Read Empty Promises Online

Authors: Ann Rule

Tags: #General, #Law, #Offenses Against the Person

Empty Promises (6 page)

and Steve talked constantly to Jami about his increasingly bizarre sexual fantasies. She hated it, but she didn't know how to escape.
On November 5, 1989, King County Police Officer Paul Guerraro was dispatched to check on a domestic dispute at a house in Bothell. He found a near-hysterical Jami Sherer holding her toddler son. The right side of her face was bright red and there was a bloody spot on her scalp.
"Her hair was pulled out," Guerraro remembered. "I remember it well because that's the only time I had actually seen scalp fragments attached to hair."
In her statement, Jami said that Steve had been out most of the night, coming home at 4:00 A.M. She suspected that he'd been with another woman, and they had an argument about it. Jami said she had Chris in her arms and was preparing to leave: "I was at the door, turning the knob when my husband grabbed me by my hair and pulled me six feet across the floor."
She dropped Chris in the struggle and the baby got up and ran over in a pitiful attempt to help her. But when Steve saw her holding Chris, he was further enraged. He balled his hand into a fist. "He said he'd kill me if I didn't let go of Chris," Jami told Officer Guerraro. "He pulled the phone cord out of the wall when I tried to call 911. I finally got the plug back in."
Shortly thereafter in the foggy November morning, the Hagels' phone rang. Judy answered and it was Jami. She was crying and asking her mother to come and get her. "She said Steve had been out drinking and she reproached him and he was pulling her around the floor with Chris hanging on to her legs," Judy said. "So Jerry and I jumped in the car, and the police were there when we got there. [Steve] was gone. I took Chris from Jami
and on the table was this long [lock] of hair— her scalp and hair lying on the table."
Guerraro gathered up the clumps of Jami's hair and scalp and bagged them into evidence.
Judy and Jerry took Jami and the baby home with them, hoping that this would be the last time— that even Jami would now see through this man she was married to. But she didn't.
"Within a day or two," Judy said, "Steve kept calling and calling. We got up the next day and there were flowers on her car.… He got her to come back and talk to him, and she moved back."
Steve had printed on a giant sign on the lawn, "I love my wife!"
It was inevitable that when Steve's court date came, Jami didn't show up to testify against him. He had sweet-talked her and promised never to hurt her again, urging her to think of Chris's need for both a father and a mother and begging her to save their marriage. As in so many other cases involving domestic abuse, the charges against Steve Sherer were dismissed. The piece of Jami's scalp and her long beautiful hair were tossed out of the evidence room; the case was closed, and there was no reason to keep the evidence.
Jami had more support than a lot of women caught in marriages where they became punching bags and objects of derision. She had a good job and a family who wanted to help her. But she seemed to have long since passed the point where she could distinguish between being loved and being owned. Judy could barely count the times she'd rushed over to get Jami and the baby and move them to the safety of her house, only to listen helplessly as Steve began his incessant phone calls.
"He would never give up. It would keep ringing and
ringing and ringing," Judy said. "Every ten, fifteen minutes. He'd insist on talking to her. And at night we had to take the phone off the hook and cover it with a blanket."
Jami still had her one link to safety. During the times she and Steve were reconciled, Jami insisted on visiting her parents. If he was at the racetrack, as he often was, Steve didn't object so much to her taking the baby to the Hagels' house. She liked to eat Monday dinner with them; that was chicken and rice night, Jami's favorite. She usually managed to sneak away from Steve and attend family birthday dinners and holiday get-togethers. Her image is there in most of the family pictures, with Jami most often sitting next to her father. Anyone looking at the Hagels' photo album would have seen a smiling, pretty young woman.
Jami Sherer was living in two worlds, trying in vain to balance them.

