Tag Archive for Maryland

Con Man and Killer

That Larry Lord Motherwell was a liar and con man is indisputable: he admitted as much under oath. That Motherwell was a murderer is also not in doubt: he was convicted of killing a 72-year-old widow and dumping her body in a remote California canyon. That Motherwell was also a serial killer is a little less certain, but the circumstantial evidence sure points that way.
Motherwell was born in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, in 1916 and was named Frank Eugene Caventer. There is nothing in his early life that would indicate that Motherwell, who adopted that name in the early 1950s, had anything but a normal childhood. He next surfaced in Youngstown, Ohio, with his first wife and their two children in the late 1930s. Motherwell apparently worked various construction jobs and during World War II was a gandydancer.
Motherwell had no military service, but in 1945 he was arrested in Minneapolis and convicted of “wearing a military discharge button.” He served a six-month jail term.
By that time Motherwell’s wife had divorced him and in 1948 he moved to suburban Washington, D.C., where he passed himself off as a “recuperating war veteran.”
It was in Washington that he became friends with a gregarious 62-year-old neighbor, Pearl Putney, who was the widow of Albert H. Putney, prominent attorney, former U.S. State Department official, and professor at Washington’s American University.
Pearl was an active sportswoman who loved to travel and was described as “a nice, respectable old lady.” She did have one quirk that made her very attractive to the self-described con man: she liked to keep large sums of cash and liquid assets at her disposal, and was not afraid to carry as much as $20,000 (nearly $140,000 today) with her.
Motherwell convinced Pearl that he was a retired Navy officer and doctor who was a frequent guest at the White House and who traveled around the world on “secret military missions.”
There is evidence that Pearl doubted the veracity of some of Motherwell’s claims. In October 1957 she wrote in her diary that she saw him on the streets of D.C. after he broke a dinner date with her because of one of his secret missions. She also wrote about one dinner he claimed he attended at the White House where Queen Elizabeth “kissed him.”
In 1949 Motherwell married and moved away from the apartment building he shared with Pearl. His wife was a frail lady from Alabama named Sarah McLurken, who worked as a librarian at the Carnegie Institution in Washington. There is little record of what type of marriage the Motherwells shared, but Motherwell continued to visit and fraternize with Pearl over the course of this union.
Four years after they were married, Sarah gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome, whom they named Heather Robin. At that time, children with Down Syndrome frequently were institutionalized at a very young age, and the Motherwells placed Heather in a Virginia “home for retarded children,” according to press reports.
Just a few months after Heather was born, Sarah mysteriously drowned while taking a bath. Motherwell reportedly found her floating face up in the bathtub after returning home one day. Police ruled her death accidental.
In the spring of 1954, Motherwell showed up at the institution where Heather was living and took her out of the home. He told officials there that he was planning to move to Florida and wanted to take the child with him.
Heather was never seen alive again.
The day after he removed Heather from the home, Motherwell showed up at the Maryland farm of a fellow church member with a small, homemade coffin. He told the farmer, Dwight McCain, that the coffin contained the remains of his beloved dog that had saved his life during the Korean War. McCain was a dog breeder who maintained a pet cemetery and allowed Motherwell to bury the coffin there. According to McCain, over the years Motherwell often returned to the site for visits.
Later in 1954 Motherwell was convicted in Tennessee of impersonating a naval officer and received two years probation.
He married for a third (and final) time in 1956 to the former Josephine Smiraldo, who often put up with Motherwell’s frequent long-term disappearances — accepting his explanation that he was a government operative engaged in top secret missions.
When Pearl’s 95-year-old mother passed away, Motherwell was on hand to help Pearl manage her $50,000 inheritance ($350,000 in current dollars). With Motherwell’s help, the 72-year-old widow began to dispose of many of her belongings, particularly her furniture. She also sold the cooperative apartment with Motherwell’s help. The buyer later recalled that Pearl introduced her friend as “my step-brother, Dr. Motherwell.”
In June 1958 Pearl placed the last of her belongings in storage, took $20,000 in cash and $30,000 in securities and headed off on a road trip with Motherwell. As with Heather, Pearl’s friends and family never saw her alive again.
