No woman should live in fear. No woman should be subjected to unnecessary torture, be it from a parent, sibling, spouse, or even a stranger. She is human, and she has the right to be free, to be happy, and most importantly, to live.
But those rights are stripped from countless women every day. They are isolated, threatened, abused, and murdered by the ones they should be able to trust. A marriage is only a marriage if both parties are willing. Otherwise, it becomes a prison sentence, and one that often ends too soon and much too tragically.
Crimes of Passion, they’re called.
But there is no passion. When one person kills another in a heated moment of lovers’ turmoil, it’s still murder. It’s a solitary act of desperation. There is no love; only selfishness. It is not a mercy, but theft. And those left in the wake of the tragedy are without direction, without answers. They first suffer the immediate effects of the trauma, but then are left to question and to grieve. Only on occasion is the entire story known.
I know this story. The one I’m about to tell ended a year ago today. It took me a long time to get this down, to work through the anger and the anguish and get to a point where I could tell this story. I had to. Someone needed to do it, because it needs to be heard. A year later my heart is still broken, and probably will be for the rest of my life.
On November 6, 2014, I lost one of the best friends I’ve ever had. She was a co-worker, a confidant, a friend. A sister. Angie was an angel come to Earth, with a big heart and a gentle soul. It never mattered how bad things were in her life or how sick she was; if someone needed her, she was there. Unconditionally. When I lost my father, she was there. When I lost my baby the week of her birthday, she was by my side the entire time. When anyone needed a helping hand or a friendly ear, they went to Angie. She was a ray of sunshine in our lives, and she made us better people for her presence.
But at 3:15 pm on a cold Thursday, she was ripped away from us in a selfish moment of stupidity. As the newspapers reported, yes, her estranged husband did shoot her in the back of the head then take his own life. But that’s the end of the story.
It started three years ago, when I met Angie the first time.
On November 7, 2011, Angie came to work for us as the new bookkeeper. She was the first hire in a long reorganization, and we were friends from the minute she walked in the door. We just clicked. I was seven months pregnant, and it gave us a starting point. From there, we learned everything there was to learn about each other.
After my daughter was born, she was there to help. She reassured me that I wasn’t going to irreparably damage my child, and provided relief in the form of lightheartedness and comedy. She was an understanding shoulder to cry on when I lost my father since she’d been through the same thing only a few years prior. A former hairstylist, she did my step-daughter’s hair for prom. Twice. There was a point where we were going to eat Japanese food for lunch every day and staying up late into the night texting about nonsense.
It was during one of these lunch sessions that she began to confide in me about the real status of her home life. Angie told me her husband had changed since her father passed away, and not for the better. She was estranged from her family since her father’s passing, and her husband had become cold and vindictive. He’d isolated her from her friends and family. He called a dozen times a day and texted even more. He constantly checked up on her and demanded she be where he wanted at all times. He’d begun to call her names and accuse her of being selfish. I started to learn about the violence and the psychological abuse, not just of her but of their children as well. When I asked her why she didn’t go to the police, she gave me a good reason.
Both of her husband’s brothers and one of his nephews are active police officers in the town where they lived. She knew any attempt at protection would immediately be reported back and his rage would be so much worse for it. Her husband’s family knew the situation; she’d gone to their houses and had countless conversations with them about the things he’d said and done.
We were sitting at lunch one day, discussing options for her leaving when she stopped and just stared at me. After a long silence, she said, “you know he’ll try to kill me if I leave, right?” I knew she was serious, and I believed her. I’d yet to meet the man at this point, but from the descriptions of the things he’d done to her and her two teenage sons, I knew we were dealing with an unstable man capable of unspeakable horrors.
Coincidentally, I absolutely hate myself for being so right about that.
About a month after that conversation took place, I met him for the first time. He showed up at our office on his motorcycle as we were leaving. I didn’t know at the time (and neither did she) that he’d just been put on suspension from work; we just thought he was there for a visit. Or to check up on her. His first and only statement to me in person was, “Hi, how are ya. We should all get together sometime for a three-way.”
I wish I was joking about that. I was immediately disgusted, and I know I hurt his feelings by laughing in his face, but I couldn’t help it. It was either that or tell him the truth about himself. For one, no. I’m a happily married woman with a family. Second, no. I’m not into any sort of alternate sexual preferences (sorry to burst any imagination bubbles with that one, but it’s just not me, kids). Third, what the hell was that dead animal doing on his face? He was bald as a cue ball, but had a goatee which, were it brushed, would have been about eight inches long at the time. Because he’d been on a motorcycle it was blown back in all sorts of directions and looked like it might have been alive at one time in the distant past.
It became a running joke between Angie and me. She went to him the next evening and told him I’d consider his proposition if he’d shave his goatee. He immediately refused, which only made it funnier to us. Plus it reinforced to me exactly what was wrong with him. I’d never seen such a case of egocentricity in my life.
