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Missouri-born Russ Faria was a nine-to-five man whose life was turned on its head when he was wrongfully convicted for his wife’s 2011 murder.
Russ Faria found his wife, Elizabeth “Betsy” Faria, dead in their Troy, Missouri home on Dec. 27, 2011. Betsy’s friend, Pamela Hupp, would later be charged with Betsy’s murder, and become the focus of the new NBC limited series, “The Thing About Pam,” based on the Dateline NBC podcast series of the same name.
Russ Faria spoke to Oxygen.com about the staggering publicity surrounding his wife’s murder and how the ordeal helped him find true love in the most unexpected of places.
“It’s kind of flattering," Faria said from a motorcycle repair shop where he now works. "One never thinks that their life is going to be so interesting that everybody wants to know about it.”
Russ said he “worked extensively” with the writers behind “The Thing About Pam,” starring two-time Academy Award winner Renée Zellweger as Hupp and Glenn Fleshler (Joker, True Detective) as Russ Faria.
“As I see it, it’s raising awareness because what happened to me happened in rural America … it could happen to Joe Blow or John Smith or anybody else out there,” he said.
Russ Faria was raised in the suburbs of St. Louis. He was the son of an Italian mother with a large family and a Portuguese father from Florida who served in the military before settling down in Florissant, Missouri, to be with his mother. Russ said he met his future wife, Betsy, at a gas station where she worked in 1998 in nearby O’Fallon, Missouri.
“That gas station was probably the closest convenience store to where I lived, so I was in there quite a bit,” said Russ. “We started chatting and hit it off, and one thing led to another, and we ended up dating and getting married.”
The couple married in 2000 and moved to Troy, Missouri, with Betsy’s two daughters, Leah and Mariah, from a previous relationship.
“We had our share of ups and downs. We separated a few times here and there,” said Russ, adding that the pair was able to reconcile following Betsy’s cancer diagnosis. “We had gotten things back on track. We were going to a new church, and it was the best years of our relationship, those last four or five years.”
Betsy underwent a mastectomy in 2010, but doctors found cancer in her liver the following year. She was given three to five years to live.
“[Hupp] started inserting herself back into Betsy’s life when she was diagnosed with cancer,” said Russ. “I guess that should have been a red flag to me.”
Russ explained Betsy and Hupp previously worked together at a local State Farm Insurance office and that he’d only spoken with Hupp on a handful of occasions. Most of their brief interactions were at Betsy’s work-related functions, but Russ said Hupp was always cordial with him.
On the night of the murder, Hupp picked Betsy up at her mother’s house and drove her home. Russ was out with friends when Betsy told him she no longer needed him for a ride. What happened next is not entirely known.
“I came home to find a horrific scene,” Russ said on finding his wife dead in their home. “That was when I called the police, and they started doing their investigation, albeit not a very good one.”
Russ was ultimately arrested and charged with Betsy’s murder, calling it a “horrific experience.”
“It was devastating,” Russ told Oxygen.com. “I was arrested at my mother and father’s house, and so they had to witness that, my sister, too. I think that really hurt more, that they had to experience that as well.”
After being convicted, Russ was sentenced to life plus 30 years without the possibility of parole. His defense attorney, Joel Schwartz, was determined to prove his client’s innocence, believing Pamela Hupp made for a better suspect in the case. However, during the trial, Schwartz was unable to cross-examine Hupp about Betsy’s $150,000 life insurance policy, which was transferred into Hupp’s name just days before the murder.
Russ spent the next three and a half years behind bars, describing the experience as “scary” and saying he “felt deflated” by the verdict.
Russ resigned himself to the idea of spending the rest of his life in prison until Schwartz challenged his conviction and got him a bench trial in 2015. Schwartz was permitted to introduce new evidence at the retrial and offered Hupp as a potential suspect.
A judge ended up overturning Russ’s conviction, causing Russ’s knees to give out from under him.
“The things [the judge] was saying, you can tell what the verdict was going to be,” Russ admitted. “However, you just have to hear those words for yourself.
Hupp, the star witness who helped secure Russ’s first verdict, would be charged with Betsy’s murder in 2021, but not before she was sentenced to life for the 2016 murder of a man named Louis Gumpenberger.
Prosecutors say Hupp lured the 33-year-old Gumpenberger - a man with significant mental impairments - into her home under the pretense that she was a producer for Dateline NBC and was looking to film a recreation of a 911 call for the show. Hupp then shot Gumpenberger, telling authorities he’d attacked her with a knife in a plot ostensibly organized by Russ in order to get his hands on Betsy’s life insurance money.
“She tried to pin that one on me as well,” Russ told Oxygen.com.
Authorities were skeptical of Hupp’s story. In fact, six days before Gumpenberger’s death Charles County police had received a report from a woman named Carol McAfee that someone matching Hupp’s description had approached her, representing herself as a Dateline producer and asking if she’d be interested in going back to her home to film a 911 call recreation, reports local St. Louis news outlet Fox2News. It was the same tale prosecutors theorized Hupp used to lure Gumpenberger.
In 2019, Hupp entered an Alford plea in Gumpenberger’s death, meaning she didn’t admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence to be convicted at trial, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Russ said that had Hupp not taken the plea, McAfee would have testified against her.
In July 2021, Hupp was formally charged with Betsy’s murder and pleaded not guilty.
Russ said the development “made me feel great."
"It felt really good that [they] were trying to right the wrongs that happened in his community."
Since his exoneration, Russ said he’s become a “passionate” advocate for the wrongfully accused and works with the Midwest Innocence Project.
“We all see things that we want to change in this world, and there’s a lot of things that need to be changed,” he said. “But if you see something that needs to be changed, and there’s something you can do about it and don’t, then you’re part of the problem.”
Russ told Oxygen.com that he plans to take Betsy’s ashes with him to Hupp’s court hearings.
“I miss her all the time,” Russ said. “I’ll always love Betsy. … She deserves a voice. She deserves to be present.”
Russ has also found love in a seemingly unlikely place – with Carol McAfee, the woman Pam Hupp allegedly tried luring back to her house.
“I don’t think [Pam] ever set out to do anything to benefit anybody in her entire life,” said Russ. “However, inadvertently, she did, because if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have ever met and fallen in love with my fiancée. … I want to dwell on the fact that something good actually came out of something she did.”
Russ proposed to Carol last October, but they agreed to let the dust settle in the Hupp case before they set a date for their big day.
These days, Russ enjoys traveling with his new fiancée and camping, where he “appreciates wide open space a little more” after spending time in prison.
“The Thing About Pam” airs Tuesdays on NBC at 10/9 c.
“The Thing About Pam” is produced by NBC News studios, Blumhouse Television, and Big Picture Co. Oxygen’s parent company is NBCUniversal.
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