She killed her abusive ex-husband, then turned her life around
A survivor of domestic violence, Marcia White shot and killed her ex-husband in 1983. Today, she uses the experience as a platform to help other survivors, as well as abusers.
When Marcia White began dating her second husband, Leland Bass, Jr., she quickly learned of his affinity for guns.
It was a passion he shared with his father, who collected hunting weapons. Bass took White on dates to the rifle range. On her 21st birthday, he bought her a .38 Special revolver.
“It would actually be the gun that I shot and killed him with,” said White, now 64
On the morning of Jan. 16, 1983, Bass, 32, kicked in the door of White’s East Side home on Berkeley Road, she said. Their divorce was finalized just two days prior — the culmination of a long struggle to remove him from her life. But he’d remained a constant, menacing presence.
White, then 28, said she was upstairs with a friend and her three young children — one daughter from a previous marriage, and a daughter and son with Bass. According to White, Bass shouted for her to come downstairs and threatened to kill everyone if she refused.
Carrying her gun in her back pocket, she approached him and he hit her over the head with a gun, causing her to fall, she said. He then held her at gunpoint.
“(In the past) he had told me, if I ever felt so afraid that I needed to pull my gun, that I better be prepared to pull the trigger,” she said. “I pulled the gun out. I fired it three times and shot him in our living room.”
According to police at the time, White struck Bass once in the chest, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. She was not charged.
White has used her experience to help women in danger, volunteering for organizations such as Directions for Youth and Families and the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence (now the Center for Family Safety and Healing). She currently works for IMPACT Community Action, a local nonprofit tackling poverty, where she developed a curriculum to teach about healthy relationships.
“(You have) a basic human right as a woman to live free from the threat of violence in your home,” said White, who lives on the East Side. “You’re allowed to live in peace.”
White never would have guessed that her relationship with Bass would end so badly after marrying him in 1978.
“The beginning of the relationship was so awesome,” she said. “He was a wonderful, brilliant, gentle man.”
In hindsight, she identifies red flags in the form of controlling behavior, which she mistook for love.
“I was never allowed to do anything by myself,” she said. “I had to get permission from him to go to the grocery store. If I was going to the doctor, he was with me. … His rationale was that he always thought something was going to happen to me.”
White said Bass, who worked as a repairman for a telephone company, became someone she didn’t recognize, due in part to his escalating drug use, which she’d naively overlooked. Her cousin, for example, had to explain that the burned spoons in the backyard were signs of heroin abuse.
“(You have) a basic human right as a woman to live free from the threat of violence in your home. You’re allowed to live in peace.”
White said she suffered “intense mental torture” as her husband threatened and intimidated her, especially when she expressed a desire to end the marriage.
“He said, ‘I’m going to kill your precious babies and then kill you and then kill myself before I would let you leave,’” White said.
White began to run away and hide at the homes of friends and family members. Bass would always find her, kick in doors, wield his gun and kidnap the kids to lure her back, she said. One time, she didn’t return home with him, so he called her and fired his gun in the background.
“I collapsed because I think he’s shot my children, and the phone goes dead,” White recalled.
When she served him with divorce papers, Bass reacted violently.
“He shot up every room, pulled the refrigerator from the kitchen to the dining room and threw all the food up against the walls,” she said. “(He) held me at gunpoint (and) raped me.”
White said she almost shot him in his sleep that night, but her oldest daughter walked in the room before she pulled the trigger. Instead, they escaped again, moving to the house on Berkeley Road.
Ashamed and embarrassed, White said she tried to keep the extent of the abuse from her loved ones, even as she took cover at their houses. Her close friend Regina Edwards, 62, of Blacklick, said she didn’t initially know the real reason White would ask her to leave the house before Bass came home from work.
“It got to the point where she’d have a black eye and she didn’t want to say anything or do anything,” Edwards said. “She was actually like on an Underground Railroad here in Columbus to hide from him, going from house to house. And it was pretty scary for a while.”
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Though White didn’t serve time after fatally shooting Bass, she remained in a mental prison, spiraling into drug and alcohol addiction for about a decade.
“I could not live with my reality,” she said. “I took another human being’s life, but not only that, the father of my children. And the shame that was attached to that was too much.”
Commentary from her close-knit social circle was also a challenge.
“I stopped going to church,” she said. “I knew people were whispering, ‘That’s Ms. White’s daughter, who killed her husband.’ And so I just stayed away. And the more I stayed away and shut myself away from everybody, the worse my life got.”
Edwards said she didn’t judge her friend after Bass died, but she did distance herself as White entered into other abusive relationships and didn’t appear to seek counseling. (Four years after White took Bass’s life, she dated another man whom she came to fear. White’s brother later shot and killed him and was convicted of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor.)
White said she felt if she continued her self-destructive behavior, that would mean Bass would win, after all. Volunteering at a shelter for battered women and renewing her relationship with God helped her turn her life around.
Eventually, she was able to forgive herself and take steps to move on. She went from marking each anniversary of Bass’s death with a complex combination of celebration and grief to forgetting when it rolled around. And she stopped questioning why her life unfolded the way it did.
“I’m never going to know the answer to that,” she said. “I realized something good had to come out of it, and it did. I have wonderful children.”
White said she made a point to be direct with her children about what happened. She would ask them how they felt about telling people, “My mom killed my father.”
“That’s a reality that I didn’t want them to run from or be embarrassed by,” White said. “When they got to be teenagers they were like, ’Mom, OK. We’re OK. Stop.’”
She also had discussions with them about how to set healthy expectations for relationships.
“I don’t want them to have the life that I lived,” she said. “I don’t want my daughters to ever be in a violent relationship. I don’t want my son to be the man that his father was.”
For help for yourself or someone else, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).