Reno, Nevada was their honeymoon. A glitter strip of casinos, handy because Mike Kuhnhausen liked playing the slots. His new wife Susan Kuhnhausen, an emergency room nurse in Portland, Oregon, was along for the ride.
She’d advertised for a husband in the newspaper. “If you are seeking a bright, funny lady who is adventurous enough to advertise, please apply,” the black-and-white box in the classified section read.
Mike applied and, in a 1988 version of online dating, the pair chatted on the phone several times before meeting in person. Within a year, after several romantic, outdoorsy dates, the pair were in Reno. Mike playing the slots. Susan happy to have a husband.
The post-nuptials glow was short-lived. “It wasn’t very long after we were married, that there was no more hiking, no more getting out,” Susan told Willamette Week last year.
Things deteriorated as the pair were sharing a house in Portland, Oregon. Susan knows now that Mike lied about serving in the Vietnam war. He started working for an adult entertainment company. He began questioning her movements whenever she would leave the house. He was monitoring and questioning her spending.
Susan realised her husband, who chain smoked and drank Diet Coke, was depressed: “He saw life as a shit sandwich,” she said.
Finally, in September 2005, Susan told Mike to leave. She said she “wanted to be happy again”. But, what she didn’t realise, is that the period after leaving a partner who has a tendency toward domestic violence and control, is the most dangerous. According to a Domestic Violence Prevention Centre in Queensland, fear of safety is one of the topmost barriers for leaving an abusive relationship.
There is: “Fear of what he will do when he finds out you have left; fear he will carry out a threat to harm or kill you, your children or others; and fear he will carry out his threat to commit suicide if you leave,” the Centre explains on it’s website.
Mike and Susan had no children together. It was Susan who was at risk.
LISTEN: What’s behind our True Crime obsession? Post continues after audio.
On September 6, 2006, Susan, then 51, returned home from work still in her nursing scrubs and wondered why the bedroom down the hall was so darkly lit.
She’d found a note from Mike in the mudroom out the back, saying he was going away for a while to the beach. She thought nothing of it – it had been a year since she’d asked him to leave.
As she walked down the hallway to her bedroom, she was wondering if she’d forgotten to open the curtains that morning. It didn’t seem right.
Suddenly, from the behind the door, a man she’d never seen before lurched out towards her wearing rubber gloves and holding a hammer.
Susan hoped her self-defence training – mandatory for hospital staff who are at times required to handle drug addicts and physically abusive patients – would kick in. Instinctively, she knew to keep him close. To prevent him swinging the hammer.