A Vicious Crime Blossoms into Victim Advocacy: The Story of Actress Theresa Saldana 

Theresa Saldana

Theresa Saldana

I had the luxury of a little extra time over the weekend and happened upon the “notable deaths” of the year. I perused person after person according to  the calendar date for 2016. Some people were unfamiliar. It made me sad, but in a strange kind of way, I was intrigued when I came to Theresa Saldana. We are very similar in age, and yet she was taken so quickly after surviving a horrible crime!

Theresa was best known to audiences as a New York Actress performing opposite Joe Pesci in the Movie “Raging Bull” and her long-standing TV role as the wife on “The Commish.”

Had Theresa not experienced a shoulder injury, she might have been a Broadway dancer. Rather, she began acting classes at 12. A talent scout sought her out   while performing in an Off Broadway musical called The New York City Street Show in 1977.Following that, she was cast in the 1978 film Nunzio. In 1980, she starred in the movie Defiance about a suspended young seaman (Jan-Michael Vincent) who takes up temporary housing in a neighborhood overrun by a gang while waiting for his next orders to ship out. She played a nice girl in this “revenge thriller movie” as contrasted to the sister-in-law of boxer Jack LaMotta (Robert De Niro).

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Theresa Saldana and Joe Pesci in a scene from “Raging Bull,” from 1980. Credit United Artists, via Photofest (NY Times)

Reportedly, these two movies served to form an obsession in the warped mind of stalker and would be murderer, Arthur Jackson. He stalked Ms. Saldana for 18 months unbeknownst to her. He was described as  a drifter from Scotland who, it is rumored saved up his welfare money to come to the U.S. Jackson supposedly entered the United States illegally and tracked her down with the help of a private detective! (How did a drifter afford to hire a PI? I guess sob stories work wonders for criminals!)

In his diary, Jackson’s delusional writing said he intended to win Ms. Saldana by “sending her that he regretted using a knife on her because “a gun would have given me a better chance of reunion with you in heaven.”

With shades of the Kitty Genovese murder looming, I was horrified to learn that just one person, a passing delivery man heard he screams after she was stabbed 10 times outside her West Hollywood apartment on March 15, 1982.  It was described as such in the Inquisitor – (Had it not been for)”deliveryman Jeff Fenn, she may well have died from her injuries. As it was, her situation was precarious; Jackson had stabbed Theresa Saldana so ferociously that the blade bent. By the time Fenn wrestled the knife away from Jackson and Theresa Saldana had gotten to the hospital, thanks to some paramedics who quickly arrived on scene, a great deal of the blood had drained from her body and her heart had stopped.”

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She spent the next three and a half months hospitalized,  recovering from her near fatal wounds.

In her victim impact statement of 1984, she related to the judge: “I will never forget the searing, ghastly pain, the grotesque and devastating experience of this person nearly butchering me to death, or the bone-chilling sight of my own blood splattered everywhere.

The perpetrator served 15 years in prion in the U.S. and then was extradited to Great Britain for trial involving a 1966 robbery and homicide.  (Just unbelievable that he was not captured for these crimes sooner!) According to the New York Times article, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he died in 2004.

After her recovery, Theresa  founded the Victims for Victims organization that fought for anti-stalking laws then played herself in the 1984 TV movie “Victims for Victims: The Teresa Saldana Story.”

How disconcerting it must have been to play yourself in this movie… Perhaps it was part of her healing process. I so respect her for trying to use her craft to educate others.  The movie was not widely reviewed – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088349/

She continued her acting career appearing in several dramatic and comedies into the 1990s. Theresa retired from acting 12 years ago but was a tireless victims’ advocate up until her death on June 6, 2016 at age 61. She was well aware of the importance of advocacy for victims of crime.

Sources reported that she was influential in the passage of two pieces of legislation -two pieces of legislation — 1990’s anti-stalking law and 1994’s Driver’s Privacy Protection Act- part of the Title XXX Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act – a federal statute governing the privacy and disclosure of personal information gathered by state Departments of Motor Vehicles.

