2010
09.27

During last year’s murder trial, LaFayette Police Sergeant Sam Parker and his attorneys built their defense around the possibility that Theresa Parker was still alive. Shortly after being arrested Parker told GBI officers that Theresa had possibly gone to Florida, to Gatlinburg, or run off across the border with a singer named Elvis, a story that was brought back up during the trial and has been mentioned over and over by the few friends Sgt. Parker had left after his murder conviction.

Turns out Theresa was near the border, but not the one in Mexico. For the last few years she’s been near the Alabama-Georgia border where some of her remains were found last week by a Chattooga County farm hand.

Farmer David Ross Ledbetter took a break from loading corn last Monday and stumbled on a human jawbone near the Chattooga River in the Holland/Lyerly community. Chattooga County deputies found additional bones and clothing on Tuesday (but no sign of Elvis) while GBI forensics experts quickly matched the jawbone to Theresa Parker’s dental records, confirming what many had feared: Theresa never made it out of Georgia and won’t ever be coming home.

Recovered remains may not reveal much about the way Theresa was killed, where the murder happened, or even where her body has been for the last 3-1/2 years, but they do prove that she’s dead – blowing away chances for Sam to have a successful appeal. Most locals never had much of a doubt that he did it, but now even those who defended the former police officer (including ex-partner Robert Digges) will have to concede this doesn’t look very good for Mr. Parker’s supposed innocence.

With the remains identified in record time, the GBI and Walker Sheriff’s Office began contacting Theresa’s family and other involved law enforcement agencies late Tuesday. The news went public Wednesday afternoon when the Sheriff announced a media event to be held at 5:30, preempting a GBI press conference scheduled for the next day. Between 3 and 5 PM reporters from local, Chattanooga, and Atlanta media outlets gathered outside the Walker County Courthouse to shoot photos and live video during the long-awaited announcement, right on time for the evening news.

The press conference was held at the Walker County Public Relations Office in the basement of the Commissioner’s office. Wilson, looking strong and sharp despite his well-publicized battle against cancer, stood behind the dais in front of a “historical” Georgia flag, joined by Chattooga Sheriff John Everett, prosecutor Leigh Patterson, and Jerry Scott of the GBI – all of whom had more to do with investigating, prosecuting, and finding the body than Wilson himself did.

Despite his lack of involvement, Sheriff Wilson took charge of the press conference, directing the other officers where to stand and when to speak while taking questions from the throng of reporters. Many have commented how calm and professional the sheriff looked during the media event, but looking good on camera and speaking clearly don’t necessarily translate into being a good law officer (or president, or doctor, or anything else except perhaps actor). We’d rather hear from someone like Chattooga’s John Everett, who despite appearing nervous and sounding a bit like Forest Gump (“that’s all we have to say about it at this time”), briefly presented actual facts about the discovery and then moved out of the way without unneeded bragging or speculation.

Wilson, in comparison, had diarrhea of the mouth – loving the cameras almost as much as the cameras loved him. Even with little first-hand information, the Sheriff spoke for almost all of the press conference’s 15 minutes, repeated himself several times, and answered several questions that should have been passed along to others.

Part 2 of this video is available here.

The first question asked (at 7:55 into the video above) concerned Theresa’s family: “When you spoke to the family, how much did it mean to them? What was their reaction?” Instead of directing that inquiry to the family or answering it briefly, Wilson spoke for nearly two minutes about the trauma of losing a loved one, of how Theresa’s mother would miss her for the rest of her life, and on and on – commenting on the woman’s spiritual and psychological condition while almost putting words into her mouth. (As one Facebook commentator said, he was “flying by the seat of his britches” with no idea what he was talking about.)

Wilson also claimed his department never stopped actively searching for Parker, even though she disappeared over three years ago and the case against her husband was closed upon his conviction. “We never let up looking for her. As a matter of fact, we were looking for her yesterday in a different location. .. We always continued to look for her.”

This claim was echoed by Mr. Scott of the GBI, but so far he’s the only other member of law enforcement we’ve found who’s willing to back up the Sheriff’s statement – and at least one local cop suggests no such search was being conducted (or was at least put together at the last minute once Wilson suspected Parker’s body had been located).

One news report from last year stated no official search for Theresa had been conducted since 2008 – so even if the Sheriff’s Office or GBI had done an occasional search, claiming “we always continued to look for her” constitutes a bit of a stretch.

If the department HAD continually looked for Theresa Parker, they never would have found her without searching in the most logical places. Wilson claims to have always felt she was within 30 minutes from home, so searches were restricted to a four county-area – but investigators never ventured into the southern end of Chattooga County where remains were eventually found.

