narcissists, psychology, true crime, videos, YouTube

Should we have all seen it coming?

Although she’s been all over the news all week, I’ve been cautiously waiting to write more about Gabrielle Petito. Even though I kind of knew deep down that the dead body found in Wyoming would probably end up belonging to her, I hesitated to state outright that she was deceased. I didn’t want to get on the bandwagon of assumptions that people often get on in cases like hers.

This is so sad. She was such a lovely young woman with her whole life ahead of her.

I also initially couldn’t bring myself to comment much on this case. So many people were offering opinions that they were very certain about. I still didn’t feel like I had enough information, although the signs were certainly there that Gabrielle Petito was a victim of abuse perpetrated by her boyfriend. Even now, in spite of the many creepy and disturbing signs that Gabby’s boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, is an abuser and potentially a murderer, I don’t want to make that statement outright. Because, in spite of all of the damning signs, I still don’t know for sure. I can only strongly assume, and I feel like there’s enough assuming going on right now. The truth is, a lot of this story is still pretty mysterious, especially since Mr. Laundrie is still missing. At this point, he’s still just a “person of interest”.

What I do know is that abusers come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, and flavors. So, I also hesitate to be among my friends who have been posting things like this…

While I totally agree about trying to teach children not to be abusive, I also know from personal experience that this is a lesson that EVERYONE needs to learn. And sometimes even when you try to teach it, the lesson still gets lost.

Also, sadly, I don’t think this is a lesson that can always be taught. Sometimes a parent can do their very best to teach their children right from wrong, and the kid still grows up to be an abuser. I think some people are just naturally prone to have bad intentions. I can think of a lot of families I’ve known… good, hardworking, decent folks… who have one or two people in their ranks that aren’t quite as upstanding as the rest of the family. So I don’t automatically put the actions of an abuser on the parents. It’s not always their fault.

I don’t know a thing about Brian Laundrie or his parents, so at this point, I really can’t judge the parents for what their son might have done to his girlfriend. But, the other day, I did watch the entire body cam video of the traffic stop involving Laundrie and Gabrielle Petito in Moab, Utah. The video was over an hour in length, so I can’t say I was watching it very intently. I do remember hearing how friendly and at ease Brian seemed to be with the police, even as Gabrielle was crying and clearly upset.

I wonder how the officers involved in this case feel now…

I do want to commend the cops for treating Petito and Laundrie professionally. They were especially kind to Gabby, letting her sit in air conditioning and giving her water. On the other hand, I heard the main cop, who was primarily in charge, repeatedly talking about Gabby to Brian as if they were buddies. He related his story about his own wife, who has “anxiety issues” and needs medication. I don’t think the cop’s wife’s mental health issues are necessarily relevant to this situation. It sounded to me like the officer was making some assumptions without knowing all of the facts. I can’t blame him too much for that. We all do it to some extent. I also think he truly was trying to help, which is commendable, although I think maybe he got a little too friendly with Laundrie. I wonder if the cop would have been as friendly if Laundrie and Petito weren’t young, attractive, white people.

In the wake of the video and the news about Petito’s remains being found, more people have come out to say that they saw Brian mistreating Gabby in public. But even if those people had come forward sooner, I’m not sure what could have been done. I do remember reading one account of a park ranger who told Gabby that her relationship with Brian appeared to be “toxic”. Melissa Hulls, a visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park in Utah, was among the officers who dealt with the couple when they were stopped in Utah. We don’t see much of what was said to Gabby during the stop, although I do remember hearing the officers discuss whether or not they were going to arrest her for domestic violence against Brian Laundrie. According to the link:

“I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” Hulls said of Petito, who was living with Laundrie and his parents in Florida prior to the trip.

“She had a lot of anxiety about being away from him, I honestly thought if anything was going to change it would be after they got home to Florida,” Hulls added.

I remember all too well crying like Gabby in the calm, assured faces of abusers. They made it seem like I was the “crazy” one. For a long time, I felt like I was crazy. And then, when no one else was watching– or the only other witness was a “flying monkey”– the abusers would go off on a rage. I can also see a red flag in Melissa Hulls’ statement about how Gabby was afraid to be away from Brian. Abusive people like to isolate their victims. They get to the point at which they don’t think they can function on their own. That’s how the abuser wants it to be, because then the victim will always be there to take more abuse.

In the end, the cops decided not to file charges against Petito. Even if they had arrested her, I’m not sure if the outcome would have been any different in the long run. But the fact that Gabby might have been arrested is another wrinkle in this situation. Oftentimes, people who are being abused don’t want to ask for help because if they do fight back, there is a chance that they will be the ones who end up in cuffs. My husband was abused by his ex wife in just about every possible way. He never reported her behavior to the police because he knew that it was just as likely that he’d wind up in trouble. She also had him convinced that everything was his fault. In the above police body cam video, you can hear Gabby talking about how she’d made Brian angry.

