When abusers become deadly

Shootings highlight concerns about violent ex-spouses

November 25, 2007|By Tyeesha Dixon and James Drew | Tyeesha Dixon and James Drew,Sun reporters

Gail Louise Pumphrey tried to protect herself against her abusive husband.

According to records, the 43-year-old Howard County woman secured a protective order against David Peter Brockdorff in April, after their divorce. While they were still married, she won a $13,030 judgment against him in a domestic-violence case.

But Pumphrey's legal actions and move to a new home didn't stop Brockdorff, 40, who police say killed her and their three children before turning a .22-caliber rifle on himself this Thanksgiving in a park where the former spouses met to exchange the children.

Domestic-violence experts say such exchanges with an abusive ex-spouse can often be dangerous, especially when custody issues are involved.

Jacquelyn C. Campbell, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, said the "risk factors for homicide are those times when she is trying to leave him, and we do know that visitation exchanges can be very difficult if he is a highly abusive, dangerous man.

"If supervised visitation is ordered, then that would happen in a facility and it's monitored," said Campbell, who has done research on domestic violence and advocated for policy changes on that topic since 1980. "Even without supervised visitation, one of the things we talk with abused women about is to make sure exchanges are done in a public place."

Montgomery County police said yesterday that they were not yet releasing the children's names, but past and current neighbors say they were David, 12, Megan, 10, and Brandon, 6.

Other experts agree that child visitation after a hostile divorce can be fraught with danger.

It is a "very difficult situation because the laws protect both parents," said Laurel Kiser, an associate professor in the University of Maryland's department of psychiatry and principal investigator for the school's Family-Informed Trauma Center.

"It is often very difficult for women to figure out how to protect themselves and their children," she said. "It is really hard because each individual case is different. It is hard to know when someone will do something like this. How many times has she turned the kids over to him in the park? What was different about this time?"

The family's former neighbor, Earlene Voith, said Pumphrey often told her about Brockdorff's drug and violence problems and how he harassed her even after the couple separated.

"She did make the statement that he just wouldn't let go," said Voith, who lives on Lewis Drive in Damascus.

Gene Rodgers, who for 30 years has lived in the home across the street from Pumphrey's Woodbine house, said he hadn't noticed anything suspicious since the family moved to the neighborhood in April, except for an instance when a man who identified himself as a private investigator walked around the neighborhood earlier this year asking questions about Pumphrey.

Campbell said Maryland has adequate laws to order guns removed from subjects of long-term protective orders but added that the state needs to extend that power to temporary protective orders.

"So when the perpetrator is informed of the order, they would be informed of the prohibition against firearms," she said. "And there has to be monitoring to make sure that is done and action taken when it is not done."

Brockdorff had been scheduled to appear in court next month on charges he burglarized Pumphrey's home last November.

The apparent murder-suicide was the worst in Montgomery County since 1995, when police say a handyman killed a man, his three daughters and a housepainter. So far this year, nine of the 15 homicides in the county have been domestic.

In March, four children were found dead in their Frederick townhouse. Their father, Pedro Rodriguez, 28, was found hanged in the foyer.

The children's mother has not been found; police say she too might have been harmed.

In last week's killings, Voith said Pumphrey spoke about Brockdorff's violent tendencies toward her. However, Voith said she neither saw nor heard about violence toward the children. She said she can't figure out why Brockdorff would commit such an act.

"I thought he was very good to the children," Voith said. "I never dreamed it would be this dear little family that lived next door."

tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

james.drew@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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