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Case Featured On 20/20
Anti-Freeze For A Husband
It looked like a suicide. A man's corpse on the bathroom floor—next to a half-empty glass of anti-freeze. But fingerprints on the glass belonged to the deceased's wife, Stacey Castor. And...
Case Featured On 20/20
Anti-Freeze For A Husband
It looked like a suicide. A man's corpse on the bathroom floor—next to a half-empty glass of anti-freeze. But fingerprints on the glass belonged to the deceased's wife, Stacey Castor. And a turkey baster in the garbage had police wondering if she force-fed the toxic fluid down her husband's throat.
Pills For A Daughter
In desperation, Stacey concocted a devious plan. She mixed a deadly cocktail of vodka and pills, then served it to her twenty-year-old daughter Ashley. The authorities would find Ashley with a suicide note, confessing to the anti-freeze murder. But Stacey's plan backfired—because Ashley refused to die...
A Killer For A Mother
Charged with murdering her second husband—and attempting to kill her oldest daughter—Stacey Castor sparked a media frenzy. But when police dug up her first husband's grave—and found anti-freeze in his body, too—this New York housewife earned a nickname that would follow her all the way to prison. They called her "The Black Widow." And with good reason.
Includes 16 Pages of Shocking Photos
"Police communications, Nicole, how may I help you?"
The dispatch recording system automatically registered the date and time: Monday, August 22, 2005, two o'clock in the afternoon.
"My husband has locked himself in our bedroom for the last day and he is not answering his phone," said the stressed Stacey Ruth Daniels Wallace Castor. "He didn't show up for work this morning."
As she gave her name, the name of the man she was worried about, and their address, her voice skirted the fringes of panic.
Stacey said she was especially concerned because of the way her husband had been acting.
"How had he been acting?" Nicole asked.
"Friday night, we were arguing, and he told me and my kids to get out, and then five minutes later, he said if I left, he would make me sorry, that I would be sorry if I ever left him."
"One moment, please," the operator said, and transferred the call to Sergeant Robert Willoughby, of the Onondaga County Sheriff's Office (OCSO).
An eighteen-year veteran of the force, Willoughby was the OCSO hazardous devices technician, which meant if there was a bomb, he had to defuse it. But that had nothing to do with Stacey's call being routed to him. It was just luck of the draw.
The caller told the sergeant she didn't understand anything. She didn't understand why her husband would do something like this.
She wasn't at home now, no; she'd checked the house and she'd called her home repeatedly, throughout the night, but no answer. "I pounded on the door, but I got no response," she explained.
His name: David Castor. The caller ID'd herself as his wife, Stacey.
She repeated the address in the town of Clay-which, with a population of sixty thousand, was Syracuse's largest suburb. It lay north of the city, bordered on the west by the Seneca River and on the east by Route 81.
Although the town had gone through the normal American construction of tract housing during the second half of the twentieth century, there were still rural sections of Clay, with crops and cows and barns, which-if you ignored the highways with their speeding automobiles-looked much as it had one hundred years before.
She gave her husband's date of birth correctly as June 12, 1957. He was the son of Joyce Castor, of Baldwinsville, and the late Philip A. Castor, who'd passed away on July 22, 2005, exactly one month before.
No, she wasn't there now. She was at work. She had a key. She agreed to meet Willoughby at the specified address.
Her husband, David, was feeling down in the dumps, and she knew for a fact that he had been damaging himself with drink. She hoped he hadn't done anything rash.
"Okay, go to the house right now, Mrs. Castor, and meet me."
As Sergeant Willoughby arrived at the beige-colored ranch house and pulled his OCSO squad car into the driveway, he saw a tall redheaded woman sitting in a lawn chair under a tree in front of the house.
The first thing that struck the officer was that the woman's body language was all wrong. It didn't say "emergency." He wasn't sure what it said. She was casually smoking a cigarette, seemingly too relaxed to be panicky over a suicidal husband-even too relaxed to be mildly concerned with his safety.
