Why did Susan Polk kill her husband?
By the night of October 13, 2002 it all came to a violent end. In a jailhouse interview, Susan Polk tells her version of the story.
She claims that when she arrived home that night to pick up her things she was unarmed and found Felix in the pool house, he became enraged.
Susan Polk: At a certain point in the conversation, I think that I said some things that triggered rage in him. And at one point, he just said, “I can never let you leave with what you might say about me.” He went after me.
She says she squirted him in the face with pepper spray.
Susan Polk: And it was supposed to be able to stop a grizzly bear, but it didn’t stop him. He dragged me by the hair, threw me on the ground, punched me in the face and he pulled a knife.
Morrison: And you grabbed it away from him?
Susan Polk: He smeared the pepper spray into my face. What I saw, through the blur and the burning was him stabbing at me. And I saw the knife go into my pants and so I thought, “He—he stabbed me.” I thought, “He’s gonna kill me, I’m gonna die here unless I do something right now.” And I just kicked him as hard as I could with the heel of my foot in his groin, and at the same time, I went for his hand. And his hand loosened just as I kicked him, and I just grabbed the knife out of his hand and I said, “Stop, I have the knife.” And he didn’t stop. He just came over me, grabbing at the knife, punched me in the face, and I stabbed him in the side. And he was trying to grab it out of my hand. And so I squeezed my hand as tight as I could, and I stabbed him again. And—I think I stabbed him five times. At one point I waved it back and forth like this and I said, “Get off, get off, get off, get off.” And he stood up, and it was over.
Morrison: He said something.
Susan Polk: He said, “Oh my God, I think I’m dead.”
And that was it. Frank Felix Polk, Holocaust survivor, psychologist, father was no more.
Morrison: Do you remember what you thought?
Susan Polk: At that moment?
Polk: (Sighs) I thought about our life together, that’s what I thought about, I did. I sat down on the stairs next to where he was lying, and I looked at him. And I thought of our years together and the love that I’d felt for him and our children. And I thought, “When are the police coming, you know?”
Morrison: You didn’t sit there thinking, “Oh my God, I just killed my husband.”
Susan Polk: Of course I did.
Over the next few days, Susan’s story would come under intense and negative scrutiny.
But right at that moment, she picked herself up, went back to the house, cleaned off the blood, and went to bed.
Morrison: Why didn’t you call 911?
Susan Polk: I thought that if I did, my life was over. They were not gonna listen to me, and they were not gonna care.
All the next day, as the hours ticked by, she says, she lived in a kind of suspended animation. Knowing that the instant she reported what happened, her life would essentially be over.
Then nearly 24 hours after Felix’s gruesome death, the couple’s 15-year-old son, Gabriel, who had been living with Felix, discovered his father’s lifeless body on the floor of the poolside cottage.
Morris: So, okay. Maybe she was scared. Maybe that’s why she didn’t call the police right away after it happened. But then she set it up so Gabe would find the body? I mean, what kinda mother does that?
Morrison: Why did you let Gabriel find him?
Susan Polk: Why did I let Gabriel find him? I think that’s a quote I’ve heard from Barry Morris, that I let Gabriel find his body. I don’t think I let Gabriel find his body, I wouldn’t put it that way. I—
Morrison: You allowed it to happen.
Susan Polk: I locked the doors. I first thought I’d call them later, you know, that I’d call the police. And then I thought, “I want to tell Gabriel first what happened, and then I’ll call them.” And then I kept putting off telling Gabriel.
She put it off too long. Gabriel found Felix in the guest house, and called 911 and told them his mother had just killed his father.
Morris: And then when the police did arrive and they did ask her what was going on, and there’s a two-hour videotape of her denying knowledge of anything, how it happened, that he was dead, how he died, so on and so forth.
To police, what happened seemed perfectly obvious: There was evidence of a struggle. Susan had cuts and scratches on her body. Felix had been dead for a while. His body was covered with cuts, 27 wounds, 15 stab wounds, half a dozen of which penetrated his flesh. On his head evidence of blunt force trauma. And clutched in his hand were strands of her hair.
And yet Susan continued to insist, for two days after the killing that she had nothing to do with the death of her husband.
Morris: Well, she lost a grip on reality as everyone else sees it. She’s got her own reality, and everything comes from that.
Detectives were no more convinced than was Morris that Susan was telling the truth. She was arrested, taken to jail, and charged with murder. The motives seemed to be many: losing the house, losing the money, losing custody of young Gabriel. All of these things, police believed, pushed an already unstable woman over the edge. But is that really how it was? Maybe not.
Eli Polk: He didn’t have to do what he did to us. He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to hit my mom, hit us. It was unnecessary.
Morrison: And that wound up leading to his death.
Eli Polk: Well, it wound up leading to his explosion where he attacked my mom, and she defended herself. Yes.
Susan pleaded not guilty, claimed it was not murder, but self-defense. Felix attacked her, she claimed. An attack that culminated years of abuse— abuse that began with a shocking story, a family secret that dated back to 1972.
And now trapped, in prison, accused of murder, Susan Polk was about to reveal a scandal locked up for decades behind doors closed tight against the prying eyes of outsiders. And what a scandal this could turn out to be...