'Til Murder Do Us Part: A Familial Tale of Death, Dementia, and Drama

Growing old without dignity: Uncle Paul killed Aunt Helen and then tried to kill himself. They were already dead to most of us.

Overly cautious and fearful, the oldest of the clan lives by her own golden rule: avoid confrontation at all cost. So when I asked her about various incidents involving Julie and the Weinsteins, her stock answers were: "I really don't know" and "I couldn't ask questions. She [Helen] didn't like you to ask questions."

About her brother-in-law, Paul, to whom she talked at least once a week, year after year, Evelyn was equally imperceptive: "I came to the conclusion, I didn't know him as well as I should have," she says. (Julie doesn't hold her aunt responsible: "Evelyn did help and provided the only normalcy I had. Could she have done more? Perhaps. But she's not a strong person, and my mother was. I think Evelyn was afraid my mother would shut her out completely and felt a need to be there for me.")

Not that anyone else (including even my father) could really have predicted what Paul Weinstein would do. To those who "knew" him, he was a stand-up guy who did his best to care for his wife—even as his own health deteriorated. With no friends or family to speak of, the closest person to Paul other than his wife was his boss of 10 years, Ray Rama, who owns R & R Pharmacy in Mamaroneck.

What Helen feared most was being institutionalized, Paul told police.
What Helen feared most was being institutionalized, Paul told police.
Helen and the author's mother, aged 7 and 9
Helen and the author's mother, aged 7 and 9

Though Rama never socialized with the Weinsteins, he knew them as well as anyone—or, at least, he thought he did. "He was a very regimented-type fellow. He did things by the book consistently," Rama says. "Liked to get up early in the morning, have his breakfast at a certain time. He was a good pharmacist," he insists. "Never would I assume anything like that from the man."

Just like the neighbors, who viewed the Weinsteins from afar, Rama saw a loving couple devoted to each other.

"It really knocked me out of my socks when a fellow from WABC comes in and asks me, 'Paul Weinstein work for ya?' I say yeah. 'You heard?' 'I heard what? Nothing. I didn't hear anything.' He told me Paul shot and killed his wife about an hour and a half ago. I was speechless."

Paul and Helen's 48-year-old daughter, Julie, hadn't spoken to her parents in 17 years.

On February 24, 1993, following her mother and father's lead, she wrote a letter severing the relationship: "You've never cared to tell me exactly why you both shut your own parents out, but it seems we've carried on the one-family tradition that we have," Julie wrote.

And though she had a specific reason—Helen had told Julie her kids would end up being the next Jeffrey Dahmers because of her poor parenting skills—the three-page handwritten missive was actually the culmination of a childhood fraught with emotional and physical abuse.

First, there were the fights Julie witnessed as a toddler, so violent that the police were called to the house. There were also frequent visits by the telephone repairman to replace the wires ripped out of the wall in the heat of the couple's wrangling. "A couple of times, my father wrapped the wire around her neck," Julie says. "It was always so dramatic."

Helen also had a violent streak, Julie says. One time, she went after her husband with a frying pan, but, while blocking her, he hit her so hard above the eye that she required stitches. But all of this was nothing compared to her mother's oft-repeated story about a Jehovah's Witness who had knocked on the door.

When Julie was a baby, her mother allegedly attacked a woman for preaching and forcing her way into the apartment. She cut her throat with a bread knife, a wound that required 27 stitches. (Helen was supposedly taken to Bellevue for an evaluation.) Afterward, the woman came back, trying to "save" her. "My mother proudly told the story," Julie says, "as if to show you how tough she is, how she won't take any crap from anyone. My father used to call her a 'spitfire.' " Evelyn and my mother had heard the tale, but couldn't corroborate it.

Unlike other kids, who may have grown afraid after witnessing such events, Julie toughed it out, assuming an "Oh, they're at it again" attitude. "I became a precocious little bastard," she says. And at age six, after yet another rumble, Julie advised her parents to get divorced so she could live with her dad: "Aunt Evelyn just covered my mouth, saying, 'She doesn't know what she's talking about.' "

The two stayed married, and, as the fighting somehow diminished, Julie says Helen turned more of her "attention" to her daughter. This wasn't difficult, especially since Julie went straight from the crib to a chair-bed in her parents' bedroom. (She dismisses the idea that her parents simply couldn't afford to move to an apartment with two bedrooms.) And other than the lack of bedtime stories or "lovey-dovey crap," she can remember nothing unseemly occurring during those years. It doesn't take a psych degree, however, to realize that Helen had issues with control. As for Paul, it was the classic case of the henpecked husband, too busy working (and reading Barbara Cartland romance novels) and apparently too much in denial to critique his wife's child-rearing. He didn't see anything wrong with the way she acted, Julie says.

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