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Superstar Shania Twain stalking case set to begin today in Toronto

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Calgary Herald
By Tony Lofaro, Postmedia News
September 29, 2011


OTTAWA — Christel Palumbo never considered herself a perfect woman — just a diligent homemaker, a loving mother and a good wife.

But in the eyes of her husband, Dr. Giovanni "John" Palumbo, that wasn't enough: She should have been more like Shania Twain, the international star that Palumbo adored. He insisted that his wife cut her hair like Twain, be slim like the pop superstar and dress as she did.

Meanwhile, Palumbo, an Ottawa surgeon, pursued the singer.

Over the years, he visited Twain's cottage in Ontario's Muskoka region; he wrote her dozens of love letters and sent her flowers; and even created a Shania "shrine" in his Ottawa home. His pursuit of Twain became so obsessive that he was ordered by the courts to stay at least 500 metres away from the singer.

In March, Palumbo allegedly breached that order when he was spotted at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto during the Juno Awards, where Twain was receiving a special award.

Palumbo was charged with criminal harassment and has remained in custody ever since. His trial — Palumbo has pleaded not guilty — is scheduled to begin today in Toronto. The singer is expected to testify via video link.

But Christel Palumbo said Twain isn't the only victim in this strange story. Her now ex-husband's obsession contributed to their marriage ending and destroyed her well-being.

"He even called me his own personal Shania Twain, which was very hurtful."

"What am I? I felt like I was dirt on the ground," she said in telling her story for the first time. She hopes to inspire other women to leave abusive relationships.

After 16 years of marriage, Christel was granted a divorce in July 2010. She now has custody of their children: Eva, Mario, Amelia and Leonardo who range in age from 12 to 18.

John Palumbo was, she said, a controlling, jealous husband who would fly into a rage if he suspected her of infidelity.

In November 2007, he was charged with assault and uttering death threats against Christel. He was convicted in April 2009 on both charges, receiving a conditional discharge, including two years' probation and a weapons ban for 10 years, according to court records.

Christel said he never acknowledged his mental-health issues and did not take medication for his mood swings. Palumbo, she said, was admitted to hospital four times with mental-health problems and according to records entered in court, was diagnosed as bipolar. The health records show he also suffered from "narcissistic personality" traits and "delusional intensity."

Christel said she repeatedly tried to leave her husband, but was always coaxed back. Finally, in May 2008, she fled to a shelter with her children. She's tried to rebuild her life since. She's currently studying nursing at university while working full-time in an Ottawa Hospital lab.

Christel said her husband's obsession with Twain began in 2003 when the country superstar hosted the Juno Awards at Scotiabank Place.

"He would put her music on when we were together just to make me upset, because I knew he had a crush on her. I tried reasoning with him but he would laugh it off, saying it was nothing."

She realized the full extent of that obsession after obtaining a court order to sell their home in December 2009. She returned to the home for the first time after 18 months and was shocked when she found a shrine to Shania Twain.

"In the living room, there was a piano with a music book on how to play her songs. He didn't play the piano, so that was odd. In the buffet where we had our wedding photo, he had put a picture of Shania. I found about 30 CDs with different photos of her.

"In the kitchen, papers were everywhere with little notes, saying when she was going to be on TV. He videotaped everything that she was appearing on. In our bedroom he had pictures of her, and in the closet were Shania Twain T-shirts. My children's bedrooms had big piles of magazines with Shania pictures, any magazine that had a picture of her he would cut out. There were pictures he had taken of her cottage.

In his office, I found his briefcase with love letters he had written to her. There were about 100 of them."

All the material was turned over to police, she said. Palumbo was arrested for allegedly stalking Twain on Nov. 27, 2009. He was wearing a Shania Twain T-shirt and carrying her biography.

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At the March 2011 trial, the charges against Palumbo were dropped because Twain refused to appear in court.

At another trial in May, Palumbo was acquitted of threatening to kill his ex-wife and two counts of breaching probation after a judge found there was no evidence that he intended for his wife to hear some messages left on his home answering machine. The messages, she said, were frightening and warned her to "watch her back" because he was going to come after her and the children.

As for his alleged harassment of Twain, his lawyer Gary Barnes said Palumbo didn't pose a threat at the Junos because she was surrounded by more than 10,000 people at the Air Canada Centre.

"He's never actually done anything that's a threat. Everything he's ever done is an expression of love," said Barnes.

He declined to comment on the assault allegation made by Christel.

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