Terry arose at six one morning to the sounds of a loud banging upon her door. Still dressed in her fuzzy yellow robe and covered in bed head, she proceeded to answer the poundings and ensured the two people were indeed the Chandler Police detectives they claimed to be.
She was sandwiched between the two detectives as they escorted her out the door and into the vehicle, and they never stated the reason for the early morning excursion. She’d find out many minutes later, and well after she arrived safely at the police station, she would enter protective custody because her ex-fiancé had put a hit on her life.
That isn’t the end of a story that doesn’t have a truly happy ending for the woman involved, and it’s one of the reasons why her last name will not appear in print. But getting to the aftermath of the attempted assassination and the good and the bad the entire situation has wrought requires a rewind to the start of her terror years in Wisconsin.
Getting to know him and losing control
The first chapter was actually very sweet and began in the early parts of the 2000s, with the divorcee and mother of three older sons connecting with a man via an online dating service. He appeared to be quite the catch; he owned three homes, took her on wonderful vacations and treated her regally.
“You think ‘oh my gosh, why didn’t I meet him earlier,’” she said.
If chapter one befits a romance novel, chapter two emphasizes why the word “appeared” received a showcase two paragraphs ago. The slow descent from happiness to horror proceeded as he restricted access to her family and he learned more and more about Terry and her weaknesses.
Insults replaced the tender coos he bestowed upon her as he jerked her down from the pedestal he’d built for her and placed her on. No longer was she significant and wonderful; she was now stupid and fat and hideous and unworthy of his invaluable love.
“I was a size two, and he would say ‘have you looked in the mirror lately?’ ‘Do you know how ugly you are?’” she said.
The control extended to the couple’s finances too, as all of the checking accounts and credit cards were in his name — the funds technically belonged to his parents — leaving Terry with nothing. More than half of the four years she spent with her ex-fiancé were dedicated to taking over Terry’s thoughts and existence while revoking her rights to humanity.
And what happened when she stepped out of line? What happened when she would say hello to the bagger at the grocery store or try to gain some semblance of individualism. What happened when she tried to be her?
“It escalates,” she said.
Physical threats and intimidation
This is when the two-and-a-half years of conditioning and training really take effect, when the realization strikes that any act of defiance, either real or perceived, will guarantee future retribution from him. Some of them were verbal threats, like the hours he’d spend reciting the ways he’d kill her, the way he’d dismember her body and how he’d inter it somewhere on the 40 acres of land behind their house.
The more painful threats involved Terry’s three boys and featured many of the same details, but with assurances she’d be on hand to witness their deaths.
“To the 10th power, there’s not a word in the English language that will make someone understand what that means,” she said.
Terry said the ex fiancé is quite intelligent, with an IQ of more than 160, so he’d commit a lot of these threats in a manner that was difficult to prove. He followed the same tactic when he started physically abusing her, like applying a gun to her temple and a knife to her throat on separate occasions as he sexually assaulted her. As Terry put said, it’s difficult to approve physical abuse when a person doesn’t leave any marks on the body.
There was the time when he did leave marks while he choked her to the point of unconsciousness and her life faded to black.
“When you feel your life slipping away at someone’s hands you never forget that,” she said.
The difficulties of leaving
We pause for a moment as the tears swarm Terry’s face as we sit in the small room at the East Valley shelter. She’s told the story a few times already, and the frequency of her tears has declined after each retelling and as the gap between the darkest times and the present grows wider.
But she cries today because the memories are sharper and stronger than expected, and she’ll pat the arm of the reporter, who happens to be the same age as her sons, repeatedly during the course of the three-hour interview. Terry can’t turn off her mom mode even when she’s retelling the worst moments of her life.
The most difficult question to answer when considering the aforementioned conditions is why would someone stay? For Terry, and for many women caught in similar situations, it’s due in large part to the lack of control and fear of retribution.
In Terry’s case, filing a police report that doesn’t lead to the man’s arrest would just make things worse for her at home, and her ex fiancé was obsessed enough to vow he’d track her down wherever she went. Also affecting the dynamic of Terry’s situation was the age of her children; even with the threats to their harm, they were all old enough to be away from any direct danger, which was a factor in her decision to stay in the home of terror.
There was that day though when she knew the next step in the abuse was her death, which led to her decision to flee. It wasn’t as simple as packing her bags and walking out the door; rather, it required hours upon hours of planning and coordination to ensure he was away from the house for an extended period of time and to set up a means of escape.
The process required her to create a new email address he didn’t have a password for — keeping it a secret meant she had to clear her browsing history after every use — and find enough alone time to plan with her sister in Arizona to have a place to stay.
“For six weeks, I had to pretend everything was perfect,” she said.
The six weeks finally came to an end, and Terry took flight from her abuser and traveled to Chicago on the first stop of her escape. It didn’t take all that long for the ex fiancé to figure out what happened, and he kept the vow to track her down. She said he called all of the people he knew in her life to ask where she was, and as his search led to nowhere, the man threatened to hunt her down and kill her.
Throughout the ordeal, Terry was always keeping an eye out for him, paranoid that he was following her during the escape. The totality of the situation made her head feel like a combination of “oatmeal and mush.”
“You are living in your own horror movie, but it’s real. The only thing that’s missing is a camera and a special effects guy,” she said.
Many stories would conclude with Terry celebrating after successfully escaping her ex fiancé and preparing to rebuild her life in the Valley of the Sun, a hopeful ending to a discomfiting situation. Alas, the man wouldn’t make her life that easy, and the most frustrating aspects of her attempts to start over were just beginning.
It started with his ability to find her by going through her contact list and whittling down the possibilities one by one, which forced Terry to leave her sister’s home in search of a new residence. A pattern soon developed where the ex went through all available channels to get her back, including enlisting the assistance of law enforcement agencies.
