March 16, 2012

Domestic violence: 'They don't realize the danger from intimate partners'

Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 11:00 am | Updated: 2:00 pm, Tue Feb 28, 2012.

By Jo Ciavaglia Staff writer | 21 comments

Last week’s stabbing and bludgeoning murders of two estranged spouses in Nockamixon caught the attention of Donna Byrne for reasons beyond the gruesomeness.

The deadly incident marked the sixth time in seven months in Bucks County where one spouse allegedly killed another. In five cases, the spouse also committed suicide, and with three, the person killed others, as well.

As executive director of Bucks County’s domestic violence services agency, Byrne said she hasn’t seen such a rash of murders since a six-month period in 2005 when four Bucks County women died at the hands of their husbands.

“It’s just as bad now, and people don’t realize that,” Byrne said. “They don’t realize the danger from intimate partners.”

In the most recent killings, Lloyd Hill, 41, of Haycock, is facing two first-degree murder charges in the deaths of his wife, Stefanie Hill, 36, and her live-in boyfriend, Frederick Tarantino, 43.

The Hills, who married in 2000, met Tarantino and his wife, Tara, through church and became friends. At some point, Stefanie Hill and Frederick Tarantino became lovers, left their spouses and moved in together, police said. Lloyd Hill and Tara Tarantino also lived together, but that started years after their spouses got together. Neither couple is divorced from their spouses.

Court records show that in 2004, Lloyd Hill beat his wife and threatened to kill her after she told him she wanted to end their marriage. Lloyd later pleaded guilty to simple assault, a charge he has faced before in Bucks and Philadelphia counties, according to court records.

Stefanie Hill and Fred Tarantino did not seek a protection from abuse order against Lloyd Hill, authorities said.

But many other Bucks County residents are filing for PFAs through A Woman’s Place, which has seen a dramatic increase in protection order filings since 2007, said Carol Gaughan, manager of legal advocacy for A Woman’s Place.

In 2009 and 2010, A Woman’s Place saw an 18 percent increase in protection from abuse filings over the previous fiscal year. The agency typically sees 600 to 700 PFA filings a year.

Byrne said the agency’s counselors say the sputtering national economy has made it more difficult for an abused partner to leave a situation. Women are less inclined to leave an abuser during a recession because fewer outside resources are available and jobs are harder to find. Women who do leave often find themselves homeless.

One counselor told Byrne that she has clients who are living in cars with their children.

Another recent common and disturbing thread the agency sees is a greater level of violence against abused women, advocates said. Where years ago a woman would enter the shelter with a black eye, today women have a black eye, cigarette burns and missing teeth.

Some advocates suspect the weak economy, and the increased stress levels it causes, might explain both a rise in the level of violence and the number of cases in which criminal charges are filed along with legal protection orders in Bucks County.

What particularly worries Byrne is that many people don’t recognize abusive behavior patterns before they become dangerous, and by the time they do, it can be too late.

Following the four murder-suicides in 2005, the Bucks County Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commission was formed to review the deaths and identify system gaps as a way of preventing further domestic violence homicides in Bucks County.

Among the outcomes of the commission’s 2008 report was a new lethality risk assessment tool for law enforcement that was implemented last year, Byrne said.

When responding to domestic calls, police are told to look for a cluster of non-criminal behaviors that could be indicators of abuse and, where they see this pattern, make a greater effort to encourage a partner to seek outside domestic violence services.

But leaving an abusive situation itself doesn’t guarantee safety, domestic violence experts say.

People are at the highest risk for harm after they leave an abuser, even if its weeks, months or years later. It doesn’t matter if the abuser has moved on, started another relationship or filed for divorce, Byrne and others emphasized.

Often the triggering event occurs when a partner exercises independence, such as starting a new relationship, moving into a new home, securing a new job or seeking child custody.

“He could be married and have a new family, but there is still that control,” Gaughan said. “It’s still a pattern of control. It’s like that quote, ‘If I can’t have you, no one will.’”

Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @jociavaglia

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