Hulls adds that when the stop was made, the police officers really did think it was a mental health situation caused by the two of them being together for too long, living in austere conditions. They had no reason to believe at the time that either party was truly in any danger. More than once, I heard the police refer to Gabrielle’s diminutive size compared to Brian’s, although Brian was the one with visible injuries. And Brian was very calm and friendly, while Gabby was crying and distraught. I think it’s important for people to remember that police officers aren’t necessarily mental health experts. Their job is to assess whether or not crimes are committed and enforce the laws. But clearly, Melissa Hulls got a bad feeling about Brian Laundrie.

Another couple from Louisiana, who happened to be vacationing in Jackson, Wyoming when Gabby and Brian were passing through, remember witnessing a “commotion” at a restaurant. Nina Angelo, and her boyfriend, Matt England, saw Gabby and Brian leaving The Merry Piglets Tex-Mex restaurant on August 27th. Brian was reportedly clearly agitated and angry, going in and out of the restaurant and being abusive toward the wait staff and hostess. The waitress who took care of Gabby and Brian also experienced abuse from Brian and was very shaken. Later that same day, Gabby’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, received a strange text that supposedly came from Gabby. It was the last communication she got from her daughter.

Later, on August 29th, a couple in Wyoming gave Brian a ride. They said he offered to pay $200 for the ride, even before he got in their car. The couple said Brian told them Gabby was at the van, working on her blog. But when it turned out the couple was going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, rather than Jackson, Brian allegedly became “very agitated” and asked them to stop the car. He got out of the vehicle near Jackson Dam, less than 30 minutes after they’d picked him up.

These signs that are surfacing now tell us that maybe people should have done more. I think it’s hard to take action in a case that doesn’t seem cut and dry. We’re taught to mind our own business and give people the benefit of the doubt… and there’s also the very real risk that the abuser will turn on those who intervene. There were a few people who did try to do something.

On August 12, someone called the police to report a domestic dispute between Petito and Laundrie. In the 911 call, the caller says “We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl… Then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and they drove off.” Another bystander named Chris reported to the police that he saw Gabby and Brian fighting in Utah. He heard Gabby say something along the lines of “Why do you have to be so mean?” He also saw Gabby punching Brian in the arm and the face, trying to take a cell phone from him. He described their interaction as “aggressive.” Below is a video by the Body Language Guy, who analyzes Laundrie’s body language.

Jesus Enrique Rosas is convinced that Gabby was a victim of abuse.

And yet, even though all of this was going on, no one was willing or able to intervene in time to stop Gabrielle Petito’s murder. The autopsy does confirm that she was killed in a homicide. It certainly looks very much like Brian Laundrie had something to do with it. In fact, it looks like he had everything to do with it. I will be very surprised if it turns out he’s innocent. But until I know that for sure, I hesitate to say he’s asbolutely guilty of murder, because we haven’t heard the whole story yet. What I do think is clear is that he regularly abused his girlfriend and, whether or not she “gave as good as she got”, she’s the one who is definitely dead.

Of course, at this point, it looks like Brian might possibly also be deceased. He has somehow disappeared in Florida, and officials there have brought in deep divers and special equipment to see if he’s somewhere at the bottom of an alligator and snake infested swamp or something. The mystery continues.

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book reviews, domestic violence, modern problems, true crime

Reposted book review: Social Taboo: A Male Victim of Domestic Violence Speaks…

Here’s another reposted book review from the original Overeducated Housewife blog. This one was written in July 2017 and appears as/is. I had completely forgotten about this book, but it’s definitely one that belongs on my blog.

Sad story plus wretched writing equals missed opportunities…

Ever since I started reading it, I have been itching to write my review of Social Taboo: A Male Victim of Domestic Violence Speaks.  I finally finished reading Richard Cassalata’s 2016 book about twenty minutes ago after struggling with it and thinking it would never end.  I didn’t realize it when I started reading this book, but Social Taboo is 578 painful pages in length.  I would guess at least 150 of those pages could have been omitted.  Add in the fact that Mr. Cassalata apparently never had this book edited or even read by a literate friend before he published it, and you have a recipe for a former English major’s nightmare.   

As you might guess from this book’s title, Social Taboo is a non-fiction account of a man’s experience with an abusive woman. The author, who refers to himself as Rick, writes that in early January 2011, he had been looking online for a relationship with a woman. Rick is a divorced father of three boys, and as of 2016, he lives in Arizona. He has not had much luck with online personal ads. Evidently, many of the responses he gets are porn solicitations.

