Murder as an occupational hazard

I wrote this piece – Murder as an Occupational Hazard – in 2007 when 5 women’s bodies were found in Atlantic City, NJ.  I really wanted to stress how misogyny plays a role in serial killers who target women. Certainly, there are other “vulnerable populations” that these killers could target: runaways, drug dealers on the street, the elderly, the disabled, male prostitutes, etc. — but all too often the common denominator is gender, and profession, although clearly a factor, is secondary.

Recently, the bodies of 10 female sex workers were discovered in NY. Hopefully, it will spur more debate about legalizing (or not) prostitution, a culture that ‘permits’ gender-based violence, devaluing people (for whatever reason), impunity, and making heroes out of serial killers. I just want to add that in this discussion/debate, people need to address the prostitution of minors (johns that use them) and sexual trafficking.

Lust murder: Prostitutes as victims of throwaway capitalism

This is David Rosen’s take:

Many of the female victims of these horrendous murder sprees have been prostitutes. They tend to be young women in their 20s, lost to their birth families and community, and often on drugs. They seem like lost souls who have nothing left but their bodies to sell. They are throwaway living commodities of capitalism.

Getting away with murder on Long Island

This is Nancy Goldstein’s take:

It’s not yet clear whether one killer or multiple killers are responsible. No suspects have surfaced. But that’s not what makes this story really tragic. Some of those 10 people might be alive today if it hadn’t been for the lackluster response of law enforcement and the press coverage of the case — much of it sensationalist and dehumanizing — all because of the first victims’ sex-worker status.

‘Good father’ kills sons, commits suicide

A slight twist on the “nice guy” article: “Good father” kills his twin sons and commits suicide:

Rural community shocked by apparent double murder suicide  (notice no mention of ‘father’ in headline)

There really are no positive words for the victims, but plenty on the ‘good father’:

“He was a good father, he really was. You can tell he loved his boys with all his heart. I mean everything he did it was all about his boys,” Bowerman said.

One of Ables’ relatives called the Garvin County Sheriff’s Office saying Able’s had made threats on Facebook about harming his children. Court records showed Ables and his ex-wife had a divorce settlement Friday afternoon and another hearing was set for next month.

“No kids should ever have to go through that. People have differences and problem, but they shouldn’t bring in their family. Don’t let it affect your family. That’s all I see,” Bowerman said.

Many in the close knit community like Bowerman are now left wondering why this tragedy happened.

He loved his boys a lot. I mean his boys were his whole life, you know? His boys and his wife, but I guess it just got to be too much for him,” Bowerman said.

Dispute?! I don’t think so AP

Would you call getting your face slashed with a knife by your ex-husband a dispute? The ex-wife was killed. Three others were wounded, including a child.

NYPD:  1 dead, 3 wounded in domestic stabbing

Associated Press – October 1, 2010 11:55 PM ET

NEW YORK (AP) – Police say a 29-year-old woman was stabbed to death with a kitchen knife and three other people were wounded, including a 4-year-old boy, in a domestic dispute in Brooklyn.

It happened at about 5:45 p.m. Friday in a basement home on East 18th Street in the Gravesend section of the borough. Police say a 46-year-old man, who knew the victims, was apprehended near the scene. Charges are pending.

The woman, believed to be the man’s ex-wife, suffered multiple stab wounds to her face and torso and was rushed to Coney Island Hospital where she died.

The other victims included a 38-year-old woman stabbed in the leg, a 62-year-old woman stabbed in the torso and a boy slashed in the shoulder.

All were listed in stable condition at Lutheran Medical Center.

A horrific death – getting stabbed by a knife repeatedly in the face and torso – yet…where is the outrage? Where is the media attention? Where are the national debates?

Ellen DeGeneres, you’re a woman as well as a lesbian….where’s the outrage, Ellen? Where’s the outrage?

To contact the Associated Press, email them at or call 212-621-

Believe women

Another women who is not believed. Another child who is dead.

I’m posting the entire article. See: Family:  System failed to protect boy, 2

Family: System failed to protect boy, 2

  Download story podcast

06:53 PM PDT on Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Press-Enterprise

PDF: Read transcripts of the custody hearing for Isaac Gallegos

The family of a 2-year-old Inland boy who died in his father’s care has filed a complaint asking that a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge be disbarred for granting visitation to the boy’s father.