That riverbank site is within the predicted 30-minute range, on a hunting trail Sam Parker would have been quite familiar with, and only 12 to 14 miles from Parker’s childhood home where he admitted going with a boat on the night Theresa disappeared. Not looking there, or even in that end of Chattooga County, makes little sense. Considering all the manpower, media attention, and time that law enforcement authorities had at their disposal, there’s no reason for Theresa’s discovery to be left up to a random farmer looking for sticks.

So considering how poorly the Walker County Sheriff’s Office conducted its hunt for Theresa Parker, we can definitively say Steve Wilson had nothing to do with finding her body – and in fact had a lot more to do with her murder than with her return. Some responsibility for her death is shared equally by Wilson, his Walker Sheriff’s Office, the LaFayette Police Department (which has barely been mentioned in this week’s news), and the LaFayette city government because all had ample warning about Sam Parker’s dark side and plenty of opportunity to stop him before he committed murder.

In 1989, shortly after Sam began working for the LaFayette PD a second time, his then-wife Keila Beard told friends that the officer had beaten her and threatened to kill her while on duty. One of those friends told her own husband Max Morrison about the abuse and Morrison, then a LaFayette City Councilman, discussed it with Police Chief Dino Richardson and LaFayette City Manager David Aldridge.

    “I have a little problem with the city paying Sam Parker to rough up his wife.” -Former LaFayette City Councilman Max Morrison in 1989

Morrison testified last year that the chief dismissed the abuse as being a personal matter between a husband and wife, and neither Richardson (who passed away in August 2006) nor Aldridge ever spoke to the officer about his behavior. Morrison also dropped the issue once Beard left Sam and the abuse temporarily stopped. Beard herself spoke with Richardson and Aldridge when officer Parker continued to harass her family while on duty, but again nothing was done.

Steve Wilson worked for the LPD during that period and knew Sam Parker well, but testified that he wasn’t aware of Sam’s abusive behavior at the time and would have fired the officer if he had known of it. That however was not his last chance to do something about the abuse, and when he became aware of it 17 years later he took no action.

By 2002 Sam Parker had risen to the top of the LaFayette Police Department and joined an elite group of senior officers who could get away with almost anything. But his 9-year marriage to third-wife Theresa was crumbling and he was showing signs of mental instability.

Walker County Sheriff’s Deputy Bruce Coker, an old friend of Sam’s, was called to the Parkers’ home in 2002 on a report of domestic abuse. He found Theresa’s clothing thrown in the yard and noticed she had an obvious mark on her face, but she denied being struck by Sgt. Parker. Although Sam could have been arrested on the spot, Coker (in his own testimony) didn’t do anything because he didn’t want to endanger Sam’s career and didn’t want to make Theresa a victim.

In April 2006 Theresa met directly with Steve Wilson and Dino Richardson in a final plea for help. During that 45 minute meeting, Ms. Parker told both men about Sam’s erratic behavior, an incident in Panama City where he was sent to a mental hospital, his alcohol abuse (by then he was often drinking on duty), his physical abuse, and threats he had made against her. But according to the Sheriff she didn’t want him arrested, only out of her home. Again, neither man did anything and only 11 months later Theresa was dead.

According to Georgia Code 17-4-20.1, any law enforcement officer who responds to an obvious case of domestic violence is required to arrest the perpetrator regardless of victim statements. That law had been in place for ten years when these incidents occurred, and all of the officers who knew of Sgt. Parker’s behavior (including Coker, Wilson, and Richardson – two of whom were department heads) would have been aware of it. Saying Theresa didn’t want Sam to be arrested is no excuse for not doing anything, because that goes against the very law they were supposed to be enforcing.

Sheriff Wilson, Deputy Coker, and Chief Richardson all violated the law and ignored obvious abuse just to protect their old friend Sam, and as a result have a share of Theresa’s blood on their hands. Former City Manager Aldridge, who ignored complaints of abuse, and the city government leaders of 2006 who left the Police Department leaderless while Richardson was dying of cancer also bear culpability for the woman’s murder.

Sadly, in the media and elsewhere this has been treated like just another gruesome murder committed by someone who happened to be a police officer. It should instead be viewed as a murder committed by a cop who was enabled by powerful law enforcement friends that turned a blind eye to his bad behavior and then let him drift into a position of unchecked power.

