Dr. Christine McFadden: Love Dispensed Here

Christine McFadden, DVM
It was just to destroy me.
– Dr. Christine McFadden

She went out for a morning walk with her best friend, Amy Velasquez, and came home to find all four of her children brutally murdered.  How do you recover from this devastating loss?

Dr. Christine McFadden is a veterinarian in Merced, CA.  She founded the thriving Valley Animal Hospital with the philosophy:  “Love dispensed here.”  She was first married to Dr. Thomas Willis, a veterinarian in Bakersfield, CA.  The couple had three children:  Melanie, Stuart, and Stanley Willis.  In an interview with Oprah, Dr. McFadden hinted there was physical abuse in this marriage.

Dr. McFadden next married retired Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy John Hogan.  They had Michelle McFadden.  Prior to their divorce, Dr. McFadden obtained a restraining order against Mr. Hogan because he was verbally abusive.  He was, however, invited to participate in the children’s lives and had attended his daughter’s birthday party shortly before he murdered her.

The kids had lots of friends and excelled in school and in sports.  Of course, they had lots of pets.

 Nightmare in Merced

On March 26, 2002, Mr. Hogan entered the McFadden home while Dr. McFadden was on her early-morning walk.  He murdered the boys in their beds and Melanie in the hall.  Then, he took his own five-year-old daughter Michelle into Dr. McFadden’s bedroom and shot her while she was in his lap and killed himself.  He left an eighteen page suicide note, and he left a voice-mail message:

I’m bankrupt, morally, physically, emotionally, monetarily. My body’s gone, my mind is gone.  I have nothing left.

 Dr. McFadden learned later that he had just been evicted from his apartment.

More than 2,000 mourners came to the funeral.  They celebrated the lives of Melanie Lorraine Willis, the scholar who loved ballet and was running for senior class president; Stanley Richard Willis, the football star; Stuart Edward Willis, the soccer phenomenon; and Michelle, who wanted to be a veterinarian, just like her mom.

Trauma Therapist and Psychiatrist
Obviously, Dr. McFadden was an emotional mess.  She was no longer vivacious.  She didn’t work.  She was on heavy mood-altering medications and saw her psychiatrist twice a week.  She opted to remain in her home with its memories of her children:
They’re everywhere here.  They picked it out, they planted it.  They broke it.
This is where they were born. I can still see their smudgy handprints on the walls.  The plants they planted are here.  Stuart’s tree is out in the front yard.  Stan painted the house.  The few minutes it took somebody to come in and put bullets into them is not what my children are all about.
Her home is filled with the children’s photos:
Before, I never even had pictures in my wallet.  That was the joke ~  that I didn’t need to because I always had at least one of my kids with me.
A few years later, her sister was dying of cancer.  She decided it was time to move on with her life.  So, she stopped seeing the trauma therapist and stopped taking her medications because they caused her to feel flat emotionally.  She had discovered that the MSSM Foundation was her best therapy:
Melanie, Stanley, Stuart, and Michelle were the best things that ever happened to me. Even in their short lives, they exceeded any hopes I could have had for them.

Camping with Grandpa

 MSSM Foundation

Dr. McFadden established the MSSM Foundation (Michelle ~ Stanley ~ Stuart ~ Michelle) to celebrate her children’s lives with $53,000 in unsolicited donations from people touched by her story.  She told Good Morning America:

I feel my children were such incredible people and I want the world to hear about them.  I want to memorialize them and to allow them to do for the world what I think they would have done to make their mark on the world.

Melanie Lorraine Willis

 Friendship scholarship for wonderful, loyal friends
– MSSM Foundation goal

In 2003, the MSSM Foundation began awarding $4,000 Friendship Scholarships to four graduates of the Merced Union High School District. Recipients were chosen based on testimonials about their qualities as friends.  Friendship skills are more important than grade-point-average.  Dr. McFadden got the idea because she:

Was trying to draw on something that all children could have in common, not any one thing that one of my four children might have done best.  I wanted to honor all of them, and they had an incredible number of friends.

Michelle McFadden and Melanie Willis

Melanie Lorraine Willis

Ms. Willis was born on November 14, 1984.  She was National Merit scholar with a 4.5 grade point who hoped to attend Stanford University.  She was a cheerleader and studied ballet for 12 years. 

