Loved to Death
It was muggy and gray and the skies threatened rain the afternoon Dana Garner was murdered.
Her eight-year-old son, Ben, was home from school ill, and she'd hurried to see him. Peering through the windshield, the wipers going just fast enough to remove the drizzle that had been hanging in the air for the past four days, she pulled into the driveway of her southeast Denver home and into the garage.
Closing the garage door, she turned to go into the house. She didn't notice her ex-husband, Jim, lurking at the side.
"Dana," he called softly. She jumped, her heart racing at the sound of his voice. For nearly two years, Jim had been stalking her--breaking into her home at all hours, searching her belongings for "evidence" that she was seeing another man, stealing her money, following her to work, camping out in the bushes in the backyard.
On several occasions he had threatened to kill her. She'd told the Denver police she thought he was sick enough to succeed if they didn't stop him. But though Jim had been arrested more than half a dozen times for domestic violence and violating a restraining order, the smooth-talking former minister had never spent more than a night in jail.
She was a hysterical woman, he'd tell the police. He just wanted to see his kids. To Dana, lately it had seemed that the officers who responded to her calls for help were more impressed by Jim's silver Jaguar and his fine manners, even when drunk, than his four outstanding warrants.
"I need to talk to you," he said, in that slow Southern drawl that had once attracted her. Dana hesitated. Jim wasn't supposed to have any contact with her or the children, but the restraining order had been about as effective as a paper umbrella; nothing seemed capable of keeping him away. At least Jim was much calmer than the last time she'd seen him, a week before when he'd stormed from the house promising revenge.
In fact, Jim had cleaned up considerably from the disheveled drunk he'd become in recent months. His hair looked like it had just been cut, and he was wearing a neat blue blazer, gray slacks and a white dress shirt open at the collar. The only evidence of his drinking were the glassy, bloodshot eyes.
Perhaps Jim was going to give her some of the child support he owed, money she desperately needed to pay the rent and feed her three kids. Dana nodded. "Okay, we can talk," she said.
As they walked into the house, Ben came down the stairs. Jim smiled, reached into his pants pocket and pulled out some change that he handed to the boy. "Go count your money," he said. "And let your mother and I talk."
Ben headed dutifully back up the stairs. Dana led the way to the dining-room table next to the sliding glass doors that led to the backyard. They sat down across from each other.
Jim was cordial, his old sweet self. He pulled out a piece of paper and a pen and said, "Write down how much I owe you for child support."
Daring to hope, Dana picked up the pen and began to tally up the months he was in arrears. Jim sat expectantly on the edge of his seat, as if waiting to drop a bombshell. Some piece of really important information that couldn't wait.
When she finished, Dana pushed the paper toward him. But Jim just sat there, quietly looking at her. It was unnerving.
"Well, Jim," she said finally, trying to smile even as fear began to rise in her throat, "you're being very quiet. You wanted to talk...?"
Instead of answering, Jim leaned back in his chair. Although Dana couldn't see below the top of the table, she could tell when he put his hand in his blazer pocket and pulled something out. She could tell when he shifted whatever it was into his other hand. She could tell when he put his hand back in his pocket and pulled something else out.
At last, looking directly into her eyes, he began to speak. "Dana, God brought us together. I was meant for you, and you were meant for me..."
He started quoting from the Bible. Dana recognized it as a passage from 1 Corinthians. "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband."
It was part of a marriage ceremony she had heard him recite dozens of times. "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does...
"A wife is not to depart from her husband..."
Next would come the vows, a reminder of her promise to "love, honor and obey."
Suddenly, Dana knew what would happen when Jim reached the end. The line that closed with "'til death do us part."
A voice in her head began yelling. He's got a gun! Move! Move! Move!
Dana jumped up. Beneath the table, Jim was loading the gun.
She ran to the front door, but it was locked. Jim was right behind her as she ran through the living room and leapt over the couch that separated it from the dining room. Dana reached the sliding glass door and pushed it open. She headed left for the gate in her fence--padlocked, she remembered too late, to keep her husband from gaining easy access to the backyard.
She turned. Jim was right behind her. He raised the gun and fired, and a bullet tore through her right forearm. Just like in the movies, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. She glanced down and saw the blood leap from her arm. She looked back at Jim. The sun, which had been hiding for days, broke through the clouds, and a ray caught the metal of the gun. It looks pretty, she thought.
She could smell the gunpowder. It smelled good. She looked up into Jim's eyes, but she didn't see him. Those red eyes belonged to a demon, glaring at her as he raised the gun to shoot again.
God help me. God help me. As she prayed, the voice in her head ordered her to move. She was running toward the bushes in the far corner as Jim fired. The bullet missed her. Dana had a crazy notion that if she could reach those bushes, he might waste all his bullets. He might not kill her.
But Jim caught her before she could get that far. He flung her to the ground, put his foot on her back. Pinned, the fight left her. She knew she was about to die. The voice spoke once more: Move your head.
Suddenly there was an enormous sound in her ears and a heavy pressure, as though a hundred-pound bag of cement had fallen on her head. She felt an intense, searing heat.
