A Hit Man Came to Kill Susan Kuhnhausen. She Survived. He Didn't.
January 3, 2018 7:57 AM   Subscribe

"Does she need an ambulance?" "No, she's a nurse. She says call an ambulance for the guy. He may be dead." Susan Kuhnhausen talks about surviving her ex's plan to have her killed and her life since then. (slWillametteWeek) (content warning: gore, mayhem)
posted by goatdog (46 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
> The fight had now lasted about 14 minutes.

14 minutes is almost five full championship boxing rounds. It's a minute shy of a complete UFC match. Imagine fighting someone for your life that long.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:30 AM on January 3 [59 favorites]


This is such a crazy story. What stood out to me (besides Susan’s awesomeness) was just how bad at this Mike and the hit man were. A claw hammer as the weapon? Picking a guy you work with to murder your wife?
posted by FireFountain at 8:40 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


I've competed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments where it sure felt like my opponent was trying to kill me, and I was exhausted after five minutes. The adrenaline surge and dump alone wipes you out once you take a minute to breathe. I'm a pretty healthy guy who trains a few times a week, and my opponents don't have a hammer. I actually can imagine what that felt like, and it makes me sick to my stomach.
posted by ga$money at 8:40 AM on January 3 [32 favorites]


The fact that he was on coke and it went on for 14 minutes. Woman, you are indeed a hero. Not because you killed someone but because you fought for your life and your reflexes are outstanding.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:43 AM on January 3 [29 favorites]


There was a thread on reddit about this earlier today. People were making up their own dialogue, such as:

wife: "Tell me who sent you and I'll call you an ambulance!"

killer: "It was your husband!"

wife: lowers lips to his ear as she tightens her grip...

wife: "...you're an ambulance..."


I need to see this movie on the big screen.

Meanwhile, I just saw I, Tonya. Yeesh, some people should just not try to be badass criminals.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:51 AM on January 3 [53 favorites]


I'm always glad to read about someone who survived, instead of about one more homicide. Thanks for posting.
posted by Crystal Fox at 8:52 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


It's one twist away from being a Coen brothers movie.

Important takeaway though:

"They're not calling you a hero because you killed a man," her boss told her. "They're calling you a hero because they want to believe, given the same circumstances, they, too, might survive."

Also do not fuck with nurses.
posted by Artw at 9:08 AM on January 3 [82 favorites]


The stairwell scene in Atomic Blonde lasts for seven and a half minutes.
posted by adept256 at 9:09 AM on January 3 [26 favorites]


Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

*ahem*

Man, stuff like this reminds me why I've never been able to jump on the recent true crime bandwagon even though so much of it comes recommended by people with excellent taste. Thinking about how the aftereffects of crimes ruin people's lives just makes me want to curl up in a corner for the rest of the day. Good on her for NOT curling up and dying, though.
posted by theweasel at 9:15 AM on January 3 [21 favorites]


Wow, this apparently happened just a few streets down from where I currently live.
I'm glad the story has a semi-happy ending and I hope the death of her ex-husband has brought Susan a modicum of peace.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:18 AM on January 3 [5 favorites]


"I will not die an unlived life," it began. "I will not live in fear."

Well, alright.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:18 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


They reference the fact in there, but I've seen it punched up a lot more in other stories of what she did. She got a testicle between her teeth and bit down hard. Turning point in the fight.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:24 AM on January 3 [15 favorites]


I feel like this is showing the other side of Portland and Oregon that isn't just what people think is all about quirky things with birds on it. Montavilla is where I live now, and it was only within the last year or two that housing prices made it acceptable to start gentrification around 82nd. That trailer park on Killingsworth is still there. Montavilla was also where this summers Nazi march happened, where one of the Nazis marching with a baseball bat was just turned away, and ended up being the attacker on the Max a few weeks later that killed two people.

Further souther in Douglas County, where the murderers first victim was, continues to have drug and crime issues. There's current a flurry of investigations around murder of a woman who was going to testify in drug case where it's suspected the County sheriff's office was covering it up.

as a cheerier side note: should we have a Montavilla meet up?
posted by mrzarquon at 9:25 AM on January 3 [18 favorites]


She survived that day, but carries psychic wounds: from knowing that her husband wanted her dead and from having to kill another person to save herself.

