How Kristin Died1
GEORGE LARDNER, JR.
The phone was ringing insistently, hurrying me back to my desk. My daughter Helen was on the line, sobbing so
hard she could barely catch her breath. "Dad," she shouted. "Come home! Right away!"
I was stunned. I had never heard her like this before. "What's wrong?" I asked. "What happened?"
"It's-it's Kristin. She's been shot ... and killed." Kristin? My Kristin? Our Kristin? I'd talked to her the afternoon
before. Her last words to me were, "I love you Dad." Suddenly I had trouble breathing myself.
It was 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 30. In Boston, where Kristin Lardner was an art student, police were cordoning
off an apartment building a couple of blocks from the busy, sunlit sidewalk where she'd been killed 90 minutes
earlier. She had been shot in the head and face by an ex-boyfriend who was under court order to stay away from her.
When pol ice burst into his apartment, they found him sprawled on his bed, dead from a final act of self-pity.
This was a crime that could and should have been prevented. I write about it as a sort of cautionary tale, in anger at a
system of justice that failed to protect my daughter, a system that is addicted to looking the other way, especially at
the evil done to women.
But first let me tell you about my daughter.
She was, at 21, the youngest of our five children, born in Washington, D.C., and educated in the city's public
schools, where not much harm befell her unless you count her taste for rock music, lots of jewelry, and funky
clothes from Value Village. She loved books, went trick-or-treating dressed as Greta Garbo, played one of the
witches in "Macbeth" and had a grand time in tap-dancing class even in her sneakers. She made life sparkle.
When she was small, she always got up in time for Saturday morning cartoons at the Chevy Chase library, and she
took cheerful care of a succession of cats, mice, gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs. Her biggest fault may have been
that she took too long in the shower-and you never knew what color her hair was going to be when she emerged. She
was compassionate, and strong-minded too; when a boy from high school dropped his pants in front of her, Kristin
knocked out one of his front teeth.
"She didn't back down from anything," said Amber Lynch, a close friend from Boston University. "You could tell
that basically from her art, the way she dressed, the opinions she had. If you said something stupid, she'd tell you."
Midway through high school, Kristin began thinking of becoming an artist. She'd been taking art and photography
classes each summer at the Corcoran School of Art and was encouraged when an art teacher at Wilson High decided
two of her paintings were good enough to go on display at a little gallery there. She began studies at Boston
University's art school and transferred after two years to a fine arts program run jointly by the School of the Museum
of Fine Arts and Tufts University. She particularly liked to sculpt and make jewelry and, in the words of one faculty
member, "showed great promise and was extremely talented."
In her apartment were scattered signs of that talent. Three wide-banded silver and brass rings, one filigreed with
what looked like barbed wire. Some striking sculptures of bound figures. A Madonna,
painstakingly gilded. A nude self-portrait in angry reds, oranges and yellows, showing a large leg bruise her exboyfriend had given her on their last date in April.
How Kristin Died" by George Lardner, Jr. from The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, January 410, 1993, pp. 8-12. Copyright © 1993 The Washington Post.
"It felt as though she was telling all her secrets to the world," she wrote of her art in an essay she left behind. "Why
would anyone want to know them anyway? But making things was all she wanted to do. ... She always had
questions, but never any answers, just frustration and confusion, and a need to get out whatever lay inside of her,
hoping to be meaningful."
Kristin wrote that essay last November for a course at Tufts taught by Ross Ellenhorn, who also happens to be a
counselor at Emerge, an educational program for abusive men. He had once mentioned this to his students. He
would hear from my daughter in April, after she met Michael Cartier.
By then, Kristin had been dating Cartier, a 22year-old bouncer, for about two and a half months. She broke off with
him on the early morning of April 16. On that night, a few blocks from her apartment, he beat her up.
They "became involved in an argument and he knocked her to the ground and started kicking her over and over,"
reads a Brookline, Mass., police report. "She remembers him saying, 'Get up or I'll kill you.' She staggered to her
feet, a car stopped and two men assisted her home.
"Since that night," the report continues, "she has refused to see him, but he repeatedly calls her, sometimes 10 or 11
times a day. He has told her that if she reports him to the police, he might have to do six months in jail, but she
better not be around when he gets out.
"She also stated the injuries she suffered were hematomas to her legs and recurring headaches from the kicks."