Dana closed her eyes, then opened them again. She saw Jim turn and walk away. If he looked at her, she was ready to close her eyes again, but he never looked back. Instead, he walked to the sliding glass door, went into the house and closed the door behind him.
She waited maybe thirty seconds. There was the sound of another shot. "Oh, please, God," she prayed, "don't let it be Ben."
Her head on the ground, she concentrated on the grass before her eyes, marveling at how green it was. Minutes passed, and no other sounds came from the house. Dana flashed on where she was the day Nat King Cole died, and for the first time in thirty years remembered a wish she'd made then. I guess I'll be on the radio and the television, she thought. Then she waited for the end.
Dana was five, maybe six years old and riding with her father in his '59 Ford convertible. The sun was warm on her hair as she stood next to him, her arm around his shoulders.
Dana loved her dad. He was six feet tall, with blond hair and blue eyes like hers and a winning smile that made everyone like him. He was just plain fun to be around.
As usual, her dad had the car radio on. The music stopped abruptly, and a moment later an announcer said that Nat King Cole had died. The singer was one of her father's favorites, but that wasn't why Dana paid attention. She was intrigued that someone could be so important that the radio would stop the music to announce his death to the whole world. How wonderful, she thought. I hope that when I die, they say something on the radio.
Dana wanted to ride around in that car with her father forever--and she had no reason to think those days would end. But then her parents began to argue.
At first the battles were fought with bitter words. Then objects started flying through the air, and in the final days of the marriage, her father--that gentle, loving man--struck her mother. How could you hurt someone you loved? Dana wondered. Her parents divorced when she was ten.
After that, her father didn't come around much. It was as though she and her older sister and younger brother didn't mean anything to him anymore. When he remarried and began a new life with a new family, Dana grieved. Maybe if she had been a better girl, this wouldn't have happened. Maybe it was her fault.
With her father gone, there was little money. Dana's mother moved the three children into a small apartment. For years they lived practically on top of one another. All the kids worked to help make ends meet.
In 1972, with the children pitching in, Dana's mother finally was able to buy a home in a quiet neighborhood off East Hampden Avenue. After the cramped quarters of the rented apartment, the house was a dream come true--not only because it had more space, but because it was theirs. Each tree and bush they planted, every flower box they built, every curtain they sewed, was a labor of love.
But the house couldn't protect against heartache. Two years after they moved in, eighteen-year-old Dana was asleep in the house when the telephone rang at 3 a.m. It was her stepsister. "Your father's dead," the other girl said, then hung up.
The next day Dana went to her dad's house. His new family had already gotten rid of most of his belongings; all that was left was his motorcycle and an old pair of riding gloves. She could see how her father's hands had molded the gloves. Placing her hands in them, she could almost touch him again. There was nothing else--it was almost as if her father had never existed. She took the gloves with her.
Soon after her father's death, Dana went to work for a real estate company as a secretary. By buying and selling real estate herself, she did well enough to purchase her own home and a nice car and even put a little into an investment account. But what she really wanted was what had been taken when her father left. She wanted a family. She wanted a marriage that would last forever.
So a bar may not have been the best place to meet her first husband.
It was a country-Western place, and when the band took the stage, Dana found herself staring at the best-looking Irish-Native American guitar player she'd ever seen. He reminded her of a young Clint Eastwood, in both his looks and, when he came over to chat during a break, his laid-back manner.
When she brought him home after they'd been dating a few weeks, one of her admiring aunts asked, "Where'd you find this one?"
Dana just smiled. Like her father, Gene seemed to get along with everyone--except when he drank. And he drank far too much. The drinking changed him. Friendly and likable when sober, when he was drunk he got mean and ready to fight all comers.
He never hit Dana, though, and when he sobered up, he was always apologetic. She thought she could help him outgrow his dependence on the bottle and happily agreed to marry him. She was 21, in love, and making a mistake.
They moved into another house that Dana paid for; four years later they had a daughter, Ashley. It should have been the life Dana longed for, but she could not change Gene. His drinking had gotten worse, and he started verbally abusing her for every little thing. It didn't help that he'd begun a second career painting automobiles in the garage; the booze and the fumes just combined to make him angrier.
Several times, she had to call the police to intercede in their quarrels. They hauled Gene off to jail to dry out, but he was always back the next day.
One night they were fighting again about his drinking. Gene hit her for the first and last time.
Dana took Ashley and moved back in with her mother. Gene refused to leave the house. She asked the police to get him out, but an officer said there was nothing they could do. Gene had rights, too.
Fortunately, the house was in Dana's name. So she sold it out from under him and filed for divorce. She loved Gene, but she wasn't going to subject herself or Ashley to his abuse. She went to tell him that she and his child were gone for good. She didn't want child support or alimony; she just wanted him to leave them alone.
She found Gene at the bar in Cherry Creek where he was playing. She told him what she wanted. He nodded. It was his own fault, he said, and promised not to bother her anymore.
There was just one last thing. He wanted her to know that he still loved her and was sorry for how things had turned out. As Dana started to leave, he dedicated his next song to her, a Willie Nelson ballad that brought tears to her eyes.
