Cuddle for her killer

Such a happy, good-looking couple - but there was an ugly side to my daughter Heather's marriage...

Published by: Jean Jollands and Sharon Ward
Published on: 24 January 2013

Listening to the woman's weary voice, my heart did somersaults. ‘My husband beat me for so many years,' she confided, tears pooling in her eyes. ‘He threatened to kill me many times.'
I was at a fundraiser for the domestic violence charity I'd set up, Heather's Hope Foundation.
I'd never met this woman before, but the sunken eyes and nervous edge to her voice were so familiar. She reminded me of my darling daughter Heather.
My mind raced back to Heather at 16, introducing me to her new boyfriend Clay Rimmer, 18. Thin and tall, he didn't even bother taking off his sunglasses. ‘Hello,' he mumbled. Charming, I thought, unimpressed.
Despite my misgivings, they grew closer, even though Clay made digs about her weight and put her down.
‘Are you stupid?' he snapped one day when she tripped. Somehow, I held my tongue. Afterwards, Heather collared me in the kitchen.
‘Don't worry,' she winked. ‘I can handle him.' But I wasn't so sure...
‘If I criticise him too much, I'll push her towards him even more,'
I fretted to my other daughter Amy and my son James. I'd raised them all single-handedly after their dad walked out, and we were so close. I wasn't going to let Clay come between us.
Plus, Heather was still the same caring daughter. ‘Here, let me pull a chair out for you,' she smiled one day, as I gingerly eased myself down at the table. I suffered from painful arthritis but Heather was always there, lending a hand. And now, she teased me about my own love life. ‘Guess you and Bob are getting closer,' she winked. Bob Roebuck, 68, was a dear friend, and recently things had taken a romantic turn. ‘Go for it, Mum!' Heather grinned. ‘I want you to be happy.'
But Bob was equally as horrified as me when, two years later, Heather announced she was marrying Clay. ‘Don't do it,' I begged her. ‘He's not right for you.' It was no use though.
‘I love him,' she insisted.
That night, Bob wiped away my tears. ‘You can't stop her,' he sighed. ‘We can only hope she comes to her senses.'
But that time never seemed to arrive. They married in Las Vegas and, two years later, Heather gave birth to a daughter Paige. ‘Isn't she beautiful, Mum?' she cooed, cradling her newborn at the hospital.
To the outside world, her and Clay looked like the perfect little family. But I knew they were anything but...
‘Alright,' he grunted one day when I popped round with some baby bits. As he skulked out of the room, Heather whispered, ‘Don't mind him,' rolling her eyes. As the years passed, I put up with it to stay close to my girl.
‘I'm retraining as a teacher,' Heather announced one day. ‘It means I'll have holiday off to spend extra time with Paige.'
‘Good on you,' I grinned.
I watched proudly as she juggled motherhood with studying and got her first teaching job.
One day, as I watched Heather and Paige, now four, sticking pressed flowers to a square of card, I remembered doing the same with Heather as a child. ‘Bet you've still got all the cards I sent you!' she said, reading my mind. ‘Too right, missy!' I chuckled.
When Paige was six, Heather gave birth to another beautiful girl, Jordyn.
But when I visited, she seemed jumpy and Clay would constantly pop his head round the door, checking on her.
‘I'm just talking to Mum,' Heather reassured him, looking anxious.
‘It's like she's scared of him,' I fretted to Heather's brother James. ‘Something's badly wrong,' he agreed.
So, next time Heather popped in with some groceries for me, I sat her down.
‘Does Clay hurt you?' I asked, finally voicing my fears. ‘Everything's fine,' she said too quickly, looking at the floor. I knew she was lying, but felt helpless. ‘I'm always here,'
I promised. ‘Remember that.'
Then, one day, I noticed a bruise on her arm. ‘What happened?' I asked, terrified. ‘Oh nothing,' she breezed, pulling down her sleeve. ‘I just walked through a door too quickly.'
I didn't believe a word she said. ‘Please, Heather,' I begged. ‘You should leave him.'
‘You're stressing about nothing,' she insisted.
But then something terrible happened which totally pushed my fears for Heather to the back of my mind.
My beloved son James died suddenly from a heart attack. He was only 27.
‘Please... There must be some mistake...' I howled, sinking to my knees on the hospital floor as a doctor confirmed the terrible news. ‘He's fit and healthy...' Could life really be this cruel?
Heather desperately clung to me. ‘Mum... I just can't believe he's gone...' she sobbed.
I'm not sure how we made it through those next weeks. My days were spent poring over pictures of James, as if staring at his image would bring him back to life. Heather was struggling with his loss, too.
She started popping round less and seemed more and more withdrawn.
So when her number flashed up on my phone one day, I welcomed the chance for a chat, hoping for a moment's relief from the grief engulfing me.
But Heather's voice sounded hoarse, distraught. And then she dropped her bombshell. ‘Clay tried to drown me in the bath last night,' she sobbed, uncontrollably.
Nausea and disgust swept over me. How could he do something so despicable? Yet, at the same time, tears of relief slid down my cheeks, too. For 12 years, I'd desperately pushed her to tell me what Clay was doing to her. Now that she'd finally confirmed everything I'd always suspected, I could help her. But as she spoke, things took an even more horrific turn.
