Anne-Christine Johnson kept ties to ex-husband to be around her son
By Harvey Rice Jan. 15, 2017 Updated: Jan. 16, 2017 8:47am
GALVESTON – In the summer of 2015, Anne-Christine Johnson accused her ex-husband, Shaun Hardy, of pointing a loaded shotgun at her, choking her, striking her with a shotgun barrel, slamming her head into a wall and threatening her with a knife.
He also threatened to use a hypodermic needle to shoot a concoction of drugs into her mouth that would render her unconscious, then drag her into the bathroom and slit her wrists so that it would look like suicide, she alleged in court records.
Johnson broke away and ran out of the apartment, eventually persuading a stranger to drive her to Clear Lake Regional Hospital. Johnson’s mother said the nurses gave her a voucher for a taxi and urged her to leave Galveston County.
But Johnson didn’t leave the county, and she didn’t sever ties with Hardy. And last month, police searching for Johnson found her plastic-wrapped body in her ex-husband’s League City garage surrounded by scented candles. Hardy has been charged with murder and confessed to the brutal slaying, authorities said.
Friends and family members say they believe Johnson, 30, maintained contact with Hardy out of concern for their young autistic son, who was in his care.
“She was a fearless mother going back to save her child,” said Jen Elkins, 32, who worked with Johnson at a pub in El Lago and became a confidant. “That’s so bold that I can’t even imagine.”
Johnson’s case illustrates how difficult it can be to get separation from an alleged abuser. Her situation was complicated by the facts that Hardy had won custody of their son, she had a prior drug conviction and authorities never charged Hardy after the alleged abuse in 2015.
Her body was found Dec. 30 after three weeks of searches by police and Texas EquuSearch.
Abuse claimed the lives of 158 women in Texas in 2015, up from 132 in 2014, according to the Texas Council on Domestic Violence. Harris County led the state in domestic violence fatalities with 34, up from 23 in 2014. The council found nearly 195,000 incidents of reported domestic violence in Texas in 2015.
“This is happening on every street in at least one house tonight,” said Selah Tacconi, executive director of the Resource and Crisis Center of Galveston County.
Johnson met Shaun Philip Hardy, now 32, at Christian’s Tailgate Bar and Grill in Houston, where she was working as a waitress. Johnson divorced her first husband, with whom she had a son, now 8, to marry Hardy in 2012, despite the misgivings of family and friends, who mostly stayed away from her wedding. Her first husband now has custody of their son.
Hardy was employed by League City as a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning specialist, a job he’d held since 2007. His supervisor, Charles Anthony “Tony” Meyer, said Hardy was good at his job and well-liked and respected by other city employees.
“Everyone at the city who knew Shaun knew him to be a bright, avid reader who loved history and the arts,” Meyer said. “He worshipped his son and had a sincere interest in handicapped children.”
Meyer said Hardy left his job in October because he wanted to return to school and become an advocate for disabled children.
Hardy’s arrest two weeks ago on charges of murder and tampering with evidence astounded Meyer, who likened him to a son.
“Not in our wildest dreams did we think that he was capable of something like this,” Meyer said.
Abusers often are well-liked by acquaintances and co-workers, said Aly Jacobs, manager of counseling and advocacy at the Houston Area Women’s Center.
“Outside of the house he appears to be a great guy; he’s got his stuff together,” Jacobs said.
Some of Johnson’s friends were convinced that Hardy was not a good match for her.
“I was vocal against it,” said Roni Keller, 34, of Houston, a longtime friend.
Keller noticed a change in Johnson soon after the marriage.
“Right off the bat, he tried to put her friends and family out of her life,” she recalled. “She wasn’t allowed to hang out with me and her friends.”
The few times that Johnson went out with her friend, she kept it a secret from her husband.
“I had to drop her off a block from her house,” Keller said.
“I felt uncomfortable texting her,” she added, fearing that Hardy would see the text. “I didn’t want to be the reason she had to deal with Shaun’s ridiculous wrath.”
The victim’s mother, Stephanie, said she was not aware that her daughter was being physically abused until she was treated at a hospital emergency room in 2015.
“In restrospect, there were signs,” Stephanie Johnson, 58, of Houston said. “She became more isolated and more withdrawn to herself. I never saw bruises, but her behavior changed markedly.”
Hardy filed for divorce in October 2014, though the reasons are murky. The divorce petition cited “discord or conflict of personalities.”
Galveston County Court-at-Law Judge Barbara Roberts ordered mediation, as is standard in divorce cases. Hardy hired attorney Kathleen M. McCumber to represent him. McCumber did not respond to a request for comment. Johnson had no attorney.
Roberts told the Houston Chronicle that although mediators are fair, parties to a divorce who have no attorney are not always aware of their legal options.