So many little things I should have
said and done,
but I just never took the time...
But you were always on my mind...
You were always on my mind.
Dana's divorce was final in August 1982, the same month her sister was getting married in their mother's backyard. The juxtaposition made her sad. Her own marriage--the only thing she had ever really wanted--had failed, and now she was alone with a baby daughter and no support.
Since leaving Gene, she'd been pretty much of a recluse in her mother's home, rarely venturing out. She told God that if he wanted her to meet a new man, he was going to have to insert him directly into her life. There was no chance she'd meet someone at a bar again; she'd learned that lesson with Gene.
Still, she never expected to meet the man of her dreams at her sister's wedding.
That Jim Garner was there at all was an accident: The minister who was supposed to officiate had been called out of town, and Jim was asked to stand in. He was an attractive man, nearly six feet tall, slender, with blond hair, a close-cropped beard, green eyes and a smile friendlier than any handshake. But what caught Dana was his voice. Jim was from the South and spoke with a warm, cultured accent. That voice, combined with his vocation, immediately made him seem kinder, gentler, more trustworthy than other men.
It was a traditional ceremony. Jim talked about the duties the couple had toward each other. "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
"The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does...
"A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife."
Dana barely paid attention to the words, she so enjoyed listening to Jim's voice. "To love, honor and obey...'til death do us part."
The ceremony ended. A few minutes later, Dana was in her mother's kitchen talking quietly with Jim over a cup of coffee. She found herself telling him about her divorce and subsequent self-doubts. Then he left, and she thought that would be the last she saw of him.
A week later, she was having a heart-to-heart with her mother, who was worried that Dana showed no signs of getting on with her life. Her mother suggested that getting involved with a church group might give her some direction. In fact, maybe she should go talk to that nice minister from the wedding.
The idea appealed to Dana. She called Jim, and he suggested they get together at his Presbyterian church.
When they met a few days later, Dana wound up saying far more about herself than she'd intended, telling Jim about her feelings of abandonment by her father--but she felt she could trust this man. He told her that he had a doctorate in psychology, as well as a doctorate in theology and a master's in English. The walls of his office were covered with commendations and achievements, including one honoring his work as an Air Force chaplain.
They should meet again, Jim said. Perhaps he could help her sort things out. She agreed, and then agreed to a third meeting and a fourth. And then to talking over lunch or dinner instead of at the church.
Dana was in love, and Jim felt the same way. He always seemed to know what was best for her. He was so smart--he spoke four languages and could read the Bible, which he knew forward and backward, in Hebrew and Greek. He was well-versed in politics and world affairs and could hold his own in any conversation. He seemed as solid and as far above the foibles of other men as Longs Peak.
It was only after they'd been dating several months that she learned Jim was married. As if it were of no consequence, he explained that he was "in the process of a divorce," that his wife no longer loved him and that she had left him. Dana believed him.
Perhaps that explained why Jim could be a little possessive. Sometimes, that possessiveness flared into fits of jealousy. If Dana went to the store, he wanted to know if any men had looked at her. He called often, to make sure that she was where she was supposed to be. Sometimes it felt like he was conducting an investigation rather than courting her.
"You know what men's motives with women are, don't you, Dana?" he'd ask quietly, holding her hands and standing close so that he could look into her eyes.
"Yes," she'd reply as he'd instructed. "Sexual."
"Then can you be friends with a man?"
"No," she'd answer.
"And why not?"
"Because their motives are sexual."
Dana decided the attention just showed he was infatuated and, perhaps, a little untrusting because his wife had left him. Besides, he could be so romantic...bringing her bouquets of roses if he thought he'd hurt her feelings in the slightest, buying her things out of the blue, including a Corvette shortly before they were married. She believed he'd outgrow the jealousy once he realized how loyal and faithful she was.
Jim let her know that once they married, he expected her to remain at home to take care of any children--and him. There would be no mention of the word "divorce" in their household, he said. "God intends for us to be together."
Dana had no problem with that. It was all she'd ever wanted.
They were wed in her mother's backyard on June 11, 1983. As she promised "to love, honor and obey...'til death do us part," she was sure the marriage would last forever.
Jim had a new marriage--but he'd lost his job. His ex-wife had gone to the head pastor of the Presbyterian church and told him that Jim was having an affair. The pastor and the church's four other ministers voted for Jim's removal.
Considering his ex-wife's antagonism, Dana suspected that Jim hadn't exactly given a straight story on who had left whom. But Jim wouldn't discuss his divorce. It was over, they had each other, and that was all that mattered. With his brains and education and her support at home, they'd do just fine.
And at first, it seemed that Jim was right. He went to real estate school and proved himself as good at hustling property as preaching the word of God. It wasn't long before they were living in a half-million-dollar home in Greenwood Village, complete with brand-new furniture.
Jim was generous, always buying her something--clothes, jewelry, flowers. Dana sometimes worried they were living beyond their means. But Jim told her not to worry about it. Besides, he never spent much on himself. The ex-minister just wasn't a material guy.
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.
