How I wish I had made up that headline. Knowing all of those things actually happened is utterly heartbreaking.
A registered sex offender, biological father, and alleged murderer Adam Slater of Palm Desert, California is accused of a series of heinous, horrific crimes that’s almost too bizarre to be believed.
Unfortunately for 23-year-old Ashley Grome, it’s absolutely true. This story just screams domestic abuse and coercive control to me, so I’m going to get into those topics during this post.
Ashley married Adam Slater in March of 2018, when she was 21 and he was nearly 47. The 26 year age gap between them is a major red flag. This may or may not be an unpopular opinion, but a man of Adam’s age had no business whatsoever in pursuing a woman — a girl — as young as Ashley was. There’s a power imbalance in that age difference that can’t be ignored.
We’re taught as children to respect our elders, believing they’re automatically wiser than we are, which builds into that relationship a sense that the older man must be right, simply by virtue of being older. A young woman going into that kind of relationship tends to trust her older lover’s judgment for that reason alone. It’s a dangerous place to start, especially when she’s a teenager, as Ashley likely was when she met the much older man she would marry when she was barely old enough to drink.
Please understand: I am not judging Ashley. I’m coming from a place of total empathy. I married a 26-year-old man when I was 20, and even that seemingly minor age gap at those respective ages set off my family’s spidey-senses, it turned out, for good reason. Had I been 30 and he 36, it wouldn’t have been an issue. In some ways, I was mature for my age, and I had a good head on my shoulders. I was book-smart and raised well by responsible, kind, amazing parents. I was, however, extremely inexperienced, far too trusting, and utterly resolute in my belief that there is good in everyone.
The problem is in the mindset and intentions of a grown man whose brain is fully developed romantically pursuing a teenager or a woman in her early twenties. What he is undoubtedly preying on is her naivety and her vulnerability to his charms and manipulation. She can be easily fooled into believing what the older man wants her to believe, coerced into doing whatever he wants her to do, and essentially being duped into a relationship based on lies and manipulation — a relationship that will, as time passes, very likely become increasingly abusive, whether emotionally, physically, sexually, or any combination of those.
It will also be very, very difficult to escape.
That appears to be what happened here, and it turned out to be a worst-case scenario. According to Ashley Grome’s mother, Deanna Sommers, Ashley had grown frightened enough of Adam Slater’s escalating behavior that within the past month or so, she had moved herself and Madalyn, who turned a year old on April 9, out of the home she and her husband shared. At the beginning of May, Ashley was six months pregnant with the couple’s second child.
On the morning of Wednesday, May 6, 2020, Ashley had made plans to meet her estranged husband for a custody exchange at Southwest Community Church on Washington Street in Indian Wells, California. In the backseat of Ashley’s car was her beloved daughter, Madalyn.
Maddie, as she was called by those who loved her, was an utterly precious one-year-old girl with a head of light brown curls, big greenish-blue eyes, and the most infectious giggle you’ve ever heard. By all accounts, her smile could light up any room or brighten anyone’s day.
Around 8:30 AM, according to Riverside county Sheriff’s Sergeant Deanna Pecoraro, deputies were dispatched to the parking lot of Southwest Church on a report of a stabbing related to a domestic violence incident. Upon arrival, they found Ashley riddled with stab wounds and frantic that her estranged husband had first attacked her with a knife and then kidnapped their one-year-old daughter, tossing Madalyn into his white SUV before speeding away.
Ashley’s uncle, Chris Grome, told a reporter from NewsChannel13 that Adam had threatened previously to harm Ashley and Madalyn, and he said that during the May 6 attack, Adam “was being combative. He attacked her and tried to stab her several times in the stomach and throat. She fought him off and tried to protect herself.”
Ashley’s father, Michael Grome, told a reporter that Ashley would meet her estranged husband from time to time, always in public, so he could see their daughter. According to Michael, Ashley told him that when Adam climbed into her car on the morning of May 6, he said, “You’re dying today. We’re all dying today.”
Adam then, Michael said, punched Ashley and stabbed her in the thighs and chin. A witness in another vehicle saw the assault taking place and began honking, at which point Adam grabbed Madalyn from her car seat and fled.
Ashley was taken to a local hospital and deemed to be in stable condition. The only good news in this entire story is that Ashley, who was discharged from the hospital the next day, was shaken and sore but on the mend; her unborn baby is expected to survive.
Sheriff’s deputies radioed out a description of Adam and his vehicle.
