Daddy the destroyer

The whole family was going to pay for the break-up of my marriage...

Published by: Laura Hinton and Linda Massarella
Published on: 22 December 2011

You shouldn't really be thinking about death while wrapping Christmas presents. It's meant to be a happy, sparkly time, full of fun and laughter. But my beloved mother-in-law had died just weeks earlier, and it wasn't just grief that was overwhelming me.
It was the thought that, well, life's too short. Too short to be scared, miserable and living a lie.
If only Joanne was around to talk to but, when she'd died, I'd lost my best friend. We'd clicked as soon as we'd met. When me and her son Justin had discovered I was expecting a baby after just four months of dating, instead of lecturing us, Joanne, 55, had accepted me into the family with open arms.
In fact, it had been her and her hubby Don, 59, who'd suggested me and Justin move in with them after we'd tied the knot just eight days after my 16th birthday. That was when I'd started calling them Mum and Dad.
What would Joanne think if she knew that, 13 years on, I was thinking of leaving her son? Would the thought have her turning in her grave? Pushing the idea to the back of my mind, I finished tying a bow around another present, and popped it under the Christmas tree.
‘Right, I'd better cook lunch for the kids, then go shopping for the turkey and bits and bobs,' I muttered to myself.
‘Get me another tinny first,' grunted Justin, 31, from the armchair. He waggled a can of lager at me.
Just then Shantel, 12, ran in, being chased by a giggling Quinton, eight, and Shane, 10. ‘Mummy, do you have some paper? We want to paint cards for people,' Shantel begged.
I looked at Justin, pleadingly. ‘Could you...?'
He shook his head. ‘Beer,' he barked at me.
Right, fine, I'd do it myself, like I did everything. Justin didn't believe in helping around the house, just watched the telly and refused to lift a finger.
In fairness, the minute I'd had Shantel, he'd told me, ‘I'm no nappies man, forget it.'
Stupid me, I'd thought maybe he didn't mean it. Even though I was now used to it, I could feel my shoulders rising with tension as I rummaged around and finally gave the kids their art stuff. As they ran from the room, something inside me snapped.
‘I'm not in love with you,' I suddenly whispered. Justin glared at me. Oh God, was he going to hit me? He always hit me when he'd been drinking.
He'd been so great when we'd first got together when I was 15. A logger, Justin, then 18, had seemed such a man's man, but so gentle, too. He'd teased me about my accent, calling me ‘southern gal'.
But when he'd turned 21, and we'd got our own house, he'd started drinking. One pint became seven or eight, his mood worsening with each sip. For years I'd been scared of him, not even daring to confide in Joanne.
Now he took another swig of beer and held my gaze menacingly. Tears pricked my eyes, but I'd carried on.
‘I want a divorce,' I said, desperately trying to hold myself together. ‘But we'll wait until after Christmas, for the kids.'
'I'm going nowhere,' he sneered at me.
But I felt stronger instantly. I'd done it! I'd stood up to him, and all he'd done was sneer. Why had I waited so long?!
The next day, I nipped two doors down to ‘Dad's' house. Don beamed when he saw me... but as I confided in him about my relationship, his smile slid away.
‘I'm so sorry,' he whispered. ‘I-I should have stepped in and protected you.'
I shrugged. ‘You know what he's like... It wouldn't have made any difference.'
It had never stopped Justin bullying his elder brother Stacey. He was twice as big as Stacey, who lived with Don, and still loved pushing him around even now.
‘Boys will be boys,' Joanne had always shrugged. It was the only thing I hadn't agreed with her on. Now I'd soon be free of Justin's bullying forever. I couldn't wait...
Christmas Day dawned. There was a light dusting of snow, the Christmas tree was twinkling, and the smell of turkey hung in the air. Everything seemed perfect...
Justin grabbed a present. ‘Me, first!' squeaked Shantel. Justin smiled, ‘Only if you give Daddy a kiss first.' He didn't need to ask twice. Moments later, Shantel was ripping at the paper, desperate to get at the toy inside.
‘A Barbie!' she shrieked, her eyes wide with excitement. ‘I love it, Daddy.' She flung herself into his arms, kissing him, then me.
Next, we watched Shane open his toy car, and then Quinton his Lego set.
‘Time for the crackers!' I laughed. Moments later, we were all reading out the silly jokes. Yes, we certainly looked like a scene from a Christmas card... a happy family enjoying this special time of year together.
But if you looked a little deeper, you could see the happiness didn't reach my eyes. That every time Justin moved, I jumped, scared of what would happen next. I was living on a knife-edge, was desperate for him to leave our home for good.
Before I knew it, it was New Year's Eve. I sat on our porch, took a sip of wine, and wished on the stars twinkling in the sky. Justin will go quietly and I'll be happy again this year.
The year got off to a cracking start, with me getting a new job at a cleaning company. Then on January 10, Justin called when I was at work. ‘I'll leave tomorrow,' he grunted. Yes!
The next day, I packed the kids off on the school bus. Humming to myself as I put on my make-up in the bathroom, I felt the happiest I'd been in months.
The door flew open. It was Justin. ‘What's wrong?' I gasped.
‘You're gonna have fun with me for the last time,' he growled, glaring at me. I shrunk back, hitting the edge of the sink as Justin punched me. As I slumped to the floor, he continued beating me.
