JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hours after a judge sentenced Michael Haim to life in prison for the 1993 murder of his wife, Bonnie Haim, the couple's son, 29-year-old Aaron Fraser, sat down with me to talk about how the ordeal has affected him and what it means to finally have justice for his mother -- 26 years later.
Aaron was the one who provided the final piece prosecutors needed to charge his father, long suspected in his mother's disappearance, with second-degree murder.
While making repairs in the backyard of his childhood home -- which he won in a wrongful death lawsuit against Michael Haim -- Aaron unearthed his mother's remains.
A quarter-century ago, I met Michael Haim to do a story about his missing wife. Even as he was asking for help finding Bonnie Haim, he just didn't seem that concerned. During part of that interview, he held 3-year-old Aaron in his lap and he kept asking the toddler, "Where's Mommy?" Why would anyone ask that of their son?
Over the last month, the facts came out at Michael Haim's trial, conviction and sentencing. Aaron was hoping for more through the court process, but said he's not surprised Michael Haim never confessed or apologized.
Aaron sat down with me to describe the moment he found his mother's remains and what it felt like to hear his father, whom he's always feared, will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Below are excerpts from that interview:
Mary Baer: How do you feel? Can you say you feel a sense of freedom after today's sentencing?
Aaron Fraser: I don't really feel a whole lot different. There's a sense of relief that we don't have to continue to keep fighting the fight. I'm kind of glad that it's over. Even throughout the whole trial process, we've had to come to court every month to six weeks and just getting dragged through the mud all over again. Having to see him (and) the other side of the family. Just glad that there's some kind of end to this process.
Mary: Is it difficult seeing him?
Aaron: Not really, but (pauses) I mean it's not something I want to do but in the context -- you know, we're in a courtroom with police officers and stuff so there's a sense of safety there anyways. Even if he wanted to do something, he couldn't. I don't want to see him, but I didn't have an issue with seeing him.
Mary: So the last time I sat down with you, you were 3½ and we thought your mom was missing. It turned out she really wasn't missing. I know you've forgotten a lot about that time of your life but are there any recollections that stand out to you from then?
Aaron: No ma'am. I have no memory of her, no memory of him prior to coming to court. Probably my earliest memory that I can think of is being at Liz's house (Liz Peak is his mother Bonnie's sister), but I'm not sure if that was when I was in her custody or whether that was when I was visiting after I was already with the Frasers. I have a hard time pinpointing my earliest memory. All of my early childhood is gone.
Mary: You mentioned in court you carried a shovel and you went and looked for a shovel when you said you wanted to go find your mommy. Fast forward to when you grew up and you went to the backyard of the home wanted where it happened and you wanted to do some excavating and remove the pool -- do you think you were subconsciously looking for your mom then?
Aaron: Maybe partly. Two weeks prior we removed some bricks that were on top of the concrete slab that she was under, and I told Jean Fraser, my adoptive parents, then that I thought if she was anywhere in the yard it would be there.
And then two weeks later when we're demoing the pool and we run the excavator over the concrete and I begin to remove it and break the water pipe, there's no thought in my head that, 'She's here' -- like, I'm not digging to look for her. When I found the plastic bag and her skeleton, it wasn't: 'This is her.' I wasn't actively doing it. Maybe, maybe, but I'm not sure. Maybe subconsciously there was something there but even when I picked her skull up, it wasn't, 'Oh this could be her.' I thought it was a coconut. It looked like a coconut. It did not look like bone. It wasn't until I saw the teeth that I knew that it was... her.
Mary: Do you think maybe it was divine intervention? Was it just a coincidence that you happened to be the one that picked up the skull?
Aaron: No, I like to think that it is. You know even though this whole process, there was part of me that says, 'Why are we going through this if he's not gonna be found guilty? Why would the whole family be just tormented again?' So I felt like God had his hand on this the whole time.
Mary: And your mom maybe guiding you?
Aaron: (Softly) Yes.
Mary: In court, you said, 'I know that Michael killed Bonnie.'
Aaron: I hoped through this maybe he would find a conscience and come out and say that he did it and give the family answers. That's really all we wanted -- the answers to what happened and why he did what happened.
Mary: Do you think you could ever forgive him?
Aaron: I'm not sure, is the honest answer. I mean I think it's certainly the right thing to do. I don't think we'll ever forget, ever get over what happened but especially if (he) could come to terms of it and say what happened, it would be a whole lot easier. Continuing to be in denial over it, it would be very difficult.
Mary: Can you tell us about your struggle with pain and fear. You mentioned that in the courtroom and that you would wake up in the middle of the night and worry that he was coming after you, 'like he said he would'?
Aaron: Yes ma'am. As long as I can remember I was scared that he was gonna come get me. I slept with a brick under my pillow until I was probably 12 years old. I still have it. … In hindsight, it probably wouldn't have done anything but I felt like I needed something to try to protect me. It wasn't that I didn't feel safe in the Frasers' home, but just I've always been on guard. I always think I see people behind me. I'm always checking who's around me. If somebody comes up behind me to talk to me, I always jump -- even to this day. I've always been kinda scared of the dark. Whether that's all stuff that would have happened regardless of this, I don't know. But I feel like it's a result of what happened.
Mary: Your family has told me that (the Frasers) stepped in and they were heaven-sent as well -- your adoptive parents. Can you tell us about life with the Frasers?
Aaron: Yeah, they're very special people. (Tears up) I think if Bonnie had a part in anything it was putting me with a family that showed me so much love -- that I wasn't related to but they acted like I was their son and took care of me. I never had to ask for anything in my life. Things aren't about materialistic things for me anyway but there was never a time that I had to ask for anything. They always provided more, went above and beyond anything I could ever ask for. Mainly, they've just been there for me, been a support system, extremely loving family.”