I don't understand this point of view. Why would a person feel bad about engaging successfully in self-defense? She held the moral high ground - she was immorally and unlawfully attacked and defended herself successfully using deadly force. She did not kill capriciously or unnecessarily. Her hands are clean. She is morally blameless.

(OTOH, I can certainly understand feeling bad about knowing that the particular individual sent to murder her was sent by her husband. That's a tough one.)
posted by theorique at 9:32 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I feel like this is showing the other side of Portland and Oregon that isn't just what people think is all about quirky things with birds on it.

Yep - I lived in Portland in '95-96 and, though I had a good time, I definitely saw a lot of despair and sleaze. "The dream of the 90s" Portlandia is invoking seems to have much more to do with someone's heavily white-washed idea about both the time and the place.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:33 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Just last night I was reading Christopher McDougall's Natural Born Heroes (not a great book, but interesting stories), and he was recounting the experience of Norina Bentzel, the elementary school principal in Red Lion, PA who fought off a machete-wielding assailant at her school in 2001. Interesting parallels in preparedness between being a principal/educator and being an emergency room nurse. Not panicking and actually doing something, quickly and decisively . . . super-powers, right there.
posted by pt68 at 9:36 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


She survived that day, but carries psychic wounds: from knowing that her husband wanted her dead and from having to kill another person to save herself.

— I don't understand this point of view.


I think killing a person, even in self defense, would be greatly traumatic for the vast, vast majority of people. It's why most WWII veterans didn't ever want to talk about the war, even though they were fighting to save the world from the fucking Nazis.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:40 AM on January 3 [143 favorites]


Why would a person feel bad about engaging successfully in self-defense?

Because killing a human being is a big deal.

Even putting aside the training to save lives and the code of ethics medical professionals are asked to live by, killing another person is a big deal and should be a big deal and it should be traumatic to kill someone. It's an extra layer of trauma - not an offset to the original trauma - that someone else was trying to kill you.

We spend an extraordinary amount of time and money training people to kill in a way that's supposed to make it easier or whatever and even that is pretty much an overall failure, because killing someone is a big deal. And it should be.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:43 AM on January 3 [63 favorites]


I don't understand this point of view.
Being morally and legally blameless is not the same as blithely being able to just throw off the weight of an action without a second thought. The woman saves lives for a living. I'm sure that taking one is difficult for most people regardless of the circumstances.
posted by xyzzy at 9:45 AM on January 3 [30 favorites]


> The fight had now lasted about 14 minutes.

Talking about the seemingly unending murder scene in Torn Curtain, Alfred Hitchcock observed that it is "very difficult, very painful, and it takes a very long time to kill a man."
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:50 AM on January 3 [8 favorites]


This is hitting a little close to home. My father broke into our house in the middle of the night several times during the divorce proceedings. One time, it was just to sneak into Mom's bedroom, scream and yell enough to scare the s*** out of her, then run out before she could confront him. Another time, my sister came down in the middle of the night to find him in the middle of changing the locks on the front and back doors. I screamed and rented at her for a while before leaving. I was too scared to confront him the time I heard strange noises and got out of bed to find him messing around with the pipes behind the washer. The plumbing in that house was never right again as long as we lived there. We don't know for sure if he had his gun with him at the time. Even decades later, I get scared whenever I hear someone outside the door after dark. I don't know if any of us would have been able to fight like this lady did.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:50 AM on January 3 [38 favorites]


JFC. That's one brave, bad-ass woman.

To echo the sentiment above: Do not fuck with nurses.
posted by lalochezia at 9:58 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Man, stuff like this reminds me why I've never been able to jump on the recent true crime bandwagon even though so much of it comes recommended by people with excellent taste. Thinking about how the aftereffects of crimes ruin people's lives just makes me want to curl up in a corner for the rest of the day.

Right on. Way too much entertainment about the killings, and rapings, and the people being brutal to each other. Do not want.
posted by jetsetsc at 9:58 AM on January 3 [23 favorites]


Being morally and legally blameless is not the same as blithely being able to just throw off the weight of an action without a second thought. The woman saves lives for a living. I'm sure that taking one is difficult for most people regardless of the circumstances.

