Dominick Dunne Re-Do: A Parent Reaches Out to a Daughter in Peril

I love hearing about parents who openly share their successes and failures with respect to child-rearing. And I’m a sucker for anyone who’s gone through a tragedy and come out on the other side, ready to help others in similar circumstances.

Lately, I’m obsessed with all things Dominick Dunne.  I’ve been watching re-runs of the late crime-writer’s show, reading his memoir, and I saw a movie about his influence in solving the Martha Moxley murder. Just last night, I read his magazine article about his own daughter’s murder (ironically, she was shot exactly seven years to the day after Martha Moxley ).

Dominick Dunne was already an accomplished writer for Vanity Fair in 1982 when his daughter was murdered.  At twenty-two, Dominique Dunne had enjoyed a memorable role in Poltergeist, and was already working on another television show when she was strangled by her boyfriend.
Domestic abuse was not a topic widely discussed in 1982, and Dunne wrote later that both he and his family regretted that they hadn’t explicitly expressed their distaste for Dominique’s boyfriend to her. Maybe that would have made a difference, he speculated.
Life should afford us more re-do’s.
Fast forward twenty-five years. I receive a panicked call from an older friend who believes her mid—twenties daughter has paired up with a possible abuser. I school her on how to look up information at the court system. She calls back a day or so later. “Three different women have had restraining orders on him in the past ten years…One woman said he broke her arm!”
We debrief about how she and her husband will handle the information. I encourage her to be direct, but tread carefully, and keep her expectations low.  “She may dig in harder if she thinks you’re attacking him.”
But my friend disagrees. “As soon as she knows her father and I are aware of what he’s done in his past, she’ll leave him.” They were a close-knit family, to be sure. No divorces or violence in their family tree.  This was an aberration.
A week later, my friend calls back. “She did exactly what you said. She told us it was none of our business, and nearly threatened to stay away from us if we pushed her too hard.” My friend was despondent.
But not for long. She and her husband came up with a master plan. They invited their daughter and her new beau to their home for dinner. Openly and sincerely, they relayed the following.
“As a person involved with our daughter, you are like family to us.  You are welcome in our home, in our lives, and can call on us any time. But we know your history with women, and we’re watching you. We’ll be watching how you treat our daughter. We’ll be watching to see if she gives things up that are most important to her, her job, her hobbies, her family ties, and her friendships.  If you try to get in the way of any of these things, or do anything to jeopardize her well-being, or should you ever harm a hair on her head, we’ll be there to hold you fully accountable.”
The new beau was speechless.
Over the next five years, my friends kept their word. They included their daughter’s partner in all family events, something the beau appeared to sincerely appreciate. And then their daughter broke up with him, something my friend and her husband sincerely appreciated. The daughter later met someone and married him within a year and a half, and could not be happier.
The lesson?
Breaking the secrecy and isolation typically involved in an abusive relationship paid off. So did expressing parental concerns about their daughter’s safety without trash-talking their daughter’s choices. At no point did their daughter break away, keep secrets, or rush in to protect her boyfriend’s reputation. She didn’t need to. Judgments were suspended, even when concerns were not.
Look, parenting is hard enough, and few things are harder than watching your child choose to couple with someone who threatens their very safety and well-being.  But perhaps my friends are on to something. Having a conversation that breaks the silence and isolation while supporting the dignity of all parties and promotes domestic violence offender accountability is a good start.
Dominick Dunne went on to cover stories about criminals of privilege, including most notably the OJ Simpson trial. His writing educated millions on the prevalence of domestic violence, fueled by the anguish that his daughter’s murderer was eligible for parole after just two years in prison. He died in 2009.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Thank you to all the survivors and their families who have helped us identify ways to end domestic violence.
 And if you’re bored, join me in watching a marathon of Dominick Dunne’s Justice program on Sundays.

Arctic Cliffhanger’s Forensic Foray/ The Truth Shall Set You Free


Yesterday, for $35 measly dollars, I attended Alaska’s Sister’s in Crime  (Arctic Cliffhangers ) conference called the “Forensic Foray 2012.”

More relevant to my job as a probation officer than to my second job as a writer, workshops included topics like good versus evil, lie detection without a polygraph, control tactics, and designer drugs like pep-spice and bath salts.

The presenters were all Alaskans representing the FBI, state troopers,  district attorneys, and a former prosecutor turned-training maverick.. I was riveted. The conference inspired me to write a mini-mystery based on a  domestic violence case I worked on more than a decade ago. The first reader to solve it gets a prize!

The Truth Shall Set you Free

Rhonda knew she was screwed. So screwed. The twenty-five year old heroin addicted mother of an eight year-old son had meant to leave her violent boyfriend. She really had. She meant to leave him every time he hit threatened  her. Hit her. Cheated on her. Every time he called her fat.