One night, Rick gets an email from an attractive woman named Amy.  Amy lives in Eloy, which is evidently a crime infested, yet very rural, area.  She’s a teacher in her mid to late 30s at the time, having earned teaching certifications in Ohio and Arizona.  She invites Rick over and asks him to bring with him a bottle of Grey Goose vodka.

Although Rick is not much of a drinker, he complies with Amy’s request and drives out to Eloy.  He and Amy hit it off immediately, although Rick is slightly alarmed when Amy pours herself a generous measure of vodka mixed with cranberry juice.  Although he says nothing to her at the time, it soon becomes apparent that Amy has a serious drinking problem.    

Rick, who is in the midst of earning his teaching credentials, finds that he and Amy are able to talk shop.  However, besides talking about their work, Amy also talks about her past relationships.  If you know anything about women with cluster B personality disorders, you know that there are already a couple of red flags popping up during this couple’s first meeting.  

Rick describes Amy as witty, charming, sweet, friendly, and very attractive.  He writes that they “clicked” from the get go.  And while it may not be the smartest thing for him to have done, during that first date, Rick and Amy are consummating their brand new relationship between the sheets on Amy’s bed.  Unfortunately, Amy neglects to tell Rick that she has contracted oral herpes, which Rick incorrectly identifies as a sexually transmitted disease.  Yes, it can be transmitted sexually, but what Rick is referring to is the same virus that causes cold sores.  In truth, most people have been exposed to the virus that causes oral herpes by the time they are adults.

Things move quickly, as they often do in relationships with women who have cluster B personality disorders.  Pretty soon, Rick and Amy are inseparable.  Rick gets approval to work with Amy– she actually becomes his supervisor as he’s picking up training hours at Amy’s school.  Yet another red flag is raised, but Rick is apparently oblivious to it.  Soon, they’re talking about marriage and it’s not long before Rick moves in to Amy’s home.  When he’s living with her, Rick discovers that Amy’s drinking problem is a lot more serious than he’d first realized.  Aside from that, she is extremely possessive and resents it when Rick plays racquetball with his buddies on Saturday mornings.  He comes back from the court to find Amy completely obliterated after she’s consumed way too much Grey Goose vodka.

Rick soon finds himself deeply entrenched in his relationship with Amy, who seems to be having a hard time letting go of her ex husband, Jim.  She claims that they need to see each other because they are filing their taxes.  Rick isn’t happy about Amy’s continued visits with her ex, but he tolerates it until it becomes clear that Amy is doing a lot more than discussing taxes with Jim.  But when Rick confronts Amy, she goes batshit crazy.  It’s not long before Amy enlists local law enforcement in her bid to control Rick.  She even talks him into handing over his paychecks to her.  Again… a classic red flag of an abuser.  

It turns out that Amy is also kinky.  She has a collection of sex toys and wants Rick to use them on her and be her “Dom”, that is, sexual dominant.  She uses sex to make up with Rick after their epic fights.  All I can say is that Amy must have been one hell of a lover.  Rick falls for her tricks over and over again, just like Charlie Brown does when Lucy Van Pelt offers to hold the football for him.  I don’t actually have anything against kink.  However, it’s pretty clear that Amy uses kink as a means to control her men.

Throughout the book, Rick refers to the interesting array of jobs he’s held in the helping profession.  He claims to have been a law enforcement officer, a social worker, and a teacher, both at the college and school levels.  However, Rick doesn’t really give readers a full accounting of his academic pedigree.  This was one of my many complaints about Social Taboo.  As I was reading Rick’s story, he would mention his academic background, but in vague terms.  I myself have master’s degrees in social work and public health, so he caught my attention when he wrote about his sociology degree, but then referred to himself as a “former social worker”.  

First off, social work and sociology are not the same thing.  Secondly, while Rick may have worked for child protective services at one point, that would not make him a social worker.  Social work is not synonymous with child welfare work.  Moreover, having earned my degree in social work, I know what goes into getting that education.  I was perplexed by Rick’s vast array of careers.  He’s supposedly only 35 years old at one point in this book.  It takes time and money to become a qualified social worker or teacher, particularly at the college level.  And yet, Rick has apparently been a social worker, a teacher, a professor, and a law enforcement officer.  I question how much experience he would have had in those fields and how he managed to earn the appropriate credentials.  I’m not saying he’s outright lying, but it would have been helpful if he had explained that a bit more.

My next complaint about this book is that it is way too long.  I see an earlier paperback version of this book comes in at over 700 pages.  This edition, which has a different title, is almost 600 pages.  A lot of those pages should have been edited out because much of it is repetitive minutiae.  At one point in the book, I was sure I had to be at least halfway through it.  I was dismayed to see I had only read about 25%.  I eventually found myself skimming because it was very repetitive and taking much too long to finish.

