SALT LAKE CITY — A retired Utah lawyer used her expertise to help victims of domestic violence before her husband killed her and then himself, a grim reminder of the unpredictability of domestic abuse and how it can affect older couples, experts said Wednesday.
Authorities found the bodies of Mary Flynn Palley, 73, and her husband, Dell Andrew Johnson, 82, after the newspaper in their town of Logan alerted police to a handwritten letter to the editor it received Friday.
Palley had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and her husband been caring for her, but she was still strong and active in the community, said her son, John Palley. The Herald-Journal said the letter mentioned her illness.
Johnson apparently shot his wife to death and then turned the gun on himself, authorities said.
She was just really a strong, passionate woman, loving and caring to everyone around her.”
-Jill Anderson. Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse executive director
Mary Palley was a smart, passionate advocate for women in the northern Utah city, her son said. She went to law school at the University of California, Los Angeles, and moved to Logan after meeting Johnson on a plane and marrying him in 1989.
“They had a good relationship, I would picture them holding hands, he took care of her,” John Palley said.
The dynamics of domestic violence tend to be different in older couples, University of Utah professor Sonia Salari said. Her research has found that in younger couples, a killing often comes after years of abuse, but with people over 60, the perpetrator, usually a man, is more likely to be suicidal and decide to take his partner with them.
There may be no red flags in the form of prior abuse, she said.
“Even if it’s the first time he’s ever been aggressive toward her, that’s still domestic violence,” she said. But “it’s important for those who are trying to interpret what happened to not assume that there was some kind of terror behind the scenes, that it was long term.”
Johnson had a few eccentricities — the former member of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints held strong opinions on the faith and thought some people had turned against him, but nothing that seemed alarming, John Palley said.
A former engineer who collected farm equipment, Johnson had talked recently about getting a gun, but that didn’t seem strange given his rural upbringing, John Palley said.
Over the years, the couple had been active in local Democratic politics, hosting events for politicians at their house, said Vincent Wickwar of the Cache County Democrats.
Mary Palley also served on the board of the Logan-based Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse for 26 years, raising money and using her legal experience to help victims get protective orders or file for divorce.
“She was just really a strong, passionate woman, loving and caring to everyone around her,” executive director Jill Anderson said.