Kristin didn't call the police right away. But she did call Ellenhorn in hopes of getting Cartier into Emerge. "I made
clear to her that Emerge isn't a panacea, that there was still a chance of him abusing her," Ellenhorn says. "I told her
that he could kill her ... because she was leaving him and that's when things get dangerous."
Cartier showed up at Emerge's offices in Cambridge, around April 28 by Ellenhorn's calculations. Ellenhorn, on
duty that night, realized who Cartier was when he wrote down Kristin's name under victim on the intake form.
"I said, 'Are you on probation?' " Ellenhorn remembers. "He said yes. I said, 'I'm going to need the name of the
probation officer.' He said, '[Expletive] this. No way.' "
With that, Cartier ripped up the contract he was required to sign, ripped up the intake form, put the tattered papers in
his pocket and walked out.
"He knew," Ellenhorn says. "He knew what kind of connection would be made." Michael Cartier was, of course, on
probation for attacking another woman.
Cartier preyed on women. Clearly disturbed, he once talked of killing his mother. When he was 5 or 6, he
dismembered a pet rabbit. When he was 21, he tortured and killed a kitten. In a bizarre 1989 incident at an Andover
restaurant, he injected a syringe of blood into a ketchup bottle. To his girlfriends, he could be appallingly brutal.
Rose Ryan could tell you that. When Kristin's murder was reported on TV-the newscaster described the killing as
"another case of domestic violence"-she said to a friend, "That sounds like Mike." It was. Hearing the newscaster
say his name, she recalls, "I almost dropped."
When Ryan met Cartier at a party in Boston in the late summer of 1990, she was an honors graduate of Lynn East
High School, preparing to attend Suffolk University. She was 17, a lovely, courageous girl with brown hair and
brown eyes like Kristin's.
"He was really my first boyfriend," she told me. "I was supposed to work that summer and save my money, but I got
caught up with the scene in Boston and hanging out with all the kids. . . . At first, everything was fine."
Cartier was a familiar face on the Boston Common, thanks to his career as a freelance nightclub bouncer. He had
scraped up enough money to share a Commonwealth Avenue apartment with a Museum School student named Kara
Boettger. They dated a few times, then settled down into a sort of strained coexistence.
"He didn't like me very much," Boettger said. "He liked music loud. I'd tell him to turn it down." Rose Ryan liked
him better. She thought he was handsome-blue eyes, black hair, a tall and muscular frame-with a vulnerability that
belied his strength. To make him happy, she quit work and postponed the college education it was going to pay for.
"He had me thinking that he'd had a bad deal his whole life," she said, "that nobody loved him and I was the only
one who could help him."
Cartier also knew how to behave when he was supposed to. Ryan said he made a good first impression on her
parents. As with Kristin, it took just about two months before Cartier beat Ryan up. She got angry with him for
"kidding around" and dumping her into a barrel on the Common. When she walked away, he punched her in the
head; when she kept going, he punched her again.
"I'd never been hit by any man before and I was just shocked," she said. But what aggravated her the most, and still
does, is that "every time something happened, it was in public, and nobody stopped to help."
Cartier ended the scene with "his usual thing," breaking into tears and telling her, "'Oh, why do I always hurt the
people I love? What can I do? My mother didn't love me. I need your help.' "
Shortly after they started dating, Ryan spent a few days at the Cart ier-Boettger apartment. He presented her with a
gray kitten, then left it alone all day without a litter box. The kitten did what it needed to do on Cartier's jacket.
"He threw the kitten in the shower and turned the hot water on and kept it there under the hot water," Ryan
remembers in a dull monotone. "And he shaved all its hair off with a man's shaving razor."
The kitten spent most of its wretched life hiding under a bed. On the night of Oct. 4, 1990, Cartier began drinking
with two friends and went on a rampage. He took a sledgehammer and smashed through his bedroom wall into a
neighbor's apartment. And he killed the kitten, hurling it out a fourthfloor window.
"I'd left the apartment without telling them," Ryan said. "When I came back, the police were in the hallway. . . .
They said, 'Get out. This guy's crazy.' They were taking him out in handcuffs."
Three months later, Cartier, already on probation, plea-bargained his way to probation againpleading guilty to
malicious destruction. Charges of burglary and cruelty to animals were dismissed; the court saw nothing wrong with
putting him back on the street.
