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Crime News Dateline

Former Texas Police Chief Shoots Wife's Ex, New Girlfriend in Front of 4-Year-Old Son

Dateline reporter Dennis Murphy described the mastermind of the gruesome plot to kill young parents Josh Niles and Amber Washburn as "perhaps the most villainous killer" he's ever come across. 

By Jill Sederstrom
Charlene Childers

It was a fateful car accident in the middle of Kansas that helped solve a gruesome double homicide more than 1,000 miles away.

How to Watch

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

Without that telling clue, investigators may have never pieced together the murders of young parents Josh Niles and Amber Washburn, who were gunned down outside their Sodus, New York home on a sunny, fall day in October 2018, according to Dateline: Unforgettablein a story that's also been told on Snapped: Killer Couples.

“We have a lot of strange cases  in the course of Dateline but this one has a chilliness to it that’s just unmatched. It’s a story about young couples and their children, their tangled relationships, that is so disturbing you might question what kind of creatures we humans really are,” Dateline reporter Dennis Murphy said of why the case stands out. “At its core, it's a horrific tragedy masterminded by perhaps the most villainous killer I've ever encountered in all my years of covering true crime.” 

What happened to Josh Niles and Amber Washburn?

Before the deadly shooting, Josh and Amber’s lives had been filled with such promise. Josh was starting his own lawn care business. The couple bought a new house and were thinking about tying the knot. 

 “They were on the road to success,” Josh’s sister Nicole Gunkel recalled. 

Their 4-year-old son, Josh Jr., had been born with autism and was non-verbal, but the setback didn’t phase the young couple. 

“They dealt with it very well,” Josh’s mom Barb Niles told the show

Josh and Amber were also parents to Josh’s two older children from his previous relationship with Charlene Childers.

Charlene Childers

It was all going well until that fateful afternoon on October 22, 2018. Neighbor Tiffany Thayer saw Josh leaning against his truck in deep conversation with someone when Amber pulled up in her car, with young 4-year-old Josh Jr. strapped in the backseat. Soon after, Thayer heard loud gunshots. 

“I turned back out my kitchen window and see Josh grab his chest and Amber at that point had threw her car in reverse and right as she was completely past the shooter, he turned and shot her right in the head,” Thayer recalled.

Josh watched in agony as his girlfriend was murdered in front of his eyes. Wounded, he tried to hide underneath his truck, but the shooter opened fire again, killing him. 

Wayne County Sheriff’s Office Sgt Matt Carr, who was first on the scene, described it as “probably one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.” 

Amidst the blood, Josh Jr. sat in the backseat, a witness to the brutal homicides. 

“I can honestly say I can still see the child in the backseat gripping his four-piece chicken McNuggets. That still, I can see it vividly,” Carr said.

Since he was nonverbal, Josh Jr. wasn’t able to provide an account of the shooting.

The assailant, described by witnesses as wearing a black sweatshirt, had already fled the scene on foot. Authorities scoured the surrounding areas, looking in sheds and knocking on doors, but there was no sign of the shooter. 

That same day Childers — who lived in Texas — called Josh’s mom after she said she saw news footage of the shooting on social media. She headed to New York to comfort her children and mourn with the family, even speaking to local media at a candlelight vigil. 

“Whoever did it has now made it to where my kids grow up without a dad and that’s nothing a kid should ever have to do, it’s not something that you ever want to find out,” she said. “The most I have to say to you all is justice needs to be served. My kids need that closure.”

Childers told detectives that she and Josh had a volatile relationship and police had been called to their home on numerous occasions. She also alleged to Dateline: Unforgettable that Josh used drugs and would get violent when he got upset. 

“He beat the crap out of me and you know, the cops came,” she said. 

Josh’s family claimed, however, that Childers was often the instigator in fights and called 911 to get the upper hand in the relationship. 

“Those two were like fire and water. They just couldn’t  be together,” Barb said.