And finally, my biggest complaint about this book is the shitty writing.  Cassalata has a rather conversational style that could be engaging if not for all of the typographical errors, awkward sentence constructions, dangling participles, and wrong word choices.  Seriously, there were some errors that were almost laughable.  For the sake of this review, I’m going to find a few of the more memorable ones.

“After leaving my house, I purchased a big cup of coffee at a nearby convince store.”

“They’re just did not seem to be a happy medium in any decision concerning her in weeks.”

“Ferrous, I walked out of the classroom without acknowledging Amy’s existence.”

“I fucking hate you for that… you sun of a bitch!”

“Since you are freeloading off me and living in my house you will respect me you sorry sun of a bitch.”

“Arriving home, Amy was gone and it was a welcome relief.”

“Noticing the sun setting we walked out of the restaurant and Amy held my hand out the door.”

The book is absolutely saturated with mistakes like the ones I’ve posted.  When you have to get through 600 pages, it becomes very tiresome to run across so many errors.  More than once, I contemplated giving up on the book.  I also had to fight the urge to rant about it before I managed to finish.  Imagine… this man, like his psycho ex, Amy, are teachers.  No wonder so many people homeschool.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s good that Mr. Cassalata was willing to share his story.  I wish more male victims of relationship abuse would speak out; that way, people like Bill’s ex wife might brought to justice for the havoc they wreak.  I just think that if you’re going to go to the trouble of writing a book about your experiences, particularly the very personal experiences the author writes of, you should make sure the writing is of good quality.  It’s asking a lot to ask readers to wade through almost 600 pages of explicit writing about abuse.  The least that author could do is make the writing worth the effort and as easy as possible for the reader– particularly given that readers often have paid for the book.  I see Cassalata’s paperback version is selling for about $25.  I would be pissed if I’d spent $25 on this book as it’s written.

Anyway, make no mistake about it.  Rick Cassalata got himself entangled with a psycho.  I empathize with him.  A lot of what he wrote about Amy is eerily similar to stories I’ve heard about Bill’s ex wife, right down to the weird sex, financial abuse, and irrational rages.  Bill was fortunate in that his ex wife had a fear of government interference, so she never called the police on him.  However, she did do a lot of the other things Amy did… and, oddly enough, Bill’s ex used to live in Arizona.  I hope things are better for Rick now.  I see at the end of his book, he’s got links to men’s rights organizations.  I, personally, have no issue with that, but I would imagine that if a lot of women read this book, they might.

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book reviews

Repost: The Half a Million Pound Girl… should have spent the money on psychotherapy

I am reposting another book review. This one was originally written for Epinions.com on August 21, 2012. I reposted it on the old blog on May 4, 2014, and am posting it as/is again today, because Sarah Burge’s infamous and embarrassing turn on Anderson Cooper came up this morning over breakfast.

Today’s review is dedicated to Epinions’ own vicfar, an Italian American who thinks America is full of “weird-o-rama” people. (I remember Vic got terribly offended when I referred to him as “Italian American”, even though he is both Italian and an American citizen. He doesn’t like being compared to the so-called “guido” stereotypes, I guess.)

A few weeks ago, I happened to catch an episode of Dr. Phil, a pop psychologist whose television show is kind of like a trainwreck.  When I watch Phil McGraw, I often end up yelling at the TV.  However, sometimes watching Dr. Phil is good for book recommendations, especially since I really enjoy reading about people who have “issues”.  And Sarah Burge, who along with Derek Clements authored the book, The Half a Million Pound Girl (2011), certainly qualifies as a person with “issues”.  I have Dr. Phil to thank for introducing me to Burge’s story, which sort of defines the term “charlie foxtrot”.  If you have any ties to the military, I probably don’t have to define what “charlie foxtrot” means.  Since it’s a somewhat profane euphemism, I’ll leave it up to your imagination if you don’t know.

Who is Sarah Burge?

Sarah Burge is a British woman has had lots of cosmetic surgery done.  She is also the sister of the late actor, Trevor Goddard, who had a role on the hit television show, JAG.  Burge was born with ears that stuck out, a defect she had always been ashamed of.  So, since her childhood, she had always wanted plastic surgery.

Burge is also a victim of domestic violence, which was perpetrated at the hands of a man who beat and raped her.  The man beat her so badly that she needed plastic surgery to repair all the damage he did to her face.   Oddly enough, Burge later married this man and bore his daughter, her second child of three by three different men.  She claims she hated him, yet she still married him.  And now their daughter, Hannah, also apparently hates him.

