Pair in Murder-Suicide Clashed Over Custody

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gail L. Pumphrey grew so concerned about meeting her former husband to hand off their three children that at one point last fall she demanded that those meetings occur only in public places with surveillance cameras, according to court records.

No such devices are in use at the last place they met, a tiny park in northern Montgomery County where police say David Brockdorff fatally shot Pumphrey and their children on Thanksgiving before committing suicide.

The Brockdorffs' marriage lasted just over 10 years, ending in a bitter, drawn-out divorce. Court records show that they continued to clash after the divorce was finalized in January, primarily over their shared custody of David, 12, Meagan, 10 and Brandon, 7.

"Dave, I do not appreciate the fact that you spit in my face and called me crazy when dropping off the kids tonight," Pumphrey wrote in an April 12, 2007 e-mail attached to a court filing in their divorce file. "Given the fact that I know you use Crack Cocaine and Crystal meth this is really disturbing because of the behavior associated with these drugs."

In the e-mail, she asked him to stop calling her on her cellphone "telling me that I am a low life from the hood and that I am a street [expletive]." And she asked him not to get out of the car when he dropped the children off at her house. Signing off, she wrote: "You are very sick. Please get help!"

Brockdorff, who in court testimony denied using drugs, responded by e-mail that same day. "I did not spit in your face and I can only assume this is a tactic to manipulate the system," he wrote.

Shortly after the handoff during which Pumphrey said Brockdorff spit on her, Pumphrey obtained a restraining order against her ex-husband, which complicated the task of sharing the children. Later that month, Pumphrey proposed that her sister pick up the youngsters at Brockdorff's home in an effort to avoid confrontations.

According to papers filed by Pumphrey's attorney, when the sister arrived for the children one night, Brockdorff refused to let them go, "instead opting to demand a drug test by yelling at [Pumphrey's] sister from an open window in his house, while brandishing a tape recorder and evidently recording the event."

Pumphrey, 43, a flight attendant, had primary custody of the children. The four moved to Woodbine in Howard County after the couple sold their home in Frederick County. Brockdorff, 40, an electrical contractor, stayed in Frederick.

As shuttling the children between their homes became increasingly contentious, Pumphrey argued in court that his visitation rights should end.

"There have been several attempts to coordinate pick-up and drop off points for the children," an attorney for Pumphrey said in a motion filed in October 2006. "Each time [Brockdorff] has badgered and tormented [Pumphrey] regarding every possible issue surrounding a simple concept like pick up and drop off locations."

In September of last year, they exchanged e-mails about meeting places. Pumphrey "desired locations with cameras due to [Brockdorff's] violent behavior," according to the October motion.

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