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Crime News Dateline

Was Tracey Roberts a Heroic Mom Who Saved Her Kids From Intruders or a Cold-Blooded Killer?

The night of Dec 13, 2001 would forever change the lives of two Early, Iowa families. 

By Jill Sederstrom
Tracey Richter sits in a courtroom

The night of Dec. 13, 2001 was one of astonishing violence: Tracey Roberts told police two men broke into her Victorian house and choked her with a pair of pantyhose that had been drying on the bannister until she passed out.

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Catch up on Dateline: Unforgettable on Peacock or the Oxygen App.

When the mom of three regained consciousness, desperate to save her children, she made her way to her bedroom, grabbed a gun from her gun safe, and fired on one of the intruders, Roberts said.

The man fell to the ground while the second intruder escaped the home unscathed. 

That’s the story the Early, Iowa mom and her 11-year-old son, Bert Pitman, told police in the aftermath of the harrowing night — but was it the truth? 

It would take years to unravel the mystery and bring the true killer to justice. 

“To this day, it still leaves me surprised,” Dennis Murphy said on Dateline: Unforgettable

Was there a break-in at Tracey Roberts' home?

Investigators found the Roberts’ neighbor Dustin Wedhe dead on the bedroom floor of the family’s home. He had been shot nine times with two different guns, once through the eye. 

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Dustin had been a young man Tracey’s husband, Michael, had taken under his wing. His mother, Mona Wedhe, had been the family’s real estate agent and sold the couple several homes after they moved to Iowa from Chicago in 1998. 

“I would have done anything to help them or assist them,” Mona said of her one-time friends.

The feeling seemed to be mutual and Michael volunteered to mentor Mona’s 20-year-old special needs son Dustin, who she felt was struggling to find his way.

“I felt that my son was labeled at a very young age and really started getting bullied at a very young age,” Mona said. “He never was invited to a birthday party, he was never invited for a sleepover.”

Tracey Richter sits in a courtroom

Both families’ lives changed forever the night of Dec. 13, 2001. According to Tracey, she had been upstairs giving her 1-year-old daughter, Mason, a bath when she heard two men at the bottom of the stairs.

Terrified, she ran to her son Bert’s room, threw him the baby, and tried to get into the room herself, but someone pulled her hair sending her tumbling backwards.

While Bert stayed in the bedroom, guarding his two younger siblings and arming himself with a baseball bat, Tracey said someone grabbed a pair of pantyhose that had been hanging on a bannister and began to choke her.

“I was having trouble breathing and I couldn’t get away,” she told Murphy. 

Tracey said she passed out and woke up laying on the floor. Desperate to protect her family, Tracey said she ran to her bedroom, grabbed a gun safe next to the bed, opened the safe, and began to fire over her shoulder at the intruders. She managed to turn around and kept firing.

One man fell to the ground, while the other fled. 

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“The thing I remember the most was that it was so loud and it was so bright, like the flash from the gun was blinding, really,” she said. 

According to Tracey’s account, she ran to the hallway to get her children out. When she opened the door, she said Bert nearly took her head off with the baseball bat.

 Just as they all were making their way down the hallway, the intruder began to move again, so she grabbed a different gun and fired more shots into the body.

When she later learned Dustin was the man who died, she said she was devastated for his mom.

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“I cared about Mona and now she’s lost her son,” she said.

Tracey’s husband, Michael, who had been out of town on business, was amazed by his wife’s heroic actions. 

“I was very proud of her and Bert,” he said. “They were my heroes.”

Who were the possible suspects in the alleged attack on Tracey Roberts?

Investigators immediately got to work to try to find the second intruder.

There was nothing of value taken from the home except an old computer, neatly packed into the backseat of Dustin’s car, which sat in front of the house. 

Tracey believed the attack could have been orchestrated by her first husband — and Bert’s father — Dr. John Pitman. The pair were going through a heated custody battle at the time. 

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Tracey described her ex as being very controlling and alleged that the marriage fell apart because of his bullying and philandering ways. When Bert was just 3 years old, she had accused her ex-husband of sexually abusing her young son.

