Loved to Death

All day at work, Dana had the feeling that something wasn't right. Finally she called home. To her surprise, Jim picked up the telephone. In the background she could hear thirteen-year-old Ashley screaming.

Dropping the phone, Dana rushed home. She arrived to find Jim drunk and sitting on the front porch. "She bumped her own head," he said. "But I'm sure you'll blame me."

Inside, Dana found her hysterical daughter. Ashley pointed to where Jim had kicked a hole in a bedroom door. Then he'd hit her and choked her and threatened to kill her. "And he said he was going to get you," she told her mother.

As if Dana needed any proof, the hole in the door and the red marks on her daughter's face and neck verified the story. When she went to call the police, Jim, who'd followed her into the house, pushed her away from the phone. But when she reached for it again, he backed off. "I'm leaving, I've had enough," he said, and stalked out.

When the police arrived, Dana filled out a complaint for a restraining order to keep her husband away from her and her children. "He is very verbally abusive. He takes the kids, including out of state, to get to me...and I don't know where he is at," she wrote.

"He tells the children and other people that I am crazy. When he gets drunk, his behavior gets worse. He reads a lot of books about murder--he is fascinated with those books in an unhealthy way. He reads books on how to plot murders and how to kill your wife.

"He is physically abusive when drunk and has worsened since his serious head injury in January 1994...I have thought he was going to kill me."

Still, she asked that the police go easy on him. "He's suffering from depression and needs medical attention," she said. "He's salvageable."

The police found Jim at the bar Dana had suggested. They arrested him for assault and took him to jail.

Jim's incarceration took care of the immediate danger, but it didn't solve Dana's other problems. She had no money for food, much less Christmas gifts for the kids, and she wouldn't be paid again until after the holiday.

Living in her nice Greenwood Village home, she'd never imagined she could sink so low. But she swallowed her pride and went to a local food bank, which gave her groceries and a bag of presents for the children. It was a sad, tearful Christmas.

Dana got her restraining order. Jim got even by filing for divorce.

He hadn't expected Dana to be so relieved, though, and quickly decided he wasn't really ready to give her up. The divorce filing was a mistake, he said. He reminded her of the Biblical passage from their wedding ceremony: "A wife is not to depart from her husband...Even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife."

However, now that Jim had taken the first step, Dana was prepared to see the divorce through. She'd already signed the papers and, with the restraining order in place, she wanted nothing more to do with him.

Jim pleaded guilty to reduced charges of "wrongs to a minor" and was given a deferred judgment. He was to attend anger-management, divorce and alcohol-treatment programs and check in regularly with a probation officer. If he complied, his record would be clear.

But Jim never met the conditions, and the court took no action concerning his failure to comply.

One night in January, Dana woke up to find Jim by her bed, taking his clothes off. He was drunk and demanded his rights as a husband.

Dana called the police. Threatening revenge, Jim fled to a nearby location, where the police found him. That time, he wasn't charged.

The divorce was final in May, but Jim refused to acknowledge it or the restraining order. "We're not divorced in the eyes of God," he told Dana. "You're still my wife!"

Jim warned her that dating other men would constitute adultery. And though she insisted she'd been faithful throughout their marriage and still wasn't seeing anyone, he accused her of sleeping around. As punishment, he used his visitations with the kids to get even. He wouldn't bring the boys back when he was supposed to, and sometimes he would keep them for days.

Dana was afraid if she complained to authorities, she wouldn't get what little child support Jim was paying. And she needed every penny she could get. She had to be "a good little girl," Jim told her, or he wouldn't give her anything. It was blackmail, but that wasn't his only crime.

He'd search the boys' backpacks and take their keys, then come into the house through the door. Or he'd just break in through a window. Often he'd take whatever money he could find, but sometimes he'd just go through her address book and other belongings. He coerced Jon into giving him Dana's voicemail code, then called the numbers of any men who'd left messages.

Dana started contacting different social service agencies, looking for aid. But either they were either out of funds, or they said she made too much money to qualify. She needed to get Jim to pay child support, but she was only given a handbook on how to handle it herself. She needed psychological counseling, but she had to be on welfare to get free help. And yet all that kept her above the poverty line was a few hundred dollars and her own determination to keep her job, her home and what little self-esteem she had left.

Fortunately, the church she'd joined was supportive, and an attorney who was a member of the congregation got to work calling off Jim's creditors who'd garnisheed Dana's wages. He also went to every courthouse in the area to find out the extent of Jim's business failings. It was far worse than Dana had thought.

In the meantime, Jim's behavior was getting more and more bizarre. Sometimes she'd find him sleeping in her basement, or she'd go out to her car and find him lying next to it. Or he'd follow her to work. Or he'd turn up at the local park when she was there with the children. Or he'd sit across the street, watching the house. It got so bad that her neighbors began reporting him.

In 1995 the Denver police arrested Jim seven times for violating the restraining order, domestic violence, harassment and disturbing the peace. He was also arrested in Arapahoe County on unrelated charges of obstructing justice, evidence-tampering and forgery--a legacy of his real estate business.

Dana didn't call the cops every time Jim showed up. He said he'd kill her if she called them, and sometimes she was just too scared to defy him. And then there was how the cops made her feel when she did call. She thought they treated her like she was a hysterical child, ordering her to sit down, calm down and fill out a report before they'd go any further.

Some officers tried to explain that they simply couldn't chase down every husband or boyfriend who violated a restraining order. Jim made it particularly tough, because he had no known address. The best Dana could do was give them the names of the bars he frequented and the address of the alcoholic buddy who'd loaned Jim the silver Jaguar.

Dana told one cop that Jim was stalking her like a predator hunts its prey. "He's just waiting for the right moment," she said. When the officer tried to calm her, she replied, "You don't know who you're dealing with. He's smarter than your entire department put together."

Even when they found him parked in front of her house late at night, the cops didn't always arrest him. "He just wants to see his kids," one explained. And when she complained that he had followed her to the park, she was told that he had a right to be on public property.

When the cops did arrest him, Jim was charged with such misdemeanors as violating a restraining order or harassment--never burglary or theft or stalking, something that might put him safely in jail for a long time.

By the end of 1995, Dana knew that she was going to die. The police weren't taking Jim's threats seriously enough. There wasn't enough manpower, they told her. There wasn't enough time.

There's not enough of anything to save my life, she thought.