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Extreme Sports Businessman Gunned Down In Company Warehouse By His Son
Detectives turned up a contentious history between murder victim Chris Northam and his son who shared his name and entrepreneurial venture.
In Roseville, California, an extreme sports business became the scene of the ultimate betrayal.
On May 30, 2011, Averill Easley, 33, made a frantic 911 call. She reported that her fiance, Chris Northam Jr., 24, told her that he’d heard gunshots outside Skim X, his family’s indoor sporting company.
Inside the Skim X warehouse, first responders found Christopher “Chris” Northam Sr., 44, on the floor, according to Darin DeFreece, a now-retired detective sergeant with Roseville Police Department.
Northam had been shot in the face and shoulder. “It was clear this was a decedent,” DeFreece told Fatal Family Feuds, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.
“No murder weapon was present. No shell casings, no footprints, no signs of struggle,” said private investigator Larry DeMates, adding that it may have been “a professional hit.” There were no signs of forced entry.
Who shot businessman Chris Northam?
Investigators learned that Northam had a hardscrabble youth. He was “incredibly focused and driven,” according to his brother, Shon Northam.
Northam’s marriage ended in divorce. But according to witness accounts, he and his sons, Chris Jr. and Cody, maintained a great relationship.
In September 2008, while watching his sons compete in a skimboarding competition, Northam came up with the idea for Skim X, an indoor watersport park.
Northam and Chris Jr. “wanted to establish themselves as these successful entrepreneurs in this new sport,” said DeFreece.
Northam sold friends, family, and acquaintances “on the idea of this business,” said Andrew Westrope, former reporter for Roseville Press Tribune. The businessman worked on the idea for over three years.
Police questioned Chris Jr. and Easley about the day of the shooting. She said that Chris Jr. reached out to her in a panic at 3:15 p.m. “Chris Jr. had told her that he had heard gunshots and that there was possibly a break in,” said DeFreece.
Chris Jr., who was Skim X’s business manager, told officials that he and his father had a morning conference call with a South African investor. The caller was concerned about how money was being spent.
Around 2 p.m., Northam drove to the company warehouse on the other side of the industrial park. According to Chris Jr., his dad said he believed there’d been a break-in at the warehouse.
Chris Jr. drove over to meet his father. That’s when he heard shots before speeding away and calling Easley, according to Fatal Family Feuds.
Suspects surface in Chris Northam’s shooting death
His decision to call her first, not 911, was highly unusual. “Chris Jr. possibly was a suspect,” said David Tellman, Placer County, Chief Deputy District Attorney.
Chris Jr., meanwhile, shifted the focus. He said Northam “received death threats from someone that used to work at the business,” Tellman added.
That individual, Ron Conn, was contracted to build Skim X ramps. After a few months Northam and Conn “butted heads” over each other’s competence, according to Westrope.
“On his last day at work in March, Ron Conn threatened to kill Chris Sr. in front of other employees,” said now-retired FBI Special Agent In Charge Michael Tabman.
Police requested Northam’s cell phone history for possible clues as they continued to look for fresh leads. They learned that Northam reportedly kept an AR 15 rifle behind his desk at Skim X.
“We went through the office, but there was no firearm that was found at the business,” said DeFreece. Police found an empty rifle case at Northam’s home.
The medical examiner found that Northam “was shot at a distance, not a close range,” said Tabman. Police considered that his own gun may have been the murder weapon.
Following a thorough investigation, Conn was eliminated as a suspect. He had a solid alibi, having been at a family event at the time of the homicide.
“I did have a tumultuous relationship with Chris Sr.,” Conn told Fatal Family Feuds. “It was blatantly obvious that he had no idea what he was doing.”
Conn said that Northam “bullied people through words and threats," adding, “but he treated Chris Jr. the worst.”
Detectives learned that Northam would publicly tear his son down if he made a mistake. “Chris Jr. would never stand up to him,” said Conn. “He always just took it and then internalized it.”
Investigators next cleared the South African investor who wasn’t in the U.S. at the time of the murder from the list of suspects.
Chris Northam’s son becomes the main suspect
Detectives turned their attention to Skim X financial records. Northam had “obtained a lot of money from investors. But we discovered that there was only roughly $44,000 left,” said Tellman.
“That’s a major discrepancy from half a million dollars,” said Tabman. Where did the money go? Only two people had access to the company bank accounts: Northam and Chris Jr. Suspicion intensified around the victim’s son.
While looking into Northam’s personal finances, investigators discovered the father had a $3 million life insurance policy. It was to be split equally among Skim X and his two sons.
An addition to the will stated that Skim X’s assets would be left to Northam’s girlfriend, a married woman he’d dated for several months. Detectives investigated her and eliminated her as a suspect based on cell phone records.
Investigators honed in on Chris Jr. A close look at his phone records raised red flags“Chris Jr. told investigators in his initial interview that he spoke to his father on the phone just before there were gunshots, and then he immediately called Averill,” said Tabman.
However, phone records showed that there were 30 minutes between the two calls. Investigators questioned Chris Jr. again.
Was he embezzling money? He said no. Why did he wait a half an hour to report the gunshots? He had no good answer. He said he knew nothing about his dad’s gun.
Despite his firm denials, investigators were not convinced that Chris Jr. wasn’t involved in the crime. But their case wasn’t a slam-dunk.
In Dec. 2011, his girlfriend, Easley, came to police. She reported that she and Chris Jr. had split. She now remembered that he was responsible for his father’s death.
“He didn’t say he killed his dad,” she told officials in a taped interview. But he had confessed, “I shot my dad,” she said. Easley claimed that she’d repressed this detail, according to investigators.
“She explained that she just couldn’t imagine Chris Jr. shooting his dad,” said Tellman. “But as time went on, it became more clear to her that he was involved.”
Chris Northam Jr. arrested for his father’s murder
Authorities eventually discovered that Chris Jr. siphoned $160,000 from Skim X in the five months before the murder, according to Fatal Family Feuds.
Detectives theorized that a conflict broke out on May 30, 2011, when Northam discovered his son’s actions.
“When you add up all the inconsistencies with Chris Jr.’s story, the embezzlement, the abusive relationship, there was enough evidence to charge him with murder,” said Tabman.
On February 12, 2012, Chris Northam Jr. was arrested for the murder of his father. Chris Jr.’s parents and brother maintained Chris Jr.’s innocence.
Easley was charged as an accessory after the fact. She pleaded guilty and received a two-month jail sentence that was suspended.
Chris Northam Jr. ultimately pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and admitted to using a firearm in the course of that crime.
He was sentenced to 13 years. After a decade behind bars, he was released on good behavior in 2022.
To learn more about the case, watch Fatal Family Feuds, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.