On a frigid January night in 1984, Robert Lee Graham flashed some money at a troubled 17-year-old named Betty Brown and talked her into going with him to his third-floor apartment at 240 Sargeant St.
Hours later, Brown was at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center suffering from a collapsed lung, stab wounds and other injuries. Graham had beaten and stabbed Brown, then tossed her broken body to the frozen ground behind his apartment house. She survived. Graham pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to eight years in prison in 1984.
Brown, who is now 49, was not Graham's first victim. Nor was she his last.
The 5-foot-2 Hartford man, known on the street as "Motor Mouth," has a long record of horrific violence against women. He has served nearly three decades in prison for multiple rapes, violent assaults and attempted murder.
At age 60, Graham is locked up again, awaiting trial on a charge of murder in connection with the killing last summer of Tashauna Jackson, 23, whose badly decomposed body was found on Aug. 18, 2015, behind a poultry store on Granby Street in Bloomfield. Graham maintains his innocence, has rejected a plea offer and is awaiting trial. He declined to comment for this story.
As Graham awaits his day in court, two women he victimized recounted the violent assaults they endured and their shock that Graham was back on the street and their horror at the latest charge against him.
For police, the Graham case brings frustration and empathy.
"Hartford police officers did their job in delivering Graham to the justice system, but that is little comfort to the victim's family," Deputy Police Chief Brian Foley said. "In a perfect world, at some point in the criminal justice system, he would have received the services he needed to help correct his pattern of violence. But, tragically, that's not what happened. We feel deep sorrow for Ms. Jackson's family."
'He Wants You To Suffer'
Brown said her heart ached for Jackson when she learned that Graham is charged in her killing. "I know how scared she was," Brown said. "I can feel the pain, the constriction in my heart."
Brown said she no longer fears Graham, and wants him to know that she is alive and well and building a life. "He left me for dead," she said. "He wants you to be afraid. He wants you to suffer.
"It wasn't my time to go."
Graham's history of violence against women goes back to his teenage years. In some cases, records show, he committed new crimes only hours after his release from prison.
When he attacked Brown, Graham had been out of prison less than a year after serving a 5-to-15-year sentence for rape, deviate sexual intercourse, assault and robbery.
Graham was sentenced to eight years in prison for his assault on Brown. He was released in Dec. 6, 1989. Less than six months later, he was charged with attempted murder and assault for shooting a woman named Dawn Hudson in the face.
Brown met Graham at a low point in her life. She was using drugs, living on the streets and doing what she had to do to survive. On the evening of Jan. 20, 1984, Brown and a girlfriend were at Jack's Place, a bar that once stood at the corner of Homestead Avenue and Edgewood Street.
Graham, then 28, spotted Brown. Her friend, also a drug user, "wanted to get with" Graham, Brown recalled.
"He was flashing money and she was trying to be with him," Brown said of her friend. "She was like, 'Betty, this guy likes you.'" Brown was not interested.
Graham left Jack's Place, but a short time later called the bar's pay phone and asked for Brown. She took the phone and heard Graham say, "You know I got money."
"When you're on drugs, you take chances that you wouldn't normally take," she explained.
"He came back," she said. "He had a place. We walked over to Sargeant Street. We walked up to the third floor. He gave me $60 and I tricked with him." When they finished, Graham stepped into another room.
He came back with a steak knife in his hand. "He said, 'get on your knees,'" Brown said, tears filling her eyes. "I was 17. I was scared."
Graham tied Brown up and bound her hands behind her back.
"He took the steak knife and he just started stabbing me in the head," she said. "I can remember asking God to let me die because I wanted to die fast." Brown remembers Graham stabbing her five times in the chest.
And then he beat her. "Bitch, you ain't dead?," she remembers Graham saying. "He started kicking me. He's got his foot in my back and he's pulling my neck up." Graham then thrust the knife into Brown's neck and then behind her ear.
"He said, 'Be still, I'm trying to disconnect some nerves so you won't tell.'"
Graham wrapped Brown in a sheet and threw her over his shoulder. "He took me into the back and threw me down," she said. "I don't remember being cold. I don't even remember pain. I remember being afraid."
