I originally posted this on my old blog on June 8, 2016. I am reposting it to show how tragedy can strike when a religious partnership falls apart.
Today’s post is admittedly full of speculation based on incomplete information. I fully admit that it’s entirely speculation and opinion. As details emerge about this case, I may decide to update or write a follow-up post.
I just became aware of a truly tragic case in Huntsville, Alabama. It appears that a mother in Huntsville, Alabama has murdered her two children and killed herself.
According to news reports, Connie Henriksen Foster, 35, was embroiled in a custody fight with her ex-husband, David House, over their two kids, Layla House, 10, and David “Danger” House, 8. Mrs. Foster and Mr. House were said to have “tension” between them. The two, who lived around the corner from each other and divorced in 2011, were due in court July 11th.
Mrs. Foster and Mr. House shared custody of the kids and each had them on alternating weeks. In March of last year, David House sought a modification of their custody arrangement because he believed his ex-wife was using the schedule to interfere with his parenting time. He also sought a reduction in child support, citing a “material change in circumstance”.
Mrs. Foster argued that because of her ex husband’s work schedule, she had the children more than 50 percent of the time. She was seeking full physical custody of the kids. She was also requesting that the judge maintain the child support as it was because, Mrs. Foster claimed, her ex husband’s salary had increased since the divorce.
In several news reports, it’s stated that Mrs. Foster asked that Mr. House be found in criminal contempt because he failed “to take the children to church during his week with them and for failing to ensure that they completed their homework.” It turns out Mrs. Foster was a devout Mormon and her ex husband, apparently, had either outright left the church or become inactive. Her faith was evidently so important that she wanted her ex husband punished by the court for not taking their kids to church during his parenting time.
I found out about this case from a post on RfM. The anonymous original poster claims to have some inside information on the people involved and writes that the mother was extremely stressed out over the custody battle and feeling like “damaged goods”. While none of the news reports mention the mother feeling like “damaged goods”, I did think it was interesting that the RfM poster, who claims to have been in the same stake, made that comment. If he or she does actually know the people involved and is in a position to see the family dynamics, I think the comment about “damaged goods” could be very telling.
Now… details about this case are still developing and I don’t claim to know anything at all about the people involved. It could turn out that this wasn’t a murder-suicide. It could have been an accident. All I know is what I’ve read, what I’ve experienced and observed, and what I’ve learned about the culture in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My comments are based only on my opinion, personal experiences, and impressions, which may not be based on the reality of this particular case. I admit they are totally conjecture and I could be wrong.
What struck me about this case, though, was the idea that the mother may have been driven to kill over intense shame. When I first met Bill in the wake of his divorce, he was saturated with shame. He even referred to himself as “damaged goods”. I was puzzled by that comment. Before I met Bill, I’d never heard it before. In the fifteen years since our first date, I’ve heard the term “damaged goods” many times, usually among church folks. It refers to a deep sense of shame some people have over failing to measure up somehow.
Bill was very distraught and felt extremely guilty over his divorce. At the time, he was still an active member of the LDS church and had bought into its teachings about family. More than once, Bill mentioned a quote that is often falsely attributed to David O. McKay:
“No other success in life can compensate for failure in the home”
As a Mormon, Bill really took this quote to heart. He feared I would judge him negatively for his divorce. He believed everyone judged him for falling short; when in reality, he was in an untenable situation and had survived unbelievable abuse for almost ten years. Mormonism, which he and his ex wife had practiced for three years before their marriage finally crumbled, had not helped at all. If anything, his church involvement increased his anxiety, shame, and negative self-image. The church was not a source of comfort for Bill. It was a source of intense stress.
I also think that like many people, Bill had a magnified impression that people even cared about what he was going through. Most normal people have too much to worry about in their own lives to be overly concerned about someone else’s private affairs. Unfortunately, stress, anxiety, and depression can lead people to have very distorted views. Having suffered from depression and anxiety myself, I remember how screwed up my thinking became. Things that should not have fazed me would heap up on my conscience, adding to my stress level and further skewing my perspective to the point of overwhelming me. I didn’t see things as they really were. In the days after his divorce, I don’t think Bill saw things as they were, either. Perhaps Mrs. Foster was feeling similarly judged and overwhelmed.