 Sad, Angry, Interesting PostScript:

The cause of Theresa Saldana’s death was revealed as pneumonia. I am speculating that all of her chest wounds left irreparable damage and that she may have been very prone to infections after her attack. Yet another impact of a crazed killer – compromising a person’s immune system such that they can’t fight infection… but she fought in other important ways.

Finally, one source I read reported that this violent scenario inspired a copy cat  killer and was used as a “blueprint “ to  stalk and murder  My Sister Sam  sitcom star Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989.

 

 

References – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theresa_Saldana

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/09/arts/television/theresa-saldana-actress-and-attack-survivor-dies-at-61.html?_r=0

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/08/481234857/actress-victims-advocate-theresa-saldana-dead-at-61

http://variety.com/2016/film/news/theresa-saldana-dead-dies-raging-bull-the-commish-1201790703/

http://www.inquisitr.com/3179645/theresa-saldana-best-known-for-the-commish-victims-advocacy-dies-at-61/

Crying to Cope with Loss

Crying to Cope with Loss

There are myths surrounding the behavior of crying. In American culture, typically crying is viewed as a sign of weakness when in public.  If you are a crime victim, you likely have “cried a river” over time as a means of emotional release and acknowledging your grief. Often the loss is so profound, pervasive, permanent and overwhelming, our bodies’ signal us that we must “let it out,” let the tears flow no matter what the circumstances.  In fact, there are several benefits of crying to share.

We are permitted to cry at weddings. We cry at funerals. We cry at graduations.

However, the most egregious examples of prohibiting crying come to mind when in the courtroom. Institutional decorum is forced upon victims by the criminal justice system when they are at their most vulnerable, using every ounce of strength just to maintain. This is a burdensome challenge and so unnatural. Is it somehow disrespectful to the judge and the court’s time to cry? Why?  Is the judge to be viewed as God Almighty? It’s as if we must be little more than a cardboard figure, a spectator, in the most important game of our lives!

A prominent example is offered here by my friend and colleague Attorney-Advocate Michelle S. Cruz.

In summary, during a very high-profile Massachusetts case in January 2015, a fallen Patriot’s football icon is put on trial for the killing of friend Odin Lloyd. (Although you would never have known about the victim, as the perpetual bad and dangerous “star,” Aaron Hernandez was always, center stage.)  Odin’s mother, Ursula Ward was scheduled to identify photographs of her son’s dead body while on the stand.  The wicked and heartless judge, Susan Garsh, cautioned her “not to cry, to control her emotions.” Had there not been emotion from this grieving mother, the jury surely would have gotten an incorrect impression. As Michelle states, there was no doubt as to whether the murder was committed, but the fact that Hernandez was the perpetrator.   Where was the basic human and victim right of respect and consideration afforded this mother? I believe it went out the window with the rest of the jurisprudence drivel!  I can so relate to this poor woman and what she had to endure.

 

Now on to the benefits of crying – truly!

The least known benefit would probably be a physiologic need- A study performed by Dr. William H. Frey II at the St Paul-Ramsey Medical Centre found that stress-related tears help your body rid itself of nasty chemicals that raise cortisol (the stress hormone). Emotional tears also contain more mood-regulating manganese than the other types. Stress tightens muscles and heightens tension, so when you cry you release some of that. Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system and restores the body to a state of balance.”    So, it is good to “clean house” so to speak;

You can help ease the pain by freeing yourself of emotional baggage to start anew;

Other claims via my interpretation are: that crying helps you come to terms and perhaps move on from a loss. The act of crying may bring physical relief.  Crying demonstrates vulnerability and may foster a sense of intimacy with others.  It is said that expressing emotions facilitate your inner creativity too!