By the time of the murders, Childers was living across the country in Texas. While she raised the couple’s two children during the school year, Josh and Amber took custody of the kids for the summers — until Childers’ husband, Tim Dean, a police chief in the small town of Sunray, Texas, was caught on video striking his own 3-year-old daughter in the face. Dean not only lost custody of his own daughter, but a judge granted Josh full custody of his two children in the fallout after the incident.

In August, just months before the shooting, Childers had offered to divorce her husband in an attempt to regain custody, but the judge opted to leave the children with Josh for the time being.

“It angers me and it frustrates me,” Childers said of the decision. 

Dean wasn’t the only man in Childers’ life. She also had a boyfriend in Sodus, Casey Miller. Miller had once served jail time for having a romantic relationship with Childers, who was then only 14 years old.

Shortly after the murders, he was helping Childers get rid of a handgun. It seemed like a possible break in the case, but ballistics didn’t match the gun to the shooting and Miller had been at work when the murders took place, eliminating him as a suspect. 

When authorities took a closer look at Dean, however, they learned through phone records that he had called 911 in Emporia, Kansas just days before the shooting. Dean had been trying to make a U-turn around 4 a.m. on a dark highway when he crashed the rental car he was driving. 

As Lyon County Sheriff’s Deputy Cory Nicolet’s body camera rolled, Dean told him he’d been out “just driving” around.

“My whole life has kind of gone to [expletive] lately,” he said. “More or less living out of my car.” 

Dean told the officer he was going through a divorce, had lost his job as police chief as a result of his arrest, and had been planning to visit a friend in New York. 

After damaging his first rental car, which had been rented by his friend and Sunray Police officer Bron Bohlar, Dean called Childers, who drove up to Kansas and helped him get another rental car. Investigators were able to track that vehicle all the way up to New York.

They also recovered surveillance footage from the auto repair shop that showed Dean carrying a tub full of ammo and a black shooting vest that had been inside the rental car.

His link to the crime was cemented even further when his DNA was discovered on a black ski mask found not far from the crime scene. 

When investigators interrogated Bohlar about why he had originally rented the car for Dean, he cracked and confessed to helping plan the murders inside Dean’s garage in Texas. Investigators learned that Childers had also been at those meetings. 

She’d later confess to Dateline:Unforgettable that she’d helped orchestrate the murders with Dean after losing custody of her children. 

“I had just lost my kids at least for the school year and I said, ‘You know what? I can’t deal with this. I can’t deal with the depression and the sadness anymore. I need my kids. My kids are my life,’ and he looked at me and he’s like, ‘What do we do?’” she recalled. “I was like, ‘He’s got to go, he’s got to go.’” 

Before he left to carry out the shooting, Childers said she told Dean she loved him. The divorce plans were only a ruse to regain custody of her children.

While Childers coldly admitted her role in killing the father of her children, she insisted it had never been part of the plan to kill Amber.

“Those were not my orders,” she said.“She was never in the plans. Ever.” 

Wayne County Assistant District Attorney Christine Callanan described Childers as a master manipulator. 

“She always utilized men in her life. She utilized Tim to kill Josh," she said.

Dean, Childers, and Bohlar were all arrested for their role in the slayings. Bohlar received a sentence of one to three years for second-degree conspiracy. Dean got life in prison for the murders, but in perhaps one final manipulation, Childers struck a deal. In exchange for testifying against Dean, she received 28 years for first-degree manslaughter. 

While sitting in prison, Childers professed her remorse to Murphy. 

“I am a human being. I make mistakes. This was ultimately the biggest mistake I’ve ever done,” she said. “I’m sorry more than I can express.” 

Murphy wasn’t convinced, however, that the apology was genuine. 

“That lack of empathy is something I’ll never forget,” he said. “Sometimes it’s not the heroes you remember most, but the villains.” 

You can learn more about this case by watching Snapped: Killer Couples.