Caren Taylor Pressley-Brown
I know that I have said before that "this one is a bit different" but this one really is. Like many of the others I caught a television show on this case (by the looks of my research it was likely the show Snapped) and it made it to my list to research. The problem I came across while doing the research is that I did not find a lot of the information that I remember from the show, and really very little total for that matter. So I am kind of hoping that someone will read this and comment and fill in some of the blanks.
In August of 2008 the community in and around Richmond Virginia were taken by surprise when a local woman was arrested for attempting to hire someone to murder her ex-boyfriend and his wife. Caren Pressley-Brown had ran a local insurance agency up until the past year. She had also served on the county's Chamber of Commerce Board of Director; she was a huge volunteer when it came to great causes. Yet here she was sitting in jail for solicitation of murder. What went wrong and how did she get to this point? Many of those close to Caren later said that while part of them was surprised that it had come as far as it did, they also admitted that they kind of saw it coming as her behavior had been on a downward spiral since she lost custody of her son in 2005.
The following is what my research uncovered. Caren had dated a man by the name of Steven Crosby in the 1990's. Sometime near the end of that decade they decided to go their separate ways but Caren did not tell Steve that she was pregnant. She gave birth to a little boy. Several years later Steve became aware of the child. At some point he filed for visitation. Then in 2005 Steve received sole custody of the child. Over the next few years friends say Caren went into a downward spiral. Most reports will say that she founded a non-profit organization called Children Without a Voice. The group was a support group of some sort that advocated on behalf of woman who had lost custody, especially those who lost it to abusive spouses. I found conflicting information on this however because it seems that by 2009 as Caren's case was moving through the courts that the organization was not really either functioning, or she had not been involved for some time prior to her arrest. I may be mistaken in this information however as it appeared rather confusing in how it was described.
Then, in 2008 she was talking with a friend who was also a mother who had lost custody of her child and was reportedly discussing having both of their children's father's killed. The friend contacted police saying she wanted no part of this and thought Caren was very serious in this endeavor. The police asked for the friend to help in setting up a sting in which an undercover officer would pose as a "hit man" and meet with Caren. The sting was set up and was videotaped. Caren gave the supposed hit man a $2,000 down payment for the hit on a Friday and promised $2,000 more after the deed was done. She asked that it be carried out by that Sunday. She wanted both Steve Crosby and his wife killed. She provided the man with pictures of Steven and his wife, as well as a map to their home. Just after the undercover cop left authorities moved in and arrested Caren. According to Virginia law, when a murder for hire occurs, whether it was successful or not, it becomes capital murder, so Caren was charged with 2 counts of attempted capital murder and 2 counts of solicitation for capital murder. By March of 2009 she had made a deal with prosecutors. They agreed to drop the charges of solicitation and she pleaded guilty to the two counts of attempted capital murder. In July 2009 the judge accepted the plea. He technically sentenced her to 40 years in prison but he then suspended 32 of those, leaving her with 8 years to serve.
Now, as I said in the very beginning I saw this case on a television show and wanted to research more about it. The problem is that there really seemed to be less available as far as news articles or anything else than the show had portrayed. As I have said many times I do not like to rely solely on those programs as they are often slanted.We live in a world where sensationalism sells and that happens all too often when it comes to the telling of crimes. However, with that said... the following are things that I can recall from the program(s) that may fill in a few of the blanks. I do want to stress though where the information came from and I cannot completely ensure it's accuracy. This is why this case is unique for me. First, I would like to know if the information that I pertained earlier is purely accurate (not guesses or feelings) and secondly, I am sure there are lots of blanks to fill in. While the above information does not seem all that "over the top" as we are used to, what I "knew" coming into this story was much more interesting.
