Deborah Smarrella married at age 18 to charming bad boy Steven Brown, who rode into her life in the small Navy shipyard town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and stole her heart.
They dated throughout fall 1981 and soon were expecting their first child.
Just days after their civil ceremony in January 1982, Brown told her that he now owned her and threw her across the room “like a ragdoll,” she told “Killer Couples” on Oxygen.
“This marriage license is my title to you,” Smarrella recalled Brown telling her as she experienced domestic violence for the first time. And it was only the beginning of a years-long ordeal.
Smarrella and Brown had one more child together and the ensuing years of their marriage were marked by violence, threats and fear. In the late 1980s, the family settled in Newfield, New York, where Brown worked delivering fuel. Smarrella would regularly take the children and leave after one of Brown’s outbursts — which could be sparked by unclean dishes or a meal that wasn’t up to his standards, she told producers.
In fall 1998, Smarrella decided she’d had enough. She left her car at her place of work to stave off Brown’s suspicions and fled to Lebanon, Maine, with her brother, Donald Wood. She also filed for a protective order and a divorce, and soon was settling in with Donald, his girlfriend and friend Chris Brouillard.
Smarrella soon started working as a maid and she started dating Brouillard.
“Chris said, ‘I’m not gonna let anybody hurt you,’” she told producers.
Smarrella’s daughter, Whitney, said their new life and her mom’s new relationship was a “huge weight off my shoulders.”
On March 29, 1999, the family’s peace was shattered, however. In the dead of night, a woman frantically knocked on Wood’s door. She claimed to be having car trouble, and Wood didn’t hesitate to walk into the night and offer help.
Half an hour later, there was another knock. Whitney, then 12, answered and was met by the woman a second time. She said that Wood was working on her car but needed Brouillard’s help. Smarrella’s boyfriend headed out with her. Within 15 minutes, the woman was back.
“I thought, ‘Something’s not right here. They wouldn’t keep sending her,’” Smarrella told producers. “My instincts kicked in — she was up to no good.”
Smarrella got in her car, rather than following the woman. Before she was even all the way out of the wooded driveway, she was pulling back in, screaming and laying on the horn.
“He’s here! He’s here!” Whitney recalled hearing her mother scream from inside the house.
From the window, the 12-year-old saw two armed figures descend on Smarrella’s car and smash their way inside. Then they were gone.
As it became clear to Smarrella that she was in the clutches of her ex-husband and an unknown woman, she feared for her life. The woman, an old friend of Brown’s named Patricia Teeter, kept trying to reassure her that she wouldn’t be hurt.
“She told me that ‘We’re all going to live happily ever after,’” Smarrella recalled to producers. “’We’re both going to be his wife now.’”
Brown also told Smarella that her boyfriend and brother were fine — they had just been tied up behind the house, he said. However, back at the Lebanon home, York County Sheriff’s deputies had found both men dead. They had suffered head trauma and stab wounds to the torso. Whitney told authorities that she knew her father had taken Smarrella. She had been present at a custody hearing just a week before, when Brown tried and failed to convince a family court judge that his ex-wife was unstable and had made up claims of abuse.
A multi-state manhunt commenced, as the two kidnappers and their victim bedded down at a motel just outside Albany in upstate New York. They rented two rooms — under Teeter’s name — and before the night was over, Brown sexually assaulted Smarrella three times.
Meanwhile, Teeter was on the phone with a friend from work. She claimed that she was on a weekend camping trip with Brown, but her friend told her that her name was on the news in connection with a missing woman. Teeter did not give her location but, perhaps having second thoughts, she told her friend she could see the Albany skyline from the parking lot.
Police fanned out to the small handful of hotels with that sort of a view, quickly identifying Brown’s car at one and assembling a SWAT team first thing the next morning to make entry and free Smarrella. After breaking the news to Smarrella that her brother and boyfriend were, in fact, dead, police returned her to Lebanon and questioned Brown and Teeter.
Brown insisted to police that he “didn’t want any of this to happen,” when it came to the murders. Police were skeptical, however, because of the firearms, knives and duct tape Brown had packed into the car. Teeter also tried to minimize her involvement: She thought Brown just wanted to talk to his ex-wife, she insisted.
Facing charges in state and federal court, because they had committed crimes across state lines, Brown and Teeter both pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping, as well as multiple federal charges. Brown was handed two life sentences, and Teeter got 20 years in state prison and 29 in federal prison, to be served concurrently. She will be eligible for parole in 2024, according to “Killer Couples.”
In 2012, Brown committed suicide in prison. Smarrella said that she was enraged.
“I do believe he took the easy way out, because he didn’t want to suffer behind those walls,” she told producers, adding that her life has still begun to return to normal.
“I don’t have to look over my shoulders anymore,” she said. “I don’t have to live in fear. I can actually go outside and not be afraid to be out after dark.”
For more on Deborah Smarrella’s ordeal, including police interview footage of Brown and Teeter, watch the season finale of “Killer Couples” at Oxygen.com
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