“If I Am Missing or Dead”

By: Liz Tedone
By: Liz Tedone

Knoxville (WVLT) - It's been five years since a Knoxville woman was strangled by her boyfriend and left to die in a vacant lot.

On Friday, strangulation legislation will go before a subcommittee in Nashville to make the act an aggravated assault. It's currently only a misdemeanor.

WVLT Volunteer TV’s Liz Tedone has an update on Amy Latus' family. They have renewed hope for domestic violence victims with a new book.

Janine Latus|AMY'S SISTER

In Knoxville on July 4th 2002, Amy Latus went missing.

“She did not truly share with us, everything we knew, we knew by instinct. I think she believed this would be an okay relationship,” says Marilyn Willenbrink, Amy's mom.

Amy was in an abusive relationship with Ron Ball. But it wasn't until she went missing that police, family and friends actually learned the truth.

In the days after she disappeared, a letter was discovered in Amy's desk drawer here at Kimberley Clark where she worked. It had been written ten weeks before she disappeared and discussed what she had been going through. Amy had been hiding her situation.

The title of that letter written to the Knox County Sheriff's Department read, "If I am missing or dead." Those words are now the title for a book written by her sister Janine. “I took her story and mine, and what it's like to be inside an abusive relationship.”

Latus, a survivor herself of an abusive relationship, has one goal, to get people to understand why women stay.

“Because when you're on the inside of it, it feels okay,” Janine says. “It feels like you asked for it. That he loves you so much and that he just can't help himself.”

Understanding the psychology behind abuse is the first step law enforcement and victims' advocates take to helping a victim.

Since Amy Latus’s murder, the Knoxville Family Justice Center has been created. It's a one-stop shop for victims where they can get all of the resources they need under one roof. This center is one of only 15 in the country.

Janine Latus got out of her abusive situation because she reached out.

“I found out if you ask, then people will help you,” says Latus.

“We need to start by talking about what's good and bad behavior in a relationship, recognize it and be willing to reach out for ourselves,” Latus adds.

Something her sister Amy couldn't do, but Janine is hopeful others will buy the book and pass it on to those victims who need hope.

There's a fund set up in honor of Amy Latus which helps victims nationwide escape their abusive situations. You can find a link to Amy’s Courage Fund, as well as other helpful links on domestic violence below.

