Russell Faria

This is a case that made it to my list of cases to search probably quite some time ago.  It was brought back to my attention recently after Dateline did an update episode, and then again in recent days as a sub-portion of this case was settled.  

We all know that when a murder occurs the first people looked at are the last person that saw the person alive, those closest to the victim (spouses and other family members) and the person who finds the victim.  Oftentimes this is all the same person, but obviously not always.  This case falls into the latter category. We all also know that murders are most often not just committed by people the victim knew but so often it is a spouse or significant other or an ex spouse or ex significant other.  So it was no surprise that after Russell Faria found his wife dead in their Troy Missouri home on December 27, 2011 that police looked at his as a person of interest. What is surprising is that there was clear and convincing evidence that someone else was involved instead of Russell and yet not only was that person never looked at as a suspect, she was used to build a better case against Russell.

At 9:40 pm on the night of December 27, 2011 911 operators received a call from Russell Faria.  He had come home to find his wife dead in the kitchen of their home.  Russell could have obviously seen a steak knife protruding from Elizabeth (AKA Betsy) Faria's neck and he assumed she had committed suicide. Why would he think this?  Well a few years prior Betsy had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She had received treatment and went into remission.  However, in the few months prior to this fateful night she had discovered the cancer not only had returned but had spread to her liver and while there was little to no hope, apparently it seems she opted to do chemotherapy to slow the progression.  Doctors still only gave her a few months to live.  In fact, on that fateful day Betsy had a chemo treatment.  The fact of the matter is, Betsy did not commit suicide.  She was murdered.  She had been stabbed over 55 times with her arms nearly severed.  Supporters of Russell's story would say that those stab wound would not have been initially clear as they were through her clothing and was not obvious until she had been examined.

Russell claimed that he had last spoken to his wife when she was at her mother's home after her treatment.  Initially it was planned that he would get her from her mothers and bring her home but Betsy had called to say that her friend Pam Hupp would take her home and Russell could just go on to his "game night" as planned.  Game night was a big deal for Russell and a group of friends. Every Tuesday for several years a group of friends got together to play games or watch movies.  It was consistently scheduled for every Tuesday between 6 and 9 pm.  Investigators talked to Russell's friends and they would confirm that he arrived just at or just before 6 pm and would not leave until between 8:45 and 9 pm.  Investigators were also able to determine that before going to game night Russell had stopped at two gas stations.  Initial rumors were that this was suspicious as if Russell wanted to make sure he was seen on surveillance cameras, some of those rumors have persisted.  He had apparently only gotten gas at one station and at the other bought cigarettes, dog food and tea.  What was significant about the cameras, aside from showing where Russell was at a particular time was that he was wearing the same clothes in which he was wearing when investigators first spoke to him.  Now, some would find it suspicious that Russell had no blood on those clothes at all.  I have to agree with that, but my reasoning is much different than the prosecutor would later claim.  Leah Askey would tell a jury that it was her theory that it was obvious that Russell's friends were lying for him and that he had to have left the game night and go to his home and kill his wife, but that he apparently killed her in the nude in order to get no blood on his clothes.  I find it odd there was no blood on his clothing simply because it indicates he did not go near Betsy before, or after apparently, calling 911.  However, I have heard the 911 call and despite those who believe Russell was faking concern and sorrow on the phone, I do not believe that to be true.  I believe the fact that there was no blood on his clothing says he was not in the home or at least near Betsy when she died.  

