Attorney says accused wife-killer had stopped taking medication — (Boston Herald)

SSRI Ed note: Vietnam vet on Paxil dreams of murder-suicide, nobody thinks it possible, he kills wife, is intercepted before suicide. Mental illness blamed.

Original article no longer available

Boston Herald (MA)

December 20, 1994


Four days before he allegedly murdered his wife, William Sylvia stopped taking his antidepression medicine, his defense attorney said yesterday. Sylvia allegedly shot his 40-year-old wife, Kristine, five times in the chest Saturday. He was on his way to his grandmother’s grave to commit suicide when the police intercepted him, his attorney said. Sylvia, balding, unshaven and shackled, pleaded innocent to murder in New Bedford District Court yesterday. He was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital for 20 days for psychiatric observation under close suicide watch.

“This is a horrible story of a vibrant young woman and mother who was basically assassinated by her husband just before Christmas,” said prosecutor John Mahoney.

Just why Sylvia, 45, burst into an apartment above Barbero’s Italian restaurant and killed his wife of 11 years is still a subject of speculation.

Mahoney said Sylvia was in a rage because his wife was dating Tom Barbero.

“This is an estranged husband who murders his wife at the home of a man she’s dating,” Mahoney said.

But Kristine Sylvia’s family said the romance with Tom Barbero was a figment of William Sylvia’s mind. “There is no explanation,” said Kristine Sylvia’s sister, Lisa Schnack.

“I knew of no abuse. Just like any relationship, you have good times and bad times, and when you have a separation, you have a point of stress. But I had no clue this would happen.”

Sylvia’s court-appointed lawyer, Drew Segadelli, said Sylvia had been depressed since he and his wife separated in August.

A Vietnam vet who saw action during the Tet offensive, Sylvia was so depressed he did not report to work recently and was fired, Segadelli said.

In November a local doctor prescribed Sylvia an antidepressant. He took it until Wednesday, Segadelli said.

On the day of the murder, Sylvia swallowed all the pills left in the bottle, his attorney said. But Segadelli did not know whether the National Guardsman overdosed before he shot his wife.

Record Number: BHLD108452
Copyright (c) 1994 Boston Herald


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Why? Why did it have to happen? — (South Coast Today)

By Patrick Collins

Posted May. 25, 1995 at 12:01 AM

Family and friends left stunned by slaying of mother of three

As the shaken members of the Fairhaven Congregational Church settled into their pews the day after Kristine Sylvia’s murder, the Reverend Roger Daley struggled for answers to the troubling questions he knew they would ask.



 As the shaken members of the Fairhaven Congregational Church settled into their pews the day after Kristine L. Sylvia’s murder, the Rev. Roger Daley struggled for answers to the troubling questions he knew they would ask.

Why Kristine? What had she – one of the most charitable members of the congregation with a remarkable capacity for friendship – ever done to deserve such a fate? And what would become of her three children, forever destined to equate the week before Christmas with the anniversary of their mother’s brutal death?

But the Rev. Roger Daley didn’t have the answers his congregation needed that day, only questions of his own, one of which served as the title of his sermon.

“Where the hell was God yesterday afternoon?”

The question resonated with virtually every church-goer who had heard the news of Kristine’s death and, just as shocking, the identity of her alleged murderer.

William Sylvia – Kris’ 48-year-old estranged husband, father of two of her children, a church deacon and usher – was charged with pumping four bullets into Kristine’s chest and another into her leg. He had been captured the night before after a five-hour flight during which, distraught, he called police twice and made suicidal comments.

Mr. Sylvia had always been withdrawn and chronically depressed, according to friends and court records viewed by The Standard-Times. But in the weeks leading up to Kristine’s death, Mr. Sylvia – his sleepless nights filled with visions of Vietnam combat – had started to harbor violent thoughts toward other people, too. Kristine told co-workers he was stalking her and had threatened her as the two argued over custody issues.

But no one expected Mr. Sylvia, as reticent and strange as he was, to hurt Kristine. Not even Kristine herself. Not even when she was told that William was having dreams in which he killed her and then committed suicide.

“She was aware” of the danger, said Rev. Daley. “But being aware and proceeding so it becomes something actionable, Kris did not do that. I think partly because she just didn’t believe it.”

The following is an account, garnered from court records and interviews, of the couple’s troubled relationship and the circumstances leading to Mrs. Sylvia’s slaying.

