9 June 2010

Domestic Violence’ narratives: the murders of Lois Mordue and Dave Lucio

'Violence against women' came to be a women's issue when feminists realized the term for violence between intimate partners - 'domestic violence' - did not acknowledge the differences from men that women who were abused experienced in their relationships. I first learned about this in the mid-eighties, doing women's studies at university, at UWO in London, Ontario. Since then, the subject of violence in relationships has arisen once more, in the context of two separate homicides, first of Lois Mordue, second, that of Dave Lucio, both of whom had been in an intimate relationship with their killer.

In 2005, I read about the homicide of Lois Mordue on August 8, 2005, had taken place in my hometown, Woodstock, Ontario. At that time I wrote letters to the editor of the Sentinel Review in response to the articles, giving my own views on the murder and on the subject of domestic violence in general. As time went on, I saw that it was being referred to as domestic homicide, woman abuse, and domestic violence, as Robert Alexander, Lois Mordue’s brother, increasingly became involved, claiming that “violence against women won’t stop until both sexes are involved.” (Moving forward, April 19, 2007).

More recently, an article in the National Post (Myths of Domestic Violence, June 2, 2010) brought to my attention another case of homicide, of Dave Lucio, in London, Ontario, on June 6, 2007, which may or may not have been ‘domestic violence.’ A second article reinforced the idea that Doug Lucio, the father of the victim, was referring to the killing of his son as domestic violence (Lucio vigil, June 7, 2010). “Violence is violence, whether it’s men or women. There is no difference” he was quoted as saying. Once again, I felt compelled to write in, to the comments section of the article, as much of what I was hearing, just did not ring true to me.

To summarize, these were two homicides, one male, one female, both killed by individuals with whom they were in intimate relationships but both of which had ended before the murders took place. In the Mordue case, one article refers to the victim's brother, stating "While the Crown prosecutes an alleged domestic homicide, Alexander is trying to find some answers to why domestic violence is happening." (In Honour, Dec 28, 2005). Doug Lucio, the father of Dave Lucio, the male homicide victim, not happy at the way the Police handled the murder case, has been quoted as saying, "there needs to be more equal treatment in cases of domestic violence" (Vigil, June 6, 2010).

Controversy surrounds the Dave Lucio/ Kelly Johnson murder-suicide, apparently due to the neglect of Chief Faulkner to name this a 'domestic' homicide (Myths, June 2, 2010). Erland Mordue, however, was apparently alleged to have committed 'domestic' homicide (In Honour, Dec 28, 2005), although whether that stuck or made any difference to local statistics is not known to me. As it happens, Erland had intended to kill himself also, making that a murder-suicide, but failed in his attempt. He was convicted of first-degree murder and is now serving his sentence.

Both these men - Doug Lucio and Robert Alexander - have turned to domestic violence narratives as a means of dealing with the trauma of the violent deaths of their family members. Yet I wonder how well the circumstances of the cases fit into any version of this narrative. The term narrative is used to suggest a theme, a cultural understanding or norm that is accepted in society as a way of explaining a social phenomenon. When survivors ask themselves Why?, they seek some kind of explanation, and domestic violence is a term that adapts fairly easily to a number of different situations. But I wonder how good the fit is.

Cases that are placed in this category due to the fact they immediately fulfil a basic definition of domestic violence will become subject to the wider implications of domestic violence - domestic abuse, for one, or 'violence against women', the kind of situation women have had to endure historically as the second-class person in the relationship.

Killing one's intimate partner might well be seen as an example of domestic abuse to the extreme - violence resulting in death. But if the relationship had not been abusive earlier, does the end result of murder make it fit the description, on looking back?

If one believes that power has a lot to do with it, and that abuse only happens if one partner has control over the other - financially, emotionally, psychologically, sexually - is it possible to determine whether or not the victims had previously been abused in their relationship, forced to comply with the wishes of the abusing partner? Seeing the misuse of power as the underlying basis of an abusive relationship, we can ask whether the perpetrator of violence, as seen by investigators, might actually be the partner fighting back from their position of powerlessness against a more subtle or insidious form of domestic abuse. Sometimes only the ones involved know whether coercion or other forms of abuse were being used as a means of control. If the killer had also planned to die, making it a murder-suicide, does that change the way they are viewed, as victims as well as victimizers?

Dying a violent death doesn't mean one has been a victim of domestic violence, except in a very narrow meaning - a police definition, or a statistic to be included in a particular set of stats. But on its own it isn't proof that the victim was in an abusive relationship. If domestic violence is used as an excuse - a reason for a murder taking place, the real reason it happened might not be being recognized. So when the victims are happy, fulfilled, independent and financially secure, and not noticeably vulnerable, one could look to other reasons for problems in the relationship and the end result of murder.

