Meet Francine Hughes, a woman who became the face of battered and abused women in the United States. She fought her way out of her abusive relationship, and did so with murder.
Francine Moran Hughes was born on August 17th, 1947, in Stockbridge, Michigan. Her mother, Hazel, named her after a French musician. Her father, a farm-worker, was an alcoholic who abused her mother.
At the age of 16, Francine dropped out of high school to marry James “Mickey” Hughes, another high school dropout who was three years her senior. Together, they had four children.
According to Francine, the abuse started on their honeymoon when her husband accused her of dressing too revealing, and tore off her clothes. The beating started in the weeks that followed. Thus, a pattern was set.
Francine divorced Mickey in 1971 in order to qualify for welfare benefits to take care of her children. Mickey Hughes, however, was still very much in the picture after moving out, returning often for sex and the opportunity to administer beatings. After Mickey was involved in a near fatal car accident, Francine allowed him to move in and offered to nurse him back to health.
The abuse escalated after Mickey’s recovery, and he beat her regularly, destroyed her furniture and even killed his daughter’s kitten. Francine was afraid she would be unable to remove him from her home without the possibility of him trying to kill her. She soon earned her GED, and enrolled in a secretarial course in 1976.
Murder And Trial
Francine returned home from attending her secretarial course on the afternoon of March 9th, 1977, and encountered a drunk and irritated Mickey Hughes. He refused to let her prepare food for their children, and berated her for a while about quitting school, which she refused to agree to, even after he forced her to burn her school books. He then began to beat her.
The police were called to intervene, but they refused to arrest Mickey since he did not assault Francine in front of them. One of the officers, however, would later testify that he heard Hughes warn Francine that “it was all over” for her because she contacted police.
She again tried to fix dinner for herself and her children, but Mickey became irate and pushed the food onto the floor. He forced Francine to the floor by bending her arm behind her back, and made her clean the mess manually with her hands. When she was finished cleaning, he dumped the trash can containing the food back onto the floor for her to clean again. He finally forced her to agree to quitting school, and made her burn the textbooks.
Mickey forced Francine to cook his dinner, and afterwards he raped her. She suffered through this assault until he fell asleep. She was waiting for her youngest child Dana to return home, but after some time, she just decided to burn her house down.
She told her other three children to put on their coats and wait in the car for her. She then poured gasoline all around the bed Mickey slept in, then lit the gasoline. The fire consumed her home. Francine drove herself and her terrified kids to the police station to confess.
After her trial in Lansing, Michigan, Francine Hughes was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Both the defense and prosecution agreed her situation was sympathetic.
Later Years and Death
Hughes’ life was depicted in a book titled ‘The Burning Bed’, and a lifetime movie was developed based on the book.
Francine eventually married a country musician named Robert Wilson in 1980, and became a nurse soon after. She worked at several nursing homes. She died in Leighton, Alabama, from complications of pneumonia on March 22nd, 2017. She was 69 years old.