About a half hour later, California Highway Patrol Dispatch received a report of an overturned vehicle off Highway 74 near mile marker 86, south of Palm Desert. The vehicle matched the description of the one driven by that morning’s stabbing suspect. It turned out Adam had run his car off the road, apparently on purpose, flipping it onto its roof several hundred feet from the road. He was long gone, having fled on foot into a canyon, but what happened between the stabbing and his attempted escape is why you’re reading this story on my blog in particular.
After Adam flipped his vehicle, bystanders rushed to aid the passengers of the crumpled vehicle. Adam climbed out on his own, staggering to the passenger side of the vehicle, where a man in his thirties who had witnessed the accident was trying to assist Madalyn. Instead of thanking the man for helping his little girl, Adam stabbed the poor guy, snatching the baby from him.
Then, in full view of multiple witnesses, Adam Slater threw his own one-year-old daughter “over a steep cliff into a ravine” before scuttling away like a scared bunny-rabbit into the canyon.
When police arrived at the scene of the accident, witnesses pointed them in the direction of Adam’s flight path, so authorities were able to track him down after a brief foot chase. Tragically, they also found Madalyn, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators initially thought Madalyn had been ejected from the car during the rollover, but they soon realized the real story was much darker. It is not clear if Madalyn was conscious or even alive when she was removed from the mangled car and thrown into the ravine. We can only hope she was not aware of what was happening during her final moments.
The affected stretch of Highway 74 was closed for several hours due to the investigation. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a press release that the bystander who was stabbed “sought medical treatment on his own.”
Chris Grome told the reporter that their family was mourning Madalyn’s loss, saying the baby girl was “a little joy to have.” He said, “Right now, it’s painful… Everybody’s hurting pretty bad.”
“I held her in my arms the day before,” Michael Grome lamented. “She was just taking her first steps.”
Adam was transported to the hospital to treat the injuries he had suffered in the car accident, and, after being released the following day, he was booked into the John D. Benoit Detention Center in Indio.
This isn’t his first serious offense, either. Adam Slater has several previous arrests on his record dating back to December of 1994. Adam is listed on California’s Megan’s Law online database as a registered sex offender. In 1995, he was convicted of forcible rape with a foreign object. He was released from state prison in 1997.
He was charged in March of 2015 with operating an unregistered vehicle, driving without insurance, not using his turn signal when changing lanes, and failing to appear in court. In August of 2016, he received a citation for driving over 70 miles per hour.
Adam was also arrested in October of 2016 in Riverside County for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, reckless driving, and driving with a blood alcohol content higher than 0.08, which is the legal limit in most states. Substance abuse is common among domestic abusers.
In August of 2019, he was charged with running a red light and driving without a license. Clearly, he’s a man who thinks the rules don’t apply to him — again, a trait often seen in those prone to domestic violence.
His bail was initially set at $1 million, but on Tuesday, May 12, he was arraigned via video conference in front of Superior Court Judge Dean Benjamini, who denied him bail. At the arraignment, Adam, who appeared “calm and receptive” while he listened to the charges filed against him, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, attempted murder, assault on a child under 8 years old resulting in death, assault with a deadly weapon, and resisting arrest. He is also in violation of the terms of his parole stemming from his 1995 conviction.
Adam is being represented by public defender Gregory Henderson.
John Hall, the public information officer for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, said, “We’ve also filed a special circumstance allegation of murder during a kidnapping, which does make him eligible for the death penalty.”
If District Attorney Mike Hestrin decides not to pursue the death penalty for Adam, he could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ashley set up a GoFundMe campaign to help with medical and funeral expenses, writing, “I am the mother of Madalyn Payton Slater, the one-year-old baby girl who was killed on May 6, 2020 by her father when he drove off Highway 74 after beating and stabbing me, then leaving me to die in the Southwest Community Church parking lot.”
The description continued, “My daughter was the absolute love of my life and she meant everything and more to me. Everything I did and everything I will do for the rest of my life is for her. She was beautiful and her smile was contagious, even after a bad day, she always cheered me up. She was taken from this world way too soon.”
The GoFundMe campaign raised $16,668 before being disabled.
Apparently, some particularly awful people on this massive trash fire we call the internet have been casting judgment Ashley’s way for creating a GoFundMe so quickly after her daughter’s death. I can’t with these people; how is she wrong or in poor taste for wanting to give her daughter a fittingly beautiful memorial service? Luckily, others stepped up to defend her.
A drive-through celebration of life memorial service is being held in honor of Madalyn on Saturday, May 16 at Southwest Community Church. Organizers are inviting members of the community to show support for Ashley and to pay respect for “a life tragically cut short.”
