Police: Man Living in Quechee Tried to Kill Wife in Missouri
Brandy Lee Hicks
Christopher David Hicks
Quechee — A man who has been living for several months in an Upper Valley condominium has been arrested and charged with enlisting his mistress and her husband in an unsuccessful plot to burn down his Missouri home and kill his wife.
Donald Lafferty, 69, a pastor and former School Board member in southeast Missouri was taken into custody Monday night in North Andover, Mass., where his daughter lives.
Earlier on Monday, a Vermont Circuit Court judge issued a search warrant on the Fox Hollow condominium to which Lafferty moved in the months after the January 2013 fire at his Bloomfield, Mo., home, according to a news release from the prosecuting attorney in Stoddard County, Mo.
Eight Hartford police officers dressed in tactical gear executed the warrant around 7 p.m. Monday night, but found the residence to be empty, said Deputy Chief of Police Brad Vail.
Lafferty was apprehended at a residence in North Andover around 11:20 p.m., according to the release. The house where Lafferty was arrested is owned by his daughter, Karen Lafferty Lunny, and son-in-law, John Lunny, according to North Andover assessing records.
The Lunnys also own the Quechee condominium, according to Hartford assessing records.
Detective Sgt. Mike Tkac said officials believed Lafferty was in one of the two locations, and when he was not located in Quechee, police turned their attention to North Andover, a suburb northwest of Boston.
According to the news release, “an individual in the home where Mr. Lafferty was found stated that they knew about the warrants for the arrest of Mr. Lafferty for attempted murder because they had read about them in various news outlets online.”
Lafferty also faces a felony charge of financial exploitation of the elderly for allegedly stealing nearly $87,000 from his 89-year-old mother.
Lafferty is currently being held in a Massachusetts facility awaiting extradition, according to Stoddard County Prosecutor Russell Oliver.
Lafferty’s alleged mistress and her husband — Brandy Lee Hicks, 33, and Christopher David Hicks, 34, both of Dexter, Mo. — face charges of attempted murder, armed criminal action and first-degree arson related to the 2013 fire. Each of their bonds were listed at $750,000 cash only, Oliver said.
Prosecutors allege that Lafferty agreed to pay the couple, whom he met through the church where he was the pastor, to burn the house down, with the amount paid depending upon the “outcome of the fire,” in order to kill his wife, and that Lafferty had been having an affair with Brandy Hicks.
According to probable cause affidavits filed in the case, Oliver asked an investigator to re-open the house fire case in April, partially due to the appearance of money as a motivating factor, since Lafferty was a suspect in the financial exploitation of his mother.
At the time of the Jan. 12 house fire, Donald Lafferty’s wife, Mildred Lafferty, was asleep inside the residence. She reported she was awakened by the heat of the fire, made a failed attempt at extinguishing the blaze and called 911.
The fire was ruled to be the work of an arsonist after investigators discovered the odor of gasoline, a partially burnt gasoline can and a butane lighter on the floor near the point of origin, as well as floor-burn characteristics indicating the use of a poured, ignitable liquid, The Daily Statesman of Dexter, Mo., reported.
In an interview with investigators last month, Mildred Lafferty told investigators that on the morning of the fire, Donald Lafferty had prepared breakfast and her coffee tasted “horrible.” She drank one cup, but couldn’t drink another as she normally would have done.
During an outing after breakfast, Mildred Lafferty became dizzy and asked to be taken home, where she laid down on the couch and fell asleep.
She awakened and noticed her husband moving a cedar chest from their bedroom that had been there for 16 years.
It contained pillows, quilts and a blanket his daughter had made him for Christmas.
When she asked him why he was moving the trunk, he stated he was “tired of stumping his toe on it,” Mildred Lafferty told investigators.
He then removed a desktop computer from the home, telling her it had been smoking and he didn’t want to catch the house on fire.
He went to Pizza Hut later that night.
While he normally would have ordered a pizza through the drive-thru window, he dined inside the restaurant, she said.
Investigators said Brandy Hicks told them she met Donald Lafferty at the Pizza Hut to confirm that the couple had set the house on fire.
Brandy Hicks also told investigators that she and Lafferty had a sexual relationship and that he had routinely paid her and her husband’s bills, had given her spending cash and bought her two automobiles.
Phone records have reportedly shown multiple calls and text messages between Lafferty and Brandy Hicks before, during and after the time of the fire.
Chris Hicks denied any knowledge of the fire. When he learned what his wife had told police, he immediately stated that he wanted an attorney, and the interview with investigators concluded.
Separately, prosecutors said in court affidavits that Donald Lafferty’s sister Annette Roberts accused her brother of fraudulently withdrawing nearly $87,000 from their mother’s bank account.
They said Lafferty spent nearly $37,000 in credit card charges, $34,000 to pay a bank loan, and $15,000 at a Cadillac/Buick dealership.
In Quechee on Tuesday, two residents of the Fox Hollow condominiums who declined to give their names expressed shock at the arrests.
One neighbor said Lafferty had moved into the condo last summer to be closer to his grandchildren. She said his daughter and her family have used the condo as a vacation home since the early 2000s.
She expressed disbelief at the accusations, calling Lafferty a kind, pleasant man who showed great care for his grandchildren.
According to assessing records, the condo, one of 20 units in Fox Hollow overlooking the Quechee Club golf course, was built in 2002 and purchased for $401,550, and most recently assessed at $376,900.
Nobody answered the door at the condo Tuesday.
A message left at a phone number associated with Karen Lunny in Massachusetts was not returned on Tuesday.
In a news release, Oliver, the county prosecutor in Missouri, thanked the Hartford Police Department.
“I cannot give enough praise to the Hartford Police Department for their responsiveness and willingness to help assist our agency on a case more than 1,200 miles away,” he said. “Their assistance has been invaluable to our efforts to bring Mr. Lafferty to justice.”
Material from the Associated Press and The Daily Statesman of Dexter, Mo., was used in this report. Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.