Longform

Loved to Death

Page 7 of 15

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.

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Steve Jackson

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