Thursday, October 25, 2001

PULFER: Suzie Thompson

Promise carved in stone

        Seven, Yvon Desfosses says. He and his wife of 48 years, Colombe, are the parents of seven children.

        Counting Suzie. Who still breaks their hearts.

        “You can just be driving along in the car, then suddenly the tears come,” Mrs. Desfosses says.

        Suzie Desfosses Thompson was 42 years old when she was murdered by a man furloughed from a Warren County jail. William Chapman threatened to kill Suzie — bragged about it, actually — and on Dec. 1, 1999, he made good on his threat.

        They had dated, then he became abusive. When she broke up with him, he said he would “get even with her.” Said he'd burn her house down. Instead, he shot her five times in the face before killing himself with the same handgun.

        A terrible story. But not unusual.

Changing the numbers

        More than three women are murdered every day by their husbands or boyfriends, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Almost one-third of American women murdered each year are killed by their current or former partners. Every year, approximately 1 million women report being stalked.

        Yvon Desfosses, a blocky former semi-pro hockey player and retired construction worker, figured since he couldn't change what happened to his daughter, maybe he could help change those numbers. Not at first. At first, he was mad. Really mad. At the judge, who let William Chapman out of jail to celebrate Thanksgiving. At the sheriff, whose jailers didn't realize the prisoner hadn't returned. A misfiled warrant.

        “It was a series of mistakes,” Mrs. Desfosses says.

        They sued.

        A $610,000 settlement last year with Warren County included provisions for a memorial to victims of domestic violence and significant changes in jail procedures.

Everyone's daughter

        “From the beginning, it was not just about money,” Mr. Desfosses says. “We wanted Suzie's boys to be provided for, of course.” Suzie Thompson's youngest son, William, 17, is being raised by her oldest, Theo, a 21-year-old Army sergeant. The middle son, Yvon, works in Batavia.

        “But really,” he continues, “we did not want this to happen to anyone else again. You know, it's not just your daughter but everyone's daughter.” Speaking in strongly-accented English, he looks at me to see if I get his meaning.

        I do. And I am guessing that the man who came to this country from Quebec in 1966 generally makes himself perfectly clear.

        He directs me to the memorial, which was dedicated Tuesday. We follow twisting back roads from the Desfosses home in Mason to the Warren County Justice Center in Lebanon. The seven-foot monument is outside the sheriff's office. Just as Suzie's father wanted. A broken rose, a dove, an extended hand, a sunburst are carved in Canadian pink granite, along with the words “Dedicated to all victims of domestic violence.”

        Yvon Desfosses touches the stone. “Very detailed. I love it.” He brushes his hand over the next phrase “In loving memory of Suzie Desfosses Thompson,” and says, “but I hate to see her name here.”

        He clears his throat. “We wanted it where it would be seen. By officials. By men who were going to jail for doing the same thing. By women who would know that somebody is on their side.”

        A father's promise.

        Making Suzie's life count.

        E-mail Laura at or call 768-8393.


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