Broken cycle – After two years of ‘sadistic’ domestic abuse, one woman describes how she managed to get free
“Why don’t you just leave?”
For a woman systematically abused by her husband, that is at once a simple and painfully complex question.
Because if you haven’t been there yourself, with death threats hanging over your life and that of your parents, as Nicole Farrell has, you couldn’t understand. Unless you have been beaten regularly for disagreeing with a spouse, or for looking at him in a way he didn’t appreciate, or for opening your mouth at all; you couldn’t possibly comprehend what a huge act of subversion it would be to “just leave.”
It is generally The Union’s policy not to name victims of sexual or domestic abuse. But in this case, it was Farrell, 24, who chose to speak out after her husband’s arrest.
For those trapped in abusive relationships, Farrell hopes her experiences will show that it’s never too soon to break the cycle of violence.
Her story, which is believed by law enforcement and the county district attorney, is one of “sadistic” abuse by her husband, 23-year-old Lawrence Farrell. He has pleaded “no contest” to charges of false imprisonment, threatening a crime and battery.
He declined to speak to The Union for this story, and some of his family members said they do not believe Nicole’s allegations. Lawrence Farrell’s brother-in-law, who asked not to be named, said the defendant was most likely pressured to plead “no contest” to the charges against him.
For the past two years, Nicole said, she strained to smooth a relationship that was flawed from the beginning. Less than a month after their meeting, Lawrence Farrell was hitting his girlfriend and talking down to her. The hitting turned into choking and smothering, she said. He would reportedly handcuff her into a chair, and eventually he controlled when she could get out of bed, eat or go to the bathroom.
She began to drink to forget her pain and would only infrequently fight back. But he was too strong, she said, and she had no chance. Throughout the ordeal, only a few people saw her husband strike her. Some told him it was wrong, but no one did anything more than that.
“I learned to survive with him,” Nicole said. “But to break away, that was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.”
To many in Nevada County, what reportedly happened to Nicole might appear an anomaly – an extreme case of domestic violence that could never happen to their friends, their family or themselves.
But exactly how typical is it?
“To this severity, probably not as uncommon as you would imagine,” said Coral Boganes, the director of the Nevada County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition.
Nicole sees herself as a typical girl. She graduated from Nevada Union High School in 1998 and attended the University of the Pacific for six months before getting homesick and returning to Rough and Ready. For about two years afterward, she attended classes at Sierra College and now works for an insurance company as a customer service representative.
It was at a party, in August 2002, where Nicole Johnson met Lawrence Farrell through mutual friends. She thought he was geeky but charming; a typical boy next door. He showed interest in her, as well, and they began dating the same week.
Lawrence wasn’t as outgoing, but he seemed like a nice guy. His friend of five years, and the best man at the Farrell wedding, described him as somewhat quiet.
“He never talked about the past,” Anthony Salgado said.
While Salgado noticed that many of his other friends did not get along with Farrell, he did not mind. The two would spend time together playing video games, drinking beer or four-wheeling at Deerhorn Creek. Farrell worked various painting jobs and at car dealerships.
Perhaps they rushed it, but Lawrence and Nicole were in love, and both wanted to get married. He proposed to her three months later, in October. Farrell also moved in with Johnson and her parents at their home in Rough and Ready.
Then he began to change, Nicole said. He pinched and slapped her leg – playfully at first and forcefully soon after. She said he called her fat, ugly and stupid, and she began to believe him. He started slapping her face and punching her.
He usually beat her because she did something he did not like, like the time she accidentally tore off one of her toenails while cleaning the kitchen, she said. He poured alcohol on her leg, and when she cried from the stinging pain, he became enraged and beat her for 45 minutes with three coathangers, she said. The whole time, he was telling her to “suck it up and take it like a man.”
“It was always my fault – I would either talk back or do something I wasn’t supposed to do,” Nicole Farrell said. “He might say, ‘I’m sorry, but I had to teach you a lesson.'”
When the Johnsons first met Lawrence, they thought he was a nice boy. They did not complain when he moved into their home. But eventually Farrell’s personality began to show, said Christine Johnson, Nicole’s mother. Soon after, she felt threatened by Farrell’s mood swings.
“I never saw him hit her, but I would see the way he would treat her, and I would become furious,” she said. At the time, Nicole would say, “Mom, I was the one who started it,” her mother recalled.
Salgado said when he and Lawrence Farrell were alone, his friend would always badmouth Nicole’s parents, who tried unsuccessfully to talk their daughter out of marrying Farrell. They could tell how unhappy their daughter had become.
Greg Johnson, Nicole’s father, is a traditionalist; as long as he was home, the engaged couple was not allowed to be in the bedroom together with the door closed.
He said that while the couple was living in his home, he never heard or saw Farrell hurt his daughter. Like his wife, however, he could tell that Nicole was not happy, and asked her twice if she was getting beaten up. She said she was not.
