"I was blessed" -- Male criminal domestic violence survivor speaks

Dale Wells
Dale Wells

By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Dale Wells says it was love at first sight for him when he met Denise.

"Click is an understatement," said Wells. "When I saw her, talked to her, it was magical. I immediately knew she was who I wanted to be with."

Wells had hired Denise to work at the Waffle House he managed. She was a student working on her master's degree and looking for part-time work.

As they worked together, their relationship bloomed. They moved in together as roommates at first, but they soon became lovers.

Their story seemed destined to end with marriage, kids and a happy home, but instead of a regular love story, this one took a dark turn.

"I guess there was always signs of aggression, not toward me at first," said Wells.

Wells recalled one incident that involved Tiger Woods. Wells says he's a big Woods fan.

"Her statement to me was, 'Why do all black men marry white women when they get famous?'  And because I supported Tiger -- watching him, it's like she got really angry at me to the point where she was infuriated," said Wells.

First it was anger he says, then control.

"She would come to my job from the time I got there to the time I got off," said Wells. "At first people thought that was cute. 'Oh she really loves you she wants to be with you all the time.'  At first, I'm like, 'Yeah that's really nice,' then it got weird."

Wells says his girlfriend never hit him, but she took out her anger on the things around him.

"The second year we were together, I purchased a pug. Chubs was his name and he was just awesome," said Wells.

One day, he says Denise didn't want him to go to work. She asked him to spend the day with her or she would kill his dog.

"It was enough for me to call and say I was going to be late to work," said Wells. "I took Chubs to a gentleman who had three other pugs and I'll never forget it. He said, 'You sure you want to get rid of Chubs? Why don't you get rid of your girlfriend?' In hindsight, I wish I would have made that decision."

There were good times and bad times, but there were always apologies. But it wasn't enough one day.

"I got home from work, she had destroyed pictures, flat-screen TVs and personal property and I was like, 'Ok, you have to go,'" said Wells.

Denise went back to New York. The pair talked regularly and cordially on the phone. Two months after she left, she came back to surprise Wells on his birthday.

"When she came out of the hotel, she kissed me on the cheek," said Wells. "She said, 'I came here to kill you and myself.' I said, 'You're kidding.'"

Wells said she had a receipt for a gun. She'd been living outside Greenville beside a shooting range learning the ins and outs of a .357 magnum. But she didn't pull the trigger, not this time. Wells dropped her off at the train station.

"Eighteen hours later, 'I'm sorry for taking you through the drama, can we still be friends?'" said Wells of the conversation between him and Denise.

The two lost touch and didn't speak until months later in June. Wells had received what appeared to be a standard phone call from Denise. They spoke about golf and weather, but the phone went dead.

"I walked out the front door, down three steps, I heard 'Dale' in a distinct New York accent, I knew it was Denise," said Wells. "I turned to the right, looking down the barrel of a .357 Magnum."

"She said, 'Do you remember what I said I was going to do?'" said Wells. "I said, 'Denise, don't shoot me.'"

He pleaded with her for his life, but she wasn't having any of it. "She said, 'If I can't have you, no one can,'" said Wells.

Denise pulled the trigger. "First bullet hit me in the center of the chest," said Wells.

"Second one went through, shattered my arm in two places. I fell. She walked over, shot me twice in the back, then laid the barrel of the gun in the bridge of my neck, went through and came out here," said Wells, pointing to his wounds.

Wells recalls a man coming up to Denise screaming for her to stop shooting.

"He grabbed my hand, blood was shooting out of my mouth like a water faucet," said Wells.

Wells was panicking. He had been shot five times. But where was Denise? Surely she was reloading, getting ready to finish the job. The stranger shocked him with news.

"He said, 'Brother you don't have to worry about her, she's laying dead at your feet,'" said Wells.

And just like that, their tumultuous three year relationship was over. Denise killed herself after she thought she'd killed her ex.

Capt. Thomas Dodson with the Columbia Police Department doesn't always go out to crime scenes, but he got a call telling him this one was different; it was big. He thought it was a murder-suicide.

"When I got there to my surprise, he was being transported and she was there at the scene," said Dodson.

It was an open-and-closed case, Dodson says, but the worst case of its kind he's ever seen.

"As far as female-versus-male, it would rank at the top of the scale," said Dodson.

After two months in the hospital, Wells has only one lung and two bullets are still inside of him. He wears another as a necklace.

He still has trouble breathing and walking, and has yet to return to work. He spends his days trying to stop domestic violence and break stereotypes.

"We're too embarrassed to say, 'Hey I just got hit -- slapped by my wife,'" said Wells.

Pride is what he says silenced him.

"I was blessed, through God's grace," said Wells. "I'm still able to tell my story wearing my bullet, wearing my scars."

And so ends the story of a love lost and a purpose found.

What makes Dale Wells' case so rare is that if a man is abused by a woman, in most cases, it is in retaliation. Wells is being called a true victim.

Wells has been traveling the state for the past few years since this happened, working with other survivors of domestic violence. But love struck again. He fell in love with a fellow survivor.

Wells has been married one year. He says he wants people to know there can be love after abuse.

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