Loved to Death

Jim Garner wanted to murder his wife, Dana. Even from the grave, he may get his way.

In fact, he was almost too perfect. Talking to Dana, everything was "honey" this or "sweetie" that. He was a real Southern gentleman, attentive and self-sacrificing. Her girlfriends would see how he treated her and ask where they could find a man just like him.

"Go to the South," she'd say with a coy smile. "They still know how to raise their sons to be gentlemen there."

Jim hadn't gotten over his jealousy, though. He watched how Dana dressed when going out in public, making sure no skirt was too short or any neckline too low. He lectured her if she "failed to realize" when her demeanor around other men might be taken as flirting. She wasn't to go places alone if she might be in a position of attracting men.

And if she did go out without him--never anything more than a trip to the grocery store or shopping--Jim would question her when she returned. "Anybody look at you?" he'd ask innocently, holding her hands, looking into her eyes.

"No, Jim," she'd reply. If there had been such advances, she declined to notice. She was faithful to a fault.

It wasn't as if she had much of an opportunity to meet other men: Jim rarely took her anywhere socially, even though he was beginning to move in circles that kept him out later and later. "Part of the job," he'd explain. She trusted him implicitly.

When he was home, he started spending a lot of time alone. Reading. When they were first married, he was particularly interested in the Southern viewpoint on the Civil War. He read everything he could get his hands on and often told her he had been born in the wrong time.

Then he started reading about the rise of the Nazis in Germany and their subsequent attempts to exterminate European Jews. He never said anything racist or anti-Semitic. But it did seem odd that he was so intrigued by movements closely linked to massive human suffering.

On the rare occasion that he would discuss his readings with her, Jim would go on and on about the psychological aspects--for example, how thousands of concentration-camp prisoners were easily cowed by so few guards. They had simply waited in place to die. "Mind games," he'd say.

It seemed like a weird hobby to Dana. But she only started to ask questions in the third year of their marriage, when his interests shifted once again: this time to true-crime books. She began to find them lying around the house. Books about serial killers. Books about crimes of passion. Books about cold-blooded murders of women and children. And one book in particular: about how to murder your wife.

"You planning on killing me, Jim?" she said with a laugh that she didn't feel.

Instead of joking back, Jim got defensive. "You knew about my interest in forensic psychology before we got married," he said. "I'm a scientist; this is science."

Weird science. Once, after finishing a book about one of his favorite subjects, serial killer Ted Bundy, who had been a psychology student, Jim announced, "I know how to commit the perfect murder. You kill for no rhyme or reason."

Dana tried to set her concerns aside. She had to: After years of trying, she was finally pregnant.

Jim wasn't around much to share her happiness. He and a friend from real estate school had become business partners. Dana worried that the other man was a schemer and was leading Jim into some bad habits that kept escalating. For instance, Jim had been a light social drinker when they'd met. Now he was drinking heavily and staying out until all hours of the night with his partner.

Some nights he wouldn't come home at all. When Dana confronted him, he blamed it on all-night business deals and reminded her she was reaping the benefits of his hard work. She told him that she expected him home every night, but it did little good. She could only hope that fatherhood would change him.

When Dana went into labor in February 1986, Jim was the perfect husband. He was by her side in the delivery room, encouraging her through the pain, delirious with happiness when she gave birth to a son, Jon.

Jim was a good father. He doted on his son and shared in the responsibilities of feeding and bathing him, at least when he was around. But it was soon apparent to Dana that Jim thought he could live in two worlds: one at home with a dutiful wife and family; the other, drinking and carousing with his new friends. It was also clear that Dana had no choice but to make her marriage work--her mother had died shortly before Jon's first birthday, taking away her last refuge.

Outwardly, there was no sign that they were anything but a happy, upper-middle-class family. Jim got involved with Republican politics, throwing fundraisers, wowing the movers and shakers with his charm, intellect and conservative views. Some of them suggested that he apply for an ambassadorship.

The idea appealed to Jim's ego. He missed the pulpit; as an ambassador, the world would be his stage. He and Dana went to Washington, D.C., where they hobnobbed with the likes of John Sununu. Dana prayed he would get the position.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help