Violence against women came to be a feminist cause because any woman who was vulnerable in her relationship was at risk of being subjected to controlling, abusive behaviour from her partner if he didn't know how to act with maturity in the relationship, or chose not to. If not financially independent or holding down a job it might be difficult for her to leave. Now, in Canadian society, more women are working and able to support themselves. Staying in an abusive relationship would no longer be necessary if the man wasn't agreeable to changing abusive behaviour. Hence we have such programs as the White Ribbon Campaign and Changing Ways, for men.

The other side of violence against women has now turned out to be the growth of men's groups aimed at assisting men who are the victims of women's acts of violence in their intimate relationships. If this was a problem previously, it received virtually no attention, but since the growth of the women's movement, and possibly due to increasing numbers of women gaining financial independence and working outside the home, some men have become vulnerable to abuse by their female partners. The pendulum has swung from one side completely over to the other. Thus, as well as groups and programs geared towards assisting women in particular, there are now the same kinds of groups, etc, formed to assist men. One emphasis of such groups is on the legal side of it. Where once women needed feminist lawyers to comprehend and fight for their rights, now men need to have lawyers who can understand the issues addressing their particular circumstances.

But even where there is no abuse, unresolveable relationship problems happen. Not all problems get to be labelled abuse even if they are. If Kelly Johnson hadn't killed herself after killing Dave Lucio, no doubt she would have ended up serving time for murder. But it still would not have meant that Dave Lucio had been a victim of domestic violence, except in the narrowest sense of the term, apparently used in Police Department stats, according to Barbara Kay (London, Jan 28, 2010). Although the definition of domestic violence used by the London Police Dept indicates that a single act of violence by one spouse towards the other constitutes domestic violence, as well as multiple incidents, I wouldn't agree. One incident might be an indication that an abusive relationship has begun, or it might simply be one isolated incident.

There was no indication that the relationship between Dave Lucio and Kelly Johnson had been abusive. The 12-page report (Report, 2008) put out by the London Police Department does not suggest that the relationship between Dave Lucio and Kelly Johnson was characterized by domestic violence. That the two were both members of the London Police Department obviously has made a difference to the way their relationship and deaths were perceived. But any omissions or errors in judgment made by Police Chief Faulkner, or favouritism in treatment of his officers, cannot change that aspect of the relationship between the two involved in the murder-suicide, that it did not involve systematic abuse. One spouse committing adultery, making unreasonable demands regarding sex, work, community activity and friendships, spending, and /or committing repeated physical acts of abuse, are the kinds of behaviour that make a relationship abusive, not the extreme act of homicide only.

In one of the first newspaper articles, it was stated that there was no history of abuse between the Mordues (Murder investigation, Aug 11, 2005). Later, however, it was implied that Erland Mordue was abusive, at least on one occasion, the week before he killed his wife Lois, phoning her several times, according to Lois’s new boyfriend, Zeke Postma, so that he offered to drive her to the Police Station to get a restraining order (Tears flow, April 05, 2007). A separate article mentions what is possibly related to that same incident, one of information-gathering’ the only one on record (Mordue wrote, March 28, 2007). The suggestion is that Erland Mordue was an abusive, controlling husband, creating a threatening, unhappy environment for his wife who was powerless to change her circumstances and leave. Luckily, Lois was not affected greatly by his treatment of her and quickly began a fulfilling life, with a job she enjoyed, a new home purchased for her by her son, and a new boyfriend, resulting in a questionable assessment that she had ever been a victim of abuse during her relationship with Erland Mordue. Abuse generally has an affect on the one being abused. But Lois appears to have been a well-adjusted person (Mordue’s zest for life, Aug 12, 2005). Normally, if a person is lacking family or community support, the potential for abuse is greater.

The world is filled with abuse and violence. Abuse affects a person's psyche, but how can we tell if it's due to the pitfalls of everyday life, of doing a difficult job, unthoughtful colleagues or an uncaring community, or illness, isolation, unfulfilled dreams, or fear of the future?

There was some resistance from women’s advocates and local citizens to Erland Mordue being allowed out on bail, due to his propensity towards cold-bloodedly planning murder, apparently (Mordue granted bail, Feb 13, 2006; Justice System, Feb 28, 2006; Erland Mordue, Sept 19, 2006). But if it is being argued that Erland was guilty of domestic homicide, of murdering someone he was in an intimate relationship with, then that would reduce the likelihood of him committing further acts of violence while out on bail. Women’s activists seem to want men who kill women they are in relationships with to be treated the same as any other murderer (Debunking stereotypes, Mar 13, 2006), though I argued against that line of reasoning (Murder cases, Mar 22, 06). However, it does appear, from the murder-suicide case in London, that treating cases individually instead of generalizing towards them, regarding granting bail, for instance, might be a more compassionate approach. Had Kelly Johnson lived, I wonder if she would have been treated the same as Erland Mordue was. As it is, Kelly Johnson is being pictured as a troubled woman, rather than as a cold-hearted killer.

