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Turbulent relationship ends with murder, suicide

He threatened to kill her. She got a court order to keep him away. Nobody knows how or why she went to his trailer, where both were found dead.

By ERIN SULLIVAN
Published December 2, 2006


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DADE CITY - He punched her, pulled her hair, scratched her face. Sometimes she came to work with black eyes. Sometimes co-workers followed her home to make sure he wasn't waiting for her.

Christine Bartlett got a court order in October requiring Nicholas Claffey to stay away. "He has threatened my life ... repeatedly," she wrote in the petition.

Despite her efforts to keep him away, however, she was found at his side Wednesday evening, inside Claffey's weathered trailer at Lake Gilbert RV Park. She had been killed with a knife. He died of a gunshot to the temple.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office labeled it a murder-suicide - the first of two that day - but questions remain:

Why was she there?

Was she kidnapped?

He had been enrolled in a batterer's intervention program through the court system.

Was she giving him another chance?

* * *

Bartlett, 38, worked as a waitress at John's Steak & Seafood Restaurant in Zephyrhills. Claffey, 50, was listed in court records as disabled. She was petite, with dark hair and dark eyes. He was average in height and weight. He had blue eyes and a scar on his back.

The two had been in a turbulent relationship for seven years, according to Bartlett's injunction request.

In that paperwork, Bartlett described an Oct. 6 incident at the RV they shared in Palm View Gardens in Zephyrhills, where Claffey barricaded her inside, "repeatedly punched me in the head, pulled (my) hair & tossed me around the house & threaten(ed) myself & family," she reported.

She said he had threatened others. She said he had guns.

She described another incident Sept. 29. She was trying to get a ride to work when "he tried to force me out of the car and proceeded to pull & yank at my hair. ..."

"He would not bring me to work & said he was going to kidnap me." After an "hour of fear & abuse," she wrote, he let her go.

* * *

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper granted the injunction Oct. 25 requiring Claffey to stay away. Among the conditions, Claffey was ordered not to have guns. Claffey signed an affidavit saying he had none.

Around that time, Claffey moved into the Lake Gilbert RV Park on U.S. 301, in the last home on the lonely road, just before the junkyard and the lake.

He told his new neighbor, Arnold Beverly, that he had come from Kentucky, where he'd been a coal miner. Beverly, 56, is a Kentucky native, too.

"We were both hillbillies," Beverly said.

But the neighbor sensed Claffey was depressed. Beverly asked him a couple weeks ago to listen to music and share a few beers. Claffey declined.

"He said he'd rather sit alone even when he was feeling lonesome," Beverly said.

In a matter of weeks, Claffey violated the injunction. On Nov. 8, Bartlett and a friend came home and saw Claffey waiting for her. They drove off. He chased them.

In the sheriff's report, Bartlett told an officer that Claffey also had been leaving her an "enormous amount of voice messages."

Bartlett's boss, Nick Gabriel, said she arrived at work with black eyes. He said everyone knew about her situation.

"What kind of moron would raise his hand to a woman?" Gabriel said and shook his head.

She was scheduled to work Wednesday from 5 p.m. till closing. Gabriel said Bartlett was prompt and never missed work, so he knew something was wrong when she didn't show.

A neighbor at the RV park also suspected something was wrong. She knocked several times at Claffey's trailer on Wednesday and got no answer, sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said. About 5:20 p.m., the neighbor went into the trailer and found the two dead.

Bartlett had four children who live with their father in Jacksonville, Gabriel said. Her family could not be reached Thursday.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609. St. Petersburg Times reporters Chuin-Wei Yap and Molly Moorhead and Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

[Last modified December 1, 2006, 21:58:13]


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