After a while, Brown was able to get up. She untied the binding around her feet.
Despite her injuries, Brown was able to make it to Sigourney Street. An ambulance took her to nearby St. Francis Hospital, where she was treated for a collapsed lung, stab wounds and other injuries. She remembers staying in the hospital for several weeks.
Hartford police quickly identified Graham as Brown's attacker and brought him into the hospital so she could identify him. "Is this him?" an officer asked. She said it was.
Brown said that when she was released from the hospital, she went back to the street. She refused to seek help for the psychological wounds Graham inflicted. "I immediately go into survival mode," she said.
Police and prosecutors could not find Brown, and the case against Graham was close to being dropped, as can happen when witnesses and victims cannot be found. Then Brown was arrested. A matron at the old Morgan Street jail knew her and said "Betty, they've been looking for you," Brown recalled.
"They were going to let him go," Brown said. Her appearance in court that day caused Graham to plead guilty on charges of first-degree assault and violating probation . "I did it, I did it," he said.
On Oct. 29, 1984, Graham was sentenced to 15 years in prison, suspended after he served eight years, and five years of probation. He ended up serving just under six years and on Dec. 6, 1989, he was discharged from prison.
Graham still haunts Brown's nightmares. "I feel now the pain more than when it happened," she said. "I can feel the knife. I remember what it sounded like."
Brown was unhappy that Graham received just eight years for the violent assault on her. She says she is speaking out in hopes of providing a voice for other women who are at the margins of society and have been victimized like she was.
It's important for those women to not blame themselves when they become victims of crimes and to come forward, she said. Today, Brown is working for an agency that helps drug addicts in recovery.
Living In Fear
Less than a year after his release from prison in the Brown assault, Graham met Dawn Hudson.
"We were just friends," she recalled. "We were not in a serious relationship. We were dating for a little bit." She knew he'd been to prison and when she asked he told her it was for armed robbery.
Hudson soon lost interest in Graham. She said she thought he'd be a bad influence on her children.
At some point during their friendship, Graham lent Hudson a radio. When she was no longer interested in him, he wanted the radio back.
On May 21, 1990, Graham arrived at Hudson's Enfield Street home demanding she give him the radio. Hudson would not let him in and told him she'd give it back when he paid for some of her property he'd damaged.
A short time later, a telephone installer arrived to do some work in Hudson's building. She said she suspects the telephone man left a door ajar, enabling Graham to get into her building. Graham appeared at the door and Hudson told a relative to fetch his radio from another room.
"He pulled out a gun and he said, 'I told you I was going to get you bitch,' and he shot the gun," Hudson said. "When the bullet went in my jaw, it exploded."
Hudson spent about a month at St. Francis. She still has scars from the gunshot wound.
Hudson said she still fears Graham, who pleaded guilty in January 1993 to attempted murder, first-degree burglary and first-degree assault and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Shortly after Graham was released from prison in October 2005, Hudson saw him at a gas station. He did not see her, but she was so shaken she quit her job and left Hartford.
Since his release from prison for shooting Hudson, Graham had three more run-ins with police. He was charged with breach of peace in 2006 and received a six-month suspended sentence and two years probation in 2008. He was charged evading responsibility in February 2015 and drunken driving in April 2015. Both cases are pending.
Tashauna Jackson was last seen the evening of Aug. 11, 2015, when she left her mother's Barbour Street home with Graham. Her badly decomposed body was found Aug. 18, 2015 behind a poultry shop on Granby Street in Bloomfield.
Hartford detectives interviewed Graham several times as they investigated Jackson's disappearance. During one of those interviews, other officers found Graham's Honda Odyssey minivan parked behind his half-brother's house. Inside the van they found blood. DNA testing later revealed it was Jackson's blood.
Graham claimed to detectives he'd had sex with Jackson and that she was menstruating. The blood spatter in the van, detectives determined, was not consistent with Graham's story. And the state medical examiner determined that Jackson was not having her period at the time of her death.
On Aug. 23, 2015 Graham was charged with Jackson's murder.