The references listed below, which are those I have mentioned in this article, are included in the longer Bibliography list, which will be available on my website but not on my blog. For readers interested in this subject of domestic violence, Statistics Canada provides online a document on Violence Against Women (see Measuring violence, 2006), which provides valuable information that goes beyond the purely physical aspects of domestic violence, and that may also be of interest to men who are victims. The Comments sections of some newspaper articles can provide insight from everyday readers in the community and not just journalists. Local news articles about the Mordue case may be available through the archives of the newspaper if no working link is available. Links to letters I wrote to the Sentinel Review - Compassion (2007), Murder cases (2006) and Domestic violence (2005) - are also included here. Academic Jessica Eckstein has done some relevant work in the area of abuse and intimate relationships, a link provided below to one on men who experience violence from women (Masculinity of Men, 2010). Lastly, by chance, an article just out now announces a program intended to help women become aware of abuse in their relationship, apparently, though it does make one wonder, not just about the controlling effect it will have on how women will start to think of themselves, routinely, but the effect on men in their lives (Groundbreaking, June 2010).

List of References

Compassion and Humanity (Response to 'Guilty', S-R, Apr 13, 2007, and 'Society . . . humanity', S-R, Apr 18, 2007)
By Sue McPherson
Letter to the Editor
Woodstock Sentinel Review
submitted April 20, 2007

Debunking stereotypes
By Susan Houston
Letter to the Editor
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Mar 13, 2006
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2083927 Link unavailable

Domestic Violence: the Mordues (Response to 'In Honour of Lois', S-R, Dec 28, 2005)
By Sue McPherson
Letter to the Editor, submitted Dec 28, 2005
Woodstock Sentinel Review

Erland Mordue back in jail
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Sept 19, 2006
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2085150 Link not available

Family Violence in Canada: a Statistical Profile
Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics

‘Groundbreaking’ project helps abused women
By Kate Dubinski
The London Free Press
June 8, 2010

In honour of Lois
By Jon Willing
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
December 28, 2005
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2083435 Link not working

Justice system in need of change
unnamed author
Letter to the editor
Woodstock Sentinel Review
Feb 28, 2006
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2083832 Link not available

Lucio vigil meant to draw awareness to domestic violence
By Geoff Turner
The London Free Press
June 7, 2010

London, Ontario Police statistics on domestic violence show classic signs of abuse
By Barbara Kay
National Post, Full Comment
January 28, 2010
http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2010/01/28/barbara-kay-london-ontario-police-statistics-on-domestic-violence-show-classic-signs-of-abuse.aspx Link no longer working

Masculinity of Men Communicating Abuse Victimization
By Jessica Eckstein
Western Connecticut State University

Measuring violence against women
Statistical Trends 2006

Mordue granted bail
Woodstock Sentinel Review
Feb 13, 2006
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2083731 Link no longer works

Mordue’s zest for life never surprised family
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Aug 12, 2005
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2082573 Link no longer available

Mordue 'wrote it all down in letters'
By Carla Garrett
Woodstock Sentinel Review
March 28, 2007
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2086560 Link no longer works

Moving forward
By Carla Garrett
Woodstock Sentinel Review
April 19, 2007
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2086746 Link not available

Murder cases must be handled differently (Response to Debunking Stereotypes, Mar 13, 2006)
By Sue McPherson
Letter to the Editor
Woodstock Sentinel Review
March 22, 2006

Murder investigation continues
Woodstock Sentinel-Review
Aug 11, 2005
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2082563 Link no longer available

Myths of domestic violence
By Barbara Kay
National Post, Full Comment
June 2, 2010

Report to the deaths of David Lucio and Kelly Johnson
By Antoon Leenaars, Peter Collins, and Deborah Sinclair
for London Police Dept
May 28, 2008

Tears flow at Mordue trial
By Carla Garrett
Woodstock Sentinel Review
April 05, 2007
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/News/298996.html broken link
http://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=2086649 link unavailable

Vigils marks Lucio death
By Geoff Turner
The London Free Press
June 6, 2010

Links updated Apr 12, 2012

See also, for further information, the bibliography following 'Domestic Violence Narratives' at http://samcpherson.homestead.com/files/EssaysandWriting/2010_June_DomesticViolenceNarrativesRefBiblio.doc

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