Russell was brought to trial for the murder of his wife in 2013.  So, what did they have on him that the prosecutors thought they had enough to try him. Let's look at the "evidence." First they would claim that the shear number of wounds that were inflicted on Betsy, many after her actual death, were a sign of "passion."  You know, that theory they use when a murder seems to be especially brutal or overkill as they say.  Next they had witnesses testifying that Russell and Betsy did not have the best of marriages.  They had previously been separated for a period of about a year but had gotten back together and by most accounts seemed to be getting along.  Then again there was evidence that Russell had been involved in an affair a year before the murder. Then there was blood on slippers in the couple's closet as well as blood on the light switch.  The prosecution would claim that they were Russell's slippers and that it boosted their claim that he had undressed or changed clothes to commit the murder. But, the prosecutions best evidence came from Pam Hupp, Betsy's friend who was the last to see her alive. Pam Hupp told several different stories about the days leading up to the murder as well as the night of the murder and I will go much, much more into her later but the jest of her testimony would be she had simply dropped Betsy off at home just around 7 pm, that she had seen Russell be violent in the past and that Betsy had told her she feared Russell. She would claim to police that Betsy told her Russell would play a "game" with her in which he would begin to smother her with a pillow so she knew what it would feel like to die.  Prosecutors would claim they found a letter written on the Faria's computer from Betsy to Pam Hupp that laid out her fears of Russell and said "If something happens to me, please show police." The letter was never sent.

Next let's look at the defense perspective of what the prosecutor had.  They obviously could not argue the brutality of the crime but there was no evidence that simply because it looked like "a crime of passion" that was in fact what it was.  They still had that evidence that showed Russell wearing the same clothing both before and after he supposedly murdered Betsy, all with no blood. They would also have on their side that investigators stated there was not sign of a clean up anywhere in the house.  Even the water pipes had been checked and there was no blood found in them.  There was no sign anyone had taken a shower recently.  To add to this I could find no evidence that the prosecution would ever claim that Russell had any sort of wounds on him.  It would be unusual for someone to stab someone with a simple steak knife, in the fury the prosecution claims he would have done, and not have some sorts of injuries. But, there was no talk of scratches, bruises, rashes or any other sort of injury to Russell's body.  As far as the affair that was claimed.  It was true he had had an affair apparently back in September of 2010 but the defense would claim and apparently successfully show that the affair was very short lived (apparently only a few weeks) and had ended over a year before Betsy's death. What about the blood on the slippers in the closet and the light switch.  Well it was Betsy's blood.  The problem was that the blood on the slippers were a few oddly placed drops of blood and not splattered as if they were being worn during the murder nor did they appear to have walked through blood or a crime scene.  The blood on the light switch did not contain any fingerprints and it too had an odd pattern as if it had been placed there by a cloth of some sort in a wiping manner. What about that letter on the Faria computer.  Well, the defense was able to point out that it was the only document on the Faria computer that was listed as an "unknown user."  They were also able to determine that the document had been created using Word '97, a program that was not installed on the Faria computer. The basic defense was just as Russell had said, and apparently to this day has never wavered from.  He left his home, went to two different gas stations (seen on surveillance), went to his friends home that was 35 minutes away from his home and was there with 4 other friends until almost 9:00.  At 9:09 he had stopped for food at an Arby's (had the receipt) and went home to find his wife dead in the house.

And once again there was Pam Hupp and her testimony so let's talk about her and what the jury did and did not hear about her.Pam Hupp and Betsy had met several years prior to the murder (I cannot give an exact time other than to say probably decades), when they both worked at an insurance agency.  There are reports that it was a State Farm Insurance company and this is significant later.  Despite Pam's claim that they were such good friends, it seems that few of Betsy's other friends and family really knew her all that well.  Russell claims to have only met her a few times and many friends claim they had never met Pam.  Other friends would claim that in the months leading up to her murder Betsy had made claims that she felt Pam was "smothering" her. But wait, I am getting a bit ahead of myself because the jury did not hear about that, despite being able to hear from Pam the same story about Russell only in a more literal sense.  At any rate, on the day of her murder the friend with Betsy claimed that Pam seemed strangely insistent in taking her home that day after she heard Betsy tell her she had a ride and that Pam had even showed up at the chemotherapy session uninvited.  So, Pam told investigators that she took Betsy home around 7 pm or just after.  She told them that she called Betsy when she got home but she did not receive an answer.  She seemed to be pretty straight forward about how she felt about Russell and made quite  few statements that Betsy feared Russell.  In fact she quickly told investigators that just three or four days before her murder she and Betsy had gone to a library where they got the forms to change a life insurance policy had for $150,000 making Pam the beneficiary.  Pam had two daughters from a previous marriage and in Pam's first interview with police she said that Betsy made this move so that her girls would get the money and not Russell. State Farm would receive this paperwork in the mail two days after Betsy's death and approve the change.  As far as the "game" she claimed Betsy said Russell played with her involving a pillow, Pam is the only one to claim to have ever heard anything about this.  Betsy's daughters would say Russell had a temper and friends would claim things were not always great between them but nothing like the things that Pam Hupp would claim.  Over the next few years her changing of stories and her claims would become what some believed to be over the top  But for the trial in 2013, we will stop here.

