102 mph on Interstate 44, according to a Missouri Highway Patrol report.
Asked what was inside a silver container hanging from the rearview mirror, Smith unscrewed the lid and exposed marijuana seeds. "Oh, I forgot those were in there," he told the trooper, according to the report.
He was charged for speeding, possession of up to 35 grams of marijuana and unlawful use of drug paraphernalia.
He didn't stay out of trouble long. Just a month later, on Nov. 22, he went to Bowling Green, Mo., to visit an old friend.
The friend wasn't home - he's in state prison - but the father was there. Richard Fowler, 79, said he caught up with Smith for a few hours, snapped a picture of him and printed two copies of the picture - one for Smith and one for Fowler's son.
Later that night, someone broke into Fowler's house and stole $40, two air guns, two blank checks and credit cards. A call from Walmart awoke Fowler in the morning. Someone was trying to use his credit cards to make a purchase. Suspecting Smith, Fowler called police.
"When I went to get the picture to take to the police department, the picture was gone and the memory card was gone also," said Fowler. "He took everything."
The day after the break-in at Fowler's home, the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department investigated another burglary, this one at the El Rancho Garage in Troy. The owner said someone had broken a glass door, stole the cash register, a $4,000 diagnostic tool and a 2005 Chevrolet Impala.
Police eventually connected Smith to both burglaries.
The Fowler case led to forgery charges, which were still pending at the time of Smith's suicide.
The repair garage break-in led to convictions for tampering and receiving stolen property. Smith was sentenced to five years in prison, but the execution of the sentence was suspended, and he was given 120 days of shock time instead.
As for the earlier drug case, Smith went back to Rolla last month and served three days in jail.
When he was released on June 23 - two weeks before Alisa's abduction - Smith was required to register his address with the Missouri sex offender registry. He told authorities he would be at the apartment building on Weil Avenue. But he told his probation officer something else - that he would be at a cabin in Hawk Point.
He never notified police that he had moved there, and the state's online offender registry immediately labeled him as a "noncompliant" offender.
That put him in a small class of problem sex offenders. Nearly 93 percent of the state's 11,000 sex offenders comply with a state law that requires them to register with the local police department and check in regularly.
In the city of St. Louis, when police search for and can't find an offender, they can seek an arrest warrant, said police spokeswoman Erica Van Ross. That hadn't happened yet in Smith's case, she said. Officers typically issue warrants when they haven't heard from an offender "in a while," she said.
Smith is now gone, but his former girlfriend is still marked by his memory: A faded green tattoo on her ankle has the line of a heart around the letter P, for Paul. The Post-Dispatch is not naming her so as not to reveal the identity of her son, the abuse victim.
Years ago, she recalls, Smith was strict with her kids, two boys and a girl. But about a year into their relationship, she said, she started to worry. Smith always seemed to want to take the boys camping. She started asking neighbors to help watch the children.
She said her family eventually went to police following an incident in 1993, when Smith and an aunt of the boys argued about the boys spending the night with the aunt. At the aunt's home that night, one of the boys told about being abused by Smith, the aunt recalled.
"He gave that family more hell than we'll be able to live to forget," said the aunt.
The mother had her own issues. She eventually lost custody of the boys, and they were raised by other family members, going through years of therapy.
But today, their mother feels justice has finally been served.
"My oldest boy said if (Smith) ever got out of prison, he'd kill him," she recalled. "I said, ‘No, because he'll get his in the end.' And he got his in the end."