Loved to Death

"You planning on killing me, Jim?" she said with a laugh that she didn't feel.

Instead of joking back, Jim got defensive. "You knew about my interest in forensic psychology before we got married," he said. "I'm a scientist; this is science."

Weird science. Once, after finishing a book about one of his favorite subjects, serial killer Ted Bundy, who had been a psychology student, Jim announced, "I know how to commit the perfect murder. You kill for no rhyme or reason."

Dana tried to set her concerns aside. She had to: After years of trying, she was finally pregnant.

Jim wasn't around much to share her happiness. He and a friend from real estate school had become business partners. Dana worried that the other man was a schemer and was leading Jim into some bad habits that kept escalating. For instance, Jim had been a light social drinker when they'd met. Now he was drinking heavily and staying out until all hours of the night with his partner.

Some nights he wouldn't come home at all. When Dana confronted him, he blamed it on all-night business deals and reminded her she was reaping the benefits of his hard work. She told him that she expected him home every night, but it did little good. She could only hope that fatherhood would change him.

When Dana went into labor in February 1986, Jim was the perfect husband. He was by her side in the delivery room, encouraging her through the pain, delirious with happiness when she gave birth to a son, Jon.

Jim was a good father. He doted on his son and shared in the responsibilities of feeding and bathing him, at least when he was around. But it was soon apparent to Dana that Jim thought he could live in two worlds: one at home with a dutiful wife and family; the other, drinking and carousing with his new friends. It was also clear that Dana had no choice but to make her marriage work--her mother had died shortly before Jon's first birthday, taking away her last refuge.

Outwardly, there was no sign that they were anything but a happy, upper-middle-class family. Jim got involved with Republican politics, throwing fundraisers, wowing the movers and shakers with his charm, intellect and conservative views. Some of them suggested that he apply for an ambassadorship.

The idea appealed to Jim's ego. He missed the pulpit; as an ambassador, the world would be his stage. He and Dana went to Washington, D.C., where they hobnobbed with the likes of John Sununu. Dana prayed he would get the position.

He didn't. Back in Denver, Dana returned to her housebound life and Jim returned to his bad behavior. He rarely took her anywhere anymore. At one point, she could count on both hands the number of times in a year they went out socially, even if just for a movie. And when he did, he was jealous Jim, stepping between her and any man she might talk to, although he always did so with some gallant excuse.

In November 1987 Dana gave birth to Ben. They'd had such difficulty trying to get pregnant with Jon that this second son was a surprise. Jim again played the dutiful father and husband, but as soon as he had his wife and new baby safely back home, he was out on the town again.

Dana considered Ben a consolation for her increasingly unhappy marriage. The baby was so sweet and gentle that even his father said he thought Ben was an "old soul" who had lived before.

But life between Dana and Jim was increasingly tense. Their frustrations boiled over into screaming matches, often over the telephone, since Jim was rarely home. Now Dana accused him of seeing other women. Why else would he be gone so much at night? And why else would she find items of women's clothing in his car?

Once again, Jim told her the late nights were the price they all had to pay for their lifestyle. "I'm trying to do my best for you," he said. "I'll quit my job. Then again, you enjoy the money I bring home...What do you want, Dana?"

Jim had her. The home, the cars, the clothes and her children were all she had, and he knew it. If she threatened to leave, he laughed. She had a young daughter and two sons in diapers. "Where are you going to go?" he smirked. "If you leave me, you'll get nothing."

As it turned out, Dana got nothing but trouble. In 1991 they lost everything. Jim didn't tell her about their financial collapse right away, though. He'd always been so secretive about his business dealings, she had no idea how desperate their situation was until the creditors started calling.

Then they lost the house. The Cadillac, her Corvette.

Jim went out looking for jobs. He got some work officiating at weddings and funerals, and he performed the ceremony at Dana's brother's marriage. His silver tongue even got him a shift as an early-morning talk-show host on Denver's KNUS radio. But that lasted only a few months.

Jim soon stopped trying to find work. He stayed at home and drank, starting sometimes as soon as he got up in the morning. He'd sit for hours in the basement, staring at the walls. Or he'd read his murder books. When he talked to Dana at all, he was angry with her.

If Dana complained that he was giving up, Jim would leave the house on the pretext of looking for a job. Instead, he'd head for a bar.

With no money coming in, Dana finally stepped back and saw how far down she'd allowed herself to be pulled. Before her marriages, she'd been a self-sufficient woman with a home, a car and savings that she owed to no one else's work but her own. Now she had nothing. She realized she had to do something if she was going to take care of her kids.

So in December 1993 she went back to school to become a pharmacy technician. For once, she didn't ask Jim's permission. Maybe if there was less pressure on him to support the family, he'd be able to pull himself together.

And in fact, by January 1994 Jim was working at a part-time job. He was making a delivery for work when he was jumped by a gang and knocked to his knees. As he knelt, the gang members broke his hands and fractured his skull with a baseball bat, then robbed him.

After that, Jim was mean all the time, drunk or not. He came and went at all hours. While at home, he'd stare at the walls, read his books of death, drink until he could hardly stand.

If Dana got after him about his drinking, he reversed the criticism. "You're the one with the problem," he slurred. "You're crazy!"

They no longer fought their battles armed only with words. She threw things. He slapped her and shoved her to the ground. She thought they'd hit rock bottom, but she had no idea how deep this chasm would be.

In November 1994 Jim's mother died and left him $32,000. Dana had begged her to leave the money to the children, not to Jim. The way he was going, Dana said, they weren't going to be able to count on him for such things as college tuition.

She'd told her mother-in-law and Jim's two sisters, both registered nurses, that she thought Jim was mentally ill: manic depressive seemed to fit the wild mood swings. But his sisters said they'd washed their hands of him, and his mother left the money to him anyway.

Jim spent it, then continued looting what was left of their checking and savings accounts. Dana had been a co-signer on his failed business ventures; now she couldn't get a loan to save her life. The pharmacy school had found her a job at a local hospital where administrators and co-workers were supportive and understanding, but it didn't pay much.

Jim rarely came home except to check up on her and teach her the occasional "lesson." He'd show up to take the boys "to the movies," then disappear with them for days. Once he called from Kansas and said he was heading back home to Tennessee and taking the kids with him. It was just a ruse to punish her, but she lived in fear that he'd make good on his threats. He'd warned her not to call the police. If she did, he told her, "it'll be the worst mistake of your life."

Physically, Jim continued to deteriorate. In the three years since his business had gone bust, he'd aged fifteen. His hair was gray and his eyes were always glassy and red; he'd lost weight until his skin seemed to hang on him like hand-me-down clothes.

In early December 1994 Dana found a home to rent just a few houses down from her mother's old place. She liked the big backyard with a tree the kids could climb, and the thick tangle of bushes in the far corner where the boys were soon making paths like rabbits in a warren. She felt safer here, and she prayed her mother would watch over her and the children.

Jim had shown no interest in moving with them, but he helped Dana move in. Along with her boxes, he brought over dozens of his murder books. A friend who saw them exclaimed, "Oh, my God, Dana! He is going to kill you."

Dana didn't need her friend's warning to recognize that Jim was growing more dangerous by the day. Just how dangerous, she learned a week later.