The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An innocent man spent years in prison for his wife’s murder. Now prosecutors say her close friend framed him.

Pamela Hupp, who became the sole beneficiary of Betsy Faria’s life insurance policy four days before her death, is serving life in prison for another murder case.

Pamela Hupp was sentenced to life in prison in 2019 for the murder of a disabled man, which prosecutors have alleged she committed to redirect the growing suspicion against her for Betsy Faria’s death back to Faria's husband. (St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney's Office/AP) (AP)
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After Pamela Hupp drove her close friend Betsy Faria home from chemotherapy treatment on Dec. 27, 2011, police identified her as the last person to see Faria alive. Later that evening, someone repeatedly stabbed Faria in her home in Troy, Mo., as she rested on the sofa, leaving the knife lodged in her throat.

Police and prosecutors initially suspected that Faria’s husband had killed her. Hupp told investigators that Faria’s husband had a violent temper and urged them to check her friend’s computer, where police discovered a document claiming that she feared her husband might kill her. Russell Faria was ultimately convicted in his wife’s death — and spent three years in prison.

Now, prosecutors say that the case was badly mishandled — and that it was Hupp who committed first-degree murder.

“I came to the conclusion that, beyond a reasonable doubt, Pamela Hupp killed Betsy Faria,” Lincoln County prosecutor Mike Wood said at a news conference Monday. “And I believe her motivation was simple: for greed.”

The charges come as Hupp, who became the sole beneficiary of Faria’s $150,000 life insurance policy four days before the murder, is serving a life sentence for another murder that prosecutors say she orchestrated to shield her from being considered a suspect in Faria’s death. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for the new murder charge against Hupp.

Wood’s office is also investigating whether officials may have broken the law while building a misguided case against Faria’s husband. He said on Monday that three sources had separately come forward with information that prosecutors had urged witnesses to lie during Russell Faria’s trial.

Faria called 911 on Dec. 27, 2011, when he came home after a night out with friends to find that his wife had been repeatedly stabbed, a crimson trail smeared throughout the house by her blood-soaked socks.

Police aggressively pursued a case against him despite glaring holes in the evidence.

“He had four alibi witnesses, no blood on him despite a gruesome murder scene, cellphone towers along with video evidence at two separate locations put him elsewhere at the time of her death,” Wood said on Monday.

Despite those gaps, Faria was convicted in November 2013. That conviction was overturned on appeal in 2015. Prosecutors attempted to convict him a second time, but the jury acquitted Faria on all charges as new evidence that implicated Hupp was introduced. Faria sued Lincoln County for violating his civil rights after he spent three years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and settled the case for $2 million last year.

As the case against Faria fell apart, the evidence against Hupp piled up.

Cellphone records showed that Hupp was at or near Betsy Faria’s home at the time of her death, Wood said. She allegedly lied to investigators about her whereabouts that night and other details related to the case.

“And lastly, she murdered an innocent man in cold blood to prevent herself from being considered a suspect,” Wood said.

Prosecutors have alleged that Hupp concocted a false home invasion on Aug. 16, 2016, to redirect the growing suspicion against her for Faria’s death back to her husband.

Police say Hupp lured Louis Royse Gumpenberger to her home, then shot him five times while she called 911, feigning that the disabled man had held her at knifepoint, KSDK reported.

Police found a suspicious note planted on Gumpenberger’s body, which claimed he was targeting Hupp in a plot to get “Russ’s money.” Hupp allegedly planted the incriminating note on Gumpenberger to make it look as though Russell Faria had hired him to attack her, in order to reignite suspicion against him.

Hupp entered an Alford plea in the case, admitting that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her but not admitting her guilt, and was sentenced to life in prison in 2019, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

On Monday, prosecutors alleged that Hupp killed Betsy Faria while the woman was weak from chemotherapy treatment she received earlier in the day. Hupp allegedly stabbed Faria multiple times while she was lying on her sofa “completely caught off guard,” leaving the knife in Faria’s throat, KSDK reported.

Then, Hupp allegedly removed Faria’s socks, soaked them in her blood, and placed the socks over her own hands to make the scene look like the woman had been killed in a domestic assault.

“Blood stains on the socks resemble impressions of fingers and not toes,” according to court documents reported by KSDK. “Investigators believe the killer placed the socks on his/her hands after the murder occurred to plant evidence onto the crime scene and then put the socks back on the victim after accomplishing his/her goal.”

Wood on Monday said the evidence against Hupp is “extremely compelling” and “very difficult to deny.”

“Yet prosecutors and investigators denied it all the same,” he said. “Sadly, all of these facts were available to prosecutors at the beginning, even while Betsy’s husband was twice prosecuted for her death.”

He said that his office would be opening investigations of the police and prosecutors who originally investigated Faria’s death, looking for possible criminal misconduct that led to a wrongful conviction and allowed Hupp to walk free for years.

“This is one of the poorest examples of investigative work that I, as well as my team, have ever encountered, driven largely by ego working toward an agenda rather than truth,” Wood said.

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