Did Threats Turn to Violence in Hudson Case?
Murders of Jennifer Hudson’s Relatives Focus Attention on Domestic Abuse
Chicago authorities are trying to piece together whether domestic violence played a role in the death of “American Idol” star Jennifer Hudson’s mother, brother, and nephew who were found shot to death after a shooting at her childhood home. The suspect in the tragedy is William Balfour, 27, the estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, Julia.
Balfour, who has not been charged in the slayings, stopped talking to officers after they suggested he take a lie detector test. He is being held in a state facility for violating the conditions of his parole for a 1999 conviction for attempted murder.
Authorities say it’s possible more than one person was involved in the attack, which left the two dead on the scene. The body of the second grader was found days later dead in an abandoned SUV after the actress posted a $100,000 reward for his return. The actress identified the body of her nephew shortly after it was found.
Police say Hudson’s sister told them that she and Balfour have been involved in ongoing disputes, one of which was about car payments he hadn’t made that caused her wages to be garnished. Hudson’s mother had thrown him out of the Chicago home that they all shared several times, according to Julia Hudson, who said he threatened her and her family if she ever left him for another man.
“There are men, women, and families being terrorized in their own homes on a daily basis and the recent Jennifer Hudson tragedy serves as an unfortunate reminder that abuse is a wide-spread problem that touches all walks of life and is not limited to any one group,” said relationship expert and author Brenda Della Casa. “For some reason, much of the public inaccurately views domestic violence as a problem in the lower socioeconomic community when, in reality, violence doesn’t stop once your home has a certain square footage or your face is on magazines.”
National statistics show that most domestic violence that escalates into murder involves one spouse against another, versus the Hudson case, which appears to have involved a spouse threatening other family members. On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day, according to the Domestic Violence Resource Center.
“It is important not to brush off any threats of violence or any menacing behavior and seek assistance in every way you can,” said Della Casa, whose book Cinderella was a Liar, includes a chapter on how to get out of abusive situations. “Do not be ashamed of your situation, abuse is the fault of the abuser and not the victim. Contact your local authorities but do not assume that having a restraining order is enough protection. The police can only enforce a restraining order if the abuser violates it and you report it and even then, some abusers may not even be arrested.”
“It is an unfortunate reality that the laws are not set up in the most effective way to protect women against violence and bring perpetrators to justice but that doesn’t mean you should stay where you are or stay silent for fear of retaliation,” Della Casa said. “Abusers thrive on control and domination and are not motivated by love or doing the right thing. Violence, whether verbal, emotional or physical, is extremely dangerous and often escalates especially when drugs or alcohol are concerned.”
In almost every instance of a husband killing his wife, there has been a long history of control and abuse in the marriage. It could come out of the blue, but that is very, very rare. “The relationship has had to be very, very acrimonious. There has to be a pattern of abuse,” said Susan J. Elliott, 51, certified grief counselor and founder and CEO of Getting Past Your Past Productions, LLC, based in New York.
“People just get very emotionally distraught and feel ‘If I can’t have you, no one can have you.’ They just get so angry, they kill the person,” she said. “I think most of the time it is not calculated. They get really wrapped up in the emotion. In all divorces, emotions run high. If one person is unstable, you don’t know what could happen.”
Divorce even pushes the truly sane to the edge,” added Elinor Robin, divorce mediator based in Boca Raton, Fla., who runs www.AFriendlyDivorce.com. If someone is already in a fragile state, divorce can easily trigger the end. Divorce affects us on every level – physical, financial, emotional, logistical, social, and legal. “Feelings of abandonment, rejection, and being de-valued are underneath the rage that is necessary for murder, in domestic, workplace and school settings.”
No one can deny that incidents of husbands killing their wives has been gaining media attention with high profile cases in the news such as Scott Peterson, now serving time for the murder of his pregnant wife, and Drew Peterson (not related) a suspect in the death of his third wife and subsequent disappearance of his fourth wife, Stacy. These incidents, despite the media’s attention, tend to be fairly rare. “They are not that common especially compared to the number of divorces which is a number about 1.5 million a year,” said Elliott.
Common or not, they still happen. And for Katherine van Wormer, the similarities between all murdering husbands is striking. The professor of social work at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls has co-authored a book about this topic called Death by Domestic Violence (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008).