He proved to be quite effective at enlisting others to get Terry back, despite the illegality of his means. One East Valley officer went to her new home with a direct message from the ex, while an officer from her former hometown in Wisconsin requested she either return the engagement ring or just go home and work things out. Both incidents took place after she’d alerted the departments about her situation.
Those aren’t the only times law enforcement officials failed as she tried to hide from her abuser, and they represent a larger cultural failing in which the victims are treated worse than the abuser. It’s a subtle and pernicious thing, one in which victims are persecuted for the way they dress and the solution to curb incidents of rape is to focus on the victims in lieu of the rapists or abusers. Men are victims of such incidents, but the majority of victim blaming is heaped upon women, and the result is an environment in which women are hesitant to report incidents of abuse because they believe — often correctly — it won’t help.
“I’m the one who ends up getting questioned,” she said.
Terry’s own attempts to get away from her ex encompassed six different address, three cell phone numbers and three different employers. It didn’t really matter though: the clever man found her at all of her stops and all of her numbers, whether through the aid of the police or through his own means like the time he hired a private detective and the occasion when hacked into one of her employer’s payroll account.
One way or another, he located her and found a way to steal the inklings of happiness in her life. That includes the third job, the first full-time position she had out here, working under the auspices of Argosy University.
Once he figured out her new job, and he sent letters asking her to start speaking with him once in a while, and he claimed he forgave her for her transgressions against him. He even resorted to sending lewd photos of her to not just the office in Arizona, but to all of Argosy’s offices across the country, as if he were a fisherman casting a line into a lake.
“It was that vicious cycle; there was no off switch,” she said.
Bottoming out and a new hope
This is how a woman finds herself on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and how the vibrant, sarcastic Terry of old winds up as a shell of herself. This is when the panic attacks begin to strike, the kind that simulate a heart attack, and the concerns about her welfare strike when she’s called into her boss’ office and forced to explain the situation.
“Here’s the camel, here’s that one straw, and I’m a broken woman,” she said.
This is also the time when things finally start to turn around, when the coworkers she has at Argosy form a “wall of armor” around her, and when she’s connected with the Chandler detective who provides the aid she’d sorely lacked beforehand.
All of the evidence she’d accumulated — the letters and texts he’d sent— over the years was documented and put into evidence, and she was able to file an order of protection against the ex from Arizona. A person could almost count the seconds before the ex violated the order, and it didn’t take all that long for police in Wisconsin to arrest the man.
Given the ex’s nature, it makes sense that the process of actually placing him into custody didn’t go easily for anyone involved.
“It took five Taser shots; he should have been dead,” she said.
The ex was booked on charges of stalking and sexual assault with intent to harm, and was unable to post bail because his parents opted not to pay the $250,000 bond required to let him go.
A murder plot uncovered and justice found
This point in her tale has the makings for a satisfactory conclusion, but the realities of a person who’s lost all control of his circumstances supersede any sense of optimism. It’s at these moments, when the walls come caving in and everything starts slipping away, when a person who defines him or herself by control must resort to the dangers of desperation. And Terry said those moments are often the most dangerous for the victim.
Now we head back to the first paragraphs, with the detectives whisking Terry out of her home at an ungodly hour because her life was in danger. She was extremely lucky, as an employee of the jail where the ex was held stumbled onto the murder-for-hire plot, and the Chandler Police eventually caught the people who were hired to kill her.
In a moment of true irony, the murder attempt ended up benefiting Terry’s case against her ex. The plot added three felony charges for witness intimidation to his stockpile — Terry said his reaction to the additional charges led to threats against the case’s judge and prosecutor — and led to the plea agreement in 2012 of 23 and a half years in prison without parole with 23 and a half years of closely monitored supervision.
None of the sexual assault charges were included in the sentencing, although avoiding those charges meant she didn’t have to testify again in court.
“It wasn’t just for my own wellbeing, but each time I had my three sons in the courtroom supporting me and hearing things no son should hear,” she said.
Where she is now
Unfortunately, the optimism from the last few paragraphs doesn’t mean she is in the midst of her private happily ever after; such an ending would be far too fair for Terry. The ex fiancé, she said, is appealing the decision, and he keeps finding ways to harass her from prison through letters he sends claiming he’s found God and asking her to join him in heaven.
Even without his direct involvement in her life, she’s still trapped and haunted by his presence; thousands of miles in physical distance can’t eliminate mental anguish and fear.
“I sleep on my sofa in my living room, because when I’m in my bedroom, I don’t have a way to escape,” she said. “He’ll never leave; he’s a part of my life.”
Yet this isn’t a tragic ending either, as Terry has used her story — the one she first told to an audience about a year ago — for the betterment of others. Her story is featured in police training videos to reinforce the correct ways to deal with domestic violence situations, and she advocates for causes like the Address Confidentiality Program that allows victims of abuse, sexual violence and stalking to keep their addresses confidential from the public record.
She’s also scheduled to speak about her travails at the Saving Lives, Celebrating Courage breakfast at Tumbleweed Recreation Center in Chandler this Thursday at 8 a.m. to help others who’ve found themselves in similarly terrible circumstances.
It’s not an ending filled with sunshine and love, but it’s about as good as it can get given the circumstances of the situation, and Terry said she owes a lot of where she is now to the Chandler Police and the Chandler community.
“Anywhere else, I might not be alive,” she said.
Tumbleweed Recreation Center is located at 745 E. Germann Road in Chandler. Contact Peggy Dudinyak at My Sisters’ Place by calling (480) 821-1024 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the event.
Contact writer: (480) 898-5647 or email@example.com