On the day he allegedly killed his wife, William Sylvia awoke after no more than three hours sleep and decided to skip his anti-depression medication for the fourth or fifth day in a row.

He could not sleep despite spending the preceeding night decorating the First Congregational Church in Fairhaven for the Christmas holidays and chaperoning a youth Christmas party there.

Mr. Sylvia was a constant presence at the church, so it was not unusual to see him that Dec. 16. But looking back, Rev. Daley said, “Bill must have been in severe pain.”

Besides his recurring insomnia, it was clear to Mr. Sylvia his life was falling apart; he had lost two jobs in the last eight months, had separated from his wife, was struggling with her over custody of their children, and was arguing over where the children would spend Christmas.

But he greeted Dec. 17 with a plan to end the downward spiral by doing what his father had stopped him from doing after the break-up of his first marriage in 1978, according to court records.

He decided to kill himself.

His plan: take the children to breakfast, drop them at their mother-in-law’s, say goodbye for the last time, then shoot himself with one of his four guns, finally putting an end to the incessant nightmares of the Vietnam War that had turned him into an insomniac.

The decision to commit suicide was not sudden. Since childhood, Mr. Sylvia, 48, had been reticent and withdrawn, suffered from chronic low-level depression and had been occasionally suicidal, according to a confidential court psychological evaluation reviewed by The Standard-Times.

In the three months before Dec. 17, violent thoughts had filled his head, according to police reports. He had told Rev. Daley he was beginning to remember how easy it had been to kill as a soldier in Vietnam.

He had also revealed he was thinking of killing himself and his estranged wife Kristine, 40, a co-op advertising manager at The Standard-Times who was known for her upbeat, demonstrative attitude and easy smile. His minister had referred him for counseling.

The first steps of Mr. Sylvia’s plan went off without a hitch. He bought his children breakfast at a local coffee shop, then visited the house of his estranged wife to pick up the children’s clothes. While there, he bumped into Kristine and her boyfriend, Thomas Barbero, whom she began dating shortly after the separation. The three knew each other from the First Congregational Church in Fairhaven. The meeting was uneventful.

He then dropped the children at his mother-in-law’s.

But sometime between 11 a.m., when he said goodbye to his children for the last time, and 3:15 p.m., Mr. Sylvia’s plan changed.

The evil thought he had struggled to suppress escaped.

He remembered how easy it was to kill again.

William Sylvia is the eldest of two children born to John and Dorothy Pratt, who divorced when William was young. Although he never met him, Mr. Sylvia told doctors his biological father might have developed a problem with alcohol as a result of post traumatic stress disorder associated with World War II.

When William Sylvia was still a child, Dorothy Pratt married Manuel Sylvia, a fisherman who soon adopted William and his sister, Edith. They took his last name.

The relationship between Manuel and William was anything but smooth, however. Absent for extended periods of time while he fished, Manuel Sylvia would return, only to belittle his wife and step-son, William Sylvia told psychiatrists. Once, his mother hit his step-father in the face with a frying pan in self-defense, he told doctors. It was the only incident of physical violence in the family he recalled.

Edith Sylvia, William’s sister, declined to be interviewed for this story.

Exceedingly shy, William Sylvia recalled an unhappy childhood. He was held back in third grade, and had no friends until high school, according to court records. Those lonely childhood days were spent pursuing an interest in military history.

At New Bedford High School, the unhappiness continued. During his freshman year, he became so distraught over the possibility of not being promoted to 10th grade that he suffered dizzy spells and was given shots to settle a nervous stomach. Still upset by spring of that year, Mr. Sylvia decided to run away, but the flight from trouble was shortlived. Setting out on his bicycle, he got as far as Fall River before developing a flat tire. What began as his first attempt to strike out on his own ended with a call to his mother for a ride home.

He graduated in 1965, but not before experiencing more academic and social troubles. The caption beneath his high school yearbook picture read, in part, “Admires an understanding girl.”

After graduation, he joined the National Guard, drawing on his involvement with the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in high school. He underwent basic training at Fort Dix, N.J. and special artillery training at Fort Sill, Okla. He returned home and worked in a variety of low-level clerical posts around New Bedford and in Nashua, N.H. until his National Guard unit was activated in May, 1968.

The assignment he drew was among the most dangerous and stressful of the Vietnam War – long range reconnaisance patrol.

