Loved to Death

That Jim Garner was there at all was an accident: The minister who was supposed to officiate had been called out of town, and Jim was asked to stand in. He was an attractive man, nearly six feet tall, slender, with blond hair, a close-cropped beard, green eyes and a smile friendlier than any handshake. But what caught Dana was his voice. Jim was from the South and spoke with a warm, cultured accent. That voice, combined with his vocation, immediately made him seem kinder, gentler, more trustworthy than other men.

It was a traditional ceremony. Jim talked about the duties the couple had toward each other. "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.

"The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does ...

"A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife."

Dana barely paid attention to the words, she so enjoyed listening to Jim's voice. "To love, honor and obey ... 'til death do us part."

The ceremony ended. A few minutes later, Dana was in her mother's kitchen talking quietly with Jim over a cup of coffee. She found herself telling him about her divorce and subsequent self-doubts. Then he left, and she thought that would be the last she saw of him.

A week later, she was having a heart-to-heart with her mother, who was worried that Dana showed no signs of getting on with her life. Her mother suggested that getting involved with a church group might give her some direction. In fact, maybe she should go talk to that nice minister from the wedding.

The idea appealed to Dana. She called Jim, and he suggested they get together at his Presbyterian church.

When they met a few days later, Dana wound up saying far more about herself than she'd intended, telling Jim about her feelings of abandonment by her father--but she felt she could trust this man. He told her that he had a doctorate in psychology, as well as a doctorate in theology and a master's in English. The walls of his office were covered with commendations and achievements, including one honoring his work as an Air Force chaplain.

They should meet again, Jim said. Perhaps he could help her sort things out. She agreed, and then agreed to a third meeting and a fourth. And then to talking over lunch or dinner instead of at the church.

Dana was in love, and Jim felt the same way. He always seemed to know what was best for her. He was so smart--he spoke four languages and could read the Bible, which he knew forward and backward, in Hebrew and Greek. He was well-versed in politics and world affairs and could hold his own in any conversation. He seemed as solid and as far above the foibles of other men as Longs Peak.

It was only after they'd been dating several months that she learned Jim was married. As if it were of no consequence, he explained that he was "in the process of a divorce," that his wife no longer loved him and that she had left him. Dana believed him.

Perhaps that explained why Jim could be a little possessive. Sometimes, that possessiveness flared into fits of jealousy. If Dana went to the store, he wanted to know if any men had looked at her. He called often, to make sure that she was where she was supposed to be. Sometimes it felt like he was conducting an investigation rather than courting her.

"You know what men's motives with women are, don't you, Dana?" he'd ask quietly, holding her hands and standing close so that he could look into her eyes.

"Yes," she'd reply as he'd instructed. "Sexual."

"Then can you be friends with a man?"

"No," she'd answer.

"And why not?"

"Because their motives are sexual."

Dana decided the attention just showed he was infatuated and, perhaps, a little untrusting because his wife had left him. Besides, he could be so romantic ... bringing her bouquets of roses if he thought he'd hurt her feelings in the slightest, buying her things out of the blue, including a Corvette shortly before they were married. She believed he'd outgrow the jealousy once he realized how loyal and faithful she was.

Jim let her know that once they married, he expected her to remain at home to take care of any children--and him. There would be no mention of the word "divorce" in their household, he said. "God intends for us to be together."

Dana had no problem with that. It was all she'd ever wanted.

They were wed in her mother's backyard on June 11, 1983. As she promised "to love, honor and obey...'til death do us part," she was sure the marriage would last forever.

Jim had a new marriage--but he'd lost his job. His ex-wife had gone to the head pastor of the Presbyterian church and told him that Jim was having an affair. The pastor and the church's four other ministers voted for Jim's removal.

Considering his ex-wife's antagonism, Dana suspected that Jim hadn't exactly given a straight story on who had left whom. But Jim wouldn't discuss his divorce. It was over, they had each other, and that was all that mattered. With his brains and education and her support at home, they'd do just fine.

And at first, it seemed that Jim was right. He went to real estate school and proved himself as good at hustling property as preaching the word of God. It wasn't long before they were living in a half-million-dollar home in Greenwood Village, complete with brand-new furniture.

Jim was generous, always buying her something--clothes, jewelry, flowers. Dana sometimes worried they were living beyond their means. But Jim told her not to worry about it. Besides, he never spent much on himself. The ex-minister just wasn't a material guy.

In fact, he was almost too perfect. Talking to Dana, everything was "honey" this or "sweetie" that. He was a real Southern gentleman, attentive and self-sacrificing. Her girlfriends would see how he treated her and ask where they could find a man just like him.

"Go to the South," she'd say with a coy smile. "They still know how to raise their sons to be gentlemen there."

Jim hadn't gotten over his jealousy, though. He watched how Dana dressed when going out in public, making sure no skirt was too short or any neckline too low. He lectured her if she "failed to realize" when her demeanor around other men might be taken as flirting. She wasn't to go places alone if she might be in a position of attracting men.

And if she did go out without him--never anything more than a trip to the grocery store or shopping--Jim would question her when she returned. "Anybody look at you?" he'd ask innocently, holding her hands, looking into her eyes.

"No, Jim," she'd reply. If there had been such advances, she declined to notice. She was faithful to a fault.

It wasn't as if she had much of an opportunity to meet other men: Jim rarely took her anywhere socially, even though he was beginning to move in circles that kept him out later and later. "Part of the job," he'd explain. She trusted him implicitly.

When he was home, he started spending a lot of time alone. Reading. When they were first married, he was particularly interested in the Southern viewpoint on the Civil War. He read everything he could get his hands on and often told her he had been born in the wrong time.

Then he started reading about the rise of the Nazis in Germany and their subsequent attempts to exterminate European Jews. He never said anything racist or anti-Semitic. But it did seem odd that he was so intrigued by movements closely linked to massive human suffering.

On the rare occasion that he would discuss his readings with her, Jim would go on and on about the psychological aspects--for example, how thousands of concentration-camp prisoners were easily cowed by so few guards. They had simply waited in place to die. "Mind games," he'd say.

It seemed like a weird hobby to Dana. But she only started to ask questions in the third year of their marriage, when his interests shifted once again: this time to true-crime books. She began to find them lying around the house. Books about serial killers. Books about crimes of passion. Books about cold-blooded murders of women and children. And one book in particular: about how to murder your wife.