Bone Deep: Untangling the Betsy Faria Murder Case
by Charles Henry Bosworth Jr. & Joel J. Schwartz
Genre: True Crime, Murder
explosive, first-ever insider’s account of a case that continues to
fascinate the public—the shocking wrongful conviction of Russell
Faria for his wife’s murder—a gripping read told by New
York Times bestselling
true crime expert Charles Bosworth Jr. and Joel J. Schwartz, the
defense attorney who battled for justice, and ultimately
On December 27th, 2011, Russell Faria returned to his Troy, Missouri, home after his weekly game night with friends to an unthinkable, grisly scene: His wife, Betsy, lay dead, a knife still lodged in her neck. She’d been stabbed fifty-five times.
First responders concluded that Betsy was dead for hours when Russ discovered her. No blood was found implicating Russ, and surveillance video, receipts, and friends’ testimony all supported his alibi. Yet incredibly, police and the prosecuting attorney ignored the evidence. In their minds, Russ was guilty. But prominent defense attorney Joel J. Schwartz quickly recognized the real killer.
The motive was clear. Days before her murder, the terminally ill Betsy replaced her husband with her friend, Pamela Hupp, as her life insurance beneficiary. Still, despite the prosecution’s flimsy case and Hupp’s transparent lies, Russ was convicted—leaving Hupp free to kill again.
Bone Deep takes readers through the perfect storm of miscalculations and missteps that led to an innocent man’s conviction—and recounts Schwartz’s successful battle to have that conviction overturned. Written with Russ Faria’s cooperation, and filled with chilling new revelations and previously undisclosed evidence, this is the story of what can happen when police, prosecutor, judge, and jury all fail in their duty to protect the innocent—and let a killer get away with murder.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Every Tuesday was game night. Six to nine o'clock. It had been that way for years for the dedicated group of friends who met at Michael “Mike” Corbin's house in O'Fallon, Missouri, a growing suburb on the northwestern edge of the St. Louis metropolitan area. They were brought together by their love of role-playing board games, where each player assumed the identity of a specific character and rolled the dice to move along the board and carry out fantasy missions of good versus evil. It was an engaging, thought-provoking, and fun way to spend some time with friends without spending a lot of money. Mike was not only the host, but also the official referee, who devised the missions and controlled the games for the players that included his longtime partner, Angelia Hulion, along with Brandon Sweeney, Marshall Bach, Richard May—and Russ Faria.
The Tuesday after Christmas, December 27, 2011, was still game night, but with a twist. Richard had to work and couldn't attend. The group couldn't really play their favorite Rolemaster game when a player was absent. That would be like trying to read a novel with one of the main characters omitted. Mike sent texts to everyone in- forming them of Richard's absence and offering the usual alterna- tive: They could play a different game or they could watch a movie or two. After a text conversation among the players, they decided to show up at Mike's to enjoy whichever option was chosen.
Russ was going, and he and his wife, Betsy, texted each other several times that day to formalize their separate plans for the evening. Betsy had spent the night before at her mother's apartment and was going to the Siteman Cancer Center in nearby St. Peters at 1:30 p.m. for her regular chemotherapy session to battle the aggressive breast cancer that had spread to her liver. After that, she would go back to her mother's apartment for the evening. Russ planned a five-minute detour from his regular route home from game night to pick her up and take her home to Troy, twenty-five miles away. Their text con- versations couldn't have been more normal for a modern couple, complete with abbreviations, typos, and careless punctuation.
Betsy, 10:35 a.m.: U were supposed to get dog food. Tonight. Russ, I 0:4 I a.m.: Ya I will get it when I come in.
Betsy, I 0:4 I a.m.: U got game tonight!
Russ, 1 2: 12 p.m.: Ya goin to game then will come get you. Will call when on way should not be too late
Betsy, 12: 13 p.m.: Ok great honey.
A few hours later, she texted a change in plans:
Betsy, 3:46 p.m.: I got tp [toilet paper] and pam hupp wants to bring me home to bed. I need rest. wbc [white blood cell count] is low but got infusion [chemotherapy] anyway.
Russ, 3:47 p.m.: So you coming home here
Betsy, 3:48 p.m.: yes troy
Russ, 3:49 p.m.: She is bri.ging [sic] you
Betsy, 3:52 p.m.: Yes she offered and i accepted. Russ, 3:57 p.m.: Ok see you soon then
Betsy, 3:57 p.m.: Ok great
Russ spent a normal day in his home office in the bare concrete of his unfinished basement working in information technology for En- terprise Leasing. He knocked off at five o'clock and started the twenty-five-mile trip southeast to game night in the early-evening darkness and late December cold. Betsy called his cell phone shortly after 5 p.m. to remind him that she was getting a ride home from Pam Hupp. And she added that she had some news to share with him at home later.
“Good or bad?” Russ had asked his ill wife with a touch of trepi- dation.
“It's good,” Betsy replied, “don't worry.” It was the last time he would speak to her.
He made one more call while driving to game night to let his mother know he wouldn't make the usual Tuesday family dinner at her house because he needed to run some errands on the way to game night.