He didn't. Back in Denver, Dana returned to her housebound life and Jim returned to his bad behavior. He rarely took her anywhere anymore. At one point, she could count on both hands the number of times in a year they went out socially, even if just for a movie. And when he did, he was jealous Jim, stepping between her and any man she might talk to, although he always did so with some gallant excuse.
In November 1987 Dana gave birth to Ben. They'd had such difficulty trying to get pregnant with Jon that this second son was a surprise. Jim again played the dutiful father and husband, but as soon as he had his wife and new baby safely back home, he was out on the town again.
Dana considered Ben a consolation for her increasingly unhappy marriage. The baby was so sweet and gentle that even his father said he thought Ben was an "old soul" who had lived before.
But life between Dana and Jim was increasingly tense. Their frustrations boiled over into screaming matches, often over the telephone, since Jim was rarely home. Now Dana accused him of seeing other women. Why else would he be gone so much at night? And why else would she find items of women's clothing in his car?
Once again, Jim told her the late nights were the price they all had to pay for their lifestyle. "I'm trying to do my best for you," he said. "I'll quit my job. Then again, you enjoy the money I bring home...What do you want, Dana?"
Jim had her. The home, the cars, the clothes and her children were all she had, and he knew it. If she threatened to leave, he laughed. She had a young daughter and two sons in diapers. "Where are you going to go?" he smirked. "If you leave me, you'll get nothing."
As it turned out, Dana got nothing but trouble. In 1991 they lost everything. Jim didn't tell her about their financial collapse right away, though. He'd always been so secretive about his business dealings, she had no idea how desperate their situation was until the creditors started calling.
Then they lost the house. The Cadillac, her Corvette.
Jim went out looking for jobs. He got some work officiating at weddings and funerals, and he performed the ceremony at Dana's brother's marriage. His silver tongue even got him a shift as an early-morning talk-show host on Denver's KNUS radio. But that lasted only a few months.
Jim soon stopped trying to find work. He stayed at home and drank, starting sometimes as soon as he got up in the morning. He'd sit for hours in the basement, staring at the walls. Or he'd read his murder books. When he talked to Dana at all, he was angry with her.
If Dana complained that he was giving up, Jim would leave the house on the pretext of looking for a job. Instead, he'd head for a bar.
With no money coming in, Dana finally stepped back and saw how far down she'd allowed herself to be pulled. Before her marriages, she'd been a self-sufficient woman with a home, a car and savings that she owed to no one else's work but her own. Now she had nothing. She realized she had to do something if she was going to take care of her kids.
So in December 1993 she went back to school to become a pharmacy technician. For once, she didn't ask Jim's permission. Maybe if there was less pressure on him to support the family, he'd be able to pull himself together.
And in fact, by January 1994 Jim was working at a part-time job. He was making a delivery for work when he was jumped by a gang and knocked to his knees. As he knelt, the gang members broke his hands and fractured his skull with a baseball bat, then robbed him.
After that, Jim was mean all the time, drunk or not. He came and went at all hours. While at home, he'd stare at the walls, read his books of death, drink until he could hardly stand.
If Dana got after him about his drinking, he reversed the criticism. "You're the one with the problem," he slurred. "You're crazy!"
They no longer fought their battles armed only with words. She threw things. He slapped her and shoved her to the ground. She thought they'd hit rock bottom, but she had no idea how deep this chasm would be.
In November 1994 Jim's mother died and left him $32,000. Dana had begged her to leave the money to the children, not to Jim. The way he was going, Dana said, they weren't going to be able to count on him for such things as college tuition.
She'd told her mother-in-law and Jim's two sisters, both registered nurses, that she thought Jim was mentally ill: manic depressive seemed to fit the wild mood swings. But his sisters said they'd washed their hands of him, and his mother left the money to him anyway.
Jim spent it, then continued looting what was left of their checking and savings accounts. Dana had been a co-signer on his failed business ventures; now she couldn't get a loan to save her life. The pharmacy school had found her a job at a local hospital where administrators and co-workers were supportive and understanding, but it didn't pay much.
Jim rarely came home except to check up on her and teach her the occasional "lesson." He'd show up to take the boys "to the movies," then disappear with them for days. Once he called from Kansas and said he was heading back home to Tennessee and taking the kids with him. It was just a ruse to punish her, but she lived in fear that he'd make good on his threats. He'd warned her not to call the police. If she did, he told her, "it'll be the worst mistake of your life."
Physically, Jim continued to deteriorate. In the three years since his business had gone bust, he'd aged fifteen. His hair was gray and his eyes were always glassy and red; he'd lost weight until his skin seemed to hang on him like hand-me-down clothes.
In early December 1994 Dana found a home to rent just a few houses down from her mother's old place. She liked the big backyard with a tree the kids could climb, and the thick tangle of bushes in the far corner where the boys were soon making paths like rabbits in a warren. She felt safer here, and she prayed her mother would watch over her and the children.
Jim had shown no interest in moving with them, but he helped Dana move in. Along with her boxes, he brought over dozens of his murder books. A friend who saw them exclaimed, "Oh, my God, Dana! He is going to kill you."
