Randy Roth was handsome, hardworking, kind, and in top physical shape. But for all his charm and good looks, he was seemingly cursed with the ladies. His first marriage ended in divorce before the couple’s fifth anniversary; his second wife plunged to her death during a hike; and his third wife left him after less than five months.
But when Roth’s fourth wife, Cynthia, drowned in an apparent speedboating accident in Washington State’s Lake Sammamish just weeks after their first anniversary, a pattern of suspicious behavior finally caught up to him. As Roth set about collecting on a hefty insurance payout, the authorities were on to his game.
Roth had been careful—and so close to getting away with it. But, as chronicled by Seattle Times reporter and Pulitzer Prize finalist Carlton Smith, his lies were about to come crashing down around him.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||7 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Hottest Day of the Year
It had been the hottest day of the year, and as the long afternoon drew on toward evening, the two boys sat on the beach and peered out across the lake, arguing idly. Tyson Baumgartner, eleven, thought he could see the rubber raft; his brother Rylie, nine, was certain he couldn't. "I think I see them," Tyson said. "Where?" said Rylie, doubting it.
The lake was Lake Sammamish, one of the Seattle area's most popular recreation spots, and on a day as hot as July 23, 1991, when the temperature was nearly one hundred, the water was filled with motorboats churning endlessly up and down, some towing skiers, others heading into or away from shore. With all the waves and the boat traffic, the low-riding, small gray inflatable was easy to overlook.
"Yep," said Tyson, "that's them. But I don't see Mom."
"She's probably lying in the bottom, sunbathing," Rylie said.
The two brothers watched as the raft picked its way through the boat traffic. A shirtless man in dark glasses was rowing steadily but not with any particular haste. As the tiny craft neared the roped-off swimming area, the rower turned around so he was facing the beach and began to push the raft in toward the shore with the two plastic oars. It took longer, but the rower didn't seem to mind. The boys saw that the raft was pointed toward the south end of the swimming area. They walked over to meet it as it neared the shore. Yep, it was Randy all right.
"Keep your raft twenty-five yards away from the swimming area," a lifeguard boomed through a bullhorn, but the man kept on rowing. When the lifeguard called out again, the rower looked up, puzzled, as if to say, Who, me? Then the raft reached the beach, and the man in the sunglasses got out and started pulling the craft up on the sand, ignoring the two boys.
Tyson and Rylie looked down into the well of the raft and saw their mother. She was lying in about four inches of water. Her blond hair hung in wet, unruly, tangled strands across her face. Her eyes were vacant. Her face and upper torso were blue. She wasn't breathing. She lay completely still. She wasn't sunbathing.
The man in the sunglasses turned to Tyson and spoke quietly.
"Go get the lifeguard," he said. "Ask him for help. But don't make a commotion."
There were probably three or four hundred people on the beach that day, and so ordinary was the landing of the rubber raft only a few paid any attention. The nearest lifeguard barely gave the raft a glance as it came ashore. Now, as Michael McFadden's eyes habitually scanned the roped-off swimming area for swimmers in trouble, he gave little notice to the two boys calling up to him in his elevated seat. They wanted help with something, but McFadden wasn't sure with what, exactly.
"I can't leave the chair right now," McFadden said. "Go up to the lifeguard shack, they can help you there." Then, out of the corner of his eye, McFadden caught a glimpse of something strange about the raft thirty yards away.
"Eighty-eight! Eighty-eight!" McFadden screamed, calling the lifeguards' emergency signal. He jumped down onto the sand and went into a sprint, nearly knocking over a couple of people as he ran. Another lifeguard, hearing McFadden's alarm, raised her megaphone: "Clear the water! Clear the water!" she shouted. The urgency of the shout froze everyone for an instant. Then there was chaos as everyone tried to get out of the water at the same time.
McFadden was nineteen years old. Lifeguarding was just a summer job, something to earn a bit to help out for college in the fall. Now as he looked down into the gray inflatable boat, he knew he was going to have to try to save a life. McFadden had never seen anyone look as bad as the woman lying motionless in the bottom of the raft. He gave little notice to the short man wearing sunglasses who was standing idly next to him.
