More horror is in what we don't see

Aug. 27, 2004. 01:00 AM


Only in a certain sense were the horrifying early-morning events on Front St. this week truly extraordinary.

They were unusual in that they occurred in public, in rush hour, live on TV and radio. They were rare in that they ended abruptly with a police sharpshooter's flawless execution of the chilling task for which such officers are trained. They were atypical in that it was the enraged husband doing the stalking, rather than the estranged wife being ambushed, who ended up dead.

Strip away those details and at its core the snapping of 45-year-old Sugston Anthony (Tony) Brookes though it shattered a family, gave an innocent young bystander the fright of her life and put the city through an emotional wringer was merely the latest manifestation of one of the most common of crimes, domestic violence.

And had Brookes more ably carried out what seemed to have been his murderous intent, he would have padded the stats of one of our most common of homicides, the killing of a former loved one.

In fact, conducted more efficiently and a little less publicly, Brookes' hunting down of his wife would, had he killed her, likely have rated a few column inches somewhere on the inside pages of newspapers and no mention on national newscasts.

Such is the relative routine with which one partner, usually the man, murders another.

Inevitably, most who knew the family have expressed astonishment at the turn of events, even close neighbours saying they would never have dreamed such a thing possible from such an apparently normal home.

But, as details emerge, experts in the field of domestic violence will be checking off the numerous risks of potential lethality that existed both in behaviour and timing. In fact, the Brookes case sounds almost to have been a classic of its kind.

According to divorce documents recently filed by Brookes' estranged wife, Marlene, her husband's violence had been escalating in the marriage for years. He had allegedly punched her, choked her, pushed her down stairs, held a knife to her throat and carried gasoline into their home threatening to burn it down.

Typically, she did not report such incidents to police. When hospital treatment was required, she lied to doctors.

Violence usually escalates. Victims, to their ultimate cost, often hide it and return to it. But murder, or its attempt, seldom comes out of the blue. It is often the final act of rage or ultimate expression of control by those who've been raging or controlling for years.

It appears also that into such long-standing volatility came a recent series of emotional triggers. In 2001, Brookes lost the job he'd held for 23 years and he had taken to delivering newspapers. This past March, he was arrested for assaulting his wife and she and their children moved out. Brookes pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a month in jail. At his release, his wife filed for divorce.

Experts in domestic violence say the period immediately after separation is most volatile when the partner left behind feels control slipping, when resentment is high and the sense of victimization acute.

Any of the events of recent months in the Brookes home could have constituted a trigger. As a package a series of humiliations, loss of control, sexual disruption they were dangerous in the extreme.

For they affected status, money, power, sex, love which, as criminal lawyer Eddie Greenspan has written, are both the stuff of life and "usually the stuff of murder."

According to Neil Boyd, the Vancouver criminologist who in 2000 wrote The Beast Within: Why Men are Violent, more than half of all killings in virtually every nation-state are perpetrated by a male against a female partner.

The reasons for male violence, he said, are frequently connected to sexuality.

"When sexual relationships are disrupted, challenged or changed, even if for very good reasons, men, especially young men, do not take this collapse very well."

Boyd suggested, moreover, that the rise in domestic homicides during recent decades could be tied to the restructuring of male-female relationships, to the loss of male dominance and control, to the diminishing of economic handcuffs and the increasing ability of women to leave troubled relationships.

What's striking, in that regard, is how common it seems to be for men to stalk women at their workplace. Perhaps it's merely because, after their flight from a matrimonial home, that's where the hunted are most easily found. But perhaps it's more than that.

Perhaps it is the very fact of their work the effect a wife's continued employment might have on the pride, sense of worth and sense of control of a man who, in this case, had seen his own work and social status diminished.

Taking the attack so public, as Brookes did, would seem the hallmark of someone who, in his rage, lost control entirely, or who, in his despair, intended to end his own life as well.

In fact, there was quick speculation that Brookes was essentially committing suicide, merely obliging police, by his actions, to do the dirty work. And with him forcing their hand, do it they did.

The mercy to Brookes would probably be that his torment ended quickly.

Years ago, I was among a group of reporters invited to an OPP shooting range to learn something of guns and sharpshooters.

The innocents among us were struck by the demonstration one officer turned in with a high-powered rifle. The target was so far away we could hardly see it, though his aim when the thing was retrieved by means of a long pulley was true.

Not only was the distance impressive, the weapon, the officer told us, was so powerful that anyone who'd been in his sights "would be dead before they heard the bang."

Additional articles by Jim Coyle