Her Name was Kristen

Her name is Kristen, and last Tuesday she was murdered, allegedly by her estranged bigamist husband and his other wife. Kristen was 9 months pregnant when she was killed. Also killed were her 8-year-old son Clayton, 1-year-old nephew Eli, and her mother Jean. At the time of their murders, Kristen had a protection-from-abuse order against her husband Christopher Henderson (Source: AL.com).

A recent photo of Kristen and Clayton posted to a GoFundMe account.

I didn’t know Kristen or her family. But I do know about family violence.

I have many times sat and listened to a child talk about seeing his or her mother being beaten by a father or step-father. I remember listening to one child, barely 3 years old, tell me about seeing mommy knocked to the floor and kicked repeatedly by her boyfriend.

I have seen the bruises on women who were beaten by men who claimed to love them. I have heard their stories, how in 2015 they do not call the cops because the cops believe him when he tells them she’s crazy and off her medication, or she’s on drugs and she’s hallucinating. The cops shake his hand, turn around, and leave her to suffer still more of his physical and psychological torture.

I’ve sat in court and watched in wide-mouthed disbelief while the judge aligned with the abuser and returned children to him, which the abuser held out as pawns to force her return to him.

I’ve read police reports and child abuse report summaries, and wondered why the children were left in a home where such abuse goes on with no protective services put in place.

And I’ve read the media reports of women who, like Kristen, were murdered after daring to leave.

It’s often men who are making those decisions to side with the abuser over the victim. I don’t know why, and I don’t think that they realize what they’re doing. Of course not all men see women and children as property for men to do with as they please, but many do. Some men don’t want to believe a fellow man who puts on such a good public front could be so sinister and cruel behind closed doors. Some are just lazy and don’t want to have to do the extra work to arrest him, or charge him, or force him to go to a batterers intervention program.

Besides, they all reason, if it were that bad, she would have already left him, right?

Make no mistake, there are hundreds of women right now living in abusive relationships who would love to leave, but they don’t, because they know that leaving would antagonize the abuser further. It may make her the next Kristen. Abusers are at their most dangerous after she decides to leave. That’s why there are so many domestic violence shelters and they’re always full.

There are candlelight vigils and GoFundMe accounts set up to comfort and help Kristen’s family, and that’s all well and good. But if you really want to help women who are victims of domestic violence, there are things you can do to keep them safe while they’re still alive.

Rule #1. Believe her. Don’t be yet another who passes off her behavior as odd, and him as a long-suffering husband. If she says he’s beating her, or is giving her the drugs, or he’s not letting her get mental health care and meds, believe her.

Rule #2. Trust her decision-making. She knows him better than anyone else and what he’s capable of. If she has a long-term plan of escape, support it. She knows what she’s doing to keep herself and her children safe.

Rule #3. Help her. Help her get herself and her children to a safe place. She may cannot contact a DV advocate because he monitors her phone, so let her do it on your phone. Hold her money she’s socking back. Help her hide valuables or identification papers such as birth certificates or social security cards. Take in her pets on a short-term basis until she can get on her feet.

Rule #4. Tell the truth. One way abusers hide in plain sight is because others will not file charges or testify. If he shows up at your house looking for her, call the cops and have them make him leave. May not seem like much but it will help create a paper trail that attests to his pattern of behavior.

henderson and carlson
Christopher Henderson and wife Rhonda Carlson are being held without bond in the murders of Kristen, Clayton, Eli and Jean. Christopher married Kristen in one state while legally married to Rhonda in another.

I have worked with women who were not believed by the men who had been called to their aid, but I am often heartened to be a part of a group of strong women who surround those women with support and protection. To be sure, these women are not safe, just as Kristen was not safe despite having a court order of protection. But they are believed, and are no longer alone.

There are far too many Kristens and Claytons in this world.

And there are far too many Christopher Hendersons.

61 thoughts on “Her Name was Kristen

  1. I agree with you there are too much Kristens… and I wish all Christopher Hendersons would disappear to nowhere. And even when I saw the weirdest things on that front I’m always there to help and to find a soluton and a safe place…

    1. I think if there’s going to be a legal death penalty, it should be reserved for people like him who knowingly lead women to believe they love them but in reality all they want is to own her and control her every move.

