I was devastated to lose my precious son to cot death. But worse was to come…
By Kelly Tullius, 34, address withheld
As I walked down the street, my mounting to-do list swirled through my mind. Life as a single mum to three sons was tough, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
But, down the road I spotted someone coming out of a house who stopped me in my tracks. I’d recognise that lanky frame anywhere.
“Dave, is that really you?” I called out, as he stepped onto the pavement.
“I was just wondering whether it could be you, Kelly,” he replied.
“I’d heard you were back in the area, how are you?” I grinned, warmly.
It had been years since I’d seen David Mahoney. He was six years older than me, but as a teen I’d been part of his group of mates. I’d always known him as ‘scrap-man Dave’, after his job.
But, in time I’d got together with one of his friends and we’d had a baby together. Meanwhile, David had moved away from Stockton for pastures new. We’d all lost touch.
Yet here he was. What a coincidence!
We had a quick catch-up in the street, but before going our separate ways we arranged to meet up again.
I never would have guessed it then, but that was the start of our romance.
At first we’d meet up as friends, just for a cuppa. But, in time, something deeper blossomed between us.
I’ve always been a believer that laughter is a way to a woman’s heart, and David would have me in stitches.
Seeing him with my three boys really warmed my feelings too. He always had time to kick around a football with them.
So, in time we made our relationship official.
I moved in with him, and in 2008 David asked me to marry him.
Cash was tight, and we both knew we wouldn’t be tying the knot for a while.
It felt fantastic to have that diamond ring on my finger though, showing how committed we were.
Then, in 2009, we got some news. I’d missed a couple of periods, and I had a familiar feeling in the pit of my tummy.
“I think I’m pregnant,” I told David one night, once the kids were in bed.
“Well you’d better find out for sure,” he said, unable to stop his smile spreading across his face.
A pregnancy test confirmed it – me and David were having a baby. He was fantastic with the boys so I knew he’d be a great dad.
Then, later that year our little Carly* came along.
Life was bliss, but there was more happy news just around the corner. I fell pregnant again, and in 2010 I gave birth to our son, Dee-Jay.
As David and I cradled him between us, I knew our family was complete. He was perfect.
Life was hectic, but we soon settled into a routine. Dee-Jay slept in a crib next to our bed, and I soon got back into the swing of night feeds.
Then early one morning, six weeks after Dee-Jay was born, David stretched out in bed.
“Dee-Jay looks a bit cold,” he said, leaning over to check on our beautiful boy.
“Snuggle him into the blanket a little bit more,” I replied, stifling a yawn.
He’d been up at 2.30am for a feed, and I’d changed him too. It felt like I’d only nodded off to sleep again minutes before.
“I don’t think he’s breathing,” David faltered.
I leapt out of bed, and rushed over to the crib.
Dee-Jay was lying on his back, and one look at him told me he was seriously unwell. He wasn’t breathing, and he’d turned blue.
I screamed. It was like I was still asleep, trapped in my worst nightmare.
“Get help, quick!” I shouted.
David phoned for an ambulance but by the time paramedics dashed through the door it was far too late.
Dee-Jay had died in the night, a tragic victim of cot death. The next few months were a blur. We buried Dee-Jay in his tiny coffin at a cemetery close by.
We wanted to be able to visit him as often as we could. His little grave was flooded with flowers from friends and family.
I felt so alone though. Only David understood what the horror of that morning had been like. And, he knew the agonising pain of losing our son too.
I felt so grateful I had David by my side to pick me up when I was at my lowest ebb. But whenever I curled up in bed at night, all I could think of was Dee-Jay.
Soon, the lack of sleep began really taking its toll on me. So, I went to see my GP. Tears flooded my eyes as I explained what had been going on.
“My baby died, and now everything’s getting too much for me to cope,” I told him.
He listened sympathetically. I went home that afternoon with a prescription for strong sleeping tablets. I was relieved – at least I could get some rest.
