Bombing was domestic abuse taken to extreme Women who leave are in most danger

September 14, 1995|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Monday's murder-suicide bombing in Essex left many people horrified -- and even the men in a batterers group at the House of Ruth shelter couldn't understand how someone could kill his wife and three children.

But Wil Avery, manager of the counseling program for men, was not taken by surprise.

Recalling the group's discussion the day after the bombing, he said, "I told them any type of guy who's abusive is capable of this. After physical assaults don't work, guys think, 'If I can't control you, nobody can have you.' "

And that occurs fairly frequently.

Consider that four battered women die in America every day; domestic violence is the leading cause of women's visits to emergency rooms; and battering of pregnant women causes more birth defects than all diseases combined.

The killing of an entire family, however, is rare.

"It doesn't happen that often, thank goodness," said Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor who works with battered women and has studied domestic homicide.

For instance, in the past four years, The Sun has reported only one similar case -- one in which a Calvert County man shot himself, his wife and two children. Another possible murder-suicide of a family last summer may be connected to Harford County, but the case remains open until evidence comes back from the lab, a police spokesman said.

Nationwide statistics are difficult to find, although a 1994 report by the U.S. Department of Justice found that wives are the most frequent victims of fatal family violence.

"When a man kills his wife and children, he is saying, 'This is my family. If I can't have it, no one can,' " said Dr. Campbell, an Anna D. Wolf endowed professor in the school of nursing at Johns Hopkins medical school. "He frames it in terms of love. He considers it his family."

The man will have been a batterer who wants to control his wife or partner, Mr. Avery said. That control can range from financial decisions to how to raise the children.

Also, the abuse, either physical or emotional, will progress from the rolling of eyes to pushing to deadly weapons, Mr. Avery said. "Most guys will think, 'I have a right. I'm married. I'm having sex with the woman. I'm married to the woman. I'm king of the castle.' "

Society often is to blame, Dr. Campbell said. "We support that notion. There are vestiges of the idea of ownership of a woman and children."

And if a woman leaves her partner -- as Betty Louise Clark, 32, left Mark Alen Clark, 32, earlier this year -- her risk of a fatal tragedy escalates.

"It's one of the reasons a battered woman doesn't leave," Dr. Campbell said.

Mrs. Clark had had enough of a husband who threatened to kill her in front of her children and once held a gun to her head, relatives say. She fled from Cumberland to Rosedale in May with her 4-year-old daughter, Krysta Clark, as well as Ricardo Valdez, 6, and Malissa Ray, 11, her children from previous relationships.

Last weekend, Mr. Clark arrived in town from North Carolina. Monday, he persuaded Mrs. Clark and the children to go shopping for school supplies. At 6 p.m., a bomb in his station wagon exploded at Middlesex Shopping Center, killing the entire family.

Researchers say that men who murder their wife and children, usually will have threatened suicide in the past -- as family members say Mr. Clark did.

"If he's suicidal, he can't conceive his family going on without him. He thinks he's doing them a favor. He wants to kill his whole identity," said Carolyn Rebecca Block, a senior research analyst with the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. She has compiled data on violence for several years.

"What can this tell us about reducing death?" she said. "If you are a woman and your spouse is suicidal, you're at high risk. . . . It should be something that sets off some bells.

"If health care professionals reduce the risk of suicide, they may very well save the life of his wife and kids."

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