Love Hurts

When it comes to crimes of passion, Hialeah is Dade's undisputed champ. Unfortunately, the competition never lets up.

The one point reinforced by all the domestic violence experts A a point sometimes lost amid the alarmist bleatings of O.J.-fueled reports A is that brutality in the home is a timeworn tradition, an ugly component of virtually all cultures. Think back, for instance, to the roots of Valentine's Day, the sanctioned flogging of women the Romans called Lupercalia.

Or reconsider Hialeah, where the penchant for domestic slayings undeniably predates the city's metamorphosis from Anglo suburb to bustling Latin city. In 1963 spurned Hialeahans took six lives. An equal number were murdered in 1967, 1982, and 1993. Until the Seventies, nearly all the victims and their murderers were non-Hispanic whites.

In 1957 the city was agog over the case of Phyllis Pratt, a pretty, redhaired mother who shot to death her abusive husband. The defendant's plucky twelve-year-old son became a media darling after it was learned that he was contributing his salary as a paperboy to his mother's defense. Defense lawyers vilified Edward Pratt, the dead man, as a bullying behemoth and a bigamist who battered Phyllis relentlessly. She was acquitted.

Tongues were wagging a few years later when Stanley Miller murdered his ex-wife and her new boyfriend as they were leaving the Hialeah Lanes bowling alley. Warren Rinehart perpetrated his own multiple slaughter in 1970, when he marched into his ex-wife's Hialeah home and began blasting away with a rifle. By the time the air cleared, four people were dead: his daughter, his ex-wife, her new husband, and Rinehart, who had turned the rifle on himself.

Later that year, police responded to a home where they found Gaye Myers dead of a gunshot wound. The killer was her husband Pete, a five-year veteran on the Hialeah force. "You only want to know two things," Myers told his stunned colleagues. "Did I kill her and why. Yes I did, but I'm not going to tell you why."

All of which brings us back to sociologist Lisandro Perez. What Hialeah has always had, Perez argues, is a firmly working-class socioeconomic structure. "It's the kind of place where you have two parents working, and a couple of kids living in a small home."

Perez says this pattern may actually predict domestic violence. In more prosperous areas, he reasons, the economic pressures are not as great. In poorer areas, there are simply fewer two-parent households. This, in conjunction with a lower level of police protection, may account for the phenomenon.

Then again, there is always the chance something darker may be at work. A curse, perhaps, unleashed by the angry Seminoles who lived there before the incursion of greedy developers. Certainly this would help explain Hialeah's reputation for political rancor, which began back in 1925 when inaugural mayor J.H. Wendler was shot and killed by one of his rivals, and has yet to subside.

It would also help explain the fate of Isabelle Maria Gee, a Venezuelan beauty who fell prey to the curse in 1960. Gee had come to Miami from her native country to seek polio treatments for her four-year-old daughter. Unbeknownst to Gee, her erstwhile lover Fabio Henau followed her to the Hialeah home of her sister, where he shot and killed her. Neighbors found Gee's disconsolate daughter Jennifer outside the room where her mother lay. "I told her not to go to Hialeah," one of Gee's friends told reporters later. "I tried to warn her."

Undoubtedly the saddest case in the city's long and bruising history of dangerous love took place that same year. The bodies of Rosalba Sanchez G centsmez and her boyfriend, both Hialeahans, were discovered in a room at a local motel. Two bullet casings lay on the bloody rug. "A note was found inside G centsmez's Bible stating that she and her boyfriend could not be together," reads the autopsy report. "Not wanting to be apart, it appears they entered in a suicide-murder pact."

Anyone who is a victim of domestic violence or knows someone who is a victim should call the Safespace North Shelter (758-2546) or Safespace South Shelter (247-4249). The Dade Domestic Violence Court also has a 24 hour emergency hotline: 547-3170.

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