Every night I’d pop one of those little tablets and before long I’d be completely knocked out. In time, I began to start feeling a bit more like my old self.
David was coping better too. That’s when he had an idea.
“I think we should have another baby, Kelly,” he said.
“It’s too soon,” I replied. I knew I wasn’t ready.
“I know no-one will replace Dee-Jay, but I think it would be good for us,” he insisted.
“I can’t, not yet,” I told him.
In truth, I was terrified of losing another child to cot death. I still needed time to come to terms with Dee-Jay’s death.
David seemed disappointed, but I knew he understood. Then one night, after popping a sleeping tablet, I woke up with a start.
My pyjama bottoms and knickers were down by my thighs. David was on top of me, having sex with me as I slept.
“What are you doing?” I blurted, pushing him away.
“You were wiggling your bum at me, I thought you were awake,” he said, shrugging.
I struggled to pull my underwear back on.
“You know those tablets knock me out,” I said.
“Sorry, I thought you were up for it,” he replied, rolling over away from me.
I didn’t say anything more to him, but my mind was reeling.
Had I encouraged him? I wondered.
Since losing Dee-Jay, sex had been firmly off the menu. It was the last thing on my mind.
Plus, even though I knew David was desperate for another baby, I didn’t want to fall pregnant. I knew I wouldn’t have invited sex, but on the other hand I trusted David completely.
It must have been a misunderstanding.
But then, a few nights later, it happened again. I woke up to find David having sex with me as I slept. This time I sprang straight out of bed, pushing David hard away from me.
“Why are you doing this?” I begged, bursting into tears.
I ran off downstairs, wanting to be as far away from David as I could be. He didn’t follow me. I spent the whole night alone in the living room, not knowing where to go or who to turn to.
How could my own fiance rape me?
I knew Dee-Jay’s death had hit us both hard, but that was no excuse. He just wasn’t the same David I knew and loved.
Then at 6am, my eyes puffy from crying, I crept upstairs to use the loo.
I was desperately hoping David would be asleep. I couldn’t face him. But as I crept into the bathroom, he burst in after me.
He grabbed me around the throat before I even had time to scream. He picked me up off my feet and raised his fist as if he was about to punch me.
I braced for the impact, but he had worse planned. David pushed me down onto the floor, and raped me.
This time, in the cold light of day, I saw him for what he was… a monster.
I could hear my son Ryan*, six, crying just yards away.
But even that didn’t stop David. He carried on his sick sex attack until he’d satisfied himself.
As soon as he rolled off me I ran into the boys’ bedroom, where I knew my eldest had a mobile phone.
I didn’t hesitate for a moment as I dialled 999. David was a rapist, and I needed help.
He was arrested, and I was taken for intimate forensic tests to confirm what I’d been through.
In time, David was up in Teesside Crown Court, denying three counts of raping me and one of sexually assaulting me.
I shook with fear as I gave evidence against him, choking back tears as I told the jury how we’d lost Dee-Jay.
I couldn’t believe that the man I once loved was now standing in the dock denying such horrible crimes.
Eventually the time came for the jury to consider their decision. I was heading out of the court for a cigarette when the solicitor came dashing down the stairs.
“The jury’s back already,” he said.
That knocked me for six. I wasn’t ready to face the verdict. But then the judge came out to talk to me.
“I really want you to hear this Kelly, please come back in,” he pleaded.
I took a deep breath, and went back into the courtroom. The jury had unanimously found David guilty, and the judge jailed him for 12 years.
I’d expected to feel free or relieved, but instead I felt numb.
He’d been my fiance and my best friend – the only one who understood what losing Dee-Jay had been like. Or at least I’d thought he understood. How could I have got him so wrong?
Now I’m still rebuilding my life, with my children. It has been hard for me to trust anyone. David completely destroyed my judge of character.
But, I want other women to know that there is help out there. Rape is rape, whether it’s a stranger or your partner.