Russ's red 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser hadn't been running well, so he left it in the garage and took the blue 1999 Ford Explorer parked in the driveway next to the silver 2006 Nissan Maxima that Betsy had been driving lately. He backed the Explorer out of the driveway of the ranch house on the corner of Sumac Drive and Osage Avenue and two short blocks later turned east out of the small Waterbrooke Estates Subdivision onto rural Highway H. He cut quickly through a patch of rolling farmland to reach Route 47 in Troy, a busy road lined with fast-food restaurants and strips of stores and offices. He stopped at the Conoco service station to pump a few gallons into the gas-hog Explorer. After that, he made a quick turn south onto Mis- souri Highway 61, four divided lanes that connect the chain of small towns between Russ's house in Troy and Mike Corbin's mobile home in O'Fallon.
Russ stopped at a U-Gas station in Wentzville to buy a carton of cigarettes at the best price he had found anywhere. He stopped again at Greene's Country Store in Lake St. Louis and—as he promised Betsy—picked up a big bag of dog food for Sicily, their chestnut- brown chow/golden retriever mix. Then he made a final stop at the QuikTrip, or QT, station in O'Fallon to pick up two bottles of his fa- vorite Brisk iced tea. And even after all of that, he still walked through Mike's front door in the Rolling Meadows mobile home park at six o'clock—right on time.
Mike had just started playing a DVD of what everyone would re- member as the latest Conan the Barbarian movie—probably Conan the Destroyer. There were a few quick “How was your Christmas?” exchanges among Mike, Angelia—known as Ange—Brandon, Mar- shall, and Russ, but everyone quickly settled in to watch the action on TV. When Conan had completed his path of destruction, Mike popped in another DVD of The Road, one of those postapocalyptic downers that soon bored the audience. About halfway down the road, everyone decided to call it a night. They said their good-byes and departed at nine o'clock into what was a light snow.
Hungry from skipping dinner, Russ drove only a few minutes be- fore pulling into the drive-through at an Arby's Restaurant in Lake St. Louis to pick up two sandwiches he ate while drinking one of the bottles of iced tea on the drive home. His call to Betsy to let her know he was on his way went unanswered. That wasn't unusual; drained from chemotherapy, she could well be asleep already. He parked in the driveway, at what he calculated was close to 9:45 p.m., hoisted the bag of dog food over his right shoulder, and went in through the unlocked front door to the small foyer with the base- ment stairs on the left, the living room that opened off to the right, and the dining room and the kitchen beyond that. He dropped the dog food against the door into the garage on the left, peeled off his black Harley-Davidson leather jacket, and dropped it on the chair on the right at the entrance to the living room. He called for Betsy as he glanced into the living room still strewn with opened Christmas pre- sents and cheery holiday decorations.
And his world exploded.
Betsy was sprawled in a contorted pose on the floor in front of the sofa with a pool of dark red, almost black, blood staining the beige carpeting under her head. As he ran to her, Russ screamed, “Betsy! Betsy!”
Betsy—a stocky five-four and 160 pounds—was lying on her right side, with the front of her body twisted downward until her left shoulder almost touched the floor. A pink flowered comforter was wrinkled underneath her. She wore a black T-shirt, blue workout pants, with orange-and-white stripes down the side of the legs, and green-and-white below-the-ankle socks. She was dressed as Russ remembered when he last saw her, and as he was used to seeing her when they relaxed at home or she visited family. Her arms were crossed in front of her and bent up at the elbows so that her hands were close to her face. As Russ dropped to the floor in front of her, he could see her face was covered in dark blood, which also was matted in her dark brown hair. There was a deep and gruesome gash across the inside of her upturned right forearm near her wrist. And then he saw it—the black handle of what appeared to be a kitchen steak knife protruding horribly from the left side of Betsy's neck, just below the jawline and above a grisly slash across her neck. There was dark, crusting blood everywhere around her head.
“Betsy! Betsy! No!” Russ heard himself screaming, over and over, as he collapsed flat on the floor near her blood-covered face. Her eyes were closed and he could see her tongue protruding be- tween her lips. It hit him like a lightning bolt. She was already dead and gone. There was nothing he could do.
As he looked at the awful gash down to tendon and bone near her right wrist, his mind told him through the shock that she must have committed suicide. She had threatened it before—more than once. She was even hospitalized once after telling a police officer on a traffic stop that she wanted a gun to kill herself. And she once pulled a knife during an argument with Russ and threatened to harm her- self. With the recent diagnosis of terminal cancer, the debilitating chemotherapy, and the constant struggle with depression, Russ's spinning mind told him she must have finally reached her breaking point.
He started to cradle her in his arms, but realized that touching anything—even the woman he loved—could create problems for the police when they tried to determine what happened. He forced himself up from the floor and started to dial 911 on his cell phone, but remembered that a 911 call should be made from a landline so police could trace it to an exact address. He staggered into the kitchen to use the phone on the wall. He dialed 911 as he collapsed weakly to the floor, knocking off his yellow baseball cap.
