Resting Places / Chapter Six: Night of threats foretold
Jeannie Banas of South Hadley, the sister of Sherry Morton, speaks about the tragedy of domestic violence during the public remembrance service at Spring Grove Cemetery in Florence on Friday.
It was held 20 years after Morton and her son Cedric were murdered.
COURTESY OF YOKO KATO
Sherry Morton and Cedric Seabrooks in 1992, months before they were murdered in Northampton on Jan. 11, 1993.
NORTHAMPTON - Sean Seabrooks began harassing Yoko Kato with phone calls shortly after he started dating her daughter Sherry. Yoko would answer and he’d say nothing. Calls came day and night, to her home and to her dress shop. A Northampton detective traced some of the calls to the shipping department of Merriam-Webster in Springfield, where Sean worked. Others came from his father’s home and still more from his grandmother’s telephone.
Yoko suspected that Sean was jealous of her bond with Sherry and saw her as a threat. Yoko wondered what else he might do. After the murders, she knew. His rage became clear to her in a flood of images.
She took her fears to Cat Chapin, her therapist. In her office, Cat listened as Yoko spoke of wanting to learn the details of the killings, to bear witness for Sherry’s sake. Cat explained that it is acceptable for a survivor to avoid confronting the violence. She warned Yoko that she might not receive any solace from knowing, or be rewarded for the strength it took to be so devoted to her daughter’s memory.
A few months after Cedric was born, while living in Springfield, Sherry and Sean had gone out to a club in Holyoke to drink and dance. Driving away, they got into an argument and Sean hit Sherry, and bit her. With the car slowly moving, he pushed her out onto the ground. She was banged up but not badly injured.
An older couple stopped to help. Sherry called a friend to give her a ride and then told police what happened. Sean was arrested. The following March, with the Holyoke charges still pending, Sean was arrested again for threatening Sherry. This time it happened at her apartment at Meadowbrook. He was living in Springfield and their relationship was faltering.
Mike Quinlan had seen Sean at the Hampshire Regional YMCA, where Mike worked at the front desk. They knew each other through Sherry and made plans to get together that night. As he was leaving, Sean mentioned that he had been on his way to the grocery store when he stopped at the Y, forgetting he’d promised Sherry he would buy diapers and come right back. Instead, he’d played basketball for two hours. Sherry was going to be furious, he told Mike.
Mike got to Sherry’s apartment at around 8 p.m. with two six-packs of Lowenbrau. They planned to drink for a while and go out around 9:30. Sherry didn’t have a TV, so the three of them listened to music on a radio. The apartment was small and warm. Mike and Sean took off their shirts and started dancing. Sherry was sitting at the table in her small dining room in sweats and a T-shirt. She liked to be entertained by her friends and Sean had a goofy, child-like quality that could make her laugh. For a while, Sean watched himself dancing in the reflection in the sliding glass window, laughing with Mike.
Mike could tell something was bothering Sherry. She told Sean that if the two of them were going out, he shouldn’t return. Mike invited Sherry to go with them to a bar called Hot Shots.
They needed somebody to watch Cedric. Sherry didn’t have a phone, so she and Mike drove to a friend’s house. The friend agreed to watch Cedric if they brought him over.
Back at Sherry’s, Sean had changed his mind about partying. He told Sherry that if she was going, he wasn’t. Then take your stuff and go, she said.
Their arguing grew louder. Get out, Sherry told Sean, her voice high. Mike remembers them trading off: Why don’t you just leave? Why don’t you make me? This is my apartment, so why don’t you get out? Well, why don’t you make me get out?
“I’ll leave when the police come here and put me out,” Sean said.
He picked up a crystal lamp from a box by the front door. Sherry had only been in the apartment a week and things weren’t unpacked yet. Sean moved toward her and told her, “I’m going to bust you.” Mike moved between them. Sean put the lamp down and sat down at the table with Sherry.
Cedric, still an infant then, awoke and began crying. Sherry got him from the bedroom, handed him to Mike and said she was going to prepare a bottle. Instead, she tried to go to a neighbor’s apartment to call police. Sean blocked her and she backed away. Minutes later, she rushed for the door, but again he got in her way.
Cedric was crying as he drank from the bottle. Sean asked if he could feed him, and when Sherry agreed, Mike handed him the baby.
Go ahead, Sean told Sherry. She ran out and the men heard her footsteps as she climbed the stairs to the apartment of a neighbor, Kelly Lynde.
Sean told Mike that he’d made a mistake by interfering. He was still holding Cedric when the first police officer, Dave Callahan, came in. A second officer arrived and they took Sean into the hall and asked if he’d attempted to assault Sherry.
What do you mean? Sean asked. With the lamp? The police handcuffed him and took him away.
When Sherry returned, the police asked her and Mike to fill out paperwork. An officer took the lamp as evidence. Sean was arraigned a few days later in Northampton District Court. He pleaded not guilty to assault with a dangerous weapon. Sherry obtained a restraining order against him.
Mike had heard about Sean’s temper but had never witnessed it. Another friend had seen Sean hit Sherry in Springfield when Sean had tried to keep her from going out.
Three months later, Sean admitted to a judge that what he’d done inside Sherry’s apartment was enough to convict him of assault with a dangerous weapon. The case was continued without a finding for a year with probation. The district court’s probation department referred Sean to a psychologist to see whether he should receive counseling as a batterer. After two sessions, the psychologist reported that Sean did not, in fact, need therapy.
About the time of Cedric’s first birthday, Sherry let the restraining order lapse. Sean remained on probation for threatening to attack her with the lamp.
She went to court in Holyoke that fall, just as she was starting her new job at Van Cort Instruments, to testify against Sean for hitting her and pushing her from the car. On the stand, Sherry said that she and Sean had been drinking. She said she had become jealous and had slapped Sean, that she had tried to get into the car and drive away. She said he stopped her because she had been drinking and shouldn’t drive. Her testimony was enough to get the charge dismissed.
Friends didn’t believe the night went quite the way Sherry said it did.
One night, a year after she and Sean got together as a couple, Sherry picked up a pen and paper and drafted a letter to him. A copy of the letter went into the box her sister Jeannie removed from her apartment after the murders.
“I’m laying in bed and I’m trying to remember everything we have been through over this past year!!” Sherry wrote. “It hasn’t been all fun and games and loving times. At times it has gotten really bad, where I just wanted to say f--- it. But something in me keeps trying to make it better. I can’t believe I have put up with all of your bulls---. But I guess that just says how much you mean to me.
“So many people say that I deserve better and could do so much better. But those people don’t know how special we are together. I really feel strongly about us and that we can make it together. All of our dreams will some day come true Sean. You just have to work on it.”
TOMORROW: Yoko uses time with her therapist to sort through her fears and reflects on the violence of her first marriage.