Fatal Fathers follows horrific, violent trend

By Sid Smith, Chicago Tribune arts critic

Though its appeal is seemingly due to its freakish nature, the gripping, ugly details of the Laci Peterson case is increasingly drawing attention to the tragic truth that such murders are by no means unusual.

In fact, homicide is a leading cause of death among pregnant women in many cities around the U.S., a disturbing statistic energizing "Fatal Fathers: A Bill Kurtis Special Report" (airing at 7 p.m. Monday on the A&E cable channel).

The special relies on statistics from the National Coalition against Domestic Violence to support this claim, but, in any event, it also reveals that, at the very least, the death of pregnant women at the hands of their husbands or lovers is certainly more common than many of us could ever conceive.

Like most of Kurtis' engaging cable offerings, this one is really more in the manner of a true-crime potboiler than a serious investigative documentary.

But, like most of his work, it is slickly and sensitively handled, enhanced by his persuasive, patricianlike broadcast persona as narrator and a respectful, carefully researched script.

To bolster its claim, the one-hour offering cites the Peterson case and then focuses in detail on four other harrowing instances from recent crime annals. Each is a horrifying glimpse at a social problem most of us aren't really aware exists.

And yet we should be, since at least one of the stories involves a quasi-celebrity: Rae Carruth, one-time rising star with the Carolina Panthers. Carruth, already saddled with support payments due to an earlier child by another woman, was convicted of plotting to kill Cherica Adams, shot by a hit man but surviving long enough to call 911 by cell phone and implicate Carruth on tape. (He's now serving time while his surviving, 4-year-old son suffers brain damage from the shooting.)

The other murders are the bludgeoning death of Jennifer Montroy by her husband, Joseph Peck, in the early '90s in Florida, after which he brazenly hops on a plane and flies to visit her Oklahoma family in a futile effort for an alibi; the death of Ruth Croston in 1998 in Atlanta at the hands of her common-law husband, Reginald Falice, enraged that she left before the birth of their second child; and the shooting death of Jenny McMechen in Connecticut in 2001, when her abusive boyfriend, Michael Latour, showed up at the friend's house where she was staying, killing both her and her unborn child.

The documentary briefly touches on the psychopathic nature of these killings and on the warning signs: threats, earlier violence and gun ownership are telltale symptoms. One of these victims was locked in a room, for instance, and guarded by her lover's relatives long before the actual murder. There is also a quick look at legislation potentially effective in discouraging these crimes and in bringing them to light.

In any event, for all our fascination with nightly reports of the Scott Peterson trial, this report offers sickening evidence that many such killings fall beneath the 24-hour news tabloid radar.



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