Oprah and Aaron

Every single day in the United States, at least three women are murdered by the men in their lives. How does an ordinary husband and father become a brutal killer? And what are the signs? To try and get some answers, Oprah traveled to a North Carolina maximum-security prison to meet a former church pastor, behind bars for the rest of his life.

High school sweethearts Aaron and Naomi were married for 24 years and together they raised three children. Naomi worked full time as a nurse and Aaron was a devoted church pastor. On January 27, 2003, Naomi's dead body was found partially clothed in the back seat of her car. She was only a mile from her home. Crime experts believe she was beaten into unconsciousness with a marble rolling pin, then driven to a deserted road, beaten again, this time with a rock. She was then believed to have been strangled with a seat belt and left for dead. Police think Naomi fought back until her last breath.

But when the killer was revealed, nobody could believe it. Aaron confessed to the brutal murder of his wife.


The story of Naomi's murder began at 4:45 p.m., the evening of Super Bowl Sunday 2003. She'd been napping before going to work for her nursing shift that night.

Aaron says that he woke Naomi up and when she came downstairs, she became angry that he had sent their kids to a Super Bowl party. He says she then accused him of being depressed, wanting to be alone and having problems.

Oprah: What was she saying to you? I want to know.

Aaron: Basically, that I was a miserable person. That I have no reason to be depressed and [that] I've got problems. And she was right.

Oprah: What else did she say?

Aaron: That maybe I shouldn't be alive. I said, "Is that what you want?" A struggle ensued. We struggled…and then we started fighting. And it never had escalated to this point where I was fighting back, but I was afraid. The next thing I remember is I'm in jail. It didn't hit me until a few days after I was in jail why I was there. At that point, I just laid and cried and asked God to forgive me.

Oprah and Aaron

In his confession, Aaron told police that he and Naomi argued about finances that evening. Aaron shared his memory of what happened during their fight..

Aaron: She chased me out of the kitchen. She swung at me in the kitchen with the rolling pin. And, I'll be very honest, at times I wish I would have just put my hands down and let her hit me. I ran upstairs. She followed me. … She jumped on me in the bed. We're fighting with [the rolling pin]. I gained a little control. I hit her. She starts bleeding. I told her to stop. "You're bleeding." That just infuriated her. … The next thing I know, the next thing I saw, was her lying in bed bloody.

Oprah: So you're telling me, Aaron, you do not remember taking the rolling pin and hitting her with the rolling pin?

Aaron: No.


In his confession, Aaron told police that he grabbed the rolling pin and struck Naomi twice because she was fighting back. The medical examiner's report confirmed there were contusions all around Naomi's face, skull fractures and strangulation marks around her neck. The autopsy found that even after the brutal beating with the rolling pin, Naomi stayed alive until the final moment on the dirt road when Aaron strangled her with the seat belt.

According to his police confession, Aaron then emptied Naomi's purse in the front seat and took off the white work gloves he'd been wearing. He walked home, washed the comforter and his clothes, then did the dishes and put the rolling pin back in the cupboard, police said.

Oprah: See, the reason why I'm not buying this is because you put her in the car, you then clubbed her again with a rock, you then strangled her and left her there in the car. Not only that, you pulled her pants down so it would look like somebody else had done that.

Aaron: And I don't remember that.

Oprah: You don't remember any of it?

Aaron: I'm telling you the truth.
Naomi's brother, Jim

Naomi not only left behind three children, but her parents and seven siblings. Her brother, Jim, is speaking out for the first time about Naomi's murder.

"Out of seven kids, Naomi was the youngest girl. She was everybody's favorite. She was just a fun-loving, easy going, always wanted to help people. She absolutely loved her children. … We really didn't believe that he could do anything like this. But we sure found out we were wrong. … He never once apologized to us for brutally murdering Naomi. My parents said that you don't expect to have your children die. It's like cutting your heart out. It's a big emptiness. My [other] sister sends him a letter every Monday. And all it says is 'Why?' And then it's signed 'Naomi.'

"It hurts that someone could do that to her. Especially someone who said he loves her," Jim continues. "And I'll tell you, being a minister, he knows what God says about having your soul burn in hell or go to heaven. And he's made a conscious decision to want his soul to burn in hell."

Dr. Robi Ludwig

In the interview, Aaron told Oprah that he would often tell his wife that, despite their seemingly perfect life, he was terribly depressed and she didn't understand his problems.

"What was so interesting in watching Aaron," says Dr. Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist and regular contributor to Court TV, "is that he was blaming everybody else. And, again, these spousal killers externalize the problem and don't take any responsibility for it."