The month-long trek began in Washington and headed through North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida before turning westward across the gulf states. In Sarasota, Florida, Pearl withdrew an additional $13,000 in cash she had transferred there before leaving home. At various motels the pair registered under a variety of names including Dr. and Mrs. Motherwell and Dr. and Mrs. Putney.
Tracing their path was not difficult for police because Pearl frequently sent postcards to her younger brother, Castro M. Debrohua, who lived in Illinois. The last postcard from Pearl was dated August 15, 1958 and postmarked Marysville, California, a city 40 miles north of Sacramento and just west of Reno, Nevada. The next day, Debrohua received a telegram allegedly from Pearl sent from San Francisco that prompted him to contact Washington, D.C. authorities.
“By the time you read this, I will be married,” the telegram stated. “We’re flying to Mexico for the ceremony.”
Meanwhile, records would later show, Motherwell had traveled from Marysville to Reno, and from there to San Francisco. He was in that city the day the telegram to Debrouha was sent.
Motherwell returned to Washington, D.C., where he was questioned by police about his trip with Pearl. He reportedly told them very little, but further investigation by police located a woman in Sarasota, Florida, who said Pearl introduced Motherwell as her fiance.
By the time police went back to Motherwell with some follow-up questions, he had disappeared again. His wife told authorities that he was away on a secret mission.
The search for Motherwell eventually led police to the institution where his infant daughter had been living in Maryland. They attempted to trace her location in Florida, but the institution where Motherwell claimed he had taken her did not exist.
Motherwell’s need to impress his friends helped Frederick, Maryland, police quickly locate the pet cemetery where he had buried his faithful dog. Before leaving on his trip with Pearl, Motherwell held a going-away party for himself — he told friends that he was heading to Red China — and spoke at great length about the dog he had had to bury.
Authorities by this time knew he had no military service, so they quickly exhumed the coffin. Inside they found the badly decomposed body of a 12-to-14 month old baby girl.
A nationwide manhunt was quickly launched and in late 1958 Motherwell was arrested by Las Vegas police and returned to Maryland. At the time of his arrest he was driving a new sedan, had $1,600 in cash on him, gave his name as Art Rivers, and was telling people that he was a foreign correspondent who had just returned from an assignment in Cuba.
He avoided prosecution for Heather’s death because the medical examiner was unable to determine a cause of death. Motherwell admitted that Heather had died under his care, but he said she choked on her bottle and that he buried her in a panic.
Heather’s unusual death and Pearl’s unusual disappearance kept Motherwell under the police microscope. He told authorities that he and Pearl had separated in Las Vegas in August 1958 when she decided to marry a South American diplomat he knew only as “Mr. D’Avious.” He claimed that Pearl had hired him as a driver for $1,000 a month and had given him $3,000 when they separated in Las Vegas.
He could not explain the coincidence that he had checked into a hotel in Marysville on August 14, and that Pearl, whom he had left in Las Vegas, sent her brother a card the next day postmarked Marysville.
Without a body, however, police were powerless to arrest Motherwell.
The case broke open exactly a year after Pearl disappeared when a group hunting for pine cones along a logging road in a remote Sierra County canyon stumbled across portions of an adult skeleton. The skeleton had been covered with brush, but animals had carried off all but about a quarter of the bones. Fortunately for investigators, the skull was present and showed indications of a violent attack. A search of the nearby area revealed a woman’s clothing that friends identified as belonging to Pearl Putney.
Pearl’s identity was confirmed through dental records and a murder warrant was issued for Motherwell. Again, when police came looking, he had disappeared. This time October 1959, he was found attempting to board a plane in Atlanta headed toward Cleveland, Ohio. He had been romancing a Cleveland woman he met on a flight from Miami and had given her jewelry traced back to Pearl.
“He told me it belonged to his grandmother,” she later testified.
Motherwell’s trial began in February 1960 in the small town of Downieville, California, near where the bones were found and just about two hours from Reno. Because Sierra County prosecutors had never tried a death penalty case before, the California Attorney General agreed to pay for the services of Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Lynn “Buck” Compton to assist local prosecutors.
