Read 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse Online

Authors: Robi Ludwig,Matt Birkbeck

Tags: #True Crime, #Murder, #Psychology

'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse (7 page)

BOOK: 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse
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But below the public persona lurked a decidedly darker and troubled man. Unknown to but a few members of the department, David was accused of raping a woman in 1988. She was a juvenile counselor who worked with David and they had agreed to go out on a date. Following a quiet dinner at a local restaurant they returned to his home where, alleged the woman, David attacked her as they were sitting on a sofa. The woman claimed that David ignored her pleas to stop and then carried her to the bedroom where he threw her down, pulled her hair, and lifted her head so she could see his gun on a night table. After he raped her, David began to cry and apologized.

The woman later confided the rape to another police officer who scheduled a meeting between the woman and David. At the meeting David admitted to the rape and again apologized, saying he had begun counseling. The officer, a friend of David’s, reported the rape to internal affairs, which began an investigation. But David denied the rape to police officials and was eventually cleared. Three years later, he met and married Crystal Judson.

A pretty brunette barely five feet tall, Crystal had graduated with honors from high school and had attended the University of Washington, majoring in criminal justice. She was twenty-three, nine years younger than David, when they married. It wasn’t long before Crystal began to withdraw from her friends and family, becoming more sullen and introverted. And soon after she gave birth to her two children local shopkeepers would see Crystal scrounge for change when making purchases. She loved to shop, but she could not use the couple’s credit cards without David’s permission and she had to get David’s approval before actually buying a coveted item, even a Christmas tree.

After eleven years of marriage, Crystal confided to close friends and her parents about David’s abusive behavior. She had gained weight after giving birth to their children and he criticized her appearance. He’d also belittle her for not holding a job and always reminded her that he was the breadwinner. Worse still, David would control her every movement, marking every second of her day, demanding to know her whereabouts at all times. He also maintained fear and apprehension through daily physical and verbal abuse, often threatening to snap her neck.

For Crystal, the final straw was when David sought changes in their sexual activity, nudging his wife to participate in diversions such as threesomes and foursomes.

Crystal finally summoned the courage to leave her husband, and in February 2003, without warning, Crystal and the children left the house and moved into her parents’ home in a gated community in Gig Harbor. Over the next two months she began to make subtle changes in her life. She lost weight, and her friends and family saw a noticeable, and positive, difference in her personality.

In public David remained stoic. He sought professional counseling to handle the stress of his pending divorce, even attending an FBI seminar on emotional survival training for police officers. But privately he was falling apart, turning his rising anger toward his estranged wife, intimidating her family, and again threatening her life. Crystal’s parents were so concerned about David’s mental health that they insisted on being present whenever he picked up or dropped off the children before or after his weekend visitation.

The day before the murder/suicide David returned from a training conference in Las Vegas and picked up the children. The next morning he took the children first to karate class and then shopping while Crystal drove to Tacoma to attend a class on “What Children of Divorce Really Need.” When she returned to Gig Harbor that afternoon, she spotted David’s car and followed him into the parking lot. David told the children to wait in his car, walked over to Crystal’s car, and sat in the driver’s seat, which had been vacated by Crystal, who stood outside the car, scared and distant. At that moment David knew it was over, that she had made her decision, and there was nothing he could do about it. His anger, which had vacillated over the past few months between simmering and boiling, rose to the surface. Combined with the embarrassing disclosures in the newspaper, David was lost. There was only one way for him to retake control. Words were exchanged, then shouts from Crystal of “Oh, no, don’t!”

The news was shocking, with Tacoma mayor Bill Baarsma telling a local television station he knew David as a “proud and loving father.”

“They were a beautiful couple,” said Baarsma.

* * * * *

A
S
in many marriages that turn out to be violent and controlling, Crystal and David seemed to be ideal partners at first. David was ambitious, but there was a sinister/dark side to this seemingly charming and engaging man.

Crystal was remembered fondly as being sweet and the type of person who worked hard to please people. Her friends remember her as a physically strong and self-confident woman, which is one of the reasons this tragedy was particularly devastating for the people who knew her well. Crystal was the last person anyone would have thought likely to shrink away and blend into oblivion. But like so many women who find themselves in abusive relationships, that is exactly what she did.

It’s hard to identify abusive and controlling men, especially during the early part of a relationship and especially for a young, naïve, and hopeful twenty-three-year-old girl. Such men are frequently very seductive and sweep women off their feet with romantic sentiments, inducing an alluring and almost addictive sense of specialness in the person they are trying to win over. This euphoria at the beginning is the feeling everyone hopes for when they are dating someone they find interesting. At first, it appears that the object of affection has everything desired in a lover. Who wouldn’t want to dive headfirst into a relationship that makes you feel sexually attractive and places you high on that proverbial pedestal? The problem is, as with most things in life, if something appears to be too good to be true, it usually is.

Controlling and abusive men often idealize their partner out of their own desperate need to be attached to someone who can heal them and make them feel better. They want and need their new mate to experience them as the best and most wonderful in every single way, the best lover, the best person, as well as a constant source of interest and fascination.

Of course people are fallible and flawed, so this “perfect” honeymoon period can last for only so long. Sooner or later, the idealized lover will fall from grace, only to disappoint the controlling partner and “prevent” his true needs from being met.

Control killers come from two main groups of spousal abusers: the common couple violence abuser and the patriarchal terrorism abuser. The common couple violence abuser is an occasional and unpredictable abuser who has volatile responses to the pressures of everyday life. His violence is motivated by a need to control a specific circumstance, as opposed to the violence of the patriarchal terrorism type, who wants to control the woman and the relationship by any means necessary. Men in this latter group tend to commit acts of abuse characterized by a strong need to be completely in charge of the relationship and to control the woman. The violence in these relationships is male to female and, as the relationship continues, the violence becomes more frequent and severe. Such males are determined to maintain their control by any means necessary, including physical violence and psychological abuse, the latter comprising sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, as well as social and economic isolation.