But her son loved her boyfriend. And her boyfriend paid half the rent, and provided Rhonda with all her fixes. Without him, where would she be? Who would have her? Even her best friend told she looked “tore up from the floor up.” A decade of cigarette smoking, drug use, and alcohol abuse meant that young Rhonda looked like a forty year-old hot mess.

“I’m calling the cops and telling them you’ve stabbed me!”  This from her boyfriend after Rhonda packed her bags to leave. Her son had been  away when she’d earlier come home to find her boyfriend in bed with the teen-aged babysitter, who fled the house as soon as she pulled her sweats back on.

Whatever,” Rhonda told him, knowing he didn’t have the balls to stab himself.

And then he did the unthinkable. He smiled at Rhonda, grabbed a knife from the butcher block, pulled his shirt up, closed his eyes, and stabbed himself. The knife quietly slipped into his stomach, re-emerging with a coating of bright red blood that dripped onto the kitchen floor.

“Now, you’ll go away,” he whispered, and dialed 911. “I’ve been stabbed!” he told police dispatch. “Hurry. Please, hurry! She’s stabbed me!”

Her arrest was imminent. Rhonda knew police would only need to glimpse at her and her criminal history, see the blood on the kitchen floor, and it was a wrap. She looked guilty.

Plus, she had a record for misdemeanor drug possession and a disorderly conduct.  Her boyfriend’s record?
Clean as a whistle.

Rhonda  already knew how it would go. Two or more officers would arrive, separate her from her boyfriend for interview purposes, and she would be arrested and taken to jail when all was said and done.

And before she knew it, there was a loud knock at the door. Rhonda opened the door, and two officers came in.

“Please put your hands behind your back,” the first officer said loudly.

Rhonda complied. No interview? she silently wondered.

Sir! The officer yelled, “I said to put your hands behind your back! Do you hear me?  You’re under arrest for making a false report.”

The second officer approached Rhonda and asked her for a statement.

How did the police know so quickly that Rhonda’s boyfriend stabbed himself?
The first person to correctly answer will get a free copy of The Santa Next Door if you leave your e-mail.

The Eva Foundation: How One Woman’s Struggle to Leave Domestic Violence Became a Campaign to Help Countless Others


      Have you ever met someone whose hardship inspired them to change their world?
I met Eva at a local writer’s conference. Her quiet and gentle presence belied the fact that her fight to save the lives of her and her sons has touched thousands of lives of domestic violence victims in Alaska. Though still concerned about her safety now that her former husband is out of jail, she agreed to tell her story.
Thank you so much, Eva!
1) Please tell me a bit about your relationship. What were the early signs of abuse? When did you become of aware that things weren’t healthy?
My relationship was classic. We met on New Year’s Eve, he called two days later and then called almost every day, said I love you by Valentine’s Day. We moved in together in March, were engaged in May, and got married in November.
I ignored warning signs when we dated. Two times he got angry and yelled at me and he often made comments that were demeaning to women and was unreasonably jealous. 
Once we were married, he put me down and got angry if I said or did anything he didn’t approve of. When I was pregnant with our first son after two years of marriage, he began pushing me. Even after he threatened me with a knife, I kept thinking we would be able to work things out. He would say he was sorry and cry, and I believed if I just worked harder we could have a good marriage.
During our first few years together, I made excuses that the outbursts were just part of being a new couple adjusting to marriage and dismissed the seriousness by convincing myself that all couples go through bad times. No marriage is perfect and everyone has fights. 
 Six or seven years into the marriage, he started pulling guns on me. I knew it was wrong but by then was so afraid, exhausted and demoralized that I could not think of a way to leave.
2) What were the circumstances around your leaving?
His violence was escalating and he was more vicious; choking me, locking me in the unheated garage, throwing me down stairs and then he started talking about killing our children (we had two boys).  He jabbed me in the back with a loaded hunting rifle on a Saturday in January 2004. Tuesday of the same week he threatened to kill himself, and I called the suicide prevention line. They told me I had to call 911, and after some hesitation I called 911. The police talked with him but did not arrest him.
I did not want to go home to him. I took the boys and stayed at a motel one night, and stayed the next night with a friend. The second night he was arrested for telling the police he was going to hunt his wife down and kill her. Once he was in jail, I had the courage to tell my family (I had hidden it all for 12 years). Then a policewoman working my case said to me, “Sit down. You and I are going to have a little chat.  He is going to kill you. You have to leave him.”  
I knew then that I was never going back to him. 
3) What were helpful ways family or friends supported you while in or after leaving your relationship?
My family and friends rallied around my children and me.  They came to my house and packed up our personal items and some furniture, gave me money when I had none, arranged for a mini van to drive when my husband’s parents had his truck repossessed and taken away from me. Friends out of state sent encouraging emails and letters and three of them told me their stories of abuse.
4) Tell us about the Eva Foundation? How can people donate or get involved?  
My husband had attacked me several months before his arrest and he ripped my glasses off and twisted them beyond repair. For months I had been wearing a really old, large, heavy, outdated pair of glasses I dug out of drawer. 
My friend Sharon Athas Cote met me for lunch about two weeks after my husband was arrested. In the course of the meal I placed my hands on the table and said, “Look how awful my fingernails are. I look at them and realize that I don’t take care of myself anymore.” 
Sharon and her friend Carla Culbreth decided to get me a new pair of glasses and a manicure, pedicure and haircut. They got to talking about where women leaving abuse could go to get those kinds of services affordably, and saw there wasn’t any place. They decided to start a foundation with the mission of helping survivors of abuse regain their self confidence and build toward a healthy abuse free life.
In 2004, they started the foundation and asked if they could name it after me. The Eva Foundation. I was in the process of leaving the state to live in hiding  from my soon to be ex husband and had no idea that 8 years later the Eva Foundation would have helped almost 1,000 women, children and men. 
The Eva Foundation provides goods and services such as clothing, house wares, resume writing, haircuts, manicures, school and rental assistance, furniture, linens, groceries and gasoline. We have a Cakes for Kids program that provides a birthday cake and presents for kids at domestic violence shelters and a Pet Program that pays for vet services and other pet necessities so the victim can keep their pet after they leave an abusive situation.
Want to get involved in making a difference?
Visit the Eva Foundation’s website at  and fill out a volunteer or donation  Hold a gift card drive at work or in your church group to benefit survivors.    
On November 24th, the Eva Foundation will be having the annual Christmas Tree Elegance Gala, a benefit that last year alone raised more than $140,000 to benefit domestic violence survivors and their families.
For more information, visit the Eva Foundation online or call 907-632-5666.
Nationally, the R.O.S.E. fund assists victims in need of reconstructive surgery to repair the impact of domestic violence. Contact them at