During mediation, Hardy was given custody of their autistic son, Roland, and she was allowed to see him two hours a week at a McDonald’s restaurant in League City. Although unemployed when the divorce was granted, she agreed to pay $224 monthly child support.
Also unusual was her agreement to allow Hardy’s father to have custody of her son if Shaun Hardy died or was incapacitated.
Roberts said domestic violence was never mentioned during the proceedings, and Johnson never raised any objections. Even if the domestic abuse issue had been raised, Roberts said, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that judges must accept mediated agreements.
Johnson’s mother believes Hardy intimidated her daughter during mediation.
“I don’t think she was competent at that point,” she said. “She was afraid of her abuser.”
Jacobs, the Women’s Center manager, said abusers often manipulate victims.
The divorce was finalized in April 2015.
Order ‘was a joke’
Meanwhile, Johnson was struggling with other problems. Eleven days after Hardy filed for divorce, Johnson was arrested on charges of possession of less than 1 ounce of cocaine by Webster police and placed on probation.
If Johnson used drugs, it never interfered with her work, according to three former employers. Employers found her to be one of their most reliable workers.
“Anne never took drugs,” insisted Alessandra Sussini, owner of the Italian Connection Restaurant until it closed in May. “She was like a spitfire when it came to waitressing. I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as Anne.”
Even after the divorce, Hardy and Johnson continued to live together at times. Johnson’s friends said Hardy constantly tried to control her life after the divorce and that she believed staying with him was the only way to be near her son.
Her friends feared for her life after the violent incident in June 2015. The attack drove Johnson to seek help from the Galveston Crisis Center, which provided an attorney to help her seek a protective order, according to court records.
“Shaun Philip Hardy’s violent behavior against me has gotten so bad that he has assaulted me with a shotgun, threatened me with a knife, and choked me,” Johnson alleged in the request. “I am afraid that without this protective order, Shaun Philip Hardy will continue to hurt me or even kill me in the future.”
Hardy also filed for a protective order, attaching a copy of the divorce decree and an affidavit accusing Johnson of hitting him with the shotgun and trying to slash him with a knife.
“It was a joke to know he said that,” said Elkins. “Anne-Christine was never that way.”
Both requests for protective orders were withdrawn.
Johnson’s family and friends are still critical of police for not arresting Hardy. The emergency room medical report, made available by Johnson’s mother states, “She also notes that she did not want to contact the police because, ‘her husband knows everyone in the police force, and if he found out (she) told anyone he would kill (her).’ ”
League City Police spokesman Kelly Williamson denied that officers were friends with Hardy.
“That is absolutely not true,” Williamson said. “Nobody knows him more than seeing him around doing his job for the city.”
He said the police fully investigated the case and presented their findings to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, which declined to prosecute.
The Chronicle filed an open-records request for the full police report; the city has appealed to the Texas attorney general.
Tacconi, the Galveston Crisis Center director, declined to discuss whether Johnson was a client but said abuse victims are often not believed.
“There is a lot of potential victim blame that could occur as well as believing she’s just playing the domestic violence card,” Tacconi said.
Keller said she had hoped the incident would be a turning point for her friend.
“I thought that was what woke her up,” Keller said. “In three weeks, she was back with Shaun.”
Employers and friends said Hardy would stalk her during the periods when she had her own apartment, bombard her with accusatory and threatening texts and demand that she come home even when she was in the middle of a shift.
“He was really big on calling her a slut and you’re dirty and no one wants you,” Elkins said.
Friends and family say Johnson sought help from a local battered women’s shelter in the months before her death but canceled the appointment after Hardy told her he had cancer and needed her help. They doubt that he had cancer.
Johnson was last seen alive Dec. 8. She was supposed to have lunch on Dec. 9 with her father, Lee, but she never showed. When Lee Johnson went to Hardy’s residence, he maintained his ex-wife had left his house on Dec. 8 and got into the car of another man.
An early police affidavit in support of a request for phone records notes her drug conviction and speculates that she could have disappeared on a drug binge.
A police search on Dec. 30 discovered Johnson’s body. Hardy allegedly gave a gruesome confession to police, saying he threw her on the floor. As she lay on the floor with a knife pointed toward her as if she intended to harm herself, he kicked the knife and drove it into her chest, then suffocated her because she was making gurgling sounds, he told police.
The confession is seared into her mother’s memory, causing her to agonize over her daughter’s last moments.
“To live with a confession like that for the rest of your life as a mother … I just don’t know how,” Stephanie Johnson said.
Hardy remains in Galveston County Jail awaiting trial with bail set at $1 million.
Stephanie Johnson said she intends to devote the rest of her life to combatting domestic violence. She has started a web page to that end in her daughter’s memory.
Victims can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 to be directed to the closest agency.