Falling Through the Cracks

Given his immediate charm, it wasn't surprising that Christopher Lance Johnson sold cars for a living.

In fact, that was how he and Betty got together. She wanted a black Mustang convertible. Chris, a good-looking, smooth-talking 21-year-old she met through a friend, found her one. The romance was soon off and running.

Betty admits she was naive about men. Twenty-five years old and a small-town girl from Oklahoma, she had been raised with Midwestern values--church on Sunday, trust people, meet a nice boy someday and settle down.

In 1994, Betty moved to Denver and met Chris. He was the sort of guy who'd pull over to help a complete stranger whose car had broken down. A guy who opened car doors and brought flowers. Particular about his own cars, he even insisted on washing and waxing her Mustang. Several times when her tires seemed to have a slow leak, he'd come over and inflate them for her. "To tell you the truth," she says, "he was the nicest guy I ever dated."

Chris stood 6-3; he told Betty he'd been a police officer in New Mexico, where he was raised. His grandfather had been a judge and his father a cop, and they'd pulled strings to get him on the force when he was only eighteen. His career in law enforcement, he said, had ended when he was shot in a gun battle. He was only wounded, but he'd had to kill two of the bad guys.

"I guess, looking back, I was pretty gullible," says Betty. "But he was such a good storyteller. He had scars where he said he was shot, and he took me to New Mexico and showed me where it happened. It all seemed to fit."

Betty wouldn't learn Chris's stories were lies until much later. By then it was already too late.

The couple dated for a year. Betty moved in with Chris, who lived in a condominium owned by his parents. Everybody liked him. Her friends. Her parents. Even her grandmother. They were all thrilled when the couple announced their engagement.

But a year later, Betty called it off.
It wasn't that he was physically abusive, but little things about him had begun to trouble her. He was big on putting her down--belittling her job, knocking her friends.

If Betty said she was going out with her friends, Chris would suddenly find something he wanted her to do with him instead. If she did go out, he'd give her the third degree when she returned.

Betty found herself increasingly isolated. "After a while, your friends stop asking," she recalls. "Then I'd catch him hitting 'redial' [on the telephone] to see who I'd called, or *69 to see who was calling me. He always said it was by accident."

Once while they were arguing, Chris went into the bedroom and got out his handgun. "My gut told me to go," Betty says. "So I left and went to stay with a girlfriend."

The next day Chris called her at work. "Where'd you go?" he asked lightly.
"You scared me with the gun," she recalls saying.
"I was just going to clean it," he said, as if exasperated. "I would never hurt you."

Betty's mind told her that he was lying, that he'd brandished the gun as a threat. But the longer he talked, the more foolish she felt. Her heart still told her that Chris would never hurt her.

After breaking off the engagement, Betty didn't move out right away. She wasn't sure she wanted to stop seeing Chris; she just needed some time to sort out her feelings and regain the independence she'd known before they started dating. She started by re-establishing her ties with her friends.

Chris seemed to take it fairly well. He'd still interrogate her when she came home after being with friends, but it seemed more out of curiosity than jealousy. Until one night when she returned from a shopping trip to the mall with her friends at 10 p.m. and he exploded.

"Where have you been?" he demanded. "Who were you with?"
Betty told him and showed the shopping bags to prove it.
"No, you weren't," he replied. "I don't believe you."

"I told him to call my friends," she remembers, "but he just said, 'My friends would lie for me, too.'"

Betty didn't want to argue. She had to get up early to go to work, so she went to bed.

The next day, a Friday, Chris called her at work. He said he was sorry. He wanted to take her out to dinner to make up for the way he'd behaved. She agreed to meet him after work.

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Steve Jackson