By Sheila Lowe, Forensic handwriting examiner and Mystery author
Reading the real-life horror of the murder of LJ’s relatives in her recent post brought up my own tragedy, which I wrote about a little in the comments. My daughter Jennifer was the victim in a murder/suicide on February 19, 2000. It’s been 13 ½ years, but every day brings reminders of her and I wonder how she would be—now at 40. Would she have continued in medical school? Settled down? Had the baby she wanted?
A few months after her death I was on assignment at McCormick Place in Chicago, analyzing handwriting at a convention of the American Psychiatric Association. A French psychiatrist told me about research on people with a certain type of closed head injury, which found there was an 80% chance of their dying violently, either by suicide or homicide. Jen had a fall from her crib as a baby, after which her behavior changed. She began having ghastly tantrums every day and was extremely difficult to handle. At age ten she was diagnosed as suicidal and homicidal and placed in a program for emotionally troubled children for three months (a profoundly painful event for both of us, which could easily be the subject of a book).
Tom Schnaible, the man who ended her life, was a federal agent who had also sustained a head injury, which I saw in his handwriting. No, I’m not psychic, but handwriting contains certain physiological artifacts and when I asked him about it, he told me he’d been injured on the job. Apparently, the research was right. I hate that my family is part of the 80%. But I’ve always felt that in a way, it was even worse for Tom’s family. My daughter was murdered, but their son was a murderer. And killing himself deprived his nine-year-old daughter of her father (he and Jen knew each other less than a year).
We always had a difficult and complicated relationship, but in the months before, when she told me, “I don’t hate you anymore,” I realized it was Jen’s way of saying ‘I love you.’ This experience has taught me a great deal about life after death, and she has made it quite clear that she is still involved in my life, which is a consolation.
It affects the way I write and the way I read, too. I rarely read “funny” murder mysteries. Murder isn’t funny. It’s closing up someone’s life, donating their clothes and other possessions, choosing their burial clothes and planning their funeral, telling their friends; dealing with the IRS, for whom death is not an excuse. Murder is seeing your firstborn in a casket, looking less like herself than a wax doll who would never have allowed her hair to be curled that way. It’s waking up in the night, terrified that maybe she wasn’t really dead when they put her in the ground—what if she woke up in the coffin...no, can’t go there.
I write about Jennifer in little bits like this because I can’t manage a whole book about it like I used to think I would. I write and speak about her frequently because maybe if I talk about some of the many forms abuse takes—it’s not just hitting—maybe someone will look at their abuser and realize it’s not going to get better. Tom never put a hand on her, but he shot her eight times as she was running toward the neighbor’s apartment.
So, I guess there should be a moral to this entry, and this is it: if someone isn’t treating you well, if they keep you up nights yelling at you and demeaning you, telling you everything bad that happens is your fault; if they isolate you from the people you love, and make you wonder if it really is something you’ve done, find a way to leave. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Jennifer was going to move home the next day. Instead, there was a phone call from the Orange County Sheriff’s department: “I’m sorry to tell you, your daughter’s been murdered.” If you are being abused, or know someone who is, please, leave. Now.
(apologies, I didn't mean to make this so long).