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 (9 page)

BOOK: 'Till Death Do Us Part: Love, Marriage, and the Mind of the Killer Spouse
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Robert’s marriage and his career were about to end, and he decided to take matters into his hands once and for all. It was clear to him that Gail was never going to be the wife he needed her to be. She was too vituperative and rebellious. She was like a cancerous tumor in his life that needed to be surgically removed and discarded. Once this tumor was eliminated he could get on with his life. Besides, she made him do it, and furthermore she had been asking for this for a long time, with all the affairs, the complaining, the cruel and devaluing words. He had enough.

He knew from professional experience that you don’t keep toxic tumors in your body. You get rid of them. Gail had become the toxic tumor in his life, so he terminated her.

* * * * *

also knew about toxic tumors.

A Harvard-trained dermatologist, Richard was a multimillionaire, having established a chain of hair removal clinics throughout Massachusetts. His fortune allowed Richard, a Mick Jagger look-alike, and his wife Karen, to easily navigate the Boston social scene, rubbing elbows with local celebrities and power brokers.

In turn, Richard and Karen were seen as a delightful couple. Everyone knew they were teenage sweethearts who married in 1973 soon after graduating from Shelton High School in Connecticut, and after Karen gave birth to a daughter, Shannon. They moved to Boston in 1985 so Richard could attend Harvard Medical School while Karen studied nursing. By 1995 Richard had a successful dermatology practice and founded his laser hair removal company, from which he would reap millions. The couple would have two more children, Michael and Alexandra, and settle into a colonial home in the suburbs, appearing to be the perfect family.

But behind the façade was a violent trail of abuse that went back more than two decades, ending only when Richard shot and killed his wife with a hunting rifle.

It was during the subsequent investigation and intense media coverage that Richard’s friends, and the police, learned of his bizarre secrets, and of the incredible violence that overwhelmed his marriage. Richard was actually a cross-dresser who often beat his wife. After learning she had an affair in 1991, he stabbed her in the head with a fork, an incident which sent Karen to the hospital. Richard was subsequently committed to a mental facility and diagnosed as suffering from depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. Surprisingly, Karen later withdrew a police complaint and reconciled with her husband.

In actuality, the violence had begun early in their relationship, in the mid 1970s, and it escalated during the 1980s. During one car ride home following a New Year’s Eve party, Richard beat Karen to a bloody pulp; she suffered a broken nose and a concussion. The couple tried to book a room at a motel but were turned away after the clerk saw Karen’s bloodied face and clothing. On another occasion Karen alleged that her husband locked her inside their home for two days and abused her. When he took her to the hospital, he allegedly told his wife that he wanted her “to die.”

It would seem, as Richard became more successful, his violent behavior escalated (Richard had reportedly even attempted to choke their daughter Shannon). He also grew more erratic. After opening his hair removal companies he used his facilities to erase his own body hair. And in an effort to grow breasts, he prescribed hormones for himself while ingesting his wife’s birth control pills. He even wore his daughters’ underwear, claiming it “fit” better than his wife’s.

Karen never told a soul about her difficulties with her husband, not her family, friends, or neighbors. But by 2000 Karen took the children and left the home. She also obtained a restraining order against her husband of twenty-seven years. But that didn’t help her on the night of July 14, 2000. Karen spent the evening out with friends and relatives, and soon after returning to her Wenham home the doorbell rang. It was Richard. Karen angrily told him he had to leave, holding up a copy of the restraining order. Richard ignored her, stepped into the foyer holding a hunting rifle, and fired a single shot into Karen’s chest, killing her in front of her brother, a babysitter, and others. Richard ran from the home, but he was captured two days later in New Hampshire.

