I nailed the beast strangling me
Debora lay dying, throttled by her evil lover’s hands. Yet salvation was at her own fingertips...
Manspreading shamelessly in the back of the taxi, my date flexed his bulging biceps. ‘It would take me years to grow muscles that big!’ I giggled nervously, as hulking Vincent Cunningham, 45, chuckled.
I was a divorced mum-of-three who hadn’t dated for years, but the body of this 17st hunk off Plenty of Fish was such a work of art, and he’d sounded so charming, that I’d been persuaded to meet up with him.
Now, though, as we headed off to a Chinese restaurant, my heart sank.
‘Oy!’ Vincent was yelling at the poor taxi driver. ‘I know what your game is! You’re taking us the long way.’
I was cringing. This guy struck me as rude and
obnoxious. There wasn’t going to be a second date…
I’d been on the dating site barely a week when Vince had first emailed, How is a girl like you still single?
It made me laugh, and his muscly physique was another big tick. He was a sales rep and bodybuilder, into fitness like I was.
We’d swapped numbers and, in September 2013, I’d agreed to that Chinese, despite my mum, Kathleen, 55, warning me off. It seemed she’d been right. Not only was I not attracted to Vince physically – he was barely 5ft 5in, with a big, bulbous nose that had clearly been punched a lot – but I’d also seen a side of him I really didn’t like.
‘What are you doing with him, love?’ the taxi driver frowned. Good question, I thought. But, in the following days, Vince must have called 50 times, leaving umpteen voicemails, emails and texts, until I finally picked up to ask him to stop.
‘I just wanted to apologise,’ he sighed. ‘I don’t know what came over me – probably nerves. We all make mistakes.’
I felt sorry for him. What was the harm in giving him another chance?
The second date was much better. Vince was charming, funny and attentive. I was falling under his spell…
We saw each other as often as possible, spending a lot of time at his beautiful big bungalow. He’d done well for himself. But, behind closed doors, he was increasingly moody. ‘Is this OK?’ I’d ask, serving him up a meal.
‘Do you have to f***ing ask that?’ he’d bark.
Soon, the tantrums started. Anything could trigger them.
One day, I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Without warning, Vince came up behind me, put his hands around my neck and started squeezing.
I couldn’t breathe… I was blacking out… then he let go.
‘Sorry, I was drunk. I’ll never do that again,’ he promised the next morning, saying he was disgusted with himself.
I could barely talk for two weeks. My GP asked questions, but Vince was outside in the waiting room, so I said nothing.
After that, he throttled me regularly. I’d wear scarves to hide the bruises.
My daughter, Kathleen,
12, liked Vince at first, but gradually took against him.
‘The Hulk’s always upsetting you, Mum,’ she complained. ‘I don’t like him!’
My mum was still concerned, too. ‘There’s something not right about him,’ she warned, urging me to end things.
I’d yell at her, insisting I loved him. But I was furious that she couldn’t see through my lies.
Why didn’t she realise how trapped and scared I felt?
I wanted out…
After a few months, my daughter – unable to bear being around Vince any longer – moved away to live with her grandmother.
I was distraught. I didn’t know where to turn. To cope, I started taking antidepressants and strong painkillers.
Soon, I was like a zombie. One night, I was rushed to hospital from Vince’s place with sudden, intense stomach pain. It was a burst ovarian cyst.
‘The poor thing’s in agony,’ Vince told my mum.
But, the moment Mum left… ‘Just stop moaning!’ Vince snapped. ‘I don’t want to hear it.’
In February 2014, we moved into a council flat together.
Vince’s beautiful bungalow was being repossessed – the bailiffs were after him.
He had total control over me now, taking over my finances and ensuring I was increasingly isolated from friends and family.
We got two puppies. Vince chose German shepherds, after I admitted I was petrified of them.
But he was furious as I grew to adore them, and his violent outbursts increased.
He flipped if his dinner wasn’t cooked right, if another man so much as looked at me.
‘A woman’s place is in the kitchen,’ he’d rant.
But he never went to work, so, on top of my long shifts as a care worker, I got a second job at a warehouse. How had it come to this?
