'I'm lucky I'm alive': Edmonton woman trapped in U.S. after fleeing violent husband

Kay Bohemier moved from Edmonton to the United States because she fell in love with a prisoner, a violent man who promised he could change. Now she is hiding from that same man and feels like a prisoner herself.

Warning: This story includes graphic and disturbing details

An Edmonton woman is stranded in North Carolina in the middle of the pandemic. Her husband with a violent criminal record is accused of assaulting her and she's in hiding, desperate to return to Canada when it's safe to do so. 2:01

Kay Bohemier moved from Edmonton to the United States because she fell in love with a prisoner, a violent man who promised he could change.

Now Bohemier herself has become a prisoner, hiding out in North Carolina from the man she married, desperate to escape horrendous domestic violence and return to Canada.

Broke, frightened and feeling helpless, the former stock car racer has been cut off from family and friends during a pandemic that has made travel far more difficult. 

She said she won't feel safe until she is back home and her husband is back behind bars.

"When you come forward, you're 10 times more likely to be killed," Bohemier, 49, told CBC News in an interview. "Especially when he's as violent as he is. I'm terrified."

State police say Bohemier is a victim of domestic violence, and officers have placed her in a secure location so her husband can't find and hurt her. 

She decided to tell her story to encourage other women to come forward and seek help if they are being abused. 

In 2018, Bohemier began corresponding with John Paul Gaddy, 31, after she saw his profile on the website writeaprisoner.com.

At the time, Gaddy was serving a nine-year sentence for manslaughter and arson after he beat a man to death with a crowbar in 2010, then set the victim's home on fire.

Bohemier decided to establish a pen-pal relationship with Gaddy.

"We wrote back and forth for over a year," she said. "I trusted him."

She said Gaddy told her about all the prison courses he had taken aimed at rehabilitation. She thought he was no longer the angry young man who had killed someone. 

"I truly believe people can change," she said.

In hindsight, she admitted she chose to ignore or explain away the red flags that might have stopped her from leaving her life in Edmonton for what she thought would be a romantic new adventure. 

"He promised me the world," said Bohemier, who has a university degree in business management and accounting. "He would take care of me. He loved me. I was everything to him. And I believed him." 

Last September, the mother of five, whose children are mostly grown, quit her job in Edmonton as a gravel truck driver and drove down to the United States on a six-month visitor visa. When Gaddy was released on parole on Sept. 2, 2019, she was at the Avery-Mitchell Correctional Institution in Spruce Pine, N.C., to pick him up.

"I thought he had changed," said Bohemier, who admitted she sometimes likes to take chances. 

The first attack happened in October, she said, when he put his hands around her neck. 

She went to the hospital because she had neck pain, blurry vision, a headache and was unable to hear out of one ear.

But she didn't tell the doctor the truth about her injuries. In a medical record provided to CBC News, a doctor wrote of Bohemier: "Reports that last night she was in a bar in downtown Charlotte when she was assaulted when she went to the bathroom."

The doctor said Bohemier told him a woman had tried to strangle her and she was punched in the head and had her head slammed against a wall. 

She was given pain medication and written advice about domestic violence.  

Two weeks later, on Nov. 2, 2019, Gaddy beat her unconscious with a blow to the head while they were in a car, she said. 

"From what I remember, we were having a disagreement about something and he just snapped. He said he was going to kill me." 

John Paul Gaddy with Kay Bohemier in November 2019. not long after he got out of prison. (Supplied by Kay Bohemier)

Though she was covered in blood, Gaddy drove to a gas station to fill up the car. While he was out of the car, Bohemier took a photo of herself. Gaddy was unnerved when he got back in the driver's seat because he thought someone had spotted the blood and was going to call 911. He wanted to rush back home. She wanted to go to the hospital.

"And he said no, we can't take you to the hospital," Bohemier recalled. "I've got to take you home and clean up the blood because I'll be arrested if they see you like this."

Police went to their house to check on her welfare. Gaddy was nearby, listening. 

"I was terrified," she said. "I lied actually and said I got jumped at the gas station. I didn't tell them it was him."

Bohemier felt like it was easier to lie to the police than to risk Gaddy's wrath. 

