Dateline   |  May 15, 2013

May 15: 'Behind Closed Doors', Part 1

Ruth Pyne, 51, a stay at home mother of two, is found dead in her garage.  At first, her family thought it was suicide.  But why?  Dennis Murphy reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> reporter: it was a drippy friday morning, the start of memorial day weekend . bernie pyne usually took that day off work for a welcome seasonal chore, getting the back yard pool cleaned up. the unofficial start of summer at his family's home in michigan. he told his wife, ruth , it didn't make sense with the weather.

>> i remember that morning i said, hon, i'm not going to open the pool today, it's kind of soggy out there, there's no sense wasting a vacation day on a day like this.

>> reporter: so bernie took off for his job as a test engineer for a car manufacturer.

>> i remember hugging her and kissing her good-bye.

>> reporter: for ruth , his wife of 32 years, it was about to be her favorite time of year. summer in the back yard.

>> one of ruth 's favorite pastimes were tanning. she liked to be by the pool and tan.

>> reporter: julia , their little 10-year-old, had school. jeffrey , their quite a bit older boy, 21, a college student , was hanging around the house before heading off for his part-time job. and that was the start of what should have been a nothing-special day for the pyne family of highland, michigan. it would turn out to be, of course, nothing of the sort. that rainy friday was the end of everything they'd known.

>> picked up julia from school. we went to the back door like we always would.

>> reporter: the back door was the side entrance to the garage.

>> julia was first in the door. i was behind her. and she dropped her book bag and said, "dad, mom. dad, mom." and i said, "which one of us you want?"

>> reporter: julia had opened the unlocked door. behind it was a leg and a hand covered in blood.

>> and that's when we found ruth .

>> reporter: bernie ran to a neighbor toss call 911.

>> there's blood everywhere.

>> sir, you've got to come down so i can understand you.

>> reporter: when the emergency services people arrive, they found ruth pyne, 51 years old, dead in a pool of blood. jeffrey was called home from work, and bernie broke the news.

>> i told him that mom had died. of course tears welled up in his eyes, and he said, "what? no." he was upset.

>> how did you find out?

>> bernie called me. and he said, "i don't know what happened, but your sister's gone."

>> reporter: susan showerman is ruth 's sister.

>> and i just thought, oh, my gosh, she committed suicide .

>> reporter: suicide? to get some understanding why anyone would even think ruth could kill herself, we'll have to roll back the years and meet the pynes as they were.

>> i don't think i've ever met anybody who's so unabashedly devoted to his wife. he goes, i'm the luckiest guy in the world, i can't believe that she married me.

>> reporter: carol and john stako have been friends with bern rie and ruth for 30 years.

>> i think she felt fortunately to have bernie because bernie agreed that she should stay home with the children.

>> reporter: the stakos' daughters, catherine and elizabe elizabeth, spend time at the pynes' as girls and adored ruth .

>> she was always there, would play in the pool, sit and watch us. very attentive mother. like she always had to make sure we were okay.

>> reporter: and ruth welcomed guests to her table.

>> would have dinners all the time. ruth would always get something cute at like a crafts store and she'd put candy in it.

>> she always made a home-cooked meal every night, too. they didn't even have a microwave.

>> reporter: the pynes' daughter, julia , was a bright, adorable work in progress . and their first-born, jeffrey , turned out to be just one of those golden kids. a star athlete and an excellent high school student . the kind parents brag about on their bumper stickers.

>> smart, charismatic. and i felt like everybody felt that way about jeffrey .

>> he's one of those people you can always count on.

>> reporter: and ruth was one of his biggest supporters.

>> she never missed a basketball game. she was very involved as far as that and parent-teacher conferences. she would volunteer to go on field trips .

>> reporter: but behind closed doors the family was struggling with a private sorrow. when jeffrey was just 8, ruth began losing her grip. she'd go for days without sleep. she became reclusive, paranoid. a mental illness was taking hold.

>> i'll never forget, i got home from work. she said, i've got a tracking device in my bloodstream. and she really thought that she was being monitored.

>> reporter: the family tried an intervention. sister susan knew that bernie was overwhelmed.

>> he needed help to convince her that she needed to see a doctor. you know, maybe think about medication, that her thoughts weren't right. that something was wrong.

>> this is tough. you're all sitting around, what, in the kitchen or at i atable or --

>> in her living room. and she just got up and walked away. and she wasn't accepting it. she didn't believe she was ill.

>> reporter: in 1998 bernie went to court to have his wife hospitalized. ruth stayed there for two weeks, then was released with orders to take her medication.

>> ruth never wanted to take the medication. she would take it, and then she would go off of it.

>> reporter: there were long stretches when she'd take her medications and things would be okay. but sooner or later , ruth would fall off the wagon.

>> she would hide the medication under her tongue. bernie would leave for work and she would spit it out.

>> reporter: by 2009 ruth was spiraling out of control. she'd been diagnosed as bipolar with psychotic features. bernie had her hospitalized three times over the next year and had to call for police help in getting her there. refusing her meds, increasingly manic, ruth even lashed out at her 9-year-old daughter.

>> ruth did not look well. and julia simply reached over to say, mom, mom, how -- are you all right? and she actually swatted julia pretty hard on the hand.

>> reporter: a year later, it happened again with her son. it was early one morning . bernie had been pleading with his wife to take her medicine. she was still in bed.

>> and she motioned her finger for me to come over there. and i leaned over and she spit in my face.

>> reporter: he saw that jeffrey 's bedroom door was open and called for his son to reason with his mother.

>> and that's when she launched out of the bed at time and, you know, grabbed his throat and tried to hit him.

>> reporter: bernie told jeffrey to call the police. his intent, he said, was simply to get the cops to take her to the hospital. instead they charged ruth with assault and put her in jail. her only way out was to take her meds. she refused and spent 17 days behind bars before finally being sent to the hospital. but this time after her release the cycle appeared to be broken. ruth stayed on her meds.

>> our home was actually in the best place that it had been in a long time. ruth was doing very well.

>> reporter: her sister susan noticed the improvement, too.

>> she was taking her medication. i noticed that in particular because i called her and she was busy with dinner and she said, i'll call you back. i thought, i don't know if she'll call me back. she called me back. and that was big.

>> your sister's back.

>> well, it was really exciting for me that she was talking to me.

>> reporter: but just weeks after the sisters talked on may 27th , 2011 , came that awful sight. ruth behind that door. and the pyne family's tragedy was about to take a much darker turn. when investigators arrived at the garage, they determined this was no suicide. ruth pyne had been murdered.