Toronto Star

Nov. 1, 02:00 EDT

Hadley marriage a recipe for trouble

Jim Coyle
STAR COLUMNIST
Toronto Star

IT'S AMAZING HOW people find each other, the kinks of one partner neatly fitting the twists of the other, the dependent, the needy, the damaged, the stunted, the controlling, the manipulative, the pliable all tumbling into one another's arms.

No one could have known, when they got together in 1996, that Ralph and Gillian Hadley were headed for murder. But it could not have been difficult to guess, as a coroner's inquest heard yesterday, that they were probably headed for trouble.

Though already into their 30s, and Gillian already a mother of two, they seem to have been less than fully formed adults never far from an emotional crutch or the parental nest, still financially dependent.

Until the relationship began, Ralph had, but for a couple of years on his own, lived with his parents. He was also given, his mother Christina Hadley testified yesterday, to taking a lot of time off from his job at Canada Post.

"I told him one time that I wouldn't hire him," she said.

The jury heard that none of Ralph's experiences with women had ended particularly well. For the last six months of one relationship, he had refused to believe it was over, refusing a girlfriend's request that he move out of the apartment they shared. In another relationship, the police had been involved at the woman's request.

So Ralph was back living with his parents in 1996 when Gillian's first husband left her and their two children.

Her emotional and financial straits being what they were, it was apparently not long before she remembered the boy who'd grown up across the street in Scarborough, one who friends thought had long carried a torch for her. She gave him a call.

In a short time, they were engaged. In October, 1997, the ink barely dry on her divorce, they were married.

"I had mixed feelings" about the romance, Christina Hadley said.

Ralph and Gill didn't have much money. There was also her severely disabled son to contend with. The priorities didn't seem right, she said.

"The wedding could have waited."

Still, the elder Hadleys helped the couple out, so much so they had to take another mortgage out on their own house to help Ralph and Gillian buy theirs. Ralph would also sometimes ask for money to cover car payments, insurance, things like that. Before long, Gillian would call her in-laws to ask for loans as well.

Evidently, Gillian had sketched out a plan for her life that included the lack of financial independence notwithstanding having a third child by the time she was 35.

"We were surprised when they said they were expecting and maybe not as excited as we might have been," Mrs. Hadley testified.

From the outset, it was a turbulent relationship. Ralph was loud and could get red in the face, his mother said. And "the aggressiveness went both ways.... Gill could hold her own."

They also lacked privacy, Mrs. Hadley said. Ralph and Gillian had bought the house in tandem with his cousin, who lived in the basement. Whenever Mrs. Hadley visited, she'd find that Gillian had friends over in the morning, the place full of kids at noon.

Often, even without knowing it, we arrange our worlds to protect our wounds. And what better way for those incapable of intimacy not to have to face each other than by surrounding themselves with multitudes.

Stresses were mounting. In April, 1999, there were charges against Ralph over an injury suffered by the disabled son from Gillian's first marriage. In June that year, the couple's first son was born.

Within a few months of giving birth, Gillian had met another man and began an affair. Christina Hadley noticed at Christmas dinner that year that "there was very obviously a rift" between the couple. And her husband Gerald told the inquest yesterday that he noticed at New Year's that Gillian wasn't wearing her wedding ring.

By then, though, she didn't yet know of her daughter-in-law's infidelity. "I didn't think that they were going to be able to work things out," Mrs. Hadley said. "I really didn't."

Through the strange mercies of Gillian's sister and her husband, Ralph Hadley was informed of the affair in January, 2000, and given the address of the man with whom his wife was involved. Ralph entered the house, caught them in the act, slapped his wife when she emerged and the mess that was their marriage was as good as over.

For the next five months, the people who paid most of the price were Ralph Hadley's parents. It was their lives that were turned upside down.

As they seem to have done all his life, his parents took care of Ralph. They helped pay his bills, tidied up after him. Though it is sometimes a dubious favour we do for loved ones when we relieve them of shouldering adult responsibilities.

In February, 2000, the Hadleys put up a $5,000 surety for his bail. He was under virtual house arrest in their home. They drove him to and from work every night. To meet bail conditions, they had to arrange for another person to be home with their son whenever they visited their cottage. They had to monitor his phone use.

It was like "he was a little kid," his father said. Though in truth, he seems hardly to have ever stopped being one.

Ralph would come home from his afternoon shift, watch TV and play video games. He would get frustrated on a weekend when he couldn't just hop in the car and go out for goat roti.

It had been noted by one children's aid worker that Ralph "believed he is entitled to certain things and his belief system leaves him prejudiced to women."

Through that spring, he would attend anger-management counselling. But his father said he never wanted to talk about it. The CAS worker noted in a statement filed with the inquest that Ralph justified his criminal behaviour based on what he saw as Gillian's immoral behaviour and her inadequate care of the children.

His mother gave him the advice that mothers do. Put one foot in front of the other. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. Your family is with you.

But it didn't take. Returning his 11-month-old son to Gillian after his first Father's Day with him that spring left Ralph devastated.

He had spent three days in jail in February, hated it, and feared he might be sentenced to more time at a court date in July.

Then, about two weeks before he shot Gillian to death and turned the gun on himself, Ralph seemed quieter, calmer, Mrs. Hadley said.

"My feeling was: `Gee, it's finally happened that he had come to grips with it, realized that it's okay, you know, that there is life after divorce."

She knows now she read it wrong.

She knows now "he had probably made a decision."


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

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