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 (6 page)

BOOK: 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse
11.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

This diagnosis tends to affect 2–3 percent of the general population and is three times more likely to be found in women than in men. People with this diagnosis tend to become seriously self-destructive and ill in reaction to fears of abandonment. When frustrated they show rage and can become extremely devaluing. People diagnosed with this disorder tend to come from dysfunctional families, with erratic and often depressed mothers and fathers who are absent and/or have major character problems.

It’s clear that on some level Dan sensed Betty’s disturbance. It’s also clear that at one point Betty fueled Dan’s dependency needs, but later he felt smothered by her and overwhelmed by the feeling that something was lacking. Their breakup was actually years in the making, with Dan justifying, in his mind, reasons for staying with Betty: It would kill her if he left; It’s not really that bad; It’s going to change; It’ll get better; fear of the unknown; even a precognition of how off balance she was. But once Dan met someone else who gave him the feelings he wanted to have and longed for, it became impossible for him to stay married to Betty.

The termination of this and most other relationships produces an overload of emotional stress which is often accompanied by a multitude of powerful feelings such as diminished self-esteem and self-worth, humiliation, depression, anger, and hurt. After repeated rejection and a fear that the former love relationship cannot be restored, the ditched lover seeks retribution and then may threaten to harm the former partner.

Of all of the types of stalkers/pursuers, the obsessed estranged lover, for the most part, is the most dangerous, often displaying a propensity for violence. These kinds of personalities, much like Betty Broderick, experience a sense of fusion with their lover along with a sense of urgency. They are overwhelmingly anxious about reciprocity. They tend to idealize their lover and feel insecure outside of the relationship. They experience extremes of happiness and sadness and often have impaired reality testing in the relationship. In a way, they are relationally incompetent. Their behavior is a maladaptive response to loneliness, social isolation, and social incompetence.

What makes them different from other people is their level of aggression and pathological narcissism. The chronic rejection challenges their idea about themselves that they are special, admired, superior, and in some way destined to be with the object of their pursuit. Betty Broderick’s identity and self-esteem were dependent on her husband being married to her, and on her being a mother and being the wife of a prominent, successful, and desirable man. As long as Betty was married to Dan, she could dismiss her feelings of inferiority and lack of feeling like a whole person.

Feelings of grandiosity and pride trigger feelings of humiliation and shame that are defended against with rage, and the rage helps to stop the intolerable feelings of hurt. The intense anger is an attempt to fend off feelings of sadness because of the obsessive lover/stalker’s inability to fend off feelings of loss and grief. Despite the various psychological deficits found in these people, they are often very motivated in their pursuit. These obsessed stalkers tend to be more educated and intelligent than comparison groups of stalkers. They also tend to be very manipulative and resourceful. Sometimes love-obsessed stalkers want to inflict terror and revenge, but most of the time they are unaware of the distress they are causing to the victims of their pursuit.

Betty Broderick didn’t believe that she was having any impact on her former spouse at all, which is why she escalated the intensity of her actions. In her mind, Dan was going to listen to her, no matter what.

Pursuers such as Betty tend to be very egocentric, and more absorbed in their own thoughts and feelings than in the feelings of the one from whom they are seeking attention. They also tend to rationalize their behavior. Betty no doubt told herself that if Dan had not abandoned her, then she would not have had to try to reason with him in this unconventional and inconvenient way. If he would only admit how important she was to him and how important their love was, she would stop her behavior.

Dan could not and would not give his wife that validation, and as a result he paid with his life. According to an interview I had with Dr. Miriam Ehrenberg, adjunct professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, it is a huge narcissistic injury when a woman provides services for a man and invests herself in her husband’s success but then is dismissed and unrecognized for what she did and how her support contributed to her husband’s success. When such a woman is rejected, it leads to a feeling of being undervalued, used, and/or in some cases even imprisoned. It’s a stark denial and a cold dismissal of what the woman has offered to the marital relationship.

