October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). The 2022 DVAM theme is #Every1KnowsSome1 (“everyone knows someone”). October is also the month when DVSN holds its annual Light in the Darkness Candlelight Vigil, honoring lives lost to domestic violence in Massachusetts in the past year. 2022 has brought developments in a domestic violence tragedy that is very personal to DVSN community member Susan Altman. Susan’s sister, Stacy Feldman, was murdered by her husband in 2015 in what was eventually determined to be a concealed homicide. While Stacy was not a MA resident, Susan is, and she was instrumental in uncovering what happened to her sister. While this case was very unusual and became higher profile than most, it blends the theme of #Every1KnowsSome1 with honoring lives lost to domestic violence. What happened to Stacy and Susan’s pursuit of justice for her sister is helping to change how we investigate cases that appear to be accidental, suicide, or natural deaths. Locally, Stacy’s legacy will help others in similar circumstances by supporting legal assistance to domestic violence survivors through Stacy’s Fund.
Stacy Feldman was a married mother of two living in Denver, CO. She loved children and served as president of her children’s PTO. She enjoyed celebrating holidays of all kinds and spending time with close friends. On March 1, 2015, Stacy’s husband, Bob Feldman, called 911 to report he had found her unresponsive in the shower. Paramedics arrived, found no signs of life, and pronounced Stacy dead. There was no evidence of a break-in or a struggle; it appeared to be an accidental death. Stacy was 44 years old and did have some medical issues, but nothing life-threatening. Detective Randy Denison arrived on the scene shortly after the 911 call and found some irregularities with Stacy’s body and the scene in the shower, but nothing that could not be explained by the story Bob told. Stacy’s numerous bruises and abrasions could have resulted when Bob pulled her out of the bathtub shower and attempted CPR. An autopsy was performed, and two months later her cause of death was ruled “undetermined”. Stacy’s friends and family, particularly her sister Susan, were skeptical of an accidental death and suspected her husband Bob was responsible.
Susan Altman & Stacy Feldman
Searching for the Truth
Stacy’s friends and family believed Bob had been emotionally abusive and controlling toward Stacy. They knew Bob had been active on dating apps and had cheated on Stacy. The house and credit cards were in his name only. The couple had separated multiple times and contemplated divorce, but they had always gotten back together. Susan knew Stacy feared that Bob could leave her with nothing and take her children from her. Detective Denison and Susan stayed in regular contact but had no concrete evidence to go on. After the “undetermined death” autopsy report and toxicology results that conflicted with possible medical causes, Detective Denison followed up with Bob Feldman and found that he had changed his story about when he was and wasn’t home that day. The detective asked him point-blank if he’d had anything to do with Stacy’s death and Bob denied it.
A few months after Stacy’s death, Detective Denison received a call from a woman named Susan McBride. She recounted matching with Bob Feldman on the dating app Tinder while Stacy was still alive. Bob told Susan that he and his wife were separated, so she went on a couple of dates with him. It wasn’t long before she discovered he’d lied about several things, including his marriage, so she ended things. Susan then looked Stacy up online and emailed her to tell her that her husband was cheating. They talked on the phone soon after, and Susan recalled Stacy saying that she was “done” with Bob. Susan called Detective Denison months later after discovering Stacy’s obituary online, which stated that Stacy had died the very same day they had spoken on the phone. Susan immediately realized that Stacy must have died within hours of their conversation, and it was likely connected to her death. Detective Denison agreed that Stacy finding out about Susan McBride and deciding to leave Bob could be a motive for Bob to kill his wife. Another woman named Stephanie Geldman also came forward, claiming she had met Bob in a grief support group and that he told her Stacy had died of cancer. Stephanie also attests that while on a date at this home, Bob raped her. While reflecting negatively on Bob’s character, neither of these accounts were evidence of murder.
