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From the outside, John Parker’s life in upscale Crown Point, Indiana appeared to be picture-perfect. Married with kids, he and his wife, Judy, ran a very successful business selling Kirby vacuums.
But appearances can be deceiving. On April 17, 2003, Judy called 911 to report that John had been shot outside their car that was parked at J&J Parker Industries Merrillville. She told authorities she heard two gunshots and saw an unidentified figure in black ran from the scene, according to “Mastermind of Murder,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
“Parker had been shot in the back of the head near the base,” said Donald Toth, a retired detective with the Merrillville Police Department.
Two .25 caliber casings were found at the scene.
A search revealed that John’s wallet was missing, according to Merrillville PD Detective Jeff Rice, so investigators initially considered the slaying as a botched robbery.
As they worked the case, they learned that John had worked his way up the ladder of success. Along the way, he met Judy, a mother of two who was also selling vacuums. They married and formed J&J Industries, as in John and Judy. John was a millionaire by age 30, according to “Mastermind of Murder.”
When interviewed by police about the shooting, Judy mentioned that John had had a heated dispute with a former employee. Detectives looked into the lead about the former employee, who had a solid alibi, and it turned into a dead end. His beef with John had gotten resolved amicably.
Through interviews with friends, neighbors, and employees, investigators learned that John was a devoted father, but he struggled with keeping stepchildren Danny, 15, and Christina, 17, on the right path.
“I think he was considered the bad cop and Judy was probably considered a good cop,” said Deborah Laverty, a Northwest Indiana Times reporter.
Then, shocking information came in. Four days after the murder, a school resource officer from the city of Crown Point contacted the Merrillville Police Department. He told them he’d taken a report from the Crown Point School System indicating there’d been a plot to kill John Parker and it involved a couple of 15-year-olds.
The teens were found to have a large sum of cash on them: over $1,000, according to “Mastermind of Murder.”
“The boys said Dan had paid them to do in his stepfather,” explained Bob Wiley, a retired Merrillville PD detective.
The teens never took action, though — just the money.
Investigators discovered that the Crown Point police department had determined that this proposed murder-for-hire incident was something that was not likely to go forward and become a criminal act. They also found out that the Parker family wasn’t notified and Danny was never confronted about the incident.
But after John’s murder, police immediately brought in Danny, who was accompanied by Judy, to ask him about the allegations made by his classmates. Danny said he’d given the boys money to scare his stepdad by beating him up. He didn’t explain where he’d gotten the cash.
Danny was thus incarcerated for soliciting the assault.
So, did the two teens accidentally go too far while trying to scare John? Police looked into that theory and both teens were ruled out as suspects. Although investigators had evidence of a conspiracy, they had no gun or shooter. Danny was released from detention.
Another child fell under the spotlight, though. A week after the murder, a former J&J employee came forward with a tip about Christina.
“We learned that Christina had hired him to find someone that could kill John Parker,” said Wiley. “She paid him $100 as a headhunter fee.”
She also gave him $500 for the trigger person. Like the plot set in motion by Danny, Christina’s scheme went nowhere: The money was ripped off by the headhunter.
When interviewed by police, Christina denied soliciting John’s murder.
The question investigators focused on was where the teenaged siblings got so much money to pay would-be murderers. They looked more closely at Judy. Investigators learned that the couple’s once-happy marriage had soured.
“There was a change in her,” said Joe Zago, John Parker’s friend and former employee. “Someone had told me that John caught Judy having an affair.”
Zago told producers that John confirmed the rumors about infidelity to him but said that he didn’t plan to divorce her.
"He used the term: 'It’s cheaper to keep her,’” said Zago, adding that John was determined to get his wife back.
If Judy wanted John dead, the question was why? Money seemed like an answer. Detectives established that Judy was the beneficiary on John’s life insurance worth $1 million. After John’s murder, Judy tried to make a claim, trial lawyer Russell Brown told producers, but the insurance company refused to pay out because the case was still under investigation.
Despite indications of a financial motive, the evidence was still only circumstantial. The case stalled for a number of years.
The players in the alleged conspiracy went on with their lives, each settling in various states. But in 2007, detectives got a tip from a narcotics agent. Christina’s new husband was involved in an investigation. Toth seized that as an opportunity to revisit John’s case.
Christina’s husband was willing to cooperate. He told detectives that his wife had said Danny shot John.
“With his help, the case was cracked,” said Toth.
When Christina was questioned she admitted her role. She said that she called her parents and claimed she’d left her homework at J&J as a ruse to bring John to the office. She also said she bought the guy with money from Judy.
She acknowledged that there had been various murder plots that had failed. A decision was made to remove the middleman, and Danny would do the hit himself.
When investigators confronted Danny, he told them, “I’m ready to talk.”
He told detectives that Judy had falsified J&J checks to get money — $7,500, according to nwitimes.com — to pay the would-be hitmen.
“The entire plan was concocted by Judy,” said Brown. “Judy was the mastermind behind everything.”
That included how to lure John to the office, how Danny would kill him and make it look like a robbery, and how they’d dispose of the gun and bloody clothes.
If she divorced John, she’d get half of his fortune. If he was dead, she would get everything.
“She wanted it all,” said Laverty.
To get her kids to cooperate, Judy, a seasoned salesperson, claimed that John was abusive to her. Playing the victim “is a classic hallmark of a psychopath,” said Dr. Michelle Roberts, a psychotherapist. “She created this web of manipulation.”
Danny told detectives that he shot John only once but the gun went off again as he rummaged through John’s pants to get his wallet. Investigators finally understood the second casing at the scene.
Judy was arrested, and agreed to plead guilty in 2009.
Danny received a 23-year sentence and was released in 2016. Christina, who got five years, was released in 2013 and later died of a drug overdose. Judy, then 39, was sentenced to 33 years behind bars and will be up for parole in 2023.
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