LARGO — It was every couple's worst nightmare: waking up in the middle of the night to see a masked man, armed with a hunting knife and an ax, standing at the foot of the bed.
On Dec. 15, 1991, Anita Yunk, 34, and her husband of less than a year, Keith Yunk, 31, were sleeping in their home just west of Taylor Park when a man cut their telephone line and broke into their house.
The assailant seriously wounded Anita, slashing her throat and hitting her on the head multiple times with the hatchet. Keith jumped on the attacker to save his wife and was stabbed to death.
The killer escaped and police did not apprehend a suspect until almost 3 months later.
Anita's ex-husband, Luther Basse, admitted that he broke into the house to kill Anita in order to regain custody of his children. He told police that Keith's death was simply "a casualty of war." Basse is serving a life sentence.
This weekend the Investigation Discovery network show Happily Never After will feature the tragic story. The episode is titled "Demon in the Dark."
"This series is about couples who think they are entering the best time of their lives without realizing it is about to become their worst," said David O'Donnell, co-executive producer of the show.
The program brings on relationship expert and psychologist Wendy Walsh to analyze the marriage. According to Walsh, the Yunks' marriage was a perfect do-over for Anita, providing a safe atmosphere to raise their young children. Basse, she said, had been a negative influence on the well-being of Anita and the children during their marriage.
John Carroll, a detective assigned to the Yunk case, said pinning Basse for the crime was not easy. Basse lived in Boise, Idaho, at the time of the murder and flew to Florida under a false identity. The main piece of evidence was a bloody ski mask with a strand of hair attached.
"These were the early days of DNA technology," Carroll said. "We were still focused on blood spatter analysis and eyewitness accounts."
With no way to link the DNA on the mask to Basse, Carroll and fellow Detective Mike Short needed a confession. The detectives pretended to empathize with Basse, acting as though they were intrigued and even impressed with the slaying. Eventually, Basse wore down psychologically and confessed.
"This was a whodunit case that took a lot of work," Carroll said. "You can't walk away from a case like that without it having an effect on you."
After the attack, Anita Yunk tried to remain strong for the sake of her four children. She read true-crime novels in order to be as helpful as possible to Carroll and Short. She went on walks alone at night to overcome her fears, even before a suspect was arrested.
"Whatever I was going through would reflect back on my children," Yunk said. "If I was acting scared all the time, then they would be scared."
She ended up suffering from post-traumatic stress and short-term memory loss. She stopped receiving child support payments after Basse was arrested.
Yunk, now 57, agreed to be interviewed for the show, despite the pain of recounting the story.
"I would rather have been digging ditches or something," she said. "I didn't do it because it's fun. I did it because I felt it was important."
She still lives in Largo, not far from where the murder took place. She says her faith in God, her family and her church community have allowed her to cope.
Appearing in a program like Happily Never After does not help her gain closure, she said, but instead a greater resolve to help others in similar situations.
"If a woman is in an abusive relationship," Yunk said, "I think seeing a story like mine might be the impetus to go seek help and leave."
Times research Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Will Hicks can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.