Because Bill had been somewhat indoctrinated and didn’t want to give up, he tried to keep going to church for awhile. After we married and he’d gone completely inactive, he stayed on the membership rolls for four more years. He didn’t want to upset his kids. That seems really laughable to me now, since the idea of family actually means nothing to my husband’s daughters. If it did, the kids wouldn’t have had such an easy time of ditching their father simply because of divorce and the fact that he doesn’t believe in Mormonism.
I know it’s not how things are in every Mormon family, but I have seen this theme of shame over falling away from the church crop up repeatedly. It’s one way families pressure everyone to stay in the fold. If a church member decides to go inactive or believe in another religion, they will likely find themselves ostracized. Friends and other church members may decide to avoid them. Family might even disown them or try to turn them into a reconversion project. There is tremendous pressure within the LDS church to keep everyone in line and on the same page, even after divorce. Those who don’t stay in line can lose access to loved ones. It sounds like this intense pressure to stay in the fold could have been a factor in this couple’s split, as it was in my husband’s split with his daughters.
I don’t think Bill’s ex wife actually cared that much about Bill’s decision to leave the church; I doubt she believes in it, either. It simply made a good parental alienation tool. What matters is that his daughters believed in the church and acted accordingly when Bill “strayed”. Had the Ex been a truly devout church member, my husband’s decision to leave the religion may have made her feel intense shame. However, Ex has no shame, so she simply used the concept of shame to try to control Bill and keep him and their kids under her control.
Now, if Mrs. Foster was a very devout Mormon, it’s possible that she felt deeply ashamed by her divorce and panicked that her ex husband was influencing their kids to stray. Mormons believe that as long as everyone believes and obeys the church’s teachings, they will be together after they die. So that belief, along with feeling stressed, ashamed, and overwhelmed, could have possibly led Mrs. Foster to take the extreme actions it appears she took. On the other hand, she had remarried, and judging only by her Facebook photos, appeared to be in a good relationship.
A truly loving and respectful relationship between non-abusive people doesn’t involve shunning, disowning, and manipulation. It seems to me that if my husband’s daughters had ever loved their father, they would not have disowned him. But, even as I write that, I know it’s very likely that their mother told them outright lies about him and subjected them to intense pressure to disengage. The Mormon church reinforces that pressure to stick with true believing members. My husband’s daughters were no doubt counseled to avoid people who offered a different perspective or, heaven forbid, had abandoned the church. It’s possible that Mrs. Foster felt pressured to keep the kids away from her ex husband. He was obviously fighting back, though, and it may turn out that he was successfully making a case for being allowed to influence the children. She may have seen murder and suicide as the only way to protect them from an apostate.
Many divorced couples like to pretend the previous marriage never happened and prefer to try to replace their children’s parents with a new partner. After divorce, in some religious families, new so-called “worthy” spouses step in and are even presented as the actual parents of kids born to other partners. It’s like they want to whitewash the past. This phenomenon doesn’t just happen in Mormon families, but it does seem to happen more often in families where religion is involved. There is a great deal of pressure to live up to the right image. Those who fall short can end up feeling deep shame. It does at least sound like Mrs. Foster and Mr. House were trying to co-parent, which is more than I can say for some divorced couples with kids.
Of course, it’s likely that a lot of people will immediately suspect that the woman’s ex husband actually did the killing because people tend to be very cynical about men. One person on RfM has already posted that the story seems “fishy” and we may find out that it wasn’t a murder-suicide, but a triple homicide. Time will tell. Personally, I am withholding judgment on Mr. House until more information is available. At this point, I see no reason to believe he is responsible for his ex wife’s and children’s deaths. Police have said this case appears to be a murder-suicide perpetrated by the mother and that’s what I will assume it is until new information indicates otherwise.
Again, I really don’t know much at all about this particular case and, to any friends or family members who happen to read this, I want to express sincere condolences. Regardless of the root cause, whatever really happened to Mrs. Foster and her children is a terrible and senseless tragedy. However, if there is any truth to the allegation that Mrs. Foster was feeling ashamed and overwhelmed over the divorce and her ex husband’s refusal to take the kids to church, I do think it points to a very toxic situation. Shame can indirectly kill.
Edited to add… I just checked out Mrs. Foster’s Facebook page. She has a link to this article about finding a mate who loves God more than he or she loves you. It was posted just three days ago. It appears that she was also planning to move. She posted a public listing for a house along with the comment that she had “upgraded” her husband and now it was time to upgrade the house.
