Brittany Givens-Copeland was slain trying to tell Adam Williams that she didn't want to date him anymore.

In November in Prior Lake, it happened to Ruth Anne Maddox when she tried to leave her husband. Just days before that, it was Teresa Bugarin of Dodge Center, who was stabbed to death, allegedly by her husband in front of their children, because she wanted a divorce. Also slain was the couple's son, Nick Bugarin, 12.

Their stories illustrate a wrenching reality: The most dangerous time for women in relationships with abusive men is often the moment when they try to leave.

A new "Femicide" report being released today by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women found that at least 26 women died in domestic violence last year in the state. More than half, or 54 percent, were slain as they tried to leave their intimate partners.

In 2007, 22 women in Minnesota were killed because of domestic violence. Of those killed by a live-in partner, 42 percent were leaving or had just left.

"It's a time when batterers are increasing their attempts to intimidate their partners, and it's when ultimately they don't want to relinquish control over their partner," said Cyndi Cook, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women in St. Paul. "And the ultimate act of control is to take a person's life."

During breakups, an abuser may decide whatever he is doing to keep a woman near him is not working, so he "ups the ante," said Jeffrey Edleson, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Minnesota and director of the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse.

Police say Williams asphyxiated Givens-Copeland, of Bloomington, on Jan. 25, set a fire in his apartment and died of smoke inhalation. Williams' longtime friends later expressed disbelief.

In November, on the day their divorce was to become final, Charles Maddox Jr. was charged with second-degree murder in the strangulation of his wife, Ruth Anne Maddox, 45. According to charges, he admitted killing the popular reporter for the Shakopee Valley News and hiding her body in their garage.

In Dodge Center, when her children heard Teresa Bugarin scream for help, they ran to the back of the home, where they saw their father pinning their mother. She had been stabbed, and he shot her as the children looked on, charges say.

Bugarin chased his kids, slashing and stabbing at their faces and necks. Twelve-year-old Nick wrested the knife from his father and stabbed him twice in the back. The siblings ran to a neighbor's house, but Nick bled to death.

There often are warning signs that a man could turn violent, such as controlling behavior, intense jealousy and stalking -- but not always, experts say. For some women, it seems inconceivable that a man, even if he is controlling, could kill.

"It's hard to believe that someone who you love, or whom you loved, and who professed to love you, could ever harm you in that way," Cook said.

On the night of Jan. 25, Givens-Copeland drove to Williams' Burnsville apartment after telling others she was going to break up with him.

Anthony Darden -- the father of Givens-Copeland's baby -- had recently reunited with her. In the weeks before her death, he said, she had been "creeped out" by Williams, who was showing up in the middle of the night, tapping on her window, or acting boldly, Darden said.

"He wouldn't go away. He was being weird, like walking through her back door when I was with her, and acting like he owned the place," Darden said, ''or knocking on the window at three in the morning."

Givens-Copeland had not filed a police report or sought a restraining order.

"Dominant and controlling behavior, which actually looks like highly jealous behavior, is a big red flag," Cook said. "Stalking is a red flag for potential homicide. It's certainly a red flag for ongoing violence and intimidation, and it's downright scary."

If Givens-Copeland had been fearful, Edleson said, he would have hoped that she would have taken steps to have someone else there while she broke up with Williams and to have an emergency plan.

In rare cases, he said, there's no violence until the woman tries to pull away.

"She may have had no indications," Edleson said. "He may have been controlling, but he may have not been violent."

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017