MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Wisconsin man terrorized his wife for years, threatening to throw acid on her face, dousing her car with tomato juice and slashing her vehicle’s tires before finally going to the spa where she worked, opening fire and killing her and two others.
The shooting spree stunned the middle- to upper-class Milwaukee suburb where it happened, but court records show the conflict between Radcliffe Haughton and his wife had been escalating for years.
The 45-year-old former car salesman ultimately shot seven women at the spa before turning the gun on himself. Three remained hospitalized Monday.
Haughton, of Brown Deer, was charged with disorderly conduct last year after police officers responding to a 911 call saw Haughton point what appeared to be a gun at his wife, Zina, from a window at their home. Officers took cover, and a 90-minute standoff ensued.
Brown Deer police said Monday the standoff ended peacefully, and they were never able to confirm a gun was involved because Zina Haughton wouldn’t allow them into the couple’s home. The charge against Radcliffe Haughton was dropped when a police officer failed to appear in court.
Police said the officer asked the prosecutor to reschedule, but the prosecutor refused. A call to the prosecutor Monday evening rang unanswered.
According to court records, Zina Haughton told police when she called 911 that her husband had thrown her clothes and bedding into the yard and poured tomato juice on her car.
Ernest J. Polk, who lives across the street from the Haughtons’ home, said they were friendly to him but he saw signs of turmoil.
“There was always confrontation over there, but I never thought it would come to this,” he said. “… It was mostly verbal. I didn’t see anything physical.”
Zina Haughton told police last year that her husband didn’t own any guns, but she was concerned enough about her safety to get a police escort when she went to the house earlier this month to pick up a few items.
Zina Haughton wrote in restraining order request filed Oct. 8 that her husband had threatened to kill her if she ever left him. He also, at various times, threatened to throw acid on her face and burn her and her family with gas.
“His threats terrorize my every waking moment,” Zina Haughton wrote.
She said when she drove to work after picking up items from her home, she found her husband waiting for her in a car outside the spa. He leaned out of the vehicle and, in front of her and two co-workers, slashed her vehicle’s tires. He was later arrested.
Radcliffe Haughton appeared in court Thursday, when a judge issued a four-year restraining order and told him to turn in all firearms to a county sheriff. It’s not clear whether he turned in any weapons.
He bought the .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun used in the shootings on Saturday, Brown Deer police said in a statement.
People who buy handguns from gun dealers must wait 48 hours after they have cleared a background check from the Department of Justice to pick up their firearm. There is no such waiting period or background check required in Wisconsin for people who purchase handguns from private individuals, which police say Radcliffe Haughton did.
Two Democratic state lawmakers said Monday that they’ll re-introduce a bill designed to ensure that perpetrators of domestic violence comply with judges’ orders to surrender their weapons.
The shooting spree also killed Cary Robuck, a 35-year-old nail technician from Racine, and Maelyn Lind, 38, of Oconomowoc.
Shawn Scheffler, who had lived with Robuck for six years, described her as a “bright personality” who loved her part-time job at the spa.
“She was my world,” Scheffler said. “That was the woman I was going to spend the rest of my life with, and she was taken from me just like that.”
Kathy Sieja, a spokeswoman at the hospital where the survivors were taken, said one woman was released from the hospital Monday afternoon and the others were in satisfactory condition.
The shooting spree that happened about 11 a.m. Sunday triggered chaos in the commercial area around the spa. Believing Haughton had fled, police began a massive, six-hour search that locked down a nearby mall, country club and hospital.
The police chief in Brookfield, where the spa is located, said later that a fire Haughton set in the building, the discovery of a propane tank initially believed to be an improvised explosive device and the layout of the facility, with many small rooms and locked areas, all slowed officers’ search and delayed the discovery of the gunman’s body.
It was the second mass shooting in Wisconsin this year. Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran and white supremacist, killed six people and injured three others before fatally shooting himself Aug. 5 at a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee.
Sunday’s shooting took place less than a mile from where seven people were killed and four wounded on March 12, 2005, when a gunman opened fire at a Living Church of God service held at a hotel.
Associated Press writers Gretchen Ehlke and Scott Bauer in Milwaukee and researchers Lynn Dombek and Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.