Nearly two years after Stacy’s death, her sister, Susan Altman, was talking with a psychologist relative about her suspicions, who indicated it sounded like an abusive marriage and suggested Susan contact the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention. Susan passed on the Institute information to Detective Denison, who met with their medical expert Dr. Bill Smock. Dr. Smock thoroughly reviewed the autopsy and photographs of Stacy’s body and determined that there were signs of strangulation and evidence that something had pressed against Stacy’s nose and mouth, suffocating her. He also indicated the bruising and abrasions supposedly inflicted as Bob pulled Stacy from the bathtub had occurred while Stacy was still alive. In fact, he saw evidence of a prolonged assault with multiple blows and of defensive wounds on the backs of Stacy’s hands. Additionally, the imprint of clothing pressed into skin was visible, indicating Stacy was dressed while being assaulted. There was also no bruising around the imprint of a fallen metal shelf her body had lain on in the shower, indicating Stacy was already dead when coming into contact with it. He believed Stacy was asphyxiated from suffocation and strangulation, then undressed and placed in the shower to stage an accident.
With Dr. Smock’s new report, the District Attorney agreed to prosecute and issued an arrest warrant for Bob Feldman. After a preliminary hearing, Bob was able to post bail and was confined to his house with an ankle monitor. The trial was delayed multiple times and Bob remained at home. Finally, in February 2022, Bob Feldman’s trial began. The prosecution called many to testify, including the 911 operator who took Bob’s call, Detective Denison, Stephanie Geldman, Susan McBride, and Dr. Smock, presenting a case of a cheating husband who brutally assaulted his wife, suffocated and strangled her to death, and then staged an accident to cover it up. The defense called the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy of Stacy, his supervisor, and another local coroner, who all maintained that Stacy’s death was “undetermined”, not a “homicide”. They pointed to a botched investigation, a lack of evidence, and that lying, cheating, and reacting differently than expected did not mean Bob was a murderer. In the end, it took the jury less than three hours to find Bob Feldman guilty of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life without parole.
Learn more details about what happened to Stacy Feldman and what it took to bring her killer to justice in the Season 31, Episode 3 edition of NBC’s investigative news show, Dateline. The episode is entitled “The Sisterhood” and features interviews with Susan Altman and most of the individuals mentioned above, among others.
The episode is available to watch here at the time of posting.
Stacy’s case is one of the rare few where what appeared to be an accident was revealed to be, in fact, a homicide. The staged scene, potentially explainable abnormalities, lack of evidence, and the ruling of “undetermined” death are prime examples of how difficult it can be for investigators to determine when an accident is truly an accident and when it is actually a concealed homicide. Research varies, but studies have estimated that between 0.1 and 8% of homicides are staged in some way (British Journal of Criminology). This is extrapolated from those cases in which the true nature of the crime came to light. It is impossible to determine how many homicides have been passed off as accidents, suicides, or natural deaths and the truth was never discovered. However, in the majority of known staged homicide scenes, the victim and offender have or had an intimate partner relationship, the death occurred in the victim’s home, and the offender was the one to “discover” the death. The cause of death in these cases is most commonly strangulation or blunt force trauma (British Journal of Criminology). All of these criteria fit Stacy’s case exactly.
With research, statistics, and training to assist investigators, how is it that homicides can so easily be attributed to other causes? In her book “Crime Scene Staging Dynamics in Homicide Cases”, forensic criminologist Laura G. Pettler identified a major issue as the cognitive error known as “threshold diagnosis”: upon arriving at a scene, investigators form a fast opinion of what occurred and tend to stick with that analysis, to the point of failing to notice or discounting inconsistencies that may lead to an alternate account (Psychology Today). It is natural for investigators to believe what is before their eyes and draw their conclusions based on experience and training. If there is nothing readily apparent to declare a homicide, investigators are unable to justify expending the resources to treat it as a crime scene. Of course, many times these deaths are exactly as they appear to be, but just because it looks like a textbook accident, suicide, or natural death does not always mean that it is.
Scrutinizing Accidental Death
Unfortunately, there is no rule book or comprehensive list of signs of concealed homicide to look out for. However, investigators can make a point not to take scenes at face value. Studying cases such as Stacy’s, where a homicide was concealed and later revealed, does give investigators red flags to keep in mind that may indicate all is not as it seems. Pettler suggests a focus on victimology. Most concealed homicide victims knew the offenders. Looking into the victim’s relationships may produce further inconsistencies, motives, or evidence that is not readily apparent at the crime scene. Many of Stacy Feldman’s loved ones knew she had been struggling in her marriage. They were aware of some of Bob’s affairs and controlling behavior. They knew her health issues and did not believe they could have led to her “accident”. It was the tenacity of Stacy’s sister Susan, friends and family members, other women abused and used by Bob, and Detective Denison’s suspicions and willingness to continue pursuing leads, that eventually led to unveiling the truth of Stacy’s death.
