By all accounts, Teri Jendusa-Nicolai should be dead.
The 38-year-old mother of two recalls the assault that nearly ended her life.
"I remember clunk, and then I remember kind of coming to and I was on the floor. I kind of got up after that, and he hit me again with the bat. … I could just hear the blood in my ears, feel the blood in my hair, and there was blood everywhere."
The man wielding the bat was someone Jendusa-Nicolai once loved, her ex-husband, David Larsen.
When she met Larsen, she thought he was quite a catch. He had a good job as an air traffic controller and owned his own home. After a year of dating, the couple married in 1996. But clues about her husband's violent side began to surface early — on their honeymoon in Hawaii, in fact. After they had what she thought was just a lovers' quarrel, he hit her several times in the head, she says.
Jendusa-Nicolai and Larsen soon started a family. Amanda was born in 1997 and her sister, Holly, two years later.
To friends and neighbors they seemed like a happy family, but inside Jendusa-Nicolai was fighting a difficult and private struggle. She says Larsen was unreasonably controlling and volatile.
She says she stayed in the relationship, hoping she could change Larsen. But during their three-year-long marriage, police responded to several domestic violence calls at their home.
Shared Custody Leaves Woman Vulnerable
But Jendusa-Nicolai says the effects the violent atmosphere was having on their daughters finally made her decide to leave Larsen in November 1999 and file for divorce. But the judge awarded the couple joint custody of their children.
The custody arrangement meant Jendusa-Nicolai was forced to have regular close contact with Larsen, leaving her trapped and feeling the threat of violence was always near.
Nevertheless, Jendusa-Nicolai managed to build a new life. She even met the man who would become her next husband, Nick Nicolai, in her church choir. And to remove the fear and danger from her life, she sought sole custody of the girls.
Through a series of delay tactics Larsen managed to drag out the legal process for four years until last January, when a judge declared there would be no further delays. What no one at the time could predict was what Larsen's next move would be.
On the morning of Jan. 31, just four days after their last court hearing, Jendusa-Nicolai went to pick up her children from Larsen's home in Wind Lake, Wis., northwest of Racine.
Jendusa-Nicolai says Larsen lured her into the house by saying the girls were hiding and he needed her to come inside and find them. She said her instincts told her something was wrong. "My first gut feeling was like, I am not going in that house." But she didn't want to disappoint the girls, so she went inside.
That's when she says the attack happened. Larsen surprised her from behind, she says, striking her at least 10 times in the head with a baseball bat. "I remember him saying, 'You're not taking the girls away from me. You always said that I abused you. Now you can see what abuse really is,' " she said.
She said Larsen was covering her mouth and nose and trying to prevent her from breathing, and then began to bind her with duct tape.
"He taped my ankles, taped my wrists, and then he started taping my face. And I just started thinking, 'Oh no, this is it, I'm not going to be able to breathe.' "