In doing the research for my content, I read several crime cases each day, and some of them ultimately will drop from my mind, never to be remembered again. Trust me, that's not such a bad thing...the horrors of some of these cases can make their mark on you.
What John Battaglia did in the spring of 2001, is an example of one case that will do just that. This case will stick with you. It's a heart-wrenching reminder that domestic violence has no boundaries, no limitations...and that narcissistic individuals think about one thing, and one thing only....themselves.
Faith & Liberty's Place, The Family Place: familyplace.org
Irene Pence Book: No, Daddy, Don’t!: A Father's Murderous Act Of Revenge
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Transcribed Episode / S2 EP16: Deadly Dad, John Battaglia
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[Intro Music Begins / Fades]
Welcome back to The Crime Shack! Had to take a short break due to a family matter, but I'm back with Episode 16, and this particular case, will shake you to the core. It's a story that not only demonstrates the characteristics of a violent and abusive individual, but also the devastating effects that can have on the children who are involved, and the powerful and sometimes fatal impact the abuse can have on their lives.
So let's dive into it, and talk about master manipulator, John David Battaglia.
Mary Jean Pearle, Court Testimony 1:26
And then I hear Faith going, "No Daddy please Daddy, don't do it! Daddy please don't do it!" Pew, pew! [gunshot noise]
John David Battaglia Jr. of Italian ancestry, was born on August 2 1955, into a Catholic family on a military base in Enterprise, Alabama. His father John was in the military. So as is typical in the military, the family was required to move across the country quite often, even moving to Germany for a short time. Completing his service in the military in 1970, John and his family initially moved to Oregon, where John Jr. would complete his first years of high school. The family then moved to New Jersey, and John enrolled in Dumont High School where he would graduate.
Aside from enduring the tough military life of constantly moving from place to place, John's family was dealing with another troubling issue. John's mother Julia, suffered from severe depression, alcoholism and mental illness. This illness would ultimately drive her to commit suicide in December of 1972.
After recovering from the loss of his mother and graduating high school, John thought about entering the medical field. He enrolled at Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey's largest private University, where he initially applied as a pre med major before changing his mind to pursue accounting. After a friend urged John to quit college, he dropped out of Fairleigh in 1976. Without college to keep him busy, John had plenty of time on his hands and began using drugs, which got him into legal trouble. Similar to his father, John decided to join the military and enlisted in the Marine Corps. He made it to the rank of sergeant then left the Marines to again pursue accounting.
During this time, John's father had moved to Dallas, Texas. Upon leaving the military, John moved to Dallas to be near his father. He went back to school and took night classes to become a certified public accountant, earning his master's degree and did some professional modeling on the side.
In 1985, John met Michelle Ghetti, Michelle was a successful lawyer and single mother who had a seven year old son from a prior marriage. Michelle was enamored with this tall, good looking charming and successful man. The relationship moved fast, and John and Michelle decided to get married fairly quickly. They then had a daughter together, Christie, in November of 1985.
As soon as Michelle became pregnant with Christie, a hidden dark side of John started to become a parent. John and Michelle were driving in the car with Michelle's son, when John got angry at another driver on the road. So he reached for a gun that he had in the car. This of course frightened Michelle, but being pregnant with Christie, she felt trapped.
Michelle gave birth to Christie, but her hopes that John's behavior would be better once Christie was born, were soon dashed. Things only seem to get worse. During one incident, Michelle was holding Christie when John hit Michelle, causing her to drop Christie. Fearing for their safety, Michelle separated from John in September of 1986.
The separation only seemed to make John more distraught and angry. He threatened to kill Michelle and himself and told her that, “I'll cut you up and I'll scar your face.”
Once he was barred from the house, John moved into a house just a few blocks from Michelle. He would harass her by hiding out in the bushes outside her house, banging on the windows of her home and jumping in the garage when Michelle would come home. John would stalk Michelle and follow her in his car around town, and somehow managed to tap into her phone line. He would constantly call her house and her law office at all hours of the night and day.
One night after their separation, Michelle woke up after midnight to find John standing over her bed and holding her shoulders down. He demanded to have sex with her, but she told him no. When she finally got John to leave the house, she filed a police report against him. When John found out about the police report, he was livid. He called Michelle's law firm and got a hold of one of the partners. He proceeded to lie and tell them that Michelle was having an affair with another partner in the firm, and that she was carrying his child. John told the partner he would go to the press with the information unless the partner convinced Michelle to drop the charges against him. Thankfully, the partner didn't believe John, and once they spoke with Michelle, the office put security measures in place that would deny John access to their offices.
