Wikipedia – Barbara Stager (born Oct. 30, 1948) is an American woman who was convicted in 1989 of murdering her husband, Russell Stager, in 1988. Russell was shot while in bed; Barbara reported the shooting as accidental. Her first husband, Larry Ford, also died in nearly identical circumstances.
~ Murder ~
At 6:08 a.m. on 1 February 1988, the police in Durham, North Carolina got a call from Mrs. Stager, reporting that her husband had been shot. She told the responding officers that her husband kept a handgun under his pillow when he slept, and that she must have touched it as she stirred in her sleep, causing it to discharge and kill Mr. Stager. At first the police accepted this account and ruled the incident an accidental shooting. According to shocked friends, coworkers and family members, Barbara was a devoted wife, mother, and Christian.
Jo Lynn Snow, Stager's first wife whom he divorced to marry Barbara, is credited with providing continuing evidence of Barbara's spendthrift and adulterous ways as well as the similar death of her first husband. Attorney Eric Evenson was also convinced of Barbara's evil nature, and piecing together the puzzle and determining that Mrs. Stager was guilty of murder.
At the conclusion of her trial for first-degree murder on 30 August 1989, the jury deliberated for 44 minutes to reach a guilty verdict, and Stager was sentenced to death the next day. In such cases the matter is automatically reviewed by a higher court; in this case the death sentence was changed to life imprisonment (now being carried out at the North Carolina Department of Corrections) due to a technicality in the first proceeding. Stager was given the possibility of parole in 20 years as required by law.
~ Aftermath ~
Barbara Stager had a parole hearing in March 2009. She was denied parole at that time and given a new parole review date for 2012. She is currently incarcerated at the Ralaigh CCW where she was moved in February 2013. Her next parole date is June 1, 2013.
~ In media ~
"Till Death Do Us Part: The Barbara Stager Story", is a 2003 episode of A&E's American Justice, which profiled the case. Jerry Bledsoe also wrote a book in 1994 about the case, entitled Before He Wakes: A True Story of Money, Marriage, Sex and Murder, which was later made into a TV movie in 1998 with the same title starring Jaclyn Smith. A&E's City Confidential presented its perspective on the case in the 2003 episode "Durham: Dangerous Housewife".
Investigation Discovery's Deadly Women portrayed the story in the 2010 "Fortune Hunters" episode and their Scorned: Love Kills revisited the case in its own "Till Debt Do Us Part," in 2012.
FULL TEXT: Durham, N.C. — Russell Stager appeared to have it all in the late 1980s. He was a respected baseball coach at Durham High School and had a loving wife.
It all came to a sudden end the night of Feb. 1, 1988.
Stager was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. His wife told police she accidentally jostled the handgun he kept under his pillow, and it went off while he slept.
Prosecutors didn't believe Barbara Stager's story, and after a sensational 1989 trial in Lee County – the case had to be moved from Durham because of intense publicity – a jury deliberated less than an hour before convicting her of first-degree murder in her husband's death.
Twenty years later, Barbara Stager is up for parole. Investigators and Russell Stager's family say they're afraid of what might happen if she is released from prison.
"I believe Barbara is a serial killer," said Jo Lynn Snow, Russell Stager's first wife.
Stager's first husband, Larry Ford, died under similar circumstances in Randolph County in March 1978. Authorities there initially ruled Ford's death an accident. They never found enough evidence later to file any criminal charges.
"She got away with the first one. She thought she could do it the second time, and she didn't make it," said Capt. Ricky Buchanan of the Durham County Sheriff's Office, who investigated Russell Stager's death.
Barbara Stager, 60, declined to speak with WRAL News, and no relatives, friends or former attorneys would speak on her behalf.
Russell and Barbara Stager married less than a year after Ford's death, said Snow, who remained on good terms with her ex-husband.
Two months before he died, Snow said, he told her his new marriage was plagued by money problems and infidelity and that he had become suspicious of his wife.
"He asked me, if anything ever happened to him, would I please look into it," Snow said.
Buchanan still keeps in his office the files on the 21-year-old case, which was the foundation of the 1994 novel "Before He Wakes." It was made into a television movie of the same name four years later.
He said he vividly remembers the day Barbara Stager was sentenced to death, a sentence that was later overturned on procedural grounds and replaced by a sentence of life in prison.
"Life then was (a minimum of) 20 years, and here we are 20 years later," he said.
The North Carolina Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission won't rule on Stager's parole until May, but investigators and Russell Stager's family are expected to speak to the panel this week to oppose her release.
Like Snow, Buchanan said he's afraid of Barbara Stager getting out from behind bars. The former Sunday school teacher has a way of gaining trust that makes her especially dangerous, he said.
"She's the pillar of the community during the day, but behind closed doors at night, she's another woman. She's evil," he said.
Snow said she fears not only for her safety if Stager is released, but also the emotions that return whenever her ex-husband's death is replayed.
"He loved life. He gave an awful lot to his community and to his family," she said. "Whenever we talk about Russ or we act on his behalf, he sort of comes alive again for us, and then when that is over, we have to bury him again."
[Erin Hartness, “Parole opposed for Durham woman who killed husband,” Wral.com, Mar. 2, 2009]
For links to other cases of woman who murdered 2 or more husbands (or paramours), see Black Widow Serial Killers.
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