Willoughby would have looked like a cop even if he hadn't been in uniform. As he got closer, she could see he had kind eyes and a vertical crease above the bridge of his nose, a man who held the public safety and justice very close to his heart.
Willoughby noted to himself that the house was a typical single-level suburban home, with the driveway and garage on the right, and two mailboxes out front next to the road, one for the mail and one for the daily newspaper. On the front lawn, which was neatly mowed, there was a fancy bird feeder built to resemble a lighthouse. A small tree offered privacy, preventing motorists from looking in the living-room window. Lawn surrounded the house on three sides. On the side lawn, the side closest to Glenwood Drive, was a tiny white wishing well.
Standing on the front stoop to the side of the front door was a statue of a pink flamingo. On the side of the house, someone had recently been painting the frame around the bedroom window and had stopped halfway so that half of that frame was fresh and white and the other half dingy and gray. He knew it was the bedroom window because he had a friend who lived nearby, and a lot of the houses were laid out the same.
She told him she had a key to the front door, but since she'd been instructed to meet him outside, she hadn't gone in.
"Open up the house, please," Willoughby said, and Stacey fished the house key out of her purse. Sergeant Willoughby entered the house and strode purposefully to the master bedroom. The woman stayed outside at first. She eventually did step inside, but she didn't make it past the kitchen. Again, Willoughby thought this was odd.
"I know if I was the one sick in that house and someone had to break down the bedroom door, my wife would be over that guy's shoulder," Sergeant Willoughby said. He pounded on the door and identified himself. Nothing. He jiggled the knob to verify that the bedroom door was locked.
Before causing any damage-after all, he didn't even know for sure if the guy was home-he walked outside and circled around the house in hopes of seeing through the master bedroom window.
All of the property was to the sides of the house and in front. Behind the house, only a few feet from the back of the house, was a tall wooden-slat fence along the property line. On the side of the house farthest from Glenwood was a large tent with mesh walls and lawn furniture inside, someplace to go at night where you didn't have to worry about mosquitos. Another wooden fence, much like the one in back, had been built outward from the corner of the house so that people in the tent could not be seen from the street. There was also a wooden shed painted yellow with crimson trim. On the back of the house, off the kitchen, was a glassed-in porch addition, which now served only as a storage space and was filled with mattresses, rugs, and what appeared to be large pieces of Astroturf-like indoor/outdoor carpeting.
At the bedroom window, Willoughby found the blinds shut. He even went to the garage, got a ladder, and tried to look into the master bedroom through the top of the window, but he still had no view. He returned to the front door, leaving the ladder against the side of the house. He took a quick glance behind the house, and the only thing perhaps out of place was a girl's bicycle lying on its side.
Now he was going to have to cause damage. He reentered the house. Again, he thought she would follow, but instead she went into the garage. With a splintering of wood, Willoughby kicked the bedroom door open. There was a cracking sound, then quiet, a super stillness. It was the nothingness and silence that accompanied death.
* * *
David Castor had been a nice-looking fellow, with hair even redder than that of his wife, and a square hairline that made him somewhat resemble football coach and TV commentator Mike Ditka. He had a moustache, even though moustaches had gone out of style years before. He'd shaved the moustache off a couple of times, but it always came back sooner rather than later. Though often smiling, he was a man who sometimes handled stress, and sometimes mishandled it.
But that was before, facets of a personality that Sergeant Willoughby would never know. For now, the furrow in David Castor's forehead was gone, and he was naked, lying across the bed, turned onto his side with his face toward the wall. Brown matter, apparently bloody vomit, pooled under his head. Vomit was also on his hands and caked under the fingernails of his left hand. That hand was resting on the pillow that was partially under David's upper torso, the fingers frozen in a clawlike configuration, as if they had become still while gripping a glass, a glass that had subsequently been removed. Only his feet stuck off the side of the bed, his toes pointing toward four o'clock.