Burge claims that the surgery done after the attack, courtesy of Britain’s National Health Service, wasn’t to her standards; so she visited one of London’s best private plastic surgeons.  Since then, Sarah Burge has made a career out of being “a human Barbie”.  Over the past 20 years, she has had over 100 cosmetic procedures done, many of which were free of charge, as she has served as free advertising for certain British plastic surgeons.  Burge claims that the work she has had done is worth about a half a million British pounds, hence the title of her book.  Burge also serves as a consultant to people who want to have surgery done.  She claims that she is able to point them toward the best person to do the job, as it were, for the money they are able to spend.  Her services are free to those looking for surgery; if they actually follow through and get procedures done, the surgeons supposedly give Burge kickbacks.

Besides showing up on Dr. Phil, Burge has also been on Anderson Cooper.  On a show that aired May 22, 2012, Cooper allegedly told Burge “I try to be really polite to all my guests. I think you’re dreadful and I honestly don’t want to talk to you anymore.”  Burge responded by leaving the set.  Burge also made headlines in 2010 because she taught her then six year old daughter, Poppy, how to pole dance.  This year, Burge made headlines for offering the same daughter, now eight, $11,000 worth of plastic surgery for her birthday.

My thoughts

If you’re looking for a “weird-o-rama” story, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a weirder subject to read about than Sarah Burge.  I found her story, which is written in a conversational first person voice, to be alternately shocking and sickening.  She comes across as “barking mad”, as well as more than a bit narcissistic… one of those people who is superficially pleasant and charming, but underneath is entirely fake.

I get the sense that Sarah Burge must have suffered some very severe traumas that have forced her to try to become someone else.  While I could probably muster some pity for her if she weren’t a mother of three, I have to admit that I’m somewhat horrifed for her daughters.  Really, I try to keep an open mind when it comes to people raising their children, but because I am the second wife of someone who was previously married to a nutcase, I have to admit to being biased when I see parents who treat their children like moldable extensions of themselves.

I was truly disgusted to read about how Sarah Burge was raped and beaten to a pulp by her second husband and then chose to marry the man and have his baby.  She later proudly proclaims that her daughter, Hannah, has disowned her father.  While Hannah’s decision is certainly understandable, I can’t wrap my head around why Sarah Burge chose to make a man she claims is a brutal monster the biological father of the child she claims to love.  Seems to me that if you really love your children, you make a concerted effort to find both the best partner for yourself and the best co-parent for them, and then allow that person to be involved in the child’s life.  But anyway, Sarah Burge apparently isn’t concerned about the quality of at least one of her children’s fathers.  Sadly, her daughter has had to pay for it.  Burge has said that most men are not able to keep up with her, but I guess being a rapist and a brute is still, in some way, a turn on for her.

Aside from my shock and dismay over Sarah Burge’s life story, I will admit that The Half a Million Pound Girl is quite readable and, in some ways, even kind of fascinating in a grotesque way.  I think Derek Clements did a good job ghost writing this book.  And, to vicfar, I’d also like to point out that Sarah Burge is a Briton, not an American.

Overall 

I’m not sure if I would like Sarah Burge as a person, but I will admit her story is interesting in a trainwreck/tabloid sort of way.  If you like weird-o-rama stories as much as I do, you might enjoy The Half a Million Pound Girl, though I really think all the time and money Sarah Burge has spent on plastic surgery probably would have been more wisely spent on psychotherapy.  As one commenter wrote on an article about Burge, she is quite “whore-ifying”…

And here’s her clip on Anderson Cooper. Anderson always strikes me as pleasant, fair, and polite, but he’d had enough of Sarah Burge and kicked her off his show!

Yeah… weird-o-rama… and I can see why Anderson Cooper got irritated with her.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: A review of The Poison Tree: A True Story of Family Violence and Revenge by Alan Prendergast

This is the last repost for today, I promise. I posted this on my old blog on September 30, 2015. I am reposting it as/is in 2020.

Back in 1985, a made for TV movie starring Justine Bateman was broadcast.  I didn’t see Right To Kill until sometime between 1989 and 1990, when I was a senior in high school taking a psychology class.  My teacher was big on showing us made for TV movies to teach us about psychological disorders.  Right To Kill was the dramatized story of Richard and Deborah Jahnke, two teenagers who were in trouble with the law for killing their abusive father, Richard Chester Jahnke.

Not long ago, I watched Right To Kill again on YouTube.  I decided I wanted to see if there were any books about the case.  As a matter of fact, there was.  In 1986, Alan Prendergast, who had covered the story for Rolling Stone, published The Poison Tree: A True Story of Family Violence and Revenge.  I got my hands on a used copy and just finished reading it this afternoon.

Right to Kill, a made for TV movie based on this book starring Justine Bateman.