The Furry Victims of Domestic Violence

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month.
There are a lot of reasons an abuse victim remains in a violent relationship. Want to know the reason up to half of battered women interviewed give for not leaving their violent partner?
Fear of what would happen to their pet(s) if they fled, leaving the pet behind.
The fear is not unfounded.
It turns out, people aren’t the only victims of domestic violence. Household pets are injured by the abuser as well. One study in the state of Wisconsin indicated nearly 70 percent of the  abuse victims interviewed stated their partner had hurt or killed a pet or livestock, and three-quarters of the incidents occurred in front of the victims or their children as a control tactic.
According to Alaska Friends of Pets board member Ruth Quinlan, her agency was recently contacted by a victim who would not leave her abuser until her 3 cats could be safe. A pet foster home was secured through their Safe Haven program  before the victim went to the local shelter.  After she secured safe housing, the woman and her cats were reunited.
At a interdisciplinary work group, I   heard a police officer talk about a German shepherd who was missing more teeth each time the officer was called to the home to respond to a domestic disturbance. No one admitted to violence in the home, and subsequently no arrests could be made without obvious injuries or other evidence. The calls kept coming in until finally the victim was ready to talk. By then, the shepherd
was nearly toothless.
But there is hope.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is working to train district attorneys and veterinarians so that animal abuse can be prosecuted vigorously. They can also refer abuse victims to resources in their area that can assist in the domestic violence crisis.
Programs like Friends of Pets Safe Haven Program in Anchorage or Friends of Animals in Utah exist in many states.
How you can help
Report animal abuse when you see it. According to Ruth, who ran a battered women’s shelter in the past, animal abuse can be an indicator of domestic abuse towards the rest of the family. Look at the ASPCA’s website for guidelines on how.
Donate to your local nonprofit that deals with animal abuse. In Alaska, it’s Friends of Pets.
You can specify that your donation goes to the Safe Haven Rescue portion of the Friends of Pets program.
Support your local ASPCA. Shop at their thrift stores if one’s available. The ASPCA has more than 100 years of protecting animals from harm nationally.
Family violence is rampant in our country. Let us  not forget to help those who have no power to make it stop.
(The animals in this post are models only, and yes, the camera makes them look heavier than they really are. No real foster animals were filmed in order that victim confidentiality be maintained.)
ASPCA Government Relations Department 
Email contact:
National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence
National Network to End Domestic Violence
Office on Violence against Women 
Email contact:

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