Seven months after the judge’s order, in which court records show he chastised the mother for overreacting to injuries, Isaac Gallegos was dead and his Moreno Valley father was charged with murder.

The state Commission on Judicial Performance would not confirm whether it had received the family’s complaint against Superior Court Judge John M. Pacheco. It said the proceedings are confidential and the judge had not been disciplined.

Story continues below

Terry Pierson/The Press-Enterprise
Reflected in a portrait of Isaac Gallegos are, from left, his grandmother Grace Lester, his mother, Andrea Gallegos, his aunt Jessica Gallegos, and grandfather Mike Lester, all of Ontario. The boy died in April while visiting his father — visits the boy’s mother had asked a judge to prohibit.

San Bernardino County Presiding Judge Douglas Elwell said Pacheco could not comment directly since it was part of an ongoing criminal case. He said the family court always considers a child’s safety in its rulings.

“In doing so, it’s not only based on the credibility of those testifying, but family service reports and trying to weigh all of that with an appropriate decision under the law,” Elwell said.

During a Sept. 4 custody hearing, Isaac’s mother, Andrea Gallegos, 22, of Ontario, told the court that her son came home with bruises on his buttocks and scratches on his back after a visit in Moreno Valley with his father, Alex Baeza, 23, of Moreno Valley. Isaac was taken to Pomona Valley Hospital where police and Child Protective Services were notified, Gallegos said.

Baeza told the judge Isaac had slipped and fallen on the edge of a hot tub.

A Riverside police report was inconclusive about whether child abuse had occurred, and the case was deferred to CPS, Sgt. Wayne Ramaekers said.

“Your honor, I fear for my son, he came back with all the bruising,” Gallegos said, according to court transcripts, not finishing her sentence.

“I already made my order OK?” Pacheco said. “I talked to the detective; the detective talked to the doctor. I’ve done my investigation, I feel very confident this man did not hurt his son all right? …

“I think you’re overreacting all right? Now, if you continue to act this way… I’ll have to take custody away from you and… I will give custody to the person that is most willing to cooperate with the other parent, and giving them custody OK?” Pacheco said, according to court transcripts.

“I understand you want to protect your child, and that’s fine. That’s the way moms are, and dads too. But I don’t see anything here to stop him from letting him see his son OK? I really don’t.”

Pacheco ordered the mother to continue allowing overnight weekend visits between the toddler and his father and threatened to take away custody if she made additional allegations against the father.

multiple failures

Andrea Gallegos said the child welfare system failed her at every turn.

“My boy’s dead because of that judge’s failure,” Gallegos said. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought we would go to court and they were going to help us.”

Isaac died in April of a head injury that Riverside County sheriff’s homicide detectives said was inflicted by his father.

Riverside County Regional Medical Center officials summoned police after the boy was brought to the emergency room with a severe head injury. He was declared brain dead and was kept on life support so his organs could be donated to another child.

Baeza’s family previously said Isaac was sick when he arrived at their home and that he fell off a bed while in Baeza’s care shortly before he died, but he was not abused. The family said Baeza had also filed CPS complaints against Gallegos for bruising in April.

Homicide detectives said the injuries were consistent with abuse and not with a fall. Baeza was identified as a suspect because he was the only person in a bedroom with Isaac when the injuries occurred, authorities said.

Baeza was charged with murder and assault on a child. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for this month. His attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

Gallegos moved in to her parents’ house in Ontario when she became pregnant with Isaac. She said her relationship with Baeza was distant.

After Isaac was born, Baeza wanted to become part of his life. The couple agreed to share custody, but she didn’t know where he lived. During the Sept. 4 hearing, the judge ordered them to hand off Isaac for visits at a Rubidoux sheriff’s station.

She believes Isaac had been abused at least three times before the fatal injury.

After she was unsuccessful in September at stopping the court-ordered visits, Gallegos said Isaac came back from a visit with his father with bruising on his ears. Fearful of returning to court, the family took him to a pediatrician and called Ontario police, which opened a CPS case.

A third CPS case was opened in Fontana shortly before Isaac died for other bruising, said Isaac’s grandfather Mike Lester.

