Married to a monster: 'Life with Billy' and the story of Jane Hurshman

Darrell
Darrell Squires
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Corner Brook -

November 20, 2007, was the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking "not guilty" verdict in Jane Hurshman's first-degree murder trial in Liverpool, N.S.

On its publication in 1986, Brian VallÉe's book "Life with Billy" publicized in detail Jane's hell-on-earth marriage to Billy Stafford. It was a story of abuse under the thumb of a violent psychopath and sexual sadist.

Republication of the book "Life with Billy" in 2008, in a special commemorative edition, brings together the subsequently published "Life after Billy," published in 1993 - a year after Jane's suicide, and "Life and Death with Billy," which combined the two previous books in a single volume.

The new edition gives the complete story of Jane's life and death.

Even though she eventually served time in prison for manslaughter, the initial verdict of "not guilty" in the murder trial of Jane Stafford (nÉe Hurshman) in 1982 was a pivotal decision that helped change Canadian law as it applies to battered women who kill their spouses.

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court ordered a new trial when the Crown successfully appealed the verdict, ruling that the evidence of Billy Stafford's brutality against Jane served only to create sympathy for the accused.

Another ruling of the appeal court rejected Jane's argument of self-defense, on the basis that her husband was asleep in his truck when she shot him - and was therefore of no immediate threat.

But these developments led in 1990 to the landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling that a battered woman should be allowed to use a plea of self-defense for killing her abuser, even if an attack against her was not in progress or imminent. It also ruled that evidence of "battered wife syndrome" and evidence of the deceased's character were admissible in support of the self-defense plea.

As Brian VallÉe's account of her life makes clear, Jane Hurshman was a victim of many betrayals during her life.

Very little about "Life with Billy" makes for easy reading, and even professionals who work with victims of spousal abuse, and who are familiar with its horrors, are likely to find particular passages and descriptions difficult to absorb.

Billy Stafford brutalized not only Jane, but also their young children.

And even though Jane Hurshman's life ended tragically, it still carries a powerful message of hope - especially in light of Jane's career as an advocate on behalf of abused women.

Ask for this book at your public library.

Darrell Squires is assistant manager of Public Information and Library Resources Board, West Newfoundland-Labrador division. You can contact him at: dsquires@nlpl.ca or by phone at 634-7333.

Organizations: Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Supreme Court of Canada

Geographic location: Corner Brook, Liverpool

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Recent comments

  • PETRA MEYER
    March 04, 2014 - 04:46

    GODNESsssss !!!!! what a movie !!!

  • Penny
    December 31, 2013 - 16:02

    loved this book, I am a big fan of true stories. They always make me think of what else could have been done in that situation.

  • Aline Sawatzky
    July 16, 2013 - 09:35

    I really wanna watched the movie now that I read the book

  • valerie stafford
    June 04, 2013 - 07:45

    I am the olderst daughter of billy stafford what my mother and jane went through was heriffic and all of his children I remember bits and peices of this man and his face and those eyes i still see once in a while my family have all broken the vicious circle that he created we all all very responsible and hard working adults with growin children of our own by going through this as a child i have learned alot and I thank my mother Pauline Stafford for putting us on that train and never looking back. Just whated to let everybody no that most of his family ended up being ok thanks for asking valerie stafford

    • Kim Skuce
      March 26, 2014 - 12:53

      Valerie: I'm so sorry for what you and your family went through horrible. I have never heard of this story until yesterday March 24, 2014. I would love to buy a copy of the book and movie do you yourself know where I may purchase this. Big hugs to you and your siblings.

  • desmond
    June 01, 2013 - 00:17

    One of the best books Ive ever read.As horrible as it was for her Im happy to know that a law was changed and hope it helped other women in the same boat?Cant recall what became of his first wife?Would love to watch the movie but cant seem to locate it? What makes a person so full of hate and anger?Ya.what about those kids?Do they have kids and are they ok? I wonder........

  • Sabrina scott
    May 18, 2013 - 00:05

    I saw this movie many years ago and have nver been so heart broken at what this lady and her children went through .., and what a tragic ending..:(((

  • Lynn
    October 24, 2012 - 07:35

    I met One of his sons just the other day. he is living in his past and it is a shame what these kids and wife had to go though!!

  • Shelly Ann Taylor
    October 14, 2012 - 13:05

    I heard about this book and movie years ago but I am still unable to find either one. I would love to purchase both. Does anyone know where I could purchase these?

  • Sarah Burke
    May 22, 2012 - 13:17

    Hi Sharon, Found this article. It discusses a Canadian case. There is both a book and a video on this story. The DVD can be found at the Central Branch location of the Mississauga Library. The DVD is called Life with Billy / Life after Billy. Call no: 362.8292 LIF. Have not found the other video you are looking for.

  • Janet Piche
    April 23, 2012 - 19:20

    Dear Sir or Madam, I have been looking for either the book or the movie for quite awhile now...i have tried the north Bay public library but they tell me its too old... I see that they have renewed it for the 25th anniversary ...Is there any way you could tell me how to have it on loan or maybe if its not too expensive I could see if I could purchase it...Thank you so much...This was such a heart wrenching story that I want women that I know that are going through such hardship to realize that there is hope before it ends up like this poor Jane had to endure...Again Thank You so much for your help ...I really appreciate it.. Janet

    • Katerina
      February 12, 2014 - 22:59

      I found a copy of the book on Amazon.ca for $4.00. Bits and pieces of the movie can be seen on youtube, no luck finding a copy of the movie though..

  • Deb
    April 26, 2011 - 00:24

    I was honored to meet Jane many years ago after the book Life With Billy came out.I couldn't help but feel so sorry for all she had been through.Very sad how her story ended and I often wonder how her children are today.I still keep them in my prayers.I would love to know they are ok somehow.