"I thought he was going to jail because he violated probation," Kara Boettger said. So did Cartier.
"[But after the January hearing] he told me . . . 'Oh yeah, nothing happened. They slapped my wrist.' "
When Michael Cartier was born in Newburyport, Mass., his motherwas 17. Her husband, then 19, left them six
months later; Gene Cartier has since remarried twice. Her son, Penny Cartier says, was a problem from the first.
"He'd take a bottle away from his [step]sister. He'd light matches behind a gas stove. He was born that way," Penny
Cartier asserted. "When he was five or six, he had a rabbit. He ripped its legs out of its sockets."
"None of this," she added in loud tones, "had anything to do with what he did to Kristin. . . . Michael's childhood
had nothing to do with anything."
Life with mother, in any case, ended at age 7, when she sent him to the New England Home for Little Wanderers, a
state-supported residential treatment center for troubled children. Staff there remember him-although Penny Cartier
denies this-as a child abused at an early age. "That's the worst childhood I've ever seen," agrees Rich DeAngelis, one
of Cartier's probation officers. "This didn't just happen in the last couple of years."
Cartier stayed at the New England Home until he was 12. In October 1982, he was put in the Harbor School in
Amesbury, a treatment center for disturbed teenagers. He stayed there for almost four years and was turned over to
his father, a facilities maintenance mechanic in Lawrence.
Michael Cartier was bitter about his mother. "I just know he hated her," Kara Boettger said. "He said he wanted to
get a tattoo, I think maybe on his arm, of her hanging from a tree with animals ripping at her body."
Penny Cartier didn't seem surprised when I told her this. In fact, she added, after he turned 18, "he asked my
daughter if she wanted him to kill me."
Cartier entered Lawrence High School but dropped out after a couple of years. "He was just getting frustrated. He
couldn't keep up," said his father. By his second semester, he was facing the first of nearly 20 criminal charges that
he piled up in courthouses from Lawrence to Brighton over a four-year period.
Along the way, he enjoyed brief notoriety as a self-avowed skinhead, sauntering into the newsroom of the Lawrence
Eagle-Tribune with his bald friends in June 1989 to complain of the bad press and "neoNazi" labels skinheads
usually got. "The state supported me all my life, with free doctors and dentists and everything," Cartier told
columnist Kathie Neff. "My parents never had anything to do with that because they got rid of me. This is like my
way of saying thanks [to them]."
Neff said Cartier cut an especially striking figure, walking on crutches and wearing a patch on one eye. He had just
survived a serious car accident that produced what seems to have been a magic purse for him. He told friends he had
a big insurance settlement coming and would get periodic advances on it from his lawyer. Gene Cartier said his son
got a final payment late last year of $17,000 and "went through $14,000" of it before he murdered Kristin.
The high-ceilinged main courtroom in Brighton has a huge, wide-barred cell built into a wall. On busy days, it is a
page from Dickens, crowded with yelling, cursing prisoners waiting for their cases to be called.
Cartier turned up in the cage April 29, 1991, finally arrested for violating probation. Ten days earlier, when Rose
Ryan was coming home from a friend's house on the "T," Boston's trolley train and subway system, Cartier followed
her-and accosted her at the Government Center station with a pair of scissors. She ducked the scissors and Cartier
punched her in the mouth.
Even before that, Ryan and her older sister Tina had become alarmed. After a party in December, Cartier got
annoyed with Rose for not wanting to eat pizza he'd just bought. She began walking back to the party when he backhanded her in the face so hard she fell down. "And I'm lying on the ground, screaming, and then he finally stopped
kicking me after I don't know how long, and then he said, 'You better get up or I'll kill you.' "
The same words he would use with Kristin. And how many other young women?
Rose Ryan said Cartier threatened to kill her several times after they broke up in December and, in a chance
encounter in March, told her he had a gun. The Ryan sisters called his probation officer in Brighton, Tom Casey. He
told Rose to get a restraining order and, on March 28, he obtained a warrant for Cartier's arrest. It took a month for
police to pick him up even though Cartier had, in between, attacked Rose in the subway and been arraigned on
charges for that assault in Boston Municipal Court.
