photograph is of a young woman, her hair in a loosely hanging ponytail;
the beating she received was so severe her face is little more than a
palette of reds and yellows, except for the long, deep bruises under
her eyes, so dark they’re almost black. I recognize this injury, and I
know it's caused by a blow to the back of the head, violent enough to
send the brain slamming forward to the front of the skull. Working in
Domestic Assault for the last five years I've seen my share of battered
women, and it was only about six months ago they approved my transfer
here to the Sexual Assault squad--under "Reason(s) for Transfer
Request" I wrote "I want to nail these bastards",and our squad leader,
Captain Mollett, told me they liked that upstairs. I'm the only woman
in SA, and the guys here were quick to tell me, you never get used to
it. And looking at this photograph of the long black bruises under her
eyes, I believe them--even with five years in Domestic, it still makes
me angry seeing what these bastards do to the women they'll swear in
court they love. There isn't anything this little five foot nothing of
a girl could possibly have done to deserve what he did to her.
Her name is Mary Ellen Bartelli, 23, married to Jason Nicholas
Bartelli, 29; Jason Bartelli is a "person of interest" in a string of
sexual assaults. The victims all describe a slightly built man who
seemed to appear out of nowhere, attacking them from behind, and
because after assaulting them the perpetrator is "gone, like
lightning", as one girl stated, at first we thought our guy might have
A witness remembered seeing someone parked in a
station wagon near the site of the first attack, although so far
nothing shows either Jason or Mary Ellen ever having owned a station
wagon. And it seems unlikely Bartelli found a partner who not only
shares his "interests" but also doesn't mind using his own vehicle to
chauffeur Jason around from one crime scene to another.
we got a call that Jason Bartelli beat his little five foot nothing of
a wife so badly the doctor said in all his years of working in the ER
it's the worst case of domestic abuse he's seen. After that, Mary Ellen
did the smart thing and moved back in with her folks, so we’re hoping
she’ll be willing to come in and talk with us. Sometimes wives know
more than they think they know.
Homicide is also looking
seriously at Bartelli for the kidnap/murder of Delilah Shaw, a 15
year-old girl last seen walking home from school two weeks ago. They
found her Sunday morning with her face so badly beaten her father
wasn't sure it was Delilah, at first. And he says when he saw
his daughter that morning before she left for school, she was wearing a
pair of earrings he'd just given her--a special jewelry item and custom
made. But no jewelry was found on or around Delilah Shaw.
The coroner reported that, "because no semen is present…, in my opinion
Ms. Shaw was repeatedly and forcefully penetrated with a foreign
object, smooth and most likely steel", which, coincidentally or not, is
what our rape victims all report. Captain Mollett thinks Bartelli's
wife is more likely to open up to another woman, and for my part I'm
confident I'll get something Homicide can use. Interviewing women
who've been abused is never easy. But growing up I saw my mother go
through everything I see these women going through, so all in all, I
have a pretty good idea how it must have been for Mary Ellen, living
with a man like Jason Bartelli for the last three years.
Ellen Bartelli literally is five foot nothing, and today her face shows
little of the beating she received. Her yellow dress accentuates a
petite and perfect figure and she walks as though she's crossing a
ballroom floor. Waiting for the coffee I've just offered, she sits down
at my desk with her shoulders straight against the chair back and
unlike most of the women I see, she is clearly unafraid. By its nature,
working sex crimes requires the men around me to regard every woman
with a certain nonchalance, but Mary Ellen could turn the head of any
man; she seems like the kind of woman that men want to protect, and
the kind that women know don't need protecting.
Mollett stops me at the coffee machine to hand me a file, with a
hasty,"ER doctor's report of Mrs. Bartelli's injuries almost forgot to
give it you", and hurries off to finish gathering what he needs to meet
with homicide detectives working on the Delilah Shaw case. I watch the
Captain frantically stacking more files together under his arm.
Whatever he's taking into that meeting is information he feels is far
more pertinent to putting Bartelli away than what I've just been given.
But the Captain's absent-mindedness buys me some time before returning
to my desk with the two-creams-no-sugar cup of coffee the girl in the
photograph requested, who frankly, at this moment is something of an
enigma to me.
