PAGE 3

Clara Harris, the Houston dentist, followed the evolutionary playbook practically to the letter. After learning that her husband, David, was having an affair, she went so far as to sit him down and have him list a point-by-point comparison between her and his mistress, Gail Bridges. In the week before she ran him over him repeatedly in her Mercedes, Clara signed up at a tanning salon and a gym, had her hair and nails done daily, shopped for sexy clothes, and put down a deposit to have her breasts augmented and her thighs liposuctioned, she told Oprah in an August 2005 interview. Whatever the mistress was or did, Clara would be or do better. Including sex. When she found out the cheating couple was doing it three times a day—Bridges had even given David a schedule: 9 p.m., 2 a.m., and 6 a.m.—Clara tried to have sex with him six times a day. "Well, I doubled that to prove to him I could be that and more," she said.

The murder, Clara maintains, was an accident. After David promised to break off the affair, the awful shock of seeing him—at the same Hilton hotel where they'd gotten married, no less—with his mistress sent her into a mental fog from which she can't wrest much detail. Clara claims it was Bridges's SUV she meant to hurt, not her husband. The jury didn't buy her argument, and in February 2003 sentenced her to 20 years.

In an intriguing coincidence, that Hilton parking lot lies directly across the street from NASA-Johnson Space Center, where Nowak worked. Whether Clara Harris is innocent or not, at least one journalist believes the secretive, male-dominated culture that permeates the area—a part of Houston called Clear Lake—could have helped push her over the edge. "The wife is supposed to stay at home and raise the kids and be beautiful and keep her feelings and her pain to herself," says Suzy Spencer, author of Breaking Point, a book about another Clear Lake murderess, Andrea Yates, who was married to a NASA engineer and killed her five children. "So when Clara, who had already bucked that system by being a successful career woman, realized she was losing her husband to a receptionist, that was just a huge slap in the face. Keeping all that pain inside so that everything looks perfect builds up in these women until they have to explode. It's like shaking up a full Coke bottle and opening it immediately. It's gonna spew. And unfortunately it can spew with fatal results."

Which brings us back to the big question: With brains evolved to fight for our mates, could we all snap? Under the right set of love-gone-wrong circumstances, is each of us capable of committing an act so completely irrational, so utterly out of character, that we barely recognize the person who perpetrated it?

There's no definitive study or body of research on the topic, but by all accounts the answer is no. While some women "lose control in a way that jeopardizes the public identity they have worked all their lives to achieve," as Becky Beaver, one of Texas's premier divorce lawyers puts it, legions of the rejected and brokenhearted take revenge in a way that, while embarrassing, doesn't make headlines or land them in jail.

NEXT STORY

Comment

LONG FORM
ONE WORD