Her ballet slippers still hang on the door, and her cheerleader skirt is still in the closet.  She is remembered on the MSSM Foundation site:
She was a tremendous role model for her siblings, and set a hard standard to follow with all of her academic and social accomplishments.  She had a large group of friends while maintaining a very close knit relationship with a special group of friends from elementary school.  She was a very kind, generous, strong-willed, independent, exceptionally intelligent and motivated young woman who was widely loved and admired.

Stuart Richard Willis

On April 11, 2003, Dr. McFadden hosted a celebrity golf tournament in Thousand Oaks, CA. 

Christine McFadden and Stuart Willis

Stuart Richard Willis
Master Willis was born on August 31, 1987.  He was an outstanding soccer player and honor student.  After his murder, his soccer coach received a call from an Olympic scout ~ to inquire about Stuart’s talent ~ Stuart’s dream come true.  He loved to dance, play games, and work on the computer.  He is remembered on the MSSM Foundation site:
Stuart was a risk-taker and didn’t mind an adventure, such as trying many of his mother’s exotic dishes and always loved her cooking regardless of what it looked like on a plate. . .He took great pride in his ability to tease and exasperate his younger sister, Michelle, while being a tremendously patient and fun playmate. Stuart was a very loving, kind, conscientious, firm, and competitive young man. He was a young and natural leader of his peers, and was very well respected and loved.

Stuart and Stan with Iguana at Mom's Clinic

 Children’s playroom at Mercy Hospital in Merced
MSSM Foundation goal

Stan Willis and Christine McFadden

Stanley Edward Willis

 Stanley Edward Willis

Mr. Willis was born on July 19, 1986.  He was a tremendous athlete, strong student, and popular with the girls.  He was an avid outdoorsman who loved hunting, camping, and paintballing.  He cared for his two huge dogs.  He is remembered on the MSSM Foundation site:

Stan had a large group of friends with several close friendships that he maintained throughout grammar school.  Stan was an amazing young man with a tremendous sense of humor and ability to entertain and interact with all ages, children through adults.  He was a very calm, loving, intelligent and creative young man with a tremendously quick wit.  Stanley had great presence and was a recognizable force as a leader in all that he did.  He was well respected and loved by all his peers, their families and all who knew him.

Michelle McFadden and Stan Willis

 Addition to the University of CA at Merced Library
– MSSM achieved goal
Dr. McFadden remortgaged her spacious ranch-style home to fund a $250,000 gift to the University of California at Merced’s library.

UC Merced Lantern Room

On May 13, 2006, the McFadden-Willis Reading Room was dedicated.  It is on top of the main library building.  At night, light spills out onto the campus and valley like a lantern.

Michelle Morgan McFadden, age 3 with her fish

Michelle Morgan McFadden
Miss McFadden was born on March 7, 1997.  She had just celebrated her fifth birthday and was in preschool.  She was precocious and mature for her age.  She loved her pets, her mother’s flowers, and to fish.  She spent a great deal of time at her mother’s veterinary clinic “treating” her stuffed animals.  She is remembered at the MSSM Foundation site:

Michelle was greatly loved by her brothers, sister and her mom. She returned their love and enjoyed all of the activities and noise associated with having older siblings. She was an amazing girl with much vibrancy and love. She brought sunshine wherever she went. 

Oprah and Christine McFadden with twins
Christine Meets Jerry
After her second divorce and the murders of her children, Dr. McFadden wasn’t in the mood for men.  But, they came out of the woodwork to pursue her.  One of her suitors was widower Judge Gerald (Jerry) Corman.  He too was emotionally shut down after caring for his late wife, who had spent years before her death in a vegetative state due to diabetes complications.  She told Oprah:
I wasn’t demanding of him, and he was there for me. I thought if he was around, I might sleep three hours a night.  So in some ways I probably used him.  But we had good conversation, a lot in common. We certainly enjoyed each other. And the only time I was guaranteed not to think about the children was when we were having sex.
Although Dr. McFadden was in her late forties, she decided having more children would be a good way to move forward with her life.
Gerald and Christine with Twins on Oprah
In April, 2006, Dr. McFadden married Gerald Corman, a Merced family law judge, after a trip to Paris.  Dr. McFadden describes him as a wonderful man:
Affectionate.  Quiet.  Thoughtful.  And gentle.
On January 26, 2007, she gave birth to twin girls, Nicole and Claire.  The babies were born almost five years after her other children’s deaths.  Dr. McFadden combined Stuart and Michelle’s former rooms to create a fresh space for the twins.  She reflected on her new life and told Oprah:
I’m happily married.  I’m thrilled to have these two babies, to live again.  I’d like to work part-time again in my veterinary clinic.  I still love the animals.