"Probation warrants have to be served by the police, who don't take them seriously enough," said another probation
officer. "Probationers know ... they can skip court appearances with impunity."
When Cartier turned up in Brighton, "he was very quiet. Sullen and withdrawn," Casey said. "It was obvious he had
problems, deeper than I could ever get to." Yet a court psychiatrist, Dr. Mike Annunziata, filed a report stating that
Cartier had "no acute mental disorder, no suicidal or homicidal ideas, plans or intents." The April 29, 1991, report
noted that Cartier was being treated by the Tri-City Mental Health and Retardation Center in Maiden and was taking
300 milligrams of lithium a day to control depression.
Cartier, the report said, had also spent four days in January 1991 at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in
Boston. He was brought there on a "Section 12," a law providing for emergency restraint of dangerous persons,
because of "suicidal ideation" and an overdose of some sort. On April 2, 1991, he was admitted to the Center on
another "Section 12," this time for talking about killing Rose Ryan with a gun "within two weeks." He denied
making the threats and was released the next day.
Tom Casey wanted to get him off the streets this time, and a like-minded visiting magistrate ordered Cartier held on
bail for a full hearing in Brighton later in the week. When the Ryan sisters arrived in court, they found themselves
five feet away from Cartier in the cell. "Soon as he saw me," Tina Ryan said, "he said, 'I know who you are, I'm
going to kill you too,' all these filthy words, calling me everything he could......
After listening to what the Ryans had to say, the judge sent Cartier to jail on Deer Island for three months for
violating probation. The next month, he was given a year for the subway attack, but was committed for only six
That didn't stop the harassment. Cartier began making collect calls to Ryan from prison and he enlisted other
inmates to write obscene letters. The district attorney's office advised the Ryans to keep a record of the calls so they
could be used against Cartier later.
Despite all that, Cartier was released early, on Nov. 5, 1991. "'He's been a very good prisoner and we're
overcrowded,' " the Ryans say they were told.
Authorities in Essex County didn't want to see him out on the streets even if officials in Boston didn't care. As soon
as he was released from Deer Island, Cartier was picked up for violating his probation on the ketchup-bottle incident
and sentenced to 59 days in the Essex County jail. But a six-month suspended sentence that was hanging over him
for a 1988 burglary-which would have meant at least three months in jail-was wiped off the books.
"That's amazing," said another probation officer who looked at the record. "They dropped the more serious charges."
Cartier was released after serving 49 of the 59 days.
Ryan had already been taking precautions. She carried Mace in her pocketbook, put a baseball bat in her car and laid
out a bunch of knives next to her bed each night before going to sleep. "I always thought that he would come back
and try to get me," she said.
Kristin loved to go out with friends until all hours of the morning, but she didn't have many steady boyfriends. Most
men, she said more than once, "are dogs" because of the way they treated girls she knew.
She was always ready for adventure, hopping on the back of brother Charles's motorcycle for rides; curling up with
Circe, a pet ball-python she kept in her room; and flying down for a few weeks almost every August to Jekyll Island,
Ga., to be with her family, a tradition started when she was less than a week old. Last year she caught a small shark
from the drawbridge over the JekylI River.
"I think she'd give anything a go," said Jason Corkin, the young man she dated the longest, before he returned last
year to his native New Zealand. "When she set her mind to something, she wouldn't give it up for anything."
She could also become easily depressed, especially about what she was going to do after graduation. As she once
wrote, her favorite pastime was "morbid self-reflection." Despite that, laughter came easily and she was always
ready for a conversation about art, religion, philosophy, music. "I don't really remember any time we were together
that we didn't have a good time," said Bekky Elstad, a close friend from Boston University.
Left in her bedroom at her death was a turntable with Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring" on it and a tape player with a
punk tune by Suicidal Tendencies. Her books, paperbacks mostly, included Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" and
Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," along with favorites by Sinclair Lewis, Dickens and E.B. White and a
book about upper- and middle-caste women in Hindu families in Calcutta.
Her essays for school, lucid and well-written, showed a great deal of thought about art, religion and the relationship
between men and women. She saw her art as an expression of parts of her hidden deep inside, waiting to be pulled
out, but still to be guarded closely: "Art could be such a selfish thing. Everything she made, she made for herself and
not one bit of it could she bear to be parted with. Wheth ...
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