KEENE — A former Jaffrey man who committed suicide Wednesday by setting himself on fire in front the Cheshire County Superior Courthouse explained his actions in a rambling letter to at least two newspapers.
“A man walks up to the main door of the Keene N.H. County Courthouse, douses himself with gasoline and lights a match. And everyone wants to know why,” wrote Thomas James Ball, 58, of Holden, Mass.
His letter, more than 10,000 words long, was received in the mail by the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Ball ended his life in front of the courthouse where two thick files trace the disintegration of his marriage. The files include reports of slaps on the face of a preschooler. An arrest. A subsequent divorce. Visitation disputes. Orders to pay child support. A pending contempt charge.
In a statement Thursday, officials said Ball started the fire about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday outside the courthouse. Ball had started the fire, which was intentionally set, officials said.
“The investigative team has determined that Mr. Ball took his own life,” said a statement issued by the Keene police and fire chiefs and state fire investigators.
In his letter, Ball said he was facing jail time.
“I am due in court the end of the month. The ex-wife lawyer wants me jailed for back child support. The amount ranges from $2,200 to $3,000 depending on who you ask. Not big money after being separated over ten years and unemployed for the last two. But I do owe it. If I show up for court without the money and the lawyer say jail, then the judge will have the bailiff take me into custody. There really are no surprises on how the system works once you know how it actually works. And it does not work anything like they taught you in high school history or civics class,” he wrote.
Ball was set to appear in court on June 24 for not following a judge's order that he pay half of his children's medical expenses — $2,062 — that his ex-wife, Karen Ball of Jaffrey, had paid.
Thomas and Karen Ball were married from 1990 till 2002.
Karen Ball was at her Jaffrey home Thursday evening, gathered with her children and extended family.
Ball's brother, Donald A. Ball, a Worcester, Mass., attorney, said he would not comment other than to say “The family's very upset.”
Little of the rambling letter makes much sense. But Ball recounts a 2001 incident in which he was accused of hitting one of his children and which seemed to precipiate the divorce.
“My story starts with the infamous slapping incident of April 2001,” he wrote. While putting his 4-year-old daughter to bed, she began to lick his hand, he warned her three times to stop then slapped her.
Ball cut her lip, and his wife asked him to leave the house, he wrote.
She called the police, and he was told he could not return that night. The next day police arrested him at work, booked him and returned him to work, Ball wrote.
Ball told his boss he did not think the couple could work out their differences and he no longer trusted her judgment. At the time Ball worked for a Ford dealership in Winchendon, Mass.
Karen Ball filed for divorced three days after the slapping took place.
Court documents quote the girl saying Ball struck her in the mouth until she bled.
The girl, now 14, reported to Jaffrey police at the time that Ball pushed her on her back, hit her a lot and she was bleeding.
The couple have two other children — a 17-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.
Ball admitted striking his daughter three times with an open hand across her face, but maintained it was “appropriate discipline,” the court documents said.
Ball concluded his letter with parting words for his children.
“I have three things to say to my children. First, Daddy loves you.
“Second, you are my three most favorite people in the world.
“And last, that you are to stick together no matter how old you get or how far apart you live,” Ball wrote. “Because it is like Grandma always said. The only thing you really have in this world is your family.”
To read the letters, view the attached .PDF files below.