I’m sharing this outstanding article which was recently published in St. Louis Magazine by Jeannette Cooperman.
As a wrongful conviction advocate, I followed the Russ Faria case closely. Faria was wrongly convicted and ultimately exonerated for the murder of his wife, Betsy. I wrote an article about the case during the second trial, comparing it to the Brad Cooper case in the way that the court dealt with digital evidence.
Before I share the article, I will preface it by pointing out that police and prosecutors often manufacture cases against people when they don’t have evidence, yet feel pressured to “solve” the case. It happens more often than people realize and through the use of “experts” it has become easy to fool jurors into believing the person must be guilty. They are also rather good at convincing jurors that they can vote guilty simply because the accused “could have” committed the crime. Never mind that there is no evidence linking them to it.
So, in the Russ Faria case, prosecutors did just that — they manufactured a case against an innocent man — Russ Faria, and instead of investigating the woman who was with the victim near the time of the murder, they kept all focus on Faria. Normally, they get away with this type of thing. It is difficult to overturn a conviction. Many will never know how sloppy their case was. But this time, their incompetence and maliciousness was revealed. The alternate suspect in Betsy’s death — Pam Hupp was free and she committed a second murder. She killed her friend, Betsy for insurance money, and she killed Louis Gumpenberger to take the heat off herself after Russ Faria was cleared of the murder charges in an attempt to frame him a second time. This time it didn’t work, and Hupp is now facing the death penalty. Blood is on the hands of police and prosecutors who ignored the obvious alternate suspect and built a weak case against an innocent man, but it’s doubtful they will face any consequences for their role in the death of Gumpenberger. This serves as a good example of how many lives are destroyed by wrongful convictions.
Illustration by Raúl Allén
The 911 operator heard a woman refusing to get into a vehicle and begging for help. Gunshots—loud and staccato—cut through the confusion of noises. A smoke alarm shrilled.
When police arrived, a 33-year-old man lay dead inside an O’Fallon, Missouri, house. The caller said the man had climbed into her SUV, held a knife against her throat, and demanded that she take him to a bank to get “Russ’s money.” Terrified for her life, she said, she’d knocked the knife away, run inside through the garage door, dashed into the master bedroom, and grabbed a .38 Ruger revolver from her nightstand. He came after her like “a madman.”
The 911 caller—a 58-year-old woman named Pamela Hupp—was questioned and released.
Seven days later, she was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Before being booked, she asked to use the restroom and stabbed herself in the neck and wrists with a ballpoint pen.
St. Louisans squinted at their TV screens, trying to fathom this blond woman, her square jaw set hard, her face impassive. This was the same woman who’d testified three years earlier in a murder trial after her friend was stabbed 55 times. The friend’s husband was convicted and later acquitted. In the meantime, Hupp’s mother had died in a suspicious fall from a third-floor balcony.
The only possible motive connecting all three cases was money. Hupp, who’d held several jobs in the insurance industry, was the beneficiary of both her friend’s and mother’s policies. But would somebody really stab a sick friend and shove her own mother off a balcony to get cash she’d receive in a few years anyway, then shoot a perfect stranger just to twist the plot?
“Even Hollywood,” one St. Louisan tweeted, “doesn’t write scripts this convoluted.”
Pamela Neumann Hupp grew up in an orderly Catholic household in Dellwood, the third of four kids, their mother a schoolteacher, their father a union man who worked for decades at Union Electric. Pam rode bikes with her friends, went Christmas caroling, occasionally skipped Sunday school. At Riverview Gardens High School, she was a blond pompommer with a laugh that burst forth like a geyser, no stopping it.
Pam was always ready for fun, friends recall—no moodiness or drama, no talking behind people’s backs. Her grades could’ve been higher, one friend guesses, “but she was boy-crazy.” By senior year, she’d made a real catch: a boy who was soft-spoken and well-liked, a member of the soccer team, golf team, and National Honor Society. They went to their senior prom together. Three months later they “had to get married.”
Pam’s devout mother couldn’t have been pleased about the pregnancy. Pam did the responsible thing, but her friends sensed a wistful resentment: Everybody else was caught up in the whirl of college, while here she was, sitting in a cheap apartment spooning strained beets.
The marriage lasted six years. Soon after her divorce, Pam married Mark Hupp, a quiet, easygoing guy who played minor-league baseball for the Texas Rangers and, when he didn’t get drafted, fell back on carpentry. They gave Pam’s daughter a little brother, and in 1989 moved to Naples, Florida. When they returned in 2001, they settled in O’Fallon, Missouri, and started flipping houses on the side.
Pam also took a clerical job in a State Farm office, and Betsy Faria was the first person she met there. Eleven years younger than Pam, Betsy was warm-hearted and bubbly and scatterbrained, always short of cash but shored up emotionally by dozens of friends who adored her. Even at 32, she looked like a greeting card illustration—round face, curly hair, pink cheeks, bright-blue eyes—and in her part-time gig as a DJ, she could coax anybody onto the dance floor.
Pam liked a party, too, but she was far more self-contained; she struck their boss as mature, logical, steady, and clearly underemployed. “She was the first employee in every morning, and we’d spend 10 or 15 minutes talking,” recalls Mike Boschert, who was new to management and leaned hard on her advice. “She had very good insights, human nature–wise. A positive person, very level-headed—I never saw her mad. She saw a bigger picture. And she was very adept at office politics.”
Still, he says, not everything added up. “She always told me she was involved somewhere like the FBI, something with security clearance, kind of in the past but maybe still. It was like she was just letting it dribble out, and then it was ‘I can’t say anything.’
“There were some weird things that transpired,” Boschert continues. “An employee came in one day and told all of us—which was probably me, Pam, and one other person—that she felt bad about not disclosing that she got insurance money for a new roof and didn’t put one on. Two months later, I received a letter from a guy who bought her house, asking if that was true. He said he’d gotten a letter on my letterhead over my signature. How that happened, I have no clue.”
Employees’ cars were keyed around that time—and so were cars in the Hupps’ neighborhood. Normally safe enough for an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the O’Fallon subdivision was new when the Hupps moved in, and most of the couples were younger, just starting families. For the most part, the Hupps kept to themselves: Mark was quiet but congenial, did some deer hunting, lent a hand to neighbors. Pam could be a bit of a buttinski if a squabble arose between neighbors, but she socialized mainly with family.
Neighbors recall a few odd incidents at the time: a pile of bloody animal bones left in someone’s yard, several mean-spirited anonymous letters. At the time, people shrugged them off. In retrospect, they wonder.
Pam and Betsy lost touch for years, but when Betsy learned she had breast cancer in January 2010, Pam was there to offer support.
Betsy’s dad, Ken Meyer, remembers asking Betsy that summer whether she’d made financial provisions for her daughters. She’d been worrying about her two teenage daughters’ spending the money foolishly, and she was afraid that her husband, too, would “piss it away.”
“She asked me about a month later to come to one of her treatments at the cancer place,” Meyer says, “but when I got there, Pam Hupp was already sitting beside her, so we couldn’t really talk. From then on, Pam Hupp took Betsy to every one of those sessions.”
When it looked like Betsy had beaten the cancer, she and her husband, Russ, planned a “Celebration of Life” cruise for November 2011, inviting close friends and family. That October, Betsy learned that the cancer had spread to her liver. Gamely, she went on the cruise anyway, and Russ arranged one of her dreams: to swim with dolphins.
Pam wasn’t part of the cruise group, but she spent almost every day with Betsy when she returned. On December 22, she went to Betsy’s tennis club to watch her play. The next day, she and Betsy went to the library in WingHaven, where Betsy asked a young librarian to witness her signature on a change-of-beneficiary form.
It removed Russ and made Pam the sole beneficiary.
On Tuesday, December 27, Pam showed up at Betsy’s mother’s apartment in Lake Saint Louis to take Betsy to chemo. “They’re gone already,” Janet Meyer said. Betsy had texted Pam earlier, saying not to bother because her mom’s friend Bobbi Wann, who used to babysit Betsy, was in town: “Bobbi is going, and I want to spend one-on-one time with her.”
