March 04, 2011, By Bob Considine and Eugene Paik/The Star-Ledger
Staff writers Mike Frassinelli and Seth Augenstein contributed to this report.
From the outside world, Patricia A. Graham-Hawthorne seemed to be living a dream life with a child she cherished, a husband who provided, a supportive family and friends, and a home on a hill in idyllic Bernardsville.
But a different reality was served Thursday when authorities announced that Graham-Hawthorne had drowned her 4-year-old daughter, Allison, before taking her own life in brutal fashion. Those who knew the Westfield native are now searching for answers in their anguish.
"She had so many people she could talk to," said Chris Gray, a long-time friend of Graham-Hawthorne. "But apparently she didn’t think she did."
Somerset County Prosecutor Geoffrey D. Soriano said in a statement Graham-Hawthorne drowned her daughter on Feb. 24 in an upstairs bathroom of their $1.9 million home on Round Top Road. She then killed herself by ingesting paint thinner and filling her lungs with water, in addition to slicing her wrists.
Soriano’s statement said investigators learned Graham-Hawthorne had been accessing numerous websites that detailed methods of committing suicide. Jack Bennett, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, did not return phone calls seeking for further detail.
Robert P. Hawthorne, Graham’s husband and a partner in a New York-based insurance company, could not be reached. He was the one who discovered the horrific scene and called 911, authorities have said.
Graham, 45, and Hawthorne, 59, were married about five years ago, friends said. They lived in Blauvelt, N.Y., in Rockland County, before moving to Bernardsville early last year. Hawthorne divorced from his previous wife in 2001 and has several grown children from that marriage.
Several of Graham-Hawthorne’s friends said she went through great lengths to have a child. She underwent fertility treatments for more than a year before Allison was conceived. Gray said she was "elated" when she became pregnant with Allison.
"She really enjoyed being a mom," he said.
One friend, who declined to give a name, said Graham-Hawthorne originally was content with not having a child in her mid-30s but then had a change of heart.
"I think she thought, 'You know, my life isn't very complete,' " the friend said.
After Allison was born, Graham-Hawthorne would occasionally talk about the "challenges of parenting."
"But there was nothing there to indicate it would raise to the level of this," the friend said. "She always (seemed to) have a handle on parenting."
Shanaz Shaheen, one of Allison’s teachers at the Montessori Center of Nyack, N.Y., described Graham-Hawthorne as a caring and reserved woman, who was a "good parent" involved in her child’s education.
"She was always on top of things and attended all the school events," Shaheen said.
Shaheen said Graham-Hawthorne sometimes spoke of her struggles to conceive another child, but never revealed any larger issues.
"There was nothing out of the ordinary," she said.
Graham-Hawthorne, a homemaker who would sometimes cut hair, maintained a Facebook page that listed www.tiredofyelling.com as one of her likes. The site promotes calm parenting techniques through group classes. The site’s host, Aviva Schwab, said she did not know Graham-Hawthorne.
Typically, there are five patterns of "filicide," or murder of one’s child, that are identified by mental health experts, said Melissa Runyon, professor of psychiatry at UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford.
Categories include maltreatment resulting in death, psychotic episodes and parents who simply don’t want to have the child anymore. But two more complex categories include "altruistic" filicide in which the parent — generally a mother — decides to kill the child and then herself to protect the child from a threat or perceived threat, Runyon said. The final, least common instance of a parent killing a child, is for taking revenge on the other spouse, she said.
Runyon, not speaking specifically to the Graham-Hawthorne case, said filicide is not always preceded by a pattern of abuse.
"It very well might be that these are loving parents, kind parents — and then all of a sudden, you have the incident. And it’s almost unbelievable to everybody," she said.
Little is known about the dynamics of Graham-Hawthorne’s relationship with her husband. One friend said she had an uneasy relationship with one of Hawthorne’s three grown children from his previous marriage.
When Allison was born, the family still lived in Blauvelt. A former neighbor in New York said the couple went back-and-forth on their decision to move to New Jersey. They eventually sold their Rockland County home in October 2009.
Allison, a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl, was to start kindergarten in the fall. She had attended the Albrook School in Basking Ridge and took swimming, language and karate classes, according to her obituary.
Both mother and daughter were laid to rest Wednesday at Fairview Cemetery in Westfield.
Jeni Gray-Roberts, another friend of Graham-Hawthorne, said the shock of this tragedy won’t wear off.
"Her Christmas cards always had a picture of Alli," she said. "Her daughter was everything to her."