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Crime News Snapped

California Woman Murders Husband, Who Was Her Therapist When She Was a Teen

Susan Polk had alleged her husband, Dr. Felix Polk, took advantage of her when she was an underage patient.

By Caitlin Schunn

A California mother of three made startling accusations of rape and abuse in the years before marrying her therapist turned husband — eventually murdering him in the couple’s sprawling estate.

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Two of Susan Polk’s three sons testified against her in court, one after finding Dr. Frank “Felix” Polk’s dead body in the pool house. But although Susan argued self-defense, prosecutors and police didn’t believe her.

“The marriage was disintegrating,” said prosecutor Paul Sequeria on Snapped, airing on Oxygen on Sundays at 6/5c. “She’d become so bitter and angry, she was capable of killing her husband. She felt like she was entitled. That after all he’d done to her, and all he was going to do to her, I think she sat there, and her mind was spinning, and she went, ‘OK, it’s time. I’m going to go kill him.’”

How was Dr. Felix Polk murdered?

911 dispatchers in Orinda, California — about 20 minutes from San Francisco — got a call from a 15-year-old boy around 9 p.m. on Oct. 14, 2002.

“Uh, my mom shot my dad,” Gabriel Polk said to dispatchers, after he found his 70-year-old father, Dr. Felix Polk, dead.

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Dr. Polk was found in the main room of the pool house, on his back, laying in blood.

Susan Polk featured on Snapped season 33 episode 3

“He said to the 911 operator that he went outside and hid behind some garbage cans and called 911,” Dr. Casey Jordan, criminologist, said on Snapped.

Gabe told police that he’d been waiting to go to a baseball game with his dad that afternoon, but his father hadn’t shown up. His mother said she didn’t know where his father was. When Dr. Polk still wasn’t back by 9 p.m., Gabe decided to check the pool house.

Investigators soon realized, despite what Gabe reported to 911, Dr. Polk hadn’t been shot. An autopsy report showed Dr. Polk actually passed about 22 hours prior to when his body was found. He’d died of more than 20 stab wounds, including five to his torso. He’d also been hit in the back of the head with a blunt object.

There were no signs of a struggle, or of forced entry to the pool house.

Felix and Susan Polk's Marriage

As police interviewed Gabe, they realized his parents had a failing marriage. Susan’s mother also revealed troubling details of their relationship to police.

Susan Polk first met Dr. Felix Polk when she was a teenager and had behavioral issues, with her school recommending she see a therapist. He was 25 years her senior.

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“Susan was at a very vulnerable time in her life, age 15,” Jordan said. “She was very damaged by her parents’ divorce.”

After Susan became Dr. Polk’s patient, her mother believed he took advantage of Susan.

“She alleges that when [Susan] was 15, Felix Polk engaged in non-consensual sex with her by hypnotizing her and drugging her,” Jordan said. “It was not just rape, but she says Felix Polk had a terribly inappropriate, truly abusive, exploitative relationship with Susan. Susan seemed to be in love with Felix. She eventually told her mother. And then Susan’s mother confronted [Dr. Polk], and told him, ‘You will break off this relationship with my daughter.’ But she never reported it to police.”

According to her mother, Susan stopped seeing Dr. Polk, but then started a relationship with him again in college when she was 19 or 20. She got a new therapist and told that therapist about her relationship with Dr. Polk when she was his underage patient.

“The new doctor, instead of turning Felix Polk in … calls his wife and lets her know,” Jordan said. “The wife wants to divorce Felix. He decides the best way to handle this scandal head on is to go ahead and divorce his wife and marry Susan.”

Felix and Susan Polk married in December 1981. They had three sons together: Adam, Eli, and Gabriel. By 2002, the two oldest sons had moved out, and the Polk marriage deteriorated.

“She was going to file for divorce,” said Linda Barnard, a licensed marriage and family therapist, on Snapped. “This had been building up.”

Gabe also told police there were troubles in the marriage.

“The last four years have been really just hell,” he said in a police interview. “I mean, they’ve been arguing, just at each other’s throats.”

In early October 2002, just weeks before the murder, Susan had even traveled to Montana to find a new place to live.

“When she was coming back from Montana, she actually called my dad and told him what she planned to do,” Gabe told police of his father’s accusations in an interview. “She threatened to shoot him with a shotgun.”

Susan Polk was also making other accusations about Felix, including that he was paying people to follow her.

“[She] was making comments that her husband was a Mossad agent, which was the Israeli secret police,” Michael Costa, a former Contra Costa Sheriff’s Detective, said on Snapped. “That he had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attack. He tried to poison her dogs at one point.”

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While Susan was away in Montana, police learned Felix took steps against her in their divorce, including getting a restraining order to give him sole custody of their children and sole possession of their home.

"Felix managed to have her monthly payments reduced from $6,000 a month down to $1,700 a month,” Jordan said. “When she discovered what Felix had done, she immediately co-opted her son Gabriel to help move all of her husband’s belongings into the guest house behind their home.”

Three days before his murder, Felix Polk called 911 to report a domestic dispute, after his wife kicked him out of the main house and changed the locks on the doors.

What DNA evidence tied Susan Polk to Felix Polk's murder?

A clump of hair was discovered in Felix Polk’s hand at the murder scene, and DNA evidence proved it belonged to his estranged wife, Susan. Police questioned her about what happened.

“She seemed very aloof,” Costa said. “Didn’t seem shook up that her husband was dead.”

Susan eventually admitted to killing Felix, but argued she did it in self-defense.

“They got into an argument, he grabbed a knife, he attacked her with the knife,” Sequeria said. “She was in fear for her life. She said he’d been abusive before, he’d threatened her.”

Susan also claimed her husband lied to everyone, including their children, about her.

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“According to Susan, Felix was turning the children against her, constantly telling the children she was mentally ill, kind of gaslighting Susan,” Jordan said.

Susan Polk's surprise decision at her trial

Susan Polk shocked everyone when she decided to fire her lawyers and represent herself at her 22-week-long murder trial in 2006.

“There were periods in the trial where some of her questioning was as good as I’ve ever heard,” Sequeria said. “From anywhere. I mean, some of her cross examination was really, really good.”

But her decision forced her to cross-examine her sons, who were testifying against her in court.

"It was almost like a trainwreck,” Jordan said. “They are basically being badgered by their own mother. It became a three-ring circus when she finally called her middle child, Eli, to the stand as her defense witness.”

In took a jury four days to come up with a verdict, finding Susan Polk guilty of the second-degree murder of her husband, Felix.

Susan received a sentence of 16 years to life in prison. She is still serving her sentence. She was denied parole in 2019, and is not eligible again until 2029.

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