As I recall it was stated that when Caren's son was approximately 3 or 4 years old he began asking about his father. Caren had never told Steven about their son and had raised him alone and by most accounts as I recall she was a good mother. Reports were that she felt bad for her son, who was at that curious age and saw friends with their fathers. It was at this point in which she approached Steven. At that time he was dating the woman who would later become his wife. DNA tests were done (as I recall) to determine for sure that this was in fact his son. I want to say that Caren did not file for child support as she had no desire or need but that Steven had filed for visitation. By all accounts it seems that Caren expected to walk up to Steven, let him know he had a son, let the son know he had a father and simply walk away. To her surprise Steven had taken more action than that and wanted an active role in his son's life. In my research the news articles would basically say that the court records as far as what happened between the two were sealed and not available. This could have been very true at the time of her arrest and court proceedings, but then again, not knowing these answers also gave the press a little more to a) speculate on and b) make it seem, without knowing the details, that the courts had ruled in the best interest of her child and had taken him from her and given Steven custody as she was a bad mother. It allows the reader to think the worse of Caren. Now, this is not to say that, again, if accurate, the situation was good or that Caren was an angel in her behavior but people lose custody of their children for different reasons and it is really only fair to know the reason before making a judgement. Sometimes someone loses custody just because when two people are fighting for a child someone has to win and someone has to lose. On the surface it seems a bit odd that a mother who had raised her child for several years without the presence of a father, and at that point had never had any issues it seems, that she would lose not just custody but Steven had received sole custody. I want to also point out quickly that the strange part of this case is that Steven never filed for custody, or at least that is the information that I received about this case. As I recall Steven had simply filed for visitation after receiving confirmation that the child was his. Caren however did not like this and fought it tooth and nail. Many say that it was more about her having control of her son and the situation than anything and to allow Steven to be a part of her son's life was allowing him some of that control and she was not having it. Over the next months (or years), Caren began to hinder that visitation in whatever way she could. Some say she just simply did not comply while there were claims that she had filed reports with child protective services claiming that Steven (and/or his wife) were abusing the child. She took him to the doctor, more than once to have these claims verified. Apparently child protective services investigated the situation and said there was no basis for these claims. Also, the court appointed attorney for the child disputed this. So Caren in Steven in were in court again addressing these issues when I recall the judge simply handed custody to Steven. Again, he had not filed and by all accounts just seemed to be a father who wanted to be involved in his child's life. Caren's lawyer of course disputed that the judge even had the right to make such a move and that became a court issue in and of itself. Not only however had the judge surprisingly simply given sole custody to Steven he had also ordered Caren to pay $33,000 to reimburse the state for the attorney appointed to represent her son.
Friends and family claim this is when Caren "lost it." Over the next three years she continued to fight the order but had also started the advocacy group as well as moved on and had re-married. But, she was consumed with this fight for her son. Eventually it seems she felt she had done all that she could through the courts and she decided that if Steven and his wife were no longer in the picture the courts would have no choice but to give her her son back. Delusional? Yes. Desperate? Yes. Is it something that most mothers in her situation would have let cross their minds? Honestly? More than likely. The difference here is that she took it to another level. Now, I want to add here that one report that I found in my research stated that she attempted to have four people killed. I am assuming this came from the videotape with the undercover officer. Caren had given the undercover cop the pictures of Steven and his wife and had stated that she wanted them killed and then their house burned (I can only presume that she knew her son would not be in the home). Whether the undercover cop knew Steven and his wife had two young children or he simply knew enough to ask, I do not know. But, in the videotape Caren does tell him that they have two other children and seemed to be very indifferent not only that they would lose their parents but if they were hurt in any way. Truthfully I am surprised that my research did not find more on this area seeing as this is part of the sensationalism that newspapers and television shows thrive on.
To be fair I want to also point out before ending that the woman who had contacted the police in the first place has been under fire. As I stated above she was also a mother who had lost custody of her child to the father, that she claimed was abusive. She too apparently had been fighting this and had blamed the courts for their ruling. She had also allowed the sting to take place at her home. There are reports that she may not be as she seems. To that I cannot say. What I can say is that I have seen, and heard, of case after case of people going to extremes when it comes to child custody cases. I have seen time and time again where someone claims abuse and when it cannot be proven they "stage" situations and then those situations are found out and instead of giving credence to their claims as they had hoped they make it appear (whether they had or not) they had fabricated it all. When it comes to this case it seems that Caren was the only one claiming that Steven was abusive to her child, or to anyone for that matter. As I recall it was believed that the child was coached by his mother (which I personally have seen the results of) in the situations in which he claimed possible abuse but that for the most part he did not substantiate her claims. This alone is a form of abuse to the child from the mother, if in fact true. Should she have had her child removed? I cannot answer that. What I can say is that by most accounts I do not see that there was really any warning that this could happen. I do not advocate any parent who would do this to their child, or the other parent, if in fact they are simply trying to be a good parent, but sometimes people just need a scare. And maybe if the judge would have indicated that this was something that he/she was even considering things would have changed. Then again, she may have had a "Yeah, right" attitude and continued the behavior. But at least she would have been warned which is something I did not see here.
I would love to hear from people who know more about this case.