Neither of her parents knew that he had raped her several times before the two were even married.
“I was hoping that if I loved him enough, he would change,” Nicole said.
Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Farrell were married in June 2003, in a typical church wedding. Most of the bride’s and groom’s families attended, except for his mother.
Everything went relatively smoothly for about a week, Nicole said. By that time, however, she was not allowed to visit her friends unless her husband was there. The arguments began anew within the week, and most of them ended with her getting beaten up more severely than before, she said.
“If I didn’t iron his shirt for work, that would start an argument,” she said. “If I looked at him the wrong way, that would start an argument.”
Farrell would smother his new bride with a pillow, slap her face, beat her with a coathanger and choke her with a belt or his hands, she said. Throughout the beating, she never reported him to police because of his escalating threats.
“He said, ‘If you say anything, I will hurt you worse than before,'” Nicole recalled. “That was enough to keep me quiet.
“He told me that he was going to suffocate me with a pillow, put me in a black trash bag, throw me in the back of the car, cut me up into little pieces, and scatter me in the woods so that no one would find my body,” she said. “That was very believable.”
At about this time, Salgado said he noticed Lawrence had become “a little controlling.” He noticed how Lawrence was always by Nicole’s side. Everywhere.
“I thought they were happy,” he said.
Nicole’s friend of 10 years, Jordan Scott, knew what was going on. Nicole told Scott, who is also her co-worker, that Lawrence had beaten and handcuffed her four months after the wedding, in September of 2003.
“At that time, it sounded like a problem,” Scott said, “but nothing to the extent of what I know now.” Scott said she suggested that Nicole tell someone, or the police, about Lawrence. Scott said she did not talk to him herself because Nicole would only get beaten worse.
“I tried not to get involved,” Scott said.
‘I should just kill you’
Last January, the couple moved into a Grass Valley apartment. Nicole thought the change of scenery would be good for Lawrence; maybe he had become stressed out with living with his in-laws. But without the Johnsons to watch over their daughter, Farrell had free rein over Nicole, she said.
He made many rules for his wife, one of them being that she couldn’t be the first one out of bed each morning, she said. Whenever she had tried to get out of bed, he would grab her and pull her back in and hit her. Eventually, he would not let Nicole see her parents or friends at all, she said. He cut off everything except for her job and grocery shopping.
“From February on, I was a prisoner in my apartment,” she said. For the last four months of the relationship, “he would keep me in the bedroom on the weekends, so that I couldn’t even go out and go to the bathroom until he decided that I had been punished long enough.
“It would be 2 or 3 in the afternoon before I could even come out.”
He would tell her when she could or could not eat or go to the bathroom, she said. Three times, he handcuffed her to a chair for 20 minutes.
Before her relationship with Lawrence, she would only drink socially, with friends. As a way to escape her new reality, she began drinking throughout the week. The last three weeks they were together, she would drink up to three beers a night, four days a week. The alcohol became her only release of strength – she would get angry with her husband and would fight back.
Last spring, she said, Lawrence had spent two hours beating and berating her, while she was in the kitchen. She picked up a knife and came toward him.
“I said, ‘I should just kill you now. That would end everything,'” she said. “He said I couldn’t. I dropped the knife and cried.”
After the knife was out of her hands, the beating resumed, she said.
Nicole became withdrawn and afraid of being touched by anyone. She wore long sleeves in public, and sweaters and long pants to cover up her bruises. She told her coworkers she was cold during the summer months.
“My friends thought I had the perfect marriage,” she said.
A way out
Lawrence’s biggest fear was rejection, Nicole said, and as long as he was afraid of her leaving him, he would prevent her from doing so. That is why she was shocked when he came home from work one day in the first week of August and told her he hated her and wanted a divorce. She rushed back to her parents’ home, for the first time without her husband watching over her shoulder, and told them most of what she had been through for the previous two years, excluding how he had raped and sexually assaulted her, even before they were married, she said.
Her freedom did not last long. The same night she left, Lawrence Farrell was back at her parents’ door in Rough and Ready, screaming and crying that he wanted his wife back. He told her he would never hit her again, she said.
“We didn’t want her to leave, but we physically didn’t stop her,” Christine Johnson said.
Nicole went with him, but the next day, she told two friends at the insurance company where she works what was going on in her marriage, and they suggested marital counseling. She decided to give counseling a try, but made up her mind to spill hear heart out to the counselor.
“I told Lawrence that we both needed help, because if I just pointed the finger at him, I knew he wouldn’t go,” she said.
She made arrangements with her father to come pick her up after the session, because she was not about to go home with her husband afterward. Farrell became so enraged when Nicole revealed how she had been abused, that he tried to push her out of the counselor’s office and ended up running away from the session with her purse, but not before Greg Johnson warned him not to lay a hand on his daughter again.