  2. I am always amazed at those whose silence is paid for by someone else..i am sorry but if i had the slightest idea i would be reporting..and have done before..i prefer to sleep at night with a conscience that has at least tried..

  3. I have an abusive neighbor whose wife refused to leave and instead fight back with fists and foul language, both use their two sons as pawns and all four fight now that the kids are in high school. My neighbors and I have all called police over the years, they husband has gone for counseling and therapy, but still it continues. Aside from keeping a relationship with the two boys, the rest of us can do nothing if they won’t do anything themselves, and what will those boys be like as adults?

    If women are strong enough to leave, society should fully support them. People criticize women who even go back, but often they have no choices, and abusers are manipulative. It’s a shocking thing in this day and age that women like Kristen and her family have to die.

    1. How in the hell can this still be happening in this day and age? And yet it is, a lot! I recently completed a training on domestic violence in relation to child safety, and one of the trainers estimated as many as 85% of the families we investigate have domestic violence in the household.

      1. It’s a complicated situation, the answer–not a justification but there’s a serious breakdown in society: babies making babies and not having adequate parenting skills take their frustration out on the innocent child, the perpetual cycle of abuse in which one learns what they grow up with, etc. The human condition has its dark side and the more we overpopulate the more humans will come into the population pool to manifest with that dark side. Impulse control isn’t as valued as it was in the 50s, not that shit didn’t happen it just wasn’t in your face. It’s a mess and I don’t know what the answer is, other than to live my own life with as much compassion and responsibility as I can. You’re also in the heat of it, it’s in your face because of your job and that alone can create an imbalance and burn out which makes it all t he worse for you. I know from working in the second busiest ER in L.A. county with the highest census of child abuse. There’s nothing good or redeeming about hurting another human being, ever. And when it’s a child or a vulnerable woman, that adds a whole lot of insult more to the situation. Wish we lived closer, I’d take you out for a doggie treat and your biped out for something stronger: coffee. Sending a hug.

  4. So many women I’ve met are so afraid of being alone that they will accept all kinds of abuse just to have a “family life”. It’s tragic they are so conditioned to the notion that without a man – any man -in tow as women we are a failure and somehow lesser beings to be stigmatised and frowned upon as the unlovables … I choose to remain unattached precisely to avoid further abuse and I love my life. I have male friends but I live alone and I love the strength and independence that gives me and the confidence to walk proud and tall and spit in the face (metaphorically not literally! ) of those who view me as less of a woman because I do not allow any man to own me or control me or hurt me. It can be done! 😉

    1. Many of those women who are afraid to be alone are afraid of what might happen to them at the hands of men. Better the devil you know. Not everyone is like you and I. Of course, Rumpy encourages men to stay away from me.

      1. You make a very good point there. I hadn’t thought of it that way. And I have total admiration for the work you do. It’s not something I feel I could do but people who do are amazing 🙂 Yes. ..I’m sure Rump does an excellent job at encouraging men to stay away from you lol 😉 I put far more faith in my K9 in shining armour than any human knight in shining armour lol nothing like a hairy black monster with a jaw full of slavering white fangs and the K9 from hell snarl to send certain types of odious individuals running for the hills! 😀

    2. So very true! I left a verbally abusive relationship after 18 years of telling myself it would get better, but people don’t change. Anyway, I have been on my own for 10+ years now, and I have no desire to look for male companionship at this time. I still have 2 children at home, and still have contact with my ex due to custody sharing (so I am still dealing with verbal battering, just not as often).

      1. Respect to you Carol. It takes a strong minded and brave woman to find the courage to take that step into the unknown and go it alone. Especially when you have children too. And if I may say so,I think your strength and courage make you a fantastic mum and a great role model for your children and I am sure they will be very proud to have a mum like you 🙂

      2. Thanks so much for your kind words! It is not easy, and it took a long time to finally be free from all the negative feelings I had about myself, since I was always told I was no good! My ex still tells me this and other negative things frequently (like I am a terrible mom, ect), but now I know they are not true! It is really freeing!

      1. It is outrageous. No one can think she entered a relationship with this man knowing this would be a result. It’s frightening to think what sort of manipulative bastard he could be.