The three-week trial revealed Motherwell’s callous personality. Numerous witnesses testified that he had disposed of Pearl’s jewelry and belongings as gifts with occasional promises of marriage. Others talked about his grandiose and outlandish claims of international intrigue.
Taking the stand in his own defense, Motherwell told an unbelievable story. He said that he had agreed to take Pearl on what she called “a last fling trip.” He was unaware that she had developed feelings of affection for him and said she was mistaken when she told a friend in Sarasota that the 43-year-old man was planning to divorce his wife to marry her.
Motherwell said the trip started to go wrong in New Orleans when a drunken Pearl tried to become intimate.
“She flopped herself across the bed and gave me a very demonstrative kiss,” he testified. “She said ‘Here’s my man.’”
Motherwell testified he was “quite taken aback” and gave her “a little lecture on the evils of alcohol and sex.” According to him, the lecture had no effect. Her response, he said, was that “she was really beginning to live.”
They continued on the trip, checking into motels as husband and wife because Motherwell claimed Pearl had told him she was afraid to stay alone.
Finally acknowledging that they were in Marysville together, Motherwell said it was there that they had their final confrontation.
He claimed that once again she propositioned him while she was drunk and said that “I was being paid enough to think of her as a woman.” He insisted that they leave Marysville immediately and at 3 a.m., they drove back to Las Vegas where she composed the telegram to her brother.
“This concerned me because she told me she wanted to make love to me the night before,” he testified.
In what should be considered a classic cross-examination, Buck Compton picked Motherwell apart, piece by piece. He showed that 11 days after Motherwell’s wife Sarah had died, he applied for a new apartment with his wife “Sally.”
Motherwell demanded proof and was confronted with the lease application in his own handwriting. Compton then challenged Motherwell’s statement on a sworn affidavit that he changed his name because he had been raised by an aunt. In testimony prior to cross, Motherwell described growing up in Ohio with his mother and father. Compton introduced papers found in Motherwell’s possession — drivers’ licenses, Social Security cards, library cards and other documents — that identified him him either as Allen Dunbar Foster or Allen Michel Dunbar.
A resume for Dunbar, asserting that his multi-million dollar steel mill in Cuba had been nationalized by Fidel Castro, was also among the papers.
“I’m a con man, but not for profit,” Motherwell admitted to Compton. “Let’s say some times I am a liar and I impress people. That’s conning people, isn’t it? Sometimes I deliberately say and tell things to people to see how much people will believe.”
How could the jury believe what he was saying now, Compton wondered.
“You wouldn’t lie if anything was at stake, would you?” Compton asked.
“I’m under oath,” Motherwell replied, visibly shaken.
“You were under oath when you signed the affidavit to change your name, weren’t you?” Compton charged.
After his disastrous testimony, Motherwell left the stand ashen faced and shaking. He was the last witness to testify and the case went to closing arguments. Again, Compton was masterful.
“We know she believed he was going to divorce his wife, Josephine, and marry her,” Compton continued. “Mrs. Putney belonged to a large sorority of women who were taken in by this psychopath.”
About the murder, Buck Compton summarized the circumstantial case.
“We know that the body was covered by a human being, that it was covered by bark, twigs and rocks and that the body was stripped of its clothing and identity,” he said. “There can be no doubt that Pearl Putney was murdered in Turner Canyon.”
There was simply no one else who had motive or opportunity to kill her.
“Not one friend or acquaintance of Mrs. Putney saw her alive but Motherwell after they left Sarasota,” he said. “Her relationship with Motherwell was probably closer than with anyone else in the world.”
Motherwell was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. However, the California Court of Appeals reduced the conviction to second degree murder because there was no evidence of premeditation.
Motherwell was sentenced again to 5-years-to-life. He died in San Quentin prison of a heart attack in February 1966.
As for allegations that Motherwell was a serial killer, sometime after his trial, the Frederick, Maryland police chief revealed that one of Motherwell’s girlfriends told him that Motherwell had deliberately capsized his boat with her and her two daughters in the Ohio River and had with a paddle tried to kill the children.
The chief also said Motherwell confessed to him about the killing of seven women and told him that his greatest sorrow was the Heather Motherwell case because “he had buried her alive.”

