DETROIT — Sylvia Majewska is an accomplished painter. She moved in local art circles, worked as an appraiser and traveled abroad to study with a renowned architect and his wife — a watercolorist and Wayne State professor.
One weekend in November, she slit the throat of her disabled son and beat her infant granddaughter to death, according to Oakland County Sheriff's Office investigators and prosecutors.
Majewska, 65, is in the Oakland County Jail on suicide watch. She was released Tuesday from the hospital following an apparent suicide attempt in Oxford, where investigators say she attacked her son, Daryne Gailey, 29, and sliced his throat with a box cutter, likely as he lay sleeping, and beat to death 7-month-old Charley Lillian.
The attacks took place sometime between the night of Nov. 22 and the morning of Nov. 23, when police discovered the bodies and found Majewska bleeding from the wrists from self-inflicted wounds.
Majewska was arraigned in her hospital bed Dec. 8, charged with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder. Investigators have been unable to interview her, but say they have evidence she planned the killings because she believed her son, who suffered from cognitive disorders, would be better off dead, as would the baby.
The notion of a grandmother and mother of four grown children stalking through a house, killing family members, is a stark contrast to her public persona as an artistic soul, painting landscapes around the world and assisting with projects at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
She once was the director of the Starkweather Art and Cultural Center in Romeo, and her online résumé lists her as former exhibition director of the Paint Creek Center for the Arts in Rochester.
The Center for Creative Studies once provided her a stipend to study in Italy under the tutelage of architect Marco Nobili and his wife, Louise, a former Wayne State University professor and noted water colorist.
But thousands of court documents that span almost two decades show a different side, painting Majewska as a controlling and determined woman intent on directing her son Daryne's life, even when he was a small boy, and particularly after he was diagnosed with a seizure disorder and cognitive disabilities.
Mom was 'very, very angry'
When Daryne Gailey fell in love with a woman who had her own mental health issues, Amanda Hendrick of Caro, in the mid-2000s, Majewska was distraught.
According to court records, Hendrick received Social Security benefits because of a bipolar condition. Majewska, alarmed at the budding romance, filed motions in Oakland County Probate Court to become her son's legal guardian, along with his father, Andrew Gailey.
According to records, Majewska insisted her son draft a will in 2009 that specifically left Hendrick out, as well as any children they might have, and instead left his home, valued at $66,000, to Majewska.
And she insisted in 2012 that Hendrick sign a prenuptial agreement relinquishing any claim she might have on Gailey's assets should they marry.
When they married at a formal wedding in Cass City in August 2013, Majewska was livid and refused to attend. Soon, she was filing motions to have the marriage annulled, and when that failed, seeking a divorce.
She also sought a personal protection order against Hendrick, saying that Hendrick had physically assaulted her son. The order was granted, but lifted a few months later. Both Hendrick and Gailey denied any abuse ever took place.
The divorce — which Majewska filed on Gailey's behalf as his guardian — was just 17 days old when the killings took place. According to one attorney involved in the case, Majewska lived in fear that Gailey would remarry Hendrick and have more children.
"Daryne loved Amanda, and he wanted to be with her," said attorney Thomas Brennan Fraser, who was appointed by the Oakland County Probate Court in April 2013, to oversee Gailey's financial affairs as a conservator. "He wanted to be married to her. There was nothing to keep him from disappearing and marrying her again, and Sylvia was never going to let that happen."
Majewska grew so belligerent as the marriage progressed and Hendrik became pregnant with Charley that Fraser grew concerned about his own safety and that of his staff. He refused to meet with Majewska on court matters, except at the Oakland County courthouse, and only then after she had passed through metal detectors.
"I always felt very comfortable around Daryne," he said, "but I didn't know what Sylvia was capable of. She was very, very angry."
It was an anger that appears to date back decades, records show.
Fighting with others
Majewska, who holds a bachelor of fine arts degree and master's degree in art from Wayne State, married Andrew Gailey in 1980. It was a second marriage for both. She had two children from a previous marriage. They owned the Lakeville Nursery, a plant and landscaping company in north Oakland County. Daryne was born in 1985, followed by his sister, Carolynne, two years later.
In 1996, Gailey inherited nearly $1 million from his parents and put $500,000 in a joint account with Majewska, according to court records. Within weeks, Majewska sued for divorce and claimed half the money as a marital asset, an action that Gailey said left him in "total and complete shock," according to records.
It began a long, sometimes ugly court battle that dragged on for nearly 10 years, with Daryne frequently at the center of the litigation. Majewska began presenting the court with handwritten letters, almost illegible, that she insisted Daryne had written, claiming he was being abused and neglected by his father during visitation.
Majewska disliked that her ex-husband allowed Daryne to ride off-road vehicles on property her husband owned Up North. In one letter, now part of the court file, the boy wrote, "I like to ride four wheelers and snowmobiles Up North. ... My mom worries because I flipped the four wheeler into the creek. I also hit a tree."
She wasn't just feuding with her ex-husband, she was fighting with the neighbors, suing them in 2002 over the use of their driveway, which ran adjacent to her property; accusing them of harming her apple trees, and causing drainage trouble on her land.
The lawsuit lasted three years and generated a court file five inches thick, with lengthy depositions and experts called. She repeatedly called the police on the family, alleging, among other things, that they had trespassed on her property so that they could cut the brake lines on her bicycle. She also sued them for slander, claiming they'd told other neighbors she was a "slob."
The court ordered that the family pay Majewska for damages to the trees, but found there was no slander.
Meanwhile, Majewska was repeatedly suing Gailey for child support and refused to allow her ex-husband to take Daryne to the University of Michigan for an neurological exam, prompting Gailey to call the Oakland County Sheriff's Office to intervene.
Gailey has declined interviews since the deaths of his son and granddaughter. He remarried and had another child after the divorce.
She was a force to be reckoned with
Like Majewska, Gailey also was Daryne's guardian. He, too, attended probate court hearings.
"He was a calming influence on Daryne," attorney Fraser said. "I would see him standing in the hallway talking to Daryne. Daryne with his hands in his pockets, nodding. Daryne would do anything for his dad."
But Majewska was a force to be reckoned with, and Gailey took a back seat to his wife's role in trying to manage their son's life, Fraser said.
"It was just to hard to go up against Sylvia," Fraser said.
Majewska may have thought — at least briefly — that she had succeeded in banishing Hendrick from her son's life. The weekend police say she killed her son and granddaughter, she mailed the Oakland County Probate Court an annual accounting of her son's progress, as required by law of all guardians of disabled people.
The document, signed by Majewska, was dated Nov. 22, the Saturday she was with Daryne and Charley in the Oxford house.
Investigators said they think it is likely the killings took place that day, based on the conditions of the bodies. In the report, Majewska wrote that her son's mental health was "much improved" because "that manipulative woman is gone."
"He has his old friends back, and his family relationships have stabilized," she wrote, before dropping it in the mail.
The document arrived at the courthouse Nov. 24.
By then, the bodies had been removed from the modest three-bedroom home, the yellow police tape strung up across the lawn and flapping in the wind.
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