true crime

Susan's husband hired a hitman to kill her. There was only one survivor: her.

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.

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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.

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“One minute you think you’re a regular person in the world,” she told Willamette Week. “And then you’re not.”

She pushed him to the wall. “You’re strong,” he commented. Damn right she was.

She grabbed the hammer out of his hands and hit him over the head in return. She started choking him, screaming in his face “WHO SENT YOU?”

As his cheeks started turning purple, Susan bolted for the door. She was too slow.

He grabbed her, punched her in the face and stood over her with the hammer. She was sure she would die.

She forced him to the floor alongside her, the two of them jammed in the narrow hallway, and began biting him.

She was biting through his jeans, at the same time trying to search his pockets, to find anything that might identify him that she could slide into the bedroom.

She wanted a lead for the police to follow once the man inevitably killed her.

Somehow, miraculously, she got on top of him and put him in a chokehold. “TELL ME WHO SENT YOU AND I’LL CALL YOU AN AMBULANCE,” she screamed, KPTV Fox 12 reports.

His body went limp and she fled to her neighbour’s house.

“We have an intruder in the house next door,” the neighbour’s call to emergency services began, Willamette Week reports. “The intruder was in the bedroom with a hammer. The woman who lives there thinks she may have strangled him. He was down when she left. She’s bleeding.”

“Does she need an ambulance?” the dispatcher asked.

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“No, she’s a nurse. She says call an ambulance for the guy. He may be dead.”

Susan Kuhnhausen. Image via KPTV - FOX 12.

The man, later identified as 59-year-old Ed Haffey, had extreme levels of cocaine in his system when he died and was quickly linked to Susan's husband, Mike.

Years before, after Haffey had been released from jail for another offence - another murder - Mike had hired him to sweep floors at the adult entertainment network at which he worked.

Sweeping floors led to another contract - one that saw Mike offer Haffey $50,000 to kill his wife Susan.

Haffey died from Susan's strangulation and Mike was imprisioned. Though he pleaded guilty to soliciting Susan's murder, he said later he only issued the plea to reduce his sentence. He never showed remorse, and maintained he was the victim in an unhappy marriage. He died in June 2014, only three months before he was due to be released.

And then there's Susan, now Susan Walters. She has never been the same since.

She lives with the horrible understanding that her husband hated her enough to kill her. That he was after money from the house in which she lived, knowing that it would be passed to him.

She lives with the knowledge that she is only alive because another man is dead. A stranger to her, someone motivated by greed and poor intentions. "I'm doing a life sentence for picking a bad husband," she said.

But one thing to her remains clear: "I didn't choose his death," she told KPTV Fox 12. "I chose my life."

"If you feel like, 'wow I don't feel like I can do that.' You can. You're stronger than you know."