I guess that makes sense. Where I was coming from: I imagined that every time I felt bad or guilty about taking human life, that thought would instantly be replaced by, "that fucker tried to kill me - he earned what was coming to him". But maybe those bad/guilty thoughts are more insistent than I would expect? Either that or I'm an evil uncaring psychopath :(
posted by theorique at 10:00 AM on January 3


She offered to call him an ambulance while he was still trying to kill her, of course she doesn't feel right about killing him.
posted by adept256 at 10:11 AM on January 3 [10 favorites]


She started to bite Haffey, thinking that if she was going to die, her teeth marks might tie her death to him. Wrestling on the floor, she bit his arm, his flank, his thigh.

She even bit through his zipper to his genitals. At the same time, she tried to rifle through Haffey's pockets, looking for ID she could toss under a bed or chair or dresser that police would later find. "I was like a downed power line snapping on the pavement," she says.


This is amazing presence of mind in the middle of an absolutely horrific ordeal. I'm in awe.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:28 AM on January 3 [31 favorites]


I don't understand this point of view. Why would a person feel bad about engaging successfully in self-defense?

I felt really bad about beating the snot out of the guy who stabbed me. Less bad once I got the hospital bill and had to file for bankruptcy, but still. Hell, I sometimes cry when I kill a deer or elk.

It's a hard thing to kill. Guns make it SO MUCH easier - if you've ever had to deliver a coup de grace with your hands or a knife, you'd know what I mean. Choking the life out of something with your hands can be a really difficult experience for some people.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:41 AM on January 3 [13 favorites]


I like that the post above this one on the front page is titled "if I had his nuts in a steel-trap I would...watch that trap till he died"
posted by jonathanhughes at 10:43 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


At no point does the article identify anyone involved as white. There are pictures, but anyone getting the text-only version wouldn't see those. Also, at no point is anyone's religion mentioned.

I strongly suspect that if any of the three people had been a person of color or non-Christian, those details would've been mentioned.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:47 AM on January 3 [9 favorites]


should we have a Montavilla meet up?

You're just setting up another hit to get rid of all of us, aren't you mrzarquon?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:50 AM on January 3 [4 favorites]


First, I will echo that a 14-minute long fight is unbelievably long. Near the peak of my youth and fitness, a six-minute wrestling match would exhaust me totally. These days I sometimes go to martial arts events with a format of two-minutes-on, one-minute off. I am soaked in sweat and slowing down by the end of the second round, and that's with a break!

Another item that I think the article could have put more stress on--someone came at her with unexpected violence, and she responded immediately, by moving into him to choke off his attacks. That undoubtedly saved her life, and is a rare but incredibly valuable response. It is very, very common for people to freeze when confronted with unexpected violence, and that reaction would probably have cost her her life. I don't know if it was the self-defense trainings at work, or past experience with violence, or some other experience that got her to move, but she had something that day that a lot of trained martial artists, cops, and soldiers do not.
posted by agentofselection at 11:09 AM on January 3 [22 favorites]


I don't understand this point of view. Why would a person feel bad about engaging successfully in self-defense? She held the moral high ground - she was immorally and unlawfully attacked and defended herself successfully using deadly force. She did not kill capriciously or unnecessarily. Her hands are clean. She is morally blameless.

In theory yes I agree. In practise I hope I never have to find out.
posted by srboisvert at 11:18 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


she had decades of experience in an emergency room, and with defense classes. her account expresses her own doubt about "remembering all that stuff" but muscle memory kicked in. she did not react to the situation, she responded, which is extremely difficult to do without training. that said, I think her story is still incredible, not everyone with her training and experience would have had the tenacity and focus she did. very impressive!
posted by supermedusa at 11:32 AM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I imagined that every time I felt bad or guilty about taking human life, that thought would instantly be replaced by, "that fucker tried to kill me

And that thought itself, would likely be very traumatic. The knowledge that someone absolutely wanted to do me physical harm would be nightmarish. Sure there would be anger there, but that's not necessarily good, and there would be a host of other emotions such as fear, guilt, anxiety, and more.

