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 (4 page)

BOOK: 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse
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These crimes are not encouraged by monetary gain nor are they premeditated. When a murder of this kind is being committed, the ability to think clearly is momentarily suspended, and the id takes full rein over the human heart and mind. A combination of rage and primitive, deep-seated emotions replaces all judgment and restraint and gives way exclusively to unbridled release. Broken hearts, unbearable betrayal, and a deadly separation anxiety, all spurred by jealousy, are the emotional culprits for this type of murder. In fact, jealousy is one of the top three motives for nonaccidental homicides and also tends to be a primary motive for killing partners as well as romantic rivals. The triggers are learning about an affair or the end of a relationship.

Jealousy, and the feelings of betrayal and abandonment that follow, is often the dangerous counterpart of romantic love. Jealousy arises when an important relationship is threatened by a rival, whether real or imagined. It is a powerful emotion that has inspired many novels, drama, art, poetry, and operas. Some psychotherapists believe jealousy is more prominent in cultures that attach great social importance to marriage and approve of sexual gratification only within marriage. Jealousy is also found in cultures that place a high priority on personal property.

During the 1990s evolutionary psychologists applied Darwin’s theory of human behavior to a novel theory that suggested that jealousy might have given us a fitness advantage in our ancestral environment.

Jealousy, like many emotions associated with mating, is different in men than in women. University of Texas professor of psychology Dr. David Buss, as well as several other researchers in his field, observed that a specific set of brain circuits influences our emotional reaction to danger and threats within the contexts of sexual relationships. According to these researchers, this process makes men more naturally inclined to be jealous over a mate’s
infidelity while it makes women naturally inclined to be jealous over a mate’s
infidelity. Some think that men assume that if a woman is having sex with a man it is because she is in love with him. Women tend to believe that men can have sex without being emotionally in love, so sexual infidelity does not necessarily mean that the man they care about is in love with his other partner. (Researchers have also pointed out that women and men who are struck by jealousy are often correct in believing that infidelity is taking place.)

The killers in this sort of crime, who are experiencing intense emotions, often view themselves as the doomed protagonists in a love tragedy gone terribly wrong where the saying
“If I can’t have you, then nobody can”
is the theme song.

* * * * *

was the case of
, who wanted to “have it all” but instead gave it all up when, in July 2002, the married mother of two killed her husband David. Her weapon of choice was her Mercedes.

Clara had caught David, age forty-four, cheating with his assistant, and, following an ugly confrontation Clara repeatedly ran him over. The horrific act was caught on video and shocked a nation.

Up to that time theirs was, by most accounts, a perfect marriage. Both were dentists, having met in dental school in 1991. They married a year later, on Valentine’s Day.

“I found the one God had reserved for me,” Clara, age forty-four, once said.

They worked side by side, building a very successful practice in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, which allowed them to live in a palatial home in a gated community. They owned property in Colorado and vacationed often, usually to tropical locales. By 1998 they decided to start a family and Clara gave birth to twin sons. Life for David and Clara couldn’t have been better. Or so everyone thought.

In reality, something was terribly wrong.

By 2002 David had taken a lover, Gail Bridges, a divorced mother of two and one of his dental assistants. The affair had continued for several months when David, confronted by Clara, finally admitted to his infidelity. He even described the affair to his wife in intimate detail.

Angry but resolute, Clara wanted to remain in the marriage and demanded that David end the affair. He said he would, but Clara didn’t believe him and hired a private investigator, who tracked David and his lover to the luxurious Nassau Bay Hilton in the suburb of Clear Lake. It was the same hotel where the Harrises had married ten years earlier.

Tipped off by the private investigator, Clara arrived at the hotel with David’s teenage daughter from his first marriage, Lindsay, age sixteen. They phoned upstairs to David, who came down minutes later. As he exited the elevator accompanied by Gail, they were surprised by Clara, who lunged at Gail, tearing at her shirt and screaming, “You bitch—he’s my husband!”

Clara then turned to David and cried, “I hate you” before calling out into the lobby for everyone to hear that her husband was sleeping with another woman. Embarrassed and upset, David had heard enough. He took Gail’s arm and headed for the front doors but was stopped by Clara and Lindsay. Enraged, David put his hand on Clara’s forehead and pushed her down onto the floor, humiliating her. He then walked outside into the parking lot and escorted Gail to her car.

Clara quickly got back on her feet. Somewhat disoriented, she collected herself and was guided by hotel personnel to the parking lot and her Mercedes. She calmly got in the car, turned on the engine, and, as Lindsay slid into the passenger seat, pressed her foot on the gas, aiming the car for David, who was comforting Gail as they stood next to her Lincoln Navigator.

David didn’t see Clara coming until the last moment. He pushed Gail inside her car as Clara plowed into him at forty miles per hour. He was catapulted twenty-five feet into the air and into an adjacent parking lot, where he lay motionless on the pavement, moaning from intense pain.

Clara, however, wasn’t finished.

To the shock and horror of all watching, Clara sped her car over a concrete median into the adjacent parking lot, once again aiming directly for her husband. With Lindsay still in the passenger seat screaming for Clara to stop, she proceeded to run over David again, and again, and again, circling the car over different parts of his body, crushing his legs, ribs, and head. The private investigator, sitting nearby in a parked car, captured the grisly event on tape. When Clara was finally finished she got out of her car and, in a final burst of anger, leaned over her husband’s mangled, crushed body as he exhaled his last breath.

“See what you made me do!” Clara screamed.

It was the final act in a marriage Clara believed at the outset was the one she had wished for her entire life. Clara wanted the “perfect” husband, the “perfect” family, as well as the “perfect” successful career. For a while she fulfilled that dream, or so it seemed.

