For some couples, Valentine’s Day isn’t about flowers and chocolate.
According to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is one of the leading causes of death for women under the age of 44—with nearly half of all female homicide victims murdered by a current or former male intimate partner. After digging deeper, A&E Real Crime found it’s not uncommon for this violence to reach a deadly peak on what’s presumably the most romantic day of the year.
Here are four instances when Valentine’s Day turned deadly.
The Murder of Tara Grant
In Washington Township, Michigan, Stephen Grant and his wife Tara had a seemingly peaceful marriage, until Tara’s disappearance in February 2007.
Grant called police to report his wife missing on February 14, saying she had left their home five days earlier. When Tara’s torso was found a few weeks later in the family garage, Stephen immediately became a suspect.
Family and friends were stunned by the murder, which none of them saw coming.
Stephen Grant was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to a minimum of 50 years in prison.
While some murders appear to come out of nowhere, most are preceded by a long history of violence or threatening behavior, says Dr. Paul Schewe, director of the University of Illinois, Chicago’s Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Violence. “Most of the time we see a cycle of violence. The spouse is violent, but then he shows remorse and there’s a honeymoon period,” he says. “Then the tension builds up in the relationship until there’s another incident, and the cycle repeats itself tens or hundreds of times.”
Men who kill after a “sudden snap,” like Grant seemingly did, are more mysterious. “That’s a super rare event,” Schewe says. “The more rare an event, the more difficult it is as a social scientist to study and understand.”
The Murder of Gregory M. Stack
On February 14, 2015, Dawn Dixon-Bey of Jackson, Michigan, stabbed her boyfriend, Gregory M. Stack, twice in the chest, landing both blows through his heart and killing him instantly. She claimed the murder was in self-defense.
Stack’s body showed no defensive wounds and was found lying in front of his couch, suggesting that he was asleep or lying down during the attack.
Dixon-Bey’s motive? Her defense claimed that Stack had long been abusive toward her, and that he threw a dog cage at her before her attack.
Dixon-Bey was convicted of second-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to 35 to 70 years in prison.
While men are the ones who overwhelmingly kill their partners, women kill as well. According to Schewe, often murder cases where a woman claims she was abused by a partner are referred to as “self-help violence,” where women feel as if killing their partner is the only way out of a relationship.
“These women might feel trapped, or that they have no support or they have no other option,” Schewe says. “They could be fearful of their lives, and so for them, killing their partner is the only way they feel they can escape.”
The Murder of Tomicka Peterson
When one partner decides to end a relationship, the other may sometimes wrestle with feelings of betrayal, causing them to lash out. Such was the case with a West Palm Beach, Florida man, Gibson Paul, who shot and killed his ex-girlfriend, Tomicka Peterson, on Valentine’s Day 2011.
Paul was convicted of first-degree murder, aggravated assault, shooting into an occupied vehicle and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to life in prison.
“Domestic violence is all about power and control,” says Schewe. “Sometimes, when men feel a loss of power in the relationship, they resort to violence to try to regain that power. Men tend to be more violent in general, and they tend to use their physical size and strength to get what they want.”
The Murder of Michelle Gomez
Sometimes, feelings of betrayal can intensify into violence when an ex-romantic partner starts to date again.
After 17-year-old Michelle Gomez had ended her relationship with her boyfriend, Jerry DeLeon, he confronted her angrily during a salon appointment on Valentine’s Day 2002.
Overcome with jealousy, DeLeon approached Gomez while she was getting her hair done with her mother, in order to coax Gomez back into a relationship. When Gomez refused, DeLeon opened fire, killing Gomez before turning the gun on himself.
DeLeon’s uncle, Julio Garcia, told the New York Daily News that his nephew was nice, “but very jealous.” And although DeLeon had a history of violent, threatening behavior toward Gomez, she never pressed charges.
But sadly, even women who file restraining orders after ending a relationship can be the victims of a violent attack.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a piece of paper,” says Schewe. “It doesn’t stop a bullet. Women need to assess their risk for a fatal injury, and once they decide to leave [the relationship], they may have to disappear. And that’s really hard to do, unfortunately.”