She said: “I’ve undergone 200 rounds of surgery, I suffered third degree burns to 75 percent of my body. It’s remarkable I survived. Doctors said I ought to have died. If you’re in a violent relationship please leave.”
Piper, who is too ill to work, had been in an abusive relationship with Leo A. McCullum, now 58, for over 10 years before he was eventually convicted of first degree assault in August 2000.
Leo attacked Piper after she tried to leave him on August 22, 1999 – pouring a whopping five gallons of highly inflammable lacquer thinner over her before setting her alight.
Leo had chased her into a neighbour’s garden before setting her ablaze with his Zippo lighter – Piper to burn on the grass.
On October 19, 2000, at the Circuit Court of Greene County, Springfield, Missouri, Leo, from Boston, Massachusetts, was convicted of first degree assault and jailed for 30 years.
Today, Piper is enjoying a happy and healthy relationship with Stephen Ashcraft, 65, who she met through pals, but she remembers being smitten with Leo when they first met in 1990.
She admitted: “He was older and I was captivated, I’d just got divorced and thought he was good-looking.
“He’d just separated from his partner and things moved quickly.”
Piper was just 21 when she met him through friends, but within a month the couple had moved in together just outside Gainesville, Missouri. However, things turned sour just as quickly. Leo started preventing Piper from seeing her family and then became violent.
She said: “We were getting ready to go out with some friends when he slapped me and said, ‘You’re not wearing that.’
“I was so shocked and cowered to the floor.
“When I asked what I’d done, he accused me of flirting with another woman’s husband.” Piper knew deep down that he was not the man she first believed he was.
But, young and naïve, she says that she believed she could change him especially, as he wasn’t violent again for a few years.
However, the violence was once again triggered in about 1992 by jealousy and it then became a regular occurrence.
On one occasion, Leo even choked her.
Piper said: “I continued to live with him and I still cared for him and loved him, it was like he was two different people.
“Sometimes we’d be at the park flying kites, but I never knew when he walked in the door whether he’d hit me or kiss me.”
Leo began to control Piper, she was only allowed to work for him and could not leave the house unless she was with him.
On the day of the horrific solvent attack Piper, then 32, had argued with McCullum, finally threatening to leave him.
She revealed: “I can’t remember all the details, as some of my memory was blank after I came out of my induced coma, but we were in the garage fighting,
“He said, ‘If I can’t have you, nobody will,’ and picked up a beer bottle and broke it over my head, which made me fall unconscious.
“Then he picked up the lacquer thinner and poured all five gallons over my head.”
She said the smell of the solvent must have brought her back to consciousness, and ran to her neighbour’s yard screaming. Piper said two neighbours witnessed the incident and called 911.
She added: “I hid under a truck but Leo came and pulled me out. He propped me up against it, before setting me on fire with a Zippo lighter,
“I went right up in flames and my neighbours were trying to put me out with a hose.
“I knew enough to stop, drop and roll, but I was screaming.”
Heartless Leo then got in his car and drove off leaving Piper to burn. She remembers the fire brigade turning up and putting her out with extinguishers.
Doctors at St John’s Hospital, Springfield, put her in an induced coma for two-and-a-half months and had said her chance of surviving was less than one per cent.
Speaking of what happened when she woke up from the coma, she said: “I didn’t want to cry because I was afraid I wouldn’t stop.
Piper left hospital in December 1999 and went to stay with her sister Terri Way, 59, in Houston, Texas.
There she went to the Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center Hospital to have grafts using skin from her right thigh to replace damaged tissue.
Now, Piper has the support of Stephen, who she has been with for 11 years, after meeting him through friends in Arizona.
“I’ve been able to cope mostly through forgiveness, although I do get angry sometimes,” she said.
“I have therapists, but Stephen has been helping me mostly, just by being there.”