Pam would later say she never got the text, although phone records show her response: “Bummer.”
She drove alone to Siteman Cancer Center in St. Peters and sat with Betsy and Bobbi during the treatment. “Betsy was quite surprised when she showed up,” Wann would later recall.
After the treatment, Pam drove home to O’Fallon, had a quick dinner with her husband, and drove back to Lake Saint Louis to drive Betsy home to Troy.
Tuesdays were Russ’ game nights with friends, and he’d planned on picking up Betsy afterward; her mother lived five minutes from his friend’s house. “Going to game and then come get you,” he texted around noon. “Will call when on way. Should not be too late.”
“Okay great, honey,” she replied. But after chemo, she texted, “Pam Hupp wants to bring me home to bed,” adding that her white blood cell count was low and she needed rest. Russ made sure: “She is bringing you?” and Betsy replied, “Yes, she offered and I accepted. Didn’t get much sleep. Mom snored.”
Pam later said it was Betsy who asked for a ride. In any event, Pam showed up at Janet’s apartment again and sat there patiently while Betsy, Bobbi, and Janet finished playing Upwords. When Betsy was ready, they set out for Troy. And when they pulled into her driveway, Pam called her husband and put Betsy on the phone. “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” Betsy sang out, bubbly as ever.
Tuesday nights after work, Russ often had dinner with his mom, and he nearly always hung out at a buddy’s house with five other friends. They’d play Rolemaster or maybe Talisman; role-playing games, they’d found, were cheap entertainment.
A sturdily built, plainspoken guy, Russ has a face that can look either genial or tough, and his dark hair’s thinning under his trademark fedora. Life was not a neurotic tangle of nuance for him: He liked to fish and ride motorcycles, and his emotional anchors were his mother and—when their marriage was going well, and maybe even when it wasn’t—Betsy. After she’d urged him back to school, he’d landed an IT job with Enterprise Holdings.
On Tuesday, December 27, Russ worked from home until 5 p.m. He called Betsy, got gas at the Conoco in Troy, and called his mom at 5:22 to say he wouldn’t have time to swing by for dinner. He’d promised Betsy that he would pick up dog food, and he was out of cigarettes…
At 5:56, he stopped at a convenience mart in Lake Saint Louis and bought two bottles of Snapple. Russ and his friends met at Mike Corbin’s house around 6 p.m. Because one of the guys couldn’t make it, they didn’t have enough players for Rolemaster, so they watched movies—the new Conan the Barbarian and part of The Road, which they all agreed was boring—and smoked a little pot. About 9 p.m., Russ and two other friends left. He says he stopped at an Arby’s for two junior cheddar melts and ate as he drove the 24.6 miles back to Troy.
He walked inside the house, let the bag of kibble slide to the floor, took off his jacket, and stepped into the living room.
Betsy was lying on the floor. He later said his first split-second thought was that she was feeling sick, but as he knelt next to her, his brain registered the blood matting her hair and pooled around her neck. Her wrists were slashed open, and the black handle of one of their kitchen knives was sticking out of her throat. Had she killed herself? She’d tried before, by cutting her wrists. And with the latest news, the cancer spreading…
He stumbled to his feet and called 911.
First responders found a body that was cold and stiff, the blood coagulated on her scalp, dried hard on her wrists, still wet in the deeper pools. A fire captain and an EMS supervisor both concluded that Betsy had died more than an hour earlier.
Her wrists weren’t just slashed; the knife had been driven all the way to the bone. It had sliced into her skull, plunged into her left eye, and lacerated her throat, bursting the right carotid artery.
Russ had told the 911 operator, “My wife killed herself,” an assumption that struck the first responders as ludicrous. Most of the stab wounds, though, were hidden by her clothes. There were deep punctures in her abdomen; perforations in her lungs, liver, and spleen. All told, she’d been stabbed 55 times.
Russ Faria’s bloodstained slippers were one of the exhibits used at trial.
The house was a mess, with crusty saucepans in the sink and shopping bags, snowmen, and Santas scattered around the bloody corpse. A search turned up Russ’ slippers—tan suede scuffs—thrown atop a pile toward the back of his closet. Blood stained the top of one shoe’s right toe area, splotched the right side, and ran along one side of the other scuff.
The first officer on the scene, Lincoln County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Hollingsworth, noted that Russ was visibly upset but “had limited tears coming from his eyes.” He “appeared to be in a state of panic, having difficulty talking and breathing.” On the 911 call, he’d moaned, “No, no, no, no,” and then, “My God, oh my God, God, oh my God.” But as the operator told him to calm down and get his wife’s medicines, his voice steadied, and he seemed to be moving around the house. When Hollingsworth sat with him in the police car and tried to distract him with talk of the neighborhood where they both grew up, he chatted normally for a while, even laughed. This struck police as suspicious.
Whenever Russ was left alone to think, reality flooded back, and his emotions surged “over the top,” as one officer put it. This, too, struck police as suspicious. One detective asked why he hadn’t embraced his wife (who was lifeless, her tongue hanging out and a knife sticking out of her throat). At the station, when he was waiting by himself in the interview room, a pinhole camera recorded him whispering “No,” saying “Betsy,” sobbing, and praying. But during 10 hours of interrogation, he held himself together, repeating again and again, “I wasn’t there. I didn’t kill her.”
The next afternoon, he was driven to the Lake Saint Louis police station to take a polygraph.
He’d failed, the detectives told him afterward, their tone hardening into accusation.
“I found her like that when I got home,” he repeated, his voice dulled by exhaustion. “I walked in the door and found her.”
A detective shook his head. “You killed your wife.”
By now they’d talked to Pam. Betsy had made no secret of her longing to move back to Lake Saint Louis, closer to chemo and tennis and her friends. She’d hatched a plan for herself and Russ to move into her mother’s old house. Pam had told detectives that Betsy was going to test the idea on Russ that evening—and knew he’d be furious. Pam said she felt guilty about leaving Betsy to face her husband alone, because he had a violent temper.
Between what police saw as the dark fantasies of a role-playing game, the rocky history of the Farias’ marriage, Russ’ alternating calm and hysteria, and Pam’s account of his cruelty and greed, the case looked closed.
On January 4, Russell Faria was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action.
Photo by Kevin A. Roberts
Two days after Russ was arrested, stltoday.com headlined the story “Marital problems led to stabbing death of Lincoln County woman.” The lead reported that Betsy Faria feared her husband, and “a friend” was liberally quoted saying Betsy had become increasingly uncomfortable with her husband and was thinking of leaving him.
Pam, meanwhile, was cooperating fully with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, offering DNA, fingerprints, even the time of her trash pickup. When detectives arrived early on the morning of December 28 to break the news, she had just stepped out of the shower. She told them she’d dropped off Betsy in Troy around 7 p.m., then driven home, watched TV with her husband, showered, and gone to bed. She routinely showered both morning and evening, she explained—“I don’t like messing around with somebody who’s been sweaty from all day.”
Pam emphasized how creepy Betsy’s house had looked the night before, dark but with the doors unlocked, and how she’d thought Russ was home early, because a silver Nissan Maxima was in the drive. She focused hard on that silver Nissan, at one point even accidentally blurting, “a silver Nissan Maxima” when police asked what she was driving that night.
She also emphasized how odd it was that Betsy didn’t have her keys. She said Russ had told Betsy not to bring her purse to chemo, which was strange because Betsy lived out of her purse.
First Pam said she didn’t go inside. Then she said she “just went in, turned on hall light.” Then she said she went all the way back to the bedroom, because Betsy wanted to show her the jewelry cabinet that Russ had given her for Christmas. Pam said when she left, Betsy was snug on the couch, with a blanket around her. Later Pam said, “She may have still been on the couch, but today it makes sense that she walked me to the door.”
Pam called Betsy “to tell her I was home,” she initially told police. Then she corrected herself and said “almost home.” In court, she would testify that she’d called when she got to the highway interchange, because that meant she was “home free”; she knew the way from there. When cell phone records showed that she called at 7:27 p.m. and was still in Troy, she said she’d reached a fork in the road and pulled over so she could make the call.
