Falater met Yarmila Klesken in a sophomore English class at Riverside's Brookfield High School. He recalls being attracted to Yarmila's intelligence and spunk, qualities she exhibited up to her death. She was a quiet but popular girl with an artistic bent and a friendly nature.
Scott Falater says his future wife was the only girl he ever dated, much less loved. After high school, the pair attended colleges about 50 miles apart in northern Illinois.
They dated about once a month during the school year, but kept in touch. He was studying electrical engineering; she was leaning toward a career in medical radiology.
The two decided to get married in the summer before their senior years. Around that time, Falater converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after a chat with a pair of Mormon missionaries.
Yarmila, also born Catholic, wasn't thrilled with the idea. According to Falater, she threatened for a time to break off the engagement. But she softened, and the couple were married in 1976 in a civil ceremony, with a Mormon bishop presiding.
At first, Yarmila eschewed any contact with Falater's Mormon friends, going so far--Falater recalls--as to leave the room or house when he had them over. That independence at once endeared and frustrated her new husband.
"She was not going along with it [his newfound faith] at all," Falater tells New Times. "She went through with the marriage because she loved me."
After they graduated from college, the newlyweds resolved to make it on their own terms.
"Scott wanted to get away because of how it was when he was growing up," his mother says. "He wanted to just start over, start his own family life, with his own traditions and so on. He kind of cut himself off from what was happening, for which I don't blame him."
Falater found work in his long-chosen field of electrical engineering; Yarmila worked in a medical laboratory, specializing in parasitology and hematology.
A few years after they were married, Falater says, Yarmila came around to his way of thinking about Mormonism--especially after a vacation that included a stop in Salt Lake City.
At the sprawling Mormon temple there, he recalls, the couple listened to a religious leader speak of the concept of eternal matrimony.
"It's called a sealing," Falater explains, "because, for us [Mormons] marriage does not end with 'until death do you part.' It goes on forever. . . . It's not a guarantee--both have to have lived worthy enough to live as husband and wife in the hereafter. [Yarmila] just looked at me and said, 'Do you want that?' I said, 'Of course, I do.'"
After the couple returned home, Falater says, Yarmila took religion classes and was baptized into the faith. Later, the Falaters were "sealed" in a ceremony at a Mormon temple in Washington, D.C.
(Falater says he doesn't know what his church has in store for him. "My stake president has told me my membership is on standby status--though I'm not sure what that means. If I'm convicted, I'm making the assumption that I'll be excommunicated. . . .")
The couple moved to Florida, where their two children were born in the early 1980s. They moved to Minnesota for a few years before migrating to Arizona in 1987.
Yarmila had given up her medical career after she gave birth to the couple's second child. (She also was an ace basket weaver and seamstress, among other skills.)
But Yarmila felt trapped and controlled, Falater says, in part because he'd become arrogant and self-centered. She was deeply depressed while they were living in Minnesota, partly, he says, "because she had no support system, and I was burning the midnight oil in a new job, and so forth."
Falater says he suspects that Yarmila may have left him if he hadn't changed.
"Frankly, now I look back and say, boy, what an asshole I was," he says. "It was the lowest point of our marriage when we were moving to Phoenix. But I started to realize how important it was for us to put down roots, to try to do better to make her happy. I think I did that."
At first, Arizona proved to be an oasis for the couple, and Falater's new job as an engineer at a Motorola semiconductor plant worked out well.
By the mid-1990s, according to Falater, his family had settled into a comfortable if somewhat frenetic routine: He worked long hours, was involved in his church, and spent whatever time he had left at home.
In his mind, his marriage was "working on all cylinders" as 1997 approached. The Falaters were planning a family trip to Europe in the summer of 1997. He wanted to become a full-time high school math and science teacher by the time he turned 50. Yarmila had returned to work, as an aide at a preschool.