By: Michael Rubinkam, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Prosecutors say a woman who allegedly killed her boyfriend and hid his body in the basement of their house has publicized her defense in a letter to Dear Abby.
The advice columnist, syndicated to 1,300 newspapers nationwide, published a letter last week from a woman who said she purchased a gun to scare her abusive live-in boyfriend, “but he was accidentally shot fatally.” The writer says she concealed the body because she was in a “state of panic.”
The letter was signed, “Lost It All In Philadelphia.”
Abby’s response: “My prayers are with you, and I hope you are dealt with more compassionately by the legal system than you were by the person who drove you to desperation.”
Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor said Friday he is certain the writer is Nancy Kay Austin, 38, who is accused of killing Samuel Monroe, 47, in their Norristown home.
Prosecutors allege Austin shot Monroe on May 1, the day she reported him missing. Detectives who went to the house two months later noticed a strong odor that led them to a basement closet, where they found Monroe’s decomposed body wrapped in plastic. Austin allegedly confessed to the crime.
Austin, who is jailed without bail on murder charges, could not be reached for comment Friday. Her attorney, Arthur Jenkins Jr., did not return a phone call.
In August, Austin was charged with theft and forgery after prosecutors said she stole the title to the house she shared with Monroe and unsuccessfully tried to get Monroe’s name off the birth certificate of their son, Joshua, now 2 years old.
Monroe’s sister, Lelia Shorts, said Friday she was outraged by the Dear Abby letter.
“My brother’s not alive to defend himself, and he was never an abusive person,” said Shorts. “I called the police department to find out why someone like this who’s behind bars could write letters like this with lies. All of it is lies.”
Jeanne Phillips, who writes the “Dear Abby” column originated by her mother, Pauline Phillips, said in a statement Friday that the letter-writer had delivered an “important message” for other battered women.
“Dear Abby gets many hundreds of letters a year from women who are battered and abused and feel they have no way out of a horrible situation,” Phillips said. “‘Lost It All In Philadelphia’ made a heartfelt plea to other women not to follow in her footsteps, but to get help and to get out.”
Phillips published a follow-up column that listed 15 warning signs of a potential abuser.
In the letter, the woman claims her boyfriend became increasingly abusive and that his “brutality increased” with the birth of their baby.
“When I actually tried to leave with the baby, my abuser promised he’d kill me before I reached the door,” the letter said. “He said if I managed to get away, he’d track me down at my parents’ home out of state and ‘take care of me’ there.
After the shooting, “In a state of panic, I hid his body for two months before being arrested. I was charged with murder and now face the death penalty,” the letter said.
The writer concluded by urging abused women to tell others about the abuse — and then “run as fast and as far away as possible.”
Castor said the letter could be valuable for the prosecution, but that there are so many logistical and legal hurdles that it’s probably not worth pursuing.
“We have a lot of things going for us in this case, and I don’t see us needing it to win,” he said.
And what about the columnist’s call for compassion for the suspect?
“I’m not going to abide by Dear Abby’s advice,” Castor said.