In researching the book, she gathered multiple statistics about men who kill their wives and read through hundreds of domestic abuse cases that ended in murder. The profile of the common killer husband is remarkably similar.
These types of people are extremely possessive and obsessive about the woman. They are jealous of family so they isolate them and they also imagine that there are other men in their lives,” said Van Wormer, 63. “And the main motive behind the murder,” she added, “was also jealousy. In these cases, according to research, it was jealousy. These jealous types, they are extremely obsessed with their wives.”
“And it gets more complicated in murder-suicides. What we find here with the suicide cases, is that she is a part of him, and he owns her. He says things like, ‘I can’t live without you’ and he means it. He thinks if she leaves him, it’s like his own death.”
Others believe that the tipping point for some of these men is not jealousy, but money and a sense of losing power and control. “When you go from being husband of the year to being a potential deadbeat in a matter of seconds, and your entire self image is destroyed and, thanks to no fault divorce, you haven’t done anything wrong, I think it makes you feel powerless,” said Adryenn Ashley, 39, a Petaluma, Calif.-based divorce financial analyst.
“I have sat in over 1,000 court cases, and there is no guarantee that the settlement is going to be reasonable, financially. I think they [men who murder their wives] felt they were being shoved into a corner,” she said. In the case of Scott Peterson, he felt like he had no option for getting a divorce. He felt he would have been a slave for the rest of his life. In his mind, there was no way out. He felt he couldn’t just get a divorce because he would be strapped financially with no end in sight. Yes, he should have done the standup thing and said, ‘I am an asshole and I am cheating on my pregnant wife.’ But I think it’s all about the money or more so about the powerlessness of the whole process.”
Ashley is not alone in that thinking. “We have had several clients killed by their spouses…,” said Thomas Martin, 63, a private investigator and former FBI agent from Newport Beach, Calif. “Trying to analyze their minds is always tricky, but it seems the motive is centered on money, such as paying big alimony and child support.”
Money or not, it takes a certain type of person to cross over from being angry about having to ante up to actually murdering a spouse. That type of person can come in varying shades, according to Van Wormer, but in some situations, you are dealing with a very specific personality disorder for which there is no internal mechanism about right and wrong.
“Antisocial types don’t have a conscience. They don’t love the woman or have strong emotional feelings toward her because they are not capable of them,” she said. “The best thing you can do with antisocial killers is lock them up. There is no help.”
Another characteristic these men share is their powerful controlling natures. Killing someone is the ultimate expression of control,” said Mary Jo Fay, 52, a self-proclaimed survivor-turned-advisor who has authored several books about narcissistic relationships including the self-published When your Perfect Partner goes Perfectly Wrong. “These men have a paradigm, a belief system. Everything is under their control. Everyone jumps when he says jump. And you the mate suddenly change that, or you walk out and leave, you are threatening his belief system in himself. You just left, and if he is control of everything, that just doesn’t fit.”
“And at that point, when the wife actually leaves,” according to Van Wormer, “she is at the most risk for her safety. These killers, they strike out then. When she tries to get away it is the most dangerous time, and they will stalk her to the end of the earth.”
But there is hope, at least for those who are not what Van Wormer calls un-treatable. There have been studies done with battering men. But they were the ones who wanted help, they were begging for help. The studies do show a lot can be done, by helping them work on their feelings. It is a cognitive approach that helps them work on their own victimization and help them control their irrational feelings.”
Toward that end, her new book recommends a revamping of the current model used to help treat incarcerated batterers. “Some of these interventions have not been effective at all because they are based on feminist models,” she explained. “They put them in groups and they tell them that they are playing these power games, that violence comes from a patriarchal society. But the problem is that these men see themselves as victims, of the woman, the court, the judge who sent them into treatment, victims in society. They think the women outsmarted them. That’s why the treatment has to be individualized.”
Van Wormer remains hopeful that treating batterers will eventually help diminish the number of deaths each year. “There is level of effectiveness to intervention. Most men who are arrested, according to a massive study, are not re-arrested. If they are arrested and complete treatment, the treatment doubles their chances of not being re-arrested for domestic violence,” she said.