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Wisconsin spa killings: Shooting followed tragic script of domestic violence (+video)

The events leading up to Radcliffe Haughton killing his wife, two other women, and himself at a Wisconsin spa followed a familiar path: threats, a restraining order, and police visits to their home.

By Staff writer / October 22, 2012

Police walk past the Azana Salon and Spa in Brookfield, Wisconsin, October 21, where Radcliffe Haughton shot seven women, killing three, and then himself.

John Gress/Reuters

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Chicago

The circumstances involved in a mass killing outside Milwaukee on Sunday correspond to what many already know about domestic partner abuse: The signs are often as clear as day that the situation will one day turn deadly.

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Radcliffe Haughton shot seven women, killing three, and then himself at a spa in Brookfield, Wis., a suburb west of Milwaukee, Sunday. One of the victims is Zina Haughton, his estranged wife. In her recent application for a restraining order, Ms. Haughton said her husband “said he would kill me if I left him or ever contacted the police.”

The shooting took place three weeks into what the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence recognizes as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to a survey on criminal victimization conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and released last week, the number of incidents of domestic violence jumped 20 percent in 2011, from 1.1 million to 1.4 million, over the previous year. Between 2002 and 2011, these same incidents increased 3 percent. The data does not track homicides.

The large majority of these assaults are classified as intimate partner violence, a subset designation addressing violence between current or former spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends. In 2011 alone, intimate partner violence accounted for 63 percent of domestic violence incidents. Even though violence between partners increased 10 percent from 2010 to 2011, it was still down 8 percent from 2002.

Intimate partner violence typically involves serial batterers who commit the same acts over a sustained period of time, a trajectory that runs counter to what researchers know about general violent offenders, whose deadly behavior tends to diminish with age.

“If anything, [batterers] tend to get more violent over time,” says Angela Hattery, an associate director of women and gender studies at George Mason University in Washington who has written extensively on intimate partner violence.

Details emerging about Radcliffe and Zina Haughton suggest their relationship was at a high risk for homicide dating back nearly two years.

On Jan. 8, 2011, police were called to their home in the village of Brown Deer, a Milwaukee suburb, where police saw Radcliffe Haughton at the front window with what looked to be a shotgun. Zina Haughton told police her husband threw her clothes and bedding outside and poured tomato juice on her vehicle. She said her husband did not own any guns. The standoff took 90 minutes but did not end in Mr. Haughton’s arrest. Instead, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, police took the unusual step of asking county prosecutors to later charge Mr. Haughton with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, domestic abuse.

The charge was dismissed a week later after both Zina Haughton and a police officer tasked with identifying her husband failed to show up in court.

Police returned to the home Oct. 2 this year, once again in response to a call from Zina Haughton. Upon their arrival, they reported bruises on her face although she denied being assaulted by her husband, who was not home at the time of their arrival. She was granted a four-year restraining order against Radcliffe Haughton on Oct. 8, and last Thursday a court issued an injunction barring him from possessing firearms.

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