David was charming, sexy and attentive.
Until he wasn’t.
He now faces up to 10 years in prison for allegedly breaking his ex-girlfriend’s face — and he’s on the loose in Laramie, Cheyenne or elsewhere.
Wendy Bidstrup, 70, met David Leyba, 59, in the park in Laramie one sunny afternoon after he’d biked all the way from Denver to Laramie. He complimented her for having such a pretty dog and she noted his good taste: Bidstrup’s dog is pretty.
Leyba may have been a vagabond but he wasn’t obnoxious or dirty, Bidstrup recalled. He looked clean. He was engaging.
“He was just sort of a nice guy,” Bidstrup told Cowboy State Daily.
He was also exhausted from his long ride, and Bidstrup — described by herself and others as an empathetic woman — let him crash in her spare room for a few days to catch his breath.
He slept for five days.
Bidstrup’s deep-rooted tenderness awakened.
She tried to help him get on his feet, setting him up with social services, hunting for jobs.
She figured he’d make a decent roommate. That was, after all, what she’d planned for the spare room all along since she needed the money: Even $400 a month would have helped her greatly, said Bidstrup.
It took about a month, but as they shared their thoughts, their hopes, their histories with one another, she fell for Leyba, Bidstrup said.
“I thought, ‘This is my guy. And he’s had a horrible life, and maybe I can help him out,’” she remembered.
And it was amazing. Romantically, sexually; everything clicked.
He was The One.
And that’s when the red flags began to emerge.
At first he said he’d been in and out of jail back in his home city of Denver, said Bidstrup. Then he said he was incarcerated for two years. Then he said he was incarcerated for six years, she said. Then he mentioned he’d escaped from a facility at one point.
Little misaligned snippets about his history slipped out and made Bidstrup wonder who she was dealing with.
Leyba also grew more dependent on Bidstrup, who kept track of his medical appointments and took him to the local soup kitchen. Until he started asking for steak, then she provided steak at home, while she ate fruits and vegetables.
In late October or early November, Leyba grew furious about something Bidstrup can’t remember anymore. Her memory is often patchy, a symptom some experts say can be a consequence of living in fight-or-flight mode for long periods of time.
“Oh my God did he yell. He was furious,” she said. “It was the first time I ever saw him verbally explode. He could have ripped my head off very easily.”
A biker, a lifelong wanderer with a possible history of street fighting, Leyba was “pure muscle,” said Bidstrup.
His rage, she added, was terrible to endure, even though he didn’t hit her at that time. He screamed at her that his outburst was all her fault.
She managed to duck away and call the police.
That was when Leyba changed his tune, she said. He kept swearing that he would never hurt a woman, and never had.
Squatters And Such
Laramie Police Department officers arrived, and Bidstrup floated the idea of kicking Leyba out, she said.
“They said since he’d been with me for a number of weeks I couldn’t just kick him out like that: he had residence,” said Bidstrup. “I had to go through some procedure.”
She said the police convinced her to let Leyba live in her shed until he could find his own apartment.
“I was not happy about that, but I let him do so,” she said.
The Laramie Police Department did not return a Cowboy State Daily voicemail Friday afternoon requesting comment.
Donna Shaner, executive director of the Fremont County Alliance Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said it could be a matter of what police can and cannot do.
Police can’t kick someone out of a person’s house on their behalf without a court order, notice of eviction, “something like that,” said Shaner.
A homeowner with a visitor who has worn out his welcome can leave all his belongings out on the front porch, change the locks and hope for the best, said Shaner, but “law enforcement can’t do anything” to visitors who have been in the home for a few weeks with the owner’s permission.
Walking On Eggshells
Leyba lived in Bidstrup’s shed until the bitter 2022 winter took hold.
Then Bidstrup relented and let him have the guest bedroom again, so he wouldn’t freeze to death.
“During none of this time were we sleeping together,” she said. In fact, she walked on eggshells that winter. It wasn’t until March when she got a domestic violence restraining order against him — the document giving police the authority to keep him out of her home.
“I felt that I needed to be very careful getting away from him,” she said. “I didn’t want to end up dead.”
Her financial demands didn’t relent. Leyba never paid rent, she said, adding that sometimes he went out panhandling, but he spent the money on his own food and apparel.
And Leyba kept making small concessions that were meant to look like compromises, said Bidstrup.
He promised to jar the spare door open so the dogs Bidstrup watches could go in and out, she said. This came after he’d blocked off the doggie door leading into his room so he could enjoy his nocturnal sleep habits.
“People who had better perspective than I did said, ‘This guy is really using you; he’s using his charm and good looks and all that kind of thing to get what he wants,’” Bidstrup said.
Just A Shower, Just A Visit
Leyba stayed with Bidstrup at least one more time in the months between getting the restraining order,and the brutal attack of July 25, according to the affidavit. But she’d kicked him out by mid-July.
