'I want him to know': Long custody battle preceded pregnant woman's slaying

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

On the night Tamarra Deloache died last spring, the relationship with her ex-boyfriend had reached a boiling point.

Deloache and Terence Brabham, the man prosecutors charged in her slaying, were about to go another round in a contentious custody fight over their 13-year-old son.

Deloache was also six months pregnant with another man's baby. She was excited for the birth of her daughter, family said.

Tamarra Deloache smiles in a photo provided by family.

On the night of May 17, just minutes before midnight, York City Police responded to a call at a house in the first block of North State Street. A possible domestic disturbance, they said.

Outside an upstairs apartment, the officers found blood.

They knocked. Nobody answered the door.

They made their way inside, and behind that door, they found the 32-year-old Deloache dead from multiple stab wounds in her bedroom, surrounded by blood.

An apartment house stands at 42 N. State St. in York where police say a woman was killed on May 17.

The reported domestic disturbance had become a homicide.

Investigators followed a couple of paths to their suspect, according to details in a criminal complaint.

A trail of blood led out of the apartment and along a route outside, up State Street and onto Glen Place.

Security camera videos provided another trail, according to police. The videos showed a man leaving the house — a two-story, red brick building. A roofed porch out front was home to outdoor furniture, a grill and clutter.

The man on the video walked the same route, State to Glen, and apparently cradled his hand as if injured, police said.

A person at the scene, asking a question, gave investigators a name: Brabham.

Police sought him for nearly a month.

He came forward with his attorney in June and met with investigators for an interview, according to court records. And he was then arrested in connection with Deloache’s death.

Terence Brabham, 35, was wanted for the stabbing death of Tamarra Deloache. Brabham turned himself into authorities at the York County Judicial Center around 4:56 p.m. Tuesday, June 14. Brabham is facing a charge of criminal homicide.

Brabham, 35, is now charged with first- and third-degree murder. Prosecutors are also now seeking to add counts of first- and third-degree murder of an unborn child to the case.

Deloache’s family is devastated by their dual losses.

“I’m so sad she had to go like that. I couldn’t help my baby. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to get to her in time,” Tamarra's mother, Marvalene Deloache, said. “It could’ve been prevented.”

New custody fight: And with his mother dead and his father in jail, their 13-year-old son is now at the center of a new custody dispute between his grandmothers — a sort of continuation of a 12-year case that began with the parents.

A few weeks before Brabham was arrested, Marvalene Deloache filed an emergency petition to sue for her grandson’s custody. She wanted to move him to Erie, where she lives, away from his other grandmother, Marilyn Rhoades, Brabham’s mother, according to court documents.

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Common Pleas Judge Christopher Menges gave an interim order in July for Marvalene Deloache to instead share custody with Rhoades. The boy would also continue to live with Rhoades at her home in Spring Garden Township, where Brabham also lived.

Marvalene Deloache got every other weekend with the teen, Labor Day and a few days of Christmas break. The two sides would have to work out routes to meet halfway between York and Erie for the weekend exchanges, the order shows.

A month later, however, Menges updated his order to give Rhoades sole custody during an Aug. 17 hearing. He noted Marvalene didn’t appear for the hearing or schedule a conciliation conference as ordered.

Marvalene said she’s struggled to find a lawyer she can afford to take the case and stay on it. She questioned the thinking to leave the boy with Brabham’s family.

“They have destroyed my life, and they are still destroying it,” she said of the family.

Rhoades did not respond to a York Dispatch request to speak with her.

County data shows her as the owner of a house along South Ogontz Street, the same address police listed as Brabham's.

Nobody answered the door during a recent visit. The TV was on inside, glowing through the front window. A car parked in the driveway seemed unused for a while.

A note and a business card were left for Rhoades to contact the Dispatch. No contact was made.

Tamarra's youth: At its heart, the legal issue is similar to Tamarra Deloache’s own youth, according to family.

Her aunt, Shakeena Deloache, said Tamarra was adopted to another family as a child. The girl — the middle child between two brothers — was taken from Erie and brought to York.

“That situation was what she had started with in her life, dealing with," Shakeena said. "Someone taking you away from your mom."

Tamarra met Brabham at some point, apparently in her late teens. She became pregnant and gave birth to their son in 2009, when she was about 20 years old. The couple apparently broke up some time after that, as Brabham sued for custody in June 2009, according to court records.

A judge decided to grant joint custody and named Tamarra the primary caretaker.

Tamarra and Brabham resumed their relationship and lived together again for about a year, which a judge said voided the original order, a court document showed.

Back to court: Then, in September 2014, Brabham again sued for custody of their son.

A judge’s interim order, following a conciliation hearing, outlined the key concerns.