Not wanting to give up so easily. John continued to harass Michelle. In January of 1987, he drove up next to Michelle in his car and tried to force her onto the median of the freeway. He then pulled alongside her vehicle, pointed his finger at her as if pretending to hold a gun and threw a rock through his open window at her car. Michelle filed yet another report against John to be arrested on the grounds of harassment. John begged her to drop the charges, but she refused. John was arrested and spent several days in jail, and when he was released, he apologized to Michelle for his behavior. The harassment stopped, at least for a short while.
John eventually became violent again and hit Michelle while she was picking up their daughter Christie. After being hit by John and having been pushed down the front stairs of her house by John, Michelle had enough and filed charges against him. He begged her to drop the charges, but she refused to do so.
In retaliation for this when Christie was two years old, he went to Christie school and approached Michelle. As he walked towards Michelle, he had a huge grin on his face when he said to her, “If I'm going back to jail, I'm going to make it worth my while.” He then punched Michelle in the face, knocking her unconscious, breaking her nose and dislocating her jaw. Michelle would spend three days in the hospital being treated for her injuries.
In 2017, Michelle Ghetti, along with her daughter, Christie, testified before the Louisiana judiciary committee as an opposition to abolish the Louisiana death penalty, and explain what happened during her marriage to John Battaglia, and how she was able to finally escape:
Michelle Ghetti 8:52
Really what I'm here for today, is as a survivor and family member of murder. I had an attempted murder by my former husband on me, and survived that, with my daughter being two at the time. Literally fled in the middle of the night to come back to Louisiana, the only way I could have been safe.
I've certainly felt, as I can't remember now, someone said, "if that person came up to me today," I would shoot him, and I know that because I spent three days in the hospital and two days in a hotel with my parents after this happened to me...and the next thing I did the next day, especially after running into him in a grocery store because he was still free, and him threatening my eight year old son at that time, was buy a gun and carried it with me for years. I couldn't sleep by myself, for many, many months. In fact until I moved back to Louisiana. This all happened in Dallas, Texas.
Michelle knew she had to get away from John, for her own safety and the safety of her children. She packed up her stuff, grabbed her two children, and fled in the middle of the night to Louisiana.
In 1987, Michelle filed for divorce from John. He pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge for beating her unconscious and was sentenced to two years of probation.
It would be just a couple years later in 1990, when John would meet Mary Jean Pearle. Mary Jean was from Highland Park, Texas, a neighborhood just outside of downtown Dallas, Texas. Mary Jean and John married on April 6, 1991. Mary Jean's father graciously bought her large home in Highland Park, where she and John could start their new lives together.
Certainly from the outside, John and Mary Jean's life together seem to be picture perfect. They were happy newlyweds living in an upscale neighborhood. But inside their four walls, things were very different. Even on the first night of their marriage, Mary Jean saw a glimpse of John's darker side. She'd noticed he would get angry easily, have violent outbursts and would scream obscenities at her and call her vulgar names. At first, these outbursts were occasional. So she thought maybe he was just in a bad mood and excuse them away because honestly, they had more good times than they had bad times.
About a year into their marriage, they had their first child together, a daughter, Mary Faith in 1992. Three years later, they had another daughter Liberty May, in 1995. The two girls couldn't be more different. Mary Faith was a tomboy who loved to play soccer and the violin, and Liberty enjoyed ballet.
As the girls grew older, John and Mary Jean enrolled them both at John S. Bradfield Elementary School in Highland Park. John doted on his girls, and the girls in turn adored their dad, but John's violent outbursts continued and began to become more frequent.
With children now in the mix, Mary Jean did all she could do to keep their family and marriage together. Although as time went on, keeping the peace became more and more difficult. One night, John's verbal abuse became physical, and Mary Jean called 911 and a police report was filed. John was placed on probation, and even though he was allowed to continue to see the girls, he was not allowed back in their home.
After suffering years of abuse from John, Mary Jean realized she needed to do something to remove herself from a potentially dangerous situation, and to minimize her daughter's being exposed to that environment. So in January of 1999, she filed for a divorce. As per the conditions of the divorce and agreed protective order was issued, which prevented John from stalking threatening or harassing his daughters or Mary Jean, and he was prohibited from owning a firearm
On Christmas Day in 1999, before their divorce was finalized, John wanted to come by Mary Jean’s and pick up the girls to take them to church. Mary Jean agreed to allow John to come into her home to gather up the girls. When John arrived at the house, his daughter Christie was with him who was now 13 years old.