The file I’ve just been handed is an unruly stack
of various forms and photos, and on top is the picture taken of Mary
Ellen in the ER, with the long dark bruises under her eyes. Across the
room I hear, "Merci, thank you" in a tone that's both courteous and
dismissive, and I see Mary Ellen speaking to a rookie who actually tips
his hat as he's handing her my desk phone, which is completely within
her reach. He hesitates before leaving as if he's thinking of another
way to be of service to her, and there's something in her manner that's
unsettling, like she's mimicking behavior she's seen and doesn't really
understand. But maybe her apparent fortitude is how she managed to
survive the nightmare of living with a man like Jason Bartelli--and
she's very young, only 23, and returning to my desk with the promised
cup of coffee, I reprimand myself for thinking this little five foot
nothing of a girl's behavior strange in any way.
continues her phone conversation even though I'm back and practically
standing over her--and even though she's tying up my phone. Being a
detective I'm a natural-born snoop, and from what I gather she's making
plans to meet someone for lunch, which is interesting because I'm
certain even Mary Ellen Bartelli doesn't call her girlfriends
"darling." There's an earring on the desk in front of her, jeweled and
not quite round, in the shape of something like a lizard…no, not a
lizard, it's a salamander, a point I'm only aware of because I watch
nothing but documentaries in the little bit of free time that I have,
and while Mary Ellen chatters on with "Mortimer's ? Oh, tres chic,
Mortimer's sounds divine…” I'm trying to recall some salient salamander
fact. Unfortunately, the only thing I remember is, according to ancient
mythology salamanders can withstand even the hottest flames and live,
which only seems pertinent in that living with Jason Bartelli certainly
must have been a trial by fire.
She finishes the
conversation, finally, with a "Kisses", and as she's putting the
earring back in place I say, "Sorry to make you wait this long for
coffee this bad,” and as if on cue she answers, "Oh not at all; look
where we are--bad coffee goes with the territory." Given the
circumstances, her ease and the quickness of this repartee strikes me
again as unsettling in some ill-defined way, and noting this to myself,
I flip the black-eyed ER photo over. And what I find I'm still not
certain I was ever meant to see.
Captain Mollett was in such
a hurry he's accidentally given me part of the file on Delilah Shaw,
but I’m not about to interrupt his meeting to point out this mistake.
Under the ER photo of Mary Ellen I see the coroner's photograph with
“both lower arms and hands show a clear pattern of defensive wounds"
scribbled below it. But what's far more disturbing than picturing
Delilah Shaw fending off her attacker is a form from something called
Fidelity Trust that says Delilah’s father insured his daughter’s
special earrings. And the description I’m reading tells me why there
was no jewelry found on Delilah Shaw.
Peeking over the
folder’s edge to find she’s quite at home in the almost all-male room,
I take a closer look at Mary Ellen. Her lightly tanned skin nearly
masks the scars on her arms and hands, and while the cops around me
trade winks and nod to one another in silent appreciation, when Mary
Ellen giggles and tosses her blond hair back, the glint of her jeweled
earrings strikes me hard enough I’d swear it sent my brain slamming
forward in my skull.
tell her something’s missing from the file that I need to complete my
paperwork, and ask if it’s possible to re-schedule for say, tomorrow.
She seems a little wary, but with perfect grace she answers, "Not at
all, tomorrow's fine." And leading her to the window as though we're
crossing a ballroom floor, I say, "Do you have a way to get home—do you
need a ride, or did you drive here today ?"
“Oh you’re sweet, really, but I borrowed my sister’s car,” she answers,
pointing at the window, but except for the rows of marked police cars,
there's only the station wagon that I did not want to see. And with a
promise to call me in the morning that I know she'll never keep, like
lightning, Mary Ellen's gone.
coroner's photograph is of a young woman, her butchered hair pointing
from her head at every angle; the beating she received was so severe
her face is nothing more than a swollen mass of purpleblack. Now I
recognize these injuries as a woman’s hand at work, and though wiser
women than me already know protection is the last thing Mary Ellen
needs, other than a witness statement about a nearby station wagon, and
the fact there's not a trace of Jason Bartelli in any of the victims,
my certainty of a woman's hand at work is all I have.
last day she would live, the earrings that Delilah Shaw wore were
jeweled, and not quite round, and from a distance it would be difficult
to see that they were shaped like salamanders; by now they must be
resting on the bottom of a river bed somewhere. Going by the ER
photograph, Delilah Shaw was strong and fought hard for her life. But
my guess is Mary Ellen can withstand the flames of any fire.
As foolish as the risk she took today may seem, Mary Ellen Bartelli is
not a stupid woman by a long shot; she possesses a heightened awareness
of her surroundings, and that this is also true of women abused by men
is something irony alone does not explain. Now when I see the long dark
bruises under the eyes of his little five foot nothing of a wife, I’m
haunted by the thought that in Jason Bartelli’s place, I might act as
I assumed he did and as I condemned him for; there isn't anything
Delilah Shaw could possibly have done to deserve what Mary Ellen
Bartelli did to her.