Dana didn't need her friend's warning to recognize that Jim was growing more dangerous by the day. Just how dangerous, she learned a week later.
All day at work, Dana had the feeling that something wasn't right. Finally she called home. To her surprise, Jim picked up the telephone. In the background she could hear thirteen-year-old Ashley screaming.
Dropping the phone, Dana rushed home. She arrived to find Jim drunk and sitting on the front porch. "She bumped her own head," he said. "But I'm sure you'll blame me."
Inside, Dana found her hysterical daughter. Ashley pointed to where Jim had kicked a hole in a bedroom door. Then he'd hit her and choked her and threatened to kill her. "And he said he was going to get you," she told her mother.
As if Dana needed any proof, the hole in the door and the red marks on her daughter's face and neck verified the story. When she went to call the police, Jim, who'd followed her into the house, pushed her away from the phone. But when she reached for it again, he backed off. "I'm leaving, I've had enough," he said, and stalked out.
When the police arrived, Dana filled out a complaint for a restraining order to keep her husband away from her and her children. "He is very verbally abusive. He takes the kids, including out of state, to get to me...and I don't know where he is at," she wrote.
"He tells the children and other people that I am crazy. When he gets drunk, his behavior gets worse. He reads a lot of books about murder--he is fascinated with those books in an unhealthy way. He reads books on how to plot murders and how to kill your wife.
"He is physically abusive when drunk and has worsened since his serious head injury in January 1994...I have thought he was going to kill me."
Still, she asked that the police go easy on him. "He's suffering from depression and needs medical attention," she said. "He's salvageable."
The police found Jim at the bar Dana had suggested. They arrested him for assault and took him to jail.
Jim's incarceration took care of the immediate danger, but it didn't solve Dana's other problems. She had no money for food, much less Christmas gifts for the kids, and she wouldn't be paid again until after the holiday.
Living in her nice Greenwood Village home, she'd never imagined she could sink so low. But she swallowed her pride and went to a local food bank, which gave her groceries and a bag of presents for the children. It was a sad, tearful Christmas.
Dana got her restraining order. Jim got even by filing for divorce.
He hadn't expected Dana to be so relieved, though, and quickly decided he wasn't really ready to give her up. The divorce filing was a mistake, he said. He reminded her of the Biblical passage from their wedding ceremony: "A wife is not to depart from her husband...Even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife."
However, now that Jim had taken the first step, Dana was prepared to see the divorce through. She'd already signed the papers and, with the restraining order in place, she wanted nothing more to do with him.
Jim pleaded guilty to reduced charges of "wrongs to a minor" and was given a deferred judgment. He was to attend anger-management, divorce and alcohol-treatment programs and check in regularly with a probation officer. If he complied, his record would be clear.
But Jim never met the conditions, and the court took no action concerning his failure to comply.
One night in January, Dana woke up to find Jim by her bed, taking his clothes off. He was drunk and demanded his rights as a husband.
Dana called the police. Threatening revenge, Jim fled to a nearby location, where the police found him. That time, he wasn't charged.
The divorce was final in May, but Jim refused to acknowledge it or the restraining order. "We're not divorced in the eyes of God," he told Dana. "You're still my wife!"
Jim warned her that dating other men would constitute adultery. And though she insisted she'd been faithful throughout their marriage and still wasn't seeing anyone, he accused her of sleeping around. As punishment, he used his visitations with the kids to get even. He wouldn't bring the boys back when he was supposed to, and sometimes he would keep them for days.
Dana was afraid if she complained to authorities, she wouldn't get what little child support Jim was paying. And she needed every penny she could get. She had to be "a good little girl," Jim told her, or he wouldn't give her anything. It was blackmail, but that wasn't his only crime.
He'd search the boys' backpacks and take their keys, then come into the house through the door. Or he'd just break in through a window. Often he'd take whatever money he could find, but sometimes he'd just go through her address book and other belongings. He coerced Jon into giving him Dana's voicemail code, then called the numbers of any men who'd left messages.
Dana started contacting different social service agencies, looking for aid. But either they were either out of funds, or they said she made too much money to qualify. She needed to get Jim to pay child support, but she was only given a handbook on how to handle it herself. She needed psychological counseling, but she had to be on welfare to get free help. And yet all that kept her above the poverty line was a few hundred dollars and her own determination to keep her job, her home and what little self-esteem she had left.
Fortunately, the church she'd joined was supportive, and an attorney who was a member of the congregation got to work calling off Jim's creditors who'd garnisheed Dana's wages. He also went to every courthouse in the area to find out the extent of Jim's business failings. It was far worse than Dana had thought.
In the meantime, Jim's behavior was getting more and more bizarre. Sometimes she'd find him sleeping in her basement, or she'd go out to her car and find him lying next to it. Or he'd follow her to work. Or he'd turn up at the local park when she was there with the children. Or he'd sit across the street, watching the house. It got so bad that her neighbors began reporting him.
In 1995 the Denver police arrested Jim seven times for violating the restraining order, domestic violence, harassment and disturbing the peace. He was also arrested in Arapahoe County on unrelated charges of obstructing justice, evidence-tampering and forgery--a legacy of his real estate business.
