Cindy Bischof thought her breakup with a longtime boyfriend would go smoothly after he agreed to move out of her house. But Michael Giroux quickly turned hostile, writing up a plan to destroy her home and following through with it.

Terrified after Giroux, 60, spray-painted every wall and piece of furniture in her Arlington Heights home last spring, the 43-year-old real estate broker moved swiftly to secure a protective order from a Cook County judge that prohibited him from contacting her.When he violated the order on two occasions, including an attempt to hang himself on her patio, she didn't hesitate to press charges that landed him in jail for two months followed by home confinement.

To relatives and prosecutors, it appeared that Bischof was taking all the necessary steps to stay safe and that the legal system was delivering protection.

But after Giroux was released from home confinement this month, he showed up at Bischof's office in Elmhurst armed with a .38-caliber revolver. When she tried to get into her car, he shot her repeatedly then turned the gun on himself.

The March 7 slaying-suicide and the wrenching ordeal that led to it illustrate the harsh realities of domestic violence and the limitations of the system designed to address it.

A woman's risk of being seriously injured or killed by an intimate partner increases when she breaks off the relationship. In certain cases, a protective court order is not enough and the only viable option is for a woman to either enter a shelter or relocate, experts say.

Most people killed by an intimate partner are women. Nationwide, the number has declined in recent decades from about 2,900 in 1976 to 1,510 in 2005, according to the U.S. Justice Department. In Chicago, the numbers also dropped, ranging in recent years from 20 to 50, with unofficial figures showing nearly 40 slain in 2007.

Despite the declines, the cases occur with numbing frequency in the Chicago area.

In 2005, the former husband of Therese Pender of River Forest allegedly beat her to death with a hammer as she walked home from work, authorities say. The former husband is awaiting trial. That year, a 14-year-old girl found her mother, Cathy Lamonica, shot to death in her Park Ridge home. Authorities say her former husband had killed her, then took his own life.

In 2007, the body of Nailah Franklin was found in woods in Calumet City. Her former boyfriend has been charged.

Research has identified danger signs -- such as suicide attempts and losing interest in work, both of which Giroux displayed -- that point to an increased likelihood of murder. A program in the Cook County state's attorney's office was created to identify high-risk cases and actively prosecute them.

But as Giroux demonstrated, some people are not deterred by aggressive prosecution.

Bischof's family and other victims say the state should provide additional legal protections, such as mandatory electronic monitoring of people who have protective orders against them.

"If they're doing everything they can and this still happens, the laws need to be changed," said Bischof's brother, Michael Bischof of Barrington.

In the early 1980s, Illinois enacted a law that granted comprehensive protections to domestic violence victims, such as banning abusers from the home. Soon thereafter, Cook County created a court for such cases. In 1997, the state's attorney's office created a unit to prosecute the cases.

Today, the Illinois Domestic Violence Act is seen as one of the strongest laws of its kind in the country, said Dawn Dalton, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network. Still, victims and their advocates see flaws in the legal system. If someone violates an order of protection, the person is supposed to face legal consequences, in some cases jail.

But some police officers, prosecutors and judges can be dismissive of violations, allowing harassment, stalking and other abusive behavior to continue, said Jennifer Greene, director of legal advocacy at Family Rescue, an organization that helps victims of domestic abuse in Cook County.

That was not the case with Bischof, who secured a two-year order of protection against Giroux last June after he vandalized her house. After pleading guilty to vandalism, he was ordered to serve time in Cook County Jail and underwent a psychiatric evaluation.

When Bischof reported that he had called and threatened to kill her family during the 4th of July weekend, he was charged with violating the protection order. Police re-arrested him in early September after he showed up at Bischof's house and placed a rope around his neck in an apparent suicide attempt, records show.