During his trial Richard admitted to killing his wife, but his lawyers argued that he was mentally incompetent and didn’t know what he was doing. One defense psychiatrist testified that Richard was in such a “dissociative state” and out of contact with reality he wasn’t able to function as himself. He regularly mixed numerous prescription drugs with alcohol and had suffered from various mental disorders. Richard himself claimed the evening of the murder was a “blur,” and his intentions were to get his family together again but somehow he stole a gun and shot his wife. For what, he said he didn’t know.

Prosecutors argued that Richard was far more clear-headed than he led the jury to believe, and that he killed his wife because she took $3 million from his account and was carrying on a love affair with a contractor. The jury also heard about Richard’s interest in wearing wigs and women’s clothing, including high heels and fishnet stockings.

But a defense psychiatrist said Richard’s problems began long before there was any missing money. Richard, he said, suffered major depression and intermittent explosive disorder, which meant that he was unable to control sudden impulses, such as killing a spouse. The doctor added that Richard had suffered from abuse as a child at the hands of his own father. As a toddler he allegedly witnessed a beating in which his father had struck his brother on the head with a crowbar. According to the psychiatrist, Richard would dress in his sister’s clothing in order to escape similar abuse. That sister, Lauri, was apparently his father’s favorite child, said the psychiatrist, and not subject to the same abuse. So it was Richard’s belief that if he dressed like his sister and looked like her, he’d escape the torture. The cross-dressing, said Richard, was a way to cope with the violence. With his early childhood such a mess, it would seem surprising that Richard would manage to marry at all. Yet he did, and Karen had brought normalcy to his life. Fearing the finality of losing her unglued him.

The prosecutors, of course, didn’t buy any of it. They pointed to the hunting rifle, which Richard disposed of after killing his estranged wife, and his bid to flee. In the end, despite the dark tales of mental illness and bizarre cross-dressing, and Richard’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, the jury believed Richard was sane enough the night he killed his wife and found him guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

* * * * *

Richard Sharpe was a movie character he’d be Norman Bates, the deranged cross-dressing motel owner in Alfred Hitchcock’s

Richard had multiple problems compounded by years of drug abuse that clearly contributed to his deteriorating mental state. In addition to all of his other diagnoses, which included depression, anxiety, intermittent personality disorder, and sexual paraphilias, he was also a very paranoid guy. And paranoid men with shattered egos, like Richard Sharpe, don’t do well in their relationships.

For Richard, his problems stemmed in large part from childhood abuse.

There is an accumulation of evidence to support that many spousal murderers witnessed violence in their childhood homes and/or were directly victimized by family members when they were children. Also, 40 percent of wife killers have witnessed a parent, usually a mother, being assaulted by a male partner.

According to researchers Angela Browne, Kirk Williams, and Donald Dutton, a link suggests that severe physical abuse and neglect during childhood makes a partner, particularly a male, vulnerable to using violence to resolve conflicts. Childhood abuse traumatizes a person’s inner and outer experience to the point where it is both scarring and debilitating, and Richard was abused not only physically and emotionally, but forced to witness sexual abuse, which caused some gender confusion on his part.

It is well known that many abused children become abusers themselves. In the book
Intimate Violence,
Joseph Scalia, who works with batterers, compiles some interesting insights and ideas about this topic. For example, he notes that Anna Freud, daughter of Dr. Sigmund Freud and a well-known child psychoanalyst in her own right, wonders if adults who have been abused in childhood feel a sense of joy when they batter because it frees them from their own sense of victimhood. Anna Freud says by “impersonating the aggressor, assuming his attributes or imitating his aggression, the child transforms from the person threatened to the person who makes the threat.” In other words, the person transforms himself from powerless into powerful, a major theme with abusive spouses.

Because these abusive personalities are unable to tolerate their own unpleasant emotional experiences by allowing themselves to re-experience the feeling of victimization, the batterers figuratively become their original victimizers. The abused child turns into an adult when he feels threatened and will do whatever it takes to preserve his sense of self and self-esteem. He really believes that the other person, in Dr. Sharpe’s case his spouse, is trying to destroy him (at least in the moment). He feels that he is about to explode or disintegrate and become overloaded by his own emotions, and is then uncontrollable.