Here is a follow up to that post from June 2016, posted two days later.
Life is the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen!
This morning, as I was catching up on RfM, I was reading a thread about the Huntsville, Alabama mom who apparently killed her two kids and herself a few days ago. Apparently, I’m not the only one who suspects that the mom may have decided to end it all due to the custody battle and her ex husband possibly leading their kids away from Mormonism.
One person wrote about how his TBM ex wife left him after a very long relationship, mainly due to her belief that God is more important than love. Granted, this person’s post wasn’t very long and didn’t include a lot of information, but basically he wrote that he and his ex wife had a lot in common and were very compatible. According to the poster, a bishop told his ex wife that God is more important than one’s spouse. So she went to the temple, prayed, fasted, and decided that a divorce was the answer, because she needed a man to go through the temple with her and take her to the Celestial Kingdom. The poster concluded that the Mormon church ruins families.
Bill’s ex wife did something similar before they split. She went to the nearest temple, which at that time was in St. Louis, Missouri. She later claimed that while she was praying in the Celestial Room, Heavenly Father told her to divorce Bill. She later told him about it– and, for the record, I think Heavenly Father was dead on– and used that as one of her excuses to split up. She said that Heavenly Father had told her she would not be alone, but she wouldn’t be with Bill. Go Heavenly Father!
Bill was, of course, devastated. In retrospect, the divorce was the best thing that ever happened to him. But he loved his kids and knew that if he divorced their mother, he’d eventually lose them. The thought of not having access to his kids was crushing for Bill. So he asked his ex wife if she thought he was a good husband and father. She said, in a very cold tone of voice, “Maybe to another family.” I’m sure she said this as a way to humiliate Bill. I can only imagine how powerful yet disgusted she felt, seeing him on his knees crying and trying to convince her to work on their relationship.
Looking back on it, I think Ex was right. Bill is a good husband to someone else and, given a chance, would have been a fantastic father. But she didn’t say that to make him feel better; she said it to diminish him and make him feel beneath her.
Now, I still don’t actually know why the Huntsville mom apparently decided to kill herself and her children. However, I have read some follow up articles that indicate she may have been very depressed and anxious. I have also read that she was very TBM.
What a lot of people unfamiliar with Mormonism don’t understand is that, for many women, getting to the temple is paramount. The temple is the key to the Celestial Kingdom. Women can’t get to the Celestial Kingdom on their own. They need a temple worthy husband to get them there. For that reason, they tend to exert a lot of pressure on their husbands to stay faithful and worthy. The women keep their men on a straight and narrow path and make it very costly for them to stray from it. A husband and father who leaves the church is very dangerous to a woman who believes in the Mormon gospel with all her heart. But after divorce, the woman no longer has as much control. Divorce laws, at least outside of Utah, make it difficult for ex wives to keep ex husbands on the straight and narrow. A man who doesn’t automatically acquiesce to the mother of his children and realizes that, as a father, he also has rights, is dangerous to a TBM woman who hopes to make it to the highest echelon of Heaven.
My guess is that Mrs. Foster and her ex husband were married in the temple and had been sealed. One of Mrs. Foster’s complaints after her divorce was that her ex husband wasn’t taking the children to church. That makes me think that he must have been in the process of leaving the church, but perhaps hadn’t resigned. Mrs. Foster was probably not sealed to her second husband. She was probably sealed to her first husband, who was slipping into unworthiness. To a very devout Mormon woman, being sealed to a man who can’t take her to the Celestial Kingdom is potentially devastating… depending, of course, on how much one believes in Mormonism. From what I’ve read, Mrs. Foster was very devoted to the church.
When a Mormon couple divorces, if they have been sealed to each other, they are divorced only in the eyes of the law. They are not divorced in the eyes of the church. Divorcing in the eyes of the church requires what is known as a sealing cancellation and, from what I understand, sealing cancellations are difficult to get. A woman must have a worthy priesthood holder who can step in and permission must be granted by high ranking church authorities. She can only be sealed to one man. And, if she has children with an ex husband and is sealed to him, the children will remain with him. I have also heard that any other children born to the woman after the divorce will also “belong” to the first husband in the afterlife. Divorced Mormon males, on the other hand, can be sealed to more than one woman.
