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Judy Naylor wanted money badly — so badly she was caught up in murder plots not once, but twice.
Judy was born in 1965 and grew up around Robeson and Cumberland Counties in North Carolina. She had a troubled home life. While she was close with her younger brother, Kenneth, her father had a drinking problem and her mother struggled with mental illness.
She dropped out of school at 17 and moved away from home, according to "Snapped," airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. When she was 19, Judy had a child with 24-year-old Andrew San Miguel, who was in the U.S. Air Force. They married but split up when their son, Michael, was 2. She eventually got full custody of Michael and supported herself working in the automotive industry.
The single mother and son often lived with her mother, Catherine and new stepfather, a man named James Croxton.
Years passed, and Michael moved away after graduating high school in 2002. Soon after, Judy began dating 47-year-old Donald Lee McPhail, whom she married after dating for 6 months. There were changes in her professional life, too. In 2003, Judy got a job as an office manager at Absolute Bus Sales in Lumberton, North Carolina, eventually taking over the bookkeeping. The company was owned by Craig Hartman, who lived on-site in an apartment above the business.
But on the afternoon of January 12, 2004, Robeson County 911 received a report of shots fired outside Absolute Bus Sales. First responders arrived to find a shaken Hartman sitting in his vehicle. It was riddled with bullet holes but, incredibly, Hartman had only been shot once in the hand.
Hartman explained had just returned home from vacation when he came under fire from an unknown assailant. He fell back into his car until the shooting stopped, at which point he called 911.
Neither Hartman nor his business appeared to have been targeted for robbery and there was no reason to think anyone harbored a vendetta against him.
But days later, Hartman called authorities in a panic. He said he was unable to get in touch with Judy, who he left in charge while he was away. Hartman feared she had somehow gotten caught up in the attempt on his life. The next day he called police again, to report missing items from his home.
“He finds his shotgun missing and the weapon used to shoot at him is a shotgun,” former Cumberland County Sheriff’s Lt. Charlie Disponzio told “Snapped.”
In checking his banking records, Hartman learned that while he was on vacation, Judy wrote 21 checks in amounts ranging from $120 to $6,500, according to court documents.
“They had been written to Judy and her husband on his account, totalling $19,000,” explained Disponzio.
Authorities had a hard time tracking down the couple since they moved between the homes of their parents. But they soon discovered Judy had a long history of petty theft, property damage, and drug arrests.
“Judy had always had a rocky relationship with her mother, from all accounts. There had been reports of physical assaults on her mother because of her drug habits, and because of her stealing from family,” former Cumberland County Sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Trotter told “Snapped.”
Authorities even learned that in December 2003, Judy had been accused of stealing $7,000 in jewelry from her stepfather, James Croxton.
“She was arrested but charges were eventually dropped because her mother, Catherine, and her stepfather, James, didn’t want to pursue charges,” said Charlie Disponzio.
On January 26, 2004, an employee at a Motel 6 in Robeson County called 911 to report a disturbance in one of their rooms. Upon arrival, deputies discovered the Judy and McPhail. Judy was sick on the floor.
“She’s tried to harm herself, kill herself, you know, by drinking antifreeze,” Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West told “Snapped.”
Under questioning, Donald McPhail immediately confessed to a laundry list of crimes.
“Donald admits to his involvement in the attempted murder of Judy’s boss. He admits to stealing the gun. He admits to writing the fraudulent checks. He admits that he’s the one that pulled the trigger that almost killed the victim,” said Disponzio.
After recovering from her suicide attempt, Judy Naylor McPhail was released from the hospital. She met with detectives and admitted to stealing from her work in order to pay for her and her husband’s drug habits. She said they planned to kill Hartman in order to avoid detection.
“They charge both Judy and her husband, Donald McPhail, with attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, larceny of a firearm and fraud,” explained West.
Despite her confession, however, Judy pleaded not guilty to the charges. She was granted bail but was unable to pay it. Her family ties were limited at this point: While incarcerated, her mother died of an aneurysm. Meanwhile, Croxton was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease.
After receiving a life insurance payout of $43,000, Croxton agreed to pay Judy’s $4,500 bail and she was released from jail in May 2004. She then moved in with him at his home in Hope Mills, North Carolina.
On November 14, 2004, Judy called 911 and said Croxton was unresponsive in bed. Paramedics arrived to find Croxton dead at 62.
Less than an hour later, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office received a phone call from Judy’s stepmother, Donna Naylor, who was married to her father.
“She said if James Croxton was deceased, that Judy Naylor did it,” Cumberland County Sheriff’s Major Bobby Reyes told “Snapped.”
“Donna told [police] that Judy put herself in a position to take advantage of Mr. Croxton. She had moved in with Mr. Croxton. She had lived rent free. She [claimed Judy] had an intimate relationship with Mr. Croxton, bragged about having an intimate relationship with him in her mother’s bed,” said West.
Authorities traveled to Croxton’s home and treated it as a potential crime scene. They found computer printouts of articles on autopsies and death investigations as well as sample wills and what appeared to be someone trying to copy Croxton’s signature on tracing paper.
Donna Naylor supplied investigators with letters that Judy had written her brother, Kenneth, while he was incarcerated in which she expressed her intention to murder Croxton in order to get her mother’s insurance money.
“She had made it known to Kenneth that she has chemicals that she’s going to use. She tells Kenny, ‘In a few months he’s gonna be dead,'” said Disponzio.
Her son, Michael San Miguel, also contacted authorities, disturbed by a conversation with his mother just before the death of his grandfather.
“She said, ‘You know, your grandfather’s not going to be here much longer,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’" said San Miguel.
His mother then showed him a bottle of chloroform. When he asked why she had it, she told him, “Don’t worry about it.”
“A week or two later I got the phone call. ‘Your grandfather’s dead.’ And immediately, I was like, ‘Holy s--t, she killed him,'” San Miguel said.
An autopsy revealed there was a fatal amount of chloroform in Croxton's blood.
Investigators discovered that weeks before Croxton’s death, his credit cards had been used to purchase chloroform, which was sent to the home he shared with Judy. A will dated August 2004 left all of Croxton’s possessions to Judy and was notarized electronically by her cousin.
Judy Naylor McPhail was ultimately arrested and charged with the murder or James Croxton.
Donald McPhail pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of Craig Hartman and other related charges and was sentenced to 13 years in prison, according to local newspaper The Robesonian. He was released from prison in July 2014.
Judy was acquitted of the attempted murder of Craig Hartman but found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and fraud and was sentenced to 16 to 20 years in prison, according to The Robesonian.
In April 2007, Judy Naylor McPhail pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of James Croxton and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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