'Til Death

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

Then Carol made herself a snack, worked on her resumé a bit, and waited.

After she got the call that Jessica's wallet had been found, she called 911 with a panicked voice. She paced through the house while on the phone, her heels clicking down the seconds before her life unraveled. She spent most of that evening talking with police and, later, telling a neighbor how worried she was. "Where could she be?" she said again and again, still pacing. "I don't know where she is."

The morning of October 24 — after police had discovered Jessica's body but before the information was made public — Danielle Dubetz, a reporter with WPTV-TV Channel 5 at the time, went to the house with her cameraman and spoke with Carol, seeking an update on the previous night's missing-persons story. Carol answered the door in her bathrobe and looked like she hadn't slept in three days. She agreed to email photos of Jessica but asked not to appear on camera. As they left, Dubetz noticed something especially odd: As Carol had repeated over and over I don't know where she is. Where could she be? — the supposedly grieving woman wasn't making eye contact.

Jessica Kalish
Newscom
Jessica Kalish
Carol Anne Burger
Newscom
Carol Anne Burger

"Normally people are in such distress," Dubetz remembers, "they stare at you in your eyes and it just cuts you to your core. We're the first people there, and they're pleading for help. She was asking for help, but she wasn't looking at me at all. It was so strange."

At some point between 11:30 a.m., when the reporter left her house, and 2:30 p.m., when police arrived, Carol brought her .38-caliber pistol to the dining room table in its case. She loaded the gun and walked out back by the pool, shaded by the screened enclosure extending from the house. She removed her flip-flops and reading glasses and placed them gently on the glass patio table. Wearing only a bathrobe and panties, she looked at herself in the mirrored sliding door and placed the gun under her chin.

Nobody heard the shot. The bullet left a hole in the top of the screen.

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When police found Carol's body, they noticed an odd, deep, L-shaped abrasion on her knee. It looked fresh, but they couldn't think of what might have caused such a wound. But when they examined the garage, they noticed that a large, metal Coleman toolbox had one drawer sticking out slightly. The shape of the drawer matched the wound exactly. Detectives concluded that Carol must have been running at the car when it pulled in, and she knocked her leg on the drawer's metal lip. Perhaps that was what pushed her over the edge. That drawer contained three Phillips-head screwdrivers.

After the sad incident, some observers suggested that the story of Jess and Carol highlighted the need for across-the-board legal recognition of civil unions and same-sex marriages. "It's very messy for us to get disentangled," says Elizabeth F. Schwartz, a Miami-based family attorney specializing in same-sex issues. "This is one example of many of a couple that entered into a marriage and then couldn't get themselves out of it. When the kind people of Massachusetts grant you the right to marry but Florida won't recognize those marriages, it can make getting a divorce very difficult. Certainly the answer is not to kill your ex, but it does remind us that the consequences can be grave when we don't have a legal and appropriate way out."

As details of the murder-suicide trickled out, the crime captivated the public. Not only was it remarkable in its brutality (the number 222 was an inescapable representation of one woman's immense pain and anger), but also perhaps more shocking were the demographics involved — two married, postmenopausal, educated lesbians.

In spite of the uniqueness, what happened with Carol and Jessica echoed so many other cases of domestic violence: Tension built and built until the relationship, and the lives of the participants, came to a horrible, climactic end. Beyond the luxury cars, the beautiful house, and the high-profile careers, they were not impervious to the stresses of a sour relationship, worries over money, or the desperate pains of mental illness.

And in that way, Carol and Jessica were just like everyone else.

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