Pediatrician Accused of Trying to Whack Ex-Hubby Asked Her Staff for Hitman Contacts

·9 min read
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Oldham County Detention Center
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Oldham County Detention Center

A Kentucky pediatrician accused of trying to hire a hitman to assassinate her ex-husband asked her children’s former nanny as well as two nurses at her medical practice for their help in locating a good contract killer, an FBI affidavit unsealed Tuesday in Louisville federal court reveals.

Instead, they went to the feds and reported the alleged plot.

On May 19, Dr. Stephanie Russell, 52, was arrested and charged with one felony count of use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire. When she was arrested, Russell had already given the “hitman,” who was actually an undercover FBI agent, a down payment of $3,500 she raised in part by selling her kids’ clothes, states the newly public filing.

It was the second time in three years Russell allegedly sought to send her ex a delivery of “Christmas flowers,” which investigators say was her code word for murder.

In an April 28 text message obtained by the FBI, one of Russell’s past employees wrote to another, “She was telling me how much she misses me and that the new woman just isn’t good. Then, of course, she started talking about me asking someone to kill him. Lol.”

“Wow, that’s crazy,” the unnamed recipient responded. “What did you tell her?”

“I just told her I would see,” the first employee wrote back. “Lol. Like, what does someone say to that?!”

“Right,” the other one replied. “Crazy.”

The target of Russell’s alleged wrath, Morgan Stanley financial planner Rick Crabtree, told The Daily Beast that he was “a little shocked but also not really,” when the FBI warned that his ex wanted him dead.

“She’s been diagnosed by a custody evaluator, who determined that she suffers from narcissistic personality disorder with traits of sociopath and psychopath,” Crabtree said. “It doesn’t make sense to most anybody that a person would do that to people close to them, but I think the sickness means she just doesn’t get it. Thinks she’s above everybody else. I know that’s the driving force behind her doing the things that she’s done.”

<div class="inline-image__credit"> U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky </div>
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky

Russell initially came to the attention of law enforcement in November 2019, when a detective with the Louisville Metro Police Department contacted the FBI about a disturbing piece of information she said she had discovered. While investigating allegations of child abuse that Russell had levied against Crabtree, he told the detective that Russell wanted him dead so that she could take full custody of their two children. (Russell’s abuse claims were later found to be unsubstantiated.)

Crabtree’s attorney provided authorities with a sworn statement from the couple’s former nanny, who is identified in the affidavit only as “K.S.” In it, K.S. “stated she was approached by Russell on multiple occasions in which Russell alluded to getting rid of Crabtree. Initially, K.S. assumed Russell was joking, until Russell asked K.S. if she knew ‘really bad people’ who could kill Crabtree. Russell went into additional details with K.S. on preferred timing and locations of the would-be murder of Crabtree.”

The FBI interviewed various people close to Russell about the plot, the affidavit states. However, none of the leads panned out. Agents were unable to corroborate Crabtree’s allegations, and the case was closed. In the meantime, a judge awarded Crabtree custody of the kids, granting Russell twice-weekly supervised visits.

Things then went quiet—for a while.

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On March 28, 2022, another Louisville Metro detective contacted the FBI’s Louisville Field Office, and connected agents with a local private investigator who had “potential information regarding a murder for hire plot by Russell,” according to the affidavit.

The unidentified PI said they had been made aware of the alleged scheme by an informant who worked at Kidz Life Pediatrics, Russell’s medical practice.

“The private investigator learned that Russell had allegedly approached several employees in her medical practice about helping locate someone to kill her ex-husband, Crabtree,” the affidavit states, noting that the PI told the employee to contact the FBI.

On April 6, the informant met with the feds, telling them that Russell had repeatedly asked two nurses at Kidz Life over the past 10 months for “assistance in killing Crabtree,” the filing continues.

One of the nurses provided screenshots of text conversations they’d had with Russell. In them, Russell “discussed hiring someone to deliver ‘Christmas flowers,’” the affidavit states. The informant told agents that this was coded language used by Russell to “make the messages appear discreet.”

The job would cost $4,000, the nurse had told Russell, claiming that a “male friend from [her] past” could do the job.

“Russell begged [the nurse] for the ‘flowers’ to be delivered before Christmas,” according to the affidavit. “[The nurse] later informed Russell [that her] friend, who could have killed Crabtree, was killed himself and could no longer assist Russell.”

