Murders A-Z

Serial Spouse Shoots Fifth Husband In Head, Stages Death To Look Like Suicide

Prominent heart surgeon Darryl Sutorius thought he'd found true love with a younger woman. 

Murders A-Z is a collection of true crime stories that take an in-depth look at both little-known and famous murders throughout history.

In the case of Della “Dante” Sutorius, prosecutors contend it was the fear of rejection that drove her to put a gun to the back of her husband’s head and blow his brains out. What’s more, her family and four ex-husbands agreed with them.

Before she was Della Dante Hoeffer Beyer Bassett Britteon Sutorius, she was simply Della Faye Hall, a poor girl born on the wrong side of Cincinnati in 1950. Her father died when she was 3, and her mother Olga quickly remarried.

According to the New York Daily News, her history of violence stretched back to childhood, when she threatened to murder her stepsisters and even allegedly killed her neighbor's dog. Still, life wasn’t easy for Della, who claimed she was abused as a child.

At 19, after dropping out of high school, she became pregnant and married a local boy named Joe Hoeffer. They soon divorced, and she struggled to support herself and her child, who eventually ended up in foster care.

“I didn't have any money,” she told Oxygen’s "Snapped." “It isn't like now, there are places to go, all sorts that you can go get help.”

Married and divorced again by her late 20s, she decided to adopt the name Dante, feeling her own name sounded too black, according to Aphrodite Jones in her book "Della's Web: A True Story of Marriage and Murder."

In 1994, at the age of 44, Dante had little to show for herself besides a few failed marriages, but when she decided to try her luck with a local dating service, she hit pay dirt.

“I was looking through the book one day and the girl came in and said have I got a guy for you,” she remembered. His name was Dr. Darryl Sutorius, and he was an esteemed 54-year-old cardiac and thoracic surgeon who had recently divorced his wife of 30 years.

Still nursing a broken heart, the 6-foot-3-inch, 260-pound doctor fell hard for the diminutive divorcee.

“He lavished gifts on her,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Jerry Kunkel told "Snapped." “He bought her a diamond tennis bracelet and a mink coat.”

Dante began to refer to him as “Daddy Warbucks,” after the rich father figure from the "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip. His biggest gift, however, came with strings attached.

“He came over and said ‘I have another present for you’,” Dante told "Snapped." It was a Lexus luxury automobile.

Dante explained, “He said ‘I'll put it in your name when you marry me.”

After dating for only four months, they married in March of 1995. For the first few months, friends described Darryl and Dante Sutorius as having “a perfect marriage," but it didn't last long. Despite his successful career, Darryl’s finances were stretched thin between paying his ex-wife’s alimony, covering his kids’ college tuition and indulging the whims of his hot new trophy wife. When his oldest daughter Deborah announced she was engaged, Darryl planned to spend $50,000 on a extravagant wedding until Dante put the kibosh on it, leading to a major blow-out between all involved.

The Sutoriuses argued constantly about money and eventually slept in different bedrooms. In January 1996, they began meeting with a marriage counselor recommended by a psychiatrist, who was seeing Darryl as a patient. According to Cincinnati Magazine, Darryl told the psychiatrist that Dante threatened him on numerous occasions. She said she’d tell his friends he was impotent, that she’d report him to IRS for tax fraud or that she'd ruin his business by telling referring physicians he kept an unsanitary workplace.

“She will kill me and get away with it,” he said in one therapy session. He even told a friend that if he turned up dead, Dante did it.

On the morning of February 19, 1996, Darryl Sutorius didn’t show up for work at his medical practice. He also failed to call to say he would be late, which is something doctors did not do. Concerned, his office manager called the Hamilton County Sheriff's Department, who sent deputies out to his home. When they got there, Dante told them she often didn’t see her husband for days due to his hospital schedule, but allowed them to search the house.

While they looked in the garage, Dante went down to a room in the basement. After hearing her screams, they found Darryl Sutorius sitting slumped over on his couch, dead from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Investigators immediately thought Darryl’s death seemed suspicious.

A detective told "Snapped," “The wound was a non-contact wound, and the path of the bullet was from the rear to the front, which would be very unusual in this type of situation if it was a suicide.”

He had been dead long enough for rigor mortis to set in, but Dante said she never heard a gunshot. Stranger still, the gun that Darryl supposedly shot himself with had been purchased the week prior by Dante.

“I was always afraid that I'm going to wake up and there's someone standing in my room and so, I bought a gun,” Dante told "Snapped."

She said when Darryl found out she bought it, he became “enraged” and took it away from her. The more police questioned her, the more her answers didn’t add up. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any reason to hold her until they found a vial of cocaine in her bedroom. They booked her for possession, and she was released on $2,500 bail.

As news of Darryl Sutorius’ death spread, people began reaching out to the police with information on Dante.

Detective Hinrichs said, “During that time we received several phone calls from people that are familiar with this, including her mother, who calls and indicates that Della killed her husband.”

Not only did Olga say her daughter probably killed her husband, but she also gave police the contact information of all four of Dante’s ex-husbands. What they revealed was shocking.

Dante’s third husband Gary Bassett told The Los Angeles Times, "When I heard that Dr. Sutorius was dead, I thought, 'I'm so . . . lucky to be alive, it's not funny.' "

Meanwhile, fourth husband David Britteon said if he hadn’t hid the bullets to his handgun during their marriage, "it would be me on the couch with a bullet to my ear."

One former flame relayed a story of her allegedly setting fire to his bed while he was asleep. Another man accused her of burning his house down, though it was never proved Dante set the fire.

“Her former husbands and boyfriends, whenever they went to end that relationship, Della responded violently. She didn't accept rejection,” a detective told "Snapped."

Among those wanting to end their relationship with Dante Sutorius was her dead husband Darryl.

Darryl had told a colleague: "I made a mistake. I got to get out of here,” in reference to his marriage. In fact, on the day of his murder, Darryl had an appointment with his attorney to begin divorce proceedings. Due to the brief time they were married, Dante would have gotten little in the divorce, but if Darryl died, she would received the bulk of his life insurance policy, which would have brought in “somewhere in the neighborhood of $750,000 to $1 million,” according to a prosecutor.

On the afternoon of February 27, 1996, while family and friends gathered for Darryl Sutorius’ funeral, police received his autopsy report. A prosecutor told "Snapped" their findings revealed “that this could not have been a self-inflicted wound.” They arrested Dante Sutorius the same day, leading her out of the house in her bathrobe. She was charged her with aggravated murder, according to The Los Angeles Times. Unable to make bail, she would sit in jail until her trial started three months later.

During the trial, the prosecution brought out one witness after another who testified to Dante Sutorius’ violent nature. Then they presented their forensic evidence, showing that Darryl Sutorius' gunshot wound could not have been self-inflicted.

The defense meanwhile tried to paint him as a depressed middle-aged man, at one point even arguing that he killed himself because Dante had threatened him. The jury wasn’t buying it. They found her guilty, and she was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

Even after being convicted, Dante Sutorius maintained her innocence.

“How could they think I would kill somebody?” she asked when profiled on "Snapped." “I thought they would realize that he did that himself. I didn't shoot him.”

She claimed the trial was “character assassination” and unsuccessfully appealed her conviction before resigning herself to her fate and waiting for her first parole opportunity in 2013. Unfortunately for her, it was a date she would never see.

Della Dante Sutorius died in prison on November 20, 2010. According to The Gant Daily, she died of “natural causes.” She was 60 years old.

[Photos: Associated Press]

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