When they went to trial, the defense obviously wanted to bring up Pam Hupp. Although investigators never fully checked into things with her, the few things they, and now the defense knew made her a prime second suspect.  The judge denied their request..... so what did the jury NOT hear about when it came to Pam Hupp? Well the jury did not get to hear about the insurance policy at all. They did not get to hear that just before the trial Pam had had yet another interview in which she was advised by the investigator to open a trust for Betsy's girls for that money so she "did not look bad."  She did in fact open a trust just after the trial started (she revoked that trust and emptied it out a month later).  Remember that Betsy had died in December of 2011 and the trial did not begin until November of 2013 and Betsy's children had seen none of the money.  By this time Pam had been changing her story again as to if Betsy wanted her or the girls to have it.  She would later say that the investigators pressured her into saying Betsy wanted the girls to have it but in reality Betsy wanted her to have it.  Friends were ready to testify they did not believe this.  In fact, one friend would claim that Betsy had asked her and her husband to be beneficiaries but not because she necessarily was scared of Russell (there was still another that he would get) but she worried that the money would be needlessly spent and she wanted her girls to be secure.  The jury also did not get to hear that neither Pam's car or home were searched after the murder. They did not hear that when investigators asked for the clothes she wore the night Betsy died it took her two days to get them to the officers and no one could verify if those actually were the same clothing.  They also did not get to hear that although Pam said she had dropped Betsy off around 7 ("or a little after"), her story as to what she did or where Betsy was when she left kept changing.  In some versions she just simply dropped her off at the door. In others she stated she went inside and when she left Betsy was on the couch, in yet another Betsy was at the doorway seeing her off after she had gone inside.  Jurors also did not get to hear that Pam lived some 30 minutes away but when phone records show Pam called Betsy's phone about 7:25 to supposedly tell her that she was home her phone pinged on a tower near Betsy's house, not one near her own house.  In essence, anything that may have made Pam look like an alternative suspect in any way was not allowed into the trial.  

As we know it is the State that must proof guilt.  This is why at the end of a trial, in closing arguments, the State gets to talk first, then the defense and then the State again.  So whatever a prosecutor says in their second part of closing cannot be addressed aside from objections for attorneys, which were done here but over ruled and the prosecutor was allowed to continue.  The prosecutor, Leah Askey would take this opportunity to not just give out their theory but apparently it seems just make things up that did not go with the evidence.  She would claim that of course Russell was guilty and that his four friends, who all testified that he never left the house were lying and it was probable that they were all in on the planning of killing Betsy and that it had been going on for month.  She would claim that Russell not only left the home, but possibly left with one of the other friends to commit the murder but that his phone was left at the home so that it would seem as if it never left.  She then accused one of the friends of going to the Arby's and getting the receipt for food to make it look good for his alibi.  There are so many problems with this.  First, there was simply no evidence that this occurred.  But, as much as she accused his friends of helping him and all but participating not once had she ever indicated or attempted to arrest any of the said friends that she was now claiming were accomplices.  

The jurors, for their part could only go with what the courts allowed them to know before making a decision.  They would later say that they believed the prosecutor that the four friends' stories seemed to be rehearsed in some way as they were all so similar.  Many would argue later that when the truth is the truth stories of what happened should be similar.  In the end, although at least a few had a few reservations they would find Russell Faria guilty of the murder of his wife and ultimately he was sentenced to prison for life, without the possibility of parole.