Dana didn't call the cops every time Jim showed up. He said he'd kill her if she called them, and sometimes she was just too scared to defy him. And then there was how the cops made her feel when she did call. She thought they treated her like she was a hysterical child, ordering her to sit down, calm down and fill out a report before they'd go any further.
Some officers tried to explain that they simply couldn't chase down every husband or boyfriend who violated a restraining order. Jim made it particularly tough, because he had no known address. The best Dana could do was give them the names of the bars he frequented and the address of the alcoholic buddy who'd loaned Jim the silver Jaguar.
Dana told one cop that Jim was stalking her like a predator hunts its prey. "He's just waiting for the right moment," she said. When the officer tried to calm her, she replied, "You don't know who you're dealing with. He's smarter than your entire department put together."
Even when they found him parked in front of her house late at night, the cops didn't always arrest him. "He just wants to see his kids," one explained. And when she complained that he had followed her to the park, she was told that he had a right to be on public property.
When the cops did arrest him, Jim was charged with such misdemeanors as violating a restraining order or harassment--never burglary or theft or stalking, something that might put him safely in jail for a long time.
By the end of 1995, Dana knew that she was going to die. The police weren't taking Jim's threats seriously enough. There wasn't enough manpower, they told her. There wasn't enough time.
There's not enough of anything to save my life, she thought.
She felt the end coming with the inexorable power of a speeding train.
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.
Dana mentioned the man she'd met. "I had a great time," she said, as she looked up and into a mirror hanging in the dining room. Her throat went dry. She could see Jim in the mirror, standing by the stairs. He had something small and dark in his hand.
"Oh, my God," she screamed to her friend. "Jim's here. Call 911."
Jim came flying at her. "You filthy bitch! You slut! You were seeing other men all the time!"
Dana kept screaming as she dialed 911. Jim ran out the door.
With the police on their way, Dana realized Jim had been standing near a closet where she'd hidden a $1,000 money order and nearly $600 in cash that she'd gotten by selling some of her furniture. It was all she had to pay the rent, make her car payment and buy groceries. The closet door was now open.
And the money was gone. When the police arrived, Dana begged them to find her husband before he could spend it. She begged so loudly that her neighbors heard it. "There are four warrants out for his arrest," she said. "Please go get him."
"Just calm down, young lady," an officer told her. He said it was up to him how to pursue the matter, and she would first have to fill out a report. Dana demanded to see his sergeant. The sergeant arrived and told her to fill out the report. "Victim is fearful for her children and herself," the officer noted by her written account. Frightened and angry, Dana forgot to write anything about the missing money.
Forty-five minutes after the police first arrived, the sergeant finally sent officers to check the bar Dana had suggested. Jim had been there, all right, and had even had time to down four drinks. But he was gone.
The police now had no idea where Jim was. They escorted Dana and her children to her lawyer's house, where the family spent the night. But Dana knew she couldn't stay there. And a safehouse didn't seem the answer, either: She wasn't going to walk away from the life she'd struggled to make for herself and her children.
Two days later, Dana got her first call from a Denver police detective, a woman. Dana told her about the stun gun, the passport and the stolen money. It was obvious the detective didn't believe her story about the money, since she noted Dana hadn't mentioned it on her report.
"Did he say he was going to kill you?" the detective asked.
"Not this time," Dana had to concede. "He ran away. But he has before."
The detective said they would file a trespassing charge.
Dana couldn't believe it. Trespassing? When he had broken into her house and taken her money? When there was a restraining order?
"Sorry," the detective replied. "He didn't say he was going to kill you. And you didn't actually see him take the money."
Dana was irate. There were four warrants out for his arrest, for Christ's sake. What else did the cops need? The detective, who later wrote that she had been "unable to calm the victim," hung up on Dana.
Using her caller-identification system, Dana called the detective back. All she got was an answering machine. "Victims don't need to be treated this way," she said. "You'll be hearing from my lawyer."
The next day, a fifth warrant was issued for Jim's arrest. But Dana knew she was on her own.
A week later, Ben woke up feeling sick. Dana left him at home--she figured he'd be okay, because Jim had never threatened to harm his sons--while she drove Ashley and Jon to school. On the way, she talked about how she wanted them to grow up.
"I want you all to go to college," she said. "Stick together--no one is to be excluded. Try to live righteous lives. And I want you to know that you are the most loved children in the world."
As she dropped Jon off, he turned to her. "I wish Daddy would leave us alone," he said. Dana nodded and drove off so he wouldn't see her cry.
Dana then stopped by the hospital, to say goodbye to a co-worker who was leaving. The O.J. trial was the talk of the party; she tried to make light of it. "I think Jim is going to O.J. me," she said. But no one who knew her situation saw much humor in that.
Then she went home to Ben--and found Jim waiting for her.
Dana always refers to May 25, 1996, as the day she was murdered. But she did not die.