Willoughby checked the man on the bed for vital signs. No pulse.
The sergeant scanned the room and soaked in the scene. The bedroom and adjacent bathroom were cluttered with piles of clothes and bedding, some of it visibly stained with vomit. At first, it looked like there'd been a party. But upon closer examination, it must have been a very weird party, indeed. Sure, there were two glasses and a bottle of Hiram Walker apricot-flavored brandy, but there was also a blue plastic bottle of PEAK antifreeze next to the bed. The container had a built-in plastic handle at its top, a white plastic cap, which was screwed on, and a label on the front that displayed the brand name, along with an image of a snowcapped mountain.
And one of the glasses contained a fluid that didn't look like any drink Willoughby had ever seen. The liquid in the glass was green, a bright, almost glow-in-the-dark green. What the ...?
Willoughby went outside and called to the woman. He said he needed for her to come inside, and she entered as if walking the last mile.
"Is he all right?" the woman asked, her voice quavering.
"No-no, he's not," Willoughby said. She looked into the bedroom she had shared with David, saw him naked on the bed, and began to scream. After a brief but frenzied display of exhausting hysterics, she went into a protective state of denial.
"Bring him back! Bring him back! He's not dead. He's not dead!"
As the widow broke down, Willoughby got on the horn and called for big-time backup-investigators, forensic scientists, the medical examiner all needed to be notified-and when everyone showed up, he followed orders and searched the house. The woman's friend Lynn arrived on the scene and found her friend, the new widow, in a questionable mental state. Even after the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) left because David was dead, Stacey continued to sniffle and whine.
"Make them come back. Make them come back and save him."
The medics were gone and they hadn't taken David. How could they save him if they didn't even put him in the ambulance?
"Stacey, honey, it's over. There's nothing they can do," Lynn said. She tried, as soothingly as possible, to get reality to sink in-but it wasn't easy. The widow was stubborn.
"Make them come back," she said in a diminished little-girl voice.
The reinforcements called in by Willoughby included Detective Sean Price, who would recover an empty bottle of prescription medication at the scene, and crime scene photographer Deputy Lawrence Knapp, who would confiscate the bedside green-fluid drinking glass. The body, they all agreed, appeared to have been dead for only a short time.
Deputy Knapp noticed that there was mucus coming out of the dead man's mouth and nose, which was frequently a sign that death had been caused by some sort of poison.
Outside, one deputy stood guard at the door, while others ran police tape around the perimeter of the property, preventing pedestrians or concerned friends from walking onto the lawn or up the front walk, where they could potentially contaminate the scene.
Before memorializing the suspicous glass's location with photos, Deputy Knapp gave it a sniff. It wasn't liquor. There was some other chemical involved. Maybe antifreeze. It looked at first glance like a case of self-administered poison. Knapp and the others came to the initial conclusion that the victim killed himself.
Price looked at the green fluid in the glass and then at the container of antifreeze that was found on the bedroom floor. The PEAK antifreeze container was made of blue plastic and couldn't have been more obvious. It was practically on display, on the floor next to the bed, directly underneath David Castor's overhanging feet.
That glass was next to the bed, the antifreeze container on the floor. It painted a clear enough picture. Too clear, maybe. Too pat. Too obvious by a half.
Detective Price couldn't help but think it was not a random picture, but rather a creation by design-an attempt to deceive. The container of antifreeze's position demanded attention.
There were indications that some sort of event had occurred in the adjacent bathroom as well. Part of a towel rack had been torn off the wall and was on the floor in front of the toilet. In the corner of the bathroom, positioned at the right foot of someone sitting on the john, and now a silent witness to the happenings that preceded David Castor's death, was another pink flamingo, identical to the one on the front stoop.
A search under the victim's bed produced a loaded shotgun.
