LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Mary Jeffcoat was young when she learned her aunt, Pamela Tubbs, becoming engaged and moving in with her husband, Kenneth Tubbs, in a small town named Oil City, right outside Shreveport, La. In the era of courting and the nuclear family, establishing a household at a very early age right out of high school was not uncommon.
“He was a real charmer,” Jeffcoat explained, relaying the words of her dad and Pamela’s son. “People had liked him, her parents liked him. He was a very charismatic guy.”
However, their relationship began to change as Kenneth became more controlling and physical toward his wife Pamela. He would continuously demean her, fights would turn physical and eventually, he would confine her to the house with little access to her family.
“My dad started to notice the abuse but didn’t say anything about it,” she said. “In the 70s, it was a different time. Sometimes, when men took a heavy hand to their wife it was not frowned upon. They were seen as just keeping their household in line.”
After months of the abuse, Pamela had enough and filed for divorce. Though having removed herself from the situation, she was lured back into the relationship by his charms and promises.
“They were empty promises,” she said. “She had gone back to him, and things had escalated from there. They would get worse, and then it would be better for a bit, and then it would get worse again. Every time it had gotten bad, it would be worse than before.”
Everything changed for Pamela and their family Feb. 1, 1978. For a second time, Pamela decided she had enough of the abuse and torment and filed for divorce.
“The divorce attorney had told her she needed to talk to Kenneth about child support,” she said. “This was back before they submitted paperwork separately, so he sent her back to the house of her abuser.”
Kenneth’s abuse and rage reached a boiling point at the sight of the paperwork. He went for the 12-gauge shotgun their family had and shot 26-year-old Pamela dead. Kenneth would also murder Pamela’s mother, and attempted to shoot her brother, Mike Beavers, because he suspected he had paid for the divorce lawyer for Pamela.
Kenneth was apprehended by police after turning the weapon on himself. Surviving the gunshot wounds, he would later be charged with two counts of first degree murder. The coroner’s office discovered that Pamela was six weeks pregnant with their family’s second child.
“His power and control were being jeopardized,” she said. “He didn’t want to be separated, and money was already tight for him and he didn’t like that she was talking to him about child support.”
Though Jeffcoat was not born when it happened, the effects it had on her and her family last to this day. Her father joined the U.S. Air Force, committing 20 years of service as security forces in memory of her sister Pamela. Jeffcoat would go on to become an advocate for domestic violence survivors, often stepping in to help others in abusive relationships find reprieve.
“Even in my life as a married woman, it’s affected how I handle things,” she said. “It’s affected me enough to stand up and be a voice for others who have or are suffering through domestic violence.”
“It takes a brave village and a listening ear,” she said. “A lot of victims have nowhere to go. You have to be willing to put your neck out on the line, and I wish my aunt had a village because things could have been very different.”
Jeffcoat’s advocacy would become invaluable during her husband’s first assignment at Travis Air Force Base, California. There, she and her husband, Tech. Sgt. David Jeffcoat, 47th Flying Training Wing command post NCO in charge would become enveloped in a situation with a fellow Airman and his spouse, Brenda, reminiscent of Pamela’s.
“One day I was in our laundry room and I heard screaming, and someone crying ‘no, stop,’” she said. “I don’t tolerate screaming period. You can call me nosy, but I would always ask if they were OK, and they would say things are fine.”
Their neighbor’s fights would become louder, audible through the thin triplex walls, and much worse, leading to multiple visits from Brenda to Jeffcoat’s unit, detailing their fights and the progressive physical harm. Brenda’s husband would progressively isolate her from the military community and her family.
“He would stand out front and brag about beating his wife with his friends,” she said. “It’s not a laughing matter, and it’s not funny to joke about beating your spouse.”
“I told her she had to leave,” she said. “I told her we would pay for her to leave, and that’s exactly what we did. We paid for her to go home to her family.”
Jeffcoat details the nerve-wracking ride back from the airport, nervous about what to expect when she returned home. Once she arrived, she discovered that Brenda’s husband had thrown her stuff out the house, and was completely irate that Brenda had left.
“I was kind of glad it was happening, because everyone could see the kind of man he was,” she said. “He was forced into anger management, but unfortunately, charmed her into coming back. She ended up coming back to him though with stipulations.”
However, the stipulations would prove ineffective. According to Jeffcoat, not only did the beatings get worse, but her support network was growing thin because Brenda had returned to him. Jeffcoat herself, a bit surprised from her return, never relented with her support for her.
“You better believe she showed up to my door and I let her in,” she said. “She fortunately had a job at the commissary and she was able to pay for herself to leave again and file for divorce.”
It’s a fortunate resolution to a case that could have been much worse, according to Jeffcoat. Often, when victims return to their abusive spouses, they are the most at risk. However, with Jeffcoat’s intervention and story of her aunt, she was able to persuade Brenda out of a horrible situation once and for all.
“I remember when Brenda would come over and she would say ‘don’t call anybody because he said if I reported anything he would kill me,’” Jeffcoat said. “We were scared for her, but at the end of the day, if she stays there, he would kill her. All the bruises and pain were proof of that.”
In California alone, according to the state’s attorney general’s office, there were more than 196,000 calls regarding domestic violence when Brenda left her husband in 2001. Of those calls, 136,366 involved a deadly weapon.
“Speak with people, be an advocate,” she said. “In our society now, we all have our faces in our phones and other things on our minds, so we tend to not notice bruises or if something’s off. We all have people we see regularly, and it takes presence and not judgment. That’s what saved Brenda, having that village and that network who saw her.”
While Jeffcoat is grateful for the improved awareness and public safety nets for domestic violence victims, she believes improvement needs to be made until there’s zero cases of domestic violence. One concept that’s misinterpreted, she tells, is the concept of the military’s mandated reporter system—if certain social workers or members of the military hears of a case of domestic violence, they must report it.
“I joke at the term mandated reporter, because wouldn’t we all be a mandated reporter if somebody said, ‘my husband put his hands on me,’ or even ‘I made a pot of spaghetti for dinner and he got upset because it wasn’t warm and threw it across the room,’” she said. “Wouldn’t we all be mandated reporters? You best believe I am.”
To Jeffcoat, domestic violence awareness month is every month—not just October. Survivors of domestic violence, both women and men, carry the baggage, wear the scars and re-live the memories not just in October, but for the rest of their lives. For Pamela Tubbs, her story is not just another call to slap a purple ribbon sticker on a bumper, but a lesson to all spouses that they are nothing less than in Jeffcoat’s own words: “amazing and deserving of respect”.
(For the sake of anonymity and respect of privacy, some names in this article have been changed.)