Life at home, meanwhile, began to deteriorate. Nasty shouting matches between the parents led to shoving. Karen claims that Hibdon would get drunk, then grow belligerent and discipline the children with unwarranted physical force.

Once he smacked his daughter's face when she talked with her mouth full at the dinner table and later slapped the back of her head when she rocked in her chair. On another occasion, Karen says, he flung his son down hard on the floor in anger and called him a "dumb shit."

Karen says he would complain that their life was too "vanilla" and dull. On weekend nights Hibdon would dress as a female, leave Karen home to watch TV and mind the kids, then go out on the town and return very late. At the December 2006 meeting of the Gender Foundation, he arrived drunk, lost his temper with another member and was asked to leave, according to Sallie, the group's president who only goes by one name. He never returned.

A four-year-old Tom Hibdon in a wig.
Courtesy of Rachael Amratiel
A four-year-old Tom Hibdon in a wig.

"It was the first time I'd been around anyone yelling at one of our meetings," says Sallie. "Rachel as a guy was really sort of muscular. It would scare you. But personally, I really liked Rachel. She had a great mentality. It killed me to not have her as a member. She really needed that camaraderie."

In February 2007 Hibdon ordered some black-market estrogen pills online but continued to waffle about the sex change — until the package arrived.

"When I sat there holding that first pill," recounts Amratiel, "I knew I'd lose my family, I'd lose my house, I'd lose my career, lose my job. I knew I'd lose the respect of my peers, the carpenters. I knew I'd probably lose my kids, although I was hoping I wouldn't. But I decided that my life was for me to live. It was at that moment I made up my mind." He swallowed it.

Karen noticed her husband was starting to look odd. He'd lost weight, was shaving his legs and grooming his eyebrows. She found an estrogen pill on the floor of the bedroom and angrily confronted him. He said it was none of her business.

When Hibdon cross-dressed, Karen tried to keep the children down in the basement. But in April 2007, their nine-year-old son came upstairs and saw his father wearing a dress. Hibdon thought the kids should be exposed to it. The episode deeply disturbed Karen, however. She stopped cooking for him and doing his laundry.

Hibdon passed long hours in his garage fashioning medieval plate armor and weapons, such as swords and a flail. He also began forging metal chastity belts designed to hide his male parts. He couldn't get the pattern right and made at least eight different belts. One belt, which he wore for 22 days straight, gave him painful blisters because it didn't fit correctly.

For months Hibdon had been reading about Wicca, a religion that harkens back to the pagan beliefs of pre-Christian Western Europe. He created offering bowls, a ceremonial dagger and a "goddess board" filled with ancient symbols of femininity.

Meanwhile, Karen, who was raised Lutheran, told him that transgenderism was against God and a sin. She claims he would respond by saying Christians were evil and needed to die.

"I used to say all kinds of things in anger," Amratiel admits. "She was crushing me underneath that Christian stuff. Anybody would lose their temper over time. She would push me to the point of rage."

On May 23, 2007, the day before the blowout at their House Springs home that culminated in Hibdon's arrest, he told Karen for the first time that he wanted to get a sex change.

According to a court memorandum filed later by Hibdon's lawyer, Karen became so enraged at the news that she threatened to get their neighbor, Scott Clark, to come over and "kick his faggot ass."

The evening of May 24, 2007, began calmly at the Hibdon residence. The family was eating supper and watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Hibdon was drinking a beer. He and his son got in a wrestling match, and he pinned the child down to make him say "uncle." When the boy began to cry, Karen ordered her husband to quit it. An argument ensued.

Fed up with his drinking, Karen walked out to the garage, grabbed cans of beer from the refrigerator and smashed them on the floor. Hibdon followed her out, and they screamed at each other.

When Karen told him she was leaving him and taking the children, she claims Hibdon held a sword to her throat and growled, "You're fat; you're sickly — you're bleeding me dry with doctor bills. I want you dead."

Amratiel concedes uttering such things but says he wasn't drunk and never brandished any weapons. Besides, he adds, Karen twice had knee surgery and, at the time, suffered from a suspended bladder and uterus.

"How are you supposed to chase a 270-pound woman with bad knees and not catch her? How did she get away unscathed if I'm this crazed attacker?"

Whatever the case, Karen says she flew out of the house, telling him she was going next door for help. Then, expecting a confrontation with his neighbor, Clark, Hibdon armed himself.

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