Prendergast happened to base his title on one of my favorite poems, “A Poison Tree“, by William Blake.  I am not actually a big fan of poetry, but this was one I remembered from high school.  Since Richard John Jahnke and Deborah Ann Jahnke were Wyoming high school students when their crime was committed, it seems fitting that Prendergast would use “A Poison Tree” as inspiration for his book about their case.  It’s also just a very wise poem…  it says a lot in not many words.

In vivid, conversational prose, Prendergast spins the tragic tale of the Jahnke family, starting at the beginning when Richard C. Jahnke was an 18 year old private in the Army posted at Fort Brooke near San Juan, Puerto Rico.  He met 20 year old Maria de Lourdes Rodriguez on November 16, 1962.  They were on a bus.  Actually, Maria had gotten on the wrong bus; she was on her way to work at the phone company and was in a hurry.  She noticed the clean cut Yankee with huge blue eyes.  He noticed her.  The bus had engine trouble and soon everyone disembarked.

The clean cut Army private, a Chicago native who had just arrived in Puerto Rico, had been trying to do some sightseeing, but he got lost.  He needed help getting back to Fort Brooke.  Maria was the only one who would admit to speaking English.  She offered to help him find the right bus as she made her way to work.  Richard C. Jahnke said he would walk Maria to work under the guise of looking out for her safety, even though he was himself a stranger at that point.  Before long, they were dating.

Maria and Richard got along well, even though Richard seemed to be the jealous type.  He was good at telling stories and had a lot of spunk.  And Maria lived with her mother, who was abusive and didn’t seem to care much about her daughter.  She was ready to move on with her life.  The couple got engaged to be married.  Thirteen months later, on June 6, 1964, they exchanged vows at the Church of Santa Teresita in Santurce, Puerto Rico.  They told everyone they were going to Jamaica for their honeymoon, but they really rented a cheap beach house on the southern part of Puerto Rico.  The lie seemed harmless at the time.  Later, Maria would come to realize that it set a tone of secrecy and lies that would one day destroy the couple.

Maria quickly got pregnant and, on March 16, 1965, presented Richard with a baby girl they named Deborah Ann.  Six months later, Maria was pregnant again, and Richard, who had just signed re-enlistment papers, had a new assignment at Fort Ord in California.  On June 27, 1966, Richard John Jahnke was born there.  The family was complete, even though Maria had envisioned herself with three kids.  It soon became obvious that her husband was turning into a monster.  By the time the children were toddlers, he was screaming at them, hitting them, and calling them filthy names.  He hit his wife, too.

Richard C. Jahnke terrorized his family, though they would get brief respites as the Army sent him on unaccompanied tours to other posts.  After a stint in Germany, where he failed to perform all of his contractually obligated duties, Jahnke was forced to leave the Army.  He traded his Army uniform for a gun and a badge provided by the Internal Revenue Service.  The Jahnke family continued to move from station to station until they landed in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Valentine’s Day in 1981.  They spent six hard weeks sharing a motel room while the finishing touches were put on the home the Jahnkes purchased.  It was located on the outskirts of town, in an area where neighbors were scarce and kept to themselves.

Things got especially bad in Wyoming.  Jahnke continued to be abusive to his wife and kids, though his son Richard had grown enough to be able to offer some resistance to his blows.  One bright spot in the younger Richard’s life was discovering ROTC.  Not long after he joined the high school Army class, a new teacher fresh from the service took over the program.  Major Robert Vegvary had done three tours in Vietnam.  He had visited Cheyenne and liked it.  Central High School’s ROTC program was in a shambles and he was just the man to revive it.  He became somewhat close to Richard J. Jahnke and had visions of the young man making a career out of the military. 

ROTC allowed the younger Richard Jahnke to excel at something.  Aside from that, he and his father had their guns.  Richard C. Jahnke was a big lover of firearms, a hobby that would eventually be his undoing.  Convinced that the world was full of cheats, liars, murderers and rapists, the senior Jahnke was always packing heat, even at the dinner table.

Deborah Jahnke had grown into a dramatic, artistic sort of girl.  She had a problem with acne and was thought of as “weird” by a lot of her classmates.  But she studied art and had a favorite teacher, Eve Whitcomb, who encouraged her to be creative.  Although Richard and Deborah were nothing alike, they clung to each other as their father raged and their mother did what she could to appease him, to include siding against her children who were regularly abused and beaten by their father.  The kids had asked for help of adults in the school system, but their requests for asylum fell on deaf ears.  In fact, they were punished for seeking help.