The American justice system relies on empirical and scientific evidence and research, as well as testimony. An investigator’s instincts about staged homicides, even if they are based on their own experience or research they have read, are usually not justified enough to be considered as proof. In the forward to Pettler’s book, retired District Attorney Michael D. Parker calls staged crime scenes, “both a blessing and a curse”. While a staged scene can help investigators theorize about the killer’s motives, they also mean that prosecutors likely cannot build their case around physical evidence because it is based on a lie. In Stacy’s case, the defense was able to bring three separate medical examiners who were convinced there was no evidence of homicide. It took an expert specializing in strangulation to pinpoint the signs that led to that conclusion. If no one had suggested strangulation as a cause of death, it would never have been brought to Dr. Smock’s attention.
Stacy Feldman’s legacy will be felt not only in the memories of her loved ones, but also in the assistance of others who experience domestic violence. DVSN has long provided legal support for victims and survivors. Our Lawyer for a Day (LFAD) program in partnership with Metro West Legal Services offers a one-time legal consultation to help DVSN clients assess risks and responsibilities in making complex and dangerous legal decisions. Through our Court Support Program (CSP), volunteer court advocates answer client’s questions about court procedures and personnel, decipher unfamiliar and intimidating activities and protocols, and offer confidential, non-judgmental support, validation, and encouragement. Having support in court, especially during two-party hearings where the survivor will have to face their abuser, and advice regarding legal procedures, such as obtaining abuse prevention orders (restraining orders), can be invaluable. Susan Altman is working with DVSN to strengthen and extend our legal programs through Stacy’s Fund.
Donations to Stacy’s Fund will support our initiatives already in place as well as help to provide additional “Limited Assistance Representation”, particularly to our pro se clients who are representing themselves in court. Limited assistance representation consists of a lawyer helping clients with a particular aspect of their court experience, such as a custody or immigration hearing, without representing them throughout the full case. Providing essential advice as early as possible can have a fundamental impact on clients’ overall court experience. Stacy’s Fund is an exciting new initiative that will continue to expand DVSN’s legal assistance for our clients.
To donate to Stacy’s Fund, go to DVSN.org/Donate and select “Stacy’s Fund” from the dropdown menu.
Or mail a check made out to “DVSN” to P.O. Box 536, Concord, MA, 01742 and write “Stacy’s Fund” in the memo section.
Stacy Malman Feldman
DVSN’s Candlelight Vigil
Each October, DVSN holds our Light in the Darkness Candlelight Vigil to honor the Massachusetts lives lost to domestic violence in the past year. This year’s event, “Expanding the Light in the Darkness”, will commemorate 24 lives lost. Also, the Vigil will feature our Executive Director, Jacquelin Apsler, highlighting Stacy’s story and Stacy’s Fund, and introducing the song, “Cherish Her Light”, written and performed by Susan Altman’s close friend Jodi Blankstein in honor of Stacy. Susan, Stacy’s sister and a DVSN community member, is making a real difference out of tragedy – a difference to Stacy’s family and friends by fighting for justice for Stacy; a difference in the study of domestic violence by helping to change how we look at concealed homicides; and, on a local level, a difference to others facing legal issues related to domestic violence through Stacy’s Fund. We welcome you to join us at this event, held online on Thursday, October 27, 2022, at 7pm.
Register here to receive the Zoom link. If you cannot attend, register anyway to receive a recording of the event.
Stacy’s story is one of the few domestic violence-related concealed homicides where the truth was discovered and justice was served. This tragedy shines a light on concealed homicides, the challenges investigators face, and how dogged determination in the face of such adversity can make a difference. Unfortunately, there will still be cases where the truth is never uncovered, but there is more that can be done to minimize these. This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, take time to honor those who lost their lives to domestic violence. Remember that #Every1KnowsSome1 and that we can have a positive effect and implement change.
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