Pitman vehemently denied the allegation and Illinois child abuse investigators agreed, issuing a court finding that no abuse had taken place. Pitman, who now lived in Virginia, also contended that Tracey had been the violent one in the marriage, once pulling a gun on him.

He also denied claims that he had been unfaithful and said his private eye found evidence to suggest Tracey had been the one cheating on him. 

“That was a real shocker because it started to look like she almost had a second life that I wasn’t aware of,” he told Murphy.

Michael believed the culprit could have been an Illinois dentist who Tracey once alleged had sexually assaulted her after being sedated during a dental procedure.

Tracey had once sent Michael a fax that appeared to be a typewritten confession from the man and an agreement to pay $150,000. He encouraged his wife to call the police, but she opted to file a civil lawsuit instead. The case was set to go to trial just a few days before the alleged attack at her home.

But investigators couldn’t find any links between the dentist or evidence that would place him in Iowa.

The man would later also claim the “confession” had been forged.

Investigators also took a close look at Michael. Although he had been out of town the night of the attack, he had a close relationship with Dustin.

Bert claimed his stepfather had been physically abusive, once allegedly breaking his nose after he didn’t clean up horse manure with his bare hands. Michael denied ever breaking his step son’s nose, but he was arrested in December 2000 after an argument with Tracey. Tracey claimed Michael knocked her down and hit her head into the drywall. 

Michael would later insist that Tracey had been the one who was enraged and he was only trying to restrain her because she was kicking holes into the drywall near electrical wiring. He also claimed his wife had once gotten him drunk and then tried to suffocate him with a plastic bag.

Was Dustin Wedhe’s death self-defense or murder? 

For years, the case went cold. Tracey and Michael divorced and she moved with her children to Omaha, Nebraska to start a new life.

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But for Dustin’s mother, the case never made sense. She couldn’t imagine why her son would have wanted to hurt Tracey, who he considered a friend.

“He parked in front of the house,” she said. “He had no gun. He had no knife.”

When she learned that four of the shots had been into the back of Dustin’s head, she began to suspect that Dustin had been murdered. 

Special Agent Trent Vileta, with Iowa’s Division of Criminal Investigation, was assigned to take a fresh look at the case in 2008 and was immediately troubled by what he discovered. 

For one thing, he learned there had been numerous inconsistencies in Tracey’s statements to police. There were also no signs of disarray in the house and nothing of value, other than that old computer, was taken from the home. 

When he spoke to people in Tracey’s past like Pitman, the Chicago-area dentist, and Michael, they pointed to Tracey as being manipulative and aggressive. 

“Either you have to believe the entire world is out to get Tracey or Tracey’s a criminal and she just does bad things,” he said.

Sac County Prosecutor Ben Smith said the break in the case finally came when he discovered a pink spiral notebook that had been recovered from Dustin’s car. Inside, Dustin had seemingly written a strange tale about being contacted by a “mysterious fellow” he identified as Pitman who wanted him to kill Tracey. 

The notebook, which had never been mentioned in the media, went on to describe specific details about Pitman that Dustin would have never known on his own. Smith began to suspect that Tracey had fed Dustin the information to write in the journal the night he was killed. In an email to investigators, Tracey had used almost the same language to describe her ex-husband. 

Tracey, now going by the name Tracey Richter, was arrested and charged with Dustin’s murder. 

Mona would also later testify that shortly before his death, Tracey had asked her to send Dustin to the house sometime alone because she had paperwork she needed him to help with. Authorities believe she lured Dustin to the house and killed him in an attempt to frame her first husband amid the custody battle for her oldest son and used the ballistic evidence to help make their case. 

A paramedic then took the stand to testify that the marks he found on Tracey’s neck that night did not match strangulation and seemed to be self-inflicted.

Tracey’s friend would also testify that Tracey knew about the pink notebook even though it was never mentioned in the media or revealed by investigators. 

Although Tracey and her son continued to claim she was the victim of a vicious attack that night, the mom of three was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.