'Til Death

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


About noon on Friday, October 24, Boynton Beach Police announced they had found Jessica's body. Calls to the house and to Carol's cell phone went to voicemail. Knocks from neighbors and reporters went unanswered. When officers didn't get an answer at the door just after 2:30 p.m., they headed around the side of the house. They could hear a greyhound barking inside. In the back yard, they found Carol. She was dead, lying in a pool of still-warm blood next to the screened-in pool.

"When we first found her and secured the scene, we weren't even sure at that point what we were investigating," Detective Martinez recalls. "We didn't know if Carol was distraught, missing Jessica, and just couldn't take it anymore. Or maybe this was a double murder, set up to look like suicide."

Jessica Kalish
Jessica Kalish
Carol Anne Burger
Carol Anne Burger

As police moved from room to room, Martinez noticed what looked like a single drop of brown paint on the floor of the garage, near the washing machine. But since the rest of the garage appeared undisturbed — there were piles of furniture, scuba gear, old lamps — the detective didn't think much of it. Only later, when another detective found a similar spot on the wall in the cabana bathroom, did they test both drops and determine they were blood.

Police obtained the necessary warrants and spent the rest of the afternoon moving furniture out of the house. The back bathroom was the first place crime-scene investigators went with the Luminol, a chemical that attaches to iron found in hemoglobin. Even if the area has been cleaned thoroughly, when sprayed under a black light, Luminol turns bright blue wherever blood has been present — a reaction scientists call "chemiluminescence." The Boynton Beach crime-scene technicians first sprayed the chemical on the bathroom wall, near the spot of blood. The wall began to glow. They sprayed over the sink. It too started to glow.

"From the amount of blood we found in the bathroom," Martinez says, "we originally thought the murder must have occurred in that room." Evidence of blood was present on every wall, all over the shower, on the door, the mirror, the tile floor. The sink had overflowed at one point; the Luminol unveiled haunting blue streaks down the front of the cabinets.

That, though, did not compare to what police discovered in the garage.

With the carpets and futon and scuba gear out of the way, the Luminol revealed what looked like a killing floor. There had been, at one point, three large puddles of blood and a set of footprints mapping the killer's path. There was more blood in the washing machine and patterns outlining where Jessica's car had been parked during the attack.

Though friends and family members dispute some of the details, police pieced together a narrative of what they think happened: On October 22, Carol spent the day helping Helen Gale's mother move boxes after a flood. After work, Jessica and her new girlfriend chatted via web cam until about 7:30 p.m. Jessica showed Wendy her new haircut; she had just gotten her dark brown hair cropped short, with sassy spikes in the back. Jessica used her L.A. Fitness membership card at 7:48 p.m. and worked out for an hour. Carol was at home, stewing over something — what exactly, no one will ever know. When Jessica pulled the BMW into the garage, Carol confronted her in a rage. Carol picked up a screwdriver.

Because there were scratches on the car door and the driver's-side window, police believe Jessica was still in the car when the attack began. When Jessica got out, Carol didn't stop swinging the screwdriver. Jessica's forearms were scratched, her hands punctured. Carol chipped Jessica's front teeth. She struck Jessica's chest. Then again. Then Jessica's face. Her shoulders. Jessica fell to the ground. Streaks of blood beneath where the car had been parked suggest that Jessica — who was much taller and stronger than Carol — was stretching out her hands, desperately trying to get under the car. Then Jessica crouched into a prone position near the rear driver's-side tire.

Most of the screwdriver blows landed on Jessica's neck and on the back of her head, perhaps directed at her new haircut. All told, there were 222 stab wounds. The lacerations were, on average, an inch to an inch-and-a-half deep, and most were shaped like the tiny plus sign on the tip of a Phillips-head screwdriver. The fatal strike was likely a blow to the spinal cord. The struggle — and subsequent overkill — probably lasted about 20 minutes.

After the attack, an exhausted Carol pulled Jessica's body toward the trunk, but she was too tired to lift her lifeless former lover. She dragged Jessica's body back around the side of the car — leaving smeared blood and hair along the front of the trunk and on the tires. She opened the back driver's-side door and pushed Jessica up, onto the back seat. Then she walked around to the passenger side, leaned in, and pulled Jessica the rest of the way into the car.

Carol drove the BMW, with Jessica stuffed in the back, to the parking lot where it was found — at some point leaving a broken cigarette on the back seat to throw off the police. (Though Jessica relished the occasional expensive cigar, she detested cigarettes.) Then Carol walked home two miles in the rain and began cleaning. She wiped the weapon clean and put it away. She mopped up the blood in the garage (except for the drop Martinez saw). She stripped down, ran around back to the cabana bathroom (so as not to track blood through the house), washed herself, and then washed that bathroom. She got dressed, drove a mile in the opposite direction of the BMW, and dropped Jessica's keys and wallet in a rough neighborhood. Later, she moved carpets over the spots in the garage where the most blood had been and put furniture over the carpets.

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