As the investigators and crime lab personnel did their jobs, Willoughby was told to search the kitchen, and he set about his task methodically. Upon first glance, he felt that nothing seemed amiss. There was a teakettle and some pots and pans atop the stove. On the kitchen counter was a cutting board, with the word SALSA painted on it. On the far wall, under the window, was a rack holding two pairs of oven mitts and a green plastic watering can. To the left of the rack was a white plastic trash basket lined with a white plastic bag.
The widow was already being questioned. What had she been doing all weekend? Well, she was away all day Sunday. Doing what? She spent a lot of time in Wal-Mart, shopping. Could she prove it? There was a receipt. No, she didn't remember what she did with it, probably threw it out. Now Willoughby had a new instruction: be on the lookout for a Wal-Mart receipt. Just routine, to corroborate Mrs. Castor's story.
Willoughby searched the kitchen wastebasket. There were a few papers on top of the trash, so he picked them up, one by one, and examined them, checking efficiently to see if they were the receipt he'd been ordered to look for. He had only made his way through a few pieces of paper when he found the case's most unusual clue: a turkey baster.
Odd. The baster had been discarded, but there didn't seem to be anything wrong with it. No wear and tear whatsoever, not that the sergeant could see. He would have sworn that the baster was close to brand-new. It seemed to him that this baster wasn't so much discarded as hidden. Hidden-but not very well.
The baster hadn't even been buried in the kitchen trash. There were only a couple of pieces of paper on top of it. Was it purposefully hidden, yet not hidden well? Did someone want the baster found?
Willoughby took a closer look at the baster and could see that there were tiny droplets of green fluid inside it. He couldn't identify the liquid by sight, so he pulled the rubber bulb off the baster and gave it a sniff. He picked up a strong scent of alcohol, but he couldn't be more specific. Maybe it was brandy. Maybe antifreeze. Couldn't tell.
The sergeant looked around the kitchen and deeper in the trash basket for signs of food. Had the dead man been eating during the days and hours leading up to his death? Men who were drinking themselves to death didn't eat. He saw no evidence of food or food preparation. Brandy and antifreeze were alone on the menu.
Willoughby was surprised when he learned a loaded shotgun had been discovered underneath the victim's bed. The whole time he had spoken with Stacey Castor on the phone, and then in person at the house, she hadn't mentioned the weapon. If he had known the man was potentially armed, he would have handled the kicking in of the master bedroom door differently.
Every bottle and glass in the room was carefully bagged, labeled, and transported to the county forensics center for processing. Later, it would be processed in the crime lab as potential evidence in a suspicious death.
Back in the bedroom, Deputy Knapp first noticed something that would turn out to be important. On the side of the bed closest to the door, there was a stain indicating that vomit had run in a stream there, and directly beneath that stain was another, the same color, on the rug where vomit had pooled. The antifreeze container sat on the pooled vomit, yet there was no vomit on the container. This indicated to Knapp that the antifreeze container had been placed where it was after the man vomited at this location.
The widow was thirty-eight-year-old Stacey Castor. At first, Stacey was questioned on the lawn in front of the house. "David was drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and he wasn't acting himself," she said.
Excerpted from MOMMY DEADLIEST by MICHAEL BENSON Copyright © 2010 by Michael Benson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted December 7, 2010
The best true-crime books, such as Mommy Deadliest by Michael Benson, introduce you to a world of evil that blows your mind. How could a person do such a thing? This is the story of a woman who was willing to sacrifice her own child to avoid a murder rap. If I didn't know the story was true, I would have thought the notion preposterous, that natural maternal instinct would have rendered such a scenario impossible. A great read.
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Posted August 25, 2012
This was a really good book. I would highly recommend. It always bliws my mind to know there is truly such evil people in this world...even though i know there are it is mind blowing to read about true stories of seemingly normal everyday people who could be your neighbor or friend.
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Posted March 12, 2012
It is so hard to believe a wife and mother could do what she did and then deny all of it. She deserves to stay in prison.
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Posted December 13, 2012
Posted February 28, 2012
Posted May 19, 2013
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