Killers Among Us

The first was Patrick Timothy Richardson.

On a September Sunday in 1999 on Colgate Avenue in University Park, the 39-year-old accountant suddenly vaulted over the sofa in his den and wildly assaulted his wife of 13 years. The Richardsons' three young children gaped in horror as he slammed a lamp into her face, twisted the cord deep into her neck and nearly severed Mary Richardson's head with a pair of scissors.

The second erupted about 20 months later. Forty-five-year-old John David Battaglia had a notoriously short fuse. In the spring of 2001, his ex-wife, Mary Jean Pearle of Highland Park, complained to police that Battaglia was harassing her by telephone. Pearle said she feared Battaglia, who had repeatedly assaulted her in the past, and she wanted him jailed for violating his probation.

There seemed less to fear from Battaglia when it came to the couple's two young daughters, 9-year-old Mary Faith and Liberty, who was 6. Battaglia had never harmed or threatened the girls. In fact, he doted on them--even had their names tattooed on his right arm.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. on May 2, Mary Jean Pearle drove Mary Faith and Liberty to Highland Park Village to meet their father for a regularly scheduled dinner date. About two hours later, Pearle received a message from her mother that her former husband urgently needed to reach her. She telephoned his downtown loft, where Battaglia put Mary Faith on the line.

"Why are you trying to put Daddy in jail?" the little girl asked. Then Pearle heard Mary Faith cry, "No, Daddy, don't do it. No, Daddy, no!" followed by multiple gunshots. Officers responding to Mary Jean Pearle's 911 call found both girls shot dead on the floor of Battaglia's apartment.

The third deadly dad was a 43-year-old unemployed electrical engineer named Steven Cummings Loss. Early on the evening of October 3, 2001, Loss arrived as expected at his ex-wife Bonnie's Mockingbird Lane residence. But instead of picking up his sons, Craig, 14, and 7-year-old Evan, for dinner, Loss opened fire on his family with a silver 9 mm Colt pistol. He killed Bonnie and Evan in the doorway where they stood. Then he shot twice at the fleeing Craig--who suffered bullet wounds to his back and shoulder, but will recover--before killing himself.

Park Cities residents are no strangers to spectacular murders. In 1992, for example, the philandering Richard Lyon was sentenced to life in prison for the ant-poison slaying of his heiress wife, Nancy Dillard Lyon. The following year, someone perforated former Dallas Cowboy Colin Ridgway in his University Park duplex.

But never in memory have the Park Cities been jolted by such unspeakable, and apparently similar, family homicides as the three most recent killings, all of which occurred in a 25-month cluster. The search for a common factor, or flashpoint, in the three cases yielded little of promise. All three fathers were mature, middle-class professionals. None was delusional. None had a psychiatric history. Even the darker similarities they shared--failed or failing marriages, recent money stresses--surely didn't explain these volcanic episodes.

In fact, on closer analysis it is the critical contrasts among the three dads, and their situations, that emerge. With the help of a forensic psychologist who is intimately familiar with such cases, it is possible to see how Tim Richardson differed dramatically from John Battaglia, and both of them from Steven Loss--even if their bloody outbursts perhaps were not so coincidental.

Tim Richardson was by all accounts a sober-sided family man. He had no history of violence, drug or alcohol abuse, gambling or adulterous liaisons. Friends described him as quiet. Former college classmates told The Dallas Morning News that Richardson seemed unduly status-conscious, but that he also read the Bible daily, rarely got into arguments, drank very little "and was inordinately remorseful when he did."

His 1986 marriage to the former Mary Williams produced three children: 8-year-old Mary Beth, plus Patrick and John Robert, ages 6 and 5. All lived together in apparent harmony on Colgate Avenue.

Yet there was trouble in the marriage. Tim reportedly earned about $60,000 a year, small apples for the Park Cities. Mary, by contrast, came from money. Tim would testify at trial that the Williams family pointedly excluded him from their periodic finance roundtables. Dr. Elissa Benedict, a child psychologist who interviewed the Richardson kids, told the court their father envied their mother's wealth. "Jealousy with regard to money was a portion of the reason why this [murder] occurred," Benedict testified.

Tim Richardson also complained that Mary spent too much time outside the house--particularly at Junior League--that she drank too much and left him alone with the kids too often. According to his testimony, when he suggested marriage counseling, Mary refused.