‘Afterwards, he threw me over the bath and raped me,' she continued. ‘I couldn't scream because the girls were in the next room. But they heard everything.'
I gripped the table in rage. ‘Leave him,' I pleaded. ‘Come home to me, bring the girls with you.'
To my huge relief, she agreed and all three arrived at my house.
Later that evening, I hugged Heather tight as we sat on a bench in the backyard.
‘Clay's going to kill me,' she suddenly blurted out. ‘But I just want you to know how much
I love you.'
‘Don't say that,' I gasped, taking her hands in mine. ‘Get a divorce. We'll protect you.'
She shook her head. ‘Wherever I go, he will hunt me down and kill me. It will happen. Just know that I love you.'
Horrified, I stared into her eyes, but they seemed lifeless, like her soul had already left.
I prayed the marriage was finally over. But one morning, a week later, Heather sat me down.
‘I have to go home with the girls,' she began.
‘No!' I gasped. ‘After everything he's done?'
‘There's stuff I need for work and the girls need to see their daddy,' she insisted. Even as she headed through the door, I grabbed her arms. ‘I'm so scared for you,' I cried. But she wouldn't listen.
Desperate, that afternoon I went to her school to reason with her. ‘Mum, I can take care of myself,' she repeated.
‘I love you so much,' I whispered, defeated. ‘I love you, too,' she smiled, hugging me. That night, I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned, worrying.
Next morning, at 8.10am, the phone rang. It was Heather's neighbour Julie.
‘I'm so, so sorry,' she began. ‘It's Heather...'
I didn't need to hear the rest. I knew.
Bob drove us the 15 minutes to Heather's house. It was surrounded by police vans and paramedics. ‘Where's my daughter?' I begged an officer. He took me to one side.
‘I'm sorry,' he said, gently. ‘She's dead. Her husband shot her... Then he shot himself.'
‘No!' I screamed. ‘Please, not my darling daughter.' As I trembled, two faces flashed in my head.
‘Where are my grandchildren?' I murmured. Officers led us to Julie's house where Paige, 13, and Jordyn, seven, huddled together on a sofa under a blanket. ‘You poor babies,'
I croaked, as they stared up with big, frightened eyes.
We took them back to our house but I didn't shed a single tear. ‘I have to be strong for them,' I told Bob. ‘If I let myself cry now, I'll never stop.'
Days later, police told us the reason Heather had returned to Clay. ‘She told a friend that Clay threatened to start shooting people at her school if she didn't go back to him,' an officer explained. I felt guilty now for thinking she was crazy to go home. As always, she'd just been trying to protect others...
We buried Heather alongside her brother James. More than 1,000 people listened as my brave grandchildren read a tribute to their mummy. ‘We'll see you again one day in heaven,' Paige said, as they released white doves into the sky.
For two months, the girls wouldn't talk about what they'd seen.
Then, one day, as we were driving to get groceries, Paige suddenly started talking about things.
‘Mummy spent the night with us in bed,' she said calmly from the back seat. ‘She told us to make sure we get good grades. And she stroked our hair and said that
she would always love us.'
Paige said Heather had refused to talk to Clay the next morning as she'd made breakfast.
He'd warned her, ‘You'd better talk to me or else...'
‘Mummy told him,' Paige continued, ‘"the only thing I'll say is that I'm leaving you."'
Clay had gone to the bathroom where he'd hidden a gun. In front of his own children, he'd cold-bloodedly shot Heather in the chest.
As Paige trailed off tearfully, Jordyn took over the storytelling. ‘Mummy screamed "Daddy's shot me. Run, run!"'
Right to the end, she was thinking of them. But, before they escaped, Clay shot Heather in the head. ‘Mummy was bleeding
and Daddy shot himself and fell on top of her,' Jordyn said. Paige had then grabbed Jordyn and fled to Julie's.
That night, the gruesome scene replayed itself over and over in my head. Finally, my tears came pouring out as
I imagined how terrified Heather must have been. I felt guilty, too, for all the times I'd begged Heather to leave Clay. ‘Telling him she was leaving cost Heather her life,'
I wept to Bob.
‘You can't blame yourself,' he soothed. ‘You did what any caring mother would do.' Paige revealed that Clay had attacked Heather countless times, but she'd begged the children not to tell me. It made me realise I had to do something, so her death wouldn't be in vain. That's why I started my charity, Heather's Hope Foundation, to raise awareness
of domestic violence.
‘When a woman tells her abuser she's leaving, she's in more danger than ever,'
I explain to women. Please make a safety plan before you leave. And please tell someone if you're being abused.'
Me and the girls meet many women who've suffered like Heather and have that same defeated look in their eyes. It's like looking at my beloved daughter every time. I hate Clay so much, but Paige is adamant. ‘I forgive Daddy,' she insists. ‘The night before Mummy died, she told us that we should always forgive, no matter what.'
She's 17 now, with the same long blonde hair and blue-green eyes as her mummy. Just like Heather wanted, she's a straight-A student. Jordyn, 11, makes me little homemade cards like the ones Heather used to tuck into my pillow when she was a child. I couldn't protect my little girl. But I'm determined to make sure no other woman suffers like my Heather.

• To find out more about Heather's Hope Foundation, visit

Bonnie Roebuck, 64, Florida, USA