"Give me some help," McFadden said, and then together the sunglasses man and someone else, McFadden never knew who it was, helped him lift the inert weight of the blond woman out of the raft and onto the sand. The woman was in imminent danger of death, if not already dead, McFadden realized. This is it, he thought. When they're blue like that, that means they're cyanotic — no oxygen.
"What happened?" McFadden asked the man with the sunglasses while he checked the victim for breathing and a pulse. He couldn't find either.
"She was underwater," the man said. "She swallowed some water." McFadden tilted the woman's head back, checked her airway, pinched her nostrils shut and began blowing air down her throat.
"How long was she under?" he asked between breaths. "Ten minutes," the man offered. After two breaths the woman threw up. The fluid was reddish and sticky. McFadden thought perhaps it might be blood. A crowd started gathering. Oh God, I'm going to have to save this woman's life, McFadden thought.
"I'm a paramedic, let me help," came the voice of a nearby woman. McFadden gladly gave up his place at the dying woman's mouth to Patti Schultz. Schultz pinched the woman's nostrils shut and took over the breathing while McFadden started vigorous compressions on the dying woman's chest, trying to get her heart started again. The man with the sunglasses squatted quietly on his heels at her feet, watching their efforts impassively.
In between breaths; Schultz puffed questions. "How long was she under?" she asked. Breath.
The man in the sunglasses shook his head. "I don't know."
"Was it five minutes?" Breath.
"I don't know."
"Was it ten?" Breath.
"Twenty?" Breath. The man just kept shaking his head. McFadden and Schultz stripped away the top of the woman's black, red and yellow bathing suit. Schultz saw that her stomach was distended; she'd obviously swallowed a large amount of water. Every few seconds more water came up, so she and McFadden kept rolling the woman over onto her side to empty the fluid. Sand stuck to her face.
Sirens sounded in the distance. Schultz kept breathing and McFadden kept pushing. There was no response from the woman. Breath, push, breath, push. The man in the sunglasses watched them without expression or comment. A rescue van braked to a stop a short distance away. Uniformed paramedics ran up with resuscitation equipment. McFadden and Schultz stood back to let them in. One of the uniformed rescuers shoved a stainless steel tube down the dying woman's throat and coupled it to the breathing equipment. He started an intravenous line. He administered a heart stimulant. He monitored his instruments. He thrust a defibrillator paddle under the woman, laid its mate on her chest, and gave the woman's heart a jolt. Again. Again. A fourth time. Nothing. No breathing, no pulse.
As he worked, he too noticed the man in the sunglasses squatting placidly at the woman's feet.
"Who are you?" the new paramedic asked.
"I'm her husband," the man told him.
Tyson and Rylie Baumgartner stood among the gawkers, watching people pound on their mother and roll her about on the sand as the efforts to save her life grew increasingly frantic and violent. Lifeguard Kelli Crowell saw them standing at the edge of the crowd, clearly upset. Someone was holding up beach blankets to conceal the lifesaving effort from the rubberneckers.
"Are you okay?" asked Crowell, not knowing who they were.
"That's our mom," said Tyson, nodding at the activity. Crowell took them by their hands.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Crowell said. "Come with me. You don't need to stand here and watch this. You come with me and we're gonna go up to the guard shack." As they went to the lifeguard office, Crowell asked Tyson and Rylie for their names and ages. The two boys looked alike, neat and clean, sturdily built, with light brown hair. They could have been anyone's idea of normal, healthy, happy kids, except for the fact that they had just been watching their mother die.
"Is there anyone I can call for you? Your dad?"
"That's our dad down there," Tyson told Crowell. Tyson was obviously referring to the man in the sunglasses. Crowell was flabbergasted. She thought the man squatting at the drowned woman's feet was probably a stranger, someone who found the woman floating in the lake and had done the responsible thing by rowing her into shore. The man sitting by the woman seemed so remote, so uninvolved with what was going on.
"What's your dad's name?" Crowell asked.
"Randy," Tyson told her. "Randy Roth."
Crowell pictured the man she'd seen next to the dying woman. He was short, maybe five eight or so, but very well-built, quite muscular actually, and attractive. His weight might have been around one hundred sixty to one hundred seventy pounds. He looked like he was in his mid-thirties or so. He had dark hair, not overlong, and a thick, neatly trimmed mustache. He was shirtless and wearing shorts and rubber beach sandals, along with the sunglasses. The most noticeable thing about the man was his utter lack of demonstrativeness while his wife's life was ebbing away. He had said nothing, showed no signs of agitation or anxiety. Crowell now saw him in a different light. She guessed the man was in severe shock.
