When Restraining Orders Cannot Stop a Killer

Victims call for added protection against stalking and domestic abuse.

March 15, 2010, 2:04 PM

March 15, 2010— -- Cindy Bischof of Illinois and Tiana Notice of Connecticut were both smart, strong women -- before they were murdered by their boyfriends. Each woman had a restraining order barring her killer from coming anywhere near her at the time of her death.

"With a restraining order it's simply that -- a restraining order, a piece of paper," said Cindy's brother, Mike Bischof.

Bischof and other activists are calling on law enforcement to rethink their approach to domestic violence and restraining orders.

"[Domestic violence] can be stopped," said Diane Rosenfeld, a Harvard Law school lecturer and expert on domestic violence and restraining orders. "I think that law enforcement and the criminal justice system is not doing enough presently, obviously, to protect women from very predictable, very preventable types of violence."

Restraining orders are effective in about 70 percent of cases, according to Rosenfeld, but when they don't work, it can be deadly. And, she says, violations of restraining orders, no matter how insignificant, should be dealt with immediately.

Watch the full story on "Nightline" Thursday at 11:35 p.m. ET

"That's a very, very, very dangerous thing," she said. "Even if it's a phone call, even if after the order of protection, he sends her flowers, because he's just testing the system to see if there will be any consequences and if that violation isn't prosecuted and if his behavior is not contained, it will continue to escalate and that's what can escalate into a homicide."

Cindy Bischof was a 44-year-old commercial real estate agent, living with her boyfriend, Michael Giroux -- a divorced father of four -- in an affluent suburb outside of Chicago. To Cindy's brother, Mike, they seemed like a happy couple.

"He was very charming and also had a presence about himself," her brother said. "Our kids knew him as Uncle Mike. We spent holidays with him, so this was someone we knew very well, or thought we knew very well."

But when Giroux lost his job, he started drinking and became depressed, Mike Bischof said. Cindy encouraged him to get help and when he didn't, she asked him to leave.

That's when the stalking began. Mike Bischof said Giroux attempted to hang himself on Cindy's back patio. Another time he broke into her house

"He took a 16-gallon drum of paint and pretty much [destroyed] every personal belonging that she had from electronics to furniture to computers," Mike Bischof said, "He painted everything in her house, turned out the faucet, clogged the drains so there was flooding and over $50,000 worth of damage."

Cindy Bischof went immediately to court and got a restraining order against Giroux. She carried mace and a panic alarm, and informed friends and family to be on the lookout for him. She also varied her schedule, spending nights in different places.

"She sensed that it was a very dangerous situation," Mike Bischof said. "She stayed with my parents. She lived in a house in Plainfield, a rental house that an employer had given her to stay in to stay away, [and] she had her own house in Florida -- a second house -- that she stayed in. She was on the run."

Giroux frequently violated the restraining order, Mike Bischof said.

"[Giroux] was driving by my parents' house, leaving voicemail messages at my parents' house, calling from his cell phone, sometimes he would block his number sometimes he wouldn't," Mike Bischof said. "He followed her out on the golf course on day, she loved to golf, she was with some friends. He did it all."

Domestic Violence Victim's Detailed Log

Cindy Bischof kept detailed notes of every time Giroux made contact with her. She notified police and the court of each incident.

"Stalked @ Rob Roy Golf Course, Prospect Heights, IL 7/1/07 -- holes 2, 3 around 10a," she wrote in one note to police.

"7/11/07 neighbor sees person resembling Mike on deck at 7:25pm...around 10:30pm...broke flower pots," she wrote in another.

Police patrolled the area, making extra trips to homes where Cindy Bischof stayed, and arrested Giroux several times, but Mike Bischof said there weren't adequate tools to safeguard victims like his sister.

"They were as helpful as they could be to the extent that they had the latitude to be helpful," he said. "We believe that there weren't the tools available to safeguard these victims...it just wasn't part of the arsenal."

Giroux spent 60 days in a psychiatric ward in September 2007.