Pam said she waited, but Betsy didn’t answer or call back. When Pam reached home, she first called her son, who lives in a condo nearby, then texted Betsy and got no reply, then called Betsy’s mother and said she was worried that Betsy was mad at her for not staying. Sure, she knew Betsy got over her flashes of temper as fast as they rose, but she was concerned about Betsy’s mental state—she was supposed to find out the next day whether the chemo was working. Betsy’s mother also tried to call Betsy and got no answer. Pam went to bed.
The detectives jotted this account and left. The next day, they returned to question Mark Hupp, presumably to cross-check Pam’s version—yet allowed her to stay for the interview.
Mark said he’d been home alone on the 27th, and when Pam called to let him know that she’d arrived at Betsy’s, his cell phone was out in his truck. Pam did the rest of the talking, telling the detectives that Betsy had been afraid of Russ; that he was a huge drinker; that he’d given her cloudy Gatorade for a workout and that it had smelled terrible and she’d spat it out; that he was degrading to Betsy and kept talking about how much money he’d get when she died.
Pam said that at the tennis club the previous Thursday, Betsy said she’d written an email to Pam describing how scared she was of Russ, how he’d put a pillow over her face and said that was what it felt like to die. Pam said she’d never received the email, so they tried to print it out but couldn’t connect Pam’s old printer to Betsy’s laptop. Pam urged the police several times to look for that “email,” then swiftly corrected herself to call it a “document.”
Photo by Kevin A. Roberts
Attorney Joel Schwartz
After Russ was charged, his cousin hired Joel Schwartz, a roguish, whip-smart defense attorney she remembered from a stint as a legal secretary.
As Schwartz read through the police reports, he kept stopping, incredulous. Why weren’t they looking at this Pamela Hupp woman? She was the last person to see Betsy alive, and four days earlier she’d been made the sole beneficiary of Betsy’s life insurance policy. Plus she’d given the police multiple versions of every salient detail. And she had no alibi.
Russ, on the other hand, had four people swearing he’d been with them all evening and left at 9 p.m. One of the officers clocked his drive home at 23 minutes—going at a good clip and zooming up onto the shoulder to avoid delays. He didn’t buy food at Arby’s, either—and police found a crumpled food receipt in the back of the SUV, time-stamped 9:09 p.m.
Even if Russ had made it home in 23 minutes, he would have had only nine minutes to stab his wife 55 times and clean up before he called 911. Evidence techs didn’t find a speck of Betsy’s blood on his body, fingernail clippings, or clothing. And he was still wearing the orange Rhode Island T-shirt and Sonoma jeans captured on security cameras earlier that evening when he filled his car, bought cigarettes, and stopped for Snapple.
The police and prosecutor found all those pregame errands suspicious: He’d bought cigs at the U-Gas in Wentzville, a different filling station than the one where he filled his car. Was he creating an alibi by getting on camera in all those places?
Russ always bought his cigarettes at the U-Gas in Wentzville, he told Schwartz. They were 60 cents cheaper than they were at the Conoco. And he still got dog food at Greene’s Country Store in Lake Saint Louis, where the Farias used to live, because they had a rewards card.
Besides, he did the errands before 6 p.m., and Betsy was alive at least until 7:05 p.m., when she left holiday greetings on Mark Hupp’s voicemail.
The strongest evidence in the prosecutor’s case was the presence of Betsy’s blood on Russ’ slippers, but Schwartz felt sure they’d been bloodied and tossed in his closet to frame him. “It’s clear it’s not blood he walked through,” he told Nathan Swanson, the young lawyer assisting him, “and there’s no spatter on the top, which there would’ve had to be, if he wore them while he killed her. You don’t murder somebody and then put on your slippers.”
Schwartz reread Pam’s statements. She’d made it sound downright sinister that Russ told Betsy not to bring her purse, and the house was dark but unlocked, and his car was in the drive…
“I never told her not to take her purse,” Russ said, his sigh weary. “What it was, we’d been gone all weekend—we went to my parents for Christmas and her sister’s for Christmas with her dad.” Russ drove, and Betsy didn’t bother to bring her purse. Then Betsy decided to spend Monday night at her mother’s. So when she wanted to go home Tuesday, she called Russ to say she didn’t have her keys, and he assured her that he’d leave the door unlocked.
Rita Wolf, one of Betsy’s best friends since their years at St. Dominic High School, reported talking to Betsy around 5 p.m. that day. At one point Betsy interrupted herself, Wolf said, and blurted, “Oh, crap! I left my keys at home. I’m gonna have to call Russ and have him leave the door open.”
Frowning, Schwartz set Pam Hupp aside for the moment and picked up an ominous one-paragraph summary of Russ’ failing a polygraph. No reputable examiner would give a polygraph after someone had been up 32 hours or after they’d been smoking marijuana. Had it been a faux polygraph? All Russ knew was that somebody had sat in front of him with a laptop and asked questions.
Faux polygraphs are legal, but they have to be disclosed, and Schwartz had received no notice of one. He asked for video and audio of the polygraph and was told that the video camera wasn’t working. He asked for raw data from the polygraph and never received it. The only documentation he could get was a consent form and a typed summary indicating that “there were significant, consistent physiological responses indicative of deception.” He says Russ offered to take a second polygraph, as did all four alibi witnesses, but the Lincoln County prosecutor declined.
Schwartz returned to Pam Hupp’s evolving account of December 27. First she thought she’d seen a silver Nissan sedan; later she’d say it might’ve been the Farias’ big blue Ford Explorer SUV. “Whatever car she thought Russ was driving, she’d say she saw in the drive,” Schwartz would eventually decide.
And the shift from not going inside to going all the way to the bedroom? In the end, he told Swanson, “she went everywhere there was potential evidence to be found.”
They waited for the lab reports.
The Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis had had Pam swabbed for DNA, but Schwartz saw no record of that DNA’s ever having been compared. Nobody ever confirmed that Pam had worn what she said she’d worn that night, and nobody seemed to have tested the clothes or her car for blood.
Pam said she’d called both Mark and Betsy because she was nervous about finding her way home, yet she’d been at Betsy’s house quite a few times, most recently the week before.
Schwartz puzzled it out: If you went out of your way to drive your friend home just so she could get there a few hours earlier because she needed sleep so badly, why would you bother her by calling when you were just a few miles from her house? And if she didn’t answer your call, and you knew she was exhausted by chemo and coming down with a cold, wouldn’t you just think she wanted to sleep?
He asked Russ about this Pam Hupp person.
“The last six months to a year, they started hanging out,” Russ said. “It just kind of gradually—once she was diagnosed with cancer, a lot of people wanted to be with her. I never had a problem with Pam personally. She was easy to talk to. But I could name half a dozen other people Betsy was closer to.”
The Friday before her death, as soon as the change-of-beneficiary form was signed, Betsy and Pam went to the post office. Pam didn’t mention this to police at first. Later, she told them she had no idea whether Betsy mailed the form. Pam wanted “to mail some stuff to my mother’s house” but changed her mind because she was picking her mother up later that same day.
Yet on January 17, Pam told State Farm that they’d gone straight to the post office because Betsy wanted to be sure the form was postmarked.
State Farm contacted Detective Sergeant Ryan McCarrick—who took charge of the investigation when the Major Case Squad disbanded—the same day. He assured State Farm that Pam Hupp was not a suspect, so the company need have “no concern” about paying her the life insurance proceeds.
If Pam was guilty, Schwartz mused, she’d cut it close with the beneficiary form: State Farm recorded it the morning after Betsy’s death. What if someone at the agency had decided not to honor the change? As Pam herself told police, “If it’s mailed Friday—we had Christmas. She had to be killed—how does that work? She has to be killed, or they have to receive it before she’s killed; otherwise he’s still the beneficiary… So if I set it up in my own little mind, why didn’t I just wait until Friday to be sure they got it?”
Because this way, you implicate my client, Schwartz thought. And you know where he is every Tuesday.
