Special Reports

Crystal Brame: A life of abuse

At Mount Tahoma High School, Crystal Judson was a hard-working honor student and a member of the school Daffodil Court. She hustled off to ballet as soon as school let out.

Seventeen years later, Crystal Judson was Crystal Brame, the terrified wife of a man she said abused her, threatened her, and, she feared, would kill her.

Saturday, Crystal Brame's husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, shot her in the head while the two talked in a Gig Harbor parking lot. Then he fatally shot himself.

Crystal Brame remains in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

As her family maintains a vigil at her bedside, high school friends fondly remembered an upbeat buddy with a beautiful smile. The girl who sat with her best friends in the front of the room in her favorite English class.

The bright memories contrast sharply with the life described in a psychologist's evaluation filed in King County Superior Court in the Brames' divorce records.

The couple was estranged and their divorce pending when David Brame shot his wife.

The four-page report by Maxwell Knauss, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Tacoma, was completed April 4. He declined to be interviewed about his evaluation.

In the report, Knauss noted Crystal Brame showed evidence of anxiety, depression and possible Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of abuse by her husband.

"Specifically," Knauss wrote, "Mrs. Brame's major fears are that if she proceeds with the divorce process, her husband will use his power and resources to destroy her reputation, will continue to pursue her and retaliate against her for years, or will kill her, leaving her children to grow up without their mother."

Knauss and others describe several instances of psychological abuse Crystal Brame suffered at the hands of her husband. Knauss wrote that she told him that her husband:

•Required her to weigh herself daily in front of him.

•Insisted on being present when she used the toilet and at her gynecological exams.

•Forced her to ask permission before she made any purchases.

•Made her explain every visit outside the house.

•Monitored the mileage on her car.

Crystal's sister, Julie Ahrens, filed a declaration saying Crystal never went out with friends because David Brame didn't let her have any.

He restricted her use of the telephone and gave her an allowance of $100 every two weeks for gas and family expenses, Ahrens wrote. If she spent more, she had to show him receipts to be reimbursed.

Ahrens also wrote that David Brame would send Crystal flowers with a card from an anonymous admirer. He then would berate her about who the flowers were from.

In his own declaration, David Brame denied abusing his wife in any way, and said she had a ferocious temper and was unstable. She physically abused him, David Brame wrote, and beat the children, as well.

Ahrens' testimony that Crystal Brame had few friends seems borne out by court records.

Traditionally, people in divorces have friends write statements in support of their parenting abilities. Crystal's letters are from neighbors who didn't know her well and from the owner of a store where she shopped.

It's a far cry from Crystal's youth in South Tacoma, where her many childhood friends are easy to find.

Crystal, Suzanne Stewart and Rachelle McGinnis sat together, near their friends David and Dean Curry, in honors classes such as Lee Whitehall's English class at Mount Tahoma. They were in the class of 1986.

"She was a good student," said Whitehall, now retired. "She was very conscientious. She took great care with her work. She paid attention in class.

"She was someone who was really motivated and well-liked. She was one of the people in the class that I think everyone thought would do well. She smiled a lot. She had a beautiful smile."

Suzanne Stewart remembers Crystal as sweet and gentle.

"We went to Mount Tahoma, which could be a little bit rough, but she was not the kind of person who would ever abuse someone or assault someone," Stewart said.

She leafed through her high school yearbook Monday, remembering that Crystal was on the tennis team, the yearbook staff and the Daffodil Court.

Rachelle McGinnis was the Daffodil Princess that year, and adored her sweet, pretty friend.

But she didn't see Crystal much outside of school, McGinnis said. Crystal spent a lot of time with her parents, Lane and Patty Judson, and her younger sister, Julie.

"She's a very private person, very close to her mother, very close to her sister," McGinnis said. "Her sister was her best friend."

Crystal had a college-age boyfriend, McGinnis said, so she didn't go to regular high school dances very often, if ever, and wasn't the type to go to parties.

"We studied together at lunch," McGinnis said.

After school, Crystal often headed for ballet at the Jo Emery Ballet School. She was an avid dancer for years, her friends said.

"She adored dancing," Jo Emery said. "She was very pretty, and I remember her being in classes."

After graduation Crystal went to the University of Washington, finishing a degree in criminal justice in four years.

She married David Brame in August 1991, when she was 23. It was his second marriage, her first. They had two children, Haley, now 8, and David, 5.

Crystal Brame has been a careful mother, say school associates and her few friends.

"Crystal has always been a caring, loving, attentive, devoted mother to her children," wrote Linda Lee Clarke, owner of the Gig Harbor store Seasons on the Bay, in a letter in the divorce file.

Marcia Smith, one of Haley's teachers, wrote another letter in the file, saying Crystal is a conscientious parent who meets her daughter at the door when school gets out and reads to her children every night.

Neighbors Anthony and Mary Shepard wrote that Crystal was a loving, doting mother who was always near when her children played outside.

Clarke, of the Gig Harbor store, also noted that Crystal's life seemed carefully controlled.

"I have watched her count pennies, nickels and dimes - quite literally - to buy small items with change she managed to save from her very meager household allowance," Clarke wrote. "I have noticed over the passage of time that Crystal has become strained, fragile and worried about the approval of her husband."

Neighbor Marty Conmy told a reporter that Crystal Brame's demeanor changed after she left her husband Feb. 24.

Before, she had been timid and nervous. When he saw her April 19, he said, "She spoke clearly. She spoke in complete sentences. Her body language was open and relaxed."

"When I saw her demeanor (was changed) last week," Conmy said, "I thought, that woman has been terrorized before our eyes."

Crystal described a terrifying life to the psychologist Knauss.

She told Knauss her husband pushed and shoved her, put his hands around her neck, intimidated her with firearms and threatened to kill her. She said that he falsely accused her of being unfaithful.

She also said David Brame was involved in affairs, and that he tried to get Crystal to participate in wife-swapping, threesomes and group sex activities. She said she refused, which made him angry.

Knauss did not try to determine whether what Crystal said about her husband was true.

However, he wrote that she was not delusional. He gave her four psychological tests and met with her four times. Testing indicated she was insecure and has "low self-esteem, dependency issues and is very attuned and sensitive to other people's opinion of her."

In addition, she is in a general state of "anxiety, tension and apprehension" and for a long time was preoccupied with "feelings of depression, guilt and hopelessness."

Crystal Brame agreed with test results that showed "she believes that she is being plotted against and that other individuals are attempting to influence her to make her believe that she is crazy."

Knauss recommended therapy for her.

"She impresses me as being remarkably free of bitterness towards her husband and understands the need for the two of them to collaborate in parenting their children. ...

"Mrs. Brame is committed to building a new life for herself as a single person and to helping her children adjust to the divorce."

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658