In each case, CPS and authorities found insufficient evidence of child abuse, Lester said.

San Bernardino County officials said they could not confirm or deny a CPS history without a public records request because Isaac died in another county. A records request is still pending.

Riverside County CPS officials said Isaac’s only history with their office was filed April 11, the injury that caused his death.

“The whole system failed us from start to finish. All we wanted was for someone to help us,” Lester said. “This is their job. They have to investigate in order to save these kids. I don’t want this to happen to another child.”

why no investigation?

University of San Diego professor Robert Fellmeth said the case points to not just the court’s failure but to a larger indictment on the system in place to protect children from abuse. At the very least, an investigation should have been opened, said Fellmeth, who founded the Child Advocacy Institute and co-wrote the state’s CPS open record law.

“If it comes up, they’re supposed to do something. The court is tasked with protecting children with abuse,” Fellmeth said. “The mom is doing the right thing in raising the issue. To imply the mom did anything wrong, and if she did it again would lose custody, is outrageous.”

Family courts can often overlook signs of abuse because false allegations are frequent in embattled custody cases, Fellmeth said. But the courts should not deem an allegation false, solely based on whether a detective planned to file a case, he said.

“Obviously there was a failure,” Fellmeth said. “The family court judge made an imprudent remark, but the larger failure is not his. Where was CPS and the juvenile dependency court? Why wasn’t there a further investigation?”

DeAnna Avey-Motikeit, director of San Bernardino County Children and Family Services, said legislation is being proposed to remove some of the confidential barriers that surround child cases.

“We definitely need a better communication system between family court, CPS and law enforcement,” Motikeit said. “This is an issue people are becoming acutely aware of and shows the need of greater communication in a lot of the battles between the parents.”

Reach John Asbury at 951-763-3451 or

For the record, false allegations are NOT frequent. Research finds most allegations of abuse are made in good faith and rates of false allegations in family court are not higher than other cases.  The American Bar Association and the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence both have research citations regarding this.

What’s chance got to do with it?

Chance encounter led to artist’s slaying in Montgomery, MD, authorities say

One of the most frustrating issues to those of  us interested in gender-based violence is to read media accounts that gloss over, or worse, ignore the issue of gender and, in particular, violence directed at women and girls. Today’s article in the Washington Post (following up on this week’s missed opportunity in the HIV gel article) declares a “chance encounter” led to a women being beat and stabbed (with scissors) by a man she knew. In fairness, it says the authorities claimed this (was it their choice of words? is it the media’s responsibility to realize it was gender and not chance – just as it was skin color and not injustice that claimed the lives of African Americans?).

While it states Williams, (I hate to say this but) the “alleged” killer, didn’t know she was coming (how did they know this? did he say it? was it the truth?), he did, in fact, know her and was present in the studio. Had a man walked in would he have done the same thing? This is the key question. If this was a racially-motivated or even a homophobic-motivated crime, society would be asking the SAME QUESTION. Once we start asking ourselves if gender was an issue, we’ll be able to detect gender-based violence. Targeting women solely because of their gender is a hate crime, discrimination, and mysogynist. Only when we become aware of gender-based violence will we be able to work towards preventing it. The next question is, how many murders do we have to witness before we gain this awareness?

Here was another story this week –

Suspect in Maryland could be serial killer

Twice this guy is suspected of killing a mother and daughter. Does anyone question why he’s targeting mothers and daughters and not fathers and sons or fathers and daughters?

Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said the same suspect may be responsible for the slaying of another Maryland mother and daughter, and also is being investigated for homicides in other states.

The unnamed man, currently held on weapons and sex charges, holds two master’s degrees.

Hylton said he is well read and very familiar with law enforcement.

He predicted the man will be remembered as “one of America’s most infamous killers.”

He will be remembered. But his victims will not. Nor will many be able to understand that their gender was their risk factor, and that, ignored, it will allow more women and girls to be killed by men in senseless, tortuous deaths.

And then there was this one…

Family finds body of missing mother Jenna Lord

“Them cops didn’t find nothing — not a damn thing,” Lord’s grandfather, Vincent Caruso, told The Philadelphia Daily News.

From the beginning, the family had complained that police in Camden, Collingdale, Pa., and Collingswood, N.J., had been reluctant to search for Lord because of her rough past.