Schwartz played and replayed Pam’s videotaped police interviews. She comes across as clear and forthright, and she gives off a reassuring confidence. “Absolutely,” she says often, encouraging her interviewer when he echoes or paraphrases her remarks. Offered a break or a beverage, she says, “Nah, I’m fine,” with a breezy wave. Left alone in the interview room, she sits as still and serene as a Zen master. When the detective returns, she’s chatty, her descriptions casual and colorful. “I love her to death,” she says of Betsy, her voice warm. She asks the detective whether it’s normal that Betsy’s family has turned against her over the money: “It really hurts my feelings. I didn’t put a gun to her head and make her fill out the form.”
Perfectly normal, the officer reassures her. They’re just striking out because they’re hurting.
Schwartz rolled his eyes and clicked off the video. She can tell them anything, he thought. If she says she saw a monkey go into that house, they’re gonna ask whether it was a rhesus or a baboon.
He reached for the information on Pam’s polygraph. She’d agreed to undergo one, then hired a lawyer who delayed it, then mentioned sustaining several head injuries over the years. The police asked her to get a doctor’s clearance. But the note she sent her doctor didn’t ask for clearance:
“Dear Dr. Fischer, could you please write Detective Kaiser a letter stating that I was not able to do a polygraph due to medical reasons. Don’t need any more detailed than that.”
Dr. Ronald Fischer, who’s in physical medicine and rehabilitation at St. Luke’s Medical Group, saw Pam in his office for the first time in months on January 3, then duly provided a note: “Pamela Hupp is unable to undergo a polygraph due to her medical condition.” In deposition, he told Schwartz, “She said that she didn’t think she could do it. Apparently, the police thought that she couldn’t do it.”
But was there anything about her medical condition that would preclude her from taking a polygraph, Schwartz asked.
“I would say there’s not any condition that would prevent her from doing it.”
“There is nothing about her condition that would actually keep her from telling the truth?”
“As far as I’m aware, there’s not anything that would limit her.”
In her deposition, Pam denied writing the note to Fischer.
“I don’t think I said anything,” she told Schwartz.
“If you did, it certainly wouldn’t have said, ‘Write something saying I can’t take a polygraph due to medical reasons’?” he asked.
He glanced down. Tucked in his file was a copy of that handwritten note, which Fischer had faxed to police along with his letter.
The next day, when Schwartz deposed McCarrick, he asked the detective whether he believed Pam Hupp.
“Based on training and experience of dealing with hundreds of interviews with suspects and with witnesses and with victims,” McCarrick said, “I did not see any signs of deception that would lead me to believe that she was indicating anything that was untrue to me.”
“Did she ever disclose to you that she’s been fired from not one but two life insurance jobs for forging signatures?”
“Have you ever seen any evidence of a brain injury?”
“No. But I’ve also not gone through all her medical records.”
“Have you asked for the medical records?”
On March 20, 2013, Schwartz deposed Pam Hupp.
“What’s your disability?”
“I’m not sure what they classify it as. I know I have drop foot and balance problems.”
It happened, she said, when she tripped at work and hit a filing cabinet with her head. This was in November 2009; she said she’d filed for worker’s comp and that the case was still pending. (Attorney Michael Goldberg did not return messages seeking to confirm that she retained him.)
“You have a head injury?”
“What’s your head injury?”
“I have no idea.”
“How do you know you have memory issues?”
“Well, because you’re asking me questions and I don’t remember.”
Even after the prolonged jousting, Schwartz was unprepared for what came next. Pam said she didn’t have health insurance, couldn’t afford it. She said she didn’t have life insurance, either: “I don’t believe in it for myself.” Her husband, however, did have life insurance—“and amazingly he’s still alive, because it’s a lot.”
Schwartz blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“I said amazingly he’s still alive, because it’s a lot. And I sold it to him, so…”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, I guess, if I wanted a lot of money, I could kill him instead of her.”
“Instead of who?”
“Who said you killed Betsy?”
“You did. Or your private detectives told my friends that.”
“And you didn’t kill Betsy?”
“I did not kill Betsy.”
“You still willing to take a polygraph?”
Russ Faria’s murder trial began November 18, 2013. The Lincoln County prosecutor—a spirited young dark-haired woman named Leah Askey whose career was on a fast track—opened by saying the motive was greed, and she drew from her witnesses’ examples of Russ cussing, smoking pot, having a temper, being crude or bossy, having school loan debt, and believing he was still the beneficiary of his wife’s life insurance policy. His two stepdaughters, Leah and Mariah Day—who were by now convinced that Russ had killed their mother—testified that he and Betsy fought often. “It wasn’t The Brady Bunch,” Leah said dryly.
Askey’s questions suggested that whoever killed Betsy had showered, cleaned up, and let the dog out afterward—and Russ was the only one who’d know where the towels were and be able to control his dog, a protective chow mix. She described a smudge that looked like a bloody paw print on Betsy’s body.
A Bluestar test for the presence of blood showed none in the splotch, and a crime scene investigator testified that it couldn’t even be determined to be a paw print. Police officers testified that Bluestar had revealed a glowing path of cleaned-up blood evidence but their camera had malfunctioned, so the crime scene photos did not develop. Lab tests could not confirm the presence of blood on the kitchen floor, on the towel drawer, or in the drainpipe. A crime scene investigator said there’d been no bloody footprints in the home, nothing that matched the soles of those tan slippers.
Police taped over the windows and used a Bluestar agent to detect any bloodstains that might have been cleaned. They claimed a glowing path through the living room but said the camera malfunctioned and the photographs did not show what they’d seen.
Schwartz was convinced that Betsy had died before 7:21 p.m.: Leah was going to U.S. Cellular that evening to upgrade her phone plan, and she said Betsy had promised to authorize charges over the phone. Leah called her from the store at 7:21, 7:26, and 7:30, and Betsy did not answer.
Dying before 7:21 would account for the rigidity of Betsy’s body. But Askey questioned Dr. Kamal Sabharwal, who’d performed the autopsy, about a phenomenon called cadaveric spasm, which causes rigor almost immediately if death is preceded by extreme physical exertion. Sabharwal said cadaveric spasm was rare and not universally accepted, but it was possible.
Askey called Margie Harrell, director of 911 services for Lincoln County. Harrell had not taken Russ’ call, but she’d listened to the audiotape, and she’d been trained in assessing credibility. “With this one,” she said, “there was hysteria. Then it was, you asked a question, you get an answer…and then it would go back to be hysteria again.”
(Dr. Alan Felthous, a forensic psychiatrist at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, says it’s a common mistake to look for consistency as proof of someone’s emotional state. “A person may go in and out of states of shock and distress. People show a remarkable ability to compartmentalize.”)
Askey’s next point was that eight sperm cells were present in Betsy’s body, so Russ must have had sex with Betsy right before he stabbed her. (A forensic analyst testified that shortly after intercourse, hundreds of sperm cells may be present—and that sperm can remain for 72 hours. Russ had told police that he and Betsy were intimate Sunday evening; she died two days later.)
The Lincoln County investigators never mapped the travels of Russ’ (or Pam’s) cell phone the night of the murder, but Schwartz brought in an expert, Greg Chatten, owner of Forensic Computer Service. He testified that Russ’ phone was still at least 10 miles from his home at 9:25 p.m. It reached his home quadrant around 9:37 p.m.
Russ made the 911 call at 9:40 p.m.
And Pam’s phone? Schwartz was not allowed to ask in front of the jury. “I don’t know if I should strip naked, tear my hair out, or just ram my head in to the bench to get your attention,” he blurted to the judge. Nor was he allowed to bring up Pam Hupp’s possible motive as the new beneficiary of Betsy’s life insurance, because the prosecutor had successfully argued that Pam had “no direct connection” to the case.
When Schwartz tried to cross-examine her about inconsistencies in her story, the prosecutor objected that he was “impeaching the witness.”
He did manage to ask Pam why she’d initially told police that she didn’t go inside Betsy’s house.
