The bizarre odyssey of Dennis Allaben

It was an ordinary remark from an ordinary guy. The man who said it, Dennis Allaben, was standing at the doorway of his old friend’s house, and Maureen was Dennis’s wife, and Dennis’s truck was sitting in the driveway.

But as a groggy Jon Crane looked out on Allaben, nothing else was making sense. Allaben looked as if he had not slept in days. It was 5:30 in the morning, still full dark. The temperature was in the teens.

Crane was furious that Allaben was beating on his door at that hour. “What the hell do you want?” he demanded. Allaben remained calm, which is what Allaben always did.

“Maureen’s in the truck,” he said.

But Maureen Allaben, the set decorator of The Mo’Nique Show on BET, wasn’t sitting in the passenger seat. Her body was wrapped up and lying in the bed of his blue Ford Super Duty pickup.

“You gotta be kidding me, buddy,” Crane said. “You gotta be kidding me.”

Daddy killed Mommy.

Dennis Allaben’s arrival at Crane’s house was the end of one of the most bizarre road trips ever taken.

Authorities say Allaben killed his wife Jan. 3 in the bedroom of their two-story brick home on Northbrook Drive in DeKalb County. Afterward, he wrapped the body in quilted padding, weighted it down in the bed of his pickup and then drove the couple’s young son and daughter 520 miles to his brother’s house in Chesterfield, Va. He wanted to make sure that, when he was taken into custody, the kids would be in the care of family members and not given to the state.

Along the way, according to court documents, Allaben told his children he had stuffed a rag in their mother’s mouth because she wouldn’t keep quiet. “Daddy killed Mommy, but it was an accident,” he said.

His daughter, the younger of the two, seemed uncertain, according to the testimony Tuesday of a DeKalb County detective.

The little girl asked, "How do you kill someone with your hands?"

Why Allaben drove more than 1,000 miles with his wife's corpse in tow remains unclear. A police report, which lists the children’s ages at 4 and 9, does not say whether they knew their mother’s body was in the back of the truck on the ride up to Virginia.

After arriving in Chesterfield, Allaben told his sister-in-law he’d killed his wife. He then left the children and drove back to Georgia.

Now he was near journey’s end, standing outside Crane’s house in Jonesboro on a freezing morning five days into the new year.

Allaben needed to talk. “I’ve got a problem,” he said. “I need a lawyer.”

Crane kept wondering what possibly could have sent the typically unflappable Allaben over the edge. Eventually, Crane says, he persuaded his buddy to turn himself in.

Crane went next door to a neighbor who was an off-duty Clayton County police officer, DeKalb Det. N.D. Dodson testified Tuesday. "My friend has confessed to me he killed his wife," Crane told his neighbor, according to the detective.

Evidence of drugs or poison.

Allaben, 46, is being held at the DeKalb County jail. He is charged with murder. On Tuesday, a judge in DeKalb found probable cause to hold him in jail until a grand jury can decide whether to formally charge him. At Tuesday's hearing, Allaben, handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit, looked gaunt and showed no expression, even when seeing family members in the courtroom gallery.

Dennis and Maureen Allaben were both in their second marriages. They seemed to complement each other: He was the mechanically oriented problem solver; she had the creative streak. But the marriage was rotting from within.

Dennis Allaben’s company tested underground gas tanks and lines. He studied federal regulations governing the petroleum industry and thought he could grow his business because of increased demands for environmental compliance.

He was good with his hands and liked analyzing and working through a problem. In his business, he was an expert at finding problems that weren't visible on the surface.

Outwardly, he was calm, congenial. Friends and coworkers said he seemed never to lose his cool.

Inwardly, however, Allaben was in anguish. He told friends he suspected his wife was having an affair. And he later told police he suspected Maureen was trying to drug him and that she was stalking him through GPS and computer monitoring, according to court documents.

Not long after Allaben turned himself in, DeKalb police obtained a warrant to search the couple's two-story brick home. It authorized officers to seize computers, hard drives and “any chicken, red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, small glass container, almond milk container or other food or drink ... that may show evidence of drugs or poison.”

The Mistress of Deception

Maureen Allaben was about 6 feet tall, effervescent and spunky. She wore a pixie haircut, having shed her long curly locks two decades ago on a trip to Europe.

She became interested in advertising while taking a photography class at the California State University at Fullerton. As a food stylist, she prepared food for display in advertising photos and commercials: "My job is to take an item, be it food, a room or a product and make it look amazing," she wrote on her MySpace page.

She called herself “The Mistress of Deception.”

Maureen exuded confidence, was strong, independent, outgoing. As a soccer mom, she yelled the loudest for her daughter on the sidelines.

"I love my family and friends wholeheartedly," her Web page says. "My kids are completely amazing and there is never a day that goes by that I don't appreciate them."

Friends say she always seemed ready to help, no matter what the problem.

“I am not a shy or quiet person,” she wrote on MySpace. “I say what is on my mind and I always try to be truthful. Sometimes too truthful. ”

Last year, Maureen Allaben had landed a new job as set decorator for "The Mo’Nique Show."

“I’m finally getting all the jobs I dreamed about,” she told her close friend, photographer Laura Tarquino.

She partied through life.

She had also told close friends she wondered whether her marriage would last. Dennis had a temper and they often argued, she said. "He is OK nine months out of the year, but three months of the year he loses it," Maureen told friends, Dodson, the police detective, testified Tuesday.

But in recent months, Maureen had said, the couple’s relationship had improved after she gave Dennis the book, “Good Husband, Great Marriage: Finding the Good Husband…in the Man You Married.”

In October, he surprised her with a trip to New York for her 43rd birthday. Over the Christmas holidays, the entire family drove to California and back so they could spend time with Maureen’s family. And after returning, the Allabens got a new dog from the pound, and they were seen romping around the front yard playing with it over the first weekend in January.

But the family came undone hours later. Police showed up at the Allaben home the morning of Jan. 4, when concerned co-workers reported that Maureen had not showed up for work that day. A day later, after news of her death, friends and neighbors began arriving at the home to place flowers on the doorstep.

Three weeks later, at Maureen Allaben’s memorial service on the evening of Jan. 28 at Greystone, the events facility overlooking the swimming pool at Piedmont Park, her friends and relatives milled about wearing blue ribbons in her memory.

At the end of the ceremony, with the Allabens’ two children sitting in the front row, a large screen replayed Mo’Nique’s tribute to their friend. During a show after Maureen’s death, the talk show host instructed her band to play and told audience members to stand up and dance in tribute to Maureen Allaben for the following minute.

“She partied through life,” Mo’Nique said. “Party like you’ve never partied before.”

As the video played, Maureen’s friends and relatives at Greystone stood up, too, dancing and clapping to the beat.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.