Now, as you know a case never ends at a trial but the next step was the appeals process.  What was a bit different about this case was Russell's lawyers file for an appeal, they filed to have a new trial saying that the one that had been given was unfair. In fact, a few of the jurors had even spoken out by this time, some of them angry, that they had learned of all the information they had not been allowed to hear at the trial.  As one said we are told in court you are to hear "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" and they were finding out differently.  Many felt that all of the questionable information with Pam Hupp was something they definitely had the right to know about.  In early 2015 the case was sent back to the trial judge, Judge Mennemeyer who without complete explanation cited a conflict of interest and reclused herself from the case ordering a new judge to review.  Another interesting thing that had come to light between the trial and this time was the fact of rumors that the prosecutor, Leah Askey and the lead detective on the case, Michael Long were having an affair.  A local newspaper had done an in depth investigation into it and discovered that the rumors were not just likely rumors and that they had in fact had been having an affair at the time of the investigation and it did not seem to be one of those short ones that Russell Faria had that they used against him. At any rate the new judge on the case ordered a new trial partly based on the fact that the defense had not been allowed to tell the jury that Pam Hupp should have been an alternative suspect.

That trial took place in November of 2015 and was a bench trial (where only the judge decides).  Pam Hupp was listed as a witness for both the prosecution and the defense.  This happens sometimes when a defense attorney is concerned that the prosecution will not call someone they think is relevant.  These lists are also made far in advance and not everyone who is on those lists actually testifies.  In this case neither side ended up calling Pam Hupp... but why?  Well, the prosecution likely did not because they knew the defense was ready to pounce on her and per usual she had changed her story... AGAIN.  Just a few months before trial Pam was now claiming that she and Betsy had been lovers for several years (something everyone else denies was even possible) and that Russell had found out shortly before Betsy's murder and had threatened to kill both of them.  She was now also claiming that as she left Betsy's house she had seen Russell outside the home with another man.  And her third claim involved her cell phone usage.  She was now claiming that she left Betsy's home but that she went just down the street and tried to call her (this was the 7:25 phone call) and that Betsy did not answer so instead of continuing on her way, or even going back she had sat and waited for 10-15 minutes to see if Betsy called her back.  Yeah, defense attorney's would have chewed her up and spit her out had she testified.  And reality of it was, in the end the defense did not need her anyway to get a lot of the information into the court record anyway, they had officers to testify about her interviews. 

When all of the evidence was in it was time for the judge to deliberate.  When he announced his verdict he was very critical of the investigators, the prosecutors and even it seems the previous judge.  Then again the state appeals court had been critical of Judge Mennemeyer over the last year.  In fact in April of 2014 they had overturned three cases she had presided over (this did not include Russell Faria's case).  Experts would say that for the appeals court to overturn one case a month was unusual, let alone three in one month, and all from the same judge.  I could find nothing more on Judge Mennemeyer and if anything else came of her position.  I can only assume she is still a sitting judge in Lincoln County, Missouri.  At any rate the new judge found Russell Faria not guilty and he was set free.

But again ... this case was far from over.  Of course after the verdict the defense was happy and the prosecution claimed the judge had been wrong... but that is normal.  And, although Pam Hupp had been at the courthouse through the second trial, waiting to see if she would be called as a witness, her courthouse days were not necessarily over, although she has never been charged with the murder of Betsy Faria and the odds of that happening now are slim considering the investigation focused so much on Russell.  But yes, she would be back in court in January of 2016.  Betsy Faria's daughters had filed a civil suit against Pam Hupp as they had never received a dime of the insurance money that Pam Hupp told investigators she was to give the girls per Betsy's request.  The outcome of that suit was just announced a few days ago which is what prompted me to sit and do this case today.  The jest of it is that while they cannot prove that in fact it was Betsy and Pam at the library signing forms on the insurance (no cameras, no ID's were asked for by the witness) they cannot prove that it was not Betsy.  That being said there was no proof what Betsy wanted Pam to do with the money.  Of course Pam told investigators that Betsy wanted the girls to have it but she later said they pressured her to say so.  She would claim that just before Russell's second trial she met with prosecutor Askey and had a "bag of money" that she would claim was the insurance proceeds.  Apparently Askey testified she saw the bag with money but had no idea how much for sure was in it.  By November when Russell's trial started Pam claims she spent the money buying a house and so by January she no longer had the money.  In the end the judge ruled he could not force Pam Hupp to give the girl's any money as there was no proof Betsy did not want her to have it and so she had the right to keep the $150,000.  I get the distinct impression though that seeing as he told her that his ruling did not prevent her from giving them money that even the judge may have been torn with the moral and legal side of things.  And yet then again it makes me wonder because the daughters were ordered to pay $2,500 in attorney fees... presumably Hupp's.  

