Longform

THE TRAGEDY OF ERIC TAYLOR

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"He busted my lip, hit me in the chest, banged my head against the wall with his head in front of the children," she later wrote on a request for a restraining order against him. Then she detailed a history of abuse: "Harasses me at work (showing up and calling continuously, 7-19 to present). Threw me out of car (March 93)."
There were troubles at work, too, that may have helped ignite Taylor's flare-ups with his wife. Arizona Baptist Children's Services was being pressured by DES to keep Taylor under closer supervision because of his criminal record. He was no longer allowed to drive the children anywhere. The DES files reveal a flurry of letters from Taylor's former coaches that were received during the same week that he was jailed, vouching for his character and urging that he be granted more responsibility.

Arizona Baptist Children's Services stood behind Taylor. It felt so strongly about his popularity with the children and other staffers that despite the religious incident a year earlier and the jailing a week earlier, in a July 1993 letter to DES, the ABCS personnel director wrote, "If it was felt that Eric's emotional control was questionable at any time, we would not allow him to work with children in any of our programs."

Doug Shouse bailed Taylor out of jail the day after the assault on Sonji. "From what he was saying, it was a money thing," Shouse remembers. Sonji worked as a hair stylist at a salon on North 16th Street. Shouse reports Taylor as saying, "She wants to take my manhood. She makes money, too."

But by the time they got home, Taylor was remorseful, saying he should never have hit Sonji, that no one should ever lay hands on another person. "He thought she was right and he was wrong," Shouse remembers. "Sonji could do no wrong."

Still, Sonji moved out immediately and took the children with her, then filed for divorce in September. She later told police that Taylor was becoming fanatical in his religion.

@rule:
@body:Taylor grew increasingly despondent. He stopped cutting his hair, which Shouse usually trimmed for him every ten days. The children in the shelter would joke that he was growing an Afro, like the Jacksons wore in the 1970s. When his friends tried to offer him advice, he let them know that he had everything under control and would handle things in his own way.

He became withdrawn. He pulled out of the adult basketball league in which he played with Williford and Shouse, telling them he "had to get things straight with his wife." Taylor told everyone that he was going to stay celibate until he got back with her. "He used to say he loved her and he'd do anything to keep her," Williford says.

Doug Shouse had played pro ball in Europe and Latin America and works as an agent in arranging foreign gigs for basketball players. He offered to get Taylor on a team in Brazil or Argentina so that he'd have time away to think about his problems and get his life back together. Rick Barrett, the coach in New Jersey, had already arranged for Taylor to play in the California Summer Pro League, where many NBA pros play in the off-season. And he was trying to get Taylor into an NBA rookie camp, not so much expecting he'd make an NBA team as to increase his marketability overseas. At Christmastime, Taylor went to Camden to visit with family and friends. He reunited with a son he'd fathered before he came to Arizona, and though he told Coach Smothers that he'd arranged to bring the boy to Arizona that summer to visit and meet his children here, he never once let on that he was having marital problems. And though he admitted to Rick Barrett that he and his wife had problems, he never mentioned that he and Sonji were separated.

Taylor still hoped to get back together with her. And he was carrying the great burden of being everyone's success story.

@rule:
@body:Much of why Eric Taylor exploded for good on January 12 remains a secret held by Pastor Carter and by Taylor's roommate, Benny Knox. After Taylor's death, Knox told police that he had to confer with Carter before he could talk to them. Then he spoke somewhat freely about Taylor's being turned away from the hospital, though he wouldn't say which one. Glendale police records later suggested it was Charter Hospital, which was also implied by the card found in Taylor's pocket after his death. Officials at Charter Hospital have said they cannot reveal any records without a signature from one of Taylor's parents. None of Taylor's friends or coaches in Arizona or New Jersey knows where they might be, and Carter will not tell.

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Michael Kiefer