After Jim shot her, she lay still in the grass--for how many minutes, she didn't know. Her mouth tasted funny. She moved her hand and placed a finger to her lips. No blood. She touched her nose and then her ears. No blood. She placed her hand on the back of her neck. It came back warm and red.
I'm sorry, Dana, she told herself. You did everything you could. The police should have stopped Jim.
But what about Ben? She'd heard that other shot. Had Jim killed Ben? Would he be back to finish her off?
She willed herself to her feet. Unsure of where Jim might be, she went to the fence.
Matt Smith, a painter who was working across the street, ran over. "I'll save you," he yelled, and went to the house next door, where he asked a woman for a gun. She wouldn't give him one.
Dana was sure she was bleeding to death. She went to the door at the back of her garage and opened it. Smith stood there. He helped her across the street to the house he'd been painting. She laid down.
The first police officer to arrive was the one who'd admired Jim's Jaguar a month earlier. One of several who had told her to calm down, that Jim just wanted to see his kids. "Oh, it's you," he said when he saw Dana.
"I told you he was going to kill me," Dana spat back. "You should have protected me."
Within a few minutes, a Denver SWAT team had surrounded her house.
The police saw Ben looking out of the living-room window. After nearly ninety minutes, they coaxed him out of the house. He'd spent all that time alone with his dead father.
Jim had gone back inside after shooting Dana, sat down at the dining-room table, put the gun to his head and fired. The .38-caliber bullet had passed right through his skull, and he lay in a puddle of blood beneath the table.
Dana was taken to Denver General Hospital. When she arrived, the television cameras were already there, covering the latest stalking assault.
She was convinced she was dying. How could she be shot in the back of the head and not die? But X-rays revealed that the bullet had stopped just short of doing any real damage. It rested in her neck muscle against the vertebrae and a major artery to her brain.
None of the surgeons could explain why the bullet hadn't killed her. At that range, a .38-caliber could have passed through a tree. And the next round had gone through her ex-husband's skull with no problem.
Perhaps the bullet hadn't received the proper charge at the factory. Maybe she had tensed her neck muscles at just the right moment in just the right way. Dana preferred one surgeon's explanation.
"It was a God thing," he said.
In the hospital, Dana finally was interviewed in person by a Denver detective. "You hit the jackpot," the detective said. "Ben's alive and Jim's dead." To him, the case was closed.
For Dana, the shooting had blown it wide open. Neighbors came forward to say they knew she feared her husband and that he was stalking her. Smith had heard her chew out the officer for not believing the threat was real.
Denver police spokesman John Wyckoff defends his department's actions in the Garner case. "There is nothing we could have done differently," he says. "Just because there's an arrest warrant out on some guy doesn't mean we can find him."
In this case, he says, officers were watching Dana's house and the house of Jim's friends, and they had gone to the bars that Dana indicated. "Unfortunately, he got to her before we could get to him."
Wyckoff suggests that Dana's anger is misdirected. The police don't have enough officers to stick with every potential victim 24 hours a day. But the real problems, he says, begin when a perpetrator is arrested and allowed back on the streets within a few hours.
"I think maybe she ought to be asking her questions of somebody else," he says of Dana. "Why was he constantly back out on the streets? The DAs give the old excuse: They never question the decision of the jury. The judges give the old excuse: They did everything they could.
"We can't be all things to all people, but we're the easy targets."
According to Detective David Schultz with the Denver Domestic Violence Unit, stalkers often are hard to control because they have no respect for court orders. "Some do get scared off by police action," he says. "Or some get in the system or see a therapist...But with others, there's a mental-illness component, and nothing matters to them except their obsession."
In 1996 there were 64 domestic-violence-related deaths in Colorado. Four involved children; almost all involved stalking. That same year, the state's women's crisis centers received more than 150,000 calls for help. According to Laine Gibbes, director of the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, many of the calls came from women being stalked.
"It's one of our keys to lethality," Gibbes says. "The obsession leads to a very strong correlation to lethality."
Under the Colorado "stalker law" passed three years ago by the legislature, a person commits harassment by stalking if he directly or indirectly makes a credible threat against a person and in connection with that threat repeatedly follows the person or a member of that person's family. A credible threat is defined as something that would cause a reasonable person to be in fear for his life or safety.
A first offense under the stalking law is a Class 6 felony punishable by up to eighteen months in prison. A second or subsequent offense within seven years is a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to three years.
Last August, Dana Garner's lawyer notified the city of her intent to sue the department for a million dollars, claiming the police acted negligently and improperly. "Ms. Garner repeatedly asked, begged, demanded or pled with various police officers to arrest Mr. Garner, and in doing so provided the officer with a location where Mr. Garner could be found," attorney Jay Freeman claimed.
"Each time, the officer either refused or failed to go and arrest and incarcerate Mr. Garner. Indeed, and in response to Ms. Garner's request that an arrest be made, the officers were rude, demeaning, and insulting.
"Each time, the officers were made aware that a restraining order had been issued, and that Mr. Garner was violent in nature."
The female detective who interviewed Dana over the telephone knew of the weapon and the passport, "a classic sign of an explosive situation," Freeman noted. "However, and yet again, rather than go and arrest Mr. Garner, an easy option, the detective simply sought another arrest warrant--and not for theft or stalking, but for...trespass."