  5. I’m very sad about this. It seems that an order of protection is issued for women and yet the men ignore it. What good is that order is it’s not enforced? Why bother. There has to be something else that can be done. For one thing, any police officer who ignores a plea from a women regarding domestic violence should be held accountable for anything that the man involved commits. That means, if a murder is committed as it was with Kristen, the officer ignoring the situation should be charged with manslaughter. Maybe that will make the officers do their job.

    1. What I don’t understand is how we’re not worried about women who are beaten and abused by men. We’re more worried about forcing them to have babies that will hold them hostage in those abusive relationships. We want to make sure we cut benefits so women can’t feed those babies. We want to shame women who aren’t legally married when those babies are conceived. And we’ll ignore her if she isn’t a young blonde middle-class babe. Our society is abusive toward women too.

  6. Thank you! Everyone believed my ex and said he couldn’t be doing what I said. Besides, he was a cop. That’s what helped him the most. Since I got out of that mess, I’ve helped other women do the same. And I always tell them that a protection order is just a piece of paper when it comes down to actual protection.

    1. I am fortunate we have a domestic violence advocate who liaisons with our agency, and I encourage women to work with her. The advocate can help those survivors make informed choices on what is the best course of action to take to protect herself and leave. Sometimes an order of protection only makes matters worse.

  7. Wonderful advice. Women are brow beaten into believing that they are nothing without their abuser. We have to figure out a way to empower women to believe in themselves.

  8. Thank you for shining light on very dark corners of our society…Children who are the most vulnerable, have no say regarding their and their mother’s safety. Keep shining light on this subject!

  9. I believe I read about this in the news. There’s still a mentality in some law enforcement agencies that what happens behind closed doors is no one’s business but those involved. A couple of years ago, in Dallas, a woman was murdered by her ex-husband, while she was on the phone to 911. The recording picked up her screams, which the operator could hear clearly. Two female police officers arrived some time afterwards and, when they got no response from their knocks on the front door, just turned around and left. (One of them had stopped off at a convenience store to get a bottle of water, before continuing on to the house.) The victim’s relatives discovered her dead body a couple of days later after they couldn’t reach her.

    1. Yeah, some cops operate under the philosophy that if she stays, she gets what she deserves. But these are relationships where the perp has all the power. If she could leave, she would. But oftentimes leaving means he’s going to stalk her, or snatch their kids and leave town/the state/ the country, or he’ll kill her, or those she loves, including their children, just to hurt her.

  10. One story of many.
    Note to people: Protective orders don’t stop them. Waving a piece of paper in their face as they pull out a gun or put hands around a neck is useless.
    Help a woman to get to safe place and take in the pets. Don’t let them die because they can’t take the cat/dog and he will torture it out of spite.
    That paper trail – all those little calls to cops- critical. Even if it doesn’t look like it’s helping, it does eventually if the record gets to the right judge.
    If men would stop abusing girlfriends/wives, then maybe it wouldn’t be necessary for so many women to have carry permits.
    No one should live in terror. But so many women do.

    1. Protective orders don’t stop them, but sometimes it’s the only way she can get the cops to do anything when she calls them. They do serve their purpose.

      1. Protective orders are a necessity and a first step to get help. What the police can/will do after those are given, varies from state to state. The general public often doesn’t realize the danger doesn’t end once orders are issued – it can even increase. It’s critical to report every time the orders are violated even if it seems futile.
        If someone at risk asks for help, please people, take it seriously and help them.

  11. Thanks for sharing this heart rending story which sadly is one of many. I’m fortunate in my life to not be in contact with anyone in this type of situation but your rules for helping are great points to be aware of. Thank you for all the work you do to protect as many people as you do with your daily work.