<div class="inline-image__credit"> U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky </div>
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky

On April 21, the nurse was interviewed by the FBI. She said Russell bought a burner phone to communicate with her about the hit, the affidavit states. After the nurse told Russell that her “hitman” friend had died, Russell asked the nurse if she’d “pull the trigger” herself.

The nurse declined, and quit once she realized Russell was actually serious, says the affidavit. She then sent screenshots of the texts to the colleague who first spoke to the FBI after learning that Russell had approached a second nurse at Kidz Life about getting rid of Crabtree.

On April 28, the informant contacted the FBI again, claiming that Russell was still soliciting help for the hit. The nurse provided the informant with screenshots of the exchange.

“Are you still looking for flowers?” the nurse texted Russell.

“I actually do need flowers,” she replied.

After a bit more back-and-forth, Russell asked the nurse if she was interested in playing Bunco, a dice game popular in the Midwest, on Saturday. The nurse said she was too busy as her daughter was “back to modeling,” to which Russell said, “Oh nice! Can I drop by your house tonight? Tomorrow night? Friday night? Sat? Sun?”

<div class="inline-image__credit"> U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky </div>
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky

On May 12, Russell and the nurse met in person at an unnamed local business to discuss “flowers.” Only this time, the nurse was wired for audio and video, courtesy of the FBI.

Russell again claimed that Crabtree was abusing their children, and said she “could really use some flowers,” the affidavit states. The nurse then gave Russell a phone number she said belonged to a hitman who could pull off the job. In reality, the number was for FBI Undercover Employee 5029, referred to in the affidavit as “UCE-5029.” The nurse said the hitman was located in Illinois but would travel to Louisville to carry out the murder.

On May 15, Russell called UCE-5029 from a new phone and said she wanted Crabtree “gone,” according to the affidavit. Russell explained that she would rather talk about the details in person, and offered to meet UCE-5029 halfway, in Indiana, so he didn’t have to drive the full four-and-a-half-hours just for a planning session. They agreed to a payment of $5,000, the affidavit states.

“Russell asked UCE-5029 if Crabtree could be killed on or before Friday, May 20, 2022, due to it being the last day of school for their children,” the filing alleges. “Russell also stated the murder could occur during her visitation with her children [that] Sunday... Russell did not want her children to be present when Crabtree was killed.”

Russell said she didn’t care how Crabtree was killed, as long as it looked like a suicide.

“Initially, Russell asked for UCE-5029 to hold [Crabtree] hostage and force him to text her an apologetic suicide note before being killed,” the affidavit states, adding that UCE-5029 said the hostage part would be impossible but that he would text her a suicide note—which Russell promised to pen in advance—from Crabtree’s phone after he was dead. Russell told UCE-5029 that Crabtree’s phone locked and unlocked using facial recognition, so UCE-5029 would have to hold the device up to Crabtree’s face after he killed him.

“Russell informed UCE-5029 she had been vocal about her hate towards Crabtree to a lot of people and was worried she would look guilty, which is why she requested the suicide note,” according to the affidavit.

The two agreed on a new price of $7,000, since the suicide aspect would add an extra layer of complexity to things. UCE-5029 could hear Russell counting out the cash while they were on the phone. She told him she was $20 short, but that she’d have it by the time the job was done.

<div class="inline-image__credit"> U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky </div>
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky

“Russell told UCE-5029 the cash she possessed she had obtained by selling items because she had hoped one day she would find someone to follow through with killing her husband,” states the affidavit.

On May 18, Russell texted UCE-5029, saying that she had placed the first half of the payment in a lab specimen drop box outside of Kidz Life, and gave him the code to unlock it.

“I am terrified that this will not happen,” Russell wrote.

“It will happen,” UCE-5029 replied.

“Promise?”

“Yes I promise.”

UCE-5029 retrieved the cash at around 7:30 that evening, as an FBI surveillance team looked on. At one point, Russell was seen with her kids at the practice.

Russell was arrested the following day, and remains detained pending her next court appearance.

“Thank God for the police, the FBI, everybody involved in all this has gone above and beyond the call of duty,” Crabtree told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “I appreciate everything that they’ve done.”

If convicted, Russell faces up to 10 years in federal prison. Her attorneys, Scott Cox and Scott Cox, II, did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

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