Drug and alcohol abuse also plays a role in partner abuse and femicide. Research shows that such addictions increase partner abuse eightfold and also contribute to femicide and attempted femicide twofold. One study revealed that men are more violent when killing their spouse than when killing any other known or unknown victim. There is an overkill quality to these kinds of killings, reflective of their emotional elements.

In effect, given his addictions, Richard had been disintegrating in a serious way for a very long time. The sociopathic aspect of his personality would also suggest that he felt he was above everything. He was out of control on multiple levels, and the motive to control was an attempt to feel safer and more protected. Paranoia thrives on ambiguity. And paranoids imagine the very worst in any scenario when the facts are unclear. They never really feel completely sure or completely safe about anything, which is very similar to how Richard felt during his youth. As an adult, there was something about the façade of being married that protected him and made him feel normal.

Along with his power and control issues, Richard also had signs of schizotypal personality disorder. People with this disorder tend to be suspicious of others and other people’s motives. They often have unusual perceptual experiences, have virtually no close friends, and other people find their behavior or appearance to be odd.

Men like Richard are drawn to what gives them pleasure at the moment, which in his case was to be and feel like a woman.
I’ll try on a dress. I wonder what it’s like to get a period, so I’ll
try some hormones. I’m curious about what it’s like to be a woman, so I’ll grow some breasts.

He was obviously confused about his gender identity, with a blurring of the lines between him and his wife. Thus, when Karen left, the mirage of a normal life was gone and in a true break in psyche, he lost his feminine side. And because his psyche was so disturbed, he believed that his wife was not, in fact, a separate person, but a part of himself. Being with Karen gave him a façade that prevented him from disintegrating further or becoming a full-fledged paranoid schizophrenic. With Karen’s departure, however, the feminine part, his ideal, was gone too. And in order to keep that feminine side of himself, and to keep himself whole, he had to kill her. He knew there was a restraining order against him, and that he was not supposed to be anywhere near his wife on the night that he killed her. But he went regardless. He was fighting an instinctual struggle for survival. In his delusional mind, once Karen was dead, she’d stay linked with him forever.



The Sociopathic Killer

the early part of the nineteenth century, psychopathology was considered a type of “moral insanity.” One of the first clinicians, a French psychiatrist named Philippe Pinel, used the term “insanity without delirium” to describe the lack of restraint and complete remorselessness typical of sociopaths. The more common names for it today are “antisocial personality disorder” or “sociopathology.”

The sociopath knows the difference between right and wrong, he just doesn’t care about it. Instead he follows his own rules and laws. Although not all sociopaths are killers, their lack of feeling and tendency to devalue human life, along with their inclination to feel victimized and rejected, makes them much more inclined to consider murder as an option.

Sociopaths, in addition to engaging in purposeless and irrational behavior, also tend to be fearless thrill seekers. Punishment does not deter them because they are impulsive and bold in the face of consequences. They are also incapable of forming close or intimate relationships. People are just a means to an end. You’re either someone who’s useful to them or someone who’s in the way. Sociopaths also have a grossly inflated view of themselves and tend to see themselves as the center of the universe. This is one reason they feel they should live by their own rules instead of the laws of the land. The sociopath can come across as self-assured, dominating, and arrogant. But he can also be glib, charming, and ingratiating.

Perhaps most disturbing is that sociopaths cannot be successfully treated because they are incapable of opening up to others, and, more important, they don’t want to change. And what makes the sociopaths so dangerous is their amazing ability to rationalize outrageous behavior and dismiss personal responsibility for their actions.

* * * * *

, for example,

Christian appeared to be just like any other tourist enjoying the warm sun and pristine beaches of Cancún, Mexico. He snorkeled during the day, danced at night, and found the intimate company of a German woman. He was, he told her, a writer.

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