Pamela Hupp‘s testimony helped to convict an innocent man of killing his wife, who in her final days made Hupp the beneficiary of a $150,000 life insurance policy.
Now authorities in Missouri allege Hupp was the killer after all.
The charges announced Monday are the latest twist in a bizarre saga that began with the 2011 stabbing murder of Hupp’s friend, Betsy Faria, and the conviction of Faria’s husband, Russell, who served more than three years in prison before he won a retrial and was cleared.
Russell Faria had tried for years to pin the blame on Hupp, who was known to be the last person to see Betsy Faria alive. After Russell was set free, Hupp then killed a man in an effort to point authorities back to Russell. She currently is serving a life sentence for that murder.
“This case stands alone in its heinousness and depravity, such that it shocks the conscience,” Lincoln County Prosecutor Mike Wood said at a news conference announcing the newest murder charge against Hupp, for which he said he would seek the death penalty.
The charges laid out in a charging document describe her alleged actions.
Betsy Faria was dealing with a cancer diagnosis and weakness after a treatment of chemotherapy when Hupp gave her a ride home, knowing that Hupp’s husband would not be there, and stabbed Faria 55 times as she lay on a couch in Faria’s Troy, Mo., home on Dec. 27, 2011, reports NBC News.
To make the murder scene resemble a domestic assault, Hupp then dipped the victim’s sock in her blood and spread it throughout the house, according to KSDK.
Russell Faria came home and discovered his wife’s body. He was subsequently arrested and charged.
But he said the initial investigation by police and a previous prosecutor’s office that targeted Russell was “mishandled,” he told the newspaper. Witnesses for the prosecution were coached to lie in court, and the sheriff’s office at the time tried to have evidence destroyed, Wood alleged at the news conference.
Along with newly elected Sheriff Rick Harrell, Wood said he has since launched an investigation into “misconduct and potentially criminal behavior on the part of [former] investigators and prosecutors,” to be completed later this year.
A call by PEOPLE to the former prosecutor was not immediately returned.
“This whole thing has been unimaginable from the very beginning,” Russell Faria said after the first-degree murder charge against Hupp was announced, reports the Post-Dispatch. “This is a strange, strange story with so many twists and turns. I could never imagine I’d be standing here today.””
He described Hupp as “evil incarnate.”
2016 murder was allegedly part of coverup plot
Hupp, 62, was sentenced in 2019 to life in prison for fatally shooting Louis Gumpenberger, 33, in her St. Charles County home in August 2016. Prosecutors at the time said the shooting was part of a bizarre scheme she created to deflect attention from herself in the unsolved Betsy Faria murder, and back to Russell.
Hupp had claimed Gumpenberger was an intruder who’d followed her in her SUV, jumped into her vehicle, held a knife to her throat and demanded she drive them both to the bank. She told investigators that when she knocked the knife away and ran inside her home, the man followed — and in two 911 calls, she reported a burglary in progress, and then the shooting.
In Gumpenberger’s pockets, police said they found $900 cash double-bagged in plastic, along with a handwritten note with instructions to kidnap Hupp, drive her to the bank to get “Russ’s money,” then kill her to collect the balance of a $10,000 payment promised for the alleged hit.
Investigators later discovered she’d purchased the knife, and wrote the note on paper she’d also bought. Moreover, in Hupp’s dresser was a $100 bill that was a sequential match to four of the bills in Gumpenberger’s pocket.
“Russ,” according to authorities, was an intentional reference to Russell Faria.
In charging Hupp for Gumpenberger’s murder, authorities said she picked up the stranger – unaware he suffered from physical and mental impairments related to a 2005 traffic crash – then drove him to her house and staged the incident to make it look as if Gumpenberger was a hit man hired by Russell Faria to come after her.
Hupp’s sentencing in that case was the result of a plea deal meant to spare her the death penalty. But the incident also led Wood to look again at Betsy Faria’s murder.
Insurance policy changed days before Faria’s death
Russell was convicted in 2013 for his wife’s killing. He was sentenced to life in prison before a successful appeal led to a new trial in which he was acquitted – and his defense attorneys named Hupp as an alternate suspect who investigators had overlooked.
Hupp did not testify in that retrial, but according to NBC News, a detective who did testify said that Hupp told police that she and Betsy Faria had been lovers. The change by Betsy Faria to make Hupp the beneficiary of her life insurance policy took place just four days before Betsy’s murder, but Betsy’s family or husband were never alerted.
The original prosecution of Russell and the exclusion of other suspects “felt as if this was confirmation bias in its purest form,” Wood said at the news conference. “I can confidently say they weren’t interested in finding any evidence that pointed anywhere else.”
He acknowledged the challenges he faces with the newest prosecution of Hupp, which he described as a “compelling circumstantial murder case, [but] one that is very difficult to deny.”
“One of the aggravating factors we’re obviously able to rely on with the death penalty was that she murdered for the insurance money, but I will specifically say this case struck very deep into our souls and into our conscience with a level of depravity not regularly seen,” he said.
“What I can say is that we have a person who not only murdered her friend, then mutilated the body, staged the scene, testified against an innocent man, and then once he was acquitted, went and murdered someone in St. Charles County to prevent herself from being considered as a suspect,” he said. “I can’t pick a case more depraved than that.”
Betsy Faria’s family members told PEOPLE in 2017 that they were at a loss for answers about her murder.
In the first investigation, “[police] didn’t look at Pam Hupp at all,” said the victim’s daughter Mariah Day.
“I don’t ever feel there was justice after the first trial,” she said. “There was just still so many unanswered questions.”
Still, Betsy Faria’s sister, Julie Swaney, said then, “I have faith that one day we will have all the answers.”