Listen to the new episode of Morbidology:
It was a brisk autumn afternoon in Portland, Oregon, on the 6th of September, 2006. 51-year-old Susan Kuhnhausen was returning home from her job as a nurse in the emergency room of Providence Hospital. She stopped at the hairdresser and quipped to the stylist that she needed a new hair colour since she was going through a tough divorce.
She arrived home at approximately 6:37PM and kicked off her shoes, ready to relax for the remainder of the evening. The house appeared eerily dark; Susan was sure she had opened the curtains that morning before going to work. She thought nothing of it. However, moments later, she spotted a man out of the corner of her eye. He was emerging from the shadows in her bedroom. He was wielding a red and black claw hammer and ran towards Susan, swinging the weapon wildly in her direction. The intruder smashed Susan across the head and face but miraculously, Susan was able to get the slight on the intruder after biting him. “If I died, I wanted it to be known that I fought to live,” she said. They fell to the floor, fighting over the claw hammer. “You’re strong,” the unidentified man said. But he truly had no idea just how strong Susan was… Moments later, Susan managed to climb on top of him and pin him to the ground. She placed the intruder into a choke-hold and yelled: “Tell me who sent you and I will call a fucking ambulance!”1 Susan got no answer. As the intruder attempted to throw Susan off, she strengthened her hold until he stopped moving. She had strangled him to death.
Susan fled to a neighbour’s house who called 911: “We have an intruder in the house next door.…The intruder was in the bedroom with a hammer. The woman who lives there thinks she may have strangled him. He was down when she left,” she said to the 911 operator. As Susan lay in the same emergency room where she had worked as a nurse for the past 30 years, she wondered if somehow her estranged husband, Michael Kuhnhausen, could have been involved in this attempt at her life. Michael and Susan were in the process of getting a divorce and according to the affidavit “her husband was distraught but that she was insisting on the divorce.”2 As news of the attack circulated in the media, Michael wrote a suicide note and purchased a gun. He didn’t contact his adult children for over a week before asking if they could help him check in to a psychiatric facility. When police eventually got a hold of him, he claimed he hadn’t contacted his estranged wife following the attack because he had learned that she survived. His behaviour was certainly peculiar and raised a few eyebrows.
The man who had attacked Susan was identified as Edward Dalton Haffey and initially, police was believed that the man was quite simply a burglar who had targeted the wrong house. Susan scoffed at this theory because the man hadn’t attempted to steal anything or even ask her where her money was. He was hiding in the shadows, waiting for her to come home. He had targeted her. “He is here to kill me,” she said. “I don’t know why. I don’t know who he is. But his intent was clear.”After an intense investigation, Susan’s suspicions were confirmed: Haffey had been hired as a hitman by Michael. According to an affidavit filed by the Multnomah County District’s Office, Haffey had once worked as a custodian under Michael at an adult video store. Haffey was addicted to crack and desperate enough for money that he would commit murder. In Haffey’s backpack, police had found a note which read: “Call Mike. Get Letter.” Michael was arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy to commit murder.
Susan and Michael had split up in 2006 when Susan picked up enough courage to throw Michael out of their house because of his anger and anxiety issues. She had lived in fear for too long. At first, Michael was seemingly desperate for reconciliation but Susan refused. That heartache then turned to revenge and Michael started searching for a hitman to take her out. Three people denied his proposal before he turned to Haffey. In the wake of the attack, Susan was hailed as a hero. However, she took this title with a pinch of salt: “How can you be a hero when you took someone’s life?” she said.3 Susan described herself as “a middle-aged woman in bad shape with bad knees.” However, in that terrifying moment, Susan “made a decision to live.”
When Susan got the chance to face Michael at his trial, she said: “You were willing for me to share your small, miserable life until death we did part –the sooner the better, as it turned out.” At the end of her statement, she said: “I am damaged by what you have done to me. I am damaged. But I am not destroyed.” Michael Kuhnhausen pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. After his sentencing, Susan sued her ex-husband for $1 million, stating she wanted to make sure he didn’t have enough money to hire another hitman to “finish off the job.”
Susan didn’t have long to worry, though, because in 2014, Michael died in prison from natural causes. While Susan felt relief from the news, she said “I don’t mourn his passing. Instead I mourn the life he could have had, if only he could have opened his heart for those of us who cared about him.”4
- The Oregonian, 8 September, 2007 – “‘I am Damaged, But I am not Destroyed”
- The Grand Rapids Press, 17 September, 2006 – “Police Say Intruder Killed by Nurse was Hitman”
- The Orgeonian, 14 September, 2008 – “Margie Boule Talks to the Woman who Killed a Hitman”
- The Orgeonian, 17 June, 2014 – “Prison Death is a Relief to Ex-Wife”