Domestic violence is key to 51-year-old secret

Recent news that the remains of Louise Pietrewicz were found in grave six feet beneath the basement in the house that once belonged to her married boyfriend, William Boken, rocked this small town — and beyond. Finally, it was the answer to a 51-year-old mystery.

Following renewed interest in the case last fall, investigators re-interviewed Judith Terry, who was married to Mr. Boken back in 1966, when Louise disappeared. At least twice over the last five decades, she had told police that her husband had threatened her life. “Keep it up and you will end up in the basement with the other bitch,” he told her.

This time, however, Ms. Terry revealed more: She had seen him burying a body wrapped in burlap in their basement.

Based on this stunning new information, police then dug up the remains.

When the news broke, readers were not shy about asking how anyone could keep such a secret for 51 years.

One word: Shame.

What readers and commenters on social media failed to take into account is that when she was married to Mr. Boken, Judith Terry was a victim of domestic violence.

Her husband beat her. Her husband choked her in front of their two small children. Her husband not only had an affair, but once even dragged Louise into their home in front of her, according to Ms. Terry’s own statements to police.

There is incredible shame in all of that. And it doesn’t just go away with time.

The shame didn’t go away when her husband was charged with assault in 1967, a year after Louise disappeared, only to be locked away in a psychiatric institution for three months in a well-orchestrated but obvious maneuver to shield him from state police investigators who were honing in on him as a suspect in the case.

The shame didn’t go away with an Order of Protection — both parties were issued O.P.s in Family Court upon Mr. Boken’s release in March 1968.

The shame didn’t even go away after they were divorced and he disappeared to New York City, where he died a pauper in 1982. But she never knew what had become of him.

The fact that Ms. Terry later remarried, and served as Southold Town clerk for four decades, doesn’t mean the shame ever went away.

The very real threat that Mr. Boken posed to her, and probably their children, lived on long after he did.
Perhaps seeing his death certificate, which a Southold detective showed her as proof only weeks ago, finally gave Ms. Terry the strength to relieve herself of this heavy burden.

People who work with domestic violence victims say this is not surprising. “People need to understand that you can hold a secret and dissociate from it for years if it’s that traumatic,” East Hampton psychotherapist Mary Bromley told me in a recent conversation. Dissociation is a coping mechanism, in many respects, that allows trauma victims to survive.

Ms. Bromley has worked with trauma victims for more than 30 years. She started at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan and, after a move to the East End, was hired by East Hampton Town Police Department to work with victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. She went on to become a founder of the Retreat, a domestic violence advocacy group that runs a shelter in East Hampton for women and children.

There, Ms. Bromley worked with Katie Beers, age 9 and already the victim of neglect and abuse. Katie was abducted and held captive in an underground prison for 17 days back in 1992. She went to live with a new family, where the East Hampton community protected her, and worked with Ms. Bromley for years.

The fact that Ms. Terry, now in her 80s, told police a secret she’d kept for 51 years at all is surprising, according to Ms. Bromley.

“For her to be able to come forward, she needs a lot of support — everything she didn’t get back then,” she told me.

Back in the mid-1960s, domestic violence was neither prosecuted nor talked about openly. What happened in your own house was your business. Men were seen as having the right to discipline their wives and children and no one questioned it. The 1967 beating that led to Mr. Boken’s arrest certainly was not the first. His arrest and removal to an institution might never have happened had he not been the focus of a state police investigation.

Police had no training in those days on handling incidents involving married couples. There were no domestic incident reports and no pro-arrest policies — both which are now standard practice in Suffolk County.

Current Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said it wasn’t until long after he joined the force 38 years ago that the Suffolk County Police Academy gave officers training in domestic violence, which includes de-escalation techniques, how to split two parties up, calling for backup and presenting options following a domestic incident.

Today, Southold police automatically refer victims to the Retreat for follow-up.

In 2017, Southold police responded to 282 domestic incidents, 95 of which resulted in criminal charges.
Often, one partner doesn’t want the other arrested, but police practices have come so far that nowadays, in certain cases, the complaining party has no choice. Arrests are mandatory. “It’s definitely swung in the other direction,” Chief Flatley said.

In a situation strikingly similar to Ms. Terry’s, a man named Rudolph Hoff was arrested and convicted of the brutal 1954 murder of Kathryn Ann Damm in Copiague 26 years later, thanks to damning testimony from his abused ex-wife. She finally came forward to testify in court that she had found her husband in the bathroom on the night of the murder washing blood off himself.

“If one wonders why certain women might keep silent about the terror of abuse then just remember these words: shame, isolation, lack of support, PTSD and intense fear,” Ms. Bromley said.

In the story of small-town indifference to a woman’s disappearance, it’s important to remember that domestic violence is at the core of the events. And that the murdered woman wasn’t the only victim. No one involved — not Louise; her daughter, Sandy; or the former Mrs. Boken — received any community support.

Sandy saw her mother physically and emotionally abused by her father, as she was herself, both before and after Louise vanished.

I think it’s hard for women of my own generation to understand how women could have lived like this. But, remember: There were no options then. Think of all the services available now — and think of how many women still live in constant fear.

Ms. Bromley pointed out to me that after Louise went missing, her daughter, now Sandy Blampied, would at the very least have gotten counseling. “She would have been held by the community.”

I think of Ms. Terry and Ms. Blampied spending more than a half-century on two very different, but similarly lonely, paths.

The community needs to rally around both of them. Ms. Bromley believes Ms. Terry was brave to finally come forward with the information, and so do I. People find their voices at different times, she told me.

To see your husband bury a body, knowing he could do the same to you — what would that do to you?

We have to find compassion for her. Certainly, none was available to her back then. There were no support services. There was no understanding community to envelop her. I just hope that now, she will get the support she needs — and deserves.

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