Actually, Tyson continued, Randy was really their stepfather. Their own father had died years before, and their mother married Randy only a year ago. After the marriage, Randy and their mother bought a new house, in a new neighborhood, and they had all moved in together, along with Randy's son Greg. Now they were worried Randy might lose track of them and go to the hospital without them, stranding them at the beach. Crowell told the boys she would tell their stepfather where they were if they promised to stay at the lifeguard office. The boys said they would, so Crowell set off to talk with Randy Roth.
While Crowell was walking back down the beach, Randy Roth suddenly stood up and walked over to his raft. Several people in the crowd of onlookers saw him remove several soaking wet plastic tote bags and empty a considerable amount of water from the bottom of the craft. Then he opened the raft's air valves. The paramedics continued to call out to each other and back to their base on their radio.
Police arrived. Motorcycle officers pushed the crowd back, and another officer produced a notebook and started assembling the facts. He noticed the dark-haired man with a mustache deflating the raft. Because the man was only a few feet from the lifesaving work, the police officer told him to get out of the way.
"I'm her husband," Randy said, pressing on the raft's air chambers to force the deflation.
"You're her husband?"
Officer Randall G. Cox was taken aback. Until that moment, Cox had assumed no one present knew who the woman was. He'd been trying to figure out a way to identify her. Now this. It was weird; whoever this guy was, he sure wasn't acting like anybody involved. "I'm her husband," Randy repeated.
Cox covered his surprise by pressing the man for the details. Like the victim's name. "Cindy," Randy said. "Well, Cynthia. Roth."
Randy wasn't looking directly at Cox. He continued pushing the air out of the raft. Cox got Randy's own name, address and phone number.
"What boat were you in?"
"This one," Randy said as he pushed the last of the air out. His actions were beginning to bother Cox. "Maybe you shouldn't be deflating it," Cox suggested.
"Well, I have to get ready to go."
"Tell me what happened," said Cox.
"Well, we were paddling around the lake," Randy said, finally looking directly at Cox. "We were swimming around out there. And she got a cramp in her leg. She was hanging on the side of the raft. And then a boat went by and swamped us. That was when the raft flipped over. I heard her choke, like she swallowed some water. I turned the raft over and I found her floating face down. I tried to get her back into the raft, and I did. And then I just paddled in, to get help."
Randy's tone made it all sound so matter-of-fact. He might as well have been talking about an everyday event. "Where are you going to take her?" he asked.
Overlake Hospital, Cox told him. "We'll give you an escort," Cox said.
"No, that's okay," Randy said. "I've been there before." He began rolling the raft up.
One of the onlookers in the crowd who had been watching Randy closely for some minutes now took Cox aside. "I don't think he should be driving anyplace right now," Alicia Tracy told Cox. "I think this man must be in shock, he's just so devoid of ... devoid of anything." Tracy thought the enormity of the event might hit the man while he was driving to the hospital. Roth might have a bad accident when the reaction set in.
Cox thought so, too. It just wasn't human to be so distant, especially in the midst of a personal tragedy. Who knew when Roth might go off? This guy is sitting on the edge of an emotional explosion, Cox thought. "Well, I think we'll give him a ride," he told Tracy.
"No, no, you don't understand," Randy said when the police offered him a ride to the hospital a second time. "I have my truck here. I have to drive my truck over."
The police persisted. "Well, we'll bring you back to your truck," Cox said.
"No. I've got all my stuff here, and I've got two kids somewhere here on the beach."
Then Randy rose, shouldered the deflated raft, picked up two of the bags, and walked toward the parking lot some two hundred yards away. Tracy and Cox stared after him.
What do you mean, you have two children here on the beach? Tracy thought. You have been sitting over there this whole time, rolling up your raft, and you have two children over here watching their mother die? Now Tracy wasn't sure Randy was in shock after all.
As Randy strode away, Patti Schultz grabbed the two remaining tote bags and went after him. She too was concerned that he might be in shock. She told him she would be happy to drive him to the hospital. Randy again refused.