The police didn’t even want to look for her – she wasn’t quite “worth” looking for, was she? Jack the Ripper was able to terrorize London because he was, after all, killing the “dregs” of society – prostitutes – and getting away with it. To this day, serial killers often target prostitutes because they know society might even appreciate ridding it of such “evil” women (murder, in fact, is the number one cause of death for prostitutes). Having said this, society has pimps, drug dealers, gang members – and I’ve yet to see serial killers try to wipe out these guys. So again, we see the gender component at work.

Try this exercise. Fill in the blank, replacing Jenna Lord as the victim. In which scenario would society have more outrage?

Two (white men) followed  ___________, killed ____________, and set __________ on fire.

Answer choices:

 (a) the black couple          (b) the gay man          (c)  an Amish person

Any of these choice would indicate the killers were targeting people for their race, sexuality or lifestyle and the media would highlight this. But targeting random females – for no apparent reason – other than they are women – gets virtually ignored. It’s insane.

1.5 to 3 million women are killed by men each year. Often, the men are known to the women. Other times, they are not – they are just women – and that’s all it takes.

(Murder the) women and girls first

Ladies first is taking on a whole new meaning in the homicide field. Is there a trend of killing females while saving the males?

Here’s a case where the man shot the wife and 15-year-old daughter.  The boys were unharmed.

Man charged with killing wife, daughter

HOUSTON — A 39-year-old Houston man is charged with capital murder after allegedly shooting his estranged wife and 15-year-old daughter dead.

The incident happened about 7:30 p.m. Thursday at a southeast Houston apartment complex. Police say Jaime Piero Cole was dropping off his sons, ages 2 and 10, at Melissa Dawn Cole’s apartment when a fight developed between the adults. Police say that when the woman’s 15-year-old daughter, Alecia Desire Castillo (kas-TEE’-yoh) tried to intervene, Jaime Cole drew a gun and shot mother and daughter several times.

Police investigator H.A. Chavez says Jaime Cole left his 10-year-old son behind and fled with his 2-year-old son. After an Amber Alert was issued, the two were seen in a Walmart store in Wharton, 55 miles to the southwest. A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper arrested Cole. His sons are unharmed.

Of course, there have been other cases where daughters were targeted –

There was the Darcy Freeman case, where he threw his daughter but not his two sons off a bridge-

Father accused of throwing girl, 4, off West Gate Bridge

There was also Paul Michael Merhige who killed 4 women, including his 6-year-old daughter, out of a total of 17 people, gathered together for Thanksgiving in 2009 –

Holiday shooting tragedy

Or, how about the man who tried to pin his wife’s bloody murder on the daughter? You don’t have to travel to the Middel East to find women blamed for men’s crimes. It’s right here.

Man charged with killing his wife testifies it was his daughter

Breaking the mold

There is a tragic story in the Washington Post today about a 17 year-old male stabbing his 19 year-old girlfriend to death. There was a prior history of violence in their relationship. We’re really just starting to learn about the sad realties of teen dating violence. Read the story 17-Year-Old Accused of Killing Girlfriend here.

I must say, the reporters did not use the Snap, Cackle, Pop! “template” I accused them of in my letter to the editor just last week. They speak kind words about the victim. They don’t excuse the behavior of the aggressor. They manage to present the pain of the father of the perpetrator to remind us that this tragedy impacts more people than just the victim and the perp – it will, indeed, have many victims.

I think the media can be held accountable to report domestic violence in a compassionate and non-biased manner (and I want to applaud them when they do so, too). I also think we have a lot to learn about teen dating violence and this tragedy reminds us of what is at risk if we chose to ignore it. My condolences goes out to this family.

UPDATE:  I wrote a brief letter to the reporter at the WaPo commending her for the article and she responded. She said she did see my Letter to the Editor (LTE) last week and was thinking about it when she wrote her article. She agreed that these types of stories should not involve victim blaming. 

Keep writing those LTEs or those emails to the reporters – they do read them and they can be effective.


Miss J

Snap, Cackle, Pop!

Snap goes the violent man,

Cackling or naggin was the “cause” of the violence,

Pop goes the gun!