Ehrenberg added that when husbands offer wives a materialistic accoutrement, at least that is something they can point to and say, “Look what I gave you, a mink coat, a diamond ring,” and so on. It is this imbalance of power, Ehrenberg believes, that in some cases makes certain couples vulnerable to spousal homicide. The result is that the stalker’s actions (at least in her own mind) can often be justified in the name of love. She feels that her honorable intentions justify her extreme actions. Such stalkers are also guided by a cultural script that promotes the idea that persistence encourages romantic success.

Love is believed to be one of the most important and exciting experiences a person can have in life. On the other hand, to be rejected by someone after you let him know over and over again who you are and how much you love him is particularly devastating to a person’s self-esteem. It’s as if the rejecter is saying, “Now that I really know you, I’m no longer interested in you.”

Sometimes rejecters feel guilty for their lack of desire and inability to return the other person’s loving feelings and affections. Unrequited love leads to a feeling of low self-esteem, and the need to protect one’s self-esteem is basic and powerful. The rejected can feel inferior, unattractive, and unlovable. The later in the relationship the rejection comes, the more intense and powerful the humiliating message is. For Betty, this message was “You’re old and not deserving of someone as attractive, wealthy, and successful as I am. You were fine on the way up, but now I can do better, so I will.”

This is a particularly harsh message in a society that does not seem to value women as they age. Older women commonly fear being replaced by a younger model, a model perhaps capable of bearing children. Older, successful men may want to advertise their success by acquiring a young and glamorous wife. It’s a signal that they have arrived and are doing well in the world.

Once Dan Broderick chose another woman to love, there was nothing else he could do for Betty other than die. Betty Broderick was going to make her husband keep at least one promise he made to her, a promise he made long ago when they stood before God. That was the promise of “till death do us part.”

Betty loved him to death. He was hers whether he knew it or not. If he could not keep his promise in life she would have to help him keep it in death. Apparently the only way to make him keep his promise to be loyal to her was to kill him. Only then could she agree to move on. But even so, she was totally unprepared to live life without her husband.

With nothing to do now but think about her actions, I do think that Betty may well be far more intact and happier now, knowing that Dan is out of her life. Gone are her feelings of rejection. If she couldn’t have a positive relationship with her husband, she needed to have a negative relationship with him.

On a final note, it’s also interesting that Betty killed both Dan and Linda in their bedroom. In the unconscious the bedroom symbolizes sex and sexuality; in their case being in the bedroom could have led to Dan and Linda having children together, which would serve to devalue the one thing Betty felt she did so well, giving Dan beautiful children.

Dan’s murder was a crime of passion, motivated by feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Betty couldn’t believe, after all these years, that Dan wouldn’t come home. Betty’s version of reality was more powerful than the real reality. Dan was hers, only nobody but Betty seemed to know it. Now he would be linked with her forever.



The Control Killer

killers are men and women who micromanage and monitor every action of their spouse or significant other, demanding to know the other’s whereabouts at all times, who he or she talks to, socializes with, even what the other is wearing. They adopt this pattern of behavior because
feel so out of control. Sometimes the final act in such relationships is one of violence.

The victims of this type of homicide are married to or involved with long-term abusers, often male, and suffer severe and frequent abuse before they become victims of the ultimate abuse, murder. Many of these victims were often isolated and imprisoned in their own homes, psychologically abused, and made to feel worthless and unlovable, brainwashed to believe that she was to blame for her own victimization. That same victim, in part due to denial, believes at first that she can fix the unhealthy relationship. But that is not the case, as the abusive partner ultimately turned murderer projects feelings of self-hate and worthlessness onto his partner. And as long as the abuser maintains his violent status it is assured that he will never become the abused or victimized one. By maintaining the belief that his partner is damaged, he doesn’t have to face up to his own personal feelings of failure or inadequacy.