Another medically related crying is known as PBA – Pseudo-Bulbar Affect – or Emotional Incontinence – in which you exhibit involuntary bouts of uncontrollable crying or laughter.   This is a neurologic problem caused by brain damage such as a CVA- stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, ALS or dementia.  Approximately 2 million people are affected.

Finally, the Japanese are innovators. According to Stephen Sideroff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at UCLA, they are such strong believers in the health benefits of crying that they’ve taken that wisdom to the next level. Some cities in Japan now have “crying clubs” called rui-katsu (meaning “tear-seeking”) in which people come together to indulge in what I’d call,  “group crying fests”

“The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.” ― Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

 

 

References: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/9-surprising-benefits-crying-why-its-okay-have-good-cry.html

https://www.pbafacts.com/pba-facts-science

http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/is-crying-good-for-you

 Home is Where the Heart is – A Family Tragedy on Christmas Day, 2011 

Stamford CT Christmas fire

This case was reported extensively from  some of the best news organizations in Connecticut and New York. I will attempt to offer some of the highlights, and lowlights, with selected excerpts and details of this tragic human tale along with my contributions.   You are invited to read the full accounts in the reference section.

Lomar Johnson lived in Southbury, CT with his wife Pauline. In 2011, he worked playing Santa at Saks Fifth Avenue’s Flagship store in New York City on Christmas Eve. They planned to travel to Stamford, CT to visit his daughter and their three granddaughters at their home which was under renovation. This ramshackle home was  a 116 year old Victorian style house purchased by daughter, Madonna Badger in December 2010 for $1.725 million.

Lomar, age 71 considered playing Santa a dream job. He was known for his long white beard. “That’s all he ever wanted to be,” a family member said. “He stopped shaving the day he retired.”

This was the final time Lomar would play Santa. He, along with his wife and granddaughters were killed in a massive fire on Christmas day. They said it was accidental, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of blame and guilt to go around.

 

A Contractor on Thin Ice in More Ways than One

Madonna Badger initially met contractor Michael Borcina at an AA meeting and asked for his opinion when she contemplated purchasing the old Victorian. It became much more than an opinion.  Madonna Badger was an advertising executive in New York and hired Borcina for the renovation project.

Michael Borcina asked longtime friend and carpenter, Mike Foley of New York  to apply for a Connecticut home improvement license for the project as Borcina had liens and judgments against him. Foley got the license on Dec. 7, 2010 and helped Borcina with the project. However, Foley grew weary of the commute and did approximately 30 hours of work. “The project was supposed to be small,” Foley told police.

Without Foley’s knowledge, Borcina renewed the license in Foley’s name in December and listed his own address as Foley’s, according to investigators.

Statements to Stamford police from two carpenters who worked for Borcina at the 116-year old Victorian house from August to November 2011 said that Borcina was lax about safety, and when they expressed their concerns Borcina threatened to fire them.

Additionally, Don Raskopf, a carpentry foreman, and Andrew Grunow, a master carpenter, told investigators they believed that Borcina allowed the family to move in too soon and that they were living there under hazardous conditions. New oil-finished flooring and pine paneling in the kitchen and in the new mud room contributed to what the men called a fire fuel load.

Mike Borcina reportedly ignored very important warnings about installing pine paneling on the kitchen staircase that led to the second floor landing.

A Mother with Second Thoughts

Embers were carried from the home’s fireplace to a mudroom or an adjacent trash enclosure at the rear of the house after 3 a.m.

Madonna Badger told police that she had second thoughts about the fact that Borcina left fireplace ashes in the mudroom. She stated that she questioned if this was a good place to leave the ashes for safety reasons and considered placing the box in the backyard. She recalled saying to herself that she saw Mike use his hands to smooth out the ashes in the bag and again considered that sufficient to satisfy her concerns that there were no live embers.

The fire started after that and spread quickly through the main building. Firefighters were called at 4:52 a.m. and arrived within minutes.

