Suicide follows assault, rape of Seward woman

Posted: Sunday, May 21, 2000

Alaska can be a good place to hide. That's what two men are doing who are suspects in the May 4 brutal beating and rape of Trefena Probert of Seward.

Alaska also is a place where people care for one another. That's what law enforcement officials and Probert's family and friends are counting on. They are asking for help locating the suspects (See related story).

According to those who knew her, Probert's life was plagued with difficulty. Those difficulties ended sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. May 6, when Probert died of alcohol poisoning.

On the evening of May 4, Probert, a 40-year-old waitress who was described as a petite redhead, had been at a Seward bar. She returned alone late that night to the little structure off Salmon Creek Road that was her home.

What she later described as a silver or gray Suburban-type vehicle pulled up as she was unlocking her door. The two men in it got out of the vehicle, pushed her into the home, then beat and raped her.

Probert called her ex-boyfriend, Bill Donaven, with whom she had maintained a close relationship, and told him what had happened.

"When I first got there, she was really shaken," Donaven said. "She was pretty beaten up."

He said Probert also showed him the bruises from where the two assailants had restrained her.

Donaven reported the incident to the troopers. Sgt. Brandon Anderson drove Probert to Providence Seward Medical Center. The hospital is not prepared to do a sexual assault examination and Probert was offered the opportunity to go to Soldotna's Central Peninsula General Hospital. Probert refused, insisting she just wanted to go home.

"She was oscillating -- agreeing to go, not to go," Sgt. Anderson said. In the meantime, he called and activated the Sexual Assault Response Team in Soldotna.

Jan Johnson, coordinator of the program at CPGH, said she had a sexual assault nurse-examiner awaiting Probert's arrival. But Probert refused to go.

"If she hadn't had to sit in the car and think about it two or three hours all the way over there, she might have gone," Donaven said. "Maybe with the proper counseling she might have gone. But when they told her she had to go to Soldotna, she didn't want to go."

Probert's decision is in line with a description of Rape Trauma Syndrome provided by Kenai's Women's Resource and Crisis Center:

"After an attack some victims show outward signs of fear, anger and anxiety by crying, sobbing, restlessness, tenseness or ... behavior such as laughing or smiling. Other victims hide or mask their feelings and appear calm, composed and subdued. Victims also usually have physical reactions such as being easily startled and jumpy, or having stomach problems, infection, tension headaches and fatigue. The victim may have a fear of death and violence, depression, anger, guilt and self-blame. Often the victim will deny the assault and block her/his own reactions."

On May 5, Probert spent the day with Donaven, looking around Seward for the suspects and their vehicle. Her friend, Dawn-Marie Toms, encouraged Probert to spend that night with her.

"I think she had her mind set on getting revenge and I really felt like she wanted to make it through to the next day," Toms said. "But she was physically and emotionally in pain."

Donaven last saw Probert sometime between 5 and 7 p.m. that evening. When Probert wouldn't stay with Toms, Donaven said he offered to provide company.

"I was planning to try and stay over there at her place," Donaven said. "But she didn't want me to stay."

Friends discovered Probert's body in her home the following day, after they were unable to make contact with her. On Friday, troopers reported the cause of Probert's death was alcohol poisoning.

"I think the rape pushed her over the edge," said Donaven.

Toms agreed. So did Probert's sister, Shirley Snyder, of Anchor Point.

"I think she was mainly trying to deal with the pain," Snyder said.

"She had had a lot of trouble in her life. This was just simply the final thing," said Probert's ex-husband, Mark, of Lakewood, Wash. He was in Seward to bring closure to the life of the woman he'd known for eight years. After Saturday's memorial service, he planned to take Probert's ashes back to Washington.

"There were other traumas in her life," he said. "She suffered the abuse of men more times in her life than anyone should. She never found a way to let go of the hurt."

Mark Probert said the way his ex-wife often chose to deal with problems was through alcohol. According to him, she had suffered from alcoholism for the past 20 years.

"She didn't feel worthy after all that had happened to her," he said. "It was hard for her to except that she was loved."

Trefena Probert leaves behind a daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and Bill Martin, and a son and daughter-in-law, Christopher and Penny Johnson, who live out of state. She also had four grandchildren, the youngest of whom she never had the opportunity to meet.

Among Probert's things, her ex-husband found a poem with the line, "If by chance you choose to remember me, do it with a kind deed."

"I guess it's time for us to dedicate ourselves to more acts of random kindness," he said. "It's my way of helping someone feel their best."

Shirley Snyder said one thing people can do is help find the suspects.

"I want people to keep a lookout for them," Snyder said. "Help (find them) so they don't do this to somebody else.

"She was so tiny. Why do people do things like this?"

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