Toronto Star

Dec. 15, 01:00 EDT

Hadleys bear weight of son's world

Jim Coyle, Toronto Star

IT'S ONLY RIGHT that psychologist Peter Jaffe should have spent some time at the Hadley inquest this week talking about the living victims.

As my colleague Peter Small reported from coroner's court yesterday, the London, Ont., expert on domestic violence said the children of Gillian and Ralph Hadley an estranged Pickering couple who died in a murder-suicide in June, 2000 are likely to suffer long-term effects from the deaths.

It goes without saying that a society that agonizes over the consequences on young psyches of harsh words or inadequate birthday party loot bags can hardly imagine the possible impact on kids of this ghastly experience.

But victimized, too, and with their pain even more rarely acknowledged, is the family that tried so hard to support Ralph Hadley his mother Christina, his father Gerald, his sister Heather.

In the last two years, through bail hearings and the inquest, the most private and intimate aspects of their finances and lives have been dragged into public scrutiny. It is an undeserved embarrassment and intrusion. But nothing compared to the pain of their loss.

When Ralph Hadley was released on bail into their custody, after continuing to harass the estranged wife he had earlier assaulted, his family took on a huge probably an unreasonable responsibility.

In early 2000, they suddenly found themselves with a 34-year-old, 6-foot-2, 270-pound man back under their roof, with court conditions that made him as dependent as a 10-year-old. He was not to be in public alone. He was not to use the phone. He had to be driven to and from his job at Canada Post, to and from appointments.

As the evidence has shown, the Hadleys seem to have tried hard to meet these conditions. But, to his family, his pain was obvious. They worried about his depression. Once, while driving to the family cottage, Heather even feared her brother was suicidal.

"I said, `You're not thinking of killing yourself, are you?' He said, `No, she's not worth it.'"

His father said he frequently asked Ralph how he was doing, how the counselling sessions he was taking at the John Howard Society were going.

"Ralph was the kind of a person that if you ask a question, he just tells you, `I don't want to talk about it,'" Gerald said.

The family was frequently deceived as Ralph planned his final murderous day.

His father would drive Ralph to his afternoon shift at work. "I'd stop and watch him go in the door." He did not know his son would sometimes wait until he had left, book off from work and go off on his own.

Hadley's mother had contacted her son's supervisor at work to ensure his access to the phone there was limited. She did not know that at some point during his bail, he had acquired a cellphone.

How could Heather Hadley have known, when her brother pestered her to borrow her tape recorder the Friday before his rampage, that he would use it not to record conversations with his lawyer, but to tape a last statement explaining his planned crime?

In addition to his deceptions, the family now knows there were aspects of his behaviour they lacked the expertise to understand.

His mother says she noticed, in the weeks before the murder-suicide, that her son seemed to have resigned himself to the end of his marriage. She thought it was a good sign.

"We were his parents. We looked at everything differently than a professional person would have. ... We didn't recognize signs."

In the aftermath of the deaths, though they too had lost a child, the Hadleys seemed to receive less compassion and support than did Gillian's family.

"It was perceived that Gillian and her family were the victims of the crime and we were Ralph's family and perhaps weren't the victims. We don't dwell on it."

Still, the blow was large, circumstances notwithstanding, and the pain does not abate in a mere couple of years, she said.

Surprisingly to some, the Hadleys and Gillian's family remain close, sharing in the raising of his son.

"They know that the crime was not committed by the people who are left behind," Christina Hadley told the inquest.

It was good of Peter Jaffe to remind us.

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

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