London Community News
At one time in my life the term “domestic violence” used to be just words I used.
It was the type of call I went on. How I characterized the assault I had investigated. It was how I knew which bail hearing form to fill out.
But I did not understand it. Not really.
I recall at one point in my career the term “domestic” became synonymous with “frustration.” Frustration that the victim wouldn’t leave. Frustration that they would leave, only to return. Frustration that the case I had worked so hard on had been dropped because the victim said they lied — when I knew they hadn’t.
And while I believe I never ran out of compassion or empathy, and always tried hard to do a good job, I never really understood.
Laura Wilson and her mother, Teresa, changed that for me.
I met Teresa Wilson the day Laura was murdered.
As we stood in their beautiful home, surrounded by family photos, I felt very much the intruder, invading a grieving family’s most private moments. Teresa, her oldest son, Paul, and her youngest daughter, Sue, sat with us as we explained what we knew and the charges we had laid. Between breathless sobs and flowing tears Teresa asked intelligent and insightful questions. She told us about Laura, a beautiful and outgoing young woman. Vivacious, with many friends, 23-year-old Laura had been raised in a loving, stable home. Teresa spoke of Laura’s life-long love of hockey and how when she could not find a team to play on she started and managed her own women’s team.
We learned that only 10 months earlier Laura had been the one to discover the body of her father, Tony, after an apparent heart attack.
Laura met the man who would ultimately take her life in high school. They had become friends and had dated for a brief time. In 2002, he contacted Laura out of the blue and they rekindled their relationship and eventually moved in together.
Jealousy and possessiveness can sometimes be misconstrued as signs of love. But it was clear that Laura saw something in this man that her family did not.
She fell deeply in love and when Teresa raised concerns Laura staunchly defended him.
Teresa said that Laura always saw the best in others.
For two years Laura became increasingly exposed to controlling and coercive behavior, isolation from her close friends, threats and intimidation, and ultimately violence. Laura ended the relationship in November of 2004 and moved into her mother’s condominium.
Unable to accept that the relationship was over, he made numerous calls to her home, work and cell phone. At first, he tried to work things out, but when it became clear that Laura had decided to move on the comments became abusive and demeaning. He would show up at various bars and restaurants where she would be with friends and where scenes were caused. He once came to her home in the middle of the night.
Through some of these very public and embarrassing incidents, Laura steadfastly refused to acknowledge the concerns about this bizarre behavior. An extremely proud person, Laura refused to admit that she was ever afraid of the man she once loved or that she needed help.
On Jan. 9, 2005, after a night out with friends, Laura and her close friend, Kim Fleet, were at Laura’s home. At about 4 a.m., the man who once loved Laura dressed himself in black, drove to her home, smashed in a front bedroom window and entered the home.
He brought with him a knife, which he used to stab Laura multiple times. Kim was also stabbed while trying to protect Laura. She is only alive today by her split second decision to run for help.
On the day of Laura’s murder, I interviewed her killer. He, who once made Laura smile, was full of hate. For all of his bravado, it was his inability to handle rejection that was my only lasting impression.
After we were finished providing the information we knew, Teresa told us that she would like to see Laura. We were aware of the brutality of the attack, the nature of Laura’s facial injuries, and we said that we didn’t think that it was a good idea — that she should not see her daughter that way. Teresa insisted.
The next morning, standing in the morgue, I watched as the attendant drew back the sheet and watched as Teresa melted into herself. Crying and whispering “my baby, my baby”, tears filled my eyes and I struggled to remain composed. I could not speak.
I could not think. I was not a police officer in that moment. I was a human being overwhelmed by an act that had caused indescribable suffering and incredible loss.
Over the next two years I came to know Teresa, Paul, his fiancée Cari, Sue and their extended family. In the face of unknowable sorrow, they remained valiant in their attempts to be strong and carry on.
I also came to know Kim Fleet, a gifted NCAA women’s hockey player, who transformed by grief and sadness became a former shell of herself.
Shouldered by her loving parents, her brother and sister and buoyed by her close-knit network of friends, Kim slowly grew stronger.
Sadness, the true debilitating kind, has been mostly a stranger to me. The death of my mother when I was in my early 20’s was difficult, but years of illness — I think — had prepared me to be resilient. When I met with Teresa over the next few years, I came to understand what true sadness is. A woman with incredible faith in God, Teresa always greeted me with a smile and a hug. I came to admire her intelligence, her strong convictions, her fairness and understanding of others and how they were dealing with their grief, her positivity, and the absolute unabashed love of her entire family.
But while Teresa tried to put up a strong front, our visits would always end in tears. Her grief and despondence so overwhelming, she once slumped to her knees in distraught.
On Feb. 8, 2006, the court accepted a guilty plea to Second Degree Murder. The man who had once loved Laura was sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility for 17 years.
On the day of his sentencing, one of the most selfless acts of humanity I have ever witnessed occurred. Teresa asked to speak to her daughter’s killer. She met with him in private and told him that based on the beliefs and her faith in God, she had forgiven him. She asked that he not waste what remained of his life and try again to become the man that Laura had fallen in love with.
And while she had forgiven, it was clear to all of those around her that Teresa never stopped grieving the loss of her beautiful daughter and the life that she and her family could never have.
On Mar 11, 2007 Teresa Wilson died.
There was no anatomical cause of death.
“Died of a broken heart”, I believe, is no longer a cliché.
The tsunami of emotion and devastation created on that January day has now slowed to a quiet, calm ripple that will never stop.
And while I do not always get it right (rarely is there an ability to unveil fully what goes on behind closed doors), I think I now come from a greater sense of understanding and, most certainly, patience.
Frustration is now reserved for those who have the capacity to change their destructive behavior but don’t.
It is the hope of Laura’s family that by sharing their story that all of the “Laura’s” of the world and all those who think they have a “Laura” in their life, will seek support.
Perhaps it will be in the form of a phone call to your local abuse centre or hotline, to a women’s shelter, to the Children’s Aid Society when young ones are in the home, to a knowledgeable friend or family member or to the police.
Perhaps this never-ending, but calm wave, will ebb to your shore and change your life and perspective as it has mine.
This special guest column was written by Det. Darren Couling, a domestic violence co-ordinator with London Police Service, with the kind permission of the Wilson family and Kim Fleet to publish it.