TLDR: post-traumatic stress won't go away just because the actions are justified.
posted by happyroach at 11:35 AM on January 3 [7 favorites]


14 minutes is almost five full championship boxing rounds. It's a minute shy of a complete UFC match. Imagine fighting someone for your life that long.
Me, reading this comment:

How is that possible? I've read that most real fights are over in a fraction of that time, that the length of choreographed Hollywood fights is to make them less confusing and more entertaining.

Me, while reading the article:

Oh, it wasn't one fight. It was a quick fight where she escaped him and gave him a chance to talk, followed by another longer fight in which she eventually nearly choked him to death but decided to flee and let him live instead, followed by a third much-longer fight in which she finally got him in another chokehold and gave him another chance to live, followed by her killing him.

So the only Hollywood-style trope here was "villain doesn't stand a chance against superhero, but refuses to surrender, so the repeated asskicking/mercy cycle in the script can simultaneously showcase the villain's perfidy, the superhero's strength, and the superhero's nobility". Kind of cliche, but she pulled it off.
posted by roystgnr at 11:43 AM on January 3 [12 favorites]


'I was a downed power line, snapping on the pavement' is an incredible line, it's poetry.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:02 PM on January 3 [31 favorites]


It does seem movie cliche but whenever I see this in a movie it stands out as unbelievable because this scene is so rare in reality. I'm a fan of the episodes of My Favorite Murder where they recount 'I Survived' type stories for the same reason that I liked this read. It's nice to see a good outcome, even though it's pretty far from a "win" really. It's a "not lose" I suppose.

I'd call her a superhero for becoming a nurse, working in an ER, taking self defense classes, kicking out her husband, and probably more. The saving of her own life through quick thinking and not panicking is a whole other level.

"When I cry, I feel better" was one of the most powerful lines in the story to me.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 1:07 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


did nobody else pick up on the fact that both the husband and the would be assassin did TEN YEAR bids for murder/conspiracy to murder!? What the FUCK!?
posted by youthenrage at 2:03 PM on January 3 [7 favorites]


I imagined that every time I felt bad or guilty about taking human life, that thought would instantly be replaced by, "that fucker tried to kill me

You can hold both those sorts of thoughts and feelings in your head at the same time. Trauma is weird that way.
posted by Jalliah at 3:47 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Trauma is weird that way.

Human's are weird and wired that way. Hell, I read these articles because they fascinate and repulse me at the same time with no trauma required.
posted by srboisvert at 3:56 PM on January 3


I see this in a movie it stands out as unbelievable because this scene is so rare in reality

It's really not. For every incident you read about there are many where nobody wants to talk.

What I see here is somebody with a deep sense of worth. Somebody who felt good about their life and had a primal response that overwhelmed somebody who didn't have that deep sense of worth. They didn't respond out of hate.

All those years spent with a partner who hires somebody to kill you? I see many people being weak in their relationships and outwardly strong in life.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:07 AM on January 4


youthenrage, men get less time for attempted murder and murder than women do. It's bizarre.
posted by domo at 9:13 AM on January 4 [2 favorites]


Having someone randomly appear in your home and commit violence on you, struggling with that person for 14 minutes, would give many people PTSD. It would feel awful to know that someone you loved regarded you so lightly that they would try to have you killed. She is a survivor in more than a few ways, and she has my utmost respect.
posted by theora55 at 3:32 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


did nobody else pick up on the fact that both the husband and the would be assassin did TEN YEAR bids for murder/conspiracy to murder!? What the FUCK!?

In related news, Rae Carruth is set to be released from prison later this year.
posted by riruro at 4:35 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


Another woman who fought off a guy with a machete.

(I would like to know what she practiced and how much in practice she is.)
posted by clew at 1:54 PM on January 5


Her immediate move was to grab the machete blade bare-handed, and that probably saved her life. Pretty sure I wouldn't have managed to make that my own first move.

I'm reminded of dying three seconds after starting a game of Dragon's Lair (two quarters!)
posted by away for regrooving at 12:43 AM on January 6 [1 favorite]


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