The sheriff and the city can’t go back and fix this, they can’t bring Theresa back to life, but they can step up and accept responsibility for the mistakes, missteps, and poor judgment that led up to Theresa Parker being killed. But up until this point we’ve seen no admission of responsibility, involvement, or even REGRET from Sheriff Wilson, Deputy Coker, the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, the City of LaFayette, or the LaFayette Police Department.

At the very LEAST every officer and organization involved should send written apologies to Theresa’s family and publicly honor her memory while admitting mistakes that led up to her murder. And for true justice, those written apologies would be followed by written resignations from several prominent locals and news of massive restructuring at the LaFayette Police Department.

The LaFayette PD and newly-instated chief Tommy Freeman should have cleaned house in 2007 once it became obvious Sgt. Parker had abused and killed his wife. But not even Parker and fellow officer Ben Chaffin (who helped him hide evidence) were fired or reprimanded for what happened to Theresa; they both lost their jobs over other issues. They should have been dismissed for their actions, along with every officer who knew Sam was dangerous but didn’t try to do anything about him. Most of the officers who were there in 2006 and 2007 are still there, along with everyone at the Sheriff’s Office who had refused to do anything that might impact their friend’s career.

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office and LaFayette Police Department both need to go beyond the minimum (which is all they’ve done so far) and take some important steps to reestablish trust between law enforcement agencies and the people who live here. The first step is cleaning out corruption, as mentioned above, and the second step is establishing policies for how to handle any future incidents of officer-involved crime and domestic violence.

Every employee of the police department and Sheriff’s Office should be required to have regular sessions with a counselor, at least once a year if not more often. The county should also set up an independent hotline or advocate to handle officer-involved crime since the existing Women’s Shelter and law enforcement agencies are too close to law enforcement officers to be effective in situations like the one Theresa Parker found herself in. And if those kinds of incidents do ever happen, nobody should bend over backwards to cover them up or get a pass if caught doing so.

Officer-involved crimes and violence occur all the time all around the world, and it’s safe to say Sam Parker isn’t the first cop in Walker County to ever smack his wife around. In recent years we’ve also seen local officers accused of lying and tampering with evidence, of committing theft, of driving drunk, and of flirting with suspects – and don’t forget the retired Walker County Sheriff’s Office employee who forced an entire neighborhood to be evacuated during an “emotional episode” back in April of this year.

In light of those (and other) incidents, assuming that cops don’t (or won’t) need regular counseling, anger management training, background checks, and close supervision is naïve. So is assuming they don’t make mistakes or would never commit a crime. Yet many naïvely presume everyone with a badge or in a position of authority and leadership is saintly, and overlook the possibility of other Sam Parkers doing what Sam Parker did to his wife. This isn’t to say all (or even many) law officers are bad, but when we assume none are, crimes like these shouldn’t be very surprising.

Ultimately, preventing similar incidents from happening again in the future requires not just new people, new policies, or new programs but an entirely new attitude towards law enforcement and the law in general. An attitude recognizing that no man (or woman) is above the law, regardless of race, job, or family name. An attitude that doesn’t ignore obvious bad behavior from the wealthy, well-connected, or old friends. That kind of attitude must begin at the very top and flow down to be shared by law officers and citizens on every level.

The highest authority of law enforcement in Walker County is Steve Wilson, but so far his behavior has failed to display the kind of attitude we so badly need. This week we’ve not seen an air of humility, of regret, or of guilt. What we have seen is Steve Wilson prancing around in front of the cameras and taking credit for all the hard work others did to find Theresa Parker while putting words in the mouths of her family members. That displays an attitude that regards this as just another murder instead of a tragedy where blame partially falls on the shoulders of the very people later called to investigate it. That’s no way for any law officer to behave, and definitely not the way to prevent someone else from becoming a victim of officer-involved violence.

This article is an update of Criminal Culture – February 7, 2010

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26 comments so far

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  1. My mom is a 911 dispatcher and worked with Theresa for years. If something like this happened to any of the Walker Co dispatchers it makes sense that the Sheriff of Walker Co would be involved in the conference concerning her discovery, and yes she was found 12 miles from his house but if youve ever been to Lyerly GA then you know how much land there is to look over so whoever created this website, quit printing crap that you dont know anything about. The trial is over. He is guilty and yes there were some things that should have been addressed before he killed Theresa such as his violent behavior but that is over and done with. Let her family and friends mourn her and quit all the finger pointing.

  2. First off I would like to know where you got your information. I love the fact that you feel like bashing a very wonderful law enforcement officer such as our sheriff Steve Wilson. Apparently you feel as though you would do a much more sufficient job than he so why havent you ran against him to change things that you claim are going on. Where did you get your facts about Theresa Parker meeting with Steve & Dino? Just a few questions so maybe you can get down off your high horse!

