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Loved to Death

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

In early 1996, Jim was traveling back and forth between Denver and Tennessee, where a church had given him some work; Dana hoped he'd stay there permanently. But this, too, turned out to be ploy. He'd call her up and say he'd be away for a week, and for a little while she'd let her guard down. But then it would turn out that he'd been calling from an airport in Tennessee, where he would hop on a plane back to Denver. Instead of enjoying a few days' reprieve, she'd look out the window a few hours later and see him--or find him in her bedroom at night.

One day in March Dana noticed something blue in the bushes at the far corner of the backyard. Thinking one of the boys had left something in their hideout, she went to get it. Crawling into the brush, she recognized the blue object as one of the old blankets she kept in her garage. Next to it was a duffel bag. In it, she found Jim's passport, a murder novel and a book on church growth, cigarettes, a sweater and a box. He was camping out in her yard.

She opened the box. Inside was a strange-looking instrument. It took her a moment, but with horror she suddenly realized what it was: an 80,000-volt "Thunder Shot" stun gun. She'd seen a movie in which a killer used one to torture his victim. She took the gun, but she knew Jim would just find another weapon.

From then on, Dana wouldn't go into the yard without first turning on the automatic sprinklers to chase Jim out from any hiding place.

Later that month, Jim came over to the house drunk and threatened her. "You're my wife!" he shouted. It was obvious he expected to have sex. Dana called the police, hysterical. "He's just sitting out in front," she cried.

When an officer arrived, Jim was sitting in his Jaguar across the street. The cop took his time strolling up to the house, then told her to calm down before he went to speak with Jim.

Soon the cop and her ex-husband were laughing together. It looked like they were talking about the car rather than the situation. Even drunk, Jim was in control.

The officer made Jim leave, then came back and told Dana that he just wanted to see his kids.

As frightened as she was of Jim, Dana was just as angry at the police. She began to notice more and more women in similar situations. Every day it seemed the newspapers had another story about a woman being killed. Not by a stranger--but by a man who professed to love her and then stalked her like an animal.

O.J. Simpson was on trial for killing his wife and, according to the testimony, had stalked her and beat her, breaking into her home. He, too, had his passport when the police arrested him. Then on April 20, Debra Cameron was murdered by her husband, Duncan, a prominent Denver lawyer, in a downtown parking garage. Cameron shot himself in the head three days later when stopped by police on a California highway.

In early May, Dana finally obtained a permanent restraining order from Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless. By now there were four warrants out for Jim's arrest. Even though he appeared frequently at the house and she knew what bars he favored, it seemed the police couldn't be bothered to track him down. As far as she could tell, the cops were more interested in issuing speeding tickets than catching a criminal. They probably wouldn't take a real interest in her until she was dead.

After the restraining order was issued, co-workers convinced Dana to go out dancing to take her mind off her problems. It was the first time she had gone out since before her marriage, and she was surprised to find herself having fun.

She met a man who was obviously attracted to her, a man who mentioned that he had a gun. Dana got a crazy idea: If her new friend came by the house, Jim might confront the man. Maybe her friend would have to shoot Jim.

The man agreed to drop by the next day and to bring his gun. But Jim didn't show.

On May 17 Dana left work early to prepare for Ashley's birthday party. It also happened to be the one-year anniversary of her divorce from Jim, and she was worried about what he might do. She'd heard that stalkers often plan their acts around important dates, and she knew he also had a court date coming up on another matter. He might decide this would be his best, and maybe last, opportunity.

The night before, he'd called and left a message on her answering machine. "I'm leaving for good," he said. "You'll never have to see me again. But I wanted to talk to you one last time." He wanted her to meet him at a hotel bar. Dana didn't go.

When she got home from work, for some reason Dana broke from her usual routine and went in the back door. The kitchen telephone rang. It was a friend who asked about Dana's recent night out.

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