By Julie Manganis
---- — SALEM — Her parents knew something was wrong when they would get responses to their text messages that didn’t sound like their daughter.
But for months, the 27-year-old Gloucester woman insisted that things were fine with her new boyfriend, with whom she was now living in Salem.
Then, last month, she returned home, with just the clothing on her back and disfiguring injuries that made her almost unrecognizable and in need of reconstructive surgery.
The man who did that to her, police say, is Joseph Louf, 37, of 171 North St., Salem, the owner of the American Total Defense mixed martial arts gym in Beverly.
Louf was arrested Friday and held in custody over the weekend. He was arraigned yesterday in Salem District Court on charges that include attempted murder and aggravated assault and battery. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
He will be back in court today for a hearing to determine whether he poses too great a danger to the woman or others if released. In the meantime, Judge Matthew Machera ordered that he remain in custody.
The charges stem from an investigation that started last fall, when the young woman’s parents went to police with their concerns. They had learned from a relative about Louf’s “controlling and violent past,” prosecutor Lindsay Shaheen told the judge yesterday. They were also concerned about the lack of contact they had with their daughter.
A few months later, Salem police Detective Kathleen Rocheville got another call, telling her that the young woman had returned home about a week earlier, on Jan. 7. She had told them little, other than that she was “lucky to be alive.”
The young woman, once a nursing assistant at Beverly Hospital, was suffering from two detatched retinas.
Her face, Rocheville noted in her report, “has been completely transformed.”
She had “cauliflower” ears, a nose that had been broken multiple times, a small piece of her lip missing, broken teeth, and scars, bruises and bumps all over her body and under her hair.
The fingers on one hand were broken, and she needed help walking when Rocheville spoke to her on Jan. 14.
But she continued to insist that the injuries were the result of mixed martial arts fighting.
Then, late last month, she admitted that she’d never been in an MMA fight.
During a second interview with Rocheville, she detailed numerous beatings, strangulations, and incidents in which she was made to engage in strenuous acts for long periods.
The woman had met Louf on Match, a dating website, and the two had spoken on the phone for weeks, until she joined his gym in the spring of 2012.
Soon, she had moved to his apartment. His controlling behavior escalated, she told the officer. He controlled her phone and her social media pages, and would respond to messages for her.
By the winter, she told police, she was suffering daily beatings, including beatings while she was pregnant. One of the beatings left her with broken teeth.
When her co-workers at Beverly Hospital, where she worked as a nursing assistant, asked her about her injuries, she told them she was doing mixed martial arts fighting. She eventually lost that job. Later, she worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Beverly, where, she said, any money she made she was forced to turn over to Louf.
One customer there was so alarmed by her appearance that she gave the young woman a brochure for Healing Abuse, Working for Change (HAWC), a Salem program for victims of domestic abuse.
Her injuries also caught the attention of at least one parent whose child studied at Louf’s studio; when the young woman showed up with massive swelling in her legs following an incident in which Louf sat on her chest until she heard a crack, the parent pulled her child out of the class.
In December, she told Rocheville, she was beaten so severely that both of her eyes swelled shut.
During another beating, her cheek was split; Louf later punched her and caused all of the stitches to break, she said.
Louf allegedly stabbed her ears with scissors, and delivered “body shots” to her as she washed dishes, sending her into a cabinet. He allegedly also put her into chokeholds until she passed out.
And she told police that Louf had broken and then tried to “reset” her nose multiple times.
When she bled, she said, Louf would force her to clean up her blood and beat her again.
As Shaheen read details from the police report, onlookers in the courtroom who had no connection to the case could be heard gasping.
Louf will remain in custody at least through today’s hearing.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.