Finally, on November 16, 1982, Richard and Deborah had had enough.  It was the twentieth anniversary of the day Richard C. Jahnke and Maria Jahnke had met.  They’d gone out to dinner to celebrate.  Meanwhile, Richard John Jahnke put the family pets in the basement and selected a weapon.  He planned to shoot his father… protect his sister, his mother, and himself from the foul tempered, violent, 38 year old brute, once and for all.  While Richard J. Jahnke did the killing, his sister went to jail for aiding and abetting his crime. 

Prendergast does a great job covering this story, including all the facts and details while still making the writing colorful enough to hold the reader’s attention.  This is the first book I’ve read in a long time that I had trouble putting down and I managed to finish it within a couple of days, rather than the weeks other books have been taking me lately. 

In a way, this book is even a bit timely.  Early this morning, Kelly Gissendaner was executed.  Her children pleaded for her life.  Since they were also the children of the murder victim, Gissendaner’s husband, Doug, they were sort of in a similar position as Maria Jahnke was.  Her husband was murdered, but it was her children who committed the crime.  So not only did she lose her husband, she also had to come up with the money to pay for the lawyers who defended her husband’s killers.

As an Army wife and Air Force brat, I was interested in reading about the now defunct posts where the senior Jahnke had assignments.  As a true crime buff, I was fascinated by the story of how the court case unfolded and how local people in Cheyenne were gripped by this story.  The only thing I felt was missing were pictures.  I was curious to see what the Jahnke kids looked like in the 80s.  I understand now that they have long since moved on.   

Anyway, The Poison Tree is a solid read.  I recommend it to true crime buffs who don’t mind reading about a very old case.  The Jahnkes’ story shocked the people of Cheyenne, many of whom had a great deal of empathy for Richard and Deborah, who were clearly failed by the people who should have been able to help them escape the hell they were in before things got so violent and deadly.

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domestic violence, psychology, religion

“Grooming” your wife…

A few days ago, a friend of mine shared a blog post with me. He shared it because he knows I am fascinated by fundies– particularly of the Christian type. The post, which I have now seen passed around on Facebook on Duggar Family News and now on YouTube, has a lot of people in a tizzy. Here’s a video done by Jimmy Snow (aka Mr. Atheist) about this very blog post.

Jimmy Snow talks about a blog post entitled 7 Steps to Grooming Your Young Christian Wife.

Jimmy is clearly shocked by the contents of the blog post, which was written by a guy who thinks he ought to be treating his wife like a child. The article, as well as the comments, even includes references to spanking the wife for disciplinary transgressions. For example, the author of this piece includes an example of a man named “Robert” who is 24 years old. His wife is 18. He wants to be in charge of her, but she won’t get with the program. He’s asked the blogger for advice in getting his wife to accept her supposedly “Biblical” role as submissive to her husband’s leadership.

What follows is a list of seven steps to indoctrinate young women into being “godly”, submissive, disciplined wives. And he does specify that she must be young. Prerequisite #3 is exactly that. See below.

And why is this? I think I know…

As Jimmy points out in his video, people under age 25 tend to still be in “development”. It’s a fact that most human brains aren’t fully developed until people hit their early 20s. A person’s judgment is still forming when they are in their late teen years. They are physically mature, but mentally and emotionally, they’re still a work in progress. Which isn’t to say that a person can’t be “progressing” emotionally and mentally beyond their early years. It’s just that a lot more of it is going on during the time in which a person is maturing. The author of the “Biblical Gender Roles” blog correctly points out that a woman in her 30s or 40s is a lot less likely to accept that her husband must be in charge. I would add that even though young women might accept this condition of marriage, some of them will eventually reject it when they get older and are more mature.

So then, after listing three prerequisites, the blog author continues with his seven steps to “groom” a Christian wife. As he delves into this post, he even points out how creepy the word “grooming” is to many people, and he specifically calls out “secular humanists”.

Many of us cringe when we hear the word “groom”, when it’s not pertaining to personal hygiene or cleaning up an animal.

But then the blogger goes on to explain why “grooming” is okay when it’s your “Christian” wife. Then he goes on to write about why spanking wives is okay.

I probably have a controversial opinion about so-called “domestic discipline” in that I don’t always consider it abuse. If the people involved are consenting adults and they have truly consented to living that lifestyle, knowing the potential risks that could befall them in surrendering their personal power to, or accepting total responsibility for, another person, then I don’t figure that it’s any of my business what they do at home. If they don’t consider it abusive that their husband is head of the household, who am I to tell them they’re wrong, even if I disagree?