His misbehavior escalated, and in early 2013, Angie developed a problem with migraines. I’ve never seen a person function with a migraine as severe as the ones she faced on a daily basis. We considered every option as she went for doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit. Her husband spent his time calling her a hypochondriac and a liar, even as she ended up in the emergency room week after week. When her doctor referred her to a neurologist, we began to worry. Angie was convinced it was a rapidly growing brain tumor and she was going to die. I tried to reassure her, but I wasn’t exactly convinced myself.
The tests all came back clear. There was nothing physiologically wrong with her. Three specialists, five different drug combinations, and a year later, she started to see a little relief. Between the drug regimen and the dietary restrictions, she finally started to see some change.
More than once as she worked up the courage to leave, she came to me and told me sometimes she thought it would be easier to die than to live the way she did. I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this wouldn’t end well the day she stood at my desk and told me she almost wished he’d just go ahead and kill her so the struggle would end. I did my best to talk her down, to reassure her he wouldn’t do such a thing even though I very well knew he was capable of it.
Three weeks prior to Angie’s death, she finally walked out. On the evening of October 15th, she came to me and told me she wasn’t going to be at work the next day because she was leaving. I offered my services and a truck, as I’d done a hundred times before, but as always she refused. She said she was going to get only what she needed and get out, then she’d go back and get the rest of her things later after he cooled down. At lunchtime on October 16th, she called me and said it was done. Then she started to cry. Angie had convinced herself her children would believe she was abandoning them, that he would put the idea in their heads and without a stable place to take them, his bullshit would stick. It took a good bit of convincing, but I finally got her to understand that the boys would understand when they saw her happy.
She left two letters – one for her husband detailing why she’d left and that their relationship was, in fact, over, and the other for her boys to explain that she’d left their father, not them. She told her boys she loved them, and she was only a phone call away if they needed her for anything. I know what was in the letters because she read them to me. Yes, word for word. She was walking out the door to go stay with a friend her husband didn’t know about as she did so, and at that point I was one of four people who knew exactly where she was. I always knew where she was.
Her biggest fear in all of this remained that her boys would hate her for it. She loved those kids more than anything else in this world, and she dreaded the day either of them came to her and told her they didn’t need her anymore. It didn’t matter that she’d taken physical and emotional abuse for years… those boys were what kept her in that unhealthy relationship because she couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from them.
That Friday, October 17th was her 41st birthday. She was free and happy, happier than I’d ever seen her, and I regret not getting to make her goodies for her birthday (as I’d done the previous two years) since I was both physically and emotionally sick in the aftermath of a miscarriage. The important part was that she was free. Of course the husband had started blowing up her phone the previous evening with calls and texts and couldn’t understand why she would leave. His mood would shift between inconsolable hysteria and blind rage. He loved her and hated her in the same breath.
On October 18th, my husband and I were up in Gastonia doing some shopping to try and clear my head, and she called me at about 1:30. I could hear in her voice something was wrong. She told me her husband had just called and their house was on fire. In the background I heard the engine in her car rev and I knew she was on the way back to that house. I was ready to drop everything and go to her, but she said no, that she’d call me back when she got there and found out more.
I spoke to her three more times that evening in between the hundred or so texts. Her husband was the only one home. The house was a total loss, and the asshole couldn’t even be bothered to get her cat out before the fire got her. The most disturbing part of the entire scenario was what she told me after she’d gotten home that night; that he’d turned to her as the house was blazing and said, “there, I’ve lost everything. Aren’t you going to come home now?”
But there was nothing to come home to. After nearly a week of investigation, telephone calls, and various other irritating nonsense, we discovered the fire had been intentionally started in her youngest son’s room. It was intended, we think, to look like the dryer vent started it, which is what he told her to get her there. Turns out the washer and dryer, on the other side of the wall, weren’t as damaged as they should have been for that to be the case. The flashpoint was on the floor behind the dresser outside the closet where the vent was located.
More than once I went into our front office and told the girls that if he showed up looking for her, don’t engage him. Don’t let him in. Just hit the panic button and get out. I told them so many times because I knew something was going to happen.
In the following weeks, the anger and cruelty escalated. He laid out of work, claiming he was too distraught to focus. He laid around his father’s house and spent money he didn’t have, sent threatening text messages, stalked her on Facebook to the point where she shut her account down to avoid him.
On Halloween, she received two dozen red roses from him. This was the second round. He’d already sent one set right after she left.
On November 2nd, I got a text message from Angie that made me simultaneously want to laugh and cry. She’d gone to dinner and the movies with a friend of hers from her oldest son’s band days. It was the first time she’d been out with someone that wasn’t either me or our mutual friend Erin in…well, ever. He knew she was out. He’d called more than once wanting to know where she was so they could meet. He resorted to threats. Then about 10:00 he sent her a text message to the effect that he’d gotten a Facebook message telling him she was out with another man. Her retelling of the conversation Monday morning was hilarious because he completely mispronounced the name. He claimed the message came from “Siobhan Kinkade.”