John and Mary Jean started to get into an argument in front of the three girls, when John grabbed Mary Jean. He pushed her to the floor, kicked her and beat her on the back of the head. He pounded on her head so savagely that he tore out chunks of her hair, all while the three girls were watching crying and begging him to stop. John left her house and Mary Jean immediately called 911.
Mary Jane's head was black and blue. She had a puncture wound in her heel and bruises on her arm, finger, shin and both sides of her head. The police arrived at John's house and arrested him. He pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge, was given two years probation and $1,000 fine. He wasn't permitted to contact Mary or visit his daughters for 30 days.
Once the measly 30 days probation was up, John's unsupervised visitations with his daughters continued and his verbal assaults on Mary Jean started all over again.
I'm sure by now you're seeing the pattern here. John abuses women, gets probation, maybe a few days in jail, then is back at it again. Seems the only thing the slight punishment does for John is just infuriate him even more.
Although Mary Jean's divorce to John was finalized less than a year later in August of 2000, she knew that she still had to continue to interact and communicate with him because of the girls.
Now that they were divorced, John made it his mission to make Mary Jean's life miserable.
The following Easter in April 2001, Mary Jean sent John's daughter Christie an Easter gift, $50 cash. This simple gesture got John so angry, he immediately called and left a message on Mary Jean's voicemail telling her “Mary Jean, the next time you give my daughter $50, why don't you tell her how you screwed her out of her college fun, you effing pig. How does that feel? Pig.”
Mary Jean had enough. She called the police and reported the harassment to John's probation officer. Although he was absolutely horrific to her, Mary Jean was never afraid that John would do anything to hurt the girls. He'd never laid a hand on them, and was always more than gentle with them, but she was concerned that he would one day act out on those threats against her.
As a result of her call in for violating his probation. a warrant was issued for John's arrest. On Wednesday, May 2, John discovered that his probation had been revoked and that he was going to be arrested for the threatening calls and for using marijuana, which Mary Jean also disclosed to the probation officer. He was informed by a police officer that the arrest wouldn't happen in front of his children, and that he was allowed one last visitation with his daughters before peacefully turning himself in.
It was around noon that day, when John called and left a strange voicemail message for his ex-wife Michelle Ghetti, telling her that maybe Mary Jean should lose her kids.
John made his usual Wednesday night plans with Mary Jean to arrange for him to pick up the girls and take them to dinner that evening. He spoke to the girls on the phone and told them he wasn't that hungry for dinner that night, because he found out he might be arrested that night and probably wouldn't see them for over a year. When he told them that, the girls became so nervous about seeing him that Liberty hid under her bed, telling her mom that she didn't want to go with him to dinner. Mary Jean reassured the girls that it would be okay. She got the girls in the car and drove them to the normal weekly meetup spot they'd agreed upon, the Highland Park Village Shopping Center. John met Mary at the shopping center, and everything seemed normal and the exchange went without any altercation.
After Mary watched the girls get safely into John's car, she headed to her friend Melissa Lowder’s house. John was going to drop the girls off at Melissa's house after they'd had dinner. When John got the girls in the car, he didn't take them out to dinner. In fact, he had no plans of taking them out to dinner. Instead, he drove them back to his loft in downtown Dallas.
Almost immediately upon arrival to his fourth story loft, John told nine year old Faith to call her mother. Faith called her mother, but left a voicemail message to call her back when Mary Jean didn't pick up the phone. John then called his ex mother-in-law Dorris Pearle, Mary Jean’s mother, and told her he needed to talk to Mary Jean right away to ask her a question.
Mary Jean was just pulling into Melissa's driveway, when she got a phone call from her mother Dorris. Dorris told her that John had called because the girls wanted to ask their mom something. Mary Jean then noticed two missed messages on her phone. They were from Faith, telling her that she had a question and to call her back. It was around 7:30pm when Mary Jean walked into Melissa's house and began to dial John's number. John answered her call and immediately put the call on speakerphone and told Faith to quote, “Ask her.”
Faith then said “Mommy, why do you want daddy to have to go to jail?” Mary Jean, stunned at the question, started to tell John not to do this to the girls when she heard Faith begging her father, “No Daddy, please don't! Don't do it!”
Mary Jean Pearle, Court Testimony 19:59
And then I hear Faith going, "No Daddy please Daddy, don't do it! Daddy please don't do it!" Pew, pew! [gunshot noise]
John had pulled out a gun and held the gun to Faith’s head.
Mary Jean Pearle, Court Testimony 20:09
And I said, "RUN! RUN FOR THE DOOR, RUN FOR THE DOOR!"
Mary Jean heard shot, after shot, after shot. She then heard John scream into the phone...