Loved to Death

She felt the end coming with the inexorable power of a speeding train.

In early 1996, Jim was traveling back and forth between Denver and Tennessee, where a church had given him some work; Dana hoped he'd stay there permanently. But this, too, turned out to be ploy. He'd call her up and say he'd be away for a week, and for a little while she'd let her guard down. But then it would turn out that he'd been calling from an airport in Tennessee, where he would hop on a plane back to Denver. Instead of enjoying a few days' reprieve, she'd look out the window a few hours later and see him--or find him in her bedroom at night.

One day in March Dana noticed something blue in the bushes at the far corner of the backyard. Thinking one of the boys had left something in their hideout, she went to get it. Crawling into the brush, she recognized the blue object as one of the old blankets she kept in her garage. Next to it was a duffel bag. In it, she found Jim's passport, a murder novel and a book on church growth, cigarettes, a sweater and a box. He was camping out in her yard.

She opened the box. Inside was a strange-looking instrument. It took her a moment, but with horror she suddenly realized what it was: an 80,000-volt "Thunder Shot" stun gun. She'd seen a movie in which a killer used one to torture his victim. She took the gun, but she knew Jim would just find another weapon.

From then on, Dana wouldn't go into the yard without first turning on the automatic sprinklers to chase Jim out from any hiding place.

Later that month, Jim came over to the house drunk and threatened her. "You're my wife!" he shouted. It was obvious he expected to have sex. Dana called the police, hysterical. "He's just sitting out in front," she cried.

When an officer arrived, Jim was sitting in his Jaguar across the street. The cop took his time strolling up to the house, then told her to calm down before he went to speak with Jim.

Soon the cop and her ex-husband were laughing together. It looked like they were talking about the car rather than the situation. Even drunk, Jim was in control.

The officer made Jim leave, then came back and told Dana that he just wanted to see his kids.

As frightened as she was of Jim, Dana was just as angry at the police. She began to notice more and more women in similar situations. Every day it seemed the newspapers had another story about a woman being killed. Not by a stranger--but by a man who professed to love her and then stalked her like an animal.

O.J. Simpson was on trial for killing his wife and, according to the testimony, had stalked her and beat her, breaking into her home. He, too, had his passport when the police arrested him. Then on April 20, Debra Cameron was murdered by her husband, Duncan, a prominent Denver lawyer, in a downtown parking garage. Cameron shot himself in the head three days later when stopped by police on a California highway.

In early May, Dana finally obtained a permanent restraining order from Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless. By now there were four warrants out for Jim's arrest. Even though he appeared frequently at the house and she knew what bars he favored, it seemed the police couldn't be bothered to track him down. As far as she could tell, the cops were more interested in issuing speeding tickets than catching a criminal. They probably wouldn't take a real interest in her until she was dead.

After the restraining order was issued, co-workers convinced Dana to go out dancing to take her mind off her problems. It was the first time she had gone out since before her marriage, and she was surprised to find herself having fun.

She met a man who was obviously attracted to her, a man who mentioned that he had a gun. Dana got a crazy idea: If her new friend came by the house, Jim might confront the man. Maybe her friend would have to shoot Jim.

The man agreed to drop by the next day and to bring his gun. But Jim didn't show.

On May 17 Dana left work early to prepare for Ashley's birthday party. It also happened to be the one-year anniversary of her divorce from Jim, and she was worried about what he might do. She'd heard that stalkers often plan their acts around important dates, and she knew he also had a court date coming up on another matter. He might decide this would be his best, and maybe last, opportunity.

The night before, he'd called and left a message on her answering machine. "I'm leaving for good," he said. "You'll never have to see me again. But I wanted to talk to you one last time." He wanted her to meet him at a hotel bar.

Dana didn't go.

When she got home from work, for some reason Dana broke from her usual routine and went in the back door.

The kitchen telephone rang. It was a friend who asked about Dana's recent night out.

Dana mentioned the man she'd met. "I had a great time," she said, as she looked up and into a mirror hanging in the dining room. Her throat went dry. She could see Jim in the mirror, standing by the stairs. He had something small and dark in his hand.

"Oh, my God," she screamed to her friend. "Jim's here. Call 911."

Jim came flying at her. "You filthy bitch! You slut! You were seeing other men all the time!"

Dana kept screaming as she dialed 911. Jim ran out the door.

With the police on their way, Dana realized Jim had been standing near a closet where she'd hidden a $1,000 money order and nearly $600 in cash that she'd gotten by selling some of her furniture. It was all she had to pay the rent, make her car payment and buy groceries. The closet door was now open.

And the money was gone. When the police arrived, Dana begged them to find her husband before he could spend it. She begged so loudly that her neighbors heard it.

"There are four warrants out for his arrest," she said. "Please go get him."

"Just calm down, young lady," an officer told her. He said it was up to him how to pursue the matter, and she would first have to fill out a report. Dana demanded to see his sergeant. The sergeant arrived and told her to fill out the report. "Victim is fearful for her children and herself," the officer noted by her written account. Frightened and angry, Dana forgot to write anything about the missing money.

Forty-five minutes after the police first arrived, the sergeant finally sent officers to check the bar Dana had suggested. Jim had been there, all right, and had even had time to down four drinks. But he was gone.

The police now had no idea where Jim was. They escorted Dana and her children to her lawyer's house, where the family spent the night. But Dana knew she couldn't stay there. And a safehouse didn't seem the answer, either: She wasn't going to walk away from the life she'd struggled to make for herself and her children.

Two days later, Dana got her first call from a Denver police detective, a woman. Dana told her about the stun gun, the passport and the stolen money. It was obvious the detective didn't believe her story about the money, since she noted Dana hadn't mentioned it on her report.

"Did he say he was going to kill you?" the detective asked.

"Not this time," Dana had to concede. "He ran away. But he has before."

The detective said they would file a trespassing charge.

Dana couldn't believe it. Trespassing? When he had broken into her house and taken her money? When there was a restraining order?

"Sorry," the detective replied. "He didn't say he was going to kill you. And you didn't actually see him take the money."

Dana was irate. There were four warrants out for his arrest, for Christ's sake. What else did the cops need?

The detective, who later wrote that she had been "unable to calm the victim," hung up on Dana.

Using her caller-identification system, Dana called the detective back. All she got was an answering machine. "Victims don't need to be treated this way," she said. "You'll be hearing from my lawyer."

The next day, a fifth warrant was issued for Jim's arrest. But Dana knew she was on her own.

A week later, Ben woke up feeling sick. Dana left him at home--she figured he'd be okay, because Jim had never threatened to harm his sons--while she drove Ashley and Jon to school. On the way, she talked about how she wanted them to grow up.

"I want you all to go to college," she said. "Stick together--no one is to be excluded. Try to live righteous lives. And I want you to know that you are the most loved children in the world."

As she dropped Jon off, he turned to her. "I wish Daddy would leave us alone," he said. Dana nodded and drove off so he wouldn't see her cry.

Dana then stopped by the hospital, to say goodbye to a co-worker who was leaving. The O.J. trial was the talk of the party; she tried to make light of it. "I think Jim is going to O.J. me," she said. But no one who knew her situation saw much humor in that.

Then she went home to Ben--and found Jim waiting for her.