“Stalking and domestic violence are just murders in slow motion.” – Laura Richards, criminal behavioral analyst and founder of Paladin, the world’s first National Stalking Advocacy Service in the United Kingdom
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and I wanted to use this blog to hopefully shed some light on cases in which the victim’s murder or disappearance (and likely murder) resulted from domestic violence. In one of these cases, the murder was committed in public, the murderer has been brought to justice, and an amazing grassroots movement has emerged from the victim’s horrific death. In the other, a woman known to have been subjected to abuse goes missing, but no body has been found and her abuser remains free, having never been charged with any crime related to her disappearance.
The issue of domestic violence is one that I’m very passionate about. I’ve thankfully never experienced it firsthand, but I have friends who have, and when I hear stories such as the ones I’m about to share, I cannot even comprehend the insidious and escalating horror these women must have felt as the romantic partners who claimed to love them systematically abused and terrorized them.
There are some domestic violence murders/disappearances that have been covered extensively in media; Nicole Brown Simpson and Susan Cox Powell come to mind. I wanted to bring to your attention some stories you may not have heard before, but which are just as heartbreaking and just as important.
I heard about Amy Sher’s case on an episode of The Vanished podcast and found the entire story incredibly disturbing. Sher met and began dating Robert Desmond in the early 1990s and married him in 1992. Amy’s family noticed an extreme change in her personality shortly after beginning to date Desmond. She had previously been outgoing, enthusiastic, and extremely involved with and connected to her family. After the relationship began, she became quiet, withdrawn, and extremely isolated. According to an article in the Lowell Sun, Desmond would not allow any of her family members to come to their wedding, and following the wedding, communication between Amy and her family was cut off completely. When they would attempt to contact Amy, Desmond would make harassing phone calls to them, insulting the Jewish family with anti-Semitic slurs and even threatening to harm them if they contacted Amy again. Amy’s family hired a private investigator to keep track of her and that was the only reason they even learned that she had a child, Michael, who was 6 years old when Amy went missing.
At the time of her disappearance in October of 2002, Amy Sher was living in Billerica, Massachusetts, with her husband and son and was employed in the finance department of the Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, MA. Sher’s co-workers and boss saw continual, escalating evidence that Sher was physically and abused by her husband. Co-workers reported often seeing Sher with cuts, bruises, burn marks, and swollen knuckles, and would overhear her crying while on the phone with Desmond. On one notable occasion, Sher came into work visibly limping from what appeared to be a possibly broken leg. When asked, she claimed she had fallen off a horse while horseback riding (her family and friends had never known Sher to have gone, or have any interest in, horseback riding). Multiple co-workers tried to get Sher to seek medical treatment in the clinic where she worked, but she refused. Co-workers at first thought she was worried about the cost of treatment, but even when a colleague offered to pay her copay, she continued to refuse.
Amy’s colleagues and boss tried to help Amy in other ways. One co-worker put up fliers that listed the signs of domestic violence and resources to reach out for help. Amy’s boss even offered her ten thousand dollars to leave Desmond and go underground with her son. Amy refused all offers of help. There are many reasons that victims of domestic violence don’t seek help. One is that they are so under the spell and control of their abuser that they don’t even see escape as possible. Another reason is fear of retribution. As we will see in the case below, leaving one’s abuser does not guarantee their safety; in fact, it often puts them in even more danger.
On the day that Amy Sher was last seen in public, October 14, her family’s private investigator approached her in the parking lot at her work and gave her recent photographs of her nieces. The photographs had notes written on the back from her family, saying that they loved and missed her. Sher was visibly shaken by this offer and asked the investigator not to approach her again. Sher’s sister said on The Vanished that she believes this event may have precipitated Sher’s disappearance, that perhaps Desmond got so angry about Sher’s family trying to contact her that he murdered her.
On October 15, the day after the family’s private investigator offered Amy the photos, Amy called out sick from work. She again called out sick the next day. Police believe that it was on this day, October 16, that Desmond actually killed Amy, because on October 17, Desmond called the Lahey Hospital to report that Amy was sick and would not be at work. On October 18, Desmond again called the Lahey Hospital, this time asking for Amy’s employer’s email address. He said that Amy wanted to send an email but was unable to do so herself. Moments later, an email came from Desmond’s email address with a resignation letter from “Amy” attached. Amy’s boss suspected foul play and contacted the police. When police arrived at Desmond’s home that afternoon, he claimed that he and Amy had decided to break up and that he had dropped her off at a train station in Cambridge around noon that day. This means that, according to Desmond, Amy had been too ill to email her boss in the morning, but then just hours later was fine to be dropped off at a train station to move out and start a new life. Apparently this somehow made some sort of sense to the police at the time, who took Desmond’s word and investigated no further. It was eighteen months later, when Amy’s family found out (again through their PI) that she was no longer living with Desmond or their son, that police took another look and a more serious investigation was launched, but by then critical time and evidence was gone. Desmond moved out of state shortly after with his son, who is now an adult. He has never faced any charges in connection with Amy’s disappearance, but the police have been very open in saying they believe Amy met with foul play, most likely at the hands of her husband.
