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Kentucky Pediatrician Indicted In Murder-For-Hire Of Ex-Husband

Stephanie Russell allegedly plotted to arrange her ex-husband Rick Crabtree's contract killing “in order to take full custody of their two children,” court documents state.

By Dorian Geiger
A police handout of Stephanie Russell

A Kentucky pediatrician will stand trial in the the attempted assassination of her ex-husband following a bitter custody battle for the couple’s children.

Stephanie Russell, 52, was indicted on murder-for-hire charges of her ex-husband Rick Crabtree last week, according to court documents obtained by Oxgyen.com. She pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

Investigators first uncovered the alleged murder-for-hire plot in November 2019, after Russell allegedly falsely accused her ex-spouse of abusing their children to Louisville Metro Police Department. Crabtree, who was interviewed by detectives, ultimately laid out his former wife’s long standing plot to have him murdered.

“During this interview, Crabtree stated he believed Russell was attempting to hire an assassin to kill him in order to take full custody of their two children,” the case’s complaint, which Oxygen.com obtained, stated.

Crabtree’s lawyer produced a sworn affidavit from the couple's former nanny, in which she alleged Russell had approached her several times and alluded to “getting rid of Crabtree.” 

Initially, the nanny told police that she presumed Russell was joking, but the pediatrician’s comments increasingly took on a sinister tone, court documents stated. Russell allegedly later asked the nanny if she knew any “really bad people” who could get rid of her ex-spouse and went into additional details regarding the planned murder of Crabtree, speaking on preferred timing and locations.

The Louisville Police Department tipped off the FBI about the suspected murder plot, but the agency was not able to produce additional evidence of the suspected murder-for-hire scheme despite a number of interviews. Police also found no evidence to support the child abuse claim Russell filed against her ex-husband.

As part of the couple’s divorce, Crabtree was awarded custody of the couple’s two children. Russell was only allocated two days of supervised visitation each week.

In March, the FBI reopened their investigation into Crabtree’s alleged assassination plot after a private investigator turned over new evidence to Louisville detectives implicating the Kentucky pediatrician in a murder-for-hire conspiracy.

According to charging documents, the private investigator became privy to the alleged murder-for-hire through a witness who worked with Russell at her pediatric practice, Kidz R Life Pediatrics, in Prospect, Kentucky. The private investigator says they discovered that Russell had allegedly approached employees about locating a hitman to kill Crabtree.

The witness allegedly told the FBI that Russell had attempted to solicit two nurses at the medical practice on different occasions, requesting “assistance” in her ex-husband’s murder. The worker also turned over screenshots of text messages between Russell and one employee that she said could corroborate her claims.

In her messages, Russell allegedly used the code word "Christmas flowers” to cryptically refer to Crabtree’s killing.

“In the text messages, Russell discussed hiring someone to deliver “Christmas flowers," the case’s complaint stated. “[The witness] advised ‘Christmas flowers’ was code for killing Crabtree.”

The second witness then told federal agents that Russell also sought help from her to arrange contract killing, claiming Russell told her that her ex-husband was sexually abusing their children.

Russell bought a “burner phone” in furtherance of the plot, investigators alleged in their complaint. Between Dec. 5 and Dec. 28, 2021, the case’s second witness allegedly exchanged a series of text messages with Russell about possibly hiring “someone from his/her past who could potentially kill Crabtree.” The witness told investigators that she told Russell the individual in question would charge $4,000, to be paid upon completion of the job. Russell allegedly offered an extra $1,000 if the hit could be carried out by Dec. 12, 2021.

“Russell told [the witness] she wanted Crabtree dead so she could gain full custody of her children,” charging documents stated. “Russell did not care what method was used to kill her ex-husband.” 

The witness told investigators that she eventually tried to break off contact with Russell, claiming the “alleged hitman had died.” Russell later asked the witness if she “would pull the trigger themselves,” the complaint alleged. She declined and left Russell's employment.

The case’s second witness — upon hearing from the first witness that Russell had approached a new employee about arranging the hit — allegedly re-engaged with Russell and gave her the number to an undercover FBI agent posing as a hitman. During a recorded phone call with the undercover agent, the agency says Russell divulged she wanted her ex’s killing to appear as a suicide and requested the federal agent to force her ex to pen a suicide note prior to the contract murder.

“Initially, Russell asked [the undercover FBI agent] hold [Crabtree] hostage and force him to text her an apologetic suicide note before being killed,” charging documents stated. “[The agent] explained to Russell he/she would not complete this task but would text her from Russell’s phone a suicide note, after [the agent] had killed Crabtree.” He also requested $7,000 instead of the initial $5,000.

Russell allegedly left $3,500 — a partial payment for the hit — in lab specimen drop boxes outside her office in Louisville, which the undercover agent retrieved. 

Russell’s legal defense team didn’t immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment regarding the open case on Tuesday afternoon. A jury trial has been scheduled for Aug. 22.