Such men appear to have a problem with women achieving power, and their violent behavior is a result of the male entitlement and dominance represented in our society. These types of batterers and abusers are limited in their ability to feel attachment and empathy and have the most rigid and conservative attitudes about women. David fit this typology of patriarchal terrorism perfectly, especially since he exhibited problems with women way before he ever met and married Crystal.

Take, for example, the former coworker he was accused of raping. No amount of her begging and pleading with him would change his obsessional need to rape her. Although he told everyone he was getting counseling, the therapy obviously wasn’t enough to help him with his destructive and self-destructive mode of operating. Men who rape women often do it to show their strength, masculinity, and virulence. This power motive often involves the perception that women are property and specifically the property of men, and the act of rape establishes that power.

David tried to establish control in a multitude of ways with Crystal. He emotionally abused her by calling her fat and telling her no man would ever want to be with her. He financially abused her by forcing her to account for every dime spent, and his constant checking up on her made it difficult for her to be with friends or family. She was, in effect, socially isolated. And toward the end of their relationship, he sought to engage in threesomes and foursomes, something he knew Crystal, a conservative mother of two, had no interest in pursuing.

Eventually Crystal could no longer justify the abuse, and the days of making excuses for David were over. She had a right to a nice life and she was going to try to make that happen. She missed having friends and feeling good about herself. But she was also aware that she was in danger. She knew it was not beyond David to want to harm her for leaving him. He pretty much told her as much. But his threats to kill her were not going to stop her this time.

According to evolutionary psychologists Margo Wilson and Martin Daly, violence against a female partner is often intended to prevent the partner from pursuing other romantic relationships. Men are often motivated to kill a spouse out of jealousy, especially if they are estranged and the commitment to the relationship is seen as tenuous or challenged.

Estranged male perpetrators are also more likely than estranged female partners to seek out, track down, and kill an ex-partner for leaving them. Unfortunately that was the case for David and Crystal. She left an abusive marriage and before long started to feel great about herself. But her burgeoning joy was short lived, as was the life of her estranged spouse, who turned the gun on himself.

Homicide is the only crime that regularly results in the criminal taking his or her own life following the act. Although people tend to view homicide and suicide as opposite ends of the spectrum, it is possible for someone to feel homicidal and suicidal at the same time. Such people are typically involved in a chaotic, frustrated, long-term intimate relationship and such relationships often vacillate between extreme feelings of anger and love. There can also be this idea that one person has been sexually unfaithful. The triggering event is often the separation from the spouse or love object. This separation can produce intense and severe depression, which increases the suicide risk factor. The murder/suicide is a consequence of a sense of unbearable powerlessness, a feeling a controlling spouse is trying all along to avoid having. The murderous act is viewed with guilt and shame after the perpetrator realizes the crime that he has committed. This then intensifies his suicidal impulse.

Others argue that the perpetrators of the murder/suicide are trapped in a vicious cycle of frustration-nurturance-frustration. So when the source of the frustration is killed, in this case Crystal, so is the source of nurturance. When the nurturance is lost the homicidal frustration increases, and then turns against the self in the form of suicide, as it did in David’s case. We know that murder/suicides are not monolithic acts. These acts have many different dimensions. Sometimes murder/suicide is an outgrowth of guilt. In other cases, according to Wilson and Daly, it happens because the female becomes so much a possession or piece of property that she also needs to be taken along on the journey of death. In other cases murder/suicide may preserve the fantasy that the two lovers will remain together forever.

What is particularly interesting, statistically, is that, unlike men, women rarely kill themselves after killing their partner. When women kill, it’s often to get away from their partner, to escape, not to take him along into eternity. Men are also prone to be more dependent on women for their sense of self and emotional connection since they often have difficulty developing intimate connections with friends and family, something most women develop early in life. Unlike women, men connect on a more practical/superficial level and rely on the women in their lives to provide emotional and social stability.

And finally, these homicides highlight the point that just because the relationship is over, it does not mean that the control or violence is over.

While most such acts are cold and calculated, I do not think this was so in David Brame’s case. His act seemed to be carried out with about as much thought as a road rage incident. But David was unprepared for what it would feel like to see his wife and not have control of her and her choices. David was unable to tolerate his losses. He had to once and for all show Crystal who was the boss, even if it meant cutting off his own nose to spite his face. It had to be done; there was no other choice, at least for him, not at that moment.

* * * * *

R
OBERT
B
IERENBAUM
also felt there was no other choice.

On Sunday, July 7, 1985, his wife Gail, twenty-nine, disappeared without a trace following an argument in their New York apartment. The couple had been married for four years and, despite outward appearances, theirs was a marriage deeply fractured and marked by infidelity and abuse.

When they met in 1979, Gail was a college dropout who suffered from depression, liked to drink, and was dependent on drugs, particularly Quaaludes. She was one of three children who grew up in a pretty typical middle-class Long Island Jewish family. Although bright, she had little interest in school. Unlike her sister, Alyane, who was studious, reserved, and studying to be a lawyer, Gail was drifting through life without any clear goals or direction. She liked late-night parties, the wild-musician-type bad boys, and the drinking and drugging that often goes with the partying lifestyle. Gail was beautiful, sexy, and gregarious, but her outward beauty could not mask her depression and drug dependency.

BOOK: 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse
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