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Craig is a tiny town on an island in Alaska, so small that everybody knows each other. When a woman ended up murdered, police suspected someone she knew was behind it — but the culprit was even closer to home than they thought.
On Sunday, Nov 14, 2004 Robert Claus, now a retired Alaska state trooper, went into work at the police station in Crag only to receive a call that a hunter had found a burning van with potential human remains in it over on a logging road that was essentially in the middle of nowhere.
Claus raced to the scene, where the car was still smoldering. Human remains were in the backseat of the car.
"The remains had been almost completely destroyed by the fire," Claus told "Fatal Frontier: Evil In Alaska," airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
It initially seemed like an accident. But as investigators inspected the scene, they found no sign of a driver who would have been in the front seat. Other strange aspects of the scene told authorities the car hadn't crashed, but had instead been set on fire.
"The fire was clearly set by someone and not an accident in any shape or form. It was murder," Claus told producers.
Anchorage's police department was called in to help, and Claus waited at the crime scene overnight to make sure no animals or weather disturbed the body. During the night, a call came in: a local man named Doc Waterman reported his wife, Lauri Waterman, was missing. She had last been seen at a Chamber of Commerce dinner 24 hours before. Her Chrysler minivan was also gone. The car investigators had found was clearly a Chrysler minivan.
After help arrived, the body was sent in for an autopsy, where dental records confirmed the victim was Lauri Waterman. The car was also taken in and identified as the Watermans' vehicle.
Doc and Lauri were prominent members of the community. Doc was a decorated serviceman who had met Lauri in Utah. Together, they moved to Alaska. They were parents to two children. Lauri in particular was described as thoughtful "and helpful, so eager to give help," by her friend Victoria Merritt.
Doc and the couple's children were all out of the house the weekend Lauri was killed. Doc had been on a trip to Juneau for a board meeting for the Girl Scouts, which he was heavily involved in. Daughter Rachelle, a 16-year-old high schooler, had been in Anchorage for a volleyball tournament. Son Jeffrey wasn't even in Alaska, as he was attending college in the mainland.
When Rachelle and Doc came back Sunday, they realized Lauri was gone. The only odd thing, Rachelle noted, was a bottle of wine that had been left out — her mother wasn't a drinker.
When investigators came to the home, they noted the clothes she wore to the Chamber of Commerce dinner were in the house, as were photos of the event. Clearly, Lauri had made it back to the home before she was killed. Other strange items were found: a tip of a rubber glove and fibers of a synthetic rope in the bedroom, and a footprint on a window sill. It seemed someone had broken into the home.
Investigators first turned to Doc as a potential suspect, as there were rumors he'd had affairs. Despite his airtight alibi, perhaps he may have hired someone to do the deed. But after searching his financial records and cell phone records, they determined there was no evidence connecting him to the plot.
They then considered whether their daughter, Rachelle, had any connection to the crime.
"I knew Rachelle had changed dramatically in her appearance and behavior in the past year, including hanging out with scary-looking guys and they were Jason Arrant and Brian Radel," Claus, who was friendly with the Watermans, told producers.
Jason Arrant and Brian Radel were both 25 and had been friends since their teen years. Arrant worked as a janitor and was something of a "burnout," according to "Fatal Frontier: Evil In Alaska." Radel, who worked at a computer store, was described similarly.
The summer before Rachelle's junior year, she took a job at the computer store where she met Radel. They became friends, playing Dungeons and Dragons together, and she eventually met and started dating Arrant.This caused a lot of concern for her family, as Arrant was 25 when he was dating the 16-year old.
"She was starting to rebel at the time with the goth stuff," Merritt told producers, saying it made Lauri "roll her eyes."
Claus decided to question the two. Arrant insisted the weekend Lauri was killed he had been hanging out with Radel the whole night, watching "The Princess Bride" over and over. Arrant, meanwhile, also said he had been with Radel that weekend, but that he slept at his own home. The stories just didn't match.
The next day, the police department received a call: Arrant said he had been attacked by a man in a parking lot wearing a black hood who told him to stay away from Rachelle.
"No one else saw this person. He had what appeared to be a self-inflicted scratch on his throat," Claus explained.
Investigators questioned Arrant, telling him they believed the attack was fake and that he was behind Lauri Waterman's murder. Arrant finally cracked. He said Radel was the murderer, and had done it because Rachelle was being physically abused by Lauri.
Police had found a blog Rachelle ran called "My Crappy Life," where she described Craig as "Hell." She also alleged her mother abused her in the blog. The allegations, Claus insisted to "Fatal Frontier," were false.
However, Arrant said he and Radel believed it, although he claimed he was simply Radel's driver. Arrant agreed to wear a wire to get proof. Radel did "make some admissions about killing Lauri" while Arrant spoke to him wearing a wire, authorities said.
Radel was called in, and police revealed what they heard while Arrant wore a wire. Radel admitted to killing Waterman, but insisted Arrant was much more involved than he had previously told police. The two men believed they were going to save Rachelle, who had asked them to kill her mother. She would then get to leave Craig with Arrant.
Radel explained he had broken into Lauri's home and abducted her, tying her up with a synthetic robe. He forced her to drink wine so she would be intoxicated, then put her bound into her car's backseat. When he and Arrant reached an isolated spot, he dragged her out of the car, wrestling with her to snap her neck and simulate a car accident. When that failed, he strangled her.
He said they then drove to a further spot, set her and the car on fire, and abandoned the vehicle.
"It's pretty gruesome what happened to her," Randy McPherron, a retired sergeant with Alaska State Troopers, told producers.
Brian Radel was arrested on Nov. 18, 2004 and charged with murder. Arrant was then brought in for further questioning, finally admitting his full involvement. When asked what Rachelle had to do it with it, he initially insisted she knew nothing. Soon, though, he admitted she had asked him and Radel to murder Lauri. She had told them when Lauri would be home alone and to enact the plan that weekend.
Rachelle was brought in for questioning and informed of her rights, authorities told "Fatal Frontier," and still agreed to talk without her father or an attorney present.
During the interview, she claimed she didn't encourage them to murder her mother.
“I remember me saying, like, 'No, don't do it,'" Rachelle said, as seen in video footage of the interview obtained by "Fatal Frontier.
When the interviewer pointed out she must not have protested too hard about the plan, she sarcastically responded, "Well, maybe I shouldn't ever be on the debate team."
"You don't need to be a smart aleck," the interviewer said.
"You don't need to question everything I say," Rachelle responded.
Rachelle claimed in the interview her mother once hit her with a baseball bat, and had pushed her down the stairs once. But she kept insisting the two men had offered to kill Lauri, and she had turned them down. Eventually, though, she finally confessed and admitted the abuse was "pretty much lies," Claus said.
"My whole family is going to hate me," she cried in the tape.
Rachelle Waterman and Jason Arrant were arrested on November 19, 2004. The two were charged with 10 counts each, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, burglary, and first-degree murder.
In June 2005, Brian Radel pleaded guilty and received a 99-year sentence. Arrant, meanwhile, as he didn't actually commit the murder, received 50 years.
Rachelle went to trial in January 2006. Both Radel and Arrant testified against her, but the trial ended in a hung jury. A retrial was held in 2011, and she was only convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to three years in prison.
Rachelle has since been released from prison and left Alaska behind.
"It didn’t seem like she got any accountability for what she masterminded and made happen. It was disgusting," Merritt told producers.
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