Toronto Star

Oct. 27, 2001, 02:00 EDT

A crime of self-pity, not passion

Jim Coyle
The Toronto Star

ABOUT THE LAST thing the murder-suicide two summers ago of Gillian and Ralph Hadley seems to have been was a crime of passion.

A crime of despair, more likely. A crime of brokenness and humiliation. A crime of blame and self-pity. A crime of impotence and hate. All expressed not in love, but in obsession; not in passion, but in a calculated execution.

It was on the morning of June 20, 2000, that the 34-year-old Hadley shot his estranged wife to death, then killed himself in the home they had once shared. Until the horror began, it had been a pleasant day in that modest pocket of Pickering, summer just arriving, children putting in their last few days of school, toddlers waving goodbye to parents bound for work, old folks out on morning walks.

In the tape recording that Hadley left behind — along with an assortment of items he carried to his wife's house that day, items that testify both to his own unspooling and the degradations he had in mind for her — there are rambling rationalizations, palpable hurt, mewling self-pity and contradictions he probably didn't even notice.

But in it there are also occasional bits of truth, moments of unwitting revelation, confirmation that obsession — while purporting to be about another — is almost always egocentric and self-serving.

The taped explanation of his intended acts was, as a coroner's court investigating the deaths heard this week, delivered in a listless monotone, the same sort of calm, dispassionate voice described by those who encountered Hadley that morning on the streets of Pickering.

"I don't know how things got so out of control," he told his tape machine.

But out of control they surely were and had been for some time, through a carousel of criminal charges and court appearances, peace bonds and harassment.

There had been allegations he had harmed Gillian's son from a previous marriage.

"Anybody who knows me knows that I could never harm a child," Hadley said.

How many of us can ever truly claim to know another? Who knew Ralph Hadley? Who knew the harm of which he turned out to be capable?

"Jill can't handle this," he said at one point about difficulties they were having caring for the child.

Though in the end, the one who couldn't handle life and its heartaches was Hadley himself.

"Jill has put her needs ahead of those of her children and that's something that's totally unacceptable," said the man whose need for control, whose need for revenge, left the couple's son without parents, her other two children without a mother.

Six months before the end, when he had come to suspect she was involved with another man, Ralph Hadley had kept tabs on Gillian's whereabouts because, he said, he feared for her safety.

"I was a total wreck worrying about her," he said.

When in truth, his own words frequently reveal that his concerns were largely for himself.

"Providing for and spending time with her kids was always the most important thing to Jill. Obviously now that Clark's around, that's more important. I guess she feels that her needs are more important than anybody else's. So not only has she sacrificed me, she's sacrificed the children."

After learning of her affair, Hadley said he concluded that his wife of less than three years had "probably had a nervous breakdown. She wasn't Jill any more, she was somebody else."

His diagnosis an illness. His prescription death.

In his last message, the torments of Ralph Hadley are evident. He lurches back and forth between concern for children and rage at his own perceived abandonment. His mind seems an endless tape of carefully nurtured resentments. He complains of an unforgiving world even as he refuses to forgive.

"They need you there to nurture their little minds so that they can grow to be strong. The world is an unforgiving place and unless they have a strong enough will, it will crush them," he said.

"Jill has proven over time that her needs come first, she uses people till they have nothing else to give, then discards them as casually as you would a gum wrapper."

It would be difficult to quarrel with Hadley's claim on the tape that his efforts to distinguish between reality and fantasy were getting harder by the day. He seems to have reached that point — "I hope (my family) can understand in time that I really didn't have a choice" — that almost defines despair.

He set out, on his last ghastly mission, as a man devoid of hope and convinced of his own failure at life.

"I know something is going to go wrong," he said. "It always does."

In the end, Ralph Hadley was a man so unhinged he requested that his ashes be mingled with those of the woman he killed and spread over the lake where their honeymoon was spent.

He was a man so deluded he asked that this tape be played some day for his son, so that the boy might understand what his father had done.

Jim Coyle's column usually appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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