The Life and Death of Muriel Pfeil/What have We Learned About Domestic Violence Since 1976

Were the good old days really that good?

Not to Alaska resident Muriel Pfeil.

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In 1976, Muriel got into her car in downtown Anchorage, turned the key, and was blown to bits. Someone had planted a car bomb.

At the time, Muriel was not much past forty and had been through a rocky divorce and custody battle with her former husband, lawyer Neil Mackay. Mackay was later acquitted of murder charges. More than eight years later, when Muriel’s brother fought for custody of his nephew and for control of Muriel’s estate, he was executed on his way home from work.

I became a domestic violence advocate in 1992, sixteen years after Muriel’s death. Time and time again, battered women I met with indicated that Muriel’s death was used by their partners as a means to maintain control. “Leave me and you’ll go down like Muriel did.”

I know of no other women in Anchorage killed by their partners in that exact fashion, but just the threat of a car-bombing proved to be a powerful tool to keep women in abusive relationships.

I think about Muriel’s death and the murder of her brother with some regularity. I’m not the only one. Just this evening, a friend mentioned a Muriel Pfeil conversation at a party she attended last week. So much time has passed, and we’re still pondering how such a horrible thing could happen in our community.

What would I tell Muriel Pfeil about how we have evolved since her murder? 

I’d like her to know about mandatory domestic violence arrests now. That we’re moving beyond asking questions like Why does she stay, and moving towards holding offenders accountable for their actions. I’d want her to know that she wasn’t alone in being a victim, and that now, we have shelters across the world that assist victims of interpersonal violence to find safety and support.

Muriel Pfeil's grave
Muriel Pfeil’s grave

What lessons can we learn from the life and death of Muriel Pfeil?

1) Domestic violence is far too common. One in three women worldwide report being injured by an intimate partner within her lifetime.

2) The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is just before or immediately after leaving.

3) The violence can extend to other family members, not just the intimate partner of the abuser.

Do you know someone in an abusive relationship?  Refer them to 1-800-799-SAFE

Muriel Pfeil. Gone, but never forgotten.

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