* * *

As the eighties drew to a close, Jami Sherer became desperate to hold a lid down on a relationship that was constantly threatening to explode. In her job at Microsoft, she was calm, friendly, and efficient. Someone who didn't know her well would have supposed that she didn't have a problem in the world.
Jami was bringing home a good salary, and, perhaps more important, she was eligible for stock options at Microsoft. The company's stock was doubling and redoubling constantly. Not only was Bill Gates a multi-billionaire, but a large number of his employees were also instant millionaires. The dress code at Microsoft was casual but the work ethic was intense and well rewarded. Jami interviewed job applicants and helped choose those she knew would fit in.
Steve's job offered less of a future. He was working
as a sales rep for an air freight company. He and Jami had decided to buy a house, but their credit wasn't good and they didn't have a down payment. Steve's mother, Sherri, agreed to loan them enough to get them into a house. Jami may have held on to the slight hope that Steve would change if they gave up the transitory feel of living in a series of apartments and had their own place with a yard for Chris.
Sherri Sherer Schielke wanted her son's marriage to last, and it wasn't really a financial risk for her because Jami put up her Microsoft stock as collateral. Steve added a bit more collateral with his small portfolio of Nordstrom and Longview Fiber stocks, an inheritance from his father.
Steve and Jami started looking for a house. Jami knew she would have to put some sweat equity into it, because the area's burgeoning real estate market put most homes on the east side out of their range.
A house represented safety, respectability, and a chance to live like other young families. Maybe Steve would settle down and they could work toward a future that would be good for Chris— and for themselves, too.

5

 

 

