Mistakes Were Made

Buschkopf and Lucas mugs

The first mistake Carlene Buschkopf made was deciding that killing her husband, Theodore, for the insurance money was a good idea.
The second, and the one that ultimately took her down, was involving a near-stranger in the plot. Carlene and her lover, Arthur Lucas, would never have succeeded with their plan anyway, but Lucas really messed it up when he expected his alibi witness, a casual bar friend who did not like him, to stand up to a police interrogation. Not only did Judy Baker tell investigators everything she knew, she agreed to help the Winona, Minnesota, police put the case closed stamp on this murder for money.
There were plenty of other poor choices that feature prominently in this stupid crime. How stupid, you ask? Carlene was so deep in debt that the insurance policy she hoped to collect would not even bring her head above water. As for mistakes, they range from the common getting caught in a lie by police to the amateurish bungling of the first attempt to kill Ted Buschkopf.
The final proof that the gods looked down in anger on the conspirators is a fine example of irony. The second plan called for Carlene to be wounded in a random attack that killed her husband in the cheap hotel where they were living. To the conspirators the plan sounded good, but their poor execution ended up tacking on an extra attempted murder charge for good measure.
If investigators hear “a robber killed my husband but not me even though I was in bed beside him,” they start making wagers about how many hours are left until the wife confesses. That is not to say it is a crime most often perpetrated by a woman. It will only take a couple of clicks around the Register to find a surprising number of attempts at this crime with the most dire consequences. One man was double-crossed and died at the hand of his hired gunman. Three people — two men and a woman –are on death row, another two women will die behind prison walls and at least one spent the better part of her life in prison. Even these statistics pale in comparison to the murders where the spouse has an alibi, but that is a story for another day.
In 1983, Carlene, 33 years old at the time, was the manager of a failed restaurant that Lucas, 45, owned. The Buschkopfs were drowning in debt and were going down for the third time. They were borrowing money from Ted’s parents just to survive. In June, 1983, the Buschkopfs’ land contract on their home was cancelled and the couple was subsequently evicted from the apartment they had rented. On the day of the shooting, July 25, 1983, the Buschkopfs owed $50,000 on a signature note, were facing a tax lien of $4,700 and many judgments and creditors’ claims.
Testimony at Carlene’s trial showed on the day of the shooting, besides the clothes on her back, the only thing Carlene owned was half a pack of cigarettes.
Naturally the situation created troubles for the couple and that is how Carlene came to be Arthur’s lover.
“I always wanted a hug and kiss in life,” she testified at her trial. “Money never meant nothing to me. That’s why Art Lucas meant something to me.”
Lucas was in no better shape: He owed more than $82,000 in connection with his business by the day of the shooting, was obliged on additional debts of over $6,000, and was behind on his rent.
Things were looking up, or so the conspirators thought: Ten days earlier, Ted, 32, changed his life insurance policies to make Carlene the primary beneficiary. The value of the life insurance was $80,000 — barely enough to make a dent in the debts. Prosecutors presented evidence at Lucas’s trial that he and Carlene planned to use the money to reopen the bankrupt eatery.
Carlene and Arthur had been planning Ted’s murder for some time before the actual event, investigators said, and tried several times to kill him.
The most interesting attempt is what became known at the trial as “The Shive Road Incident.”
Enlisting the help of some friends, Carlene offered Patricia Balk and her boyfriend Peter Fraley a quarter of the insurance proceeds for their help.
One night shortly before the shooting while they were out driving, Carlene asked her husband to take a back road for a change. There they came across Balk lying in the middle of the road and a van parked nearby. Ted stopped the car and went over to Balk, assuming she was hurt. As he was bending down to render aid, Lucas and Peter Fraley left the van, intending to knock Ted out with a baseball bat. Their brilliant plan was to place Ted’s unconscious body in his car and leave it on some railroad tracks, where a train would finish the job.
Fraley changed his mind at the last moment, and according to testimony at Lucas’s trial, put the bat in Ted’s car. Lucas, however, was not ready to give up. He took the bat and hit Ted over the head.
At that point the plot fully collapsed. Rather than rendering Ted unconscious, the blow merely stunned him and his attackers fled in the van. The next day at work, Ted, an engineer at a plumbing company, told a coworker of the incident and showed him the lump on the back of his head. Ted put it down to a failed robbery attempt, not considering the fact he and Carlene were off the beaten path and not a lucrative spot for highway robbers.