  3. And I also agree with miss Rhinehart above. Steve is the sheriff of Walker County & this crime did occurr in Walker County so it seems to me that he would be the one to conduct the press conference!!!!!!

  4. Ouch!!!! A little on the protecive side, we see…………..

  5. If you look into the public information regarding the trial you will see that not only did she meet with them, but his ex-wife also met with Mr. Abernathy and Mr. Richardson as well. I will refrain from taking my time and researching the exact day and time during the trial that these testimonies were stated and will leave that up to you.

  6. Everything in this article is from a publicly available news source, including the Walker County Messenger, Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Chattanoogan, The Summerville News, News Ch. 9, Ch. 3.. Try clicking the links, the orange text, within the article. They’ve been provided so you can see for yourself where this information came from.

    Dino and Steve Wilson meeting with Theresa Parker comes directly from Steve Wilson’s own testimony in the Sam Parker trial last summer – if it didn’t happen why did the Sheriff say it did under oath? Coker deciding not to charge Sam even though he could have/should have is also from testimony provided by Mr. Coker. Information about the leadership vacuum at the LaFayette PD comes from the testimony of Stacey Meeks and others who worked (and still work) at the LPD.

    All we’ve done is pull up these statements and quotes from the public archives and tie the strings together so you can get a better picture of what actually happened. If you don’t like what happened, go ask these gentlemen why they behaved the way they did.

    Thanks for reading..

    — The LaFayette Underground

  7. Can we please let Teresa rest in peace and her family have a moment to take care of the arrangements at hand? For whatever reason too many heads were turned when it came to Sam’s temper it is all behind us now. Let this be a wake-up call to other abused women to speak up and demand something is done. God has Teresa now, and her abuse is over. Let us be mindful of the family still here, and give them our support. God will deal with Sam.

  8. When one sticks their head in the sand; they leave a very vulnerable part exposed.
    I believe Lu IS trying to wake people up to abuses that are happening in this area’s law enforcement and others across the country.
    When officers are given the idea that they are above the law; they will push even those limits. Not just Walker County but I’ve seen it many places, and the departments will actually actively look for the bully or “ex gang members” and those that “get off” on carrying a gun for their recruits.

  9. Whoever “LaFayette Underground” claims to be is what law enforcement commonly refer to as 10-96…..CRAZY…This is the most ludicrous, uneducated, radical post I have ever read. Sheriff Wilson conducted the press conference because he is the spokesperson / department head for the Walker County Sheriff’s Dept. Who else would have conducted the press conference? Again, how radical and uneducated can you be folks??

  10. Radical ? Maybe. Uneducated ? Don’t bet the farm. Free country. Leave at your disgression.

  11. Talk about avoiding the issues… Is Wilson’s prominent place at the press conference really what you want to call LU crazy over? Obviously the rest of the facts are so solid you can’t find anything to attack there.

    This is not and should not be over. If doors were held open which allowed Sam to murder his wife, shouldn’t we look to those whose hands held them?
    Imagine how far this would be taken if Theresa had been a celebrity: The entire nation would scream for the heads of those who played the tiniest parts in this tragedy. But she was not, and nobody seems to care to look past the one who directly took her life. Nevermind those who had the power to stop him but didn’t.
    It’s in the past, let’s close the book!

    No. The plot doesn’t end with this chapter. There’s an entire novel to be uncovered, and it MUST be in order that justice is done.

  12. Also, I fail to see how this article prevents Theresa’s family and friends from grieving.

  13. have you sold all your apples yet?

  14. Iknow who you are now

  15. Wow, “tim,” how very creepy of you…

    Personally, I like Steve Wilson alot, but I think this whole affair has revealed a serious need for reform in how we manage law enforcement. ANY organization tends to become ingrown and we tend to cut slack for the people that we have relationships with. Sometimes that works well, because we DO know each other. Other times it can become a disaster (Sam Parker). The key is to discern what areas we can NEVER cut slack and which we can. I’m not interested in trying to get public officials to run out in the streets to take the blame for Teresa’s murder (that one is apparently on Sam), but I would like to see some policies in place to make sure that a cop like Sam can never glide through the system again. And when those responsible don’t take care of business, it’s the business of watchdogs to point it out. I appreciate the recent story about the “emotional episode” of the police officer. I only hope he’s facing a different system than Sam did. I want the system to care for our officers, but also protect our community.