I was an independent, feisty, opinionated woman. The last person you’d expect to be in a relationship like this one. Yet here I was, trapped… He showed me no affection. We hadn’t had sex for months. Still, he expected me to look nice. So, in early December 2015, I treated myself to a trip to the nail salon. ‘Fantastic!’ I grinned, as the technician applied a £30 set of hot-pink acrylic talons. Predictably, when I got home, Vince didn’t even notice them.
A few days later, I came home at 10pm, exhausted after a late shift at the warehouse. Vince was sat on the couch in a foul mood, takeaway boxes and empty cans scattered around him. ‘Where’ve you been?’ he said. ‘At work,’ I thought, ‘while you laze about and spend my money.’
Finally, something snapped. I wasn’t doing this any more…
‘Please leave,’ I blurted out. Knowing he’d erupt, I had my phone ready, my hand hovering over 999.
But he charged at me instantly and, although I pressed dial, my phone fell to the floor as he pushed me against the wall then on to the floor. Pinning me to the ground, hands around my neck, he squeezed and squeezed. Eventually he stopped.
I tried to sit up. But then Vince was on me again, crushing me under his full 17st weight.
‘I’m going to take you to the dark side,’ he snarled, kneeling across my chest and choking me a second time.
His eyes went jet-black as his hands squeezed tighter.
He was chanting about the devil, in some sort of trance. I felt myself black out… Opening my eyes again, I saw Vince stood over me, smoking a roll-up. He wasn’t even looking at me! Did he think I was dead? Just then, he glanced down, and knelt on my chest.
‘This is the end,’ I thought, as he throttled me a third time.
I felt peaceful. After 20 minutes fighting to breathe, I knew he was strangling me to death. But
I felt calm, even as I wet myself.
‘Just get it over with,’ I thought, accepting I was going to die.
‘I hope he gives my body back to my family,’ was my last thought, just before I passed out…
Who knows where it came from, the sudden electrical jolt that shot across my chest?
Powered by the adrenaline surge, I thrust my hands through the gap in his arms.
And grabbing his face, I pushed the false nails on my thumbs into his eyes and gouged them as hard as I could.
‘AAARRGH!’ screamed Vince, jumping away, blood streaming down his cheeks.
I jumped up, grabbed my phone and car keys, and bolted out of the door. I could barely see – he’d knocked my glasses off – but I managed to get into the car and lock it before a bloodspattered Vince emerged and flung himself on the bonnet.
Putting the car in reverse,
I hit the accelerator and shook him off. Then, lifting my phone to call 999, I heard a voice.
‘Stay in your car,’ said the operator. ‘The officers are on their way.’
My earlier call hadn’t been cut off after all. They’d heard – and recorded – everything!
I sped half a mile up the road and waited for the police.
Then I insisted on returning to the house with them, to get the puppies.
The police found Vince cowering in bed, his wounds covered in my make-up.
He was arrested and charged with assault to injury.
In February 2016, at
Kilmarnock Sheriff Court, he pleaded guilty and was jailed for nine months for the assault, plus two years for a separate attack on a man in a nightclub.
Unable to shake the hold he had over me, I visited him in prison.
I was petrified at first, even with the prison warder there. But, with each visit, I grew stronger.
Finally, on my fourth visit, the spell lifted.
I could see he wasn’t sorry. He blamed me for everything. ‘I’ve got to go,’ I said. ‘Whatever. Cheerio,’ he replied. That’s the last I ever want to hear from him.
Unfortunately, he was released from prison in May 2017. I’ve moved four times since –
I no longer feel safe.
Now, I want to warn others about him. He’s clever, charming manipulative… and I’m convinced he’ll kill somebody next time. If it wasn’t for my nails, I’d be dead now.
I’m fighting to get back to the person I was. I’m having counselling but, since my brain was starved of oxygen, it takes me longer to process things.
I’m happy, though. I’ve got my family back. My daughter lives with me again. And my darling puppies are big now… who needs false nails when you’ve got them!
Debora Colman, 42, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire
‘This is the end,’ I thought, passing out
Vince had a stranglehold on my life till I fought back
No Prince Charming… but I fell for him
Without my sharp talons, I’d be dead
I’ve got my big dogs to protect me
My girl moved out to avoid ‘The Hulk’