The Accidental Perpetrator

Unbeknownst to Borcina, construction workers talked about their boss. They were convinced that he was chasing Madonna Badger. Despite maintaining a $3,900 apartment in Battery Park City he chose often to stay in her garage, and lied about his whereabouts to Madonna.  A list of some of his idiosyncrasies include his fickleness, constantly being cold, poor memory, deafness in one ear, ferocious speaking voice, and lingering side effects from surgery several years ago to remove a brain tumor.

Madonna had also hired Borcina to handle renovations of her Manhattan office, and there were complications from that job, too. Workers heard heated financial conversations between Borcina and Madonna, leaving her in tears.

The Grieving  Father Matt Badger

He lives to talk about the foundation, the LilySarahGrace Fund, that he started in the days that followed the fire, days when he stalked his apartment like a lunatic, threatening to end his life, and others’ including the town officials, Borcina, Madonna. Abby, his girlfriend. His friends did not leave him alone, fearing for his safety.

Decision NOT to Prosecute

Connecticut State’s Attorney David I. Cohen spent six months investigating the case and said, “When such a horrific event occurs, it is only natural that those related to the victims and the public wants to hold someone responsible for what is otherwise an inexplicable accident.

Cohen did not question the official narrative, that the fire began in the mudroom, but he noted that we will never know whether the battery-powered detectors temporarily installed over the summer were still active, as Borcina claims.

The day after the fire, Stamford officials decided to tear down the burned-out structure, citing a safety risk to anyone who might enter it. “Where so much is unknown or in dispute,” Cohen wrote, “where the facts are inconclusive and where the safety of the public will not be enhanced, I have decided to exercise the discretion given to me by our State Constitution and by my oath of office and decline, at this time, to prosecute.”

Madonna Badger and Michael Borcina- Interview on “The Today Show”

MATT LAUER: “I know friends of yours, or some people in your life, have asked you how you could still have a relationship with him, how you could be near him, quite frankly.”

BADGER: Mm-hmm. Right.

LAUER: How do you answer that question?

BADGER: The answer for me is that we were in the fire together. We were in the fire. And we spent the last night on earth with my three children and my mom and dad, and it was beautiful.

Madonna blames the city of Stamford. She has filed a lawsuit against its officials, alleging their actions in tearing down her house without notifying her destroyed any possibility of a second opinion. She spent a week in an acute-care unit after coming close to attempting suicide.

Matthew, Madonna and Michael

Matthew has sympathy for his ex-wife. He has sympathy even for Borcina. He encountered him in lower Manhattan and noticed Borcina appeared to be struggling. He asked Matt if he could hug him. Yes, Matt has sympathy. No, Borcina could not hug him.

Matt has filed suit against Borcina for a pattern of incompetence and negligent building practices. Were it not for Borcina, the suit contends, his children would still be alive. He’s named the City of Stamford as co-defendant, for the premature teardown and inadequate building inspection. He has not sued Madonna. He believes she is suffering enough.

Matt Badger tells the reporter for New York Magazine, “He knows his children “melted—They fucking melted.” He wants to know why.

January 13, 2015

Michael Borcina, contractor, has agreed to settle part of a wrongful death lawsuit by paying the children’s father $5 million.

All of this tragedy and Santa still comes to Saks Fifth Avenue.

 


 

Donate to the Lily, Sarah Grace Fund:

Link: http://lilysarahgrace.org/about

References:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/nyregion/house-fire-kills-5-in-stamford.html?_r=0

http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-ap-stamford-fire-settlement-20150113-story.html

http://articles.courant.com/2012-07-22/community/hc-stamford-christmas-fire0722-2012

http://articles.courant.com/2011-12-28/news/hc-stamford-fire-five-died-20111225_1_christmas-morning-fire-third-floor-fire-officials

http://nymag.com/news/features/stamford-christmas-day-fire-2012-12/


 

Donna R. Gore

To schedule Donna R. Gore for your next conference, seminar or event, please contact ImaginePublicity. Phone: 843-808-0859 or Email: contact@imaginepublicity.com

 

A Cry for Help in the Middle of the Night

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The job of a crime victim advocate is by no means a 9 to 5 existence.  Fragile human beings often can’t adhere to time schedules.  Their lives have spun out of control.

