Off the Wall

While Michael Jackson faces a courtroom thriller, one Corpus Christi superfan—and her army of 15,000—is making sure the Gloved One comes out swinging.

DEBORAH DANNELLY’S MOST cherished possession is a black fedora signed on the brim in silver ink by Michael Jackson. It is displayed in a glass case in her bedroom in the simple Corpus Christi home that she, age 48, shares with her two cats, two dogs, and two parents. Clarification: The house is simple; her bedroom is not. Every inch of wall and shelf space is dedicated to Jackson, the self-crowned King of Pop, in the form of posters, publicity photos, snapshots, framed album covers, 45s, LPs, CDs, DVDs, videotapes, souvenir Pepsi cans and bottles, ticket stubs and all-access passes from the concerts and special events she has attended, commemorative chocolate bars from Michael and Lisa Marie Presley’s wedding, key chains, puzzles, four miniature Michael dolls with as many miniature changes of clothes, stuffed toy replicas of animals in Michael’s menagerie, a Michael marionette commissioned by Jackson himself, and a two-foot-tall Rock & Roll Elmo doll that sings the Jackson 5’s early hit “ ABC.” There is even a Michael pillow on the bed.

Dannelly bristles at the use of the word “shrine” to describe her room. “It’s a collection,” she said, cocking her head. “If someone is collecting Beanie Babies, you wouldn’t say they’ve created a shrine to Ty. So if I have a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia, it’s not a shrine. Being a fan for so long, it documents my growing up, different eras I went through, some of the wonderful times that I have had relating to Michael.”

These are the times, however, that try fans’ souls. On November 18, a day the faithful had long anticipated as the release date of Jackson’s latest greatest-hits collection, Number Ones, the Santa Barbara County sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices served a search warrant on Jackson’s Neverland Ranch amid new allegations of child molestation against the singer. The raid was massive; the Associated Press reported that so many investigators converged at the ranch that the county had to equip the force with portable toilets. But it was nothing compared with the circus that ensued, beginning with a press conference the next day that the beaming district attorney, Thomas Sneddon, conducted like a birthday party, followed by Jackson’s arrest and sad-clown mug shot, rumors of love letters and slipped Mickeys, and the defense team’s claim of vendettas and shakedowns. Despite the glossy Hard Copy sheen, not one bit of it was pretty, but neither was it unexpected. Jackson’s popularity has been in perpetual wane since Sneddon looked into similar charges in 1993, an investigation that ended only when that alleged victim, the recipient of a reported $20 million settlement from Jackson, refused to cooperate. By the end of 2003, a year in which Jackson’s behavior grew so strange that even the word “eccentric” no longer fit—the baby-dangling, the accusations of racism against Sony Music, the documentary TV declaration that sharing his bed with young boys was perfectly natural—his fan base had been winnowed down to

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