Woman to Question Sons in Her Murder
Susan Polk, who married her therapist, now faces
murder charges in his death.
In the midst of a bitter divorce, Susan Polk
says she split for Montana, determined to get away
from her abusive husband. "I didn't plan on coming
back and killing him," she explains from behind a
Plexiglas window in the county jail.
But kill him she did - thrusting a paring knife
repeatedly into his body in an angry rage.
She claims self defense. Prosecutors call it the
premeditated actions of a violent, delusional
Polk, 47, has fired three attorneys and now
plans to represent herself in her first-degree
murder trial set to begin Monday - a case of a
woman who married her therapist and stabbed him to
death 20 years later.
One son is the prosecution's star witness,
another her main defender. She'll question both on
the witness stand.
Susan's life hit the skids as a teenager when,
troubled by the stresses of youth and the divorce
of her parents, she began seeing a therapist. Felix
Polk was 42 then, a highly revered - and married -
Berkeley psychologist. She says they started having
sex when she was 16.
"I believed I was in love with him and that he
loved me," says Susan, who married him at 24, when
he was 50.
The couple had three sons - Gabriel is now 18,
Eli is 20, and Adam, 22. But as she tells it, Felix
kept her under his thumb, abusing her physically
"He would get mad if I went to the store without
telling him," she says, nervously tucking her
stringy salt-and-pepper hair behind her left
"He tried to destroy my self esteem ...
Sometimes he'd slap me and hit me ... He would say,
'I'll never let you go."'
Police were called to the couple's $2 million
home in the upscale San Francisco suburb of Orinda
numerous times as they battled through a divorce,
arguing over money and custody of Gabriel, then 15
and the only son still living at home.
She accused Felix of hitting her. He claimed she
attacked him. Each said the other threatened
Once, she was arrested for hitting her husband
in front of police. Felix didn't press charges.
It all ended the night of Oct. 13, 2002 - the
night Susan says she returned from Montana to
collect her things.
In her absence, Felix, 70, had won a court order
giving him the house and custody of Gabriel.
It was about 11 p.m. when Susan confronted Felix
in a cottage on the property.
"He came at me ... and the next thing I knew he
was stabbing at me with a knife," she says. "I
kicked him as hard as I could in the groin."
The couple struggled. Susan grabbed the
"I stabbed him in the side with it and he just
wouldn't stop. I kept saying, 'Get off me.' He was
biting at me," she recalls. "He was going to kill
"Finally he stood up and it was over ... He
said, 'Oh my God, I think I'm dead."'
Felix fell limp on the floor. Susan went in the
house to wash up.
"At that point, I came back and he was dead,"
she says, nonchalantly.
But Susan didn't call police or tell Gabriel
about his father's body in the cottage. She says
she was in shock - and figured no one would believe
it was self-defense, least of all her sons. "I had
their father's blood on my hands."
The next evening, Gabriel waited for his father
to come home from work so they could go to a Giants
game. Finally, he asked his mother if she'd seen
him. According to Gabriel's grand jury testimony,
she said, "He's gone and aren't you happy."
Gabriel then found the body and called 911.
Contra Costa County Sheriff's Deputy Ken Hansen
was among those who responded. He testified that
Susan initially claimed she didn't know about the
killing - and that when he told her Felix was dead,
she said "Oh well ... We were getting a divorce
The coroner's report showed five stab wounds to
his chest and stomach, defensive injuries on his
hands and feet and "blunt force injuries" on his
head, back and right knee - 27 wounds in all.
"The horrific nature of the ... stabbing wounds
... could indicate the perpetrator was in an
altered mental state of rage," concluded forensic
psychologist Paul Good. "She is not grossly out of
touch with reality," he told the judge, but "her
judgment and decision making could be seriously
undermined by a paranoid delusional state."
A judge later ruled she was competent to stand
Gabriel told police about his parents' fights -
he remembered his father slapping her once, and
"specifically recalled listening in on a phone
conversation between his mother and father in which
his mother threatened to kill his father."
Felix later told his friend and neighbor Barry
Morris, a local criminal defense attorney, about
the threat. It was a week before his death.
"He said he received a call from Susan from
Montana and she said she bought a gun and was
coming back to kill him," Morris recalls.
He urged Felix to call police - "I said, 'Felix
don't you want to live? This is not a joke."'
Felix never contacted authorities.
Morris describes Felix as a gentle, caring man,
not the monster Susan depicts.
"He was a pretty calm, even tempered person,"
Morris says. "From what he told me, she was the
aggressor. She's delusional. She once claimed Felix
was a member of Mossad, an Israeli agent."
Shifting in her chair in the jail's visiting
room, Susan says "I'm scared to death I'm going to
She still believes Gabriel will change his story
and join Eli in her defense, pointing to their
father as the aggressor and sparing her from a
sentence of 25-years-to-life.
But she can't be sure. She hasn't been able to
speak with Gabriel, who has been living with
another family since the killing. Adam was away at
college in Los Angeles at the time, and it's
unclear where he stands on the charges. Eli, who
was in juvenile detention for a fistfight when his
father was killed, is apparently her only steadfast
Eli didn't respond to interview requests and
efforts to reach his brothers were unsuccessful.
Prosecutors declined to comment.
Smiling gingerly, Susan tips her head down at
the prospect of cross-examining her son.
"We're just going to talk, that's all," she
says. "I never planned to murder my husband. He
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