  16. No one said Theresa’s family are not being able to grieve (they have been grieving). Her family is not getting closure through this article. In this article you say that Theresa met with Steve & Dino “in a final plea for help” but you also stated that she did not want Sam arrested or that she had asked for help before. Even if Bruce Coker had arrested Sam or if the Lafayette PD had fired him does not mean that would have saved Theresa. She could have had him arrested, she could have not went to their house alone to get her stuff. Those were all her decisions. Hopefully this will help other abused women find the strength they need to leave & do what they have to to protect themselves. If this article is truly about changing policies & helping to reform the PD then I am all for it. I agree that policies need to be in place that protect our community while also helping our law enforcement officers deal with anger, stress, & many other things they deal with in their personal & professional lives while also keeping them accountable. However, this article sounds more like you are ready to hang these individuals on the courthouse lawn. It sounds more like you just want to point fingers & blame people for things they have or havent done. Be sure your sin will also find you out. We are all guilty of sin & wrong & yet we want to point fingers @ others instead of trying to really make a difference.

  17. The fact is that with the Sam Parker case and the Tonya Craft case, the Lookout Mountain Judicial system has been in the national spotlight. And none of this publicity has been good, (as if we didn’t already look like a bunch of back woods hillbillies from the whole Marsh Crematory fiasco). If we take time to look at all three of these cases, we can easily find a connection to the blatant disregard for common sense law enforcement with this group. First of all with the Marsh case: on at least 2 occasions the Walker County Sherriff’s Dept was called to the property by the propane truck driver who reported seeing bodies, but according to the reports…….” you would expect to see bodies at a crematory”. Really????? Would you not think that storing bodies awaiting cremation outside in the yard (close to the propane tank) would be a little bit unusual? Apparently not if you are a family member of the former “Walker County Citizen of the Year”! And then with the Tonya Craft case: if it could go wrong, it did go wrong. How on earth could it be acceptable to have an un-trained, un-qualified person responsible for conducting interviews with children who may have suffered the worse type of life-altering abuse imaginable? After that was brought to light, the rest of the case just looked like a feeble attempt from the good-old-boys club to cover each other’s exposed asses. The whole thing turned into one of those “you can never have too many friends in law enforcement” bad jokes. Which brings me back to poor old Sam Parker: I have to admit, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him. But apparently, he is one charismatic SOB, who for the past 25 years has been able to flash that badge and a smile and get away with abusing those closest to him. What happened to Teresa was inevitable and every single person who knew or even suspected that Sam was dangerous has her blood on their hands. The crazy thing is that we took an innocent person like Tonya Craft and tried every trick in the book to railroad her to jail while we allowed a known crazy, wife beating, badge toting city cop to stay on the force while he killed his wife.
    Enough is enough …..my only hope is that we the people of these counties remember each of these atrocities at election time!

  18. The Tonya Craft trial was in Catoosa county & yes I will remember what a good job Sherriff Wilson has done & will vote for him come election time :).

  19. Kimberly said:
    >>No one said Theresa’s family are not being able to grieve (they have been grieving). <> In this article you say that Theresa met with Steve & Dino “in a final plea for help” but you also stated that she did not want Sam arrested… She could have had him arrested, she could have not went to their house alone to get her stuff. Those were all her decisions.<> It sounds more like you just want to point fingers & blame people for things they have or havent done.<<

    That's just what you did to Theresa.

  20. (Resubmitted due to formatting error)

    Kimberly said:
    ~~No one said Theresa’s family are not being able to grieve (they have been grieving). ~~

    Heather said “Let her family and friends mourn her and quit all the finger pointing.”
    Donna said “Can we please let Teresa rest in peace and her family have a moment to take care of the arrangements at hand? ”

    So it seems some people think that L.U. is interupting the grieving process.

    ~~ In this article you say that Theresa met with Steve & Dino “in a final plea for help” but you also stated that she did not want Sam arrested… She could have had him arrested, she could have not went to their house alone to get her stuff. Those were all her decisions.~~

    So Theresa is to blame for her death?

    ~~ It sounds more like you just want to point fingers & blame people for things they have or havent done.~~

    That’s just what you did to Theresa.

  21. really, mr hoffman? all of those decisions were theresa’s. the only person to blame for her death is sam parker.

  22. In order to get the right perspective on this you need to strip away the names, the locations, and any personal feelings or connections you have. Pretend you’re a juror from another county, brought here to look at the case with fresh eyes (much as Sam Parker’s jury was called to do).

    You might even change the crime. Let’s say it’s a hostage situation, which this in some ways was.