Here is an example of a cookie-cutter approach to reporting that is used for domestic violence. The media reports that a “nice guy” (as reported by his friends, family and neighbors) “snaps” and shoots his wife/ex-wife/girlfriend/children. The cause? Why, her behavior, of course.

Read the article by The Washington Post, “Park Ranger ‘Snapped’ Before Slayings of Family, Court Told” (April 3) here.

Read my Letter to the Editor, published April 11, 2009, here.


You’ll notice many of these articles on domestic violence refer to the abuser/killer as a nice guy. One reason is that they often interview friends and family of his. Many batterers do provide a likeable, even charming, exterior to their colleagues and neighbors. Another reason is, if he committed murder-suicide, many people don’t like to speak ill of the dead. But, this kind of reporting often fails to paint an accurate picture of the individuals’ behavior in the house, where they may have acted completely different from the way they acted out in the community. Reporters should dig a little deeper to find out if there was a pattern of abuse in the couple’s marriage or live-in situation. Murder, as much as they’d like us to believe, is not something that occurs out of the blue. While researchers find no previous use of violence in some femicides (like the Stacy Peterson case), sometimes it just takes some investigation to uncover it  – and it’s up to the media to take this step.   


The story mentions that the wife “nagged” for two years. Well, how did the husband act? Was he controlling or jealous, which is the case in many domestic violence accounts? Why is her negative behavior listed but not his negative behavior?

A recent New York Times article did the same thing. It said more about the wife “complaining” and being “uncooperative” than it did about her husband (a judge) that hit her. Why are negative or harsh terms used for the victim but not the perpetrator? Can you imagine a reporter writing about an unknown perpetrator on the street attacking an elderly man and then referring to the elderly man as grumpy or mean? Wouldn’t it sound as if he deserved to be attacked by that stranger? Why, that perp did society a favor by choosing him as a victim! Really!

The New York Times article also included the lawyer’s comments, “It’s a personal and private matter and it was appropriately dismissed and sealed. ” Ouch! Domestic violence advocates have been trying for decades to educate us that this is a societal problem rather than a “private matter.” Justice does not stop at your door mat. You are not free to use illegal drugs or run a brothel from your home – nor can you assault someone in there and get away with it.


Hmmm, why did the guy have a gun? Did he have a prior history of domestic violence? Was there a restraining order? Was there a history of mental illness (diagnosed or not), anger management problems, issues in his other relationships (past or present)? All too other, batterers have access to guns. Police officers in my town – some who will be called upon in domestic violence cases – have their own charges of DV and yet they still have their jobs and their guns.

 As a lesson from this article, we should demand:

1) to know the real cause of domestic violence (hint: it’s not the other person’s behavior)

2) to understand that domestic violence doesn’t often come out of the blue (“snapping” is not a cause of DV either)

3) to see the victim treated with respect and dignity

4) to hear from domestic violence experts

5) to learn where to go for help



We never saw it coming…

A man in Alabama shot his estranged wife, 16-year old daughter, 2 family members and himself right before his divorce trial. Reporters wrote how family, friends and neighbors never saw it coming.

Read the article here.

“…gave no hints of the mayhem to come, police and court officials say” (umm, how could court officials be CLUELESS when the wife alleged domestic violence IN COURT????)

If the reporters would have asked domestic violence experts, they would have learned that this was not a shock but rather a classic case.

Separation presents the most dangerous time to a woman, especially when there has been domestic violence or child abuse. This is a time when violence can start for the first time, when violence can escalate, or when stalking and harrassment begins or exacerbates. (In contrast, most men that leave abusive women, leave trouble behind.)

Why the media continues to frame these cases as “shocking” —shocking to the friends of the abuser/killer that is— is outrageous. Had they interviewed the friends of the wife’s, they could have learned that there was a history of domestic violence, that perhaps she tried leaving him before, and that probably he had threatened her life. But, nooooo….we are all too often left with the kind words spoken about the abusive guy that “gasp!” kills his wife and kids and leaves people (his friends) “shocked” – shocking, indeed.  

And, more shocking news, we hear the kind words said of this same killer in this article:

“an all American guy”

“a perfect gentleman”

How about showing a little sympathy for the victims?! It’s a pretty ruthless society that shows kind words to the perpetrators and not a single damn one for the victims.