Evil Beside Her

Evil Beside Her

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by Kathryn Casey

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Sleeping with a monster

At first, Linda Bergstrom's marriage to her husband James was idyllic. They were young and in love; he was about to enter the Navy and she was eager to start a family. But it wasn't long before the dream exploded. James became abusive and violent, prone to sudden bursts of anger, long silences, and unexplained

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Sleeping with a monster

At first, Linda Bergstrom's marriage to her husband James was idyllic. They were young and in love; he was about to enter the Navy and she was eager to start a family. But it wasn't long before the dream exploded. James became abusive and violent, prone to sudden bursts of anger, long silences, and unexplained disappearances. But Linda vowed to hold on, despite the pain and fear . . . and her disturbing suspicions about her husband's secret life.

Then, not long after their move to Houston, Texas, she made a terrifying discovery: James's hidden cache containing duct tape, a ski mask, and handcuffs. No longer could Linda Bergstrom deny the hideous truth.

The man she lived with, the man she married for love, was a dangerous psychopath. And there was no escape and nowhere to run. Because no one—not her friends, the Navy, or the police—would believe her.

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Evil Beside Her

Chapter One

What attracts one person to another has long fascinated poets, perfumers, psychologists, astrologists, and biologists. Is it an emotional, spiritual, or physical link that binds a man and a woman? Unable to diagnose passion, experts have relegated the phenomenon to the territory of the unknown. "No human creature can give orders to love," dismissed George Sand. "Do you know how uncontrolled and unreliable the average human being is in all that concerns sexual life?" asked Sigmund Freud.

When a union turns violent, criminologists are left to ponder the dilemma of what first drew, and later bound, a woman to her lover/abuser. Why didn't she just get out? they ask. Such large numbers of those battered as adults were abused as children that decades ago experts reluctantly came to one conclusion: Somewhere...whether in DNA or day-to-day experience...there is a force at work that defies random coupling. Abusers and victims seek each other out.

After it was all over, with the acute perception of hindsight, Linda would conclude life had set her up for James Bergstrom. That she had been bred to accept violence. And that their union was a tragedy she was fated to live.

The neighborhood in which Linda Martinez, nicknamed Lily by her family, grew up is the type of uniquely Houston setting only possible because of the city's lack of zoning. Businesses and industries mix with homes in a patchwork of unrestrained urban development. Tucked just outside the 610 Loop, the area is bounded by two thoroughfares on which strips of prefabricated metal warehouses, stores, and factories are interrupted only by the occasional tavernor storefront church. Nearby is a heavily industrial district bordering railroad tracks. Even on quiet side streets, like the one on which Linda's parents, Santos and Jesse Martinez, bought a modest frame house in 1963, the homes are interlaced with small factories and businesses.

Despite strong Hispanic roots, both Santos and Jesse were born in the United States, the children of Mexican and Spanish parents respectively who immigrated in search of opportunity. They met in Arcola, a small town southwest of Houston where Santos's parents raised ten children surrounded by trees and rolling acres to run. In 1958 they married and moved to Houston to start a family. The children came quickly: first Gino, then Mary, Linda on Halloween day, October 31, 1963, Alice, and finally Daniel. Another son died at the age of two, a victim of pneumonia.

The Martinez house, sitting firmly in the center of the block, was proud if modest. Its white clapboard exterior was faded but not unkempt. Its yard, like those of its neighbors, was encircled in a sturdy metal fence to ward off the encroaching violence of the city. Inside, it was well maintained, decorated with framed religious prints depicting the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus amidst photographs of the couple's five children. Jesse had a good job working days in the shipping department at Devoe & Raynolds, a regional plant for the national company which manufactured paint for stores throughout the Southwest. The factory was just a short walk over the railroad tracks from the house. Each evening when Santos, a seamstress, returned from work, the Martinez house filled with the pungent aroma of frying corn tortillas and simmering tomatoes.

Despite its peaceful facade, Linda's childhood home was a terrifying place. "It was like a prison camp," she would say, with a grimace. Of course, there were the happy times: fishing trips, parties, weddings, quinceañeras (elaborate fifteenth-birthday celebrations in Hispanic cultures that mark a girl's entry to womanhood), picnics, and afternoons on the beach. Yet from the beginning, Jesse, a short, stocky man with dark brown hair and strong, thick hands, was a frightening presence. Though he worked all day and often drank with cronies at night, when he was home, the family trembled under his domination.

One of Linda's earliest memories was of an incident when she was five. "My father was angry with me because I got up off the couch. We were never allowed to walk around unless we got permission," she whispered. "He took a belt and began walloping me." Santos stepped in to save her middle daughter and shared in the flogging. Days later both were still marked with bruised reminders of the battering.

According to Linda, when she was nine the physical abuse turned sexual. It began one morning as she stood on a footstool washing dishes. Her brothers and sisters were relegated to the living room, where they silently watched Sunday morning church shows on television. Her mother was visiting a neighbor. Alone in the kitchen, Linda heard her father enter, so quickly she at first feared his intention was to punish her for some minor offense. Instead, he pulled her toward him, groping between her legs. To her surprise, he stroked and fondled her. Linda wasn't sure what he was doing or why, but something told her it wasn't right. "I was terrified," said Linda. "I cried so hard, I couldn't stop."

The scene, she maintains, repeated itself twice more. After the final incident, Linda cried so uncontrollably, despite her father's threats, that her mother, who was in another part of the house, came to investigate. Pressing her head against her mother's chest, Linda recounted amid sobs her accusations against her father. Jesse Martinez denied Linda's accusations, yet an angry Santos warned her husband, "If this is true, it better not ever happen again."

By the time she was ten, Linda had become a reclusive yet pragmatic child. Since the alleged sexual abuse took place when she was alone with her father, the solution was not to be alone with him. "She would follow me wherever I went," said Santos. "Lily became my quiet, little shadow." On Saturdays when her mother cleaned another house on the block, Linda would tag along silently behind.

Evil Beside Her
. Copyright © by Kathryn Casey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Kathryn Casey is an award-winning journalist, who has written for Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Reader's Digest, Texas Monthly, and many other publications. She's the author of seven previous true crime books and the creator of the highly acclaimed Sarah Armstrong mystery series. Casey has appeared on Oprah, Oprah Winfrey's Oxygen network, Biography, Nancy Grace, E! network, truTV, Investigation Discovery, the Travel Channel, and A&E. She lives in Houston with her husband and their dog, Nelson.

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