Cindy Bischof told the Arlington Heights Police Department that Giroux continued to harass and call her for months, even though the order of protection she obtained forbade any contact with her.

But on March 7, 2008, as Bischof was leaving her office, Giroux, lying in wait, shot her in the back and the head. He then turned the gun on himself.

He died almost immediately. Cindy Bischof died later at the hospital.

Student Stabbed to Death Allegedly by Boyfriend

A restraining order also failed Tiana Notice, a 25-year-old master's degree candidate, who was stabbed to death allegedly by her boyfriend on Valentine's Day last year.

Notice had an active restraining order at the time of her death, which she thought would keep her safe. Like Cindy Bischof, she tried to protect herself, setting up a camera outside her apartment, arming herself with pepper spray, and reporting all violations.

She even went to the police station a few hours before she was killed to report additional violations, according to her father, Alvin Notice.

"She was at the police station roughly around 5 p.m. that day," Notice said. "She dropped off some e-mails and she also had a letter that was dropped off at her apartment the previous day...She made a note in her log that the police said they would arrest him that night. And [it]...never happened."

Police in Jonesville, N.C., were sued by Vernetta Cockerham. She said she was a constant presence at the police station because her estranged husband kept violating the restraining order.

Today, she bears the emotional and physical scars of her husband's final attack.

"He threatened to kill me. He met me in the parking lot and said he was going to kill me," Cockerham said. She said he dug a grave across the street from her house and told her that's where he was going to bury her. "I would walk out the door and he would be outside, digging with this wheelbarrow. It would be 2 a.m. or 3a.m. and he would be digging."

After eight months of terror, Cockerham escaped death, but her 18-year-old daughter Candice did not.

Candice was going to see a military recruiter and she went back to the family's home to pick up a document.

"He was lying in wait for her...more likely for me," Cockerham said. When she arrived later to pick Candice up, she said, "I noticed the door was ajar. When I went to the door and pushed it open, I saw everything in disarray ...and he lunged at me with a knife."

Cockerham recounted details of the attack to "Nightline."

"He kept stabbing me, and I remember pulling a piece of glass out of my head," she said. "I remember feeling him choking me. I could just feel the blood and I looked at him and asked Jesus to save me. That is all I remember."

Cockerham said her husband, Richard Ellerbee, told her during the attack that he had killed Candice and he was going to kill her as well. She managed to escape and get help.

Cockerham sued the two Jonesville, N.C., officers who she says told her -- just hours before her husband's savage attack -- that he would be arrested that night. She settled with the town – which did not admit any wrongdoing -- for nearly half a million dollars in 2009. Ellerbee fled to New Jersey, where, a few days after the attack, he doused himself with gasoline and burned himself to death.

GPS Tracking to Better Enforce Restraining Orders

Rosenfeld said the attack against Cockerham and other women could have been prevented by employing new technology, such as a GPS monitoring device.

"We need better methods of containment, including GPS monitoring, to enforce orders of protection," she said. "GPS is a very effective tool to prove the violations and to detect the violations and they can stop an offender in his tracks."

Police in Massachusetts and 14 other states are beginning to use GPS technology for those who violate restraining orders against them.

At the Massachusetts Probation office, deputy commissioner Paul Lucci said GPS puts victims in a protected zone. Offenders wear an ankle bracelet that is tracked by GPS and monitored 24 hours a day. They are barred from certain "restriction zones" where their victims are known to be, and if they violate those zones, authorities know instantly.

"We have had 100 percent success rate" with GPS monitoring, Rosenfeld said. "And it makes me a little nervous to say that. But also we have not had a domestic violence homicide in the areas where we have high-risk teams in place."

Rosenfeld suggested that the best way to protect women from predictable homicides is with security forces and specialized police, who are trained to recognize the context and pattern in the violations.

Mike Bischof continued the work his sister began, and last year, the Illinois legislature passed a bill giving judges and law enforcement the latitude to use GPS monitoring in domestic violence situations where orders of protection are violated. The law is named for Cindy Bischof.

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