“I had not planned on staying in the house,” she said, “and then I turned around and said that I did go in with her.”
Richard Hicks, a special prosecutor from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office who was assisting Askey, objected: “Just because it’s a prior inconsistent statement doesn’t make it admissible and relevant… I’m trying to figure out what relevance there is going after this, other than to try to point his finger at her.”
Well, yeah, Schwartz did want to point a finger. He still couldn’t understand why Pam Hupp had never been a suspect. He tried a few more questions.
“I have a little bit of a memory problem,” Pam told him. “I’m 55 and going through menopause.”
In desperation, Schwartz made what’s called an “offer of proof,” questioning Pam out of the jury’s hearing, for the record, about the life insurance money. Five days earlier, she had finally put $100,000 in a trust for the girls. And the remaining $50,000? “My other girlfriend died of breast cancer in August,” she said, “and she has a 12-year-old daughter that I’m trying to help.”
(As it turned out, Pam didn’t help that 12-year-old. Later, she cheerfully admitted lying to anyone who would “bug me and bug me and bug me and bug me” about the insurance payout.)
Fox2 investigative reporter Chris Hayes—the only member of the media covering the trial—couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The most intriguing and important testimony is being given when there are no jury members around, he thought. When the jury finds out they didn’t hear this evidence, they’re going to be fuming.
In closing, Askey finally revealed her theory of the crime. She said Russ “decided that this would be the ultimate role play…. Months before, maybe years before, he had the idea, and I think he brought it to his friends.” When Betsy texted that Pam was taking her home, Russ decided that this was “the night.”
“He makes all of these stops so that he can establish an alibi,” Askey continued, saying he left his phone with his friends and co-conspirators and headed back to Troy. Betsy was on the couch, covered in a blanket. “And I submit to you that he has sex with her. That he violates her one more time. That he controls her just one more time.”
There was no blood on Russ’ clothes, Askey continued, because he was naked. He showered off the evidence, saw his dog investigating the corpse, got the dog outside on a chain, cleaned up the blood while calling 911, and, realizing that there was blood on his slippers, threw them in the closet. Meanwhile, one of his friends delivered his phone and the Arby’s receipt.
Until that point, frustrated as he was, Schwartz had tried to think Askey was just naïve; she’d boxed herself in by making a snap judgment that the husband did it and spent the next two years driving the investigation to figure out how.
But this tore it.
He rose and faced the jury. Four people, he said, “just got accused of murder by the prosecutor of Lincoln County without one shred of evidence.”
Did Askey seriously think rolling dice and moving little characters inspired by Tolkien’s Middle Earth around a hexagonal mat had so twisted five law-abiding citizens’ minds that they were eager to conspire in a grisly murder? Russ’ character was a monk, for God’s sake. He didn’t even use weapons. And one of the players wasn’t even there that night, Schwartz realized—why would they go ahead with their long-planned “ultimate game” without him? And why on earth would Brandon Sweeney—a regular who was the nephew of one of Russ’ friends—jeopardize his own life to help an older guy kill his wife?
“Going to Arby’s and getting food for me and then Jack in the Box for himself and then up to Troy—he’d never even been to my house in Troy—so that he could give me a RE-ceipt?” Russ whispered incredulously, “and some trash to put in my car?”
Schwartz began his closing argument, Askey’s theory jabbing his brain. Russ had stripped naked, had sex with his wife, stabbed her, and then, what, reclothed her dead, bloody body? Detail by detail, Schwartz went through the forensics, timing, and alibi. He even addressed Askey’s earlier theory, that Russ had stabbed his wife in a spontaneous fit of rage and cleaned up in a matter of minutes. This was a murder designed to look like rage, Schwartz said. “There were no irregularities in those stab wounds.” They were methodical, neatly aligned, no wiggle to the blade. Many were likely inflicted after death; they hadn’t bled.
As prosecutor, Askey had the final word: “There isn’t any evidence that points anywhere else.” When Schwartz objected, the jury was told to disregard the statement, but many of them must have agreed with it. One juror actually scribbled a note: “They’re trying to pin this on Pam Hupp.”
In four-and-a-half hours, they returned a verdict of guilty.
Schwartz squeezed Russ’ shoulder and shot Swanson a grim look: We are just going to do this again. When the judge asked counsel whether they wanted to set a date (for the sentencing), Schwartz fired back, “You mean for a new trial?”
Days later, jury members told the press that they thought Russ’ alibi was a little too pat, his friends’ stories too similar.
“A group of people who meet every week, talk a bit, and then play a game or watch movies—I don’t know how much variation there could have been,” Schwartz muttered.
His client was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Asked what she would have predicted for Pam Neumann’s future, a high school friend gives a long, slow laugh: “Not this. A great mother who was involved in her kids’ activities, maybe?” Another friend remembers Pam as “nice. Not extra-nice, just someone you wouldn’t mind hanging out with. I even knew her after high school. She’d moved back into the neighborhood—same church—and sent her daughter to the same Catholic grade school as mine. She was active in the women’s club.” The friend’s voice is bemused. “When I see her on TV, the way she acts in the interviews with police—that is not the person I knew.”
So either there really is brain trauma, or she’s been railroaded in a scheme worthy of Hitchcock, or no one ever knew her at all.
Pam gave few clues: She was confident and breezy, and nothing ever seemed to bother her. She loved finding out about people, investigating their backgrounds, figuring them out. “I just like to get a feeling of what people are like,” she told a detective.
Rarely did she confide any troubles of her own—except her accidents, chronic pain, and various plans to sue people. Her back, neck, and leg pain were so disabling, she was unable to work, she claimed, and she received monthly disability checks. Yet videos show her walking with ease, running away from a Fox2 camera, and crossing her legs without a wince. She even managed Zumba classes.
“Are you aware of what her injuries are?” Schwartz asked her husband in deposition.
“No. Not totally.”
“At what point in time was she injured?”
“I don’t have an answer for that one.”
The Hupps had been, by all accounts, harmonious partners in both life and business for three decades. Pam called the shots in the marriage, people said, but Mark didn’t seem to mind. He was the quiet one, Pam the conversationalist. She loved American Idol and The Apprentice and murder mysteries and movies of any genre, and she adored the scandal sheets. “I’m not surprised,” she’d say of some juicy celeb revelation.
“She was easy company; I never saw her get mad,” says someone who knew her over several years. “Extremely conservative in her politics. If there was a risk that something would cost her money, she didn’t want anything to do with it. She was financially driven, and she was cheap. They never went on vacations, didn’t even go away for weekends.”
Pam had held a string of low-paying insurance jobs before applying for disability, yet she gave the impression of having plenty of money—sensible money, tucked into investments, not flashed in your face.
The years in Naples, Florida, were a turning point of sorts, old friends say, because when she came back, she didn’t renew old friendships or make many new ones. Betsy reportedly said she felt sorry for Pam because (though she was hardly shy) she had no friends. She could be sentimental, though; after Betsy’s death, she went often to see Betsy’s mother, even buying her a necklace with a tiny diamond in it and a matching one for herself, in memory of Betsy.
“Then, all of a sudden,” says Bobbi Wann, “she just quit showing up”—probably because of tension over Betsy’s life insurance.
If Lincoln County detectives had suspected Pam, that settlement would have been the most obvious motive. Just how much did money matter to her?
“I have no debt,” she told them. “Still don’t have debt. Still drive a 2004 car.” (She later bought a 2016 GMC Acadia.) “I didn’t have immediate need for money,” she continued. “Is it great?… Yeah, it’s great.” Asked about the life insurance money, she shrugged: “She was dying. If it worked out that way, great…$150,000 when you’re not expecting it, that’s pretty damned nice, yeah.”
She acknowledged that she might sound morbid but reminded them that she was “a finance person.” “I had a life insurance on my son, it’s almost like that. I know, if our son gets in a car accident or dies, whatever, ’cause he’s young, I’m going to get that money… You don’t think about it, you don’t think, ‘I’m gonna get some mon-ey’ [singsong], ‘get a boat…”
In another interview with police, she said, “To me, in my world, $150,000 is not that much.” When a lawyer asked about a deposit to her bank account and she said she didn’t know where it came from, he said, “Where else would you receive $134,000 from?” Incensed, she lost her usual equanimity: “I could receive it from anywhere. I could receive it from my brother, I could receive it from my mother, I could receive it from —what do you think, I’m poor, I don’t know people? I don’t know what you’re insinuating.”
It’s true that Pam didn’t grow up deprived, desperate for cash. Nor did she need money as solace for a traumatic childhood. Her mother was the beloved type; she taught third-graders, volunteered, did thoughtful things. (A few people do say she was less warm with her daughter, though; they remember “subtly mean” remarks, tiny digs aimed at improving Pam, who in later years contented herself with an eye roll in response. She was closer, people say, to her father, who died in 2000.)
After cash-strapped years as a newlywed and an early divorce, money took on a new urgency for Pam. She’d waited tables at 16 and loved the tips, but now money was a grownup game, and she realized that she was good at it. Her first husband wound up in court a year after the divorce, toting a stack of canceled checks to prove that he’d been paying child support all along. And one story still gets brought up, incredulously: Friends say that when Pam’s daughter was first married, she found a house she loved, a foreclosure. Excited, she confided what she planned to bid to her mom—who promptly underbid her, got the house, and flipped it.
Pam and Mark did their real estate transactions through H2 Partners LLC, but in 2014, she registered a new company, H2 Partners Building Solutions, listing herself as president. The business address was the Hupps’ new house, purchased after Pam received Betsy’s life insurance money.
They sold that house the next year. “You did pretty well,” one of the detectives told her, “because most people can’t sell a house for $250,000 these days.”
“You haven’t seen my house,” she flashed back.
“When it comes to money,” a friend remarks, “she short-circuits.”
As she herself once remarked to Lincoln County detectives, “Money is—makes people do crazy, crazy things.”
Toward the end of the trial—and out of the jury’s earshot—Schwartz asked Pam why it took her so long to set up the trust for Betsy’s daughters. “My mother just died on [October] 31 of Alzheimer’s that I was taking care of,” she said.
He took it on faith; who’d lie about that? But the day after the trial ended, emails poured in: “Pam Hupp’s mother didn’t die of Alzheimer’s.”
Shirley Neumann was showing signs of dementia, but what killed her was a fall from the balcony of her third-floor apartment. Two of the upright metal balusters had broken and were lying on the ground next to her body. Four more had bent outward, creating an opening almost 3 feet square—but the guardrail at the top was intact.
She had eight times the typical dose of Ambien in her system.
Neumann lived at Lakeview Park, an assisted living community in Fenton, but she’d spent the night of October 29 with Pam after a trip to the hospital for back pain. On October 30, the community manager told police, Pam had brought her mother back around 5 p.m. and told staff not to expect her for dinner or breakfast the following morning but said she would probably eat lunch. (Pam’s brother Michael Neumann later said Pam had told staff to call the family if Shirley didn’t come to breakfast. He filed a wrongful death suit against the residence and the manufacturer of the railing, but dropped the suit after Pam was charged with Gumpenburger’s murder, saying it would be “a circus.” He did not return calls for comment.)
After lunch, a housekeeper went to check on Shirley and found the apartment door cracked, water running in the bathroom, and the patio door open. She peered over the broken balcony railing and saw Neumann’s body sprawled in the grass below.
She was wearing her nightclothes. She’d been confused recently, and she’d had a fall. Maybe she forgot she’d taken an Ambien and took seven more. Maybe she was groggy, tried to water her flowers, and tripped. (Two garden gnomes on the balcony were toppled, and a glass was on its side) Maybe she managed to evade the guardrail and fall against the lower part of the railing with speed and force.
But all Schwartz could think about was Pam’s nonchalant remark to the detective in charge of the Faria investigation: “If I really—I hate to say it—wanted money, my mom’s worth half a million that I get when she dies… If I really wanted money, there was an easier way.”
When Hayes showed up at Pam’s house on a bitter day in January, armed with a microphone, to ask about her mother’s death, she was chatty, talking for more than 30 minutes through a cracked door. “The people in the home are saying she committed suicide, so I’m not really sure what’s going on,” she said. She’d been planning to move her mom out of that senior community, she added, because she couldn’t afford to live there anymore.
“She would have talked longer if her husband hadn’t pulled up,” Hayes says. “She said, ‘He’s not going to be happy that I’m talking to you.’”
Dateline NBC later asked a structural engineer to examine the posts. He said, “It would take a lawnmower or a vehicle to cause that much bending.” A 210-pound woman, even if she fell headlong into the balusters, would exert 420 pounds of force—nowhere near enough.
In the end, police investigated but did not deem Shirley Neumann’s death suspicious.
On July 21, 2014, Pam gave a deposition for a civil trial; Betsy’s daughters were suing her. In the video she sits, clad in a bright-pink T-shirt, hands folded on the table in front of her. She smiles as she is sworn in. But there are new signs of nerves: She works her mouth, sucking her lips in and licking them. She says “Joe” Schwartz and messes up the pronunciation of Faria, says ’97 when she means ’77. Asked how much money she inherited from her mother, she initially refuses to say, then says $100,000. What about her swaggering comment to detectives—“My mom is worth a half a million that I get when she dies”? She laughs as though that’s absurd and reminds them that the money had to be split four ways among the siblings.
GenAmerica recorded an insurance payout to Pam Hupp after the death of her mother, but it was only $3,589.02—from a policy designed to pay funeral expenses.
Asked whether Betsy was her best friend, Pam corrects attorney David Butsch: “One of my best friends.” But less than a minute later, she says firmly, “She was my best friend… Betsy loved me. Whether she said to people I was her best friend, she loved me.”
Asked whether Betsy put anything in writing that would show this love, Pam mentions cards signed “Love, Betsy.”
“She would want me to have whatever she had,” Pam continues, adding, “In her view, I was rich.”
“Did she mention to you that she wanted the money to be used for her daughters?” the lawyer asks.
In June 2012, when McCarrick interviewed Pam, she told him Betsy had been afraid the girls would blow through the money if they got it all right away, so she intended to hold them to certain “criteria”—no wild behavior, no spending it on parties or cars, “and I’m doing that in honor of Betsy.”
McCarrick urged her to set up a trust for the girls—for their sake but also for the sake of appearances. She waited until a week before the November 2013 trial to fund the trust with $100,000.
By then, she and Mark had bought a new four-bedroom house on Shelby Point in O’Fallon. She didn’t use trust money, she assured Butsch. She cashed in IRAs from “MetLife with little Snoopy.”
Butsch arched an eyebrow. But what made him pick up the phone and call Schwartz was Pam’s admission that the trust—which she’d virtually emptied a few weeks after Russ’ trial—no longer existed at all. “It’s a revocable trust,” she said, “so I just revoked it.”
Schwartz thanked the other attorney, hung up, reached for a pen, and started drafting what’s called a Mooney motion. He’d already filed an appeal, but this motion told the court there was fresh evidence for a judge to consider, evidence that might negate the guilty verdict.
A Mooney motion had been granted only three times in Missouri’s history.
This would make four
On February 24, 2015, Russ Faria’s case was remanded, and in June it was decided that he would get a new trial.
The first time around, an officer had testified that nothing developed when police darkened the house and did the Bluestar blood analysis, so the jury would have to take their word for it. But in the summer of 2015, Schwartz received a CD—sent by someone in Askey’s office—that held 132 crime scene photographs he’d never seen before. Some images were almost solidly black, some showed a very slight luminescence that could have been caused by interaction with substances other than blood, and the rest were daylit shots of the rest of the house. So it’s not that they didn’t develop, he thought; it’s that the photos didn’t show what they wanted.
He also received, anonymously, a printout of an email that looked like it had been sent to Askey by Mike Lang, then captain of investigations in Lincoln County, and indicated an intense romantic relationship between them. “This is not a puppy dog, crush on the hot girl in high school kind of love, this is an epic, shit stories are written about kind of love,” Lang had purportedly written. “I will do my best to be everything you need.”
It was Lang, Schwartz remembered, who never bothered to request data to map Russ’s cellphone the night of the murder.
Askey denied having an affair with Lang and said the email had been doctored. She didn’t return calls seeking comment on any aspect of this story; nor did Lang.
Next, Schwartz and Swanson received a new videotaped interview: Apparently Pam had brought fresh information to Lincoln County detectives that June. Swanson hit Play; watched for a minute; replayed it; let out a long, slow expletive; and texted Schwartz. Pam was now saying that she and Betsy had been lovers—that neither was a lesbian, but trauma had made Betsy hungry for a sexual relationship with Pam, so Pam had “replaced what a husband would be.”
“It was a small, small thing to give her,” Pam says on the video, and Detective Mike Merkel replies, “Well, that’s the problem-solver in you. You knew that would help her.”
“You guys had that full cycle,” he adds earnestly. “You guys had the life—and this is something Leah [Askey] and I have talked about—you guys had the life and the death, really, because of the cancer. So you were there for her in every aspect.”
The notion that pity, on either side, tipped the women into a lesbian affair brings a snort from one longtime acquaintance:
“Pam was the most homophobic person I’d ever met. She’d say, ‘That’s not normal. That’s not right.’”
But it explained how Betsy could have wanted Pam to have the money. And it set Russ’ potential motives on fire.
At the start of the investigation, Pam had said, “He seems nice enough. I just don’t know him that well.” In the new video, she says that a month or so before Betsy’s death, they were together at Betsy’s house and Russ came home, pushed Pam up against the wall—“I could feel his spit. Nasty!”—got his arm around her neck, and said, “If you ever come over here again, it’ll be the last time….If you two f—king muff-bumpers—if I ever catch you guys again, I am going to bury you in the back yard.”
Pam says she was scared, though she adds quickly, “I wasn’t intimidated.”
She also says that Betsy planned to tell Russ that night that she was leaving him. (Bobbi Wann, who was there, says that’s “not true at all. Betsy just wanted Russ to move with her to her parents’ house in Lake Saint Louis.”)
Toward the end of the interview, Pam talks about how hard this experience has been: “the inconsis—the flat-out lies… When people say a lie about me, I make it a point to prove them wrong, if I can. I’m not a perfect person, not even really a nice person.” She is upset at accusations of fraud and says she’s been “drug through the mud.” Then she says, “If you really want the truth, you’re going to get it… Might as well go all the way with it.”
Merkel asks, a little nervously, “So as far as going all the way with it, how far—how close are we to that?” She doesn’t really answer.
Four months later—in October, one month before trial—Pam showed up with more news: She’d recovered a memory! She saw Russ at the crime scene!
Back in 2012, she told detectives that she did not see Russell on the night of Betsy’s murder. In summer 2015, one of the detectives told Pam they thought Russ might have come home while Pam was there: “This is what we have discussed amongst ourselves. Is any part of that correct? Did you see Russ that night?”
She said no. But here she was a few months later, on videotape, saying she drove the route to Betsy’s house and stood outside and realized that she did see a car that night. It wasn’t white, but it was light—“I recall it as silver-ish.” It was parked near Betsy’s house. There were two men inside. And one of them, she now adamantly believes, was Russ Faria.
She’s talking faster than before, and her voice is eager, not so flat, when she describes one of the men ducking as she drove past him on her way home. She says she didn’t notice much more: “I was still so freaked out by my whole situation.”
At this point, she’s no longer saying the vehicle in the drive was the silver Nissan—“As far as I remember, it was the SUV”— which means, of course, that the “silver-ish” car could’ve been the Nissan.
“My brain has been almost like a boxer’s brain,” she confides. “Severe head injuries, three accidents in a row…plus the Ambien all those years, ’cause you can’t sleep with a head injury.”
“So you have a little bit of a foothold here,” one of the detectives says kindly, “someone I used to know had the exact same thing”—a concussion and sudden returns of lost memories.
She says Ambien also “does some really wicked stuff to your memory.” The detective nods, says he has a son on Ambien who will eat a pie at night and not remember.
Pam segues back to her recovered memory: “The more I talk about it, the clearer it gets.”
In a deposition the previous summer, when the attorney for Betsy’s daughters asked whether Pam had any memory problems, she said, “No.”
But before Russ’ first trial, she informed detectives, “You can ask me in two days, and it will probably be different again.”
In February 2016, when the civil suit went to trial, she would say, “The memory that comes to my head at that moment for that question is the memory I think I remember.”
Head injuries can certainly cause memory loss, but it’s not usually this selective. “It’s good when she wants it to be good, and it’s bad when she wants it to be bad,” says Richard Whitehead after reading excerpts from her deposition. After 33 years in law enforcement, he now trains people in detecting deception. “She doesn’t counter when she’s caught in a lie,” he notes. “She’s pretty brazen.”
“The best liars,” note the authors of “Pitfalls and Opportunities in Nonverbal and Verbal Lie Detection,” “are those individuals (a) whose natural behavior disarms suspicion; (b) who do not find it cognitively difficult to lie; (c) who do not experience emotions such as fear, guilt, or delight when they are lying; (d) who are good actors and who display a seemingly honest demeanor; (e) whose attractiveness may lead to an inference of virtue and honesty; and/or (f) who are ‘good psychologists.’” Lying’s easiest for people with high confidence and low emotion, they say, because there’s less to conceal and less angst about concealing it.
Mark McClish, a retired deputy U.S. marshal who is president of Advanced Interviewing Concepts, says in general, “it’s when someone’s making up a story that it contradicts, because it’s not being recalled; it came from their imagination. Recent memories should be consistent. People may add information, but it shouldn’t contradict.”
Deceptive accounts often inadvertently slide into present tense for the same reason. Liars embed lies in truth but show a “lack of commitment”—not sure, don’t remember, maybe—about salient details and a sharp memory for trivial ones. Analysts strip away extra words and look for qualifiers, hedges, accidental disclosures, indirect answers, stalling tactics.
Pam would’ve made an interesting case study.
Her lapses and contradictions began less than 12 hours after the murder. She often substituted “blah, blah, blah” for details that bored her. Asked a yes-or-no question, she said, “In my mind, that’s correct.” When she said she wouldn’t take a polygraph and Schwartz asked, “Why not?” she said, “Why?” When she said Betsy was the one who asked for a ride home, Schwartz said, “And you remember that clearly?”
“Not clearly. I remember that she asked me to take her home.”
When Schwartz asked, of the night Betsy was killed, “Did you shower before you went to bed?” she said, “Maybe. I don’t remember. I usually do. I take a shower every night before I go to bed.”
And when he asked, of Betsy’s daughters, “Did you set up a trust for them?” she said, “Did I set one up? There is not a trust set up for them, no.”
“Do you intend to?”
“It’s on my mind.”
“Is that a yes or a no?”
“Yes, it’s on my mind.”
Two weeks before trial, Schwartz learned that a forensic computer expert had finally found the document that Pam kept telling police to look for on Betsy’s laptop. Schwartz brought in his own expert, who determined that:
• It was the only document on the laptop with the author listed as Unknown.
• A fragment with the same text was associated with Microsoft Word 97 software, which was not on Betsy’s laptop.
• Her laptop had been connected to a WiFi network called The Club the day Pam watched Betsy play tennis.
• The Microsoft Outlook email application had been opened at the same time, but because Betsy didn’t use Outlook, it wasn’t configured, and the document couldn’t be emailed.
• Cookies showed a search for Betsy’s signature block on that laptop.
Askey thought the document incriminated Russ. Schwartz thought just the opposite.
Schwartz and Swanson showed up at the Lincoln County courthouse on November 2, 2015, ready to tear into all this new information. Then a police corporal took the stand and offered more: He’d cleared the crime scene—a quick check of every room to make sure no one was hiding anywhere—and now he remembered seeing water droplets in the Farias’ shower, indicating a cleanup. “Three-and-a-half years later?” Schwartz hissed to Swanson.
This time, Schwartz had opted for a bench trial, no jury. Askey tried once more to exclude any evidence of an alternate suspect, insisting that Pam Hupp had no direct connection to the crime. Circuit Court Judge Steven Ohmer said he’d allow the evidence.
Chris Hayes covered the second trial—despite two anonymous letters warning him to “stop being Joel’s messenger, fool!”—and was stunned by the contrast. Including the Pam Hupp evidence, he says, “gave the look of two completely different trials.”
Even after Schwartz led Lincoln County detectives through all the discrepancies in Pam’s answers, though, McCarrick maintained that Russ was the only logical suspect.
Crime scene investigator Amy Buettner testified that, contrary to Askey’s assertion in the first trial, Russ’ tan slippers did not look as if they’d stepped in blood; they looked more like they’d been dipped. She also said she’d found no sign of a cleanup at the scene; the floor was still dirty. She testified that she believed the bloody light switch was wiped with a bloody cloth; it bore the texture of fabric.
As for the document that was never emailed, here’s an excerpt:
I know we talked about this yesterday but I feel I really need you to believe me. I really do feel that Russ is going to do something to me… He continued to tell me how much money he would make after I die… Last night was the worst. I fell a sleep on the couch while watching tv. I woke up to Russ holding a pillow over my face… He said that he wanted me to know what dying feels like. I need to change my life insurance… Do you think I could put it in your name and you could help my daughters when they need it?… If something happens to me would you please show this to the police?
Sitting in the gallery, Betsy’s close friend Rita Wolf thought, “Betsy would never articulate things that way. She was the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type. And if she felt all those things, she would’ve called me for help, not typed a document!”
Every time Schwartz walked in or out of the courtroom, he felt Pam’s stare burning into him. She was waiting to be called to the stand, and neither Askey nor Schwartz was calling her. Toward the end of trial, she texted Swanson that she told Channels 4 and 5 “that Schwartz based the whole retrial on me. They were confused why Schwartz wouldn’t call me and I told them he was afraid of the truth!!!! Sounds about right don’t you think?” Swanson didn’t reply. Four minutes later, she texted, “Did Schwartz forget his set of balls today? I would love for him to grill me for 8 hours.”
She waited a while in the prosecutor’s office, but she’d gone home by the time the judge pronounced the Lincoln County investigation “rather disturbing” and read his verdict: acquittal.
Schwartz had just hurdled the most bizarre series of obstacles in his legal career. His client had finally been acquitted. But he couldn’t sleep. Askey still maintained that Russ was guilty; she had no intention of charging anyone else. Schwartz still thought Pam Hupp should have been a suspect. He wasn’t even sure there was a single killer, because it would’ve been such a risk—that first stab, which he figured went into the throat, might not hit have the carotid artery, and even exhausted by chemo, Betsy might not have been easy to overpower.
On the other hand, he’d seen no toxicology screen. Maybe the killer had offered Betsy a sleeping pill that evening, to make sure she got a good night’s rest…
He picked up the phone, called the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri, and begged for a review of the case. He was sure Russ hadn’t killed Betsy. If this case stayed cold because Lincoln County couldn’t consider another perpetrator, he said, “Somebody else is going to die.”
On August 16, 2016, news broke that Pamela Hupp had shot a man.
His name was Louis Gumpenberger, and Hupp told O’Fallon police he’d tried to assault her, demanding “Russ’ money.” She said he’d yelled that he was going to kill her, and she ran into the bathroom for her gun, and when she saw the bedroom door open, she advanced on him and emptied the revolver.
Gumpenberger might’ve seemed scary in his wild teens. But a drunken car crash in 2005 smashed his skull against mangled steel and left him childlike, soft-spoken, occasionally frustrated, unable to process complex thoughts. At 33, he limped, his left hand hung useless, and he only left his mother’s house alone for short walks in his St. Charles neighborhood.
Less than 45 minutes before the 911 call, Pam’s cell phone had pinged in that neighborhood.
She told police that after some thrift store shopping, she’d stopped by her daughter’s house (roughly 2 miles from Gumpenberger’s apartment), but no one was home. She then drove the 13 miles to her house on Little Brave Drive to let her dog out, and as she pulled up she saw a man dropped off by someone in a silver four-door sedan that sped away. She said she didn’t know anybody named Russ—although, when interviewed a second time, she remembered Russ Faria.
On August 23, the St. Charles County prosecuting attorney and the O’Fallon chief of police announced their theory of the case. They believed Hupp had lured the man to her house by saying she was a Dateline producer and offering to pay him to reenact a 911 scenario for the show. Then she’d shot him in cold blood. Why? To throw suspicion on Russell Faria for a prior murder in which she was the only other logical suspect.
Why then? The heat of scrutiny. Dateline had already aired three episodes on the case (and plans to do at least five—more coverage than it’s given any case except O.J. Simpson and JonBenét Ramsey). The U.S. Attorney’s Office had begun gathering information for its review. In mid-July Russ had filed a civil suit against the Lincoln County prosecutor and the three detectives who investigated his wife’s death, alleging that they “fabricated evidence, ignored exonerating evidence, and failed to investigate the other obvious suspect.”
What broke the Gumpenberger case was the revelation that six days before Pam’s 911 call, a woman in St. Charles County had filed a police report about a troubling incident involving 911. Midmorning, a blonde woman had introduced herself as a Dateline producer and offered her $1,000 to reenact a 911 call scenario for the show. The other woman said yes, then panicked: No Dateline business card? No camera crew? And would they really pay $1,000 for this? She’d changed her mind, she blurted, and the blonde woman drove her home. The footage on a home security camera would show Pam’s gray 2016 GMC Acadia, license plate clearly legible.
The day after the shooting, Mark Hupp carried a white garbage bag out to the SUV. Its contents included Shirley Neumann’s will, Betsy Faria’s death certificate, transcripts of Hupp’s police interviews and Russ’ first trial, T-shirts and flip-flops, a 1099 tax form showing Betsy Faria as the recipient, and yellow sticky notes with bank account details for several relatives.
As for the $900 double-bagged in plastic bags in Gumpenberger’s pocket, the serial numbers on four of the bills lined up sequentially with the number on a $100 bill in Pam’s possession.
A handwritten note in Gumpenberger’s pocket told him to kill Pam Hupp in order to get the rest of his $10,000 but to first take her to the bank, get “Russ’s money,” and leave it in the woodpile at Faria’s house. When police interviewed Russ, that last detail confused him. Then he recalled that his dad had some landscaping timbers in the front yard. Had Pam driven there to check it out? Russ’ sister remembered their neighbor’s security camera. The neighbor offered to go through the footage.
“A day or two later, he stopped me and said, ‘Hey, man, I got her!’” Russ says. “She drove by going one way and then the other way going real fast. A GMC Acadia. She had some kind of ‘I love dogs’ sticker in her window.”
Courtesy of KTVI FOX 2
Pam Hupp was arrested August 23 and later charged with the murder of Louis Gumpenberger.
About an hour after Hupp was arrested, she stabbed herself—driving a pen into her neck and her wrists.
In her mugshot, the expression on her face—above a ruff of thick white bandages—lands somewhere between grim and mocking.
Public relations consultant Richard Callow was retained by Hupp’s attorney, Nicholas Williams, and conveyed our questions to Hupp; at press time, there’d been no response. The St. Louis County Police were still conducting their third review of the death of Pam’s mother but had not reopened the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office was still reviewing Betsy Faria’s case. No one had been charged with Betsy’s murder.
Chris Kunza Mennemeyer, the judge in Russ’ first trial, has had four cases reversed by the appeals court and is suspended without pay. And Betsy’s daughters are appealing the civil court judge’s decision, last February, to allow Pam to keep the insurance money.
At the end of that civil trial, a Dateline camera caught Pam walking to her car, arm tucked in the crook of Mark’s elbow. He kept his head down, but she smiled widely at the camera, almost laughing, and flashed a peace sign.
Now awaiting trial for first-degree murder and armed criminal action in the Gumpenberger case, Hupp continues to maintain her innocence.