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“The link between chemical dependency and domestic violence is sort of like gas on a fire,” she said. “The issues around power and control and coercive behaviors are one thing — that’s the fire — while the alcohol can exacerbate the problems and make things worse, things that make people less able to protect themselves and the assaults that happen more violent.”
In Shaw’s case, the alcohol made her dependent on Thompson. Unable to hold down a job, she relied on him not only for booze but sometimes shelter, often staying at his Minneapolis apartment when she had nowhere else to go.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Shaw was the youngest of nine siblings in a family ravaged by alcoholism. Only three of the brothers and sisters are still alive. Her early adulthood was happy and productive, said Troy Shaw, who is slightly older than her aunt and was close with her for years. After graduating from Patrick Henry High School, she worked at Northern States Power and eventually had two sons, who are now being raised by other relatives. She was long an alcoholic, but mostly a functional one until she met Thompson.
Soon after that, Troy and Ronnell rarely saw her. But when they did, she looked more worn down. Her once-fashionable outfits had been replaced by baggy T-shirts, and she stopped wearing makeup. They attributed her isolation to drinking, but had no idea that Thompson, a man they’d only met a few times and didn’t like, was beating her. They were infuriated when they learned of the lengthy history only after her death.
“It was devastating …” Troy Shaw said. “… that she had to suffer and go through that much torture without thinking anybody cared,” Ronnell Shaw added.
“Exactly,” Troy Shaw said. “That’s how she died. Really thinking that nobody loved her, because she was so busy hiding it.”
She didn’t hide it from Amber Shaw, who often defended her aunt against Thompson and encouraged her to take out a protective order. In a cellphone video taken days before she died, Shaw danced in her niece’s living room while family members laughed. She was happy, and was on the waiting list to receive Social Security assistance with a new apartment.
Amber Shaw was working at her job downtown last month when she came home to learn that her aunt had returned to Walter Thompson. She’s believed to have been killed that day. Amber said she spent three days trying in vain to reach Shaw, in part because she had good news: A social services agency had just approved Shaw for her own apartment.
The next call came from St. Louis Park police. It was too late.
Shaw’s ashes were buried Tuesday at Crystal Lake Cemetery in Minneapolis. More than 75 people gathered to say goodbye.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921