Beauty, brains, a rich husband who adored her and bought her anything she wanted, took her anywhere she wanted to go.
“When I met him, I met a prince,” Sheryl Hallek told me. “I had a fairy-tale life.”
Her prince was Jim Hallek, a man 25 years her senior who made his wealth in the lighting business. She was 51, a redheaded, three-time divorcee with a manic intensity and an urgent need to either make you her best friend or her worst enemy.
To Jim, she became both.
They met in 2000 while Jim’s first wife, Cathy, lay dying of cancer. Sheryl was her hospice nurse.
After Cathy’s death, Sheryl took over Jim’s life, moving into his palatial Paa-Ko estate in the East Mountains and his country club world of cocktail parties, golfing, tennis and chums from the Albuquerque Boat Club.
They married in 2005, honeymooning in Greece and traveling at a moment’s notice to Europe or their condo in Cabo San Lucas.
But by the time I met Sheryl in 2010, the marriage was over – almost.
She had contacted me then after reading several columns I had done about domestic violence. She was abused, too, she said, but she was nobody’s victim.
“If victims don’t want to stay victims, they have to learn to self-protect,” she insisted in a May 3, 2010, column. “Because nobody can do that for them.”
She offered advice: Keep a suitcase hidden and ready to go in a moment’s notice. Take self-defense classes. Squirrel away cash. Buy a gun and learn how to use it.
She emphasized that last one and introduced me to “Frank,” her 9mm Glock handgun.
Four months after she filed for divorce she changed her mind and went back to Jim, convincing him to buy her a new home in North Albuquerque Acres.
Fifteen months later, the Halleks were headed back to divorce court, sparked by a Nov. 7, 2011, incident in which deputies were called to the couple’s new home to investigate a violent he said/she said altercation.
According to a criminal complaint, she said he became belligerent, punched her, slammed her head on the floor, struck her so hard that a lower front tooth was knocked across the room. She went for Frank – her gun – and fired three times – not to shoot Jim but to scare him away.
He said she started screaming at him, tore off his shirt, scratched him, bit him so hard that when he pulled away her tooth came, too. When she started shooting, he fled the house, shirtless and shoeless.
“We had a good life,” a bewildered Jim told me for a Jan. 9, 2012, column. “I tried to make her happy. I gave her everything.”
But in his divorce papers, he accused Sheryl of fabricating allegations of his abuse and senility to make him look bad. He called their relationship a “short, turbulent six-year marriage that she has made a living hell.”
Sheryl’s hell was just beginning. Or maybe it had been there all along, a dark knot tumbling inside her that was slowly unraveling.
In May 2014, she was sentenced to a year on an ankle monitor and five years of probation after pleading no contest to felony aggravated assault, five counts of battery, plus a charge of intimidating a witness who was set to testify had the 2011 shooting case gone to trial.
She brushed aside the charges, saying, “They don’t like it when women fight back and self-protect.”
At her sentencing, she was different – less glamorous, more aging flower child, less driven, more diffuse.
I never saw her after that.
Whatever had been left of her fairy tale began collapsing upon itself. Court records detail a litany of probation violations and altercations. She was repeatedly evicted from apartments and treatment programs for “erratic, volatile behavior.” She tested positive for alcohol and methamphetamine. In October 2016, she was charged with disorderly conduct after showing up at the Paa-Ko house, threatening to kill the new tenants if they didn’t leave “her” home.
She was often homeless, sleeping in parks and the grounds of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.
“Hallek is not mentally stable,” an officer wrote in a Nov. 30, 2017, motion seeking to revoke probation.
Last December, Sheryl, 59, was committed to the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants, where she remains today, undergoing a 60-day diagnostic evaluation before a judge decides whether to send her to prison for what’s left of her sentence.
The woman who had it all had lost it all, and I wonder whether she finally became the victim of her circumstances or whether her manic intensity that had once seemed so dazzling was a sign of something sick burning unchecked and unmedicated. Fairy tales, it seems, can be delusions.
Jim died in May 2015 at age 81. His ashes were interred next to Cathy, his first wife. The obituary mentioned nothing about Sheryl.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.