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  • by Lynn Location: Ohio on Apr 22, 2011 at 07:06 AM
    What a great job portraying the inner struggles, rationalizations, excuses, head games that living with an abusive partner can bring. I grew up with an abusive father. Finally, after the youngest of my mom's 4 children reached 18 and left home, my mom too packed up and pulled out. It is a miracle that my father never killed her or anyone outright, but the damage that he and his abusive tongue and sometimes his fist did are a poisons that have permeated the lives of those who had to endure his wrath and diseased mind. Thank you, Janine for bringing a voice to the insidious silence that keeps us imprisoned.
  • by Katrina Location: Australia on Feb 12, 2011 at 03:32 PM
    I Read this book in one day, I could not stop and cried many times. It was not the book i planned to borrow from the library but it was there and took my attention. A must read, the kind of book that makes you stop and appreciate your life. What an amazing strong woman!
  • by Diane Location: Door County, WI on Oct 25, 2010 at 01:03 PM
    My sister and I listened to this book on a long trip just this weekend. I was struck with the fact that Janine did not see herself in Amy's situation, or at least she certainly did not have the same concern for her own relationship and the abuse taking place. She seemed to feel it was mostly her fault, when she would not have faulted Amy at all. Not that Kurt would have killed her--except for her spirit, her self-esteem and her future relationships. The way she wrote the book, there did not seem to be any "aha" moments along the way in her marriage to Kurt, always returning for more abuse and self-doubt about her role in it. It was maddening to listen to that repeat itself over and over with apparently no recognition of the comparison.
  • by Vanessa Location: Australia on Oct 16, 2010 at 03:44 AM
    I just finished the book & couldn't put it down it was amazing, interesting & sad all at the same time, I'm wanting to know what has happened to Janine since leaving Kurt, is there another book?
  • by michelle Location: california on Sep 24, 2010 at 07:20 PM
    I have related to this book in more ways than one. My maiden name is Ball. I also was in a relaionship just like her and i gained wieght was kept away of my family. I was threatened on many occasions with a 12 gauge shot gun. i luckily got out of it with my life but the mental abuse never goes away. Please I am wanting you to know that you all in my prayers. i hope that this will help someone get out with their life and please if at any time get in touch with me. jjandajsdad@sbcglobal.net
  • by Beth Location: United Kingdom on Sep 7, 2010 at 03:58 PM
    I have literally just finnished reading If i am missing or dead.. I just couldn't put it down. I am disgraced that men in this day and age can even think to be so manipulative towards women! This book has widened my eyes to think that is better to be single and happy with friends and family that love me than to be tied down in a relationship that isnt two-way. I admire Janine, as she has turned her life into other peoples realities and made them realise that this happens every day, everywhere and at any time. I am deeply sorry for the Latus families loss as Banksy quotes 'you die twice, once when your heart stops beating and the other, when someone says your name for the very last time.' Amy Latus will be remembered forever.
  • by Frankie Welthagen Location: South Africa on May 2, 2010 at 07:31 AM
    I'm at home recovering from a neck operation and just about all I can do safely... is read. Janine Latus' 'real' story about her abuse and her sister's struggles and well-hidden abuse were very moving indeed (I finished the book this morning). I think the majority of women suffer abuse in some or other form... unacceptable as it is, it's very real. I pray that this book is shared with those who need to 'get the message' & 'get out'!. Society is too complacent... we sometimes listen... rarely act. Congratulations on a good read; though I'm saddened by the heartache which obviously led to its publication. I grew to love Amy with each flip of a page... I could almost hear her hearty laughter fill my ears and can imagine the loss her siblings and Mom have to deal with each breaking day. As a Mom, I've lost two precious children (during an operation & a tragic accident) - so my heart goes out to Janine's Mom, as this loss is stored forever deep inside. Frankie Welthagen (Mrs).
  • by Carla Bryan Location: Grand Rapids Mi. on Oct 25, 2009 at 08:36 PM
    I was drawn to this book having sisters myself. I was more interested in Janine's life though and the book was geared toword Janine till the very end. I felt like I didn't really know Amy that well. I would have liked a little more detail on her. If it was Janine that had been murdered I could have understood better why the book was written. The whole childhood thing went on too long and I began to get bored. I kept thinking, they need the Lord. They have no structure to base their life on. It could have saved so much heart ache. That was the saddest part for me. Janine, you are so brave. God could sure use you to help change the worlds problems. I admire you for your fight no matter what it took to survive. I pray God heals your broken hearts and gives you understanding. Such talent you girls have. I was moved by the love of sisters. God be with you all. You've blessed me. Thank's.
  • by Ruthie on Oct 13, 2009 at 10:45 PM
    I am in the middle of reading the book, and just have felt so much pride and sisterly affection for Amy and Janine already that it is amazing. They are both very brave and wonderful to me. I know what happens to Amy, of course, and my heart is hurt for her, but I just had to say what a wonderful writer you are, Janine. I love this book and will be passing it on to other women. I was in a terrible ivolent abusive relationship (marriage) for a long, long time, and lived with so many of the thoughts and beliefs that the Latus ladies had. We must work harder to teach women they DO NOT have to endure abuse!! GOd did not put us here to be doormats or punching bags! Self-worth......something so hard and nearly impossible for me and countless other women to realize that we have it. When I find more copies of the book at good prices I will buy them also to give away. Many females NEED to read this book. It can save lives! Thanks, Janine!! Great job!! You are brilliant and beautiful! Amy,RIP <3
  • by Theresa Location: Chandler, AZ on Jul 13, 2009 at 07:52 PM
    When I first saw this book I was fresh out of my abusive marriage and was scared of what I might read. 2 years later I finally bought the book and finished it last night. I wish I would have read this 3-4 years ago. I married a man I had known for 12 years and never would have thought I would end up a DV survivor. I related to every chapter, every page of this book and see where and how I felt trapped. I am grateful to have left before things got worse (not that have to go to court twice to testify isn't bad enough). My heart goes out to the Latis family for their loss.
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