Sgt. Robert Bales is accused of killing 16 innocent people, and his wife Karilyn has responded with a statement whose dominant mood is bewilderment. “What has been reported is completely out of character of the man I know and admire,” she says. “Please respect me when I say I cannot shed any light on what happened that night, so please do not ask.” And yet, obviously, people keep asking. When your husband has committed a terrible crime, what are you supposed to say?
Sgt. Bales, via Reuters.
Some wives take the path of complete denunciation. In the thick of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Darlene Ellison wrote in The Daily Beast of her now-ex-husband’s pedophilia conviction:
As a woman, I felt repulsed that during the more than 10 years we were married, my ex-husband preferred physical contact with young boys over me. As a mother, I was angry that he had claimed to love our children, then committed crimes that revealed anything but love.
Mingled with her disgust and rage is her surprise at her husband’s arrest — she writes, “I never suspected a thing.” After finding out her husband was the “Green River” serial killer, Judith Mawson was also in shock — she said she asked herself, “Was my life real with him or did he just use me?” She added, “Telling my story, getting all the poison out of me helped me to heal. But how do you forgive someone who is suspected of killing 70 women?”
Another wife of a convicted pedophile, this one speaking to Salon under the pseudonym Jasmine, discussed her surprise and anger too. But unlike Mawson, she had forgiven her husband. Explaining her decision to stay married after her his arrest, she said,
I had to think about our marriage and that he had been a good person — this was really the first thing we had gone through,” she explains. “He went through years and years of sex-offender treatment and I could see his thinking change. There weren’t so many rationalizations and excuses.
Then there are those who completely disavow their partners’ guilt. The long-term girlfriend of serial killer Steve Wright reportedly told a friend,
I will always love Steve no matter what happens. I’m sure he’s innocent. I don’t know why they’re doing this to him. When this is all over we will be back together again and start a new life.
Roman Polanski’s wife Emmanuelle Seigner chalked up his rape of a minor to the swinging seventies: “at the time people didn’t live and react in the same way. It was a crazy time. The attitude to drugs was not the same, nor was the attitude to sexual liberty and permissiveness.” She added, “My personal truth is that Roman is a marvelous husband and man. He is an impeccable man and I have nothing to reproach him for.”
And in December, Dorothy Sandusky herself issued a statement proclaiming her husband’s innocence:
Our children, our extended family and friends know how much Jerry and I love kids and have always tried to help and care for them. We would never do anything to hurt them. I am so sad anyone would make such a terrible accusation which is absolutely untrue. We don’t know why these young men have made these false accusations, but we want everyone to know they are untrue.
One main difference between Ellison and Jasmine, Seigner, and Sandusky is that the latter three are still married — if you’re not going to get a divorce, you’re probably not going to publicly denounce your husband either. At this point, Sgt. Bales is still in isolation awaiting trial. Karilyn Bales doesn’t even know what will happen to him tomorrow, let alone what their future holds as a couple.
Of course, that won’t keep people from asking her questions — the bulk of her statement is a plea for the media to leave her alone. And in addition to the future, they likely want to know about the past — were there signs that Sgt. Bales might snap and become a mass murderer? What flaw in him might have driven him to kill? After a terrible crime, we tend to seek explanations — and we often turn to the person closest to the criminal for answers. Never mind that the wife is often as much in the dark as anybody else.
There’s another question, though, that drives the scrutiny into criminals’ wives. What’s it like, we want to know, to be married to someone who has done something terrible? How does it feel? And this is one question that Karilyn Bales does answer. Her statement is thick with sorrow, confusion, and fear. She writes,
I have no indication that my family’s own safety is at risk, but I appreciate the efforts that have been undertaken to protect us. I hope there will soon be no reason for protection of families, whether here or in Kandahar Province, or anywhere, because the pain inevitably inflicted in war should never be an excuse to inflict yet more pain. The cycle must be broken. We must find peace.
If there’s one thing we know about Karilyn Bales, it’s that she is not at peace.
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