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A year after daughter's murder, Beverly parents' pain goes on
By Chas Sisk
Staff writer

BEVERLY - A year later, Gail Corbett still feels her daughter's presence.

She's hung pictures of Lori in every room. Several sit on a small table in her living room, next to a ceramic angel and Mitch Albom's book "The Five People You Meet in Heaven."

Gail Corbett knows the exact locations where her daughter was stabbed and where she ran and where she fell. In the quiet, Corbett has gone upstairs and run her hands over the spots. A psychic told her that Lori's spirit guards over her, every hour of every day since she was murdered.

Sometimes Corbett passes by the place in the basement where Lori's murderer turned the knife on himself. Corbett stomps on it.

Sometimes she visits Lori's grave in Central Cemetery. Corbett waters the plants next to the tombstone that she and Lori share and sits on a cushion and thinks.

"You get to a point where suicide is not that far off," she said. "You just wonder sometimes, is it worth it?"

Corbett and her ex-husband, David, have struggled to make something good come of Lori's death. They have started a scholarship in her memory, and they have tried to get the Police Department to correct the mistakes that they say permitted Jason Beals, Lori's fiance and the son of a Beverly patrolman, to kill their daughter and then himself exactly one year ago today.

But Gail and David Corbett also said their grief and anger are as strong today as they were then. They question the thoroughness of the investigation and the decision to let Beals' father, Raymond, retire rather than face discipline for breaking departmental rules in the days before the murder. They wonder why police didn't call domestic violence counselors for Lori as her relationship with Jason soured. They still blame a Police Department that they believe failed them.

"To put my trust in the police department was the worst mistake I ever made," David Corbett said. "You think they're there to protect you and I put my trust in that. That's what bothers me."

Sudden ending

Lori and Jason's relationship quickly unraveled over Thanksgiving weekend a year ago. During a fight Friday night, Jason, who lived with Lori and her mother, threatened to destroy a computer that he and Lori shared. It was rare for Jason to be violent, but the incident scared Gail enough to call the police.

The dispatcher that night was Raymond Beals. Not recognizing his voice, Gail told Beals that Jason had become violent and asked for police to come to the house. Instead of sending a patrol car, Beals went himself, despite departmental guidelines discouraging dispatchers from leaving their posts and officers from handling domestic violence calls by themselves. Raymond Beals also failed to log the call, a violation of department rules and state law.

For the next two days, Lori tried to untangle her finances from Jason's. She canceled her credit cards - though not in time to prevent Jason from running up thousands in charges - and tried to reclaim a truck that she and Jason shared. That led to a physical confrontation in Seabrook, N.H., where Jason was staying, that had to be resolved by police.

Lori handled most of the details of the break-up herself, occasionally consulting her family and Raymond Beals. David Corbett says that on Sunday - the day before the murder - Lori told him that Jason had threatened to kill himself and someone else, and that Raymond Beals knew about it. This, more than anything, is what outrages him, he says.

"She put a lot of trust in this person," Corbett said. "More than she should have."

Gail Corbett is upset that Raymond Beals didn't follow the rules for domestic violence calls. If he had, Lori would have known to contact Help for Abused Women and their Children, a Salem nonprofit that works with the Beverly Police Department in domestic violence situations. HAWC could have guided Lori through the processes of obtaining an emergency restraining order and separating herself from Jason, she said.

"She thought she had to wait until Monday (to get a restraining order)," Corbett said. "If HAWC had been involved she would still be alive."

At 8 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 1, 2003, Gail Corbett left her home to clean houses in the neighborhood, one of the three part-time jobs she works. She believes that Jason was waiting for her to leave, and when she did, he went into the house and stabbed Lori with a knife from a butcher's block.

Then Jason Beals went into the basement and stabbed himself. Police responding to an interrupted 911 call discovered him there with severe wounds. He died on the way to the hospital.

The aftermath

Gail Corbett has contacted two attorneys about filing a wrongful death suit against the Beverly Police Department. Both turned down her case. She is uncertain whether she will try again, though David Corbett has retained his own lawyer and is considering legal action of his own.

Gail and David Corbett have also considered asking the Legislature to pass a law making it illegal for police officers to handle calls involving their own relatives. Most of the rules Raymond Beals broke were departmental guidelines, and until they have the force of law, the Corbetts believe there is a risk that another police officer will make the same mistakes.

They are also angry that Raymond Beals was allowed to retire rather than face discipline. Beals took with him a payout of more than $23,000 for unused vacation and sick time and an annual pension of about $40,000.

Beals could not be reached for comment. Police Chief John Cassola, meanwhile, declined to discuss the case.

Gail and David Corbett also are hopeful that an independent study released last month will prompt reforms of the Beverly Police Department. The study found that the department lacks strong leadership, is haphazard about investigating crimes, and needs to update its internal procedures.

"It's not just me that wants something done," Gail Corbett said. "It's a lot of people who want to see something done."

The grief, though, can still be overwhelming. A year later, David Corbett says the only real difference is that he cries less.

"I have a very strong faith in God," he said. "If it wasn't for that, I could not have made it."

Gail Corbett, meanwhile, has been trying to unwind Lori's finances, taking back the house and some of Lori's assets. Corbett also had to put Lori's dog, a 16-year-old cocker spaniel named Buffy, to sleep in March. The dog - aging and traumatized by the murder - tied Corbett back to the house in the months after the murder.

"I had her cremated, and she's with Lori."

Staff writer Chas Sisk can be reached at (978) 338-2582 or by e-mail at [email protected].
 

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Regardless of what people think of the officers that's a horrible thing to have happened. I don't envy any parent who has lost a child and I hope my husband and I never face that.
 
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