Clara was a former beauty queen, accomplished dentist, and mother of two who worked side by side with her adored husband. Their hard work resulted in luxuries reserved for only the lucky few. Unfortunately her life scenario culminated far from the picture-perfect storybook image she had worked so hard to create, and her dream crashed to a halt.

What would make such an intelligent and accomplished woman take such a fatal turn for the worse? What made Clara Harris do what most women would never do? After all, not many women who catch their husbands having affairs end up killing them. What was in Clara Harris’s history that would transform her understandable jealousy into a murderous pathology?

* * * * *

Harris was born in Colombia. She lost her father at the young age of six and was raised by her struggling single mother. Life was difficult at best, but in adulthood, after attaining great success, Clara exclusively credited
her father
for her career as a dentist even though she had but a vague memory of him. The fact that she attributed her success to her father revealed that she had a deep longing for him as well as a deep longing to have an important male figure in her life. Not having a father left Clara prone to feeling abandoned, which ultimately made her vulnerable to committing murder under the right circumstances.

Without a male figure in her life she overly romanticized what it would be like to have one, and this engendered a narcissistic personality disorder that served as a defense against feeling worthless, abandoned, and unlovable. Clara’s major childhood loss sparked a hyperactive sensitivity and persistent fear of losing men, especially the man she ultimately chose to make her own. This preoccupation manifested itself through extreme jealousy and would create what Harris feared most: losing the person she so loved and cherished.

Clara was a beauty queen, an achievement driven by her enormous need to be loved and valued. Winning a beauty pageant is the ultimate symbol of female success, one that signifies a woman’s desirability to men. For Clara, this enabled her to hide her deep-rooted feelings of being an outsider, feelings developed over years of living without a father, a deprivation that produced an overwhelming attachment hunger for a romantic relationship. Attachment hunger is a normal need to attach or bond to another and originates from our unconscious desire to re-create the peaceful, euphoric, and omnipotent feelings we experienced as infants when we were totally dependent on our mothers. If this attachment hunger becomes overwhelming, a person can acquire the power to distort reality, which can lead to obsessive behavior in relationships, as opposed to a more normal desire for intimacy.

Clara’s statement “I found the one that God had reserved for me” underscores her highly romanticized view of love. Clara believed that her husband would make all of her dreams for happiness finally come true, that David was her “one” true love and would finally make her feel fulfilled and complete. Juxtaposed against this ideal state was a deep-seated, psychological preoccupation with the childhood loss of a loved one. Clara’s unconscious fear triggered the ill fate of her relationship with David, leaving her with only a shattered dream, which echoed the youthful loss of her father. Because of her overdependency, Clara’s love for David was filled with profound insecurity and abnormal possessiveness. Abnormally jealous lovers tend to be:

  • Always anxious when their partners are not present.
  • Worry constantly about what their partners are doing if they’re not in sight.
  • Give their partners the third degree all the time.

This type of behavior by one partner can make the other partner feel smothered or even held hostage.

* * * * *

and Clara were initially attracted to each other’s similarities. Both were bright, ambitious dental students who seemed to have the same goals in life, but as with any intimate relationship, the fantasy of sameness gave way to reality. On an unconscious level Clara hoped “if you are identical to me, then you won’t leave me.” But the truth is that a partner simply cannot be one’s identical mirror image. For a narcissistic personality who has a pathological fear of being abandoned, this reality would be too much of a disappointment to tolerate. Clara Harris viewed marriage as the ultimate source of redemption, as a means of healing all of her psychological and emotional wounds. Instead her marriage destroyed her, and her husband.

David Harris, after being caught by Clara at the hotel, was certainly not the most remorseful cheating husband in the world. He had the poor judgment to humiliate his wife further by pushing her to the floor and then walking his lover to her car, dismissing Clara’s feelings of intense pain and agony. He no longer cared about her outrageous and dramatic outbursts.

For Clara, catching David with another woman was an emotional wound just too much to bear. Old feelings of being worthless and abandoned were awakened. The only response that made sense to her was to destroy the source of the pain. If Clara were better developed emotionally and had mastered the narcissistic stage of development, she would not have seen her husband as an extension of herself. Instead, David would have represented a separate and distinct person from whom she could separate. But when David left her and chose someone else, he confirmed her deepest fears, and once again, Clara felt worthless and unloved. Her response left her husband, the one that God reserved for her, dead.

* * * * *

her trial in February 2003, Clara claimed she hit David with the car only once and that it had been an accident. The prosecution alleged that Clara had intentionally killed her cheating husband in a fit of jealousy and rage.

It’s clear that Clara Harris did not really mean to kill her husband. She loved him more than life itself, and he knew that. Without David, life for Clara felt meaningless, empty, and perhaps most of all terribly lonely. She just wanted to stop the pain. The intensity of the sorrow he caused her was just too much to bear. He knew how vulnerable she was when it came to love, and he’d promised never to hurt her or to leave her. She believed him. How could he betray her this way? The rage and pain were so intense the only way to make them go away was to strike him down. He was strong. He would survive. He always did. She was the weak one. Because of her weakness, she could never kill him. The anger and anguish took over. All she could think about was eliminating the pain. Didn’t David know that the pain was killing her?

Driving over his body gave Clara the illusion she could stop her husband from hurting and torturing her. She couldn’t reconcile her murderous, rageful feelings with a man she still loved and didn’t want to hurt. All she wanted was for things to be right, like they were in the beginning. And since she loved him, in her mind killing him was an accident, nothing more. There’s no doubt David and Clara loved each other when they first met. But unknown to David, a fiery personality such as Clara’s can be dangerous when the rose-colored glasses fade.

* * * * *

Clara Harris acted swiftly upon learning of her husband’s affair,
let her emotions simmer over several years before her actions resulted in death.

BOOK: 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse
3.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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