In January 2001, 20-year-old Rachelle Short loaded her belongings into her red convertible and, with $150 in her purse, drove out of Beaver County in pursuit of fame and fortune in Hollywood.
She has found both -- although the journey has been anything but the dream that the aspiring singer imagined.
Today, she lives alone in a 35-room mansion in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra, Calif., while she tries to mount a legal challenge to free her husband, rock 'n' roll icon Phil Spector, who last month was sentenced to spend 19 years to life for killing actress Lana Clarkson.
"I'm dealing with attorneys, running my husband's five different music companies, licensing, publishing, bookkeeping, scheduling," Mrs. Spector said last week in a telephone interview from Alhambra's landmark Pyrenees Castle, the home she used to share with Mr. Spector.
"I'm having some work done on the house, but I am alone the majority of the time."
For years, "The Castle" was the home of Mr. Spector, the reclusive music producer, songwriter and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who introduced the "wall of sound" technique more than 40 years ago. It also is where Ms. Clarkson, 40, died on Feb. 3, 2003, of a gunshot to her mouth.
"It's a very sad situation, very sad event that occurred," said Mrs. Spector, who met her husband in a restaurant seven months after the shooting and married him in September 2006. "But this is our home."
Mr. Spector and his three teams of high-profile attorneys maintained that Ms. Clarkson, who was best known for appearing in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and several science-fiction B movies, committed suicide in the foyer of his mansion -- the same foyer where Rachelle Short later married Mr. Spector.
His first trial, followed closely by Court TV and cable news and entertainment shows, ended when the jury deadlocked. Mrs. Spector accompanied her husband to court throughout the legal process.
In his second trial, which ended in April, Mr. Spector, 69, was found guilty of second-degree murder and using a firearm in the commission of a crime. He was sentenced May 29.
"I believe in my husband's innocence and that this is a grave injustice. Just because of who he is," said Mrs. Spector, who is no longer bound by the gag order imposed by the trial judge until after her husband was sentenced.
"They didn't get O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake or Michael Jackson, so the city had to use Phillip as an example."
Mrs. Spector's mother, Karen Murdock, 50, a waitress now living in South Park, said she always knew that her oldest daughter wanted to be something special.
As a youngster, Rachelle loved music. She sang and played trombone in the Blackhawk High School band and her grades were good, but she didn't hang out with classmates. Her father died when she was young, her mother said, and Rachelle was very serious.
"I was and still am really goal-oriented, and I wanted to be successful," Mrs. Spector said. "And you have to do it yourself, otherwise it isn't going to happen. I mean I was amicable with everyone that I went to school with, but I didn't really care to have best friends.
"I didn't have time for that."
Her mother, too, said Rachelle was too busy focusing on her career goals for a social life in high school.
"She was pretty, and there was a lot of jealousy," said Ms. Murdock, who remarried when Rachelle was in junior high. "She was always working at the Eat'n Park or the Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe or selling Avon. She has just been a real go-getter."
Rachelle graduated from high school in 1998 and attended Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C., for more than a year. But by then, her singing ability had taken her to Chicago and Paris, where she performed with undiscovered bands in clubs.
"She was 20, and she came home from college and she said, 'Mommy, if I don't do this now, I'm never going to do it,' " Ms. Murdock said. "She bought a Sunfire convertible, and high-tailed it to California. I couldn't believe it.
"I was a little [scared], but all her life, she's going to do what she wants to do. And I didn't have to worry about her," Ms. Murdock said. "When she was in high school, she didn't go to parties, she didn't drink, she didn't smoke. I knew where she was all the time. Even when she went to California, I knew where she was more than I knew where [my other daughter] who lived here was."
In California, Mrs. Spector made friends and landed work in restaurants and as an extra in a couple of movies. In September 2003, she met Mr. Spector at Dan Tana's restaurant in Hollywood and spent the night talking with him. She admitted that she had never heard of him and knew nothing about Ms. Clarkson's death in his mansion or the murder charges pending against him.
"I was listening to Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson," she said. "He's so small and fragile, he reminds me of a little boy that you just want to hug and take care of. [There's] no sense of danger at all. He is a kind, caring and giving person."
When her daughter told her she was dating Phil Spector, Ms. Murdock said she had heard of the music mogul, but didn't really know who he was. What concerned her most: the 40-year difference in their ages.
"We were all shocked and that, and at first thought it wouldn't last," said Ms. Murdock. "But then I was invited out there. I know it sounds weird, because I thought it was, too, but you have to see them two together.
"You instantly like Phillip. Everybody that meets him, likes him. Even the prisoners in jail all liked him. They made him head honcho of the floor down there."
Few people emerge from celebrity trials unscathed. Sparring legal teams throw everything they can at each other, and entertainment reporters and bloggers pile on.
Although she was not on trial, Mrs. Spector still took a beating. She is well aware of having been characterized as a "blond bimbo" and "gold digger" in tabloids and Internet gossip -- even by people who knew her years ago.
"Everyone's going to have their own opinions about me, and that's fine," Mrs. Spector said. "Nobody [back in Beaver County] knows me. I have changed. As you get older, you learn and you grow, and you become a different person."
Mrs. Spector said she remains a passionate Steelers fan and returns often to her hometown to see her mother, her grandfather in Conway, and her sister, Shannon, who is married, has a child and lives in Bethel Park.
"That's my roots, that's where I came from," Mrs. Spector said. "And you don't forget that. You have to remember where you came from to appreciate where you are now."
In the past two weeks, Mrs. Spector has been profiled on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and in other California publications. She has appeared on the television show "Inside Edition" twice.
Still, she said, she doesn't consider herself a celebrity.
"I will feel that I'm a celebrity when I'm recognized for my own work, as far as my music is concerned, but not off of what someone else has done or accomplished," she said. "My main goal in life is singing, but that's on the back burner right now because my focus is the successful appeal for my husband."
Mrs. Spector said she cannot imagine her husband being capable of violence, although numerous witnesses at his trial testified about his bizarre behavior and incidents in which he waved guns to get what he wanted.
"My husband was victimized by the press," Mrs. Spector said. "The trial was more character assassination than scientific evidence. He could not hurt a fly."
On June 5, Mr. Spector was transferred from a Los Angeles County jail to a state prison reception center in Delano, Calif., where he is being processed and evaluated before being sent to the prison where he might spend the rest of his life.
Mrs. Spector, who learned of the transfer after the fact, said she had no idea when she will be permitted to visit her husband again. But he did send her flowers last week, when she marked her 29th birthday Tuesday with a gathering at Cafe 50's, a diner on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles.
It wasn't a party, she said, so much as an effort to draw publicity to her cause. Her husband's legal defense has cost millions and the mansion is heavily mortgaged.
"We're pretty much tapped out at this point," Mrs. Spector said. "The appeal is going to be a lot more money, but I don't care what it costs for justice to prevail and my husband to get his butt home."
Dan Majors can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1456.