Although Dana admits she could use the money, she says it's more important that the department change its ways--or at least follow its own policies. She wants officers to listen, really listen, to a woman's story. Grimly, she points out that the money order she'd reported stolen, a report the Denver police discounted, was cashed by Jim's brother-in-law in Tennessee--in exchange for the gun Jim used to shoot her.
If Dana does follow through with her suit, it will be an uphill battle. Government employees in Colorado, including police officers, are protected by strong immunity statutes. Another legal firm that Dana had contacted declined to take the case, noting that she would have to prove the officers' conduct was "willful, malicious, or intended to cause harm.
"We know you think that changes need to be made," the attorneys wrote, "and we agree with you, but it is our opinion that trying to change the law, in this case, through the legislature is a better option. This would also allow you to avoid the emotional heartache and public access to your personal life, in a case that would probably be unsuccessful anyway."
Even police spokesman Wyckoff suggests that Dana ought to take a hint from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "They got sick and tired of seeing guys getting off with three and four DUIs," he says. "So they started putting the heat on the judges by showing up at sentencing."
Dana hasn't given up on finding an attorney willing to take on the police. But in the meantime, she's actively helping women to help themselves. She's joined with security consultant Mike Newell, a former Denver cop and an expert in "stalker suppression," to form the nonprofit Crisis Action Network, doing business as Stalking Rescue.
Newell's practice is to stalk the stalker, monitoring his activity and building a case to get him into the justice system before he strikes.
Like most dangerous stalkers, Jim Garner gave plenty of warning, Newell says. "He repeatedly violated restraining orders, meaning he felt omnipotent and above the law," he notes. "He followed her to work. He was constantly checking with friends, associates and family members to track her lifestyle. He threatened her verbally on numerous occasions.
"Hell, for years he read books on how to murder people. He lived vicariously through the killers he met in those books until he decided to act himself."
The police lack the manpower, especially when it comes to followup, to deal with stalkers adequately. "You need someone who can see the pattern over time," Newell explains. "This is not just a trespass or a burglary or a phone harassment. It's a pattern of escalating criminal activity. Right now, with the antiquated justice system, there's not much in the way of consequences for the stalker, which is giving these predators tacit approval to escalate what they are doing."
According to Newell, there's only one "cure" for stalkers: isolation. "Get them away from the local bar and their good buddies who tell them that they're right," he says. "Give them time to see that their behavior is wrong. Most of these guys, I believe, are changeable. They don't start off wanting to hurt or kill the ones they love--it just escalates."
And if authorities don't help the victims, victims have to help themselves. The Crisis Action Network, with Dana Garner as its executive director, plans to show how they can. "We want to provide, at little or no cost, training for victims of predator abuse," says Newell. "That includes case management and development--including how to communicate with police, district attorneys and judges, optimum use of the justice system, self-awareness, personal protection/self-defense and emotional recovery."
But the network will step in only after a victim requests a temporary restraining order. "They have to take that first step," says Newell. "Until they make that commitment to themselves, we're unable to help."
Dana had taken that step--but after that she found little support. "Here was a middle-class woman working to make ends meet and raise her children," Newell says. "She exemplifies the sort of heroines who face this kind of abuse daily in America. She fought back against the predator, contended with an antiquated criminal-justice system that could not protect her, and still raised her children with values and morals, put dinner on the table and didn't miss her kids' baseball games.
"What these women put up with is absolute terrorism. It's miraculous they hold it together."
Dana Garner feels like she's barely holding it together. Out of the blue, she'll ask a new acquaintance, "Are you going to hurt me?" Strangers are never to be trusted. When an armed security guard got in the elevator with her at the hospital where she works, she almost lost control. She can't watch violent movies--even chase scenes in Star Wars send her running.
Shadows and reflections make her jump. She can't go into her backyard without becoming physically ill. Even looking out her kitchen window at the place "where he killed me" nauseates her.
When she tries to sleep, she's haunted by nightmares of Jim chasing her with a gun. But she can't go downstairs to make a cup of tea--that would mean going to the room where his blood still covered the carpet when she came home from the hospital.
She would like to move, but she's ruined financially. The only places she could afford are in high-crime areas, and she won't subject her children, all of whom are in therapy, to that.
Sometimes it is only the kids who keep her going. The kids, and the abused and battered women who seek her out. She tells them not to count on the police for protection. "It's an illusion," she says. "They won't be there when you need them."
Dana lives with this knowledge. She may die with it.
For weeks after the shooting, pain from her wounds burned like a poker. Her anger toward the police still burns. It lies just beneath the surface, like that thing that lies beneath her skin.
Even though Jim Garner has been in the grave nearly a year, he is still stalking her. Several surgeons have told Dana it is too risky to remove the bullet that still rests at the base of her skull. The best she can hope for is that scar tissue will envelop the bullet and hold it in place. But a blow to the back of the head, even one wrong movement, could propel the bullet up against the artery, causing a stroke that could kill her.
He may have murdered her after all.
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