Toronto Star

Nov. 8, 02:00 EDT

Officer saw risk to Gillian Hadley

Jim Coyle
Toronto Star

OVER THE last few weeks, Ralph Hadley has been variously described by those who thought they knew him as a teddy bear, a pushover, a mama's boy. He might have been a bit of blowhard, they concede. But mostly he was a big lug with a menial post office job who seemed, at 34, to like nothing better than video games and sitting around in his underwear watching TV.

Without laying eyes on Hadley, however, and after talking for two hours with his estranged wife in February, 2000, Constable Cheryl Carter of Durham Region police had him pretty much pegged for what he turned out to be.

A murderer.

Cheryl Carter is soft-spoken and intense. She's a thoroughly modern police officer, one who seems to have got the job not because of muscle, but because of brains, one who on her own initiative has taken training in the field of domestic violence, an area that's plainly become her passion.

A coroner's inquest into the murder-suicide two years ago of Gillian and Ralph Hadley heard yesterday that it was on Feb. 23, 2000, that Carter and her partner went to Gillian's Pickering home.

By then, the Hadleys, married only two years, were separated. In late 1999, Gillian had taken a lover. On Jan. 7, 2000, Ralph had learned of it. He had slapped her, been charged with assault and removed from the matrimonial home.

He'd been ordered by the courts not to communicate with his wife. But in the weeks afterward, he'd breached this order making repeated telephone calls, making threats, hanging about the house. By Feb. 22, Gillian was sick of it. She called police.

Carter was alarmed when she saw, on the police computer, the complaint had been given the lowest priority and had gone unaddressed for a day. And when she visited Gillian on the evening of Feb. 23 she was able to see grave risk where others even Gillian saw a mere nuisance.

Carter decided to charge Hadley with breach of recognizance, breach of an undertaking and because she wanted to get the court's attention criminal harassment. She was so alarmed she wanted Hadley taken into custody immediately. In the brief she filed to the crown there was a summary that now seems chilling in its prescience.

"The police oppose the accused's release as he has been released in the past with sureties which has not assisted him in abiding by the laws of the land. The accused shows and displays a flagrant disrespect for these laws and, if released, the police feel he will absolutely reoffend, and possibly with dire consequences, given his past behaviour, his obsession with the victim, and his medicalization for depression."

Carter had learned what risk indicators to look for in domestic violence. And she saw all kinds in the Hadley marriage.

In February, 1999, Ralph had been charged with criminal negligence causing harm in connection with injuries suffered by Gillian's disabled son from a first marriage. The charge was withdrawn when Hadley agreed to a peace bond. Previous violence is usually an indicator of risk in a troubled relationship, Carter knew.

She also knew that the first few months after separation are the most volatile. She knew that risk rises when one of the parties is involved, as Gillian was, in another relationship.

She knew that a breach of any court order is a red flag, regardless of how relatively harmless mere phone calls seemed to be. It is the fact of the breach a perpetrator's feeling of being above the law that's more important than the means of communication.

She knew that escalating physical harm, escalating communication and threats, were warning signs. So was self-pity, the assaulter's seeing himself as victim.

She knew Ralph's persistent demands to meet his wife were a dangerous sign, especially when he tried to force encounters by threatening to distribute compromising pictures of her. She saw the jealousy, the obsession, the stalking. What's at stake for men like Hadley, she said, is not love, but power, control, domination.

She knew that court dates, of which Hadley had several, were stressors, stoking the accused's own sense of victimization, fuelling resentment over things like legal costs.

Cheryl Carter knew domestic assault for the dangerous thing it is. The most common type of killing in our culture is a male killing his intimate partner, usually for reasons related to sexuality or control.

Only three times in the more than 90 cases of domestic assault she had investigated did Carter write the kind of stark warning she did about Ralph Hadley. She told Gillian Hadley that night in February that she believed "he would kill you. He is losing control of you."

Still, Carter saw denial in Gillian, who told her that night that Ralph "would never, ever really hurt her, that he wasn't really like that."

Carter was never told that Ralph Hadley was released on bail three days after he was arrested. She was in traffic court in Whitby when she learned on June 20 that year of the disturbance in Pickering.

When she checked the computer in her cruiser and saw Gillian Hadley's address "I feared the absolute worst."

That morning, Ralph Hadley shot his wife to death, then killed himself in the home they had once shared.

Cheryl Carter is now on secondment from the Durham force, helping set up a crisis-care centre for abused women in Ajax-Pickering.

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

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