Fourteen years after her husband crashed a plane into their Amherst home, widow talks about their abusive marriage
AMHERST – When Jo Fonda applied to the court for a temporary restraining order 14 years ago, the judge granted one, reluctantly. Fonda’s husband had never abused her physically. Police never had to come to their house.
But she feared for her life, and her instincts, it turned out, were sound.
On Aug. 25, 2001, Louis Joy III piloted his five-passenger company plane from a Nashua airport and crashed it into their newly built house on High Meadow Lane after Fonda, who was 39, and her 8-year-old daughter had moved into a hotel.
The crash marked a violent end to a 20-year marriage that Fonda now realizes was full of mental and emotional abuse. Fourteen years later she still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is still trying to come to terms with what happened.
During an interview in the living room of her new home overlooking Baboosic Lake, she said Joy had always been controlling, to the point where he got along with virtually no one.
Yes, he started his own consulting business, Manufacturing Excellence, Inc., and it was successful. A competitive body-builder, Joy had an intimidating physical presence, she said, and a laser-like focus on anything he did.
But he started the business because he always failed as an employee, because he could not deal with authority, she said, and always had to be right. No one ever lived up to his expectations.
At the time of the plane crash, anyone looking from the outside would have thought the Joys were doing well, extraordinarily well. They had moved to Amherst from Delaware after Fonda accepted a job at Hewlett-Packard. They built a 5,400-square-foot home and had a sleek company plane. Joy had a national reputation as a manufacturing and operations management consultant.
But through lean times and flush times, one thing stayed the same. Joy had to be in control of his wife and everything around him.
“From the outside it looked like we were very much equal partners. We both had gotten MBAs … we looked like a good team. We had co-authored a book,” Fonda said,
But every decision, large and small, was settled by Joy.
By the time they moved to Amherst things went “from bad to horrible,” Fonda said, especially after he was dropped by a major client because of a sexual harassment incident. And buying a house was almost impossible. A dead tree in the yard of a perfect-seeming house was enough to scratch it off the list.
They looked in wider and wider circles beyond her job in Andover, Mass., and he finally he asked her to decline the job.
For the first time in their marriage Fonda said no. They wound up building the house in Amherst on a piece of land big enough Joy couldn’t see any neighbors and they couldn’t see him.
But she knew it wouldn’t be her home for long.
In June of 2001 Fonda began laying the groundwork for a divorce, telling him that his numerous affairs were the reason and she couldn’t take it anymore, though the affairs were not the biggest problem.
They went to counselors, and anytime they would support something she said, “he would storm out.”
“He would be ranting and raving and saying he would get custody, saying I was an unfit mother, using the fact that I was depressed as the basis,” Fonda said.
Fonda sees now that their relationship as a classic case of emotional abuse. Over the years, they had become more and more alienated from family and friends.
“He was very quick to turn on people. There were tons of issues with neighbors and in work situations … He had to have his own way, all the time,” she said.
When her grandmother was dying, Fonda said, her husband wouldn’t let her visit, and later when her father died, “he showed up at the wake briefly” and then took their daughter home with him.
It took a long time for Fonda to decide that it was all too much, and when she did, she tried to make it as easy on him as possible.
“I told him he could have the house and joint custody of (their daughter) Anjelica. I just wanted enough money to get set up. I wanted him to feel like he won something. I was still holding on to hope” that the marriage could end amicably.
“I kept telling him on the phone, ‘All I want is peace’,” she said.
In June of 2001 she told him she no longer wanted to be married
On Aug. 21, Anjelica’s birthday, they flew to Delaware, to his dentist, because he “had scheduled cleanings without any consideration for Anjelica’s birthday. I really didn’t have any say in the matter,” Fonda wrote in her blog.
“I was overcome with a strong feeling that Lou was going to intentionally crash the plane with all of us in it. Nothing had been said or implied, it was just intuition,” she wrote.
Her sister gave her the number of a domestic abuse hot line and she asked the person on the other end of the line if she was right to be afraid. She didn’t know if she had a legal right to leave the house and take her daughter.
“They really helped with the validation of what I was feeling,” she said.
Next came a panic attack and Fonda started shuttling important documents like birth certificates and passports, into her car.
“I started calling lawyers,” she said, but no one would see her right away.
“Nobody picked up that this was a crisis situation,” she said and realizes now she could have continued using the hot line as a resource.“I had no clue they could advocate for me. I didn’t see myself as a battered woman.”
It was not until she had reached the W’s in the phone book that a lawyer’s secretary, a person who had worked in law enforcement, recognized what was happening and told Fonda to come to the office that day.
On Friday, Aug. 24, she obtained the restraining order.
Meanwhile Joy was calling constantly. Fonda’s plan was to pick up Angelica at camp and then go to a hotel, but Joy arrived at camp first. They left in separate cars and she followed him to a highway entrance where she veered off in another direction when it was too late for him to turn around. She had escaped.
On Saturday, Aug. 25, Joy aimed the plane at the couple’s home in what media called a kamikaze plane crash. Less than three weeks later, two commercial jet liners crashed into the World Trade Center.
For Fonda the Sept. 11 attacks seemed directly linked to her husband’s plane crash. It was as if Joy’s evil deed had inspired the terrorists.
“It was irrational, but I felt totally responsible,” she said. “Nobody had ever done that before – flew a plan into a building.”
Now Fonda believes she is responsible, not guilty, but responsible, because she enabled her husband’s controlling behaviors, she explains in a blog she started a few years ago called, “Biting My Tongue and My Other Secret Bad Habits.”
Did Louis Joy know his wife and daughter were not in the house on the morning of Aug. 25? Fonda doesn’t know.
“He probably figured we weren’t there,” she said, “but it was OK if we were there.”
Fonda is now on the board of directors for the New Hampshire Domestic Violence Coalition and serves on the board’s finance committee. She doesn’t get involved in providing direct services, because it is too difficult to hear stories about domestic violence.
The blog helps and hurts. It hurts, because writing about her experiences means that she is mentally back in that abusive, life-threatening situation. But it helps when she hears from readers who recognize themselves in her words.
Fonda remarried and several years ago she and her husband adopted a son who is now 12.
Anjelica is 21 and will graduate this spring from Skidmore College and is getting married in June. Her mother calls her wise beyond her years.
Right after the plane crash, Anjelica told her mother, “Dad sometimes has trouble keeping his temper. It seems like he just lost it.”
Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.