How to Screw up the Perfect Crime

Anyone who has ever been in a serious relationship probably understands why husbands and wives kill each other, but the murder of Steven Hricko by his wife, Kimberly defies explanation. By almost all accounts Steven wasn’t abusive, and there wasn’t a great deal of financial gain to be realized by his death. Instead, Kim simply wanted out of a relationship that had soured over time. Rather than walking away, she opted to kill her husband.
Obviously, Kim didn’t get away with her crime — she had a good plan but her execution was terrible. As a result, she’s serving a life term in a Maryland prison.
The Hricko marriage started out well, but after nine years, Kim made no secret of her discontent. She was apparently an outgoing, energetic person and Steve, according to Kim’s talks with her friends, was a homebody. She was also frustrated that he didn’t help out around the house. Fortunately for many of us, this is not reasonable justification to kill.
“She said that she had been feeling really bad about their marriage for a long time,” one of her friends testified at Kim’s murder trial. “She said that her and Steve had been having problems and had been having problems for a very long time. I told her that I had always suspected that something wasn’t right, but she would never confide in me and she agreed that she had been living a lie, she said, for a long time. She said that she had asked him to go to counseling sometime back in the late summer of ‘97.”
The impetus for Kim’s decision to murder Steve was an affair she began in December 1997 with a man she met at a friend’s wedding. The excitement of new love made her even more desperate to get out of her marriage, and clouded her judgment to such a degree that murder, rather than divorce, appeared to be the best means of accomplishing her goal. Perhaps a possible child custody fight over their daughter scared her; the prosecution suggested an insurance policy as motive. Regardless, once she set her mind to killing Steve, nothing could deter her.
The only question remained how to do it.
Steve was a golf course manager and Kim was a surgical technologist. Part of her normal job duties was to collect and dispose of all unused medicines after surgery — and that gave her access to the weapon she would eventually use to kill her husband.
In December 1997, Kimberly approached a co-worker who had been convicted of a non-violent felony and asked to speak with him. Her manner in approaching the man reveals something about her fractured state-of-mind.
“Without warning, she blurted out that she wanted him to kill her husband,” wrote Judge Charles Moylan in Kim’s post-conviction appeal. “He wheeled around, thinking that it had to be some sort of a joke. When he saw that she was deadly serious, he immediately said that he would not get involved in anything like that and tried to convince her that she was experiencing an overreaction to marital ennui. She nonetheless went on to ask if he knew ‘somebody that would kill her husband.’ She mentioned, moreover, the figure of $50,000 as the contract price. After it became clear that (the coworker) had no intention of getting involved, Kimberly urged him to ‘forget about it’ and not to tell anyone else about their conversation.”
Unwittingly, the man planted the seed that would germinate and become the murderous plot.
“You work in the operating room , you could just put him to sleep,” he said flippantly.
Kim had access to a drug that at the time was almost undetectable by forensic science — succinylcholine.
An almost perfect murder weapon, succinylcholine was first synthesized in 1906, although its ability to relax muscles was not recognized until 1949. It has a brief duration of action, because it is quickly broken down by plasma. It is used to produce muscle flaccidity during surgery and assisted respiration is essential because it paralyzes the respiratory muscles.
“Succinylcholine has been isolated from the area of injection in a fatal poisoning, although no unchanged drug was detected in the blood, liver or kidney (Gajdzinska and Szczepanski, 1967),” write Cravey, Baselt and Houts in Courtroom Toxicology. “A succinic acid level of 12 mg/kg in postmortem brain tissue was used to prove antemortem administration of succinylcholine in a case of suspected homicidal poisoning (Holmes, 1968). However, Fiorese (1969) has shown that endogenous succinic acid concentrations in fresh or embalmed brain (range 19-200 mg/kg) and liver (range 182-2,000 mg/kg) are so variable as to preclude any meaningful distinction between normal subjects and persons who have received the drug prior to death.”
In other words, a small amount of succinylcholine can kill and at the time Cravey, et al. wrote their book, was extremely difficult to label as the murder weapon. The drug can take effect within five seconds of being administered intravenously and within less than a minute of being administered intramuscularly. In some cases, the only indication the drug was given may be a bruise around the injection site.
Although succinylcholine may be nearly undetectable, Kim made it clear to almost everyone who would listen that she was contemplating a crime.
“The conversation started with Kim saying that Steve would be better off dead, that we had talked about divorce but . . . she said that he would be nothing without her and (her daughter) and that, that if they got a divorce that he would try to turn (the girl) against her or to keep her,” one friend testified at Kim’s trial. “And that he didn’t really have very much of a life outside of that marriage anyway, and that he would be better off dead.”
The same friend testified that Kim had mentioned succinylcholine in the form of its trade name, Sustinalcolene.
“We had a discussion about a case history where a woman had injected some children with Sustinalcolene and that that was a muscle relaxing anesthesia agent and that, that it would go untraced,” she said.
On January 30, 1998, in a drunken and distraught state, Kim called another friend and indicated that she was seriously considering committing the crime.
From her trial:

A: She said, she was talking more about how it would be easier if Steve were dead and she told me that she had a plan on how to do it where she wouldn’t get caught.
Q: Did she tell the plan to you?
A: Yes.
Q: Tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury what she told you.
A: She told me that she could get a drug that would paralyze Steve, that would stop his breathing and then she would set the curtains on fire with a candle or a cigar and that he would die of smoke inhalation in a fire and nobody would know.

The friend tried to talk her out of it, but Kim had “had answers for everything.” The next morning, when cooler, sober heads prevailed, Kim hedged a bit.

Q: Did you ask her anything about the plan that she told you about?
A: Yes. I asked her was she really going to do this and she said I don’t know what I’m going to do.

For his part, Steve knew something was wrong and was taking steps to fix it.
“After she asked Steve for a divorce in January, Steve did make a lot of effort on his part, to where he wrote her this beautiful lovely letter that she read to me over the phone, and it was beautiful and Steve was going to counseling,” a friend of Kim’s said on the stand. Kim’s response to his efforts, however was muted.
“She said it made her sick,” the friend recounted.

She told me … her reaction or what she said about them was that they made her sick and that he suffocated her and was stifling her and following her around all the time and cuddling up to her real close at night so that she felt like she couldn’t breathe. And wanting to know where she was going or what she was doing. And maybe giving her phone calls that she wasn’t used to getting from him just to say ‘Hi.’

Kim was carrying on an act, waiting for the appropriate time to strike. It presented itself on Valentine’s Day.
Steve made arrangements for the couple to go to the Harbourtowne Resort for a romantic weekend getaway that featured a mystery dinner theater program entitled The Bride who Cried, which dinner guests were invited to solve. The corpus delicti involved a bridegroom who drinks poisoned champagne at his wedding reception.
Judge Moylan’s summary of the evidence succinctly shows the state of affairs of the marriage:

As February 14 drew closer, the juxtaposition of respective attitudes toward the impending Valentine’s Day getaway is stark pathos. On February 9, Steven committed his hopes to his journal:

Life at home is improving and I am looking forward to Valentine’s weekend at Harbortowne with Kim. … She called twice today and said “I love you” without [my] saying it first. I was very happy. … Kim and I have not made love yet and I want to but I will wait as long as it takes. I love her. … I believe I know what being in love really is. We have been married 9 years but I feel like we just started dating.