According to statistics, for every 100 men who kill their wives, 75 women kill their husbands. According to Dr. Ludwig, women and men kill their spouses for different reasons. "There's an overgeneralization for women who kill their husbands: It's generally to get rid of them," she says. "Whereas husbands, paradoxically, kill to hold onto their spouses. So there's a very different position. Of course you can find examples for everything. But women also very often are battered. And so they're doing it because they want to protect themselves and, sometimes, their family and their children. They feel threatened; in danger."

Karen and Oprah

Karen, a kindergarten teacher's aide, had two young children with her husband, Michael, a Cub Scout leader and high school tennis coach. Although to those on the outside everything seemed great, Karen and Michael's marriage was falling apart. After 10 years, they decided to separate, and Karen and the children moved out.

On a cold February night just a few months after the separation, Karen waited for her children to return after spending the evening with their dad. When he arrived, he was alone.

"And as I took a step back, he turns around and up came his hand with a knife and started stabbing at me and I tried my best to fight back," Karen says. "I was biting him and pulling his hair and trying to gouge his eyes out. He was slicing at my neck."

After the attack, Karen managed to crawl to the phone and call 911. She was taken to the hospital where doctors say she was stabbed so many times, they stopped counting after number 59. What Karen didn't know was that just hours before Michael brutally attacked her, he had suffocated their 9-year-old daughter, Lindsay, and strangled their 8-year-old son, Jordan, to death.


Michael was sentenced to two consecutive life terms for killing his children and an additional 25 years for trying to kill his wife. Michael's own attorney argued that the murders were fueled by his mental illness. But in court, Michael made this admission:

"My illness is not to blame for this. My medication is not to blame for this. Karen is not to blame for any of this. My family, her family…have no blame for what I did…It was me. It was my decision. They were my hands."

In court, Karen had the opportunity to read her own "impact statement:"

"I was faced with two choices: live or die. I chose to live. Michael succeeded in destroying my life. However, he underestimated the strength of my will and, therefore, failed at destroying me. The road that is now ahead of me will be hard, dark and long. I know that I will have to fight harder than I did that fateful night. But I know that with the love, strength and support from my family and friends, this wonderful community that I live in, I will make it. I will find a new normal."
Karen's mother, Pat

Looking back, Karen says she may have brushed away some signals. Just a few months before they separated, Karen found out Mike was leading a secret life. Mike had tried to commit suicide and left a suicide note at a Gamblers' Anonymous place. "And the lady there called and read the note over the phone to me and I knew nothing about his gambling," Karen says. "And, you know, he didn't pay any of our bills [for months]…So I just didn't realize the extent of his lies at that point."

But Karen says Michael had never been abusive or shown excessive anger. "He was a very good father," she says. "He [played] a very active role from the time they were infants."

Karen's mother, Pat, agrees and says it was a huge shock to her because Mike was such a good father. "For him to harm the children—I saw no sign."
Karen's best friend, Brenda

Karen's son, Jordan, and Brenda's two sons had been close friends—almost like siblings, playing on the same baseball team, going to the same school and taking family vacations together.

Oprah: When you heard that this had happened, were you shocked?

Brenda: I had more of a feeling that he was maybe going to kidnap the kids because he knew that would hurt her. But not to this extreme.

Oprah: And right after this happened, you were worried that Karen might commit suicide?

Brenda: I was. Because her whole life was her kids.
Karen in the garden

Karen says she has flashbacks about the attack every single day. "If my mind sits idle for too long, I'm right back to that night. … If I can brush my teeth and not throw up, [I know] it is going to be a pretty good day. … If I'm feeling a little low and my mind's on idle for too long, I picture myself in his apartment and how was it for them. You know, their fear and what was going through their mind and looking at their father…I can't go there."

Because she says she has a difficult time going to the cemetery, Karen planted a garden to remember her children by.

"Right outside my sun porch window I have a little garden and I've just got things in there that represent Lindsay and Jordan. … I spend many, many hours in the mornings on my sun porch just looking out and, of course, with the weeding and things. But I spend most of my weekend mornings on the sun porch just looking."
Dr. Robi Ludwig

Psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig says the explanation that a person simply "snapped" is misleading, and that there are always signs and contributing factors that push a person over the edge.

Dr. Ludwig: It can look like you're just snapping…[but] if you look in hindsight you can say, "Oh, I see this sign he was a gambler," or "He was lying." And all the truth comes out and you say, "Oh my God. Why didn't I see it?" It's always easy to see it in retrospect.

Oprah: Are there warning signs, though?

Dr. Ludwig: There are. If someone's depressed. If they're unemployed. [If they're] having difficulty with finances. If they're using illicit drugs. If they're socially isolated. And if there are firearms in the house. Those are very severe warning signs. And also, many times these husbands will warn their wife, "I'm going to kill you." And they follow through with it. And that's when you need to really use your instincts.
FROM: Oprah Goes to Prison: The Pastor Who Killed His Wife
Published on February 18, 2005


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