Barbara Bentley was 35 years old and divorced back in 1981, when Admiral John Perry swept into her life.
She met him at a dinner party hosted by a friend. The admiral dominated the conversation with his stories—he’d lied about his age to get into World War II and became one of the original Navy SEALs. He was a naval aviator during the Korean War, and flew with the Blue Angels. Then, during the Vietnam War, he commanded swift boats fighting on the rivers. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor for saving some of his men when their position was overrun by the enemy. Afterwards, he did clandestine work for the federal government, going places where it would be better if the American presence wasn’t known.
Barbara Bentley relates the story of meeting Admiral John Perry in the beginning of her book, A Dance With the Devil—A True Story of Marriage to a Psychopath, which was published last year. I felt like I was reading part of my own story.
Different psychopath, same story
I, too, heard the tales of fighting in Vietnam from my psychopathic ex-husband, James Montgomery. He claimed to have been awarded the Victoria Cross, which is Australia’s equivalent to the Congressional Medal of Honor. In fact, he sent me a copy of the “mention in dispatches” account of his heroism:
In heavy contact with the enemy, forward of the company in which Captain Montgomery was moving, the commander of the Mobile strike battalion was killed and an Australian Warrant Officer and several indigenous soldiers were wounded ”¦ Without hesitation, Captain Montgomery joined a small group under the command of a further Australian Warrant Officer, who was a company commander in the battalion, and went forward to the area of contact. While the remainder of the group were extricating the casualties ”¦ Captain Montgomery cut and prepared the casualty evacuation point on his own and under enemy fire. The helicopter attempted to extract the serious casualties but was forced away by heavy fire. Captain Montgomery, with complete disregard for his own safety, then, single handed, cleared the enemy from the close proximity of the evacuation point using hand grenades and small arms fire.
It was, of course, a complete fabrication, as were the stories of Admiral John Perry.
Marriage was a nightmare
But like me, Barbara Bentley didn’t know anything about psychopaths. All she knew was that this man who was so charismatic, so larger-than-life, was saying that he was smitten with her. He pursued her. He proposed to her. And even though he was 20 years her senior, she accepted.
The marriage, of course, was a nightmare, although Barbara couldn’t figure out why. John loved to live the rich life, even when he wasn’t working, and their finances were a catastrophe. He always had a plan though ”¦ his new job would pay better ”¦ he was going to sell some property ”¦ his inheritance was coming through ”¦ financial stability was always just around the corner.
But when Barbara finally started asking serious questions, John Perry attempted to murder her.
Then, the legal abuse
The guy was in jail when Barbara tried to divorce him, and he refused to cooperate. Even though he’d attempted to murder his wife, according to California’s no-fault divorce law, he was entitled to part of his wife’s assets, and he was going to get them.
Barbara was so outraged by the legal abuse—the law demanded that she pay the man who attempted to murder her—that she embarked on a crusade to get the law changed. And she did it.
This book is also the story of escape and recovery. And, it’s the story of a woman who turned near-tragedy into something positive. Now, in California, psychopaths who try to murder their spouses are not entitled to their assets as well.