‘Justin, no!'
But he dragged me into the bedroom. Yanked down my jeans and raped me.
Within minutes, it was over. He got up and pulled on his trousers as if nothing had happened.
Sobbing, I ran out of the house, desperate to get away from him. Ran to the first place I could think of - Don's house. ‘Dad' would help me.
The second the door opened, I fell into his arms. ‘Justin raped me,' I sobbed, breaking down.
His face as the horror sank in! ‘I love you like a daughter - and my own son did this...' he gasped.
I decided to call the police.
Bless him, Don didn't leave my side as I was taken to hospital and checked. In the meantime, Justin was arrested. I went home safe in the knowledge he was behind bars.
But two days later, Don phoned. ‘Justin's been released,' he sighed. ‘He has to live with me. I won't let him do anything stupid.'
‘I hope you're right,' I trembled.
Still, I decided to phone my real dad Tom, 49, and ask him to come to stay. He arrived the next day. He gave me the confidence to organise supervised visits at a family support nurturing centre, so the kids could see their own dad.
But I wasn't daft - I also got a restraining order against Justin for myself.
After a week, I even felt strong enough to do some exercise. So I invited my pal Dana, 31, round to the house
to join me. By the time I'd tucked the boys in bed it was 9pm so, while Dad and Shantel watched The Simpsons, I picked up some weights.
‘Ready?' I asked Dana, as we got ready for a workout. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew through the house. The back door had been flung open.
Justin's huge build loomed in the doorway. He was clutching a rifle. ‘Everybody in the front room,' he roared at us. ‘Now!'
Terrified, Dana and I did as he said. Shantel started screaming. ‘Justin, you're scaring...' I started to protest, but he cut in.
‘The nurturing centre wants me to pay to see my kids,' he screamed. ‘My own kids!'
Then he tossed me a roll of tape. ‘Tape up your dad and Dana.'
He pointed the gun straight at my head. ‘Do it!'
Justin sat on my exercise bench ranting, while I taped as fast as possible. ‘Why do you want a divorce?' he shouted. ‘And you've accused me of rape?!'
‘Come on, son,' Dad pleaded. In the blink of an eye, the gun was at his temple.
‘Shut it!' Justin screamed.
That's what he shouted every time one of us tried to reason with him. Three long hours passed. What was he going to do with us? Would he really kill me? The kids?
No, no, he'd never hurt his own flesh and blood.
Suddenly, Shantel stood up and brushed aside her tears. Instinctively, I reached out to protect her, but she'd already walked over to her daddy.
‘Look at what you're doing,' she said to him gently. ‘You have to stop and think.'
My heart hammered in my chest. She looked so tiny standing there in her pyjamas. But she'd stood up to him, just like I had.
‘My husband will be coming for me soon,' Dana whimpered, finding the courage to speak.
Justin's face twitched. He knew then that he was beaten. ‘I'll let you go, but don't call the cops.'
‘Won't say a word... if you give me the gun.'
I winced at her cheek - but he did it! She glanced across and I gave a slight nod of my head. Go! Get help!
‘Let's lay on the bed with the kids,' Justin whispered to me. Whatever it took to get out of this alive. Luckily, Shantel fell asleep within seconds. I lay there with her, barely moving as her dad sat beside us.
A bang made me jump. ‘Open up, police!' a man cried. Cops burst in, guns drawn. I didn't know what was going on. Next thing I knew, Justin was handcuffed and being led away.
Dad appeared, hugged me tight. ‘It's over,' he soothed. ‘Justin can't hurt anyone any more.'
I needed to go round and see Don, explain what had happened. But I couldn't face it just yet...
First thing the next morning, the phone rang. It was Stacey's ex-wife Christina. ‘Have you seen Don or Stacey?' she asked. ‘I can't reach them.'
I froze. Something didn't feel right... suddenly I realised Don would have seen the police at my house, but he hadn't popped over to see what had happened.
Hanging up, I immediately called the police. ‘Can you go round there, please?' I begged them.
‘We'll get straight on it,' a detective promised.
Every few minutes, I peered out of the window to see if they'd arrived. I should have gone myself, but fear stopped me - I was terrified of what I might find.
Then I saw what I'd been dreading. Dozens of officers swarming around my father-in-law's home. Seconds later, someone knocked on my door.
My hands shook as I opened it. ‘Sarah? Your father and brother-in-law were murdered last night,' an officer explained. ‘They were both shot in the head.'
Justin had admitted to killing them. I felt my knees go from beneath me as I broke down. ‘Why?!' I gasped.
Nobody knew. But I reckoned I did. Stacey and Don must have seen how angry Justin was, maybe even got wind of his plan to come round to mine with a gun. And they'd stood up to him for the first and only time.
So Justin had killed his own flesh and blood, before holding us hostage. I was devastated. ‘Don was like another father to me,' I wept to Dad. ‘Did I cause this? By leaving Justin?'
‘No. There's only one person to blame for this - Justin.'
In April this year, Justin Calbrick was jailed for 100 years. He deserves to die in jail for what he did. Last Christmas, my kids lost their daddy, granddad and uncle. This Christmas, we're going to be starting afresh. I'll wrap the kids up in my love and enjoy every moment that we share. They've already had enough tragedy and turmoil in their short lives.
Sarah Peters, 28, Flathead, Montana, USA