Dispatcher Tammy Vaughn answered at 9:40 p.m. and, after some quick preliminary questions—name, address, phone number—asked, “Russell, what's going on there?”
In a loud and nearly hysterical voice marked by constant, breath- less sobs, Russ said, “I just got home from a friend's house and my wife killed herself! She's on the floor!”
“OK, Russell, I need you to calm down, honey. OK? ... Take a couple of deep breaths. We're going to get someone on the way there, OK? What did she do?”
The sobs continued through a frenzied voice. “She's got a knife in her neck and she's slashed her arms!”
“OK, OK. Calm down, honey. Is she breathing at all?” “No!”
“Russell, how long were you gone today?”
“I left around five. I just got back. She went to her mom's and her friend was bringing her home, so I don't know what time she got home.”
“And you said that she had been depressed lately?” “She's got cancer.”
“Russell, where's the knife now?”
The pain and hysteria in his voice intensified again as the reality of his answer shocked him. “It's in . . it's still in her!”
“It's lying right next to her?”
“No, it's in her neck!” The sobbing continued. “Oh, my God!
Why would she do this to me? Why would she do this?”
“Russell, they are on the way, hon, OK? They'll be there shortly.
Is there anybody else there in the house with you?”
Russ was screaming again. “No, no! There's nobody else here! . .
What am I going to do? ... No, no, no, no, no, no!”
Vaughn continued to apply her training to try to calm the caller. “Russell, take a couple of deep breaths, OK? I don't need you hy- perventilating, OK?”
“My God! What am I going to do?” “What is her name?”
“Her name is Betsy.” “Betsy?”
“Yes! Oh, Betsy, no! Oh, my God, no!”
“Russell, do you think she's beyond help right now?”
His voice grew louder and he was sobbing again. “I think she's dead! Oh, God!”
“OK. Take a couple of deep breaths. If you need to, step outside, OK?”
Russ began to wail again. “No, no, no, no, no! I don't want you to go!”
At 9:49 p.m., while Russ was still on the phone with the dis- patcher, Deputy Chris Hollingsworth from the Lincoln County Sher- iff's Offlce (LCSO) let himself in the front door—the first of a legion of first responders about to descend on the house at 130 Sumac Drive. As soon as he saw Betsy's body, he knew this was not a suicide. This woman had been murdered. He told Russ he should leave the house to avoid contaminating the crime scene. He escorted the unsteady Russ to the front porch and steered him to one of the chairs.
Russ's head was spinning and he couldn't begin to believe what he had just seen. Why would Betsy commit suicide in the midst of her courageous and determined fight against cancer? He felt over- whelmed by grief, confusion, and panic. He wondered if he was going into shock as he began to shiver uncontrollably in the frigid December air in nothing but a T-shirt and jeans. Someone wrapped a white blanket around his shoulders and he instinctively pulled it close. Hollingsworth suggested he would be warmer in the patrol car and Russ eagerly agreed.
He chain-smoked cigarettes and struggled to concentrate as he tried to answer the deputy's questions. He told him about Betsy's cancer, her bouts of depression, the couple's activities that day, and how he had discovered her body. They had last spoken by phone about flve o'clock when she was at her mother's apartment playing a board game. Her friend Pam Hupp was going to drive her home. Betsy said she had something good to talk to him about then.
Hollingsworth asked about the dog barking behind the house and Russ explained that it was unusual for Sicily to be chained up out- side. She usually went out only for a quick potty break and then came right back in. The yard wasn't fenced, so she was on a chain when she was outside.
When sheriff's detectives Mike Merkel and Patrick Hamey ar- rived and took a quick look through the house, they asked Russ to go with them to the sheriff's office to give them as much information as possible and to make a formal statement while the crime scene was being examined for evidence. Russ felt the pain of leaving Betsy crumpled on the living-room floor, but there was nothing he could do for her. She was beyond his help and his reach. He shivered under the blanket as the detectives drove him to the sheriff's office nearby in Troy.
Russ kept wondering how any of this could be real. Betsy could not be gone from him—not now and not like this. He had been preparing to lose her to cancer at some time in the not-too-distant fu- ture, but he couldn't accept her bloody death in their living room amid the Christmas decorations. None of it made sense. How could he be riding in a police car with detectives while Betsy lay dead at home? How could she have committed suicide now?
Bosworth Jr. is a New York Times and Amazon
bestselling author of six true-crime books, with millions of books in
print, as ebooks, and audiobooks. He wrote about crime and the courts
in twenty-seven years as a daily newspaper reporter, including twenty
years with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He also has
reported for the New York Times and the Chicago
Tribune. He lives in Southwestern Illinois in the metro St. Louis
Joel J. Schwartz earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law and has spent thirty years as a criminal defense lawyer in the St. Louis region as a principal in Rosenblum, Schwartz & Fry.. He has been selected to the annual Super Lawyers list, is a member of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers for the American Trial Lawyers Association, and is a lifetime member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He has appeared on Dateline NBC, 60 Minutes, CBS Morning News, CNN, Fox News and numerous local news affiliates.
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