In April 2014, Wilma Wenceslao Morales was a happy 30-year-old, living with her parents in the Philippines, working at their restaurant and searching for love on the internet.
She came across the profile of an older American man and struck up a conversation.
“I just broke up with my Philippine boyfriend at the time and started looking online on Filipino Cupid,” she said in an interview with the Northwest Herald.
From there, the relationship with American truck driver Mark Alex, then 51, grew. She said she liked older men, thinking they were more responsible and reliable.
The relationship eventually would lead to Wenceslao Morales moving to the U.S. and marrying Alex. Then, in March, Alex was charged with attempted first-degree murder for allegedly striking her in the head with a hammer and hatchet with the intent to kill her, according to a criminal complaint filed at the McHenry County courthouse.
The Northwest Herald typically does not name victims of violent crimes but is doing so here with Wenceslao Morales’ permission.
“The reason I decided to speak out is because I hope that this may help others realize they are not alone,” she said. “They can reach out for help and counseling to understand what they are doing is not their fault. I never expected to be in this situation as I am normally a very quiet person and keep things to myself to avoid conflict. If reading my story helps victims of domestic violence in any way, then I will be happy to know that.”
The case comes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying stay-at-home orders, which meant – as Turning Point of McHenry County put it in its annual report – domestic violence victims “were now stuck at home with their abusers, removed from their support groups and the community at large.”
The number of people killed in domestic violence increased statewide to 78 between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, according to the Illinois Coalition against Domestic Violence’s annual domestic violence homicide report. Twelve of those killed were children.
Illinois lawmakers in the budget Gov. JB Pritzker signed this week included $70 million in funding for domestic violence programs throughout the state for fiscal 2023.
Orders of protection in McHenry County are on the rise after a dip in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, records show. This year, they’re on pace to meet or surpass the recent high of 945 in 2019.
One of the local organizations Wilma Alex turned to was Turning Point of McHenry County.
The nonprofit answers calls 24/7 with attendants who speak English and Spanish through its help line at 815-338-8081. It offers help to anyone in crisis or dealing with past traumas, including men and women of all ages.
Advocates help with finding emergency shelter services, creating safety plans, applying for orders of protection, providing legal advocacy, conducting case management, offering employment assistance, providing mental health counseling, teaching life skills, giving assistance in finding permanent housing and counseling. The organization also works with Home of the Sparrow to secure housing.
Alex remained at the McHenry County Jail as of Friday. He is being held without bond and is being represented by the McHenry County Public Defender’s Office. Attempts to reach his public defender were unsuccessful.
In June 2014, Alex traveled to the Philippines to meet Wenceslao Morales in person. They spent a week together, visiting family and going to the beach, she said.
A few months later, they met in Thailand, where he asked her to marry him.
After applying for a K1 fiancée visa, Wenceslao Morales moved to the U.S. in September 2015. She married Alex on Nov. 2, 2015.
She agreed to join him on the road and live in his truck as he worked as an over-the-road truck driver for his own company, Philpol Transport Inc., rather than have a permanent address. (She said he named the company by combining Phil for Philippines and Pol for Poland, his homeland.)
This lifestyle of living on the road and traveling all over the country continued for three years until she became pregnant. In a restraining order filed in March, Wilma Alex said she was abused when she was seven months pregnant.
Still, she stayed.
The couple eventually settled in an apartment in Crystal Lake.
She said she felt isolated – with no friends, family or money – as she tried to become more independent.
“I can’t have any friends. I can only have him,” she said.
In June 2021, she filed for divorce, according to court documents in McHenry County.
In August, she requested and received an emergency order of protection.
In her petition requesting the restraining order, Wilma accused Mark of threatening to kill her and calling her names in front of their son. Two days later, she said in the petition, he took her credit cards and her son’s passport and Social Security card.
Then, in August, she said in the petition, he kicked her “several times,” threw her belongings on the lawn and cursed at her, telling her never to come back to the apartment.
Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Romito also pointed to these allegations in March when she requested Mark be held without bond. The judge granted the request.
The order of protection was lifted by agreement in late August. A request in November for another restraining order – after Wilma said in a petition that Mark took her phone, driver’s license and credit card – was denied.
On March 5, Wilma said, she let Mark come to her apartment to visit their son. She was going to let him take her son with him for the week. They had gone to church together the week before and talked about going to counseling. The couple had plans to go to church together the next day, as well, Wilma said Thursday.
But during this visit, when she rejected his sexual advances, he accused her of cheating on him and an argument ensued, according to court documents and an interview.
She got up and walked away, going into the bathroom. He walked in behind her with a hatchet and hammer and said, “I bought this for you” and brutally attacked her, she said Thursday and in documents at the McHenry County courthouse.
Just before the attack, she told police, Mark turned on music very loudly on a Bluetooth speaker he had carried with him to the apartment in a backpack.
The attack would leave her bloodied on the floor with her 2-year-old son witnessing the event. She played dead. Mark Alex left the apartment, and she called 911, she said during an interview and in court documents.
Help arrived, and Wilma was taken to a hospital and admitted into an intensive care unit, where she was treated for multiple wounds to her head that required 30 stitches.
Police found Mark at a hotel in Algonquin, where he had taken over-the-counter pain medicine and was later placed on suicide watch, according to court records. Police later learned he bought the hatchet and hammer earlier that day at a local store. He bought the pain pills at a store after attacking Wilma, according to prosecutors and court documents.
In the days after being released from the hospital, Wilma said, she could not return to the Crystal Lake apartment where she had been attacked. It remained a crime scene, and she was too traumatized to return, she said. She stayed with a friend she recently had met at her job. Because of her injuries, she was unable to go back to work and said she did not feel she could stay at her friend’s house long term.
In the months before the attack, when Wilma said her husband cut her off financially, she said she contacted Turning Point of McHenry County, a nonprofit that helps domestic violence victims. The organization put her in contact with the St. Vincent DePaul Society at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Crystal Lake.
The society – with assistance from the Service League of Crystal Lake, the local Salvation Army, Good Samaritan, St. Thomas the Apostle Outreach, Evangelical Free Church in Crystal Lake and Algonquin Township – helped her. It then stepped in after she was released from the hospital, volunteers with the group said.
For now, Wilma, 36, has stable housing, a babysitter for her son, a job and a car. She still suffers from the attack with pain and swelling, has dizzy spells and needs another CT scan.
She hopes to return to the Philippines, where she has friends and a half-sister. Her parents died after she moved to America.
She still worries about Mark. Her son asks for “dada,” talks about how he hurt “mama” and says he “put dada on time out.” She tells her son that “dada” is working, she said Thursday.
She wonders if Mark feels any remorse for what he did to her, and she said she still loves him.
“I pray for him,” she said with tears in her eyes.
The criminal case against Mark is ongoing. He is charged with two counts of attempted murder, a Class X felony; two counts of aggravated domestic battery, a Class 2 felony; four counts of aggravated battery with use of a deadly weapon, a Class 3 felony; and child endangerment, a Class A misdemeanor.
His next court appearance is April 29.
Wilma set up an online fundraiser to help her at https://www.gofundme.com/f/wilmas-story-help-wilma-and-her-son.