On Facebook, the organizers posted: “We have an amazing community and it has been a privilege to witness all the support and love we give one another. Today I’m asking you to join us to celebrate a beautiful soul, a child that deserves to be released from this earth with a beautiful farewell. Let’s embrace and support Ashley through this difficult time. Ashley and Madalyn are part of our community, join us for a drive by farewell and candlelight vigil.”
This stark example of the escalation of domestic violence after a break-up is horrific, but not altogether surprising. In an abusive situation, the abused partner is at the highest risk of serious injury or death within the weeks immediately following the end of the relationship.
According to domesticshelters.org, “Abusers often lash out in an attempt to regain control over their partner or may resort to extreme violence, even homicide, because they feel they have nothing left to lose.”
Melanie Carlson, a former domestic abuse shelter advocate and case manager who has a Master’s degree in social work and is a Ph.D. candidate in gender-based violence at Michigan State University, said, “Human behavior is one of the hardest things to predict. Still, past behavior is the most predictive of future behavior. There are often clear patterns in behavior.”
Ms. Carlson said that a physically abusive partner may continue to be physically abusive after the relationship ends, and if the physical violence escalated during the relationship, it is a good idea to assume it will continue to escalate afterward. She said there are other red flags to be aware of, as well. “If there was physical abuse while pregnant or in public, strangulation, threats with a weapon, or statements like ‘If you leave, I’ll kill myself,’ use extreme caution when leaving. Those kinds of behaviors show they’re really not concerned with consequences.”
One of my personal heroes is Laura Richards, an internationally renowned expert on domestic violence, stalking, homicide, sexual violence, and risk assessment, as well as a victims’ advocate and the host of an essential true crime podcast, Real Crime Profile. I credit Laura (as well as her co-hosts, Lisa Zambetti and, of course, former New York State prosecutor and retired FBI profiler, Jim Clemente, who is another human being I absolutely idolize) with giving me the information and tools I needed to escape my own abusive relationship.
Laura primarily deals with crimes that occur in the UK, but she is also spearheading a campaign to strengthen, modernize, and reform domestic violence and coercive control laws in the US. She has been and continues to be a major player in similar legislative changes in the UK. Laura defines coercive control as:
Coercive control is a strategic pattern of behaviour designed to exploit, control, create dependency and dominate. The victim’s every day existence is micro managed and her space for action as well as potential as a human being is limited and controlled by the abuser.
Initially lovebombing and charm may occur to get the victim into the relationship. Gaslighting, isolation, economic control and financial abuse and rules and regulations are gradually introduced over time once the victim is emotionally invested as well as a consequence if they are broken. The rules apply to the victim rather the perpetrator creating a double standard and the victim fears the consequence if she breaks a rule.
Over time, coercively controlling behaviour erodes the victim’s sense of self, their confidence and self-esteem, agency and autonomy.
The abuser creates an unreal world of contradiction, confusion and fear. Moreover 51% of victims do not even know that they are being abused, manipulated and controlled.
Coercive control correlates significantly to serious harm and homicide.LauraRichards.com
Obviously, I don’t know for a fact that Adam Slater perpetrated coercive control over his young wife, but it is almost universally present in domestic abuse situations, so I’m making an educated guess based on his alleged crimes, as well as the claims made by Ashley’s family that she feared for her safety and that Adam had made threats against Ashley and Madalyn prior to last week’s explosion of violence.
Laura Richards refers to domestic abuse homicide as “murder in slow motion,” which is both chilling and apt when describing the systematic psychological torture that generally leads to intimate partner homicide. According to Laura’s website, a woman is murdered every 16 hours in the US by a current or former partner. Fortunately, Ashley Grome was not one of those women, but it appears her estranged husband intended for her to become part of that grisly statistic. It’s tragic and very telling of his state of mind and sense of entitlement that Adam Slater felt he had the right to attempt to murder his wife and to end the life of their beautiful, precious baby girl, as well.
Rest well, baby Madalyn. I hope wherever you are, you’re sharing your enormous smile and your contagious giggle. You will never be forgotten.
The investigation into Madalyn’s murder is ongoing. If you have any information, please contact Investigator Munoz with the Central Homicide Unit at (951) 955-2777 or submit a tip using the Central Homicide Unit’s Homicide Tip Line form.
Click here for my ongoing coverage of Madalyn’s case.
Sources: KESQ NewsChannel13, Oxygen, PEOPLE, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, The Desert Sun, the Los Angeles Times, Local Crime News, 7News.com.au, domesticshelters.org, laurarichards.co.uk