Emerald City Tragedy
“He told us if we did what he asked us to do, he wouldn’t hurt us. He lied, he lied,” said Teresa Butz, her final words as she bled to death in her partner’s arms on the street outside their Seattle home last summer. Ninety minutes earlier, they’d woken up to their worst nightmare: a naked man standing over their bed with a knife at 1:30 AM.
The evening I first saw the report on the news, I was making dinner with my girlfriend, our dog at my feet, when the face of Teresa Butz, 39, flashed across the screen. “Turn it up,” I said.
“A woman was murdered in an apparent home invasion,” the anchor reported. The photo of Teresa was quickly cut by footage of the police briefing. Even though I only saw Teresa’s face for a split second, I knew she was one of us.
Not much information was given that night: a possible robbery, a struggle, a murder, a mug shot. The suspect was still on the loose. Police warned he was dangerous.
That week, I followed the investigation and became increasingly affected by its unfolding story. It was a lesbian couple. They were planning a fall wedding.
While Seattle police searched tirelessly for the suspect, the community was devastated, gripped by fear and confusion. “At the community information meeting on the Monday after the attack, there was a lot of misdirected rage and sadness,” remembers L. Beth Yockey Jones, who lived next door to Teresa from 2006 – 2009. “People who wanted to share their feelings about Teresa and her impact on their lives.”
“The attack on Teresa and her partner hit a lot of people in Seattle very hard, but not just lesbians,” says Seattle City Councilmember Sally Clark, a pillar in the dyke community and one of two out city councilmembers. Shockwaves were felt through the entire city. But they didn’t stop there—the waves made it all the way to Vancouver, BC, where I live and see the Seattle news on a nightly basis. Even without knowing Teresa, I, too, was profoundly affected.
The clock ticked and more about the case emerged: That awful night, neighbors heard screams and ran into the street to help Teresa and her partner, Jennifer, 36, who’d also been stabbed, although her wounds weren’t fatal. The manhunt continued and the police worked night and day. And, slowly, more of what really happened inside their home floated to the surface.
Interim Police Chief John Diaz told the Seattle Times “it was the most brutal crime he and his officers had seen in some time.” Diaz vowed to put every available resource into catching the man. At a press conference, Assistant Chief Nick Metz added, “It’s one of those things I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The details of the attack are devastating and I warn you before reading on. Writer Eli Sanders with The Stranger (an alternative weekly paper in Seattle) did a valiant, thorough and eloquent job covering the case and was the only one to print the details released by King County prosecutors verbatim, most media outlets summarized because they were gruesome. “I don’t think there’s any reason to hide from public view exactly how horrific these attacks were,” Sanders wrote in his blog, “and exactly what these women did to try and stop them.” (I’ve scaled back what he bravely excerpted, but if you’d like to forgo the details entirely, skip the next paragraph.)
It was a sweltering night in Seattle and the attacker climbed through an open window into the home of Teresa and Jennifer, who woke to him standing over them. He was naked and held a knife. For ninety minutes, he repeatedly sexually assaulted them (in every way possible). Throughout that long hour and a half, “the man also physically assaulted them with a butcher knife,” reported Sanders. “He repeatedly used the knife to cut the necks of both women. After a time, the physical assaults intensified. The man began cutting more aggressively on the necks of both women.” Jennifer, in particular, began losing a large amount of blood. Eventually, Teresa was able to kick the man off the bed and the women tried to defend themselves. “Enraged, the man punched T.B. [Teresa] in the face with either his fist or the butt of the knife, knocking her across the room,” reported Sanders. He then attacked Teresa again with the knife, stabbing her multiple times in the arm and chest. Finally, Teresa broke free and fled through a window she smashed open with a nightstand. Jennifer escaped out the front door and they met in the street, where Teresa collapsed and died. The suspect fled.
Five days after the horrific incident, police caught the monster. The arrest was facilitated by a Metro Bus driver who recognized the suspect’s face, plastered all over the neighborhood. According to police, they arrested him at the park with his Pit Bull. His jacket had blood stains on it and DNA evidence connects him to the crime.
The Community Reacts
Following the attacks, many stood up and let their voices be heard. “I heard from women who were scared,” says Clark. “I heard from women who were angry. I heard from women who wanted to fight back in some way, but didn’t know what to do. There’s a feeling of powerlessness and fear that this kind of attack spreads like a germ.”
