Killers Among Us

Page 3 of 4

What he evidently did share with Richardson (besides being an accountant) was a monstrous rage. But unlike Richardson, instead of instantly annihilating his ex-wife, Battaglia allegedly chose to destroy those she loved best. "No doubt he was getting back at Pearle big-time," Meloy says. "His anger is much more controlled than Richardson's. My hunch is he got rolling on the plan when his daughter said, 'You're going to jail.'"

Consistent with this theory of Battaglia's motivation are the multiple gunshots, which could only amplify Pearle's horror as she listened to her daughters' murders over the telephone. Mary Faith was shot three times: once in the right side of her lower back, once in her upper right shoulder and once with the gun muzzle held directly to the back of her head. Liberty was shot five times: once in the back, once in her left arm, once in her left side, once to her scalp and once, like her sister, directly to the back of her head.

Police found 15 guns in Battaglia's apartment, one with human hair stuck to its muzzle. They also found a human tooth. According to Liberty's autopsy, her upper right central incisor recently had been pulled. Only a bloody socket remained, and the teeth on either side were loose. Assistant District Attorney Howard Blackmon, who will prosecute Battaglia, declined to say whether the tooth recovered from the loft was Liberty's.

"That would be a first for me," Meloy says. "I've never heard of a father killing his biological daughter and then taking some sort of memento."

Battaglia memorialized the event in one other way. After the killings, he drove to East Dallas and went to a tattoo parlor where he had two roses, one for each dead child, tattooed on his left arm.

There was never any serious acrimony between Steven and Bonnie Loss.

After the breakup of their 13-year marriage in 1997, Bonnie married businessman Gerard Murphy and moved from Plano to Mockingbird Lane with sons Craig and Evan. But she always wanted Steven involved with the boys' upbringing. "According to her closest friends," says Highland Park police Detective Randy Millican, who investigated the murders, "Bonnie didn't speak disparagingly of him. She wanted him to spend more time with the boys. She wanted him to be part of their lives."

And so he was. Even as Loss began to seriously unravel in the spring of 2001, he kept in close touch with Craig and Evan. It was for the announced purpose of being near them that he moved back to Dallas from St. Louis just a week before the murders.

Steven Loss had no history of violence or substance abuse, nor had he ever sought counseling, Millican says. He was quiet, people told the detective, especially in contrast to the effervescent and outgoing Bonnie Loss-Murphy.

His plunge toward murder and suicide may have begun as early as 1999 when Loss was laid off at Alcatel, the telephone equipment maker. Loss never did go back to work, telling people that he was living off his severance and day-trading stocks to support himself. For a while, he fell behind in his support payments for the boys, but soon caught up and paid "like clockwork," according to Gerard Murphy.

In early 2000, Loss went home to his native St. Louis and moved in with his widowed mother, living in the same room he had as a boy. After a while he took up bridge.

Then in the spring of 2001 Steven Loss' decline began to accelerate. "His family said he began to be withdrawn," remembers Detective Millican. "Even Craig said you could talk to him and he wouldn't listen. You had to repeat your conversation with him. He appeared preoccupied."

"I would bet money this guy was severely depressed," Reid Meloy says, "probably in what's been called the dismal tunnel. A lot of times middle-aged males whose lives have fallen apart go back to live with their mothers. It's probably a powerfully regressive move."

In late April 2001, Steven Loss came to a conclusion. In a dated note his family would find in his computer shortly after the killings in Dallas, Loss wrote, "I am going to assume that the four of us have gone to a better place...If you decide on having one funeral for the four of us, that would be fine. I think that being buried with the boys would be my first choice, and if this should include Bonnie, that would be all right with me."

"There's always a grandiosity in these cases," Meloy says, "and it can arise out of the narcissism of depression. People who are depressed can become very, very self-absorbed. You can get so self-focused that you can begin to think, 'I don't want my sons to have a life like this. I've gotta save my sons. I'm miserable, and they're going to be miserable, too.' In a very implicit way, he feels entitled to take other people's lives."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen G. Michaud