    A woman being held hostage by a violent, addicted, and psychotic police officer. She has been abused and threatened with death, but so has her family. She has opportunity to leave the place where she’s being “held” but knows if she tells too many people about the predicament or tries to flee, she or someone she loves could be harmed or killed.

    But she must do something, and the violence escalates. She attempts to cry out for help by calling 911 during a particularly bad incident, but when the hostage taker’s friend responds to her call she denies everything. Later she approaches two men in authority over the armed and violent man, explaining the situation she’s in but asking them not to take direct action lest she be killed – again noting that the men she’s speaking with are also friends with the hostage taker.

    11 months later she disappears, and after some 3-1/2 years is found dead. Is the hostage taker, the armed and violent man, the only one to blame? Can we say she never tried to get help for herself, to cry out for help and make people aware of what was going on? Or did she do everything she could reasonably do without making matters worse, only to be ignored by those few people with the power to help her?

    How many women a year fall victim to domestic violence because they’re afraid to report the perpetrator? Do we blame victims of child abuse for not telling people when they’re first abused? There are psychological explanations and reasons for all of this, and saying Theresa is responsible for her own murder is making excuses for the one who murdered her and the ones who had power to prevent that murder but did nothing about it.

    I find it funny that so many people (including members of the Wilson family who have contacted us) take more of an issue with our (mild) critique of the press conference than with the hard evidence of Bruce Coker, Steve Wilson, and Dino Richardson ignoring Theresa’s cries for help. You should be ashamed of yourselves for this kind of attitude, because that’s the kind of thinking that resulted in Theresa being killed.

    — The LaFayette Underground

  23. We canNOT consider all this “water under the bridge”—for the pure and simple fact that the same lack of help and attention to Theresa Parker’s pleas for help, could doom other abused women. I fail to see how other abused women can look at Theresa Parker’s case and, quoting Kimberly, “find the strength they need to leave & do what they have to to protect themselves.” Seems to me the message to abused women is, “It’s no use trying to get help, because law enforcement won’t help you, especially if the abuser is ‘one of their own’.”

    Unless you’ve been abused yourself, it can be very hard to understand why it’s so difficult for victims (female AND male, and yes men get abused by their wives too) to seek help. Abusive personalities tend to seek out partners with low self-confidence. Most initially present themselves as everything the partner could want: strong, someone to rely on, and often someone who *seems* to dote on their partner. Once the ties of the relationship have grown strong (often but not always via marriage), the abuser begins showing their darker side, the real person behind the mask.

    And that darker side isn’t just about physical or sexual abuse; it’s primarily about mental and emotional manipulation of the victim. Abusers seek to exert absolute control, to dominate: one of their favorite methods is to chip away at an already unconfident person’s self image. Another is to convince the person that they’re not only worthless, but also powerless, that the abuser holds all the cards, power, control, and that no one will believe or help the victim. In many cases, this also extends to money and property: abusers ensure that their victims can’t afford to move away, to hire a lawyer; they maintain control of household moneys. Back that with fear of being beaten for attempting to access what fund/resources that *can* be accessed by the victim, and you have a potent circle of fear.

    It’s quite *easy* to say “Well, if she’d *just* had the strength to leave/ask for help.” The reality is, you can never know how difficult that can be without walking in those shoes yourself. Abuse victims aren’t *sane*—they are people who’ve been encircled by a campaign of abuse from all directions.

    Imagine you’ve been locked in a dark closet. Imagine you’ve been there for years, and the one person who brings you food and water and takes away the chamberpot, is also the one telling you how worthless you are, how stupid, how you can’t do anything right. They tell you that you *deserve* to be in that closet; they tell you the myriad ways that you’ve failed them and ways you’ve failed everyone. They tell you that they are your only source for sustenance and care, that no one else would have the magnimity to care for you, worthless as you are. They reinforce these things they say a million times over the years with beatings to prove you are the one in the wrong, that there’s something wrong with you. They may even threaten to kill you. They demand sex as your “wifely” duty, whether you wish it or not.

    This is your life. This is what you know. You believe what you’re told, over and over, because of the repetition, because of the reinforcement, because you weren’t sure of your own value to begin with.

    Now, lets say that someone, occasionally, slips a note in through a crack in the exterior wall of the closet. You hold it up to the sliver of daylight that comes in, and read it. The note insists that what’s happening to you is wrong, that you don’t deserve it, and that if you will write a reply and sign a call for help, someone will come get you out of that closet.

