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Imagine that you married the man of your dreams -- a charming, handsome, successful person who gave you two beautiful daughters. Then, one day, you discover that he is also a highly manipulative sexual predator who has covered up his crimes for years. Your world shatters. Your testimony helps send him to prison. Now he's insisting on his father's rights. Your daughters have been ordered to visit him in jail.

"I thought I'd have a say in this," says the girls' mother, Lisa Dillman. "But evidently I don't."

This is not some lurid movie of the week. This is the real life of a woman whose model husband turned out to be a monster. For the past four years she has tried and failed to escape from his controlling grasp.

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The model husband was John Schneeberger, a young South African doctor who set up practice in small-town Saskatchewan. Lisa met him there, and married him in 1991. Her two kids from her previous marriage adored him too.

"I loved that man," she told me matter-of-factly. "He was my soul mate, my best friend. We were going to grow old together."

Lisa, now 41, is the kind of calm and competent woman you'd like to have next door. It takes a lot to rattle her. The good times with John lasted for six years.

"Living in a small place like Kipling, not a day went by when people didn't stop me in the street and say, 'Oh, you're so lucky to be married to such a wonderful man,' " she remembers. Then something nasty happened.

In 1992, a 23-year-old woman, Carol (not her real name) charged the doctor with sexual assault. She claimed he had drugged her in the hospital examining room one night, and raped her. She had proof: a semen sample from her panties.

No one believed Carol, who had a reputation and was an unwed mother to boot. Dr. Schneeberger took a blood test and there was no DNA match. The doctor's wife stood by him. "Ridiculous," she said then.

Carol pressed on. She demanded another test. It, too, was negative. "I wondered why she was doing this to us," Lisa remembers. In 1994 the police closed the file. But Carol wouldn't give up.

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She hired a private eye, who rifled the doctor's car and found a stick of used Chapstick. A private lab tested the saliva and found a DNA match. For the third time the police drew blood from the doctor's arm, but, strangely, couldn't get enough to sample.

On April 25, 1997, when the case was all but dead again, another victim came forward. She was Lisa's own daughter -- John's stepdaughter -- age 15. "Mom, I have something to tell you," she said. She took her mother to her bedroom, and showed her a condom wrapper in the bed. "Mom, he's done this to me before," she told her.

And Lisa knew.

She kicked her husband out, and found a hidden box full of drugs, vials, syringes and condoms. She called the RCMP.

"I felt sick," she said later, on CTV's W5, which aired a compelling documentary on the case. "I still blame myself. Maybe if I had believed Carol, none of this would have happened to my daughter."

The RCMP took more samples, of blood, saliva and hair. This time they matched. The doctor had faked the other samples by slicing open his own bicep, and inserting a vial of someone else's blood under his skin. He wore a long-sleeved sweater during the tests.

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"He's always in charge," says Lisa. "He's always in control."

After her husband was arrested, Lisa had four children to support; the baby was just 13 months old. She sold the car and house to pay the bills. She got a divorce, resumed her maiden name, and found a job running the Diabetes Association in Red Deer.

John Schneeberger went on trial and was sentenced to six years in prison. The night before the guilty verdict was delivered, Lisa violated the visitation agreement by refusing to let the girls sleep over with him. He nailed her for contempt of court, and she paid a $2,000 fine.

In jail, John continued to insist on visitation rights. Lisa fought him. Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench Justice Gene Maurice heard the case and, to most people's disbelief, ordered Lisa to take the girls to see her former husband at Alberta's Bowden Penitentiary, where he now resides, once a month.

The situation appears to be a first; other felons do not have access to their kids without the guardian's consent. Lisa wonders how visits to a jail to see a man they don't remember will serve her daughters' interests. They're 5 and 6 years old.

The judge's ruling was 10 weeks ago. Since then, Lisa has appealed to various politicians, who say their hands are tied. She asked for visits to be arranged off site, perhaps at a hotel. That's impossible, she's told, because her former husband is too dangerous.

In a last-ditch move, she asked an Alberta judge to intervene. But yesterday he, too, turned her down. He said the case belongs to Saskatchewan, even though none of the principals lives there any more.

For once, her friends saw Lisa Dillman profoundly shaken. She wept in court. She has decided to obey. Tomorrow her kids will go to jail to see the man who repeatedly drugged and assaulted their beloved older half-sister. "I said to Carol, 'It's over for you. But it will never be over for us,' " she told me.

Lisa is grateful for many things. She has a loving family. Her older daughter has grown into a strong young woman. The community has rallied round. "I don't have time to feel sorry for myself, or to think about me," she said the other day. "Maybe that's what kept me going this long."

She's also been the best mother she knows how. "At least I can say to my girls when they're older: 'I tried.' They will know that Mummy at least tried to keep us away from him." mwente@globeandmail.ca

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