Final Analysis: The Untold Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case - Catherine Crier (2007)



Helen Bolling was at home in San Diego when her son, David, telephoned on Wednesday, October 16, with the stunning news that Felix was dead and Susan was in jail, suspected of his murder. Though Susan had been incarcerated late Monday evening, no one had contacted remaining family members to alert them to the arrest. Even after police came knocking on David’s door on Tuesday afternoon, he waited to inform his mother of Susan’s arrest. During the phone call, David told Helen that he attended a press conference at police headquarters in Orinda where detectives shared limited details of Susan’s detention. News outlets were reporting that the autopsy revealed a very violent death.

Felix had been stabbed twenty-seven times, the headlines screamed.

Helen could barely comprehend what her son was telling her. “It’s just not possible,” she told him. Susan was a petite woman, she thought. How could her daughter overpower someone of Felix’s size? Besides, if Susan wanted to murder him, would she have planned such a violent and risky encounter? She would never have undertaken such an assault on her own, Helen thought.

Reeling from the news, Helen dialed the Contra Costa Sheriff ’s headquarters. She wanted to speak with someone in charge. Detective Mike Costa took her call.

He told Helen that her daughter was refusing to speak with authorities.

“Well, it’s no wonder,” Helen replied. “To experience that kind of event, sometimes you almost can’t talk.”

The detective was silent.

Helen next inquired about the family car. David told her that transit officers had found Felix’s black Saab in the parking lot of the Orinda BART station.

“She just drove it there,” Costa replied flatly.

To Costa’s dismay, transit officers who interviewed taxi and bus drivers servicing the Orinda station failed to discern any evidence or witnesses tying Susan to the Saab. A search of the vehicle showed no signs of forced entry, and investigators had been unable to locate the car keys.

“That doesn’t sound reasonable. How did she get back?” Helen asked the detective. “You can’t walk back. Those roads are too dark and narrow.” The Polk’s home was quite a ways from both the train station and the downtown area. It would have taken at least three hours for Susan to walk from the BART station to her home, Helen told the detective. That just didn’t make sense, she said.

Costa was aware of the distance. His officers had mapped the roughly three-mile route from the Polk house to the station using both city streets and cross-country shortcuts. They determined the time needed to travel that distance on foot to be well under three hours. While he had no evidence to back up his assertion, Costa maintained that Susan had driven the Saab to the BART station immediately after dropping Gabriel at school that Monday morning, and then walked home to retrieve her Volvo wagon for the 12:30 PM pickup at Del Oro High.

Helen found Costa’s theory preposterous. She believed that if Susan had left Felix’s car at the BART station, she had to have had an accomplice—maybe Gabriel—to drive her home. Gabe had been home at the time and recently he had been extremely angry with his father. The teen was so angry that he had taken a sledgehammer to Felix’s Saab that past June, damaging the sporty sedan. Gabe later explained that his mother had provoked the incident, after angrily describing Felix as the “great and powerful destroyer.”

David Bolling was at the house the day a tow truck arrived to transport the Saab to an auto body shop for repair. He asked Gabe about the damage and was surprised by his nephew’s response.

“I never liked the guy,” the teen reportedly said, referring to his father.

While Helen was not one to start accusing her grandchildren, she was hard-pressed to believe that her daughter had masterminded and carried out such a brutal attack alone. The whole murder scenario seemed so out of character for Susan, who had never displayed such violent tendencies. If what police were saying was true, something must have triggered an uncontrollable rage. Or maybe, Helen thought, her daughter had no choice; Susan had to kill Felix or be killed herself.

As Helen spoke to Costa, she began to reveal the complicated relationship between Susan and Felix. She recounted the tumultuous years that followed her divorce from Theodore Bolling and the traumatic impact that the breakup had on Susan. The young girl had watched her once happy, loving mother slowly come apart when her husband left the family. To compound matters, Susan suffered again when her father divorced his second wife, Rita, for a third woman. People close to Theodore recalled a significant change in the youngster, who seemed to view the breakup with Rita as yet another betrayal by her father. Susan had accepted that perhaps Theodore and Helen were simply a mismatch and that Rita was a better fit for him. She even befriended Rita and, according to witness accounts, the two were close.

But news that her father was walking out on his second wife for yet another woman truly upset Susan. She could no longer excuse his inability to honor a commitment. He had rejected both Helen and Susan when he left the marriage in 1964. Now, he was rejecting Rita, as well. From a psychological perspective, all daughters want to believe they are second in line for their father’s affection, but suddenly, it seemed, there were lots of women who came before her.

Around this time Susan began suffering from the paralyzing anxiety that landed her in Felix’s office. Anxiety is often a symptom of buried emotion, and for Susan her father’s second divorce seemed to spark a rage within her. This volatile emotional state and her young age made her extremely susceptible to Felix’s advances. Felix was charismatic and magnetic—compelling to a girl who had long been seeking the approval of an older man. He had mastered the art of concealing his underlying objective: to control everything and everyone around him.

Helen believed this was how Felix lured Susan into his world. It pained her to think that she was partly responsible for failing to report the therapist to the authorities. If only she had gone to police when she first learned of Susan’s inappropriate relationship with Felix, her daughter might not be in jail on charges of murdering him. Instead Helen confronted Felix on her own, in the hope that he would do the right thing.

But Felix never let Susan go, and instead, things only got worse. Helen tried to intervene and take her daughter on a trip to Santa Barbara to meet boys her own age; Susan was not interested. She was completely entranced by Felix, or “glued in,” as Helen put it. The therapist had become a father figure, and this unhealthy relationship distorted Susan’s teenage years. She made few friends in high school and at college. Eventually, Felix was all she had.

Since Susan’s world was so narrow, Helen was not surprised to learn of the impending marriage. She never approved of the union and even called Felix’s first wife to apologize for her daughter’s involvement in the breakup of that relationship. Despite her sixty thousand dollar loan to the newlyweds, Helen soon found herself all but banned from their home.

When Helen finished telling Detective Costa her version of the Polk saga, she fell silent. She had provided a myriad of details that clarified some of the history behind Susan and Felix’s marriage, but her role in the case was only beginning. After hanging up the phone, she headed for her beat-up blue sedan as she prepared to make the drive to Orinda.