The next day, Aug. 6, Lawrence was waiting for her when she arrived at work. He apologized, and she agreed to have lunch with him that day to try and talk things out. He picked her up several hours later in a pickup truck they had recently bought together, using a shared bank account.
“As we are leaving, I ask, ‘Well, where are we going for lunch?'” Nicole said. “He says, ‘I’m taking you to Wyoming.'”
Farrell went to college in Wyoming, and had threatened several times to kidnap Nicole and take her there, she said. When he told her he was taking her out of state, she tried jumping out of the car. He stopped her and called her stupid for thinking he was serious when he said it, she said.
Instead, he drove back to their apartment. When they were inside and the door was locked, he slapped her across the face so hard that her hair clip came out.
“He said, ‘That was for you lying to me and for your dad,” Nicole said. “He asked me to go lay on the bed. I knew he was going to smother me with a pillow.”
She was scared. She tried to run outside but he blocked the door. She tried to escape through a window and kicked out the screen. She screamed for help but no one heard her – the apartment building had emptied for the work day. Farrell grabbed her and pulled her back inside. He threw her into the closet and then into the bedroom.
Nicole told him that her co-workers knew to call the police if she did not return from lunch, and he said that he did not care, she said.
Her only escape, she said, was to lie to him that she would come back to him after work. He agreed and took her back to her work, where she called police and told them everything.
Detectives immediately contacted the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition, and officers arrested Farrell at the apartment without incident that evening, Grass Valley Police Capt. Greg Hart said. Police also got Nicole an emergency restraining order against her husband.
‘He was sick’
Nicole and her parents were in fear that night. They called Lawrence Farrell’s friends and pleaded with them not to bail her husband out of jail. Her father sat awake all night with a pistol, waiting for Lawrence to show up.
As it turned out, he did not need anyone to bail him out – Lawrence bailed himself out using Nicole’s bank account.
The next morning, Nicole met with Salgado, who warned her that he thought Lawrence was about to go over the edge. Before he was arrested, Salgado said, Farrell had called him and offered him $2,000 to borrow Salgado’s shotgun.
Salgado became worried, because he knew that Lawrence and Nicole had had several arguments recently.
“Then (Lawrence) said, ‘I wanna go on a killing spree,'” Salgado said. “That’s when I realized he was sick.”
After hearing this, Nicole called her credit card company and asked to see her recent transactions.
“He bought a shotgun that Friday afternoon,” she said. While he did not have the gun because of the waiting restriction required in California, that and his threats of killing Nicole and her family were enough cause for Grass Valley Police to re-arrest Farrell, Hart said. He was taken into custody in the afternoon at his new job with Sears, where he had been hired days before as a delivery driver.
His bail was also increased, and he has since pleaded “no contest” to charges of false imprisonment, threatening a crime and battery, all stemming from the day of the first arrest. Farrell is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 9.
Since the arrest, Nicole has moved back in with her parents. She said that telling police about what she had been through was therapeutic for her. She is also going through therapy, attending a women’s group, spending time with her friends and doing “any little thing I can take to get my life back.” She has also filed for divorce.
The Johnsons have had a difficult time dealing with the aftermath of Nicole’s relationship, the least of which being her ruined credit. The new pickup truck has been repossessed.
Christine Johnson said she and her husband are also afraid that when Lawrence is released, he will try to get revenge on either them or their daughter. These days, whenever Nicole goes out, she calls her parents as soon as she gets there.
“He took our most precious possession we have ever had, our most precious gift from God, and nearly totally ruined her,” Christine Johnson said.
Nicole has since learned many life lessons, one of them being that violence doesn’t discriminate; it can happen anywhere. She also learned how to get her freedom back, one step at a time.
“I have learned not to be so trusting and see red flags in a relationship,” she said. “I don’t have to put up with it. No one has to put up with it.”
How to get help
Important phone numbers for victims of domestic violence:
– Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition 24-hour crises line: 272-3467. Office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
– Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital emergency room: 274-6000.
– Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital emergency room: 885-7201.
– Grass Valley Police Department: 477-4600.
– Nevada City Police Department: 265-2626.
– Nevada County Sheriff’s Office: 265-7880.
Take back the night
The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition will hold its annual “Take Back the Night” candlelight march around downtown Grass Valley Thursday, at 7 p.m. Everyone in the community is invited to attend, and candles will be provided.
Marchers will meet in the Grass Valley City Hall parking lot, at the corner of West Main and South Auburn streets. The Seven Hills School choir will perform, and there will be several speakers. The event is expected to last until 8:30 p.m.
To donate to the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition, call 272-2046, or mail checks to P.O. Box 484, Grass Valley, 95945. The organization accepts many types of donations.
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