On February 13, the night before she and Steven were to leave for St. Michael’s, Kimberly, by contrast, made a trip to the house that (her lover) shared with his aunt. She wanted to leave her Valentine’s Day gifts to him in his bedroom. The note accompanying the gifts read:

I really wanted to give you all these gifts in person but I guess the Pentagon had a different idea. I am so proud of what you do so I’ll just go on missing you. Have a nice weekend at home, baby. I look forward to seeing you soon. Happy Valentine’s Day, sir. I love you so very much.
Hugs and Kisses, Kim

Steve and Kim arrived at Harbourtowne on February 14. They were presented with a bottle of champagne. At approximately 7 p.m., they went to the dining room and to the dinner-theater production of The Bride Who Cried. Steve and Kim left the dinner theater and returned to their cottage together at between 10 and 10:30 p.m.
At approximately 1:20 p.m. Kim reported that her room was on fire.
Finding the door to the Hrickos’ room locked, a hotel employee ran around to a back porch. He was able to open the sliding door through which he had observed human feet and legs. Crawling into the smoke-filled room, he found the body of Steven Hricko lying on its back between two twin beds. He dragged the body outside.
At the time the first police officers and firefighters entered the room, they confirmed that Steve’s body was lying between the two twin beds, with a pair of burned pillows beneath his head.
The point of origin of the fire was those two pillows. Intense heat from the flaming pillows caused the fire to spread to an adjoining bedspread causing the mattress on one of the beds to be burned completely through.
The carpet in various places around that bed also showed burning. The corpse was badly charred from the chest area upward to the top of his head, including his upraised left arm. The fire marshal was of the opinion that the fire had burned for between five and fifteen minutes but then burned itself out when the oxygen level in the room fell below the point where it could sustain the fire.
“Steven Hricko was already dead when dragged from the room, Judge Moylan wrote. “His body, clad in a tee-shirt and pajama pants, was badly burned from the mid-chest area upward, including his upraised left arm.”
Kim gave a lame explanation of events that led up to the fire.
After leaving the dinner theater, she and Steve bought four bottles of beer from the hotel bar returned to their room. She recalled seeing the end of a movie called Tommy Boy and then watching the late evening news come on.
“Despite a pre-Valentine’s Day covenant with her husband that they would refrain from having sex during the weekend getaway, he began pressuring her for sexual intercourse and an argument ensued between them that lasted for approximately ten minutes,” Judge Moylan wrote. “Because she did not wish to continue the argument, she grabbed her purse and the car keys and left the room.”
She described how she then left the Harbourtowne resort and drove toward Easton to visit some friends who lived nearby. She became lost and had to stop and ask several persons for directions. She stated that she was not familiar with Easton and could not find the home. She stated that she could not even find Route 50 and then, abandoning the intended visit, had to ask further directions even to get back to St. Michael’s. She arrived back at Harbourtowne shortly after 1 a.m.
She discovered she forgot her key. She walked around to the deck area at the back of the room, remembering that the sliding glass door at the rear of the unit had been opened earlier that evening. As she pushed it further open, she was met by a wall of thick smoke. She reached inside to feel for a light switch but with no success. She then ran to the front of the unit and began knocking on a number of other doors and screaming for help but received no response — this despite the fact that all of the adjoining rooms in the area were occupied.
At that point, she jumped into her car and drove to the main lobby, using her cell phone to call 911 while on the way.
The people to whom Kim reported the fire were astounded at her calm.
“She was, she walked in the lobby and there was no evidence, I mean there was nothing, that she was upset,” one said. “She was just walking into the lobby. She was very calm. Even when she said, ‘There’s a fire in my room,’ we were more excited, I know.”
Her story quickly unraveled.
“It is a forensic fact of life that an exculpatory effort that is disbelieved thereby becomes highly inculpatory,” Judge Moylan wrote. “In prosecutorial jargon, it is called the ‘false exculpatory.’ In the algebra of production burdens, it goes to prove consciousness of guilt. Kimberly’s attempted explanation fell into that category in several regards. Indeed, it began to unravel even as it began.”
