The crime had none of the resonance of the big media stories that mesmerize the television- and tabloid-obsessed public nowadays. A handyman with a violent past allegedly taking a metal pipe to his girlfriend in front of numerous witnesses on a grimy Fort Lauderdale street?

Nancy Grace, Larry King, the National Enquirer, and the rest took no notice.

But the reasons the couple suffered a public meltdown early that Saturday morning in June are as intriguingly complex as those that caused a Modesto, California, fertilizer salesman to murder his pregnant wife or some unidentified wrongdoer to kidnap an American teenager in Aruba.

Joannes Pierre, 39, and Camille Wilson, 35, had spent two years living together in Progresso, a transitional and tattered neighborhood near downtown that is a longtime home to Caribbean immigrants. Capped by a city water tower with a small collection of auto body shops, clapboard cottages, and ill-maintained apartment buildings, Progresso occupies a rectangle between Sunrise and Sistrunk boulevards, Powerline Avenue, and a lazy curve in the Florida East Coast Railroad.

Their lives weren't easy -- Pierre scraped by with temporary labor jobs, and Wilson seemed to spend most of her time scratching for drugs -- but the two were in love. This was despite the fact, Pierre now says, that when he met Wilson, she was pregnant and homeless.

"She ended up having the baby in a crack house," Pierre says, his calm voice squeezed through a filthy black phone at the Broward County Jail, where a sheet of smeared plexiglass separates him from a reporter and a friend.

Pierre met Wilson almost five years ago. She already had three children, two boys and a girl, ranging in age from 5 to 14. By 2004, the two shared a squalid house on NE Second Avenue, a mosquito-infested nightmare missing a back wall, with a weed- and trash-strewn patch of dirt for a yard. These conditions didn't deter Pierre from starting a family with Wilson.

Her habits were troublesome. She was arrested 15 times for crack possession from 2000 to shortly before her death. But their daughter, Angel, was born last November, and they both treated the event as a blessed moment.

A fleeting golden moment.

Pierre can be sanctimonious in his pronouncements about child-rearing, but he hasn't exactly been the best dad to his four other children -- the pairs of sons and daughters he had with Rosemary Pierre, his wife of ten years. By the time she filed for divorce in May 2000, court documents show, he owed her close to $15,000 in child support. The amount was up to $17,600 by January 2003, when Rosemary -- who has relocated, remarried, and could not be reached for comment -- waived her right to the money.

"She wanted to move on and didn't want me to know where she was," Pierre says.

During mediation for the divorce, caseworkers representing Rosemary noted that her husband had "failed to make a single... voluntary payment toward child support." The two were ordered into counseling "due to domestic violence upon the mother with the children present and the instability of the father."

The disparity between Pierre's words and his actions was typical of the diminutive Bahamian handyman, who to this day blithely maintains that it was Camille Wilson herself who did the bludgeoning, "accidentally" committing suicide with a pipe that day in June.

There may be reasons for the disconnect between the reality of Pierre and Wilson's lives and his perception of it, say some who know him.

Pierre acknowledges that he has been receiving treatment for schizophrenia for the past 13 years, since before he left the Bahamas. He says he was taking monthly injections of Depacode, a medication often prescribed for depression, but in jail he has been prescribed different drugs. "It helps me to be calm and not to worry," Pierre explains.

His symptoms usually consist of dizziness and weakness, but he also says he's suffered hallucinations and blackouts and has heard voices.

"I've heard the voice of God," he says, "telling me to help people."

The message apparently wasn't getting through when Pierre's wife finally pried herself loose from him five years ago.

The divorce was bitterly contentious. In October 2000, Pierre was arrested after he showed up at the Lauderdale Lakes apartment Rosemary shared with the children and her new boyfriend, who told Joannes to leave. Yet the pounding on the door continued, Rosemary alleged in a domestic violence complaint. "He said he will be back to kill us all. He called my family in the Bahamas and said 'I am going to kill Rosemary and the kids now.' He said he is going to kill my daddy and mother and my sister and brother if he doesn't see his kids."

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton