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Crime News Kill or Be Killed

Iowa Mom Shot 20-Year-Old "Neighbor Kid" Nine Times and Prosecutors Didn't Buy Her Home Invasion Claim

"She sought out life that she felt was disposable," a district attorney said of Tracey Roberts fatally shooting her neighbor Dustin Wehde.

By Joe Dziemianowicz

On December 13, 2001, law enforcement in Early, Iowa converged on the home of Tracey and Michael Roberts.

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Alone with her three children — sons Bert, 11, and Noah, 3, and 2-year-old-daughter Mason — Tracey told authorities she'd just gone through a home invasion that left an intruder dead.

The victim, Dustin Wehde, 20, was “a neighbor kid," Tracey’s defense attorney Karmen Anderson told Kill or Be Killed, airing Saturdays at 9/8c p.m. on Oxygen.

Tracey, then 35, claimed she fired in self-defense, NBC News reported. She used two guns to shoot Wehde nine times. An alleged second invader reportedly fled.

Tracey's son Bert Richter told Kill or Be Killed that when he walked into the hallway that night, he saw Wehde on the ground and starting to get up before his mother shielded him and told him to get into his room. “I closed the door and I could hear her repeatedly say, 'Stay down. Don't get up,'" Bert said. "And then I heard a final shot."

At this time, “she put one final round in the back of his head with a 357 [revolver],” said Ben Smith, Sac County District Attorney.

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Tracey and her three kids were taken to a hospital to monitor their condition, according to paramedic Scot McDonough. Tracey appeared shocked to learn that the man she had shot was Wehde.

At the scene, police collected shell casings, pantyhose that Tracey claimed had been used to strangle her, a 40-caliber Beretta semi-automatic pistol, and a 357 revolver.

Tracey Richter featured on Kill Or Be Killed episode 108

Who was Tracey Roberts?

Detectives learned that Tracey, whose maiden name was Richter, was a well-liked soccer mom. In 1988, she married John Pittman, a doctor, and had their son Bert before divorcing.

Shortly after the split, she met and married Michael Roberts, according to author M. William Phelps, who wrote Beautifully Cruel, a true crime book about the case. The couple had two children. Michael was on a business trip during the fatal shooting.

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Who was Dustin Wehde?

Wehde was a quiet loner who was very interested in computers and electronics. His mother, Mona Wehde, described him as “withdrawn... but he had a huge heart.”

Investigators learned that Michael ran a computer business out of his house and that Wehde worked for him. 

Dustin Wehde featured on Kill Or Be Killed episode 108

Tracey regarded Wehde as “socially awkward,” Anderson said. She preferred that Michael was present when Wehde was in their house.

Tracey said she didn’t know why Wehde would attack her. But she considered that “her ex-husband had reached out to Dustin to basically attack her in an effort to get custody of his son,” Anderson said.

Investigators dug into Tracey's history. She and Pittman had met each other while studying at Northwestern University, according to Kill or Be Killed.

Their divorce was messy. Tracey accused her ex-spouse of molesting Bert. As a result, Pittman potentially faced losing custody and criminal charges, said Smith.

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Pink notebook in Dustin Wehde’s car interests investigators 

A search for the second home invader led investigators to a dead end. But they did find a pink spiral notebook in Wehde’s car.

Entries confirmed to be in Wehde’s handwriting by his mother suggested that he was hired to stalk and ultimately take violent actions against Tracey, according to Smith.

There were numerous references to "JP," possibly John Pittman, and JP’s lawyer, journalist Peter Caspari told Kill or Be Killed.

Pittman was eventually cleared as a suspect. “There's no paper trail. There's no phone calls... connecting him to Dustin,” said Phelps.

Investigators made a strategic decision to keep the apparent journal a secret. “Whoever knew of its existence was involved,” said Smith.

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At the time of the shooting, Pittman was in Virginia, where he worked as a plastic surgeon. Pittman and his lawyer, Stephen Komie, denied any involvement in the deadly shooting. But they suspected Tracey.

Komie told authorities that Tracey accused Pittman of molesting their son right after her estranged husband confronted her with allegations of her extramarital affairs.

“I was able to prove how innocent Dr. Pittman was,” said Komie, who described Tracey as “diabolical.” Pittman ended up getting a favorable custody arrangement.

But shortly before the deadly incident, Pittman was back in court to enforce his custody rights. Detectives considered that the shooting may be tied to that ongoing battle.

Dustin Wehde featured on Kill Or Be Killed episode 108

Dustin Wehde’s case goes cold

Although Tracey made it seem like Wehde was an unwanted presence in her home, Wehde’s mother told police that Tracey had called her and asked that her son come to her house the day of the shooting.

It was an intriguing inconsistency. Before investigators could fully explore the possibility that this incident was a ruse to keep Bert in the custody of Tracey, the investigation ground to a halt. Priorities were reassessed in the wake of 9/11.

In the following years, Tracey settled her custody dispute with Pittman. She was celebrated as acting heroically to protect her children. She and Michael appeared on TV talk shows to share her tale.   

Mona, Wehde's mother, filed a civil action against Tracey for wrongful death. It was dismissed due to a lack of evidence.

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Tracey and Michael Roberts end their marriage

In March 2004, Tracey filed a police report against her husband. In it, she claimed that their relationship had turned volatile. The couple separated.

Michael reached out to police to voice concerns about Tracey. According to Phelps, Michael suspected that Tracey’s narrative about being a heroic mother protecting her kids and killing an intruder in self-defense “is a lie.”

As another bitter custody battle boiled, Tracey returned to her parents’ home in Omaha and to her maiden name Richter. She and Roberts divorced in January 2008.

In 2009, a team went back to the home where the shooting occurred to recreate the events. Findings about bullet trajectories and blood spatter contradicted Tracey’s account of self-defense.

Tracey had said that Wehde was getting up when she fired her final shots. “The report shows, forensically, that Dustin's head was on the ground when the last few shots were fired,” said Smith.

Smith was struck by the fact that Tracey fired in the dark without her glasses. “She connects nine out of 10, and that's exceptional accuracy,” he said. “It’s a huge red flag.”

Investigators went back through a decade’s worth of clues and reinterviewed witnesses. Mary Higgins, one of Tracey’s friends, cracked things open when she mentioned the pink spiral notebook to detectives.

“For the first time, somebody outside of law enforcement knew about that,” said Smith.

Higgins informed investigators that Tracey told her about the journal being found and that Pittman would be arrested as a result, Smith added.

“How would Tracey know what’s in that journal? There's one answer,” said Smith. “She had Dustin Wehde write it.”

Dustin Wehde featured on Kill Or Be Killed episode 108

Tracey Richter arrested for murder

In July 2011, Tracey was arrested for Wehde’s murder and extradited to Sac County, Iowa. Michael took custody of the children.

“The prosecution was trying to prove that the home invasion never happened... and that Tracey had actually lured Dustin over to her house and made him write the contents of the pink notebook and then shot and killed him,” said Caspari.

RELATED: How to Watch Oxygen's Kill or Be Killed, Which Explores Gripping Self-Defense Murder Cases

Smith acknowledged that he was unsure about how Tracey managed to compel Wehde to do that. “Did she promise him money? Did she promise him intimacy?,” he wondered.

“At the end of the day, I realized it didn’t matter,” Smith added. "She took a life and not just any life. She sought out life that she felt was disposable.”

Tracey’s trial began in October 2021. Prosecutors emphasized numerous inconsistencies in Tracey’s story.

Her son, Bert, testified. “I thought he was a very compelling witness for the defense,” said Anderson.

On November 12, 2021, Tracey Richter was found guilty of first-degree murder. She was sentenced to life in prison.

To find out more about the case covered in the “Shots in the Dark” episode, watch Kill or Be Killed, airing Saturdays at 9/8c p.m. on Oxygen.