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The murder of a romance novelist by her dashing but abusive husband has fans asking tough questions.
By Julia Gracen
June 17, 1999
(SALON) -- "There will be someone for you, my daughter," a dying mother assures a young woman in Nancy Richards-Akers' last novel, "So Wild A Kiss." "A loving man to cosset and protect you ..."
A self-described "chronic daydreamer," Nancy Richards-Akers was the author of 16 romance novels, popular fantasies in which virile, perfect men -- at once thrillingly tough and emotionally sensitive -- made love and war with equal ease. Her eventful stories of spunky Celtic heroines and the sexy heroes who wooed and defended them always ended happily ever after.
Nancy's own story, however, did not have a happy ending. She was shot twice in the back of the head by her abusive husband, Jeremy Ray Akers, on the night of June 5, as she sat in her red Jeep Wrangler outside her former home in an upscale area of Washington, D.C. The couple's school-age children witnessed their mother's murder, and 11-year-old Zeb called 911. Ninety minutes later, as park police approached him across the grassy area in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Jeremy Akers put the barrel of a shotgun in his own mouth and pulled the trigger.
The close-knit romance writers' community was devastated by the news of Richards-Akers' murder. It was the third such death by domestic violence among romance writers in the past three years (novelists Pamela Macaluso and Ann Wassall were also shot by their husbands in 1997 and 1996, according to the Romance Writers of America). At the "Avon Ladies" bulletin board on the Web site of Richards-Akers' publisher, Avon Books, messages of distress about her orphaned children, calls for action against domestic violence and stunned, disbelieving grief at the loss of a beloved friend flooded in as soon as the news broke.
The grisly deaths raised inevitable questions and strong emotions among the women (and a few men) who make their living celebrating romantic love. A June 8 Washington Post article on the murder, written by Cheryl Thompson, was based almost entirely on interviews with Jeremy Akers' friends, and seemed in some respects to be sympathetic toward him and critical of Richards-Akers. (Thompson did not respond to requests for comment, but the Post story explained that the writer's friends and family could not be reached.) Under the headline "Jealousy Suspected in Slaying of Novelist: Friends Call Lawyer Who Killed Wife a Doting Father," the article quoted a family friend as saying that Richards-Akers had included elements of her intense and volatile husband's character in the warrior heroes of her books. Worse yet, Richards-Akers was purported to have found her husband's aggressive nature appealing, at least in the earlier years of their marriage, and one friend of her husband's indicated that Richards-Akers had only grown "tired" of him when she "didn't need him financially" any more.
The article's overall impression, the angry romance community felt, was that Richards-Akers had known what she was doing in marrying a brutal man, and thus she had somehow chosen her fate.
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