He served one year in the jungles, advancing in rank (from E3 to E6) and earning an honorable discharge, according to court records.

But it was a year that would haunt the rest of his life, and shape much of his adult years. During interviews with doctors, Mr. Sylvia said he and his comrades killed 27 people – some North Vietnamese regulars, but mostly suspected Viet Cong, including children. Adding to the emotional torment was Mr. Sylvia’s decision to one day assign a friend to a patrol from which he never returned.

After returning from the war, Mr. Sylvia suffered persistent insomnia and had recurring nightmares of jungle firefights in which he and his fellow soldiers were killed by an invisible enemy.

His war experience and its aftermath made Mr. Sylvia even more reticent and retiring. “I was more into myself. I just wanted to build a cabin in the woods (and be alone),” he told doctors.

Back home in New Bedford, Mr. Sylvia met the woman who would become his first wife at a drive-in hamburger stand. She was parked in a car beside his, and they struck up a conversation through the open car windows. In October, 1970 they married.

At first, the marriage was happy. In 1975, he became assistant receiving manager for Sears in Swansea. A year later, Betty gave birth to a son, Thomas. But soon, the marriage became rocky.

In 1978, he was laid off from his Sears job at almost the same time his marriage was falling apart, a set of circumstances that would be repeated 16 years later.

With his troubles mounting, Mr. Sylvia attempted suicide in 1978. Sitting in a bedroom in his family’s house, Mr. Sylvia contemplated for three to four hours taking his own life. Eventually, he placed a gun in his mouth, but his father, who happened to be walking by the room, grabbed Mr. Sylvia’s arm and wrestled the gun away.

The couple divorced in 1979. Mr. Sylvia never received treatment following his suicide attempt, according to court records.

A year after the divorce, Mr. Sylvia began dating a married woman, but ended the relationship after she refused to leave her husband.

Shortly after that he met Kristine, a recently divorced mother of two. The pair met at the North Dartmouth Mall, where she was managing a Hickory Farms store and he was working as a security guard. Casual conversations led to after-work drinks, then to movies, soon to a romantic relationship, and then to marriage.

They dreamed of someday helping raise their children’s children, but their marriage was far from idyllic. They appeared to be mismatched in temperament.

“You know how sometimes you never quite understand why two people ever got together? That’s the way it was with them. They just didn’t seem to fit,” said a member of the church choir who sang with Kristine.

Neighbors said that while Kristine would greet them with a smile, a wave and a kind word, Mr. Sylvia was exceedingly quiet and spoke to them sparingly.

Their arguments became more frequent as the years passed. In 1987 or 1988, with financial and marriage difficulties mounting, Mr. Sylvia became suicidal once more, brandishing a gun in Kristine’s presence, according to court records.

Eventually, Kristine began speaking of divorce or separation. Yet, when interviewed by doctors, Mr. Sylvia maintained he was unaware of major problems until 15 months before Kristine’s murder, when he returned home to find a “For Sale” sign outside their Fairhaven home. Kristine told him they were going their separate ways, he said.

In April, 1994, the house was sold, just about the same time Mr. Sylvia lost his job at Wal-Mart after breaking a bottle while stocking shelves and cursing out loud. He was transferred to a Wal-Mart in Wareham.

According to Mrs. Sylvia’s mother, Betty Kvilhaug, the break-up did not go well. Mr. Sylvia threatened his estranged wife, although no one in the family expected him to carry out the threats.

“He would come around and threaten her,” said Mrs. Kvilhaug in previous interviews, “and then he would be all right. It was like a cycle that kept happening.”

Mrs. Kvilhaug declined to be interviewed for this story.

Fairhaven police said they were never called to the house for domestic disturbances. A colleague of Kristine’s at The Standard-Times said he had never heard of violence between the two and had never noticed bruises.

In September, 1994, five months after the house was sold, Mr. Sylvia was fired from his job at Wal-Mart in Wareham for being absent and not notifying bosses.

A month later, he went to the InterChurch Council in New Bedford for counseling, the same place he had sought solace following his first divorce. A counselor at InterChurch referred Mr. Sylvia to St. Luke’s Hospital’s Out-Patient Clinic where he was prescribed Paxil, an anti-depressant.

He visited a psychiatrist at the clinic three times, and had made plans to meet every couple of weeks, appointments that were to be paid for by Kristine’s insurance.