Two days later the conspirators tried again and this time they would have more success (so to speak).
Early on the morning of July 26, a guest at a Winona motel called the manager after hearing someone moaning and calling for help. The manager summoned police, who arrived moments later to find Carlene lying in the doorway of a motel room, clutching her stomach and claiming to have been coshed over the head as well.
In the bed police found Ted, unconscious from a .22-caliber bullet wound to the head. When medical personnel arrived, they found that Carlene had been shot in the lower back and had a knot on her head. The bullet had traveled into Carlene’s abdomen and surgery was necessary to remove it. The knock to the head would have been aggravated assault, but even though Carlene agreed to be shot and the shooter did not want to kill her, it is still attempted murder because it involved a potentially lethal weapon.
Ted never regained consciousness and died in mid-August, but by that time the entire plot had unraveled. Both Carlene and Arthur were advised while they were already in jail that the charges had been upped from attempted murder to first degree murder.
At her trial for killing her husband, Carlene told her version of what happened that morning.
“I was hit on the head,” she told the jury. “Well, I tried to get my head up but there was a pillow on my head. I laid there and then I heard a wrestle in the room. I didn’t actually see anything.”
She claimed that a man’s voice told her to stay still and when she called out for Ted, “I heard like a kid’s pop gun.”
Trying to save her own skin, Carlene threw Balk and Fraley under the bus, claiming the entire crime was their idea and that she and Lucas were merely pawns. She said Balk and Fraley frequently threatened her before the shooting and that Balk was trying to extort blood from a stone because of her affair with Lucas. That blackmail, she claimed, was why Lucas’s restaurant folded in the first place. He was making the payments from his daily receipts. She also claimed that “If I didn’t, they would kill me,” and said on the night of the Shive Road incident, Fraley had threatened her with a gun.
Facing the very serious charges of conspiracy to commit murder for hire, attempted murder for hire, and attempted murder for the shooting for Carlene, both Balk and Fraley claimed it was they who had been threatened if they did not cooperate.
But what really broke the case wide open was the evidence provided by Judy Baker, a bartender at the place where Lucas liked to run up his tab trying to drown his sorrows.
Lucas wamted to use Baker as his alibi, telling police that on the night of the shooting he had been at the bar with Baker and had accompanied her home. At first, Baker made the ill-fated decision to provide the excuse Lucas needed, but when her story failed to match his, she admitted she was lying. Then it all came out.
She said she first met Lucas in May of that year. Some time in June of 1983 he began telling her of the financial problems he and Carlene were having. In mid-July Carlene, whom Baker knew by sight only, visited Baker at her home. Carlene also told Baker of marital and financial problems during the visit, but said she hoped to have those problems taken care of soon.
Sometime during the week of July 10, Lucas told Baker that he and Carlene had a plan to get out of their financial problems by “getting rid” of somebody, but that previous attempts to carry out the plan had failed. He also told her that the motive to get rid of this person was to collect insurance money. On July 23, he asked Baker to help him with an alibi and offered her $1,000 if she would be seen with him on a particular evening.
Two days later, on July 25, he called her at the bar where she worked, again asked for her help, and said he would be coming by the bar. She hung up and said to a co-worker, “Oh, God, that man is coming up here.” He arrived around 7:30 and asked to spend the night with her. She agreed, but said she never saw him again after he left around 9 p.m.
She received two phone calls from Lucas, however. She said he called her at about 6:30 on the morning of July 26, and said “It’s happened, it’s over, it’s done.” He went on to tell her that she should tell the police he had been with her between 5:15 and 5:30 a.m. that morning.
While her little white lie could have made her part of the conspiracy and subject to charge as an accessory, she managed to escape with a stern talking-to about the importance of being honest when talking to the police and a little request. Police asked Baker to make some phone calls to Carlene and Lucas where they each made incriminating statements. In one, Lucas admitted being at the scene of the crime, but he minimized his participation by denying that he fired any shots. His sole purpose for being there, he said on the tape, was to dispose of the gun.
Carlene and Lucas were both arrested on Aug. 1, 1983 and subsequently convicted at separate trials and sentenced to life in prison. For their role in the crime, Balk and Fraley each received three years.
In 1984 Carlene walked away from the women’s prison where she was doing time and managed to stay on the lam for a week. At a 1992 parole hearing, prison officials said that she was “not a model prisoner” and had apparently become involved in an on-going feud with another inmate.
She died of a lung disease in 2010. Lucas, now in his 70s, remains behind bars.