The Hagels had no idea how much their daughter was hiding from them. Jami might have been using cocaine only to escape momentarily from the ugliness of her life or, as she said, to be sure Steve wouldn't use it all, but she
was
using. She had not been using enough for her friends at work to notice or enough to
compromise her life, but the small amount she consumed made her more amenable to Steve's suggestions or, rather, less able to fight him.
By 1990, Jami was no longer fooling herself; she knew that her marriage was a horrible mistake, but how would she ever get free of Steve? She agreed to buy a house, but she told friends that she probably wouldn't stay with Steve after they moved. She had finally come to understand that another move or a new job for Steve or a baby would never change him. Now that she was a mother, she felt such love and concern for Chris that she dared not continue to risk exposing him to Steve's chaotic rages. Motherhood had made her more vulnerable because she had so much more to lose, but it had also made her stronger. She would fight for Chris.
Sara Smith,* who was dating one of Steve's high school friends— Eric Linde— met Jami and Steve in the summer of 1989. They went skiing and bowling together a few times and Eric and Steve went to Reno that winter. Sara liked Jami better than Steve and spent time with her. One evening the two women watched television and ate pizza while the men were out. Sara had already noted that Jami never said much when Steve was there. She was a little surprised when Jami opened up to her that night as the two of them ate pizza. "She wasn't happy," Sara recalled. "She planned to divorce Steve after they moved into their new house."
That seemed a little odd to Sara. She wondered why Jami didn't just leave— but then she realized that leaving Steve wouldn't be easy.
As alien as it might sound to women who were not involved in an abusive relationship, Jami had believed
for a long time that Steve's violence erupted, in her words, because "he just loves me so much." But Jami had finally concluded that Steve really didn't love her and that her value to him was as a possession, not as an equal partner.
Nevertheless, in May 1990, Jami went along with buying a split-level house on Education Hill in Redmond. As agreed, with Jami's Microsoft stock as collateral, Sherri loaned them the down payment and the closing costs on the house: $27,186.53. Since Steve's employment was sporadic, Jami's salary would be used for the monthly payments on the house. Two months later they moved in.
"It was in awful shape," Sherri recalled of the house they bought. "It was a fixer." The previous owners had kept animals in the basement rec room, and they had urinated and defecated on the floor until the linoleum had practically melted and stuck to the floor. Jami and Steve bought a product called
Kilz,
applied it, and finally got rid of the odor. They found a carpenter who partitioned the basement into separate rooms, and Jami worked to fix up the rest of the house. It began to look better. It was a standard split-level plan, built in the seventies, but it was theirs.
Steve made a few halfhearted attempts at landscaping the backyard, which adjoined a thick woods. There was a single tree in the yard, and Steve had a load of sand dumped near it for Chris to play in, although he never actually made a sandbox. The rest of the backyard was only gravel and some never-planted flower areas edged with untreated wood. Steve had no interest in gardening.
Indeed, all of Steve Sherer's interests lay in things that could bring him an instant high or instant excite
ment. The new house made no difference at all in his behavior— except that Steve could now throw private parties without having to worry about people in an apartment next door overhearing. Despite the new house, all the vacation homes he had access to, his powerboat, and his little boy who was not yet two years old, Steve Sherer was bored, still looking for new thrills, and still spending a lot of time gambling in card rooms and at the racetrack. He set up his own weekly gambling pool with friends who bet on NFL games and draft choices, but even that kept his interest for only a little while. Steve was an empty vessel that needed to be filled constantly.
No longer satisfied by his sexual relations with Jami, Steve continually urged her to join him in "swinging." He took out an ad in a swingers' magazine without her knowledge. It was written from Jami's point of view, as if she was the one who was seeking sexual excitement by adding another man to her life. Steve received several replies, with photographs of naked males enclosed, at the post office box address he listed. They wrote that they were anxious to join Jami in her fantasies. It was, of course, Steve who was interested in threesomes; for a long time, he had talked about watching Jami have sex with another man. She was disgusted by his constant nagging at her to acquiesce to his sick scenarios about inviting people into bed with them. He was often impotent, which was not surprising considering the quantity of drugs he ingested, and he needed something to spice up his jaded sex life.
Whether Jami actually participated in threesomes with Steve is questionable— at least at that point. But something happened during that time that hurt Jami so badly that she wanted to go far away from him.
Nothing in his marriage was sacred to Steve. At one of his jobs, he regaled fellow employees with intimate— and exaggerated— details of his sex life with Jami. A young woman recalled working in a warehouse where Steve was her foreman. "He told everyone around about his sex life, where he made love with his wife, all about her physical characteristics. He said all the guys at his wedding were excited over Jami because of her breasts. He was bragging about it. He liked to talk about what they did in hotel rooms— wherever. He put it all out there whether we wanted to hear it or not."
Steve regaled the warehouse workers with stories about, in his words, "people who shall be nameless" who came to orgies at his house. He would then describe what happened in lascivious detail. "He hinted to me that I should come over some night," the woman said, embarrassed.
Through sheer coincidence, one of Jami's good friends since junior high school met Steve in the air freight building where she worked. She knew him only as a sales rep with a smooth pitch and a slightly skewed attitude. "He was giving away wine coolers once," she recalled, "because he said he became a very 'bad and evil person' when he drank— so he had to give it away."
She noted that Steve talked a great deal about his sex life, and was surprised to find out that he was married to her old friend, Jami Hagel. But she was revolted to hear the way he talked about Jami.
A number of women who worked with Steve soon learned that he slyly turned most conversations into sexual revelations. He often invited them to bring their boyfriends and come to parties at the Sherers' house in