Amy Sher’s family has not given up trying to seek justice for their loved one. In 2018, inspired by the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the family has had several billboards put up in Massachusetts in hopes to reignite interest in the case and to hopefully get answers.
To listen to The Vanished podcast episode about Amy Sher, visit http://www.thevanishedpodcast.com/episodes/2019/8/19/episode-187-amy-sher. You can visit the official Find Amy Sher Facebook page for more information and to find out how to donate money towards putting up more billboards for Amy. If you have information about the disappearance of Amy Sher, you can email FindAmySher@gmail.com.
Gladys Ricart was truly the epitome of a self-made woman. Born in the Dominican Republic, she emigrated to the US when she was 22 years old. While living in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, she worked her way through college and earned a job at a prestigious accounting firm in midtown Manhattan, all while acting as a single parent to a young son.
She met Agustin Garcia, the man who would eventually murder her, on the subway on her way to work. Over the course of their six year relationship, Garcia was manipulative, controlling, and physical violent towards Ricart, and also had multiple affairs during their relationship. After Ricart left Garcia, he continued to harass and stalk her. Just weeks before her murder, Ricart placed a call to 911 weeks before her murder, saying that Garcia was outside her home, throwing rocks at her window and attempting to get into her house. Despite this, Gladys made every attempt to move on, meeting and becoming engaged to James Preston, Jr. They were to be married on September 26, 1999, the day that would become the day of her death.
On the afternoon of September 26, Ricart and her bridal party were gathered in Ricart’s home in Ridgefield, New Jersey, talking and laughing as they dressed for the wedding. We know this because a wedding videographer was present and captured these preparatory moments on film. On an episode of American Justice that profiled the Ricart case, much of this footage was shown, and in retrospect, it is chilling to see how happy and excited Ricart and her family and friends, including many young nieces, were. During the afternoon preparations, a couple of Ricart’s family members spotted Garcia driving around the block multiple times, but didn’t tell her because they didn’t want to upset her. At around 4:00PM, Garcia finally parked and exited his vehicle, heading toward Ricart’s home. Ricart’s brother attempted to intercept Garcia, but Garcia pushed past him, claiming he just wanted to extend congratulations to the bride.
If you watch the footage from the wedding videographer (which can easily be found online), this is what you will see: Gladys happily hands out bouquets to her nieces, when suddenly a figure appears in the frame, firing a gun and missing. Ricart’s brother tackles and attempts to subdue Garcia, but we see Garcia overpower him and move out of the frame, and hear additional gunshots.
Gladys Ricart was shot three times and died on the scene, in her wedding gown, in front of her entire family.
Garcia was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. He admitted to shooting Ricart, but his defense attorney claimed a “passion provocation” defense, which basically stated that Garcia was so overcome by jealousy and rage upon finding out that Ricart was marrying someone else, that he became temporarily insane and lost control of his actions. This defense was utter nonsense, and not only because of the victim-blaming implications of her “driving him” to murder her. There was clear premeditation on the part of Garcia: he stalked her for weeks, he threatened her over the phone, he drove around the block multiple times over a period of hours on the afternoon of the murder, he lied to Ricart’s brother about being there to congratulate her, and he brought a gun with him. This was a clearly planned crime of revenge and an extension of the abuse he had inflicted on Ricart over the years of their relationship. Luckily, the jury saw through the defense, convicted Garcia of first-degree premeditated murder, and sentenced him to life in prison.
Ricart’s murder is horribly tragic. She was killed on what was supposed to be a day of celebration, a day that affirmed the commitment of the loving, healthy relationship she had found after suffering through years of abuse. Ricart’s death is an example of the ways in which the victim of abuse in often in more danger after they leave the relationship. Instead of being free from the harassment after she left Garcia, he continued to torment her and eventually kill her. Garcia felt that he possessed Ricart, and when Ricart left him, he decided to take back control of his “possession” in the only way he had left. This is something that unfortunately happens to so many people after they leave their abusers, and is one of the reasons people stay in abusive relationships.
One positive thing that came out of Ricart’s heartbreaking murder was the founding of the New York City Brides’ March Against Domestic Violence, which occurs annually on September 26, the day of Ricart’s murder, in New York City. Women who participate are asked to wear a wedding gown or all white. According to the official website about the Brides’ March, this is because:
“For women who have experienced some form of domestic violence, their wedding dress no longer signifies what it did on the day it was first worn because the abuse destroyed those dreams of shared love, honor, respect and a happy home.
The murder of Gladys Ricart, in her wedding dress, concretized for us the brutal consequences and horror of domestic violence. Often, at the end of the Brides’ march, which winds through the streets of several neighborhoods, the wedding dresses worn by the marchers are dirty and tattered, similar to how a woman feels when there is violence in her life.”
Men who participate in the march are asked to wear all black to symbolize mourning. The march begins in the Washington Heights, where Gladys once lived, and the route takes marchers through the Bronx and Harlem. The goals of this march are to not only honor Gladys and other victims of domestic violence, but to also provide bilingual information and resources to those who may need help.
A photo from the New York City Brides’ March, courtesy of their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bridesmarchnyc/
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, and you would like help and/or resources, check out: