Kentucky Pediatrician Indicted In Murder-For-Hire Of Ex-Husband
A Kentucky pediatrician will stand trial over the attempted assassination of her ex-husband after a bitter custody battle over the couple's children.
Stephanie Russell, 52, was charged with the murder of her ex-husband Rick Crabtree last week, according to court documents obtained by Oxgyen.com. She pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
Investigators first uncovered the alleged contract killing in November 2019 after Russell allegedly falsely accused her ex-spouse of molesting their children to the Louisville Metro Police Department. Crabtree, being questioned by detectives, eventually laid out his former wife's long-standing plan to have him murdered.
"During that interview, Crabtree said he believes Russell tried to hire an assassin to kill him in order to gain full custody of their two children," the case's complaint, obtained by Oxygen.com, reads.
Crabtree's attorney produced an affidavit from the couple's former nanny, in which she claimed Russell had approached her several times and alluded to "getting rid of Crabtree."
Initially, the nanny told police that Russell was probably joking, but the pediatrician's comments became increasingly sinister, court documents say. Russell later allegedly asked the nanny if she knew "really bad people" who could get rid of her ex-spouse and went into additional details regarding Crabtree's planned murder, discussing preferred times and places.
The Louisville Police Department gave the FBI a lead on the alleged assassination plot, but the agency was unable to provide additional evidence of the alleged assassination scheme despite a series of interviews. Police also found no evidence of the child molestation lawsuit Russell filed against her ex-husband.
As part of the couple's divorce, Crabtree was granted custody of the couple's two children. Russell was allotted only two days of supervised visits per week.
In March, the FBI reopened its investigation into Crabtree's alleged assassination plot after a private investigator provided Louisville investigators with new evidence implicating the Kentucky pediatrician in a hit-and-run conspiracy.
According to indictment documents, the private investigator was brought into the alleged contract killing by a witness who worked with Russell at her pediatric practice, Kidz R Life Pediatrics in Prospect, Kentucky. The private investigator said they found that Russell had allegedly reached out to associates to track down a hitman sent to kill Crabtree.
The witness reportedly told the FBI that on separate occasions Russell tried to approach two nurses at the doctor's office and asked for "assistance" in her ex-husband's murder. The worker also shared screenshots of text messages between Russell and an employee, which she said could confirm her claims.
In her messages, Russell allegedly used the code word "Christmas flowers" to cryptically refer to Crabtree's murder.
"In the text messages, Russell discussed hiring someone to deliver 'Christmas flowers,'" the case's complaint reads. "[The witness] pointed out that 'Christmas flowers' was the code for killing Crabtree."
The second witness then told federal agents Russell also asked her for help arranging contract killings and claimed Russell told her her ex-husband sexually abused her children.
Russell bought a "burner phone" to further the conspiracy, investigators claimed in their complaint. Between December 5 and December 28, 2021, the second witness in the case allegedly exchanged a series of text messages with Russell about the possible hiring of "someone from his/her past who could potentially kill Crabtree." The witness told investigators that she told Russell the person in question would ask for $4,000 to be paid after the job was completed. Russell reportedly offered an additional $1,000 if the hit could be carried out by December 12, 2021.
"Russell told [the witness] that she wanted Crabtree dead so she could gain full custody of her children," the indictment documents read. "Russell didn't care what method was used to kill her ex-husband."
The witness told investigators that she eventually tried to cut ties with Russell, claiming the "suspected killer died." Russell later asked the witness if she "would pull the trigger herself," the complaint said. She declined and left Russell's employment.
The second witness in the case - after hearing from the first witness that Russell had approached a new associate to arrange the hit - is said to have reconnected with Russell and gave her the number to an undercover FBI agent, posing as a killer. During a recorded phone call with the undercover agent, the agency said Russell disclosed that she wanted her ex's murder to appear as a suicide and urged the federal agent to force her ex to write a suicide note before committing the killing.
"Initially, Russell asked [the undercover FBI agent] to take [Crabtree] hostage and force him to send her a suicide note before he was killed," the indictment documents read. "[The agent] told Russell he/she would not do that task but would send her a suicide note from Russell's phone after [the agent] killed Crabtree." He also asked for $7,000 instead of the original $5,000. Dollar.
Russell allegedly left $3,500 - part payment for the hit - in lab sample drop-off boxes outside her Louisville office, which the undercover agent retrieved.
Russell's legal defense team did not immediately respond to Oxygen.com's request for comment on the open case Tuesday afternoon. A jury trial is scheduled for August 22.
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