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Authors: Mary Papenfuss

Killer Dads

Published 2013 by Prometheus Books

Killer Dads: The Twisted Drives That Compel Fathers to Murder Their Own Kids
. Copyright © 2013 by Mary Papenfuss. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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Cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Papenfuss, Mary.

Killer dads : the twisted drives that compel fathers to murder their own kids / by Mary Papenfuss.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-1-61614-743-3 (pbk.)

ISBN 978-1-61614-744-0 (ebook)

1. Filicide—United States. 2. Children—Crimes against—United States. 3. Murder—United States. I. Title.

HV6542.P365 2013

364.152'3—dc23

2013007165

Printed in the United States of America

 

 

 

This book is dedicated to Clare, Susan, Charlie and Braden,
Laci and Conner, Betty, Stephanie and Catherine, and Jessica

 

 

. . . and to Roland, Leda, and Luke, who keep me warm through the sad times.

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Chapter 1. Rage

Chapter 2. James Tells His Story

Chapter 3. Mug's Game

Chapter 4. Homo Saps

Chapter 5. Possession

Chapter 6. Devastation

Chapter 7. Death by the Numbers

Chapter 8. Trail of Tears

Chapter 9. Control Freak

Chapter 10. What Susan Knew

Chapter 11. Gone

Chapter 12. This Modern Life

Chapter 13. Masked

Chapter 14. Clash

Chapter 15. Infidel

Chapter 16. What to Do

Notes

Bibliography

Index

It's difficult to approach people and ask them to share the biggest tragedy of their lives with a complete stranger. It's far harder to agree to do it. I'm tremendously grateful to family, friends, and acquaintances whose lives have been rocked by the killing of a child. This book would not exist without their steadfast loyalty to the memory of their dead, and the strength and courage to revisit a heart-wrenching horror to try to make some sense of it. Chuck and Judy Cox, Wendy Wasinski, Julieanne Malley, Marianne Quinn, Lucille Messina, James, Kayla Chuba, and Kaija Hartiala not only shared painful, detailed information but gave me a small glimpse into the profound, shattering impact of such horrific crimes on the people left behind. Bruce Montague helped tremendously by providing details about Bill Parente's Ponzi scheme to help Parente's financial victims, but also to aid an effort to attempt to understand a tragedy that deeply affected him. Jonathan Bachrach, Joanne Schulter, and Susan Deluca offered intriguing insights into the Parente family. Melissa Garret of the Baltimore County Police Department was particularly helpful with information in the Parente murder-suicide. I also thank the many investigators, big gruff guys whose hearts ache for child victims, who dodged official channels to talk to me and slip me information on several cases. I apologize for any oversights or mistakes. I hope in some small way this book pays tribute to family and friends' willingness to share their pain, and to the memory of Clare Shelswell; Betty, Stephanie, and Catherine Parente; Susan, Charlie, and Braden Powell; Laci and Conner Peterson; and Jessica Mokdad, as well as all the other victims who died with far less notice or concern.

I'm also indebted to the research and perspectives of the scientists and activists who grapple with the issue of violence and child deaths at the hands of their parents. Work by Sarah Hrdy, Martin Daly (with Margo Wilson),
Richard Gelles, and Neil Websdale offered fascinating platforms from which to view violence against children, and I appreciate their patience walking me through the issues and their insights. Thanks, too, to Michael Petit of the Every Child Matters Education Fund, and Amanda Parker of the AHA Foundation for their help and information, and for fighting the good fight.

Mark Mooney, now at ABC, was the
New York Daily News
national editor who assigned me to cover the Scott Peterson trial in California, which is where the idea for this book was born. As painful as that story was to cover, I'll be forever grateful for that assignment. I was fueled throughout my endeavor by a supportive gang of pals and current and former colleagues willing to listen endlessly to my expositions on the problem of parents who kill their children and encourage me to keep churning through the work. It meant the world to me. You know who you are: Hannah, Mike, Elaine, Shaila and Madhav, Kipp, Patricia, Anna and Marcel, Adriana and Pablo, Livia, Linda H., Marilyn, Denise, Lisa and Lisa, Corinne, Deb and James, and even Lis, who said she'd have to read the book with her eyes closed.

Finally, I'm blessed with a family endlessly intrigued with my unusual interests. Leda kept me on my toes, Luke turned out to be a footnote meister, and Roland fortified me. This book is as much yours as mine, Rol.

The kids are frozen in time: The boy with the impossibly wide grin, the shy student, the little one, the clown, the girl with the pink bow in her hair, the girl with pigtails. They crowd together in their first-grade class photo. All but one are dead now, cut down by a semi-automatic rifle fired by suicidal gunman Adam Lanza in their classroom in Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. As I finish writing this book, we're still in the midst of the long, sad march of Connecticut funerals. One mom has talked of the “hole in her heart.” A father said he hoped the death of his adventurous, creative girl with the infectious laugh would inspire us to be better, more compassionate, people.

I've been steeped in stories of horrific murders for a year. I've become friends with a killer; I've spent the night in a hotel room where a man described by a chum as “straight as an arrow” bludgeoned and suffocated his family before cutting his own throat; I've chalked up hours in court listening to accounts of a man who shot his stepdaughter in the head; I've learned the history of a kinky father-in-law who took Peeping-Tom photos of his son's wife, who vanished and is presumed dead somewhere in the desert ranges near Salt Lake City. As I drove home from my last interview, I learned of the Sandy Hook shootings on the car radio and was struck, again, by how unimaginably annihilating the human soul can be.

I've focused on child murders. Unlike the Sandy Hook victims, the children in this book were murdered by people they loved and people they thought loved them. And unlike the Sandy Hook victims, most of them died with little notice from the public, even though the toll from child abuse and neglect and homicide across the nation claims each week at least the same number of victims as the school shootings.

The toll is obvious in news reports. In the office where I write, I have a
bulletin board of some of the victims' faces. One of them, a photo of four-year-old Emma Thompson, reminds me of my daughter at the same age. It's the time when a young child is truly aware of the impact she can have on adults. In her snapshot, Emma mugs for the camera, full of herself in the particular way little girls can be, delighted. Her top lip is curled above her baby teeth in a giggling grin. She was killed that same year the photo was taken, 2009, in her home in Spring, Texas, north of Houston. She had been raped, her ribs broken, her skull fractured, her lips bloodied, and her face covered with bruises. Her mom's live-in lover, Lukas Cole, was sentenced to life in prison for the attack. Emma's mother, Abigail Young, was handed 20 years for failing to protect her daughter. Weeks before Emma was killed, a pediatrician discovered she had a sexually transmitted disease, but the local Child Protective Services office didn't remove her from her home.

There aren't many pictures of happy kids on my bulletin board. In their photos, Jonathan Ramsey and Osman Irias Salguero already have the eyes of world-weary 80-year-old men, as if they can sense the dirt pressing around their graves. Jonathan died at the age of ten in his home in Ellis County, Texas, starved to death by his dad, Aaron Ramsey, who withheld food to discipline him for acting up. Doctors discovered that Osman, two years old, had more than 86 bruises, fractures, and contusions when he was rushed to a Texas hospital in 2012 after an apparent beating in his Houston home. His dad, 21-year-old Osman Irias, was charged in the toddler's death. Snapshots don't exist in the worst cases of abused kids; no one has bothered posing them for photos until their autopsy pictures are taken.

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