I have heard from multiple sources that not even a resignation from an ex husband cancels a sealing. The reason for that is because there is a chance the ex Mormon husband could decide to come back to the church. If he comes back and is re-baptised, all of his former “blessings” would be restored. On the other hand, I have also heard that resignation cancels everything. When it comes to sealings and resignations, the jury seems to be out as to what Mormons actually believe. However, some male posters on RfM have resigned and, when an ex wife decides to get sealed to a subsequent spouse, they’ve gotten a letter from her bishop informing him of the new sealing and asking if there is any reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to be sealed to her next husband.
Bill has never gotten a letter from Ex’s bishop. My guess is that she hasn’t been sealed to #3 because she probably throws it in his face that she’s sealed to Bill. This is the kind of thing she does to humiliate her partners and keep them in line. She triangulates and keeps people competing for her attention. She filters and skews information and never lets anyone in her sphere speak directly to one another. The end result is that they burn with resentment toward each other, but never actually talk to each other and compare notes. But again, I doubt Ex actually believes in the Mormon church. She simply uses it as a means of controlling other people.
Mrs. Foster, on the other hand, was apparently a true believer and was distraught over the breakup of her marriage and ensuing custody issues. She was not keeping the kids from their father, at least not initially. She did not appear to be trying to poison them against their dad, as Bill’s ex wife did. She may have been afraid they would fall under her ex husband’s influence and abandon the church, which would mean that they’d also be abandoning her in eternity.
Again… this is all purely conjecture on my part. For all I know, Mrs. Foster and her kids could have been murdered by someone or they could have died as a result of a freak accident. We still don’t have the whole story as to what actually happened to them. But based on the fact that she was a devout Mormon and her ex husband was fighting with her over custody issues, I think it’s possible that she became depressed and overwhelmed at the prospect of her kids not making it to Mormon Heaven with her. She feared them losing the gospel and not being with her in the afterlife. She may have thought that murder and suicide was the only way to protect them from the “evil influence” of an apostate.
To someone who knows nothing about Mormonism, and I’d venture to guess that many people don’t, this kind of reasoning seems ridiculous. I will admit, when I first married Bill, the whole sealing aspect of the church was a bit upsetting. I realized that on some level, Bill’s narcissistic ex wife thought she had an eternal hold on him and they’d be together after we’re all dead. But then I realized that the whole “temple marriage” thing is a bunch of hooey. Even if it were true, Bill wouldn’t be going to the same place Ex is, simply because he left the church and won’t be going back. The whole temple marriage/sealing shit is mainly a way to keep church members obedient. But to those who believe in it, the concept of forever families is very powerful. There’s great pressure for Mormons to try to be perfect. Divorce and apostasy are sources of great shame for some members.
I think the concept of temple marriage is a source of significant stress for those who put a lot of stock in it. Add in a bonafide mental illness like clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder and you could end up with someone driven to the type of desperation that can lead to suicide, homicide, or both. Mrs. Foster may have felt that this was the only way she and her children could be together in the wake of the divorce. Or she may have been exhausted fighting for control of the kids and determined that killing them and herself was one way to take control, once and for all.
Many people who read this blog may think that I’m overly interested in Mormonism. I’m sure more than one TBM has stumbled across some of my posts and been very offended by them. I doubt most church members think about this stuff very deeply. For one thing, they don’t have time! Life keeps them busy. They have kids, jobs, and church callings to occupy them. I, on the other hand, have a lot of time to think and research. I have come to the conclusion that in many families, as long as everyone in a family loves the church or is willing to go through the motions, Mormonism can work. However, if someone in the family decides the church isn’t for them, problems arise. That’s why I think Mormonism can destroy families. And, if there is any truth to what I’ve written today, my guess is that the church had a hand in destroying Connie Foster and her family.
In the same RfM thread I linked, another poster wrote:
“Trying to get a custody agreement changed from “shared” to “sole” simply on the basis of ‘he’s not mormon anymore’ is not a slam dunk. It’s easy to speculate that her attorney would have let her know this. If she feared that she wasn’t going to have her way, and that her husband (who was probably making in-roads with the kids on the Sundays he had them) would still be in their lives, I can see where with the appropriate derangement she could justify taking the kids’ lives and then checking out to be with them.”
He concluded his post by writing, “Life is the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen.” Thinking about this situation makes me conclude that he’s probably right.