Mary: Your adoptive parents admitted that, in the beginning (when you came to live with them as a foster son at 4 years old), you were difficult. Your adoptive mother recalled you throwing something at her and your adoptive father said: 'Nobody ever hits her.' And then you cried and were so sweet and you never did it again.
Aaron: I've always had issues with anger. I think going through what I went through, I didn't know how to deal with what I was feeling and everything just came out as anger. I didn't know how to tell people. I didn't know who I could trust. I didn't know how to express my feelings. Everything just came out as anger all the time.
Mary: Therapy has helped? You've seen the same therapist this whole time?
Aaron: She's been a big part of my life, too. Jean Fraser is who I consider my mom. I refer to her as my mom. But I have a lot of mothers that have been my support system. (My therapist) Laura is one of them. My sister, Stacie, is one of them. Liz has been one of them. There's even people behind the scenes that I've never even met. I know their names. I don't know what their faces are but they've always looked out for me, and I think it was a community of people that came to fill Bonnie's shoes.
Mary: So what has gotten you through? The people in your life? You have a lovely wife here you met when you were in high school and you've managed to stay married for 10 years as a young couple. That's huge. Has Alissa played a role?
Aaron: Absolutely. She's always by my side. She's always very supportive, even when it's hard to be supportive. She's a wonderful woman. We've had our issues, but we came out through the other side of it. I've had a huge support system like I was saying before. There's hundreds of people, maybe thousands of people, that were behind the scenes even back in '93 when Mike was trying to get custody of me again. Many people, I don't even know their names or what they look like, but they were there fighting for me knowing that he did something wrong and that me being in his custody would be the worst thing for me. They helped protect me. There's been an incredible number of people that I've maintained relationships with, like Robbie Hinson (the lead homicide detective in Bonnie's case). He's always been a guidance for me any time I have a question about anything in life I call him. If I'm having issues with being spiteful over somebody in the family doing something that I disagree with, he always talks me down from the ledge and 'just kill 'em with kindness. Don't do things out of spite.'
Mary: How do you hope (sharing your story) will touch others who are watching?
Aaron: I hope if there's a woman out there who's in a relationship that's violent, she just needs to get out, especially if there's kids involved. It seems like domestic violence is running rampant in our society. ... There's all kinds of domestic violence that happens in the home and women are scared to speak up or they're scared to have it impact their lives or aren't sure if they can make it on their own, especially if they have kids and they rely on a male for their financial support. I would just hope that maybe this story would give them the strength to get away from it, because it can end up badly. Maybe they can find the strength through Bonnie -- what happened to her -- to make better decisions for themselves, their lives and the lives of their children. It doesn't have to be this exact case, but somebody who's struggling with something bad that's happened to them. It could be the death of a family member -- or anything really -- that just, you can power through. You can continue your life. The only things that you can control are the decisions that you make and to move forward in a way that helps society and your family. You don't have to let things that happen to you in the past dictate what your future is gonna be like.
Mary: Do you think that maybe just by living the way you live your life too, you can be a good example?
Aaron: Yeah. I hope living my life ... I'm certainly not perfect, and I've made plenty of mistakes, but to try to do the right thing as often as possible even when nobody's looking -- that maybe somebody can be inspired by that.
Mary: Do you want to raise a family together?
Aaron: At this time, I'm not sure. I think it impacts me. There was a time when I wanted kids but, I still deal with anger. I don't know that I would want to be a negative influence on a child.
Mary: You have spoken about your anger. How do you control it? You've spoken like, 'Michael Haim has anger' and you understand his rage.
Aaron: I'm not sure where it actually came from. I don't know if it's genetic. I don't know if it's just the pent up frustration of what happened back then and not knowing how it manifests itself. Part of the therapy I go to is trying to work with it and deal through it. She's helped a lot, try to put it in perspective. It's always in the back of my mind to be cognizant of it. 'Don't let it control you.' That it can get out of hand.
Mary: Michael Haim. Can you call him or refer to him as your father at all? Or is it just Michael Haim?
Aaron: I refer to him as my biological father. That's it.
Mary: Your mother, Bonnie, she loved you very much. I know that just from seeing the pictures. The first time I walked into the home when she was missing and looking around and seeing those pictures and knowing -- I just knew it. Aaron, I knew that she didn't leave you. I remember coming back to the newsroom and telling Tom Wills, there's no way she left that little boy. I just want you to know that.
Aaron: Yes ma'am. It's hard because I have no memory of her. Going through the court process has been a good thing because I've learned things that I didn't know from family members talking about her. A lot of family members are scared to bring up the subject. I have no memory of her, but we recently got a Christmas of '92 VHS tape turned into DVD and I watched it this past week, so I got to see her at Christmas. That was special.
Mary: Did it stir anything inside?
Aaron: No ma'am. I always hope things will but to this point I've never (had any memories).
To learn more about domestic violence or get help, the following resources are available:
- Hubbard House (Baker and Duval counties): hubbardhouse.org or 904-354-3114
- Micah's Place (Nassau County): micahsplace.org or 904-225-9979
- Betty Griffin Center (St. Johns County): bettygriffincenter.org or 904-824-1555
- Quigley House (Clay County): quigleyhouse.org or 904-284-0061
- Lee Conlee House (Putnam County): leeconleehouse.org or 386-325-3141
- Peaceful Paths (Bradford, Alachua and Union counties): peacefulpaths.org or 352-377-8255
- Florida Domestic Violence Hotline: fcadv.org or 1-800-500-1119
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: thehotline.org or 1-800-799-7233