"Well, at least let me ride with you." Randy ignored her and walked off toward his truck. Schultz followed him.
As they neared the parking lot, Kelli Crowell caught up with him. "I've got your kids," she said, but it seemed like Randy didn't hear her. Crowell followed, trying to get his attention. A fire department official also gave chase, wanting more information for his report. Randy ignored everyone as he made for his truck.
The fire official finally got Randy to slow down. He asked him what had happened on the lake. How did the accident happen? Randy explained again about the boat and the raft capsizing. "I turned over the raft," he said, "and she was dead."
"Dead?" The fire official was incredulous.
"Well, unconscious," Randy said.
Crowell trotted back to the lifeguard station and got the two boys. They ran after Randy, sobbing. Randy stopped. He took the wet tote bags from Schultz and gave them to Tyson and Rylie to carry. Schultz got the impression that Randy was disgusted with the boys for weeping.
"Come on, boys, we're going to the hospital," he said. Tyson and Rylie took the sacks and choked back their sobs.
Randy's behavior seemed increasingly surreal to Tracy and several other onlookers in the crowd. Tracy couldn't believe that he had simply ignored the two boys throughout the entire lifesaving ordeal.
He hasn't said a word to them, she thought. He hasn't gone over to them, he hasn't put his arms around them. He didn't drop all his things and run to them and cry. He has done absolutely nothing. Those little boys are terrified, and their daddy's not even giving them a hug. It made Tracy sick to her stomach to watch.
Patti Schultz stopped Tyson and Rylie before they could follow their stepfather. "Hi, what're your names?" she asked, hugging both boys. The boys started to cry again.
"Well, my name's Patti," Schultz said, "and I'm gonna ride with you to the hospital." Randy marched on toward the parking lot, carrying his rubber raft.
Mike Helbock had been a paramedic for more than a dozen years. In that time, he had seen plenty of people die. He also had seen their loved ones react as life slipped away, and never before had he seen someone as casual about death as Randy Roth.
As Helbock hovered over the comatose Cindy Roth while the aid car screamed toward the hospital some eight miles away, he kept thinking about the man with the sunglasses. Most people are frantic, Helbock thought, or if they aren't, they're almost rigid. Not that guy. For Pete's sake, that guy was practically nonchalant.
The doctors at the hospital were on the radio. Helbock could tell from Cindy Roth's blue coloring that she hadn't had any air for at least ten minutes before the resuscitation efforts began. The doctors kept asking Helbock what was wrong with the victim; they didn't understand how she could have drowned so close to a life raft. Was she diabetic, the doctors wanted to know? Did she have some sort of seizure?
"I don't know, I don't know," Helbock could only report. "There's got to be some reason," the doctors told Helbock over the radio. "I can't find anything," Helbock said.
Excerpted from "Fatal Charm"
Copyright © 1993 Carlton Smith.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 The Hottest Day of the Year,
3 Too Calm,
4 Randy's Story,
5 A Probable Accident,
6 "Why Wouldn't I Be?",
7 "Something's Wrong",
8 Mary Jo,
9 Free Fall,
10 "Get It All ...",
12 The Interview,
13 Donna #2,
14 Going to the Prosecutors,
16 "I Know Things about the Man",
17 The Badlands,
18 Billy Jack,
19 "He Was Very Serious",
20 Semper Fi,
22 Donna #1,
24 Debbie and Tim,
25 "Throw Your Mother in the Slammer",
26 Jan and Jalina,
27 "Randy Has Many Very Good Qualities",
28 Trick or Treat,
29 Beacon Rock,
31 "I Don't Want to Tell You Anything ...",
32 The Big Spender,
33 Misty Meadows,
34 For the Birds,
36 Hot August Nights,
37 The Swamp,
38 Randy Is Not Like Us,
39 "I Had a Damn Good Idea",
40 The Case,
42 A Message from Cindy,
43 Nothing There,
44 For the Defense,
45 The Whole Truth, Nothing But ...,
46 "A Bad, Bad Time for Anybody",
47 "I Was Very Glad",
49 Badly Damaged,
50 "Sick to My Stomach",
51 On the Cross,
52 "Isn't It True, Mr. Roth ...",
53 No Blueberry Pie,
54 How Say You?,
55 Extreme Cruelty,
About the Author,