Beaten Mother Sent To Prison For The Way She Ended Her Relationship With Her Abusive Boyfriend
For victims of domestic abuse, getting out of the relationship and away from their abuser is truly a matter of life and death.
In 2009, one Iowa mother knew that if she didn’t get out of her relationship with her physically, verbally, and sexually abusive boyfriend, she or someone she loved would eventually pay the ultimate price. However, when a jury heard how she escaped, they sentenced her to life in prison…
The 911 Call
At about 1:50 a.m. on July 19, 2009, 44-year-old Denise Frei frantically called 911 after finding her boyfriend 33-year-old Curtis Bailey in the living room of the home that they lived in together. According to Denise, Curtis was unresponsive and was bleeding from a bad head wound.
Too Late To Help
Officers from both the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office and the Marengo Police Department responded to the call and found Curtis’ battered body in the living room of his home just like Denise had described in her 911 call. Unfortunately, help arrived too late…
Signs Of Foul Play
By the time the officers arrived at the property on W. Main Street in Marengo, Iowa, Curtis was already dead. From the minute officer’s saw him, it was clear Curtis had not died of natural causes and opened up an investigation to find out what exactly happened to him.
The Cause Of Death
After Curtis’ body was examined, the cause of death was determined to be from blunt force trauma to the back of his head, which had been crushed on the left side. Now, it was the police’s job to figure out who had killed him, and they started by speaking to the person who found him…
A Drug Deal Gone Wrong
According to Denise, Curtis had invited a few people over earlier that night to make a drug deal. While she was upstairs, an altercation broke out between Curtis and the men. By the time she made it downstairs, he was bleeding out from the hit to the head.
Denise also told police that her son, 20-year-old Jacob Hilgendorf, and his friend, 19-year-old Jessica Dayton, had been over the house that night but had left about an hour before the altercation took place and Denise found Curtis’ body. However, when the police spoke to Jacob, they found some inconsistencies in their story…
Hiding The Truth
According to Jacob, only Jessica was at the home that night. He had only come to pick her up about an hour before the murder was discovered and reported. The police became suspicious that Denise and Jacob weren’t telling the truth, and that suspicion only grew when they overheard a phone call between Denise and Jessica.
The Phone Call
After Jessica and Jacob’s initial interview, they refused to give police consent to search his car because of drug paraphernalia that may have been inside. When police let the pair go, Jessica called Denise not to give police consent to search the car. If she did, Jessica claimed, “they would all go to prison for a long time…”
The Search Warrant
Police were with Denise at the time of the call and heard every word that Jessica said. After getting a warrant to search the car, police found plastic wrap, a rock, rubber gloves, a broken candy jar, a PVC pipe, some shoes, a BB gun, and a piece of driftwood.
The more the police questioned the three, the more their story started to unravel. Eventually, both Jacob and Denise broke down and admitted they had lied about everything and that they were really the ones who had murdered Curtis early that Sunday morning…
In the next interview, Denise told police that Curtis had been physically, verbally, and sexually abusive to her. After years of abuse, Denise couldn’t take it anymore and she had to find a way to escape. But according to Denise, she couldn’t just leave him or go to the police for help.
A Battered Woman
Denise had put up with the abuse for so long, but finally snapped when he threatened her son. According to Denise, Curtis said he would burn or kill her children if she ever tried to leave him. And if she went to the police to get a restraining order, Curtis warned her that a bullet couldn’t ‘stop a bullet’…
In her confession, Denise explained that her only way to escape the abuse and keep her son safe was to murder Curtis. So Frei came up with a plan to murder her long-term boyfriend. At first, Frei tried injecting Curtis with insulin and another time tried crushing up a high dose of morphine into his food.
Planning The Perfect Murder
After those first attempts, Curtis only got sick so Frei came up with a 3rd and final plan that she believed was perfect. Frei’s new plan involved suffocating Curtis with plastic wrap since it wouldn’t leave a ligature mark on his neck. “It was supposed to be simple,” Denise said…
Fighting For His Life
After getting Curtis extremely drunk and waiting for him to pass out on the couch, Frei started wrapping Curtis’ wrists and head with the plastic wrap. However, while she was in the process of wrapping up his head, Curtis woke up and started fighting back.
Taking The Blame
“I was going to wrap it [plastic wrap] around him while he was passed out. He woke up and started fighting,” Frei explained. At that point, her 20-year-old son jumped in to help. “We had gone too far and couldn’t stop. It’s my kid protecting me. They’re not to blame…”
Kill Or Be Killed
Frei grabbed a rock and tried to hit Curtis in the head to knock him out, but it didn’t work. Jessica Dayton also jumped in to help. By the end of the fight, Curtis had been hit in the head about 30 times with a rock and an ashtray. “It was too late,” Frei said. “He would have killed us.”
Police charged Denise Frei, Jessica Dayton, and Jacob Hilgendorf with murder. During the trial, Frei tried to argue that she was a battered woman and had only committed the murder in defense. However, Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand argued that Frei wasn’t in any immediate danger. “Frei chose to kill him. Nobody had to die,” Hammerand said…
The Jury Decides
After just over 4 hours of deliberation, a jury found Frei guilty of first-degree murder on August 25, 2011. Like Frei, Dayton and Hilgendorf were also found guilty and convicted of first-degree murder. All were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In addition to her jail sentence, Judge Denver Dillard ordered Frei to pay $150,000 to Curtis’ estate and $7,932 to the Crime Victims’ Assistance Program.
Justice Is Served
“You took my dad from me. He will never see me grow up. He will never see my graduation. He will never meet his grandchildren,” Curtis’ 16-year-old son, Alex said. “The woman he trusted and loved like a second mother had planned and murdered his dad. Denise, I will never forgive you for what you have done to my family and Curt’s family,” Alex’s mom, Michelle Geary added. “We’re not vengeful people but I’m glad she’s stuck away for the rest of her life.”