Tamarra Deloache, the document shows, accused Brabham of wanting custody only to get out of paying child support, and she worried about his alleged drug and alcohol use. Brabham, on the other hand, argued in court that Deloache’s living situation was unstable since she’d moved frequently over a few years. He also said she had a recent DUI arrest on record.

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The case went to trial, and in February 2015 Judge Todd Platts granted joint custody of the boy — but with a warning that Deloache wouldn’t get physical custody until she followed an order to complete a custody workshop.

But the situation appeared to sour even further over the next year and a half.

Brabham filed for sole custody of their son and won an order in April 2016 in which Deloache’s physical custody was downgraded to supervised visitation.

Deloache’s family alleged Brabham and his family messed with visitation times, kept the boy away from her and controlled him.

“He liked to be in control. He wanted control of her,” Shakeena Deloache said. "It was real bad."

Tamarra Delaoche smiles while sitting at an establishment in a photo submitted by family.

Marvalene Deloache said Tamarra hid her pain and deflected people from it by trying to make other people smile.

“Tamarra was a good girl. She had a lot of energy, and she wanted everyone so happy. And she was so unhappy,” she said. “She would be around other kids and other families with their babies, and it would hurt her that she didn’t have her son with her.”

Criminal record: Tamarra Deloache started picking up a criminal record during the custody fights. As Judge Platts noted, she was arrested in April 2014 on driving under the influence charges in Lancaster County.

Court records show Deloache also faced a theft case in Lancaster County and a summary retail theft case in York County that year.

She was arrested again in another DUI case in York County in January 2016, records show.

Marvalene Deloache said the worsening situation with Brabham drove her daughter to alcohol.

“She didn’t even start drinking like that until she was treated the way they treated her — kicked her out the house, kept her son,” she said. “F---, that’ll make anyone go get mad and get drunk.”

'Literal tug-of-war': Brabham, meanwhile, faced a summary harassment charge in 2015, according to court records. The arrests came into play when the two sides went back to trial in August 2016.

In her opinion, Judge Kathleen Prendergast noted the harassment case grew out of what seemed like Deloache and Brabham putting their child in a “literal tug-of-war.”

Prendergast wrote that, after Brabham got sole physical custody of his son, he seemed to shirk the duties Deloache covered, and she suspected he left most of the parenting to his mother, Rhoades, to take care of.

“Father needs to step up,” Prendergast wrote in her opinion.

The judge also suspected he dodged a drug test for weeks until he was clean, a move that she said seemed to be a “power play.” Prendergast then turned to Tamarra Deloache and raised concerns that she was in jail for three months after her DUI arrest and lied to her son about why she couldn’t see him, the document shows.

Prendergast also worried Deloache was downplaying a substance abuse problem and not taking responsibility for the criminal cases, according to court records. She also determined Deloache had anger management issues. She called out her behavior at trial as “unusually argumentative and inappropriate” while she represented herself. Brabham had an attorney.

Their son, age 7 at the time, was visibly affected by behaviors at trial, Prendergast wrote. She described a moment where Deloache and Brabham both beckoned to him and split his loyalties.

“The child became obviously distraught and broke down in tears, looking at both parents without knowing what to do,” Prendergast wrote in her opinion. “Both parents seemed oblivious to the fact that they were responsible for creating the emotional turmoil.”

'Traumatized': Marvalene Deloache described the effects she saw in her grandson over the past several years up to the present day.

“The little boy’s traumatized,” she said. “He’s traumatized from being kept away from his mom. His smile went away. He’s not smiling. He’s not excited. He’s not joyful.”

Judge Prendergast ordered shared legal custody of the child after the 2016 trial. She upheld the earlier order by granting Brabham primary physical custody and giving Tamarra Deloache partial supervised custody.

Tamarra Deloache didn’t give up.

A couple of months after the ruling, she accused Brabham of contempt by interfering with her custody times and phone privileges with her son. She wanted the supervision requirement dropped, court documents show.

Brabham argued Deloache didn’t have an appropriate supervisor with her those times she was supposed to have custody of the boy, according to court records.

Nothing changed, though court records show Deloache was told to get a risk-of-harm evaluation, which she apparently struggled to complete.

Prendergast dismissed Deloache’s petition in January 2018. She cited that, while Deloache eventually got the evaluation done, she was apparently out of work and didn’t pay the evaluator, records show.

The judge ultimately kept her 2016 custody order intact.

Prendergast declined to provide comments on her involvement in the custody case.

More stable environment: The case then went quiet for about four years, according to court records.

Tamarra Deloache poses for a photo outside a house in an image submitted by family.

Her family said Tamarra Deloache worked on herself and on creating a more stable environment.

“My baby had a full-time job, paid her rent, had a house. She was doing normal things,” Marvalene Deloache said. “She wanted to wake up and see her son laying in the bed, next to her, feed him breakfast, tuck him in at night, kiss him. This is what she wanted.”

Tamarra Deloache also went back and forth from York to Erie. She eventually moved into the apartment along North State Street as her mother said she couldn’t afford the five-hour trip between the two cities, and she wanted to be available for court dates.

But further legal troubles continued, as well.

Court records show she was cited for a summary public drunkenness offense in York in November 2021. But 11 months before that, she was charged in Erie County with a felony count of providing a false written statement in a gun purchase.

That case followed her through 2021 and into this year.

A petition for contempt of the custody order was filed in February, court records show.

Another petition to modify the order was filed May 6, 11 days before Deloache’s death. By then, she apparently had a new boyfriend and was about five or six months pregnant.

“We’re excited about this new baby coming. So excited. It’s like a blessing for her. She’s a girl, and she wanted to have a girl,” Shakeena Deloache said.

May 17: On May 17, York City Police said Brabham didn’t go to work, although his family believed he was working overtime. He was allegedly at Tamarra Deloache’s apartment.

Surveillance video showed a man matching his description walk out the front door shortly after 10 p.m. The same man returned an hour later carrying what looked like a jug of bleach, the criminal complaint in the homicide case shows.

The front door is open to an apartment house at 42 N. State St. in York on Sept. 22.

Another half hour later, around 11:40 p.m., a person walked into the house, while the man police allege was Brabham was seen jumping from a second-story kitchen window down to the sidewalk below.

Police were called to the house 10 minutes later, and they found Tamarra Deloache’s body along with blood spatter throughout the apartment, including on the windowsill and sidewalk where the man jumped, the complaint shows.

As detectives investigated Brabham’s connection to Deloache, they learned he was her son’s father and that she was seeking custody of the boy. Police also alleged he was upset she was pregnant again.

While detectives couldn’t find him, they searched his car parked at his home. The complaint shows they found blood on the center console and blood stains around the driver’s seat.

Investigators also learned Brabham’s phone was last used around 10:12 p.m. the night of May 17 and went dark after that. He got a new phone number sometime later, the complaint shows.

Deloache’s phone was also last active earlier that night while she had a conversation with a friend. Police said investigators haven’t been able to find it.

Brabham came forward with his attorney in June.

During an interview with investigators, the complaint noted that Brabham had cuts across two fingers on his right hand, and he couldn’t bend them.

The man seen in surveillance video walking from Deloache’s home was cradling his right hand, police noted. They also said Brabham wore the same style of boots as the man in the video.

Police took a DNA sample from him before arresting and charging him in Deloache’s death.

Another case: Whether his DNA has matched to DNA from blood at the homicide scene, investigators haven’t reported yet.

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However, the sample opened up a new criminal case against Brabham. Springettsbury Township Police alleged that in August, his DNA matched to a sample taken from a bandanna used in an armed robbery in November 2015. The situation occurred in the middle of the custody fights between Brabham and Deloache.

A man wearing the bandanna over his face held up two employees with a gun in a second-floor breakroom at the Gabriel Brothers department store, 1226 Greensprings Drive. He demanded they call the manager to the room, police said in a criminal complaint.

When the manager came in, police said the man pointed the gun at his head and forced him to empty out a safe in an office. The man fled with nearly $1,600 in cash and one employee’s phone, but he dropped the bandanna outside.

Investigators recovered it, held onto it, and pulled DNA from it. The sample didn't match anybody initially. Not until after Brabham’s DNA was swabbed as part of the homicide investigation, police said.

He’s now charged with felony counts of robbery, theft and receiving stolen property as well as a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment from the 2015 case.

A preliminary hearing in that case is now scheduled for Nov. 1 before District Court Judge Barry Bloss, court records show.

More charges: Before that, Brabham has a hearing set for Oct. 13 in Common Pleas Court on the homicide charges. The hearing is expected to include discussion of the proposed new charges related to the death of Deloache's unborn baby.

“He took her from us. And it’s like, OK, he took her, now we have to fight for her. We got to be the ones that fight for her,” Shakeena Deloache said.

Marvalene Deloache hopes to continue fighting for custody of her grandson.

As she spoke, she went through a range of emotions about her daughter, Brabham, her grandson and the custody situation — experiencing anger, bitterness, profound sorrow, love and despair.

She reached a place of forgiveness near the end of the conversation, saying through tears she wanted a chance to speak to Brabham.

“I just want him to know that he hurt me, but I’m going to be OK, because there’s nothing I can do about it now,” Marvalene Deloache said. “But I want him to know that he’s forgiven so he can learn to forgive himself.”

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.