Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

A special report on domestic violence

(page 2 of 3)

***

For Tracy’s family, the reality of her situation was a mystery until they were able to piece it all together with the benefit of hindsight and stacks of police reports, restraining orders and witness interviews. Knowing all she knows today, Lisa Judd Blanchard still believes Tracy never would have used the services at DAIS.

“I’m certain she believed she could handle it on her own,” says Lisa. “She was so strong and independent, and she was also such a giver. She liked and trusted and believed in everybody until they did something to break that. She was loyal and she gave chances and she wanted to believe the best in everybody.”

Looking back, Lisa can now see the warning signs for what they were. Tyrone called Tracy’s phone constantly, “followed her, stalked her,” she recalls. He went out or stayed out when he knew she had plans so she’d be forced to remain at home with Deja. This way, he would know exactly where she was. He kept his distance from her family so they couldn’t really get to know him or witness his behavior. And now, of course, she’s got the hindsight provided in police records, so much of which is absent from Wisconsin Circuit Court Access (commonly known as CCAP). Or, as Lisa puts it, “CCAP doesn’t show crap. Anybody can lie about what a ‘domestic disturbance’ means. ‘It was her fault, they blew it out of proportion, I didn’t really do anything.’ But come to find out he had a long history of beating up women, and being proud of it.”

Indeed, detailed police records show at least three restraining orders by three different women, each detailing violent attacks at the hands of Adair. They also describe the same incessant calling, following and stalking behavior that Tracy experienced, and more than one had her tires slashed. One victim was punched in the stomach and kicked in the back. Another had an “extremely swollen, completely closed and purple and bleeding” eye, according to the responding officer. None of these grim details appear on CCAP; all that can be found there over the years are one disorderly conduct charge (which could mean anything), two battery misdemeanors (which also could mean anything) and three temporary domestic violence restraining orders—two of which were dismissed. According to police interviews, Tracy’s friends said she was aware of the restraining orders listed on CCAP, but said Tyrone had explained that he’d “grown and learned” from his past experiences. It is not clear whether Tracy knew the details of the charges, but it’s unlikely.

One close family member, in an interview with police, said she did not believe there was any physical violence occurring in Tracy and Tyrone’s home, but that she was aware of psychological abuse, and that she felt Tracy was “beat down emotionally” by Tyrone. A March 8, 2009, incident in which Dane County sheriffs arrested Tyrone on disorderly conduct, battery and intimidation charges after Tracy’s twin daughters ran to the neighbor’s house and called police—the one Lisa knew nothing about until after her sister’s death—doesn’t appear on CCAP at all. Tracy allegedly told friends she had had it with Tyrone, that the relationship was ending, and Lisa believes, today, that’s what instigated the attack. But she was never aware of any physical abuse, and neither were Tracy’s friends. Tracy just didn’t talk about it, and the loved ones she left behind can only speculate why not.

It’s not an easy thing, speaking out, not for victims and not for family members. Tyrone Adair was a son, a brother, a cousin and a friend in this community; his loved ones suffered a great loss, with no small amount of blame and shame heaped on top of it. The same factors that keep victims silent can keep their families silent, too. Even within Lisa’s own family there are a few members who wish she wasn’t so vocal, who wish she would just let this whole thing go.

“I do this to keep their memory alive, and never let them be forgotten,” says Lisa. “Tracy always said there’s a purpose in life for everything. And if him killing them led me to this, that’s what I’m gonna do. I think there are a lot of powerful voices out there that have been through it or know someone who’s been through it that can speak up. That’s what I want to get out of this. This doesn’t need to happen. It doesn’t need to be kept silent.”

And you never know who’s listening. When this tragic story unfolds on the news that December night, one woman leans forward, riveted. While the families of Tracy, Deja, Amber, Nevaeh and Tyrone are still struggling to make sense of what has happened, Julie Rook Schebig (Julie Orton on that night), understands it in her very fiber.

“Tracy was killed with her daughter right there in her house,” says Schebig. “I know what she went through. I know the thoughts that were going through her head.”

Three and a half months earlier, Schebig was the one being strangled by her estranged husband in front of their children, just before he beat her in the head with a steel mallet and left her for dead.

But unlike Tracy, Schebig survived.

***

Julie Rook Schebig [pictured below] is only seventeen when she meets Gerald Orton. He is charming and handsome, funny and successful. Even after he has strangled and beaten her, even as he is about to be sentenced to prison, a small handful of Jerry’s friends and family members will testify in court that he is not a violent man. “Never, ever has he been an abusive father or husband,” his sister will be quoted saying in the Wisconsin State Journal. “Never.”

Right away there’s an instant connection, the kind you see in movies. Julie remembers exactly what she is wearing on the first day they meet, exactly what Jerry says to her. Although they both go on to marry other people, the electricity between them never wanes, and in 2004, after ten years of ignoring their feelings, the two decide to leave their marriages and be together. Right from the start it is so passionate, so exhilarating. And right from the start it is abusive, though she doesn’t recognize it right away. The way he quickly takes control of the money and the lease on her new duplex feels like someone is taking care of her. He puts her on his cell phone plan to save money, he says, not to track her every move or to shut it off when he wants to punish her. He gives her a job at his company, so it doesn’t seem strange that he controls her paychecks. The way he always wants to be with her, how jealous he gets at the slightest attention from other men, this feels romantic, not sinister. He’s so attentive.

