Recently, actor Johnny Lewis was accused of beating 81-year-old Catherine Davis to death and dismembering her cat before falling to his own death -- to call the story horrific would be an understatement. Much has been made of his past relationship with singer Katy Perry. When a story like this breaks, it’s hard to picture that such a seemingly deranged person once had a loving girlfriend and family and friends who cared about him.
I’m sure right now Katy is looking back at her relationship with Johnny and trying to figure out what warning signs she missed and wondering if she could’ve done anything differently. I know -- three years ago, my ex-boyfriend was arrested for murdering a 75-year-old man.
I started dating my ex, let’s call him Tom, in late September 2008, when we were both working at a department store in my home state of Illinois. At the time, I was busy studying for my GRE and getting ready to apply to out-of-state grad schools, and wasn’t really looking for a relationship.
But one evening, when we were both working the closing shift, Tom asked me what I was doing after work, and I invited him to a friend’s party -- not thinking much of it and expecting him to say no. To my surprise, he said yes and we had a pretty good impromptu first date.
Tom, who at age 24 was still living with his parents in his rural hometown, turned out to be more interesting than I had first thought. He was an aspiring artist who had seriously given thought to becoming a Buddhist monk (until his Christian parents vetoed the idea).
Over the four next months, Tom and I would meet up several times a week, sharing dinners, jokes and trips to the movies. One night in October, Tom asked me (over beers) if I would see him exclusively, and although I didn’t give him a definite response that night, I answered his question the next day by sending him a Facebook relationship request.
Something that set Tom apart from most other guys his age was his sensitivity; he had a close relationship with his family. Although his younger sister was away at college, he made a point to chat with her almost every day. He had an equally close relationship with his parents, and when I met the whole clan around Thanksgiving, I found them all to be warm, welcoming people.
For the first three months, things went swimmingly with Tom, except for a few times when he would fall off the face of the earth for a few days at a time. When I would ask him about it, he would shrug it off, claiming he was feeling a bit down and needed time to himself.
Because I was so busy with my grad school applications and had never been the clingy girlfriend type to begin with, I let it go. We broke up briefly after an artist friend of mine asked me to pose nude. Although I declined the offer, Tom accused me of hanging out with unsavory people. Despite having once run with a rough crowd and experimenting with drugs himself, he still felt comfortable judging my friends -- my close girlfriend dressed too provocatively, my French guy friend was too outspoken, my artist friend who had been commissioned to draw nude portraits was a perv, etc.
Although we patched things up that time, we eventually broke up for good. Tom had moved away to a college 45 minutes away and felt the distance was too much. However, I suspected he had met someone else and was pretty angry about how he handled things.
After a few weeks, my anger subsided and I threw myself back into Operation Leave Illinois. Skip ahead to May 2009. I was still working at the department store while I prepared to move to Boston. One morning as I was folding some shirts, a coworker asked me if I had heard about the American student who murdered someone in France.
“Was that the Tom who used to work here?” he replied.
Shocked, I got in touch my friend Andrea, who worked at a local television station and confirmed that Tom had confessed to the killing of a French citizen while he was studying abroad.
“Oh my god, that is your ex!” she said as she looked at the old high school portrait of his that had been flashed on the news. She told the reporter on the case, with whom I was also acquainted, about my connection to Tom, and she asked if I’d be willing to give her a more recent photo of him. Freaked out, I declined.
Tom and I were still dating when he was first considering going to France. Having had a blast during my own European study abroad adventure, I encouraged him to give it a whirl. Allegedly, Tom was high from a combination of hashish and alcohol when he fled from his classmates and ended up trespassing on a local man’s property. A skirmish occurred, and my ex later confessed to slashing the man’s throat with a shard of glass, later claiming self-defense. The crime report described Tom as having suffered from depression and “paranoid delusions.”
Although Tom wasn’t exactly the poster boy for mental health while we were together, I was still shocked. Even when we fought, he barely raised his voice and was never violent around me. The man the French police found wandering the streets of Paris, covered in blood, couldn’t possibly be the same guy I danced with on my 25th birthday, held hands with during a screening of "Zach and Miri Make a Porno," or kissed on New Year’s Eve.
In the aftermath, I went around apologizing to my friends for bringing an alleged murderer into their lives, the same friends he condemned for being bad influences. To my relief, everyone was very empathetic.
Three years later, I now am living in the Los Feliz neighborhood in Los Angeles, the same neighborhood where Johnny Lewis lived and died. Every time I pass by Lowry St., the scene of the crime, I think of Katy Perry and all the other women who had to hear about an ex’s unimaginable act of violence through a third person or on the news.
Although my relationship with Tom probably wasn’t as serious as hers with Johnny supposedly was, I definitely feel for her. If I could talk to Katy, I’d tell her that I’m sure the Johnny on the news, the one who committed this terrible crime, was only a shadow of the man she once shared her life with.
I'd tell here there was nothing she could have done.
(Editors Note: Names, locations and dates have been changed.)