Updated: March 31, 2011 at 12:00 am
A former wife of Steve Bach, a leading candidate in the hotly contested race for Colorado Springs mayor, claims she suffered repeated and severe beatings during their brief marriage more than 40 years ago.
Bach, through a spokeswoman, categorically denied the allegations Thursday.
“There is not a shred of truth to any of these allegations,” said Laura Carno, Bach’s chief of staff.
“We find this timing, just days before the election after 42 years of silence, very suspicious,” she added. “It causes us to believe that this action may be politically motivated.”
Marian Verburg married Bach in June 1968 and filed for divorce in May 1969. She said she is going public with the accusations because she believes Bach’s alleged abuse offers insight into his character as he seeks to become the city’s first strong mayor.
“If it doesn’t manifest itself in pounding on some woman, it will show up another way,” said Verburg, who would speak only on the condition that The Gazette use her maiden name because she said she fears for her safety.
“It’s a character flaw that runs deep and wide,” she said about Bach. “It’s not one of those things like, ‘OK, I’m so negligent I never pay my bills on time.’ It isn’t that. It isn’t something that can be corrected, I don’t think. I don’t think this kind of a mental illness, which I think it is, can be corrected. Ever.”
Verburg said she lived in Atlanta for several years before moving back to Colorado Springs about two years ago to be closer to her 96-year-old mother.
She said she sent a series of anonymous letters to news media outlets in recent months that included a copy of her divorce decree from 1969. The decree states that she was granted a divorce from Bach on the grounds of “mental and physical cruelty.”
Verburg also sent a copy of the divorce decree to other mayoral candidates, some of whom said they feared that making her allegations a campaign issue would cause a backlash against them. Verburg said she hoped someone would publicize her allegations without revealing her identity. Verburg is remarried and said she is not seeking notoriety.
“As soon I read the little tiny blurb in the paper about Steve running for mayor, I thought, ‘Oh my good God, it can’t be true,’” she said.
“I started writing these anonymous little blurbs to The Gazette and dropping them off and doing everything I could, and nobody would follow up.”
Bach is one of seven candidates vying for the mayor’s job in the Tuesday election. He has campaigned as a 45-year resident of Colorado Springs who has a track record of creating jobs and who can be trusted to lead the city.
In the letters to The Gazette, Verburg didn’t identify herself or provide contact information. Late Sunday, The Gazette obtained her email address after it was provided by a source who wants to remain anonymous.
When approached in January about the divorce decree, Bach and his attorney, Peter Susemihl, said “mental and physical cruelty” was cited in most divorce cases before no-fault divorce laws were passed in Colorado — a point Carno reiterated Thursday.
“The language in both the divorce complaint and the divorce decree were standard boilerplate language before no-fault divorce,” Carno said. “This standard boilerplate language was used in the majority of Colorado divorces, as it was considered the least egregious.”
According to a divorce statute provided by Susemihl, other grounds for divorce in 1969 included impotency, a felony conviction, adultery and drug addiction.
In January, Bach called the allegations “absolutely absurd.”
The Gazette had been unable to obtain other divorce records until Thursday, when it obtained a copy of the divorce complaint, which alleges that Bach had been “extremely and repeatedly cruel toward (Verburg) causing her great mental pain and suffering and physical pain and suffering.”
Verburg, who did not have a copy of the divorce complaint, said the document proves she’s telling the truth.
“The documentation speaks for me,” she said.
Bach was married a second time, and divorced, before marrying his current wife, Suzi, of 27 years. Suzi Bach accompanies him to election forums and debates and appears with him in a TV ad. At mayoral forums, Bach typically introduces his wife first.
In January, his second wife, Jane Netzorg, told The Gazette she wouldn’t say anything bad about Bach when asked about the abuse allegations.
“I would never say anything bad about the father of my child. It’s not appropriate,” she said.
After the interview with The Gazette, she sent Bach an email to tell him she had been contacted by the newspaper.
“I have also been told that people are saying you abused your first wife,” she wrote in the email, which the Bach campaign provided to The Gazette on Thursday.
“As you know, this did not happen in our marriage,” she wrote.
Rather than report general accusations that would provide Bach with nothing specific to which he could respond, The Gazette asked Verburg to provide specific examples of the alleged abuse.
Verburg said Bach beat her, on average, every three days.
Verburg said the alleged beatings started before the marriage but that she married him because she thought he would stop.
Verburg said Bach left her bloodied and bruised on their honeymoon.
“He slugged me until my nose was bleeding, my lip was bleeding. I had bruises all over my torso,” she said.
“The next day we were supposed to go on a rafting trip and he said, ‘If you talk to one person on that rafting trip, I’m going to kill you tonight,’” she said.
Verburg also recalled an alleged incident in which she said Bach beat her for no apparent reason. She said the alleged beating took place in an apartment she and Bach rented near Unitah Street and Cascade Avenue.
“I had long blonde hair at that point, and he grabbed a hold of my hair in the bathroom and slammed my head against the ceramic tile,” she said. “I thought, ‘You know what, tonight I die.’”
The Gazette offered to provide the Bach campaign with the details of each of the specific instances that Verburg had described to the newspaper. After hearing the details of the alleged abuse during the honeymoon, Carno said she didn’t need to hear any more.
Carno called all the allegations “a complete fabrication.”
Around 10 p.m. Thursday, before The Gazette published the story online, Bach's campaign sent an email to supporters.
"This is to give you a "heads-up" that the Gazette may run a story soon about my earlier marriage which ended sadly, but amicably 42 years ago," Bach wrote in the email, which included a photo of Bach and his wife, Suzi. In the email, Bach fully identifies Verburg.
"She and I have not seen each other in 42 years. There is nothing to validate these claims. There were no such assertions 42 years ago or any time since then until now - 5 days before Election Day. There is not a shred of truth to any of these allegations. This looks like dirty politics - plain and simple."