    At first you can barely see to read the note, having lived in darkness for so long, Eventually you puzzle out what it says… and then the internal battle begins, between fear and a miniscule sliver of hope, between years of “you are useless” and a whisper of “you are worth saving,” between other messages you absorbed from your family and your culture of how marriage means compromise and self-sacrifice, and the odd idea that you should actually care about yourself, as well.

    Growing a plant in utter darkness is easier than growing in yourself a belief first that you *do* matter, and second in growing a belief and trust that people actually *will* help, that they actually *can* protect you from your abuser.

    Now, you’ve managed to come so far as to actually dare to write a reply, a plea for help—but you fear if you stick the note out through the crack, your abuser will find it before your unseen friend. You agonize for hours, days, weeks over whether or not to stick that note through the crack in the wall.

    At this point, some victims tear up the note and eat it: their fear is too great. Some will still be debating on sticking the note through the wall when their abuser goes too far and kills them: their time ran out. Some will be caught with the note by their abuser, and pay a heavy price, as the abuser reacts with extreme violence (physical, emotional and mental) to the note. A very few will actually get the note through the crack and into the hands of their outside friend… but still many of these may recant out of fear, when someone *does* show up to help them. And even then, even with the ones who remain firm… sometimes the system doesn’t do enough to protect them, and they end up dying at the vengeful hands of their abuser.

    Imagine how hard it is, laboring under the insane mentality of utter worthlessness and powerlessness and the absolute terror of worse abuse, for a victim to TELL someone, to file a report, to TRY to get away. Now think of how much harder it grows, when a victim hears of other victims who *didn’t* make it, who *weren’t* saved despite promises that the system would help, who *weren’t* listened to by those in authority. How can an abused person trust the system to help them, when it’s failed someone else so miserably?

    Not to mention, layered atop that the mentality that the wife is *supposed* to submit to the husband, that she is *supposed* to be a secondary partner to his “head of household,” that she has made holy vows and must keep them no matter what the actual situation of her marriage may be, or even that they must remain wedded “for the good of the children.” Women are still raised with these concepts, being told them outright or being told them by assumption via cultural attitudes and things around her people “take for granted,” such as “when [not ‘if’] you get married…” and, well, a thousand-and-one things people say to little girls and young women as cultural expectations for who and what they will become when they grow up.

    So, in short, if you fight back, if you try to escape, if you file for divorce, there’s this societal detrius in your head of “I’m failing again, because I’m failing to be what I was told I should be.”

    No sane and healthily self-confident/self-loving person would put up with being abused for one moment—and that’s the point: abuse victims aren’t sane. Expecting a sane response from them is like looking for snow in July… and the fact that people *blame* abuse victims for *not* exhibiting a sane response just adds one more layer of people blaming them. Not to mention, that’s not a sane or healthy response either.

    The fact that *some* victims somehow manage to find enough self-love and trust in others to actually make it out alive, is a flat out miracle. A lot of that miracle can be attributed to the love and care and trustworthiness of the people trying to help that victim, because they managed to get enough light through the crack for her to read the note, and convey enough strength for the victim to believe rescue was possible. Part of it is the victim too: there’s no telling how, where, or when, but at least some of them manage to grasp enough sanity to reach out a hand for help.

    The fact that when they do, sometimes the system doesn’t *deliver* that promised help, or even discounts or turns its back on the victim… is its own kind of crime: not just to that victim, but to all future victims who may, by that backturning of authority to one victim’s pleas, lose any trust that they themselves can gain help from said system.

    THAT is why this blog is important. Nothing more can be done for Theresa. A lot could be done for other victims, if the system would own up to its mistakes and implement measures to prevent such abuse of the system from happening again. So far, that doesn’t seem to be happening, and no one seems to be “man enough” to own up to the ways they failed Theresa, and by extension, all other victims of abuse.

  24. One thing I forgot to mention:

    In my metaphorical example, it doesn’t start out with you being locked in a closet. Rather, it starts in small ways: the abuser convinces you that it’s dangerous outside, therefore you need to remain locked in the house. He alternates small comments about your inability to take care of yourself/ways you fail, with things like “baby you know I love you” and “you know I’m here for you.” Abuse is usually a gradually deepening existence: it gets worse a little at a time, and the abuser’s flip/flops to assertions of love and “loving behavior” serve to allay the victim’s fears, as well as to reinforce the idea that he “loves her.”

    Continuing the image example, it gradually progresses from being locked in the house for your own protection, to being locked into a room (not just for your own protection, but also because 1. you can’t be trusted to do things “right” and 2. in answer to “jealous fantasies” from the abuser.

    Finally, it progresses to being locked in a closet.

