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Slain woman once had bright future

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SALT LAKE CITY — Over Thanksgiving, Sherrie Allred Rice got a phone call from her sister — something that only happened every six to eight months.

And usually when she called, it was for a favor or because she was in trouble.

"She told me she wanted to call when there was something good to say, something good that she had to tell and things were going well. That time just didn't seem to come," Rice said.

But at Thanksgiving, after more than 15 years of battling alcohol addiction, family members had hoped Kristine Marie Gabel, 45, had finally turned the corner for good.

"When I talked to her, she sounded so upbeat and really feeling positive about the future and she had beaten alcohol," Rice said. "She really felt like she had a lot of hopes for a positive future."

On Sunday, Gabel — once an airline stewardess who had been around the world; a real estate agent who helped establish a new brokerage in the valley; the mother of two daughters who had a nice home; a woman who was referred to as "Martha Stewart" by her siblings — was found dead inside a restroom at Fairmont Park.

When she died, she was homeless and had not been able to keep an apartment or a job for some time, according to family members.

The Utah State Medical Examiner's Office has completed the autopsy on Gabel, but Salt Lake police were not releasing the results Monday. Gabel's death was ruled a homicide. Detectives earlier said they were looking for someone with "cuts, scratches and bloody clothing consistent with being in a fight."

Investigators have not said whether they believe the killing was random.

For family members, they agonizingly watched Gabel's life gradually crumble over the past decade and feared she may someday succumb to health issues related to alcoholism.

What they never imagined was what happened on Sunday.

"It's so hard because of the progressive loss of who she was and all of the wonderful qualities and capabilities she had. In many ways we've been extended grieving for many years now. I think all of us were always kind of afraid she would end up doing permanent damage to herself," Rice said.

"The fact she was taken in this brutal way, is so shocking and hard for us to deal with."

Rice called the slaying "atrocious" and pleaded for anyone with information to call police.

"Please come forward. She didn't deserve to die this way," she said.

Where Gabel ended up was a long way from where she began. One of five children, Gabel was born and raised in Salt Lake City and graduated from Skyline High School in 1983.

"She was very playful and imaginative, creative, a little bit of a drama queen," Rice said, recalling one time when her sister got mad at her, went to her room and came out with a suitcase saying she was going to leave.

"I used to call her Martha Stewart," Rice said of her sister's creative side.

Many years ago, she had Gabel help interior decorate her new home. She also considered at one point opening her own shop in the Sugar House area.

The siblings used to go camping, biking and swimming with their parents as well a take trips to southern California.

She became an airline stewardess for Pan Am and traveled around the world. Gabel decided to seek another career after Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb in 1988 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on board.

She went on to get her real estate license and start a new company with a friend.

"She was very instrumental in making it a success," Rice said.

But problems with alcohol started sometime in the early to mid-90s. Pinpointing exactly when she began her slow decline is something family members don't know to this day. By 1997, however, it had become a real issue.

"Alcohol became a real problem with her. It just progressively began to affect her jobs and other things. It was just kind of a slow progression," Rice said. "At first it was more of a recreational basis, and I think it became worse than any of us ever realized. It became kind of typical alcoholic behavior and hiding the drinking. It certainly snuck up on the rest of us to what her problem had been."

In 1998, Gabel's husband filed for divorce, and in 1999, she entered rehab for the first time. But after she got out, she went back to her old ways.

"Unfortunately, things would happen and she'd turn back to it," she said.

Her marriage was over, and soon she found herself drifting from job to job and apartment to apartment, until eventually she didn't have a home at all.

"She'd slip more and more away from us and the wonderful, talented, beautiful woman she was seemed to just diminish. We'd see flashes of it and hope, and then she'd disappear again. We wouldn't hear from her from months and months," Rice said. "It was not overnight by any means."

The last time Rice actually saw her sister was in 2007. After that, she would occasionally get a phone call every few months. Over the last little while, Rice believes her sister's situation had gotten to the point that she was living on the street.

"The last years especially, I don't know if she's had a permanent home or a permanent address. She just pulled away from all of us."

In 2005, Gabel was arrested for shoplifting. The misdemeanor case went through the court system for several years because Gabel didn't show up for court and bench warrants were issued for her arrest, according to court records.

In September of 2009, court records show Gabel was in rehab. But when another hearing was held Feb. 22, she again didn't show and another warrant was issued for her arrest. She was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail in September and finally pleaded guilty Oct. 13.

Rice said she had not heard anything new with the homicide investigation. She said Gabel's "on again, off again" boyfriend, whom she had her second daughter with, was questioned extensively by police. But he is also mourning her loss.

"He is just devastated by this. Everyone who loved her — and there are a lot of us who really loved her and watched her slowly slip away — are just devastated by this," she said.

If there was any good to come out the tragic situation, Rice said she would encourage others who might be in similar situation as her sister, to seek help.

"Don't cut your family out of your life, even if things aren't going well," she said.

Anyone with information on Gabel's death can call police at 801-799-3000.

Story compiled with contributions from Sandra Yi and Pat Reavy

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