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The Times Union (Albany, NY)

September 9, 1996Author: KATE GURNETT Staff writer

When William Sickler gunned down his estranged wife and committed suicide Saturday, police in Catskill would not say why.  Why would the 56-year-old retiree kill his 51-year-old wife, Barbara, in front of his 13-year-old son? Just because she planned to divorce him?

The answer is tragically simple, said Flo Derry, coordinator of the Albany County Comprehensive Crime Victims Assistance Program. Like her domestic violence colleagues, Derry said she’s seen the nightmarish pattern before.”She recently left him? What’s the surprise here?” said Derry. Experts know the exact moment when tragic violence is apt to shatter a troubled relationship, she said.  “Historically, the most dangerous time is when a batterer perceives that the relationship has actually ended,” said Derry.   “Because they have lost the power and control they crave. And now they have no other way of dealing with the relationship. The batterer feels very powerless, so occasionally there are some horrible results — and that is generally a murder-suicide.”

Comments like,  “If I can’t have you, no one will” are  “very lethal comments and they are to be taken very, very seriously,” said Derry.  “It certainly is a very appropriate time for the victim to go a shelter, to go into hiding or to temporarily distance themselves from the batterer.”

In May, Pedro Valdes of Copiague, Suffolk County, stabbed to death his wife, Sarah Valdes, hours after she had obtained an order of protection. He then hanged himself.  Last December, Bruce Mosher of Corinth shot his former girlfriend Donna Blake in a murder-suicide two months after they had broken up. Earlier that month, construction worker Gerald Bishop, 39, had murdered his wife, Virginia, 35, as she showered, then killed himself in the bedroom of their Galway home.

Derry urged police to disclose potential motives in such cases. If not,  “it just continues to keep domestic violence in the closet,” she said.

Murder-suicides often are the escalation of some type of domestic abuse — though not necessarily physical, she said. The control can be economic, emotional, sexual or social.

Batterers sometimes say,   “I’m going to kill you and then I’m going to kill myself and then we’re going to be together forever,” said Derry.  “And they genuinely believe it.”

Parents involved in abusive relationships often forget about their children, Derry added.   Often the victims will rationalize that when abuse occurs,  “the children were asleep or in another room,” Derry said.  “The unfortunate truth is that children are very aware.”

Sickler’s 13-year-old son Cody reportedly watched from a window Saturday as his father shoved his mother to the ground outside their Hunter home, 40 miles southwest of Albany. Police said Sickler shot his wife in the chest, then turned the pistol on himself.

Barbara Sickler had moved out after 33 years of marriage and was planning a divorce. She and their son had moved next door to live with her twin brother, Bud Devoti, and her mother, Josephine Devoti.

The Rev. Aloicious McPartland, pastor at the church the Sicklers attended, said William Sickler had attended meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous but stopped. McPartland added that William Sickler, who recently retired from a job with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection at the Schoharie Reservoir, took medication to combat depression.

Barbara Sickler was a longtime secretary with the Onteora school district.  Information from the Associated Press was also used in this story.

Copyright, 1996, (c) Times Union. All Rights Reserved.
Record Number:  0909960026