    Now, all of this is image examples I created to try to give readers the *feeling* of what being an abuse victim is like: it’s as if your life shuts down to a smaller and smaller area of existence, with the abuser gaining more and more control. Often abusers will strive to end or weaken the victim’s friendships and even ties to their own family… that’s because they know it’s those ties and friendships that provide outside perspective, and have a chance of countering their campaign in the victim’s mind. The fewer steady and close contacts a victim has, especially ones where the victim might actually speak of the abuse and get sane feedback on it, the better the abuser’s chances are to direct the victim’s mind and self-perception in the direction he wants them to go: where he’s in total or near-total control.

    You sometimes hear family and friends, after the fact, saying “I had no idea it was so bad,” or “she never told me about that,” or even “we rarely saw her.” This is because the abuser has continued gaining control of her mental state, continued weakening ties, continued instilling the fear of “telling” and instilling that acceptance of the role as victim is “what she deserves.” The more isolated a victim is, the more control the abuser can exert over his victim’s mind.

    Too, while some abusers *do* slip up and show signs in public of the abuse for one reason or another, many maintain a public facade of respectability, never allowing a hint of the “in home/in private” behavior to show in public. Often, he will be “a good Joe” in public, and be a well-thought-of person. If they do slip up, often drinking or other inhibition-destroying factors are involved, and are often used to “explain away” the “incident”… as if being intoxicated is some kind of excuse for violence or abusive behavior.

    Please understand: I’m very sympathetic to Theresa’s family and friends in all this. They’ve lost a piece of their lives and hearts, a wonderful vivid person who can never be replaced, and they’ve lost her in a horrible fashion. I hope nothing I’ve said has caused them further pain.

    But as a victim myself, someone who did managed to make it out and grow healthy, I owe it to Theresa and to other victims to share what I’ve learned about abusers, about victims, and about how hard it is to get out of it. It can’t help Theresa, but if it can help *one* other person to spot the signs of abuse early and get out of the relationship early, it’s worth doing. If it can help *one* other person who’s deep in the throws of it to actually see and understand what’s happening, that it’s not right, that there is hope and a way out of it to try for, then it’s worth it. If it can help educate *one* other person on not blaming the victim, on ways to *help* the victim, it’s worth it.

    And, if it can help people understand how the system failed Theresa, and how it can fail others who are abuse victims, hopefully it will spur them on to demand change in the system.

  25. Great article LU and thank you for your courage in publishing it. Also thanks to the posters above for their eloquence speaking on behalf of Theresa Parker and other victims of domestic violence.

    As I read the posts and thought of my own experiences and those of other women friends and family, it occurred to me that situations like Theresa’s are all too common in this country; hardly a week goes by without a Nancy Grace story about a young woman who has been murdered by her husband or boyfriend. Jane Valez Mitchell calls this a War on Women” .

    I would say to any young girl reading this, or to her mother or anyone who can influence her — get your education and a career first before ‘falling in love’.

    Believe every minute that you are worthy of the highest respect and that you must be treated well at all times.

    The signs of misogyny are readily seen if you look for them and you can head these guys off before they can hurt you. Men like Sam Parker are predators, and they will run like h**l from a woman who shows right away that she won’t tolerate rude, condescending, or dismissive behavior (the first signs that you’ve encountered an abuser). They aren’t man enough to deal with solid self esteem on a first date (and they always show their true colors, even that early, if you are watching closely).

    To all women I would say, if you are in a relationship with a Sam Parker type, get yourself and your family some self defense training. Especially get the male relatives to man up and take the abuser to the woodshed if necessary (for a good talking to, you understand). These weaklings who abuse women won’t stand up to another man, or to all the adult men in the family, acting cohesively. Then everybody in the family protect yourself in all ways possible, and I’ll leave that at that without specifics. Do everything legally and safely of course.

    Society, beginning with individuals and families must learn to stand up to bullies and in doing so, many women’s lives can be saved.

  26. I am wondering what exactly do you help with. I want to get myself and 3 kids away from other family members and start over. Alls there has been for months is constant arguing and fingers are pointed at one of my 2 daughters all the time and we get treated like we are trash just something that can be just thrown away. It doesn’t matter if we have any kind of feelings. We are just informed it wouldn’t matter if we are alive or dead from these people. I don’t think its fair or right and not helpful to my ADHD child. She is having a hard time dealing with this kind of situation. I know she’s having a hard time dealing with a lot of things. I just want to dossomething. I have been trying to find different place but haven’t found any help I tryed to get a loan but don’t qualify for them. I hope I can find help.