There was first the improbability of getting lost. Easton is about 15 minutes from St. Michael’s, the location of the Harbourtowne resort. Why was Kim lost for two hours? If lost, why not call the friends for directions? Kim had her cell phone with her, she used it to call 911 to report the fire. She demonstrated to the troopers questioning her that she knew the friends’ telephone number. Kim gave the unbelievable answer of not wanting to wake the friends.
“I asked her why she didn’t call me, the friend testified. “She says well it was too late. I didn’t want to wake you up.”
Judge Moylan expressed his own incredulity at this response:
“The incongruity of the response was not even subtle,” he said. “Why, at a given hour, would one be unwilling to wake up with a phone call the very people one was fully intending to wake up by ringing the door bell?”
Kim claimed that Steve was heavily intoxicated the night he died, but the investigator who questioned her about his death, testified the facts didn’t back up her story.
“I asked her would you please tell me the amount of alcohol that your husband consumed that night,” he said. “She advised me that he was drinking heavily that night. At that time I confronted her with the Medical Examiner toxicologist’s report information indicating 0.00 blood alcohol contents in her husband’s body. At that time she just stared for a second and said, I don’t understand that. And I don’t understand that. I said well could you please explain to me if your husband was drinking this amount of alcohol why didn’t it register? Again she just said, I don’t understand why. I don’t understand.”
The couple’s bar tab that night at the dinner theater was $5.50, and one of the other guests at their table during the dinner theater happened to be an assistant district attorney who testified that he saw Steve consume one or two beers.
As the investigation progressed, Kim demonstrated an unusual curiosity about the status of the medical examiner’s report.
To the prosecution, her curiosity about what was at the time thought of as a tragic, but routine, accident was curious. It looked like Steve had died of smoke inhalation in a fire. What did she expect to learn from an autopsy report? Could it be whether or not any needle marks were found on the body or if succinylcholine was detected?
Kim also raised concerns with her adamant insistence that Steve’s body be cremated. It’s one thing to honor a loved one’s last wishes, but her strong determination to see him cremated clashed with her indifference about every other aspect of his final arrangements.
As Steve’s sister testified: “She let it be known that it was fine with her if we took care of it all except that the cremation was decided on and that any other aspects she didn’t have a strong opinion on but that it was up to us.”
Even as the embers of the fire still smoldered, the police were suspicious of Kim’s behavior. When the medical examiner delayed releasing Steve’s body in favor of some extra tests, her friends noted that Kim was quite uneasy. Knowing that the police had been asking questions, Kim became desperate for information. She asked a close friend to find out what others had been saying to the police.
“To seek to learn what friends have been saying to the police is not normal behavior for one who has recently but innocently been widowed,” Judge Moylan wrote.
The police soon confronted Kim with the proof that Steve was dead before the fire started. There was no soot or carbon monoxide found in Steve’s body, the autopsy revealed. The trooper who broke the news to Kim describes how she reacted.

She stared and didn’t say nothing and then she stared some more and she said I don’t understand why. I don’t understand. At that time, she hesitated and never said nothing and then she kind of bowed her face down towards her hands and started crying. She continued crying. I said to her, Kimberly, please tell me what happened that night. And she continued crying. She gets up out of her chair, walks over and sat in another chair where she continued crying.
Again I said please tell me what happened that night. Kimberly said to me, if I tell you what happened, can I go home tonight and see my daughter? I stated to her, Kimberly, please just tell me the truth and what happened the night your husband died. Kimberly looked up and stated to me I want to tell you but I want to see my daughter first. I told Kimberly, I said, Kimberly, I will make arrangements for you to see your daughter. She hesitated, sat there, looked up again and Kimberly stated to me, I really want to tell you the truth, but can I still go home?

Kim was not allowed to go home and was instead arrested for murder.
She never confessed to the killing, but in a conversation with one of her friends while she was in jail, she all but admitted killing her husband.
Talking about Steve’s insurance policies, the friend recalled that “Kim said that I don’t care what anyone says, it wasn’t for the money.”
That begs the question: What wasn’t for the money?
In the end, the jury answered that question, convicting Kim of murder and arson.