Those who are paid advocates answer the phone during business hours, leave an 800 number or advice to call 911 during off hours.  But, the trouble is trauma and life and death situations just don’t conform.

A person may be actively grieving, in physical, emotional or psychological pain. They may be terrified of some event in their life, not realizing why they remain helpless. Past decisions often place them in circumstances they could never foresee.

Armchair critics can easily point fingers and pass judgement regarding the complexities of people’s lives, not realizing that their own situations can change in a New York minute if the Gods foretell.

In the many years I have worked with victims, each is unique in some way, and yet there is a constant familiar ring to their personal stories, their desperation, the longer you listen.

Examples – (Frequently Intimate Partner Violence in nature)

“Please reply before he kills me”  “He ignored the restraining order”  I went to the police, but they did nothing.  I have no money.  I’m afraid for my children. The system in the State of ____ is totally against me.   I can’t escape him as he watches my every move” “I don’t have a phone.”

In a previous blog post, Homicide as a Steady Diet, I discussed the fact that I am at risk of being typecast as a homicide expert with nothing else to offer. Regardless of people’s reading habits or radio listening preferences, I fight against this image, as it is just not true.

Insatiable appetite for violence or not, I will not be painted as a one trick pony. At the other end of the spectrum are the indiscriminate victims reaching out to anyone and everyone. There are two groups of people I worry about:

1)  The truly terrorized, as in intimate partner violence victims and,

2) Those who perceive injustices to themselves. Their pervasive victimization as so great, having been worn down by the system so badly, that they lash out at everyone and become truly toxic in their words and actions. It is a poison that no one can alleviate.

If you read between the lines, the former group may want to be helped and truly lack the resources, the support, the resiliency, and the know how. Fear may have immobilized them. They actually say, “I am going to die and don’t know where to turn.”  Imagine their burdens, but try to imagine the responsibility and the burden it also imposes on the receiving end of compassionate, helpful, well intentioned people.  

The second group of people may say they want help, but their account is so vile, the blame towards others so pervasive, without taking any personal responsibility, that they just want a stage upon which to vent their rage. 

Why is the distinction of these two groups important? It is important to me as you have to think quickly on your feet as it can sincerely be a matter of life and death.

Lucky for me, these desperate cries for help do not come as a steady diet, but they do come to my website, particularly related to intimate partner violence. I do not invite them. They are indiscriminate. They are supposed to leave information about victim impact statement inquiries and they ignore the instructions.

For the record, I do have a working knowledge of IPV, thanks to Susan Murphy Milano and many other colleagues over the years. However, this does not qualify me as an expert, nor do I necessarily want to take on these issues as my own.  It appears that the Tracey Thurman blog post has created a monster of sorts in this area.  I suspect that my well researched, carefully written and wildly popular blog of this historic Connecticut case is the culprit here.   I gratefully accept the exposure it has given me, but it can be a double edged sword.

Readers, please do not confuse my God given talent as a superior writer to tell a story with expertise in every subject matter pertaining to crime!

Just a couple of weeks ago on a December night when I had gone to bed, my phone lit up and “whooshed” a message.  A response was sent by a colleague to a true life or death IPV victim who wrote to me in desperation. I so appreciated her rapid response, for intuitively, we both know it was very serious.

It matters not that this victim did not follow the rules and used my personal website as a call for help.  It only matters that good and useful information was provided at a moment’s notice when needed. I only hope that the women chose to follow through with the information.  Bless you, my friend for helping. Much love to you for caring in my place. You just may have saved a life.  CALL IT GRACE…..