Leyba asked Bidstrup on July 25 if he could use her shower and gather some of his things from her home.
An evidentiary affidavit filed in Laramie Circuit Court on Aug. 1 says the pair arranged to be at the house at different times so they wouldn’t intersect.
The plan failed.
When Bidstrup got back to her home, Leyba was there. They argued, and he punched her in the face, says the affidavit.
“He left me in a bloody pile,” Bidstrup said.
He looked down at her as she lay crumpled on the apartment floor.
“Oh, you’re not hurt that badly,” said Leyba, Bidstrup recalled. He allegedly added: “Don’t call the police.”
Then he threw a towel onto her, hid her phone in an obscure drawer she never uses and left.
Bidstrup picked herself up and went out to the street to flag down passersby. The first driver she waved down happened to be a paramedic. He called an ambulance immediately while he attended to Bidstrup, she said.
Hospital personnel later noted that she’d need facial reconstruction surgery and her sinuses appeared broken, along with her upper palate. Her teeth are still “floating.” It aches to talk by the end of each day. Her smile is warped, Bidstrup said.
But she’s got support from others now, and she’s healing.
They Know What They’re Doing
Bidstrup’s story was familiar to Kathy Treybig even as she was hearing it.
Treybig is the shelter coordinator for the Fremont County Alliance Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. She works with battered women every day and also helps battered men.
And Treybig said she knows a few things for certain: Abusers know what they’re doing. Abuse victims are not to blame. Society needs to pressure and scrutinize individual abusers into stopping their cruel behavior.
“Batterers are charming and they lie about who they are. And you know, our culture and society looks at the best in people,” she said. “Women are very much conditioned in society to kind of be the emotional torch-bearers.”
It did not surprise Treybig to hear that Bidstrup is an empathetic woman. Abusers look for traits they can exploit, she said.
She emphasized that society can’t necessarily coach women to look for “red flags” because abusers’ tactics can work on virtually anyone.
“When you’re attracted and you’re falling for that – we’re all stupid,” she said. “And no one’s going to tell you, ‘That guy’s creepy,’ (because you’ll snap) ‘No he’s not!’”
Abusers are cunning even when they’re not smart. They tend to pursue fast courtships, intense intimacy. They can come across as victims in need of tenderness.
Once they’ve got the intimate relationship locked down, they distort reality.
“(They) distort your own self-identity,” said Treybig.
“You’re just making shit up. You’re crazy. You’re so dramatic,” said Treybig, listing off phrases abusers use to skew their victims’ realities.
The abuser never looks accountable unless he’s wheedling out some grace with a false apology, Shaner added in her own interview.
Battered women blame themselves. When they finally do drag themselves into the shelter, their first question is, “Am I crazy?” Treybig said.
Treybig added that when you doubt yourself and you’re living in constant fear, your reasoning faculties dwindle. Whole memories vanish. The body and mind break down.
The rage monster comes out next.
Abusers blow up to whip their victims into compliance — and to keep them walking on eggshells, depleting their autonomy, said Treybig.
“I’ve got to keep him calm so he doesn’t hurt me,” goes the victim’s internal monologue. This is also how abusers make themselves addictive, said Treybig.
The brain is hardwired to avoid pain, so a woman will shape her behavior around her abuser’s outbursts and strive to get back into his intense favor. The abuser knows exactly what he’s doing, said Treybig. If he had something as straightforward as a chronic anger problem or substance abuse problem, he wouldn’t have been able to control it long enough to charm his victim in the first place, she said.
“He was able to control that behavior until he got what he wanted — which was inside the house.”
Leyba’s alleged attack from July 25 sounded like classic manipulation and control to Shaner also.
“When women are escaping from these abusive relationships it seems that’s when they go for the face the worst,” she said.
It’s a severe punishment. It could be a warning of worse future punishments, she said.
Get The Heck Out
The trick is getting out of an intimate relationship, since abusers hide their cruelty until they have an intimate control over their victims, said Shaner.
But there are also tricks to not getting into an abusive relationship. A woman can contact a local abuse center to ask if it staffers familiar with a certain man, and she can look up a man’s arrest history and check the sex offender registry.
Watch out for men who won’t take no for an answer — even on seemingly innocent gestures, like the giving of expensive gifts, Shaner continued.
But Shaner emphasized as well as Treybig that society shouldn’t put the onus on women to watch for dangerous men everywhere: society should curb abuse.
‘I Don’t Have To Put Up With That’
As for Bidstrup, she’s grateful for her family and friend support. It’s vital.
“You finally think, ‘Maybe I don’t have to put up with that, or live that way, or feel like I’m a pile of dirt,’” she said. “And just take steps that really benefit not only our own selves but others around us and people we care about — our daughters and the rest of the world.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.