Unsure how to channel her own emotion, Yockey Jones planned a vigil. “I organized the vigil for those of us who had been impacted or helped by Teresa to share our stories and memories,” says Yockey Jones. It brought the people together both from the neighborhood where Teresa and Jennifer lived, South Park (south Seattle), and within the gay community.
“I think many people found some comfort in the community gathering that took place on the South Park Community Center lawn a few days after the attack,” remembers Clark. “Many of Teresa’s and her partner’s friends spoke about them. A young girl talked about finding them in the street. The Seattle Women’s Chorus sang.”
“I didn’t know T as well as other people,” says Yockey Jones, “but I felt like I had to DO something. It was a larger event than I thought it would be but I felt like it helped.”
“A Life Full of Love, Loud Laugher and Purpose”
These words were used to describe Teresa in her obituary. As the days passed, a clearer picture of Teresa emerged, too.
Known as T-Buzz, T-Butz or Twirds to those closest to her, Teresa Ann Butz grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. She graduated Bishop DuBourg High School and the University of Missouri (St. Louis). She was one of 11 brothers and sisters and had returned to St. Louis months earlier to celebrate her parents’ 50th anniversary.
After college, Teresa worked in the cruise industry and then moved to Seattle. At the time of her death, she was a general manager for Regus Group, a company that rents office space to businesses. A kind soul, Teresa was on the Board of Directors for social service agency The Compass Center, which provides support for homeless and low-income people. She was an athletic third baseman, a loving girlfriend, a cherished sister and daughter.
Like so many lesbians, Teresa loved her music. “I used to tease her about her taste in music,” remembers Yockey Jones playfully. “The last time we hung out was when Scott (my husband) and I drove Teresa and her partner to the airport to go on some dykey music cruise with Melissa Etheridge and k. d. lang.”
One of Teresa’s brothers, Tim Butz, spoke with the Seattle Times shortly after the murder. The last time he saw Teresa was just 10 days earlier. “I told her I loved her and put her in a cab and never saw her again,” he said, according to the Seattle Times.
Tim also told the Seattle Times that he and his sister spent hours playing catch as kids. “In a family dominated by boys, Teresa held her own. My sister went toe-to-toe,” he said.
Another one of Teresa’s brothers, Tony award-winning actor Norbert Leo Butz, had been in Seattle preparing for the musical “Catch Me If You Can.” The 5th Avenue Theater cancelled the first two performances of the show, which was scheduled to begin the week of the murder.
Yockey Jones remembers her former neighbor as “generous, funny, caring, always ready with a laugh or a hug when you needed it.” She talks about how those close to the atrocity are doing today. “I see how Teresa’s partner is surviving and being joyful. It helped a lot when they caught the asshole who attacked them… We (my husband and I) are thankful that we knew Teresa, and sad that we weren’t there to help out after the attack. We still own the house next door, and hearing the people who rent it from us talk about what happened was gruesome.”
A Random Act of Violence?
Police still hold firm that the attacker didn’t know the women and the attack was random, but it’s hard to believe. Would this suspect have broken into a home and stood over a bed if there had been a woman and a MAN lying in it? “Like a lot of people I wonder why he chose their house,” says Clark. “I wonder if he’ll ever confirm why he chose their house.”
“I don’t think the attack or the violence of it should be called random, but I’m not a prosecutor or a judge,” says Clark. “The attacker clearly thought out how to enter a home, rape, mutilate two people, and then exit. And he carried out the attack over a period of time in the night. That’s not random to me. It’s sick and inexplicable, but not random.”
Regardless of why this evil chose their house, two lesbians’ lives were forever changed and the rest of us should take what we can from their story. Personally, I’ve yet to find the words to articulate the myriad ways Teresa and Jennifer’s story has affected me. For starters: I double-check my locks at night and am sure to tell those close to me I love them at every opportunity.
As with so many tragedies, light can come from darkness. “I know Teresa’s loved and celebrated…I believe there is a violence prevention program being started in her memory,” says Yockey Jones. “I feel terrible that this all happened, but hope that people will find a way to connect with each other and in their communities so that this doesn’t happen again.”
Teresa will forever be immortalized by her laugh, her infectious smile and for sacrificing herself so her beloved partner could escape. To the girlfriend left behind, Jennifer, I send my deepest most heartfelt sympathy—may you and her family/friends find healing and peace on the heels of this awful nightmare.