Bridge victim’s sisters worried about suspect

Another story about a woman who trusted a man not to hurt her, only to be murdered, along with a friend. This story is from the San Francisco Chronicle

Bridge victim’s sisters worried about suspect
Demian Bulwa, Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writers
Thursday, August 13, 2009

Two dozen red roses sat in a glass vase in Deborah Ross’ kitchen in Richmond on Wednesday, a stark reminder of a relationship that once bloomed but, according to police, ended violently.

Family members say Ross’ boyfriend of 13 years, Nathaniel Burris, brought her the roses Monday evening along with candy and a promise – that even though she had recently broken up with him, he would remain a friend and would not hurt her.

A day later, police say, Burris blasted Ross with a shotgun as she worked as a toll taker at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge at about 5:30 p.m. The 51-year-old woman was left to die in the booth where her ever-present smile had prompted some motorists to dub her the “happy lady.”

Moments before Ross was gunned down, Burris killed one of her friends – 58-year-old Ersie Charles Everette III of San Leandro, an off-duty Golden Gate Transit bus driver who was sitting in a pickup truck in a nearby parking lot, police said. Everette was a friend from Ross’ church, Acts Full Gospel in Oakland, according to her family. They said they believed the pair were not romantically involved.

Ross and Burris “were supposed to be doing a clean breakup,” one of Ross’ sisters, 60-year-old Tyrice Ross of Oakland, said as she stood Wednesday morning outside the victim’s rented townhouse about a mile east of the bridge toll plaza. “He promised he would never do anything to my sister, but he took her life.”

Tyrice Ross and another sister, Antoinette Ross, 53, of Tracy, said relatives had worried that Burris was dangerous, especially after a dispute Friday night at the townhouse where he had also lived until recent days.

They said Burris had prevented their sister from leaving, prompting them to call police. Police Sgt. Bisa French, a department spokeswoman, said that officers had not taken a report on the incident and that she had no details.

The sisters said Deborah Ross stayed at the homes of family members over the weekend, but kept in close touch with Burris and drove him to his job at a San Rafael airport shuttle firm Monday morning before accepting the flowers and candy.

“We kept telling her that he was dangerous,” said Tyrice Ross. “She didn’t see it. She said, ‘Oh Ty, he’s not going to hurt me.’ She was so trusting. She always saw the best in everybody.”

Looking at pictures of Ross in her townhouse – smiling on a cruise to the Bahamas with her family, smiling with Burris at a heritage festival in Texas – Antoinette Ross added, “She was always like that, always bubbly. We called her our dingy little sister. She was so gullible! She believed anything you told her.”

Her sisters said money was a source of tension in her relationship with Burris, a former security guard. They said she paid his way through trucking school and once bought him a truck for a personal hauling business that he planned to start but never did.

Last spring, he lost his truck-driving job and had difficulty finding work. State records show that in March, the state filed a lien against Burris for unpaid taxes amounting to $7,437. The couple struggled to make the rent on the townhouse.

Tyrice Ross said her sister broke up with Burris after returning “with a glow” from a four-day religious conference for women in Palm Desert (Riverside County).

“Nathan was losing his gravy train,” she said. “Deborah had been carrying the load for so long.”

When a man promises a woman he will not hurt her, this raises a huge red flag that he is contemplating doing just that. Why else would he feel compelled to lull the woman into a false sense of security? Why would hurting her be crossing his mind? Her sisters could tell those words spelled trouble, but she wanted to believe he was a good man. He was losing his gravy train, was probably jealous of Mr. Everette, and decided to make her pay for leaving him in the lurch. Men often think they own their lovers, so when a woman makes a break, the man finds some way to retaliate. All too often, the man makes sure the woman suffers at least as much as he does. He may rough her up, kill her, or kill her and himself. This is the legacy of millennia when women were literally the property of their husbands, who had legal rights to discipline their wives as they saw fit. Legally this is obsolete, but not in the male psyche.

Another burning question is why was no police report taken? Evidently the police found Mr. Burris trustworthy. Ms. Ross may indeed have been gullible, but police are supposed to be familiar with the ruses of murderers. A man who refuses to allow a woman to leave, especially in the context of a breakup, is telegraphing that he is a menace to her. Why did the police dismiss this as a minor incident not warranting taking a report? He should have been arrested and kept away from her, regardless of her willingness to trust him. Instead Ms. Ross becomes another statistic, murdered because she and the police wanted to believe he was not dangerous to her. Her sisters knew, but they could not protect her. The police could have protected her, but they did not see the actions of Mr. Burris as threatening. It is one thing for a woman to give a man she has loved for years the benefit of the doubt, but police should know better than to ignore such glaring red flags. No matter how gullible Ms. Ross may have been, she did not have to die for it. This murder could have been prevented, but the police did not take the threat to her seriously.

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