She survived domestic violence and the murder of her children.  She’s thriving and has found joy.

 October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  Please join me in wearing your purple and celebrating survivors.


6 responses to “Dr. Christine McFadden: Love Dispensed Here

  1. I was part of a team that trains hostage/crisis negotiators in California when this happened. What a tragic case. But this case, like so many (David and Crystal Brame immediately come to mind), are reminders of what can happen when the victim tries to keep everyone moving forward (despite the gut-wrenching sense that things may come off the rails) and feels she has no one to turn to. Or perhaps she does call attention to what is happening and her concerns are not taken seriously.
    We are far enough into this movement to start to ask some radically different questions about domestic violence (why does get to stalk, harass, abuse and intimidate her/the children without any sanctions at all?) instead of asking ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’–a ridiculous and victim-blaming question.
    I/we am working on a documentary film on the history of the battered women’s movement. We are going to pose some radical new questions and some new solutions to violence against women.
    Our website is http://www.privateviolence.com
    Have a look. In peace,
    Kit Gruelle

  2. Ms. Gruelle,

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Why doesn’t she leave? You raised two excellent answers to this question: Dr. McFadden and Crystal DID leave. . .that’s what got Crystal and the Willis/McFadden kids killed. Quite frankly, if we want to keep women alive, we should be asking why didn’t she stay?

    One of the reasons I created this site is because IMHO it is WAY past time for a new DV paradigm. A breast cancer survivor wrote an excellent Huffington Post article asking why we blame the prey rather than the perpetrator. It brought to mind my own question ~ why don’t we celebrate survivors more??? This may sound callous, but breast cancer survivors aren’t nearly as responsible for their survival as DV survivors. Yet, we celebrate cancer survival ~ even though the real credit for this achievement belongs largely to researchers and scientists who created the map. But, we don’t celebrate DV survivors who pretty much have to rely on their instincts and wit withough much of a map..

    I will check your site out. Thanks for the heads-up.

    Anne Caroline

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more: part of what we want to do with Private Violence is celebrate the intelligence, strength and courage of survivors. When society looks down it’s collective nose at battered women, all that manages to do is make it that much more difficult for them to get the respect, encouragement, empowerment (I’m an old-school advocate!) and support they deserve.
    I’ve been an advocate for 27 years (a survivor for 31 years) and I am routinely inspired by the tenacity of battered women. I think they are like wildflowers, stuck (for a period of time) in harsh surroundings but determined to survive and thrive in whatever environment they find themselves. When they manage to make to out, they deserve a ticker-tape parade!!
    The problem with women feeling like they must hide out and keep their experiences a secret is because of the shame we pile on top of them, which, of course, they do not deserve.
    It’s not her fault that he CHOSE to be violent, coercive, threatening and controlling with her. But until we challenge the way society reacts/responds to victims and disabuse them of the notion that all she has to do is LEAVE, women will continue to bear the burden of domestic violence victimization as if it was their fault. Blogs like yours help get the truth of domestic violence/dv dynamics/dv murders out there for people to read and think about.
    Thank you, thank you!

  4. Sept 25 2012 I’m watching listening to your story about your children with tears in my eyes . I had to google your name make sure you are okay. So happy I did can rejoice that life has blessed you with more children and a loving husband. From a single mom widow my husband passed with Als thought I dealt with life cruelty but not a day will pass that I will not feel blessed for having my children. Bless you Christine from sylvia

  5. I read this, and am very sad for the turn of events. Nothing should cause such a terrible tragedy. I often think that in today’s society that enough is not done about a marriage that is in trouble.It is too easy to divorce. I am going through a divorce that has hurt me. I complain because the spouse never tried to abate, fix or determine what was wrong. It causes me great stress and difficult emotions that border on a hazard to get a revenge. Luckily I have great therapists, and friends that have kepi me level headed. But, it could have been prevented or at least getting to the point of understanding.

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