"The thing that went in my mind was if I tell them, he's going to kill me eventually. So I hid it."

Bohemier remembered what Gaddy had told her during an argument she secretly recorded, after she suggested she was going to call 911. She provided the recording to CBC News. 

"Don't call 911, because I'll kill you and I'll kill my-goddamn-self," Gaddy yelled on the tape. 

"We'll look just like somebody on ABC News."

'You know I'd never hurt you for real'

The abuse continued.

Bohemier said she packed her bags and tried to leave many times. One time, she said, Gaddy tried to strangle her. With her suitcase open on the floor, she again secretly recorded their argument by placing her phone in her bra. 

Kay Bohemier shows injuries she suffered in the November 2019 assault. (Kay Bohemier )

Gaddy clearly sounded agitated when Bohemier screamed at him, "You put your hands on me. You grabbed me." 

Soon there was the sound of her being hit and yelling in pain. She begged him to stop. 

Gaddy tried to calm her down for more than 10 minutes as she cried and hyperventilated. 

"You know I'd never hurt you for real," he said. "I know in my mind not to hurt somebody I love. I ain't that stupid." 

He apologized and told her he loved her. 

"I love you, too," she responded. 

An expert on domestic violence said studies have shown a victim can leave her partner between seven and 20 times before fleeing for good. 

"It's definitely not the same for each woman and their circumstances are very different," said Esther Elder with Calgary-based women's shelter Discovery House. 

Kay Bohemier's suitcase waiting to be packed as she secretly recorded an argument with John Gaddy. (Kay Bohemier )

"The cycle of violence often begins with a honeymoon period, when the perpetrator is very charming and very caring, which is then followed by increased coercive control that limits the victim's ability to act. That builds to violence, followed by a renewed and shortened honeymoon period."

Bohemier said she began to feel like a hostage. 

"He kept me in the house and wouldn't allow me to leave," she said. "He's taken my cellphone, my car keys. I'm lucky I'm alive."

She married Gaddy in February. 

"I was in it for the long haul," she said. "I was determined to make it work." 

Criminal charges laid 

When the pandemic hit, Bohemier said her husband often spent his days in quarantine sharpening a machete. 

"He had knives all over the house," she said. "He had knives in the bathroom, he had knives in the kitchen, he had knives in the bedroom." 

John Paul Gaddy on the day he married Kay Bohemier in February 2020. (Supplied by Kay Bohemier)

Bohemier began communicating with a Canadian women's shelter. She tried to come up with a final escape plan. 

On Friday, May 15, while Gaddy was in the shower, she grabbed the car keys and fled for the last time. 

A few days later, she went to the police to report the November assault. 

After a six-day investigation, Gaddy was charged on the Memorial Day long weekend with felonious assault, assaulting a woman and assault and battery. He was taken into custody, but inmate records show he was only held for 36 hours. 

"Monday was a holiday," Bohemier said. "They had to release him. They can't keep him 48 hours without seeing a judge. So they released him on bond."

Police found a safe place for her to stay. A judge issued a one-week restraining order. 

Gaddy remains free on probation from his 2010 manslaughter conviction and wears an electronic monitor. Bohemier can't understand why he hasn't been taken back into custody, given the new charges he now faces. 

Elder said Bohemier's situation is dangerous. 

"She has a right to feel the way that she is feeling," she said. "When a woman initially leaves, she is at the greatest risk of homicide." 

Mother's Day card John Gaddy gave to Kay Bohemier in May 2020. She left him five days later. (Supplied by Kay Bohemier )

In Canada, a woman is killed every six days by a current or former intimate partner. Elder said during the pandemic, domestic violence has increased in both severity and frequency. 

Bohemier wants to return to Canada, but has no money and no source of income. A Canadian friend has started a GoFundMe campaign on her behalf. 

Crossing the border will be more complicated because of the pandemic. 

"I've contacted the Canadian embassy to find out if they'll let me back," Bohemier said. "I've got to come armed with all the police reports, my medical records and everything when I get to the borders." 

She would also have to provide a two-week quarantine plan. All the while fearing what her husband might do if he finds her. 

"I'm happy that I finally came forward and told my story for the first time, because I'm the victim," she said. "I did not deserve that."

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston