Investigators say she hired an undercover FBI agent to kill her husband and fake a suicide note because she "worried she would look guilty"
A Louisville, Kentucky pediatrician charged with attempting to kill her ex-husband in a murder-for-hire plot has pleaded not guilty.
Dr. Stephanie Russell, 52, appeared in court last Thursday after being charged with use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of Murder-for-Hire. Her trial date was set for August 22. Russell was arrested back in May, after investigators say she contacted someone she believed was a hitman -- but was actually an undercover FBI agent.
According to the criminal complaint obtained by Law&Crime, the alleged plot first came to light amid an investigation into child abuse allegations Russell levied against her ex-husband, Rick Crabtree, amid a bitter custody battle over their two children. The FBI agent assigned to the case wrote that Crabtree told local police in 2019 that his ex "was attempting to hire an assassin to kill him in order to take full custody of their two children."
At the time, Crabtree's attorney provided a sworn affidavit from the one of their children's nannies to police stating "she was approached by Russell on multiple occasions in which Russell alluded to getting rid of Crabtree" -- and asked whether she knew "'really bad people' who could get rid of" Rick. However, at the time, another FBI agent looking into the case was unable to corroborate the allegations against Russell and the investigation was discontinued.
In March 2022, however, local police offered up new information to the FBI about another alleged murder-for-hire plot. Someone who worked at Russell's medical office, Kidz Life Pediatrics, claimed Russell "had allegedly approached several employees ... about helping locate someone to kill her ex-husband," according to the complaint.
When the FBI spoke to the same witness, they said Russell "approached two nurses at the business on separate occasions and asked each of them for assistance in killing Crabtree." The two witnesses -- who worked at Kidz Life -- provided text messages in which Russell discussed hiring someone to deliver "Christmas flowers," which they said was code for killing her ex. The texts allegedly showed Russell agreeing to pay a third party $4,000 for the job. Though a date had been set, one of the witnesses said the person they wouldhave hired "killed himself and could no longer" complete the task at hand -- telling FBI they told her that to attempt to "end the conversations" with Russell.
When that second witness quit the practice, Russell allegedly started asking a third employee for help.
At this point, the FBI had already been tipped off on the case by local police and were speaking with both witnesses. When one of them met with Russell again, they gave her the number of an undercover FBI agent "and identified him as someone who would kill her ex-husband."
Russell and the undercover officer initially agreed to a fee of $5,000, but upped it to $7,000 once they ironed out the details of the murder, per the complaint. The criminal complaint also said Russell wanted to be sure the murder happened when the kids were visiting her, so they wouldn't be present for the killing.
She also allegedly wanted it to look like a suicide -- and investigators say she asked the agent to "hold Russell hostage and force him to text her an apologetic suicide note before being killed." The FBI said the agent eventually told Russell they would "use Crabtree's face after his death to unlock his phone" and then send the text Russell provided. Per the complaint, "Russell informed [the agent] she had been vocal about her hate towards Crabtree to a lot of people and worried she would look guilty, which is why she requested the suicide note." The agent also said Russell was "explicit" she wanted her ex dead and no longer used "coded language or references to 'flowers'" when they spoke.
Russell agreed to pay half of the payment up front and told the agent she left the money in a lab specimen box outside her office, per the complaint. Though feds didn't see Russell make the drop, the cash was where she said it would be and, on May 18, an arrest warrant was issued and Russell was taken in.
According to the Department of Justice, if convicted at trial, Russell faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison -- where there is no chance of parole.