Redmond. Most said no at once, but a few were trapped into accepting when they ran out of excuses. Steve never threw any real parties, however. He invariably gathered the men into the den, where he showed them pornographic videos. Jami, while polite, always seemed embarrassed and uneasy when they entertained like this.
There was no question that Steve had the toys to attract people to his home or his mother's vacation homes. He was able to persuade a few couples to go for boat rides on Lake Washington. Once he and Jami threw a Murder Mystery Game at their house in Redmond. But Steve most often turned people off by the way he treated his wife. All his joviality and energy were nullified by his cruelty toward Jami.
"He had a controlling personality," one of Jami's Microsoft co-workers said. "He didn't smile or talk nice to her. She was open and friendly at work, but around him she was full of apprehension, anxiety and fear."
Through it all, Jami stayed close to her mother and father. It was probably that connection that helped her survive emotionally. The things that mattered most to her were her son, Chris, her job, and the family she grew up with before Steve came along. By 1990, Jami realized that she couldn't stay in her marriage much longer. She still had too much self-esteem, however deeply buried, to allow Steve to destroy her. The old problem loomed, of course: walking away from Steve might be impossible. He never let go of anything or anyone until he was done with them, and he would use a dozen or so manipulative devices to hold on to Jami.
Another friend was Brenda Yamamoto, who had worked at Microsoft for eleven years. She and Jami
had offices in the same building. There were other friends that Jami felt close enough to to confide her despair. Janet Gilman had been hired at Microsoft the same day Jami was, and Janet remembered all too well the disintegration of Jami's marriage and the fear that gripped her.
By mid-1990, Steve was apparently aware that Jami was inching away from him; he was jealous and suspicious. If it is possible to stalk one's own wife while still living with her, that was what Steve did. He called Jami continually at Microsoft, and she sometimes hid out in Janet's office to avoid his phone calls. They could hear the phone shrilling endlessly in Jami's office.
On occasion, Janet was in Jami's office when Steve called, and he sounded like a rage-aholic, always furious about something. Even standing a few feet away, Janet could hear him yelling at Jami, who held the phone away from her ear and rolled her eyes at Janet.
From those frequent calls, Steve progressed to dropping by Jami's office. Other employees' spouses came to their building only on special occasions. But not Steve. Most of Jami's co-workers at Microsoft knew Steve only by sight, but he grew more and more familiar as he appeared in Jami's office two or three times a day to check on her, just to be sure she was there. He called her even more often than before. It was difficult for her to get any work accomplished, and his calls and drop-ins interrupted her interviews with job applicants.
Although Microsoft maintains a low-key atmosphere, this behavior wasn't acceptable for long at any business complex. Jami was mortified by Steve's constant visits, and the more he clung to her and spied on her, the more she pulled away.
Sensing her withdrawal, Steve again began sending her flowers. One afternoon, Michael Sandberg, a mail clerk at Microsoft, delivered a long white box to Jami. She opened it, and he saw two dozen red roses nestled in the green tissue paper. "I said, 'Hey, you've got flowers,' " Sandberg said, "and she said, 'Yeah, they're from my husband.' She couldn't have cared less."
Jami's two worlds had collided. She sometimes came to work with dark circles and bags under her eyes, and the women she worked with noticed bruises on her arms. She seemed haunted. It was getting crazier. Jami had never sneaked around on Steve, and they all knew it. She went from home to work, then to day care to pick up Chris, and then home again. But Steve seemed obsessed with the idea that she was cheating on him. Her women friends asked each other, "When would she have the time?"
Occasionally, Steve stood out on the green campus at Microsoft and Jami— as well as everyone in her unit— could see him watching her windows. It was to them the sickest kind of voyeurism. Steve and Jami still lived together; they were still married. Why was he so obsessed?
Once, Jami had to call Security to have Steve escorted from her office when he shouted so loud that his voice carried to nearby cubicles. Jami was terribly embarrassed, but nothing seemed to embarrass Steve; he felt entirely within his rights as he shadowed Jami. In his mind, she still belonged, totally, to him. The words he had once written to her in a sentimental card, words that had thrilled her at the time, came back to haunt her: "I can't stand not having you within my sight."
Janet Gilman and Jami still had lunch together, most often at the Taco Time at the Bear Creek Shopping Center in Redmond. "Steve started to phone me," Janet said. "He wanted to verify that Jami had gone to lunch with me— where we went, what we had to eat, even what we talked about. After a few times, I just told him I wasn't going to do this anymore. He was spying on her."
Steve had good reason to worry; Jami was planning her escape with utmost secrecy. The wife he had controlled for a half-dozen years was straining at the bars of her cage. With Janet and with other women friends, she was now talking about how she could get Steve to move out of the house. She was making the payments, and it was her Microsoft stock that secured the loan from his mother. She said that she wouldn't be stealing anything from Steve because he had put virtually nothing into the house. It seemed only fair to her that she and Chris should have a home.
Sometimes Jami seemed strong and confident that she could have a life after Steve. She actually thought she could remain in her new house. She asked people about changing the locks, wondering if that would be enough to keep him out.
At other times, though, Jami was more realistic, and willing to find another place to live where Steve wouldn't know her address. She could never leave the Seattle area— she was too close to her parents and brothers. Most of all, she would never leave Chris; she knew Steve would fight her for custody, just to make her life hell. She also knew that she and Chris belonged together. "She wanted to get away," Sherri Gruber, another friend, said, "but she was afraid— afraid for her life, and she wanted to take Chris with
her. She was looking for anywhere she could hide from Steve."
Sometimes Jami was pessimistic and stoic: "I'll never get away from Steve," she said flatly to Janet Gilman. "It doesn't matter where I go— he'll find me."

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