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Threats, rage before ex-girlfriend’s killing

Man strangled woman, shot self, police say

Giselle Rodriguez sought a restraining order on her ex-boyfriend, Alexander Skowran (left), after he ransacked her apartment. Giselle Rodriguez sought a restraining order on her ex-boyfriend, Alexander Skowran (left), after he ransacked her apartment.
By David Abel
Globe Staff / September 23, 2009

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The warnings signs were many.

There was the time he ransacked her apartment with bleach and detergent and stole her most sentimental possession, a box that contained a birth certificate from a failed pregnancy. There were the threatening, expletive-filled instant messages in which he called her a “slut’’ after she broke up with him. There was a court order that he stay away from her.

But despite police involvement since March and Alexander Skowran’s guilty plea this summer to destroying most of his former girlfriend’s possessions, no one was able to save Giselle Rodriguez.

On Monday, police found the 23-year-old dead in her one-bedroom apartment in Clinton, strangled to death by Skowran, police said. That night authorities tracked Skowran, a 22-year-old Fitchburg State College senior, to a motel in Virginia, where he shot himself to death after officers surrounded his room.

Rodriguez is the state’s 21st victim of a domestic homicide this year, four fewer than at the same time last year.

“The death of Giselle Rodriguez and the other acts of domestic violence we’ve seen over the past three years show that we are nowhere near where we need to be in stopping domestic violence,’’ Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said in a statement. “We have to be vigilant in looking for signs of domestic violence.’’

Advocates who seek to reduce domestic violence said the court erred in requiring Skowran to take anger management classes, rather than another program.

“The batterer’s intervention program focuses on having the perpetrator recognize their own behavior and take responsibility for it,’’ said Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., a Boston-based group that works to reduce domestic violence. “They also have contact with victims, in case there’s still a threat. Anger management classes don’t do either of those, and that could have made a big difference in this case.’’

Officials at Fitchburg State College, where Skowran studied exercise and sport science and was due to graduate in January, acknowledged they had not known about Skowran’s guilty plea. If they had known, they said, he may have been expelled.

“This simply had not made it onto our radar screen,’’ said Michael Shanley, a college spokesman.

Police alerted college officials about the hunt for Skowran on Monday, but no campuswide alerts were issued. The college’s president, Robert V. Antonucci, defended the school’s decision to keep the investigation quiet.

“While state and campus police were vigilant throughout the day here . . . there was never any serious belief on the part of the authorities that the suspect would return to Fitchburg,’’ Antonucci wrote in a letter to students and staff yesterday.

“State Police and the district attorney’s office chose to keep the investigation under wraps until they issued an All Points Bulletin, focused on the Southern states,’’ about 4:30 p.m., said Antonucci. “It is because of this overall scenario that we didn’t issue any campuswide statements’’ Monday.

Police said they were unaware of a motive for the killing, but court records show Skowran had accused Rodriguez of infidelity. The couple’s on- and off-again relationship lasted more than 20 months and ended in March. Rodriguez then came home to her apartment to find that Skowran had poured bleach on her bed and all her clothing and had doused her stereo, television, and other electronic equipment with liquid detergent. She then obtained an emergency restraining order against him, but it only lasted three days. The stay-away order remained intact.

“It appeared as if Alex believed Giselle had been unfaithful to him, and he was clearly very angry,’’ Officer Edward J. Jeffrey Jr., the patrolman who had investigated the case, wrote in a police report. “The [instant] messages contained a threatening tone and were full of rage.’’

Neither relatives of Rodriguez nor Skowran could be reached.

Police began searching for Skowran Monday morning after his mother called Clinton police and asked them to check on Rodriguez. They later issued a national bulletin, but it was issued after an officer in Berryville, Va., had pulled Skowran over for speeding about 3:30 p.m.

“His license and registration were checked, but he hadn’t been entered into the system yet, so he was released on a summons,’’ said Chief Neal White of the Berryville Police Department.

Police in Frederick County, Va., heard the bulletin about 9:30 p.m. Monday and sent cruisers to the area’s motels to see if they could find Skowran’s black Honda Civic, which still had plates from Maryland, where he lived before transferring to Becker College in Worcester and then to Fitchburg State.

About 45 minutes later, officers spotted Skowran’s car in a Comfort Inn parking lot in Stephens City, Va. They set up a perimeter around the motel and called his room from the lobby. Skowran did not answer. He closed the shades of his room when he saw police.

“While we were there, we heard a popping sound,’’ said Major Robert C. Eckman of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office in Winchester, Va. “We thought it was a gunshot, and it sounded like someone fell on a floor. At 11:08, we breached the door and found the individual with a gunshot wound to the head in the bathroom.’’

He left no note.

Skowran’s body was sent to Fairfax, Va., for an autopsy, and his car was impounded.

He faced a restitution hearing later this month, in which prosecutors said he would have been compelled to pay Rodriguez up to $4,400 for the destruction he caused in her apartment.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.