Longform

Loved to Death

Page 6 of 15

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."

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Steve Jackson

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