These controlling behaviors are a defense against feeling vulnerable and out of control, which is the opposite of what they pretend to be. It’s a very “all or nothing” or “black or white” type of thinking
(“If you’re worthless, then I’m not”).
The abuse escalates to murder when the abuser is reminded of his “worthlessness” and becomes pathologically or even delusionally jealous about his partner leaving for another lover or having an affair with someone else.

When the abused spouse finally decides to leave the relationship, the abandonment is the ultimate confrontation and reminder that the abuser is not in control of his life at all and he takes back his control by making himself right:
“You will never leave me!”

* * * * *

was the case of
of Tacoma, Washington.

David was Tacoma’s chief of police while his wife Crystal was a stay-at-home mom, caring for the couple’s two young children, Haley, eight, and David Jr., five, and supporting her busy, important husband.

David, forty-four, was a role model for the entire city. The son of a police officer, David rose through the ranks, from patrolman to sergeant to his appointment as the city’s top cop. When he became chief of police in 2002, Crystal proudly stood by his side.

Despite the public perception of their marital bliss, all was not well with the Brames.

A year after David’s promotion, Crystal filed for divorce, claiming her husband of eleven years was an obsessive, controlling presence in her life. Included among Crystal’s allegations were that David refused to let her use their credit cards without permission; that he continually checked the car odometer, even after her trips to the grocery store; and that he had threatened her life. Crystal also alleged that her husband had a “ferocious temper,” was emotionally unstable, and that on four occasions in 2002 he had tried to choke her, only to send her flowers afterward with a “heartfelt” apology. Crystal also claimed that David brandished his gun at her, a reminder that he was in control, and that he demanded changes in their sex life, particularly that he wanted to engage other partners in threesomes.

David responded with his own petition, alleging that Crystal scratched and bruised him during several fights in the mid-1990s.

Crystal’s allegations, especially the troubling charges of domestic violence, were published in a local paper. Publicly humiliated, David was pressured by the local media and various city officials to resign. For David, giving up his badge and gun was tantamount to giving up one of his limbs, or worse, his life.

On April 26, 2003, two cars converged in a parking lot in Gig Harbor, an upscale suburban community. In one car was Crystal, in the other was David, who was accompanied by the couple’s two children. Just minutes earlier Crystal was driving through town talking to her mother on her cell phone when she spotted David, who was driving with the children in his red Toyota. Crystal followed David into a parking lot. After spotting his wife, David left the children in his car, telling them he wanted to talk to their mother. Witnesses heard loud arguing followed by two gunshots. Crystal fell to the pavement, seriously wounded. David was slumped in the car. He had turned the gun on himself and was barely breathing. David died two hours later from the single shot to his head while Crystal hung on another week before succumbing to her head wound.

The murder/suicide shocked the city, and the nation: a police chief, in the prime of his career, committing an unspeakable crime. But as the months went by, more details emerged about the Brames’ troubled marriage, David’s violent history, and of disturbing signs David displayed which had been ignored.

* * * * *

Brame was born and raised in Tacoma. He was athletic, playing baseball and basketball at Lincoln High School, where he was a member of the school’s 1975 championship basketball team.

He graduated from college in 1980 with a degree in public administration and applied for a job with the Tacoma police department, which was to be expected since his father, older brother, and a cousin were all cops. But during the application process David failed one psychological test and marginally passed another. One psychologist described David as “defensive” and “deceptive.” Another called David “somewhat apathetic, depressed, and emotionally over-controlled with self doubts.” Despite their concerns, David was hired and joined the police department. During his career David was well liked, and his superiors commended him for his apparent good judgment and ability to deal with diverse community issues. He also began to accumulate commendations for street arrests. To those who knew him, he was, in the words of one friend, “a class act.”

BOOK: 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse
11.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Frozen Tracks by Ake Edwardson
Monsoon Memories by Renita D'Silva
Descendant by Lesley Livingston
City of Night by John Rechy
Deeds of Men by Brennan, Marie