One thing that came up that technically had no bearing on Russell Faria's case but is interesting when it comes to Pam Hupp is that in October of 2013, almost two years after Betsy was murdered, her mother, who was in her 80's fell fro her third floor apartment balcony and died.  There we no witnesses.  Some claims are that Pam Hupp received an insurance payout of over $500,000 and in February of 2015 filed a suit against the retirement home, the general contractor and others.  I could find not more information on this other than it was looked into but once again it seems that Pam Hupp cashed in.  

No one else has ever been charged in the death of Betsy Faria, including any of her husband's friends.  One would claim that just prior to his second trial the prosecutor offered him immunity and his answer was "from what?"  It seems that this case will end as so many that have ended in no guilty verdicts will... the DA considers the case closed despite a legal finding.  Apparently Betsy's family believe in the prosecutor and believe Russell in fact did kill his wife, despite there absolutely no evidence to this.  Then again there is no evidence against anyone in this case, not even Pam Hupp other than her changing stories and lies (Russell did not even have this).  This is what happens when investigators do not fully do their job and look at everyone they should instead of using tunnel vision and only looking at what fits their theory.  In the end they could not prove their theory nor did they look to prove another.

****Updated November 19, 2016****

So today I turned on my television to of course watch some crime shows that I had on my DVR.  First up was the latest episode of Dateline that aired just last night.  There was an update on this story... a very interesting update indeed.

On August 16, 2016 a 9-1-1 call was received.  The caller was Pam Hupp.  She stated that a man was attempting to break into her home and by all accounts claimed he was continuing towards her and she shot him in her home.

Pam would tell the police that she had pulled into her driveway and this man, now identified as Louis Gumpenberger, had gotten into her SUV, put a knife to her neck and was insisting that she drive to the bank and "get Russ his money." "Russ" of course she knew was in reference to Russell Faria.  In fact, investigators found a note inside Louis' pants that seemed to reference Russell and indicated there was a plan to kidnap Pam, get money and then murder her. Of course the investigators wanted to talk to Russell.  But soon things did not seem to be making sense to investigators.  

First, Louis also had $900 in his pocket in 100 dollar bills.  A remaining bill was on a dresser in Pam's room.  Investigators now say that the bill on the dresser coincided with some serial numbers to at least four of the bills in Louis' pocket. Coincidence?  Maybe.  But, there's more.

Apparently after the crime hit the news investigators were contacted by a woman who had said sometime prior to this a woman had come to her home claiming to be a Dateline reporter from Chicago.  According to the woman, the lady stated that Dateline was doing a segment on recreating 9-1-1 calls and offered her $1,000 to do a "sound bite."  The woman would say that after the strange lady, with the even stranger offer could not produce any proof she worked for Dateline she had backed out.  The woman had camera on her home and while it does not seem to have capture the woman who had come to the home, it did capture the woman's vehicle, including her license plates.  Those plates would be traced back to Pam Hupp.

Investigators then looked into Pam's phone and found that just a few hours before Louis Gumpenberger was murdered inside Pam's home, her cell phone was pinging off a tower near his home.  For his part Louis Gumpenberger was said to be disabled.  Some years before he had been involved in a drunk driving accident that had left him brain damaged.  It is, at least at this point, theorized that Pam Hupp approached Louis with the same offer she had given to the other woman and in need for money Louis agreed.  

Soon Pam Hupp was arrested and charged with first degree murder and is in jail at this time, at least as far as I can tell.  Investigators announced all this information at a press conference and stated they believe this was done all in attempts to "take the heat" off of her in the Betsy Faria murder case that has apparently been taken under review.  It was also said that the investigation into the death of her mother is also being looked at again, but of course she has not been charged in either of those deaths.

So the plot thickens.... 

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