Kristine Sylvia spent her last morning and afternoon shopping at the mall with her boyfriend, Thomas Barbero. The pair had started dating shortly after Mr. and Mrs. Sylvia separated.

The decision to split up had been Kristine’s. She had told friends and family members for months that William had become more remote and even less communicative than normal.

He had always been quiet, even when they first met, but now Mr. Sylvia was increasingly distant. Throughout the marriage’s erosion, however, Mrs. Sylvia kept a brave face. She was a source of strength for friends experiencing troubles of their own. She continued to sing in the church choir, perform charitable works as part of the church’s Board of Missions, and led a Brownie troop.

Despite the turmoil in her life, she also continued to brighten co-workers’ days with her “Hi kids!” greeting and her contagious laughter.

But as Mr. Sylvia continued to retreat emotionally, Mrs. Sylvia realized their marriage had to end. In April, they separated.

But Mr. Sylvia “just didn’t want to let go of her,” said one of Kristine’s co-workers.

Nevertheless, Kristine’s sister, Lisa J. Schnack, said Kristine did not fear her husband.  “It was a shock to us that he could do this,” she said.

Yet, Mrs. Sylvia told colleagues her husband was stalking her. Yet, even though she was warned she might be in danger, Kristine’s concern for Mr. Sylvia outweighed her fears for herself. She did not obtain a restraining order because she was afraid it would cause him to commit suicide.

When they returned from their shopping trip to Mr. Barbero’s apartment above Barbero’s Pizza and Sub Shop on Route 6 in Fairhaven, Mr. Barbero stretched out on the couch while Mrs. Sylvia played with his two-year-old son, Timmy, on the floor, according to court and police records.

The doorbell rang and Mrs. Sylvia went downstairs to answer it.

Moments later, Mrs. Sylvia shouted “No, Bill!” Mr. Barbero leaped to his feet and ran to the top of the stairs. He could see Mr. and Mrs. Sylvia struggling. Shots rang out and Mr. Barbero – later telling police he feared for his son’s life – hid with his son in the apartment’s bathroom until all was quiet.

Mr. Barbero declined to be interviewed for this story. “I’m just trying to put that behind me,” Mr. Barbero said while standing in the same apartment doorway one day recently. “It’s just too painful . . .”

Prosecutors charge Mr. Sylvia pumped five bullets from two guns into Mrs. Sylvia.

Mrs. Sylvia was pronounced dead 30 minutes later, the 23rd woman to be killed in Massachusetts in 1994 in a domestic violence homicide.

An hour after the shooting, Mr. Sylvia called the Fairhaven police, telling them he had just popped 12 anti-depressant pills and did not want to go to jail.

“I know what I did to her, but I need to know if she’s dead,” he said, according to a Fairhaven Police Department report. “Can you tell me?”

Mr. Sylvia knew  “he lost it big time,” the report continued.  “That he just flipped out when she told him he was sick and needed help. (That) he just wanted to talk to her, but she wouldn’t listen.”

Mr. Sylvia also told Rev. Daley, who was at the police station, that  “he didn’t want this to happen, he tried really hard for it not to,” according to a police report.

Mr. Sylvia eventually ended the conversation, saying he needed time to think.

More than an hour later, he called again, first apologizing for not calling sooner, then complaining of a sick stomach and vomiting while on the phone. He needed more time to think, he said, and he resumed his flight in the car.

But Mr. Sylvia could find no escape.

Shortly after 8 p.m., nearly five hours after the shooting, Wareham police spotted his white 1986 Plymouth Voyager on Main Street and pulled it over at the intersection of Fearing Hill and County Roads.

Mr. Sylvia gave up quietly and without resistance. Within reach in the car were three loaded guns, one a .357 Magnum Mr. Sylvia said was loaded with especially deadly hollow-point bullets.

Arrested and charged with his wife’s murder, Mr. Sylvia now sits in Bridgewater State Hospital, awaiting an independent psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is competent to stand trial.

In court records, doctors say Mr. Sylvia has chronic low-level depression and possible post-traumatic stress syndrome, and remains “chronically at risk for recurrent suicidal crises in the future and clearly poses a long-term significant risk for ultimately succeeding in taking his own life.”

His defense attorney, J. Drew Segadelli, describes Mr. Sylvia as  “an emotional wreck. The fellow is so distraught I don’t know if he’s competent to stand trial. If he is, I would suggest his mental state would have diminished his capacity to form any intent to do bodily harm” at the time of the murder.