  12. Thank you for speaking up, speaking out, and speaking for Kristen, and many women like her. I shared this.

  13. For over 15 years, I watched my younger sister be abused. She married at 17 because she was pregnant. From the very beginning, not long after their first son was born, he started with the mental and psychological abuse. Then, before their son was in preschool, came the grabbing of the hair and dragging through the house. He always knew where to hit her so that there would be no bruises. But when the family found out, she was already so broken by his demeaning words and the name calling that she didn’t think she was worth anything. She refused to leave. She even thought that having another child, a second son, would help “save” him. It didn’t. So my sister turned to drugs and alcohol to get through it all. After being broken and battered for all those years, after finally filing a few police reports, his family paid off the male judge and he walked away with the boys and she was left with nothing. Since then, my sister has lived in Hell. Living on the streets and becoming so addicted to drugs, paying for them in ways that most people wouldn’t imagine. This year, she turned 44 years old. She is just now starting to turn her life around. It has taken all this time for her to finally start to believe in herself again. It breaks my heart. Not just for her, but for her sons who are following down the same path as their father. It breaks my heart for the girl my sister used to be…and for all the women who never asked for this life..never asked to be abused and beaten…to be called hateful, horrible names and told they are worthless. If you hear something enough, you start to believe it. I guess, compared to this horrible story, my sister is lucky. She still has a chance. A chance that Kristen won’t have. I know that all my are not this way. And as a mother I have raised my son to be a strong man, but a loving man. He would never raise his hand to a woman. And as mother’s that is the best job that we can do. I hope the couple that killed Kristen and her family members learn hard lessons in prison.

    1. One thing we know about abusive relationships is the abuse often becomes worse after a child enters the family. Your sister needs you to remind her that she is of value. No, not all men are this way, but a significant number of them are. If only the public would grasp how much money domestic violence costs us in law enforcement, social services, child protective services, insurance claims, etc., perhaps we’d be more willing to confront the problem head-on.

    1. If the perpetrators rot in prison, at least they they will not be able to harm others. But that act alone will not stop the endless barrage of women suffering at the hands of men who believe in male privilege.

  14. This is a powerful post, Jen, and every word is true. I’m currently housing a family member who left a psychologically abusive marriage after many years. We felt that it was escalating with threats of violence that were getting scarier and scarier. And a year later he still threatens to travel across country to retrieve her, begs her to come back and alternates between protestations of love, and accusations of heartlessness and name-calling. We’ve made it clear that if he ever shows up here, we’ll call the police and issue a restraining order.

    And you’re right – he never cared about her, ignored her and constantly manipulated her to control her – and all he ever saw in her was a piece of property. He wants her back so he can continue to abuse and control her. I’ve talked with friends who have worked as domestic violence counselors and they assure me that this behavior is textbook. I am very glad that I was able to offer her a safe haven and her life now is completely different, but the threats continue. I wish there was more we could do to stop it…

    1. I’ve seen men married to other women who continue to try to control and manipulate former partners. They use their children as a means of control. He withholds money owed to her. If still married, he tries to ruin her credit. They are manipulative bastards who believe there is nothing wrong with what they are doing. What you can do is continue to support your friend as she heals. She is stronger than she could ever imagine to live through what she did. Now it’s time for her to internalize that about herself.

  15. I just don’t know what to say about this. I can’t believe it. It’s just incredible. I’m speechless. But you can bet I’ll remember how to help thanks to your advice. Unbelievable. Three lives. Gone. Just gone.

      1. I can’t explain why this particular crime is so disgusting to me when Cecil’s murder was disgusting, the ferrel cat bow-hunter murder was disgusting and so many, many senseless (when does it ever make sense? never) murders go unnoticed. Or not discussed. I just don’t know. Maybe it’s the photo. Maybe it’s the children. Maybe it’s the fact that escaped but didn’t really. Whatever it is, thank you for talking about it and opening my eyes to something that’s beyond my comprehension.

  16. As a nation – we must figure a way to stop the cycle. Tragedies like these are becoming entirely too common place, and my fear is that we will eventually become numb and view this as the “norm.” Can’t let this happen.

  17. This is truly a curse on America and the world at large. As long as men predominate in politics and law, there will be no protection for women who are abused and their children. Many of the politicians and lawyers, judges, etc are the very one behind closed doors abusing their own families. But to the world they look pristine.

  18. I fostered two dogs for a woman who entered a domestic violence shelter that didn’t accept pets.

    Our local SPCA normally provided housing for pets of abuse victims (and they took her cat) but had no room for dogs at the time.

    I felt very blessed to become friends with this woman and her pets. I could not believe how strong she was. Despite the abuse she had endured, she did everything she could to put her dogs in a safe place.

    Recently, this woman told me that she was thankful for the strength she gained from learning how to stand up for herself against her abuser.

    It is so unfair that our society so often fails women who are trying to hard to do what’s best for themselves and their children against all odds. We’re a nation the despises the weak. And yet we so often confuse the weak with the strong and the strong with the weak.

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