ANCHORAGE - Family and friends of an Alaska woman killed with a sledgehammer say she was trying to escape an abusive relationship with the man charged with murder in the slaying.
Susanna Braden had already told Alaska State Troopers less than three months ago, in another case involving the same man, that she feared for her life.
"It was not the first time she was violently abused," Pearl Chanar, Braden's aunt, told the Anchorage Daily News.
"She was afraid to leave and she finally decided to leave him this week, while he was in jail, and that was what she was doing - she was trying to get away from him when this happened," Chanar said.
The body of Braden, 43, was found Wednesday at a cabin near Wasilla, leading to murder charges against Andrew Victor Thomas, 47.
According to court documents filed by investigators, Braden had been brutally beaten and stabbed, and a sledgehammer rested across her chest and left shoulder.
The slaying follows a series of assault charges and restraining order petitions involving Thomas - who is accused of taking a hammer to Braden before.
On Tuesday, a little more than 13 hours before Braden was killed, Houston police were called to a Big Lake home after a report that Thomas was breaking car windows, was armed with a rifle and was threatening to kill people.
Bertha Nick, whose car was the target, said Thursday that three of her windows were broken out after Thomas went into a rage while drinking at a neighbor's home with her and Braden.
"He was drinking and I was trying to help my friend (Braden) from him being mean to her," Nick said. "He was a very, very jealous and controlling person. ... This time she was telling him that it was quits, and he didn't like that."
When police arrived, Thomas was gone and the person who had called police hadn't seen the attack, said Houston police Officer Charley McAnally.
"Pretty much what we had was three broken windows in a car and they believed it was Thomas, but nobody saw it," McAnally said.
According to court records, Thomas has been charged in six assault cases since 1993, as well as with drunken driving, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. Braden got a restraining order against Thomas after a domestic violence assault on April 2, 2007.
"Andrew Thomas punched me in the face, used a hammer on my body," she wrote in the petition. Thomas was charged with felony assault but pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
Court records indicate that Thomas most recently pleaded guilty on July 14 to assaulting Braden in Fairbanks and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. It wasn't clear Thursday why Thomas was out of jail this week.
Braden, a mother of four, was trying to get the money to go home to her village, Toksook Bay, Chanar said.
"Her sisters tried to talk her into getting away from him, and every time she was afraid," Chanar said. "He always found her and always took her back to North Pole, where she was never around anyone else, so no one could help her."