My romance pen name.
A name who does not have a Facebook account. Even my personal profile wasn’t friends with him. When she called him on it, he backtracked and announced that it was my husband who sent him the message. That frightened both of us. She’d never told him my husband’s name, which meant he’d begun to stalk me on Facebook looking for information.
On Tuesday he went to see a therapist. The therapist called Angie to get some information and immediately told her to stay away from him, that he was unstable and dangerous. The doctor told her not to be alone with him for any reason.
On Wednesday, she played back a voicemail she’d gotten from him. He was still swearing he loved her but he knew she was cheating on him. He cried and pleaded, then made threats in the same breath. He threatened to kill himself. He accused her of lying to him, that this was only supposed to be temporary and she was torturing him. On Wednesday afternoon, I went back into the front office and told the girls not to let him in if he came to the building.
Thursday morning she came in happier than I’d ever seen her. She’d just gotten her hair done (got it did, as we say in these parts) the night before. She looked fantastic, she felt good, and she was excited because she had big plans for the weekend.
She was late going to lunch that day because of all manner of work-related nonsense. When she came back from lunch at 2:30, she was beyond angry. She relayed the conversation from her lunch break. He’d been laid off because he’d missed too much work in the introductory period and his supervisors felt he had too many personal issues to be reliable. He’d immediately called and cried, looking for her sympathy.
Angie told him she wanted a divorce.
He’d flown into another rage and she hung up on him. When he called back, he left the most vicious, scathing message I’ve ever heard. My blood ran cold and I could see the fear in her eyes behind the angry bravado.
At 2:45, she was back at my desk and the expression on her face reminded me more than a little of The Joker from the old Batman movies. She’d taken the vase of roses out back and thrown it into the dumpster so hard it shattered and sent crushed roses flying out of the top of the bin. She’d finally accepted that she wasn’t going back and made her wishes known. She passed by my desk one more time and made the statement that when she got off work, she was going to get a restraining order.
That was the last thing she said to me.
Then at 3:15, time stopped. I remember every single second of that afternoon with startling clarity.
I was standing in the conference room with a coworker discussing board games and being generally nerdy when an unusual sound filled the air. We looked at each other and at the same time asked “what was that?”
At first I thought one of the filing racks in the billing office had come down and one of our cashiers might have fallen (she was a bit accident prone). But in the space of a breath, the time it took me to get from the conference room to the hallway, that office became pandemonium. It wasn’t a filing cabinet. That…that was the sound of five gunshots.
One of the cashiers came down the hall screaming “Someone call 911! He shot her! Oh my god he shot her!” I grabbed her by the shoulders as she got to me.
“Who?” I asked. It took her a beat to focus, to realize I’d asked her a question.
Then she said, “Angie.”
A breath later my finance manager came barreling through the doorway screaming that the office was on lockdown and to get to the break room. While he went into the front office, I immediately went around the other side of the building to clear people out, to make sure everyone else was okay. The windows were open and I could see him lying on the ground, his hands and feet still twitching. I couldn’t see her. In retrospect, I’m glad of that, because that’s an image I don’t think I could stand to live with.
I grabbed everyone I could and got them toward the back, then as I came around toward my desk, my Engineer was coming out of the front with one of the cashiers, who was not only hysterical, but had hurt herself in the evacuation process. And taking care of her is exactly how I made it through.
Within five minutes, Alexandra Christian called me. She works down the street from me and they heard the gunshots at the courthouse. I told her I was fine. I didn’t know what was going on. It was Angie. I didn’t know if she was alive or not.
I bandaged wounds and spoke to police. I ran interference with telephone lines, talked to our attorney, reassured people that this would be okay even though I didn’t believe it myself. I was numb.
I was doing HR at the time since our HR Manager was out on medical leave, so I was the one to pull her personnel file for the coroner. I was the one to give the statement on how this crazy murder/suicide had come to pass. I was the one who knew the whole story.
In the end, he put four bullets in the back of her head, a cruelly ironic end for someone who suffered so severely from migraines, then put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The one saving grace is that for Angie, it was fast. She was gone before she hit the ground, never knowing what happened.
He didn’t die instantly, and some small, twisted part of my psyche still wishes he’d lingered longer, that he’d felt that pain without the ability to do a thing about it. Every now and then the anger flares; that uncontrollable urge to just hurt him.
I know there’s a special place in hell for people like him. I know he’s suffering. But I also know he ruined the lives of two wonderful young men, made them orphans in a matter of seconds. His selfish egotism took him from abuser to murderer.
He could have been stopped had someone with real power listened to her cries for help. She would still be here if she’d been given a chance to tell her story herself.
This story needs to be told. Not just for Angie, but for every abuse victim. For every person who lives under oppression by the one person they should be able to trust the most. If her death can save even one life, then maybe, just maybe, she didn’t die in vain.
Every single day I miss her. I still love her, and I always will.