By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
The police found him there, still calling out for help and bleeding profusely. He passed out as they put him in the ambulance.
The doctors kept him out for days. When he came to, everything was dark. He could feel himself hooked up to a maze of tubes. His head was wrapped in bandages. Two Englewood detectives came into the room and talked to him.
"They were trying to tell me something, but they didn't want to say it," Spitz recalls. "Finally, I asked them about my mom, and they told me she didn't live. I asked them what happened, and they told me that they believed my wife did it."
Spitz took the news like a punch in the face. He turned on them with furious indignation. His wife? His Teresa? Were they crazy?
The detectives seemed sure of their facts. She'd turned herself in, they said.
He couldn't believe it. He lay there, slipping in and out of consciousness, trying to comprehend it. That, and the other impossible news that seeped into his hospital room over the next few days. They were going to do reconstructive surgery on his face, but the damage to his optic nerve and to his upper respiratory system could not be repaired. He was blind now and breathed through a tracheotomy tube.
Lying in the darkness, he replayed the events of the past few years over and over again in his mind. He'd thought his life, and particularly his relationship with Teresa, had been going so well — charmed, really. What had he missed? What was the evil he had failed to see, so monstrous that it had cost his sight and his mother's life?
Born in Michigan but raised in New Hampshire and elsewhere, Spitz had been a university brat, moving from one college town to another. His father was a political science professor, but Peter had no such leanings. He cut short his high-school education and joined the U.S. Marines. He served four years, and then, in 1983, went into the reserves as a recruiter.
Another recruiter, a drinking buddy named Harry, had married a woman who had children from a previous marriage. Spitz liked Harry's stepkids. The ten-year-old, Teresa, was quiet and obedient, bright and funny. Spitz didn't particularly like the way Harry treated her — as he saw it, Harry was a bit of a bully — but it wasn't his place to interfere.
He and Harry drifted apart. Spitz's own first marriage, which produced three children, fell apart. He became a long-haul trucker. One day in 1997, he dropped in on his old pal in Kansas. He hadn't seen the family for several years. Teresa was a completely different person from the kid he knew years ago. She was now eighteen — and gorgeous.
Spitz was 36, divorced for ten years — and lonely.
"We just clicked," he says now. "She had a great sense of humor. She was beautiful, intelligent and outgoing."
They had their first date a year later. Teresa had been out of high school for a year and was headed for community college in Wichita. Peter soon rented a duplex with her. Members of both families were scandalized, with all the usual remarks about robbing the cradle. Some people thought Peter was intent on rescuing her from callous boyfriends who used and mistreated her.
"There was a lot of opposition," Spitz admits. "People just didn't know us. I think she was looking for someone she could trust, a confidant. I had a great deal of respect for her, and I was madly in love with her — the typical crazy guy in love."
They got engaged. Teresa went to truck-driving school. They began driving together, just them and two Siamese cats and the open road. They made good money and soon had their own factory-spec truck.
His trucker pals considered him to be the luckiest slob in the world. His girl was not only young but sharp, and a real sweetheart, too — the kind of person who handed out change and bottles of water to the homeless stiffs clutching cardboard signs on sun-baked street corners. She could, his friends said, really light up a room.
They were married at the Brown Palace on August 5, 2000. "It was a picture-perfect wedding," recalls John Hunter, the best man. "They seemed to be a good fit, and Peter's mother seemed happy for them both."
The plan was to drive a few more years, but then Teresa got pregnant and Mariko Shida's health took a bad turn. It was at his wife's insistence, he says, that they moved to Englewood to take care of his mother: "They got along famously. Teresa even said, 'I love your mom more than I love my mom.'"
True, the move had its stressful side. New baby, new jobs, tight finances. But the situation had been getting better in recent months; Spitz didn't consider their short-term problems to be a big issue at all.
Yet the more he thought about it, the more he came to realize that Teresa, at least, didn't see herself the way others did. She had been an A student, a high achiever at everything she took on, but she seemed to lack confidence in herself — as a lover, a wife, a mother. He could never understand why someone so smart and attractive would have such lousy self-esteem, but she did. When he first started dating her, she seemed to be under the impression that she had to sleep with guys in order for them to like her.