Domestic Violence: A Direct Hit on Our Family

Article excerpt

The murder of his sister-in-- law (at left) shook the author and his wife-and keeps them wondering how they might have prevented it.

Janice was my wife's sister, her best friend, and the sister I never had. We loved her, laughed with her, argued with her, and helped her through various crises. But we weren't there when she needed us most-the day her husband shot her, then killed himself.

The first time I met Janice, shortly before my wife and I announced our engagement, I sensed her love for life. A petite, attractive woman, she paid careful attention to her appearance and kept herself in terrific shape-the better to run 5- and 10-K races and, later, marathons. Her proudest accomplishment was completing the Boston Marathon.

Janice had a lively mind, too, and enjoyed a good debate. I vividly remember one spirited-and ironic-exchange about handguns. She laughed off my arguments in favor of gun control, calling me a bleeding-heart liberal and insisting that handguns were necessary for "self-defense in this mad world." Mad world, indeed. This is one argument where I desperately wish I hadn't been proved right.

Despite her intelligence, Janice never found her professional niche. She earned degrees in nutrition and engineering, and for several years worked as a civilian engineer for the Navy in Panama City, FL. She remained lukewarm toward the job, but it provided her with independence and security. Her first husband, who was several years her senior, never held a long-term job during their 15-year marriage. When they went their separate ways, she paid alimony.

For a time after her divorce, Janice worked for my practice. She quickly mastered billing and other business matters, but the pressures of working together began to stretch the bond between her and my wife, our practice manager. So Janice went back to Panama City, to her old job... and, ultimately, to a new husband.

When I first met Rick, he seemed nice enough. But there was something about him that made me uncomfortable. Our conversations, while pleasant, were always brief and superficial, and we never made eye contact for more than a fraction of a second. My wife was equally disquieted by this guy, and she didn't hesitate to tell Janice that he seemed like bad news. But Janice brushed these concerns aside.

It wasn't long before Rick began displaying the self-destructive and controlling conduct that would doom both him and Janice. Before their marriage, he took her to an isolated spot in the woods where, he said, he planned to kill himself if she didn't agree to spend the rest of her life with him. Later, she watched as he played Russian roulette-the loaded gun against his temple the perfect metaphor for his menacing unpredictability.

Doubtless there were other, similar episodes, but Janice stopped telling us about them. She knew her descriptions of Rick's volatility made us uncomfortable, and that we didn't believe her when she said his behavior was under control. Our instinct, meanwhile, was to protect our family. We refused to take our children to any family gathering where Rick was present.

Still, Janice and my wife faithfully called each other every weekend, despite the growing tension between them. As the situation between Janice and Rick moved toward its grisly denouement, she announced that they had separated.

Instead of being relieved, we were frightened. …