Julie Rook Schebig

 

In time Julie starts to see cracks in the facade, although by then it’s far too late to reverse her feelings; we justify a whole lot of things in the name of love. When Jerry gets angry, throws furniture, and screams and rages out of control, he blames it on his depression. Or his drinking. Or the loss of his mother. Or his recent mold exposure. He is so contrite, so remorseful, so tender. He will go to anger management classes. He will go to counseling. He will never do it again. And exactly what “it” is is sort of unclear, because he never hits her. Julie has no black eyes to show as evidence for the abuse she knows is there. And she feels great pity for this man she loves—he’s so sad, so broken, and she’s the only one he feels safe enough to show it all to—and she’s the kind of person who gives second and third and fourth chances.

She believes she can help him. A pattern develops, and Julie feels helpless to break it.

In 2006 they marry. On the outside everything looks good. Jerry is a Madison business owner, and at one point they live in an $800,000 house. He is the life of the party; everybody loves him—and sometimes he is that same guy at home. But more often than not, increasingly, behind closed doors his abusive behavior is escalating. He now controls every dime Julie spends and every minute of her time. She knows it’s bad and she wants to leave and many, many times she does ... but she always comes back. She has nowhere to go. She has no money, and she no longer has relationships with many of her friends and family. If she leaves the house, he calls every five minutes on the phone he pays for. He kicks her out when he’s angry, then rages when she’s gone. He keeps a gun and a knife in the house, never brandishing them, just sending a silent message.

Soon they will have two children in quick succession, and from that point on he will threaten to win custody of them, and why wouldn’t he? He is the one with the house, the money, the rich friends and lawyers. She knows everyone thinks he’s great, and she knows he has painted her to them as needy and crazy. She is terrified of what he might do. She teaches herself to ride it out, to appreciate the peace while it’s there, even though every time she hears the garage door open her legs go numb and panic grips her chest. Because it’s always there, this sensation of waiting for the other heavy shoe to drop.

On the last day of February 2008, Jerry carries out his threat to file for divorce and so this time she goes to stay at a second home he owns. On March 5, when she returns to pack some things, he explodes, trashing the basement and refusing to let her leave. She is holding one of their children and pregnant with their second, and she is terrified. That month he is charged with disorderly conduct. He is ordered to complete drug and alcohol treatment, maintain absolute sobriety and complete certified domestic violence treatment. Julie does not pursue the seventy-two-hour restraining order offered by law enforcement, though, because she doesn’t want to anger him further. But she has grown tired. She is sick of it, and she is done.

Her once-estranged parents co-sign on a townhouse and she moves out for the final time. Julie’s mom has to park several blocks away so that Jerry will not see her car there, because he likes to keep her isolated. He is still following her, still hiding tape recorders in her car, still escalating his behavior and (she learns later) his drug use. He violates his probation in May 2008, and divorce proceedings drag out that year and the next. Still, Jerry remains very much in Julie’s life, and she appeases him as best she can so that he cannot carry out his threats of exercising his parental placement rights. Besides, she feels safer, more empowered. Having her own place allows her to see Jerry on her own terms, to send him away when he starts to behave badly. But in her heart she knows they are through, and something in him must start to believe it this time, too. He must know he is losing her for good, because that explains what comes next.

On the evening of August 19, 2009, on what would have been their third anniversary, Julie is in her new home cooking grilled cheese for her and Jerry’s two children, both under the age of two, who are strapped into their high chairs. A fierce rapping on the kitchen window startles her. It’s Jerry, and she’s surprised, because earlier that day she reiterated they were through. He demands she open the garage door. The last time she didn’t open it he had driven right through it—so this time she complies. He barges past her carrying a box and slams it on the floor. He turns to Julie, who has followed him up, and says calmly, “You fucked with the wrong person.” He starts to strangle her.

A thought creeps slowly through her brain as his grip tightens, as the oxygen and blood try to breach the tourniquet of Jerry’s fists: aside from that time he held her down on the couch as he yelled and that time he’d gripped her arm when she tried to leave, this is the first time he has ever laid his hands on her in anger. He has screamed his throat raw at her, thrown furniture, destroyed her belongings, made threats, followed her, kicked her out, demanded her back, controlled her … but he has never hit her. Nobody can call her crazy anymore.

One second her head slams against an iron frame on the wall, and the next she is on the floor next to the refrigerator. She tries to speak, to tell him they can work this out, that she’ll do anything he wants, but she can’t form the words. He keeps saying, “Tonight’s the night you’re gonna die. I’m gonna kill you tonight.” His left hand is on her throat and his right is rummaging inside the box he brought, and then she sees that hand raised high above his head, a steel mallet in his fist, and she knows this is it, this is the end. It’s the strangest feeling.

The first blow breaks her hand where she has moved it to protect her head. She doesn’t remember the next few blows of the mallet against her skull; she only registers how strange it is that she is feeling no pain. The ceaseless, primal screaming of her babies is the worst thing about this moment, and there’s another sound, too, a sort of deep moaning, and it takes her a while to realize it’s coming from her own body. Everything looks red, just before it all fades to black.

 

Domestic Abuse 24-Hour Help Line: 608-251-4445 (abuseintervention.org)

 

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