Va. Couple Shot in Murder-Suicide, Police Say

By Maria Glod and Meg Smith
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wallis and Julie Fay said life seemed to be closing in on them. They lost the Prince William County home, where they lived for more than 15 years, to foreclosure. Eviction was looming. And on Tuesday, Wallis Fay learned that the job transfer he was counting on had fallen through.

"He said: 'I don't know what to do. I'm at my last straw,' " said Bernice Fortune, a neighbor who answered a call from a shaken Wallis Fay just before 10 p.m. Tuesday. "I said: 'Hold on to your faith. Hand it over to God.' "

Fortune, who was at a prayer group at a nearby IHOP, promised to call when she got home. There was no answer at the Fays a half-hour later. Assuming they had gone to sleep, Fortune left a prayer on their answering machine.

But by then, Fortune said, the couple might have been dead.

Prince William police ruled that the Fays were shot to death in a murder-suicide. Police are not revealing who pulled the trigger or why, but friends are blaming the tragedy on the stress and upheaval of financial turmoil. Property records show their red-brick townhouse was foreclosed on in June.

"She came to me and said the bank had took their house from them," recalled Abigail Robertson, a neighbor who had been helping the couple pack. "She seemed stressed out. She said all this moving, it was too much for her. She said she had served her country, and she didn't know why nobody would help her."

Yesterday afternoon, neighbors in the close-knit Dumfries community gathered outside the Fays' yard, which is decorated with statues of frogs and turtles and a bear holding a welcome sign. They talked about bringing over flowers and caring for the fish that swam in a tiny decorative pond. They wondered what would become of the four dogs the couple doted on and called "their babies."

"It's sad, it really is," said Paulette Dodds, a neighbor who talked with Wallis Fay, 52, recently. "They were getting ready to move, and they were all packed up," Dodds said. "Today would have been their last day here. They were going to live with his sister. That was the plan."

Julie Fay, neighbors said, worked at Fort Belvoir and at pharmacies. Army records show that Fay, 56, retired in 2001 after two decades in the service. She spent six years serving in Germany and received commendation medals, achievement medals, a national defense service medal and a sharpshooter marksmanship qualification badge with grenade bar, officials said. Neighbors said Wallis Fay worked at Costco.

Neighbors said the couple told them that the foreclosure and the eviction efforts that followed were unexpected. A few weeks ago, they were surprised to find the home's new owner in the yard, neighbors said.

Experts say increased domestic violence could be one byproduct of the tension of the economic crisis. Richard Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice, said families in dire financial straits shift resources, paying the light bill when the electric company threatens to cut service and the car payment when they could lose their vehicle.

"Eventually, the music stops, and there are no chairs left," Gelles said, leaving people feeling "broke, humiliated and shamed."

The couple told friends that they wrote letters to President Obama and to members of Congress asking for help. Julie Fay lost weight and complained of stomach pain. To add to the stress, Wallis Fay's mother recently died, and the couple traveled to the funeral.

But they began preparing to leave. They planned to live in Colorado with Wallis Fay's sister until they got back on their feet. He hoped to work at a Costco there, said Robertson, who has known the family for years.

Last month, the couple held a barbecue for the neighborhood, serving steaks, chicken and corn on the cob, Robertson said.

On Tuesday, Robertson helped Julie Fay carefully pack the last of their belongings, including her prized collection of paintings.

"When I left, I said, 'Is there anything else I can do?' " Robertson recalled. Fay said no.

On Wednesday morning, Robertson returned to help, but there was no answer -- only the barking of dogs at the door. She went back several times. On Thursday, she called the police.

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