What I find especially interesting is that so many people are quick to call spanking one’s adult wife “domestic abuse”, but they have no problems with spanking children. Even if a wife is being abused by her husband’s spankings, she is always in a better position to seek help than a child is. And yet, many people don’t have an issue with spanking children, and a lot of folks even think that if we spanked children as often as we did back in the day, there would be fewer social problems.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that I am not a proponent of spanking children in most situations. I see it as a last ditch thing that should only be used when every other measure fails, and even then, it probably shouldn’t be used. My father spanked me a lot when I was a child. It was pretty much the only method he used to discipline me, besides yelling at me (also not very effective, although often employed by frustrated parents). He’s been dead for six years, and I’m still angry with him about some of the things he did in the name of teaching me wrong from right. In my case, the spankings were usually abusive. They were always terrifying because he was almost always enraged when they happened.

Although I don’t remember being spanked once I got into true adolescence, I do remember that my dad was fine with hitting and slapping me until I was about 21 years old. The last time he did so, I told him that I would have him arrested if he ever laid a finger on me in anger again. It took considerable courage to tell him that, especially since I still relied on him at that point in my life. But it was a groundbreaking day for me. I decided on that day that anyone who hits me without my consent had better kill me. Children have no say over what an adult does to discipline them, and they are mostly unable to ask for help out of an abusive situation the way an adult can. Adults are usually bigger and stronger than children are. Women are also often smaller and weaker than men are, although there are certainly exceptions.

It always surprises me when I see people like Jimmy Snow flatly condemning domestic discipline as “abuse”, but so many other people are perfectly fine with physically punishing children. If you do a little sleuthing on the Internet, you’ll find that there’s a large population of people out there who are a little bit kinky and they enjoy exchanging power with others. As long as it’s safe, sane, and consensual, they don’t see it as abusive, even if other people think it’s “sick”. Some of those people also align these practices with Christianity. Again… not my cup of tea, but the brain is a fascinating and powerful thing. Some people, like it or not, get off on it.

A person who is legally able to get married can consent to “domestic discipline”. I may not agree with his or her decision to allow a spouse to discipline them with spankings or other punishments, but it’s not my place to tell them they can’t or shouldn’t. Ultimately, it is their decision. What’s sad about these fundie Christian marriages, though, is that a lot of the people who are in them don’t know another way. They have not been exposed to life beyond the religion they were born into, and a lot of them have not been taught critical thinking skills– hence the blogger’s comment that “grooming” a wife to be a disciplined Christian helpmeet is not going to work unless she’s young, and from a very sheltered upbringing. If she’s been exposed to another way, she probably won’t accept it.

In any case– I’m not sure that what the author of the Biblical Gender Roles blog is proposing is really the same thing as two consenting adults entering into a “domestic discipline” relationship. It sounds to me like his advice to “Robert” and his ilk is to “manipulate” their young wives. That practice, probably IS abusive, because it’s done in a deceptive, underhanded way. The very fact that the women have to be “young” and therefore naive and tractable, is kind of sick and creepy. These men simply want to marry children who have reached legal adulthood and will do what they say without question. That’s abusive.

In a weird way, because they have been on TV, I think the Duggar women might have escaped worse fates than they would have otherwise. If they kept being raised in an isolated community, with no exposure to “normal” people and worldly ideas, the daughters, especially, might have wound up being stuck in marriages in which they are treated like children and expected to obey their husbands without question. I think that being exposed to the world because they’ve been on TV has made them a little less subjugated than they could have been.

Look at some of the choices the Duggar daughters have made since they’ve been married. Jill Dillard wears pants and has a nose piercing, and she’s been photographed wearing what most women would consider modest swimwear but, for her, is probably scandalous. Jinger Vuolo moved to Los Angeles, where she wears pants and has had her hair cut. She’s only had one child so far, although she’s pregnant with her second. Her husband doesn’t take orders from JimBob Duggar, nor does Jill’s husband, Derick. Jessa Seewald is still close to home, but she obviously has a strong personality and is not being controlled by her husband, Ben, who has a milder personality than she does. I don’t know about Joy Anna Forsyth’s situation, but her husband makes his own money flipping houses, rather than working for Boob. Had they not been on TV, God knows who they would have married, and what they’d be expected to tolerate. And it would all be behind closed doors! Since they’re famous and a lot of “normal” people are watching, there’s somewhat less secrecy and weird shit that would go unnoticed or called out. On the other hand, Michelle Duggar had a somewhat normal upbringing and she willingly submitted herself and her children, especially her daughters, to what many might consider an oppressive lifestyle.

Anyway… like a lot of people, I was kind of grossed out by the Biblical Gender Roles blog and its tips on “grooming” a Christian wife. It’s definitely not something I would be interested in, and I’m grateful that I was raised by people who would not want that for me, either. But, I must admit that it makes for interesting speculation and a temporary diversion from all of the other doom and gloom headlines that are currently circulating. And now that I’ve written today’s tome, I think I’ll take Arran for a walk and get some fresh air… then practice my guitar.

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