'Til Death

Why did a gay-rights activist stab her wife with a screwdriver 222 times?

Near the end of 2007, Carol and Jessica began telling friends they were separated but still sharing the house until they could sell it. Carol slept in the guest room, and the two would go days without speaking to each other. She told friends that she and Jessica wanted to divide their property and go separate ways, but neither woman trusted the other enough to sell the house and split the money fairly. And a traditional divorce wasn't an option: Since their marriage wasn't recognized in Florida, they couldn't get a divorce here; and since they didn't live in Massachusetts, they couldn't get a divorce there.

Then Carol lost her job at the Credit Union Times. She applied for — and began receiving — unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, Jessica bought a BMW and started seeing another woman, a feminist writer living in Massachusetts named Wendy Hunter Roberts.

"Carol would get so sad," Helen Gale recalls. "She said [Jessica] had become cold and cruel to her." Carol told friends that Jessica said she'd never loved her, that she didn't know how she'd ever been attracted to Carol. She complained that Jessica would spend hours on web-cam dates with her new girlfriend, intentionally speaking loud enough for Carol to hear.

Jessica Kalish
Jessica Kalish
Carol Anne Burger
Carol Anne Burger

In June 2008, Carol wrote out a suicide note, but she couldn't follow through with the act.

"Jess didn't even say happy birthday to me this morning," Carol wrote in an email to Helen later that month. "What a putz. [It's] hard to reconcile the person I loved so much with the person I see before me now."

Helen was a close confidant of Carol's in the year before Jessica's murder; Helen too was ending a long relationship, and the two women connected over the shared experience. Carol stayed with Helen in California for two months in early 2008. Helen often came to Delray Beach to see her mother and also visited Carol. They emailed daily.

The correspondence reveals, in Carol, a torn, complex woman. She was at times optimistic, hoping to sell the house, travel, and put this part of her life behind her. Other times, she sounded jaded: "Frankly, I just don't have much faith in living in America in the next coming years," she wrote at one point. She was still devastated by the death of her mother a few years earlier. She was worried about losing the money she had tied up in the house and felt alone and abandoned. But she never hesitated to extend warmth to her friends, often dropping in a quick "I'm thinking of you" or "Please feel better..." and always closing with "Love, Carol."

Some emails reveal she made a conscious effort to be cheerful. "Better days are coming," she wrote Helen in early summer. "Happy days, brighter days... I'll put the house on the market and get away from this toxic human being ASAP!"

Last July, Carol was invited to cover the presidential election for the popular political blog Huffington Post. She wrote about young Florida Democrats, about the opening of the Obama campaign headquarters in Delray Beach, and about the South Florida gay community's push to shoot down Florida's Amendment 2, which would, as Carol wrote in a post, "enshrine one-man, one-woman marriage into the state Constitution."

"The amendment is vague," Carol told her readers, "so it could allow for disenfranchising contractual and domestic arrangements and take away recognition already granted by many cities and counties in Florida."

Though the exposure on such a highly trafficked media outlet was great, the Huffington Post job didn't pay. Still, Carol told Helen she was hopeful: "I'm gathering the strength I need to do the unpleasant work that lies before me: getting the house ready to sell and then selling it and moving on," she wrote.

A week later: "I've so much work to get done in order to put the house on the market," Carol wrote. "My goal is to list it in Sept. or Oct. and hopefully to do the sale and be out by year's end."

In an email from August, two months before the murder, Carol mentioned that Jessica "had her lover pick her up again." She said she was sad. "I'm feeling pretty isolated," she wrote. "I just can't bring myself to punish people with my sad self whenever I'm down. But I usually bounce back in time."

As credit markets froze in September and the price of real estate in South Florida plummeted, Carol grew more desperate. She told people she felt trapped. The rotating highs and lows seemed to spiral, taking Carol deeper into a dark depression. But she refused to take medication. "I'd rather just be sad than chemically dependent," she wrote to Helen. "If medication works for you, great. It's not for me. Most people I know who've taken them never seem to get off that merry-go-round."

When she took Helen to the airport at the end of a trip in October, Carol began sobbing uncontrollably, saying she didn't want Helen to leave. "I can't go back to that house," Carol cried. "Not with her. I can't take it."

"You've gotta move out, Carol," Helen said as she comforted her friend. "You have to."

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