David Mark Reagan has a history of using girlfriends as punching bags, beating them bloody after drinking himself into a booze-soaked rage.

Three women accused the 55-year-old painter of pummeling them at various times over the past seven years. Arrested in four domestic assaults and convicted of three, Reagan spent little time behind bars before he was back on the street again.

Reagan was free on bail, awaiting another trial on a domestic violence charge, when Charleston police say he raped and choked the life out of his latest girlfriend inside their West Ashley apartment on Aug. 20.

While 52-year-old Kathy Hawkins’ nude body lay on the living room floor, Reagan used her credit card to go buy an 18-pack of Budweiser at a convenience store, according to an arrest affidavit.

Reagan is being held without bail on charges of murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct. While he sat in the Charleston County jail Wednesday, friends and family buried Hawkins, a divorced mother of one who was well-known in Charleston’s food and beverage industry.

Hawkins taught for 15 years at Johnson & Wales University before the school closed its Charleston campus in 2006. She taught the art of running a commercial dining room, a skill she also plied at 82 Queen St. and other well-known restaurants around town.

Mim Runey ran the Charleston school and is now Johnson & Wale’s chief operating officer and president of the university’s Providence campus. She recalled Hawkins as a “happy and energetic” person with a true passion and talent for teaching. Others agreed.

“She was truly a source of greatness for a lot of chefs who have moved on to be really something,” said Phillis Kalisky Mair, who worked with Hawkins at Cypress restaurant downtown. “This is so sad.”

Stories like these, however, are all too common in South Carolina, which ranked second-worst in the nation last year in the rate of women killed by men.

The cycle of abuse can be very difficult to break, and Elmire Raven, executive director of the My Sister’s House battered women’s shelter, expects little improvement in South Carolina’s ranking when domestic homicide numbers are tabulated later this year.

“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to strengthen the laws,” she said. “But there is obviously a need to do more because women are still being killed.”

Long criminal record

Reagan, a craggy-faced man with salt-and-pepper hair, has a criminal history dating to 1977, when he was convicted of driving under the influence, according to State Law Enforcement Division records. Over the years, he also racked up convictions for marijuana possession, passing bad checks, resisting arrest, possessing a stolen vehicle, driving under suspension, disorderly conduct and criminal domestic violence, records show.

Reagan’s first domestic violence arrest occurred in September 2006, about a week after his brother beat their 86-year-old mother to death with a cast iron frying pan at her Woodland Shores Drive home on James Island. His brother is serving a 35-year prison sentence for that crime.

On Sept. 6, 2006, Reagan returned to his West Ashley home from a night on the town and reportedly punched, kicked and kneed his live-in girlfriend, sending her to the hospital with bruises and three broken ribs, according to an arrest affidavit.

He was charged with criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature but later pleaded guilty to a charge of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. Circuit Judge Thomas Hughston gave Reagan a five-year suspended sentence, placed him on two years probation and ordered him to get substance abuse counseling.

He was arrested in another domestic incident on St. Margaret Street in January 2010, accused of biting a new live-in girlfriend on the head and hand and tearing out a clump of her hair, court documents show. The woman told police that Reagan shouted at her, “You don’t know who you’re (expletive) with. I’ve done this before. My brother killed my mother. I have it in me,” according to an arrest affidavit. Reagan received 30 days in jail for the assault, SLED records show. It is unclear from records who sentenced him.

He was charged with domestic violence again in October of that year, this time for attacking Hawkins, who was now sharing an apartment with him on Royal Palm Boulevard. He pinned her to a bed while drunk, pummeled her face and body and threw her into two walls when she tried to escape, an arrest affidavit and police reports stated.

Reagan pleaded guilty to criminal domestic violence, and Circuit Judge Markley Dennis, giving him credit for the 60 days he had spent in jail, sentenced him to time served, court records show.

In January, Reagan was charged again with assaulting Hawkins while drunk at their apartment, police said. He had accused her of being unfaithful and allegedly beat on her face and grabbed her by the throat, according to an arrest affidavit.

Hawkins approached the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office in June and requested that the charge be dismissed, but prosecutors declined, authorities said. Reagan was awaiting trial on that charge when he was charged with Hawkins’ killing.

Tied to the crime

Investigators determined she had likely been killed up to 48 hours before her body was found by a neighbor inside her apartment, which was strewn with wine bottles and other debris, a report stated.

Neighbors told police they had seen Reagan going in and out of the apartment around the time frame of the killing. They told investigators Reagan and Hawkins had been heavy drinkers and that Reagan appeared to be very drunk when they last saw him, police reports stated.

Detectives determined that Hawkins’ credit card had been used several times after her death, particularly at a convenience store on Rutledge Avenue. Video from the store showed Reagan stocking up on beer with her card, an arrest affidavit stated.

A clerk at the store told investigators Reagan had visited the store on Aug. 22 and 23, grabbing an 18-pack of Bud each day. She said he seemed very pleasant, but noted that he had two or three cuts on his face, according to police reports.

An acquaintance of Hawkins told police “her boyfriend beat the devil out of her quite a few times,” according to a police report. She was a heavy drinker but had talked of going to rehab in Columbia just a week before her death, he told police.

Raven, of My Sister’s House, said it can be tempting in cases of domestic abuse to wonder why the person didn’t just leave their attacker and choose another path. But emotional ties, controlling personalities and a host of other factors can get in the way of that happening. In the end, it is a decision that person must make for themselves, she